S.H.S. Visit to Hatfield House, 14 September 2018
It was a rather smaller group than usual who caught the coach to Hatfield House but those of us who did had a most enjoyable and informative day. The great Jacobean House and the small ‘Old Palace’ where Henry VIII’s children grew up were bathed in sunshine and walks round the grounds and the formal gardens were beautiful even though the ‘Elizabeth Oak’ under which Elizabeth I was sitting when she first heard that she was Queen, was no longer there.
Hatfield House itself was built by the Cecils in 1607 and is spectacular. Apart from the kitchens (redecorated to resemble the kitchens when Queen Victoria was a visitor), there are only the State rooms on view but these are rich in Jacobean panelling, tapestries, marble fireplaces and famous paintings. The ‘Marble Hall’, so called because of its marble floor, is panelled and has two great galleries.The paintings include powerful portraits of Robert and William Cecil and one of the most famous of the portraits of Elizabeth I – the ‘Rainbow Portrait’ This is an iconic portrait – well known to everyone studying the Tudor age – but Hatfield House is where it is. The picture is of a young woman, her dress studded with embroidered eyes and ears, her lips closed, – a reference to a motto -‘I see and say nothing’ and she is holding a rainbow. Elizabeth was 63 when the portrait was painted but, like her father before her, she knew the value of a political image.
The Grand Staircase where the ceiling has just been restored has no less than eight great tapestries – one carving on the balustrade represents the arms of the famous gardener Tradescant – a rather touching tribute to him is a draped tapestry over the balustrade with varieties of English roses on it.
Upstairs, where one gets the most rewarding views of the old palace (minus the two wings which were demolished by Robert Cecil), is the King James Drawing Room. Here is another famous portrait of Elizabeth I – the ‘Ermine Portrait’. To one side is the ‘Chinese Bedroom’.
The Long Gallery is 58 metres long, has Jacobean panelling, a gilded ceiling ( done in fairly modern times to cover up the old smoke-stained plaster), two great marble fireplaces and a beautiful lozenge parquet floor. In a small inset display case at one end is one of the great treasures – a rock crystal set of vessels belonging to Robert Cecil himself. It is decorated with rubies, pearls and gold.
The rooms leading from the gallery take you to the Winter Dining room which has 4 big tapestries of the Seasons and then to the amazing Elizabeth I scroll – tracing Elizabeth’s ancestry to Romulus & Remus (both?) and Adam & Eve. Following that there is the library. Here, if you have not done it before, talk to the room guides! They are very knowledgeable e.g. how long does it take to clean, preserve and re-shelve the books?
If you have not visited the church, this is the time to do so. Leaving the palace, it is only a short walk. The most famous monument is a table tomb – be aware that interpretation of it depends on looking at the ceiling – do not think that the Cardinal Virtue of Prudence looks at all prudent to modern eyes. There is a very touching apse dedicated to the generation of doctors who took care of ( possibly the rich ) parishioners.
Summary view: A glorious House – recording the outcomes of decades of English History. – Try to ignore the Franchises which detract from the House itself. The staff in the House are knowledgeable, and very ready to talk to you about any detail you might need.