Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Shakespeare's Apricocks (p. 2)

gardeners go about their craft.  It is not the only such passage among the plays.  Not only is he right about the proper care for the tree in the month of May (or early June, the month in which, history records, Bolingbroke captured King Richard), and that the fruit would be heaviest at that time, but he is well aware of the appearance of the tree and that it would have been considered an essential plant for the au courant nobleman’s garden at the time the play was written.  Throughout his plays, Shakespeare seems to have been quite conversant in the cherished new plants that were found only in the private gardens of the nobility.

Private botanical gardens[1] were the very expensive hobby of the Royalty of England, a tiny handful of noblemen and the experts who supplied their needs, until well into the 17th century.  After Queen Elizabeth’s botanical garden, (inherited from Henry VIII) at Nonesuch, William Cecil, Lord Burghley’s gardens at Cecil House on the Strand, and later at Burghley House in Stamford, would seem to have been without parallel.  Before the garden could be designed and installed at Burghley House — the work of 20 years under the guidance of the famous herbalist John Gerard — the gardens of the Carew family at their seat in Beddington may have been the finest privately held botanical gardens in the country.


Francis Carew is credited with introducing the orange tree to England.  It had to be before the following letter to him as Cecil’s sometime Paris agent in such matters:

When this messengar was redy to depart, my Lady Throkmorton gave me a lettre from Tho. Cecill, wherin he maketh mention that Mr. Caroo meaneth to send home certen orenge, potngranat, lymon, and myrt trees. I have alredy an orrenge tree; and if the price be not much, I pray you procure for me a lymon, a pomegranat, and a myrt tree ; and help that they may be sent to London, with Mr. Caroo's trees;…[2]

This order is almost certainly intended for the gardens at Cecil House on the Strand which Sir William had moved into, in a state of partial completion, in 1560.  His gardens there were also impressive, in time, but in later years Burghley House had not just one orange tree but a small orchard, each tree residing in a large tub, such that it could be carried to spend the winter inside of an early version of a greenhouse.  Presumably, his lemon trees made the trip as well.

As most Oxfordian’s know, the young Earl arrived at the house on the Strand on September 3, 1562, a year and a half after this shipment of trees.  He lived mostly at the 




[1] I use the term “botanical” loosely here, to describe gardens that regularly featured plants new to the country as part of their program.
[2] Cecil, William to Francis Carew, March 25, 1561, from Westminster.


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  • Shake-speare's Greek.  May 08, 2014.  "It is not at all clear from Jonson’s limited comments on Shakespeare, throughout his life, whether he was aware that the Bard may have actually translated a Greek text popular for many centuries."

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