The Gentry is a history of England told through its families. This website contains family trees, a few maps and many images illustrating some of the background to the twelve families who carry the story of England in the book.

Read a sample chapter about Sir John Oglander, the 17th-century squire of Nunwell in the Isle of Wight, his life and family, his dreams and ambitions and the tragedies that struck him....

Love in a Gentry Garden

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The Gentry over time

This embroidered textile, which is about 14 inches by about 21, and may have been intended as a cushion cover, is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, although not on display. It is English, made in 1647, with its silk threads sewn on to a canvas backing, and it shows what is probably a love scene in the garden of a house in the country. The house itself, with smoke coming out of its chimneys, is slightly old-fashioned for the mid-17th century, with no hint of classicism about it, unless the triangle over the door is the embroiderer’s attempt at a pediment. It looks almost completely Jacobean, with a fenced roof terrace from which the gentry could look out over their garden.  The girls play to their gentleman lovers. One seems to be caught by the music, the other holds back. Climbers are trained over an elegant classical arbour, a peacock sits on the balustrade and butterflies flit between the giant flowers. A rather unlikely looking putto and a winged goddess drift across the beds, as the music of love seeps into the gentlemen’s ears. It is, in other words, a dream landscape, a picture of perfection, where happiness survives in an England otherwise rent by civil war.

 

The Kentish squire Harry Oxinden could have identified with the more susceptible of the gents in the embroidery, falling desperately in love in 1641 with the 17-year-old Kate Culling, daughter of a neighbouring yeoman farmer. He was swept away by her beauty. ‘I have tryed to cure my selfe by labour, art and friendship,’ he wrote to a cousin.

I have read over sundry authors uppon this subject…and all to little purpose….I have tried to cure myself by exercise and diet and fasting. I have endeavoured to hinder it in its first growing; in the bargaine I have kepte a whole quarter of a year out of her company. I have endeavoured to call to mind the weaknes of most women, their pride, their dissimulation, their uncertainty…I have tried Philters, Chaceters and Chales and all to such purpose as if I had run my head agt a post. 1

He had considered throwing himself headlong off a rock but was ‘loath to go so far as to experience it.’ None of it was any good: the beautiful girl was his destiny.

 

See also
Melinda Watt, "English Embroidery of the Late Tudor and Stuart Eras", in Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000. View (May 2010)

Footnote

1. Harry Oxinden to Elizabeth Dallison, 22 December 1641, British Library MS 28000 f.370v