The History of Freemasonry by Albert Gallatin Mackey Chapter 44 The Leland Manuscript


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William Herbert




The East front of Wilton, photographed by Queen Alexandra circa 1907. The central tower is all that remains of the Tudor house.

William Herbert, the scion of a distinguished family in the Welsh marches, was a favourite of the King. Following a recommendation to King Henry by King Francis I of France, whom Herbert had served as a soldier of fortune, Herbert was granted arms after only two years. Returning to England circa 1543, Herbert married Anne, daughter of Sir Thomas Parr of Kendal and sister of King Henry's last Queen, Catherine Parr. The granting of an estate such as the Abbey of Wilton to Herbert was an accolade and evidence of his position at court.

Herbert immediately began to transform the deserted abbey into a fine house and symbol of his wealth. It had been thought that the old abbey had been completely demolished; however, following renovations after World War II traces of the old abbey were found at lower levels of the walls.

Hans Holbein


It has long been claimed, without proof, that Hans Holbein the Younger re-designed the abbey into the rectangular house around a central courtyard, which is the core of the present house. Holbein died in 1543, so his designs for the new house would have to have been very speedily executed indeed. However, the great entrance porch to the new mansion, removed from the house and later transformed into a garden pavilion in the 19th century to this day is known as the "Holbein Porch" — a perfect example of the blending of the older Gothic and the brand-new Renaissance style. If not by Holbein, it is certainly by the hand of a great master.

Whoever the architect, nevertheless a great mansion arose. Today only one other part of the Tudor mansion survives: the great tower in the centre of the east facade (see illustration above). With its central arch (once giving access to the court beyond) and three floors of oriel windows above, the tower is slightly reminiscent of the entrance at Hampton Court. Flanked today by two wings in a loose Georgian style — each topped by an Italianate pavilion tower, this Tudor centrepiece of the facade appears not in the least incongruous, merely displaying the accepted appearance of a great English country house, which has evolved over the centuries.

Inigo Jones


The Tudor house built by William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke in 1551 was to last but eighty years. On the succession of the 4th Earl in 1630, he decided to pull down the southern wing and erect a new complex of staterooms in its place. It is now the second great name associated with Wilton appears: that of Inigo Jones.

The architecture of the south front is in severe Palladian style, described at the time as in the 'Italian Style'; built of the local stone, softened by climbing shrubs, it is quintessentially English to our eyes today. While the remainder of the house is on three floors of equal value in the English style, the South Front has a low rusticated ground floor, almost suggesting a semi-basement. Three small porches project at this level only, one at the centre, and one at each end of the facade, providing small balconies to the windows above. The next floor is the piano nobile, at its centre the great double height Venetian window, ornamented at second floor level by the Pembroke arms in stone relief. This central window is flanked by four tall sash windows on each side. These windows have low flat pediments. Each end of the facade is defined by 'corner stone' decoration giving a suggestion that the single-bay wings project forward. The single windows here are topped by a true pointed pediment. Above this floor is a further almost mezzanine floor, its small, unpedimented, windows aligning with the larger below, serve to emphasise the importance of the piano nobile. The roofline is hidden by a balustrade. Each of the terminating 'wings' is crowned by a one storey, pedimented tower resembling a Palladian pavilion. One must remember this style was a revolution in England at the time, a mere thirty years previously Montacute House had been in an amazing new style; and only a century earlier the juxtaposing mass of unplanned wings that is Compton Wynyates was just being completed.

Attributing the various architectural stages can be difficult, and the degree to which Inigo Jones was involved has been questioned. Queen Henrietta Maria, a frequent guest at Wilton, interrogated Jones about his work there. At the time (1635) he was employed by her, completing the Queen's House at Greenwich. It seems at this time Jones was too busy with his royal clients and did no more than provide a few sketches for a mansion, which he then delegated for execution to an assistant Isaac de Caus (sometimes spelt 'Caux'), a Frenchman and landscape gardener from Dieppe.

A document that Howard Colvin found at Worcester College library in Oxford in the 1960s confirmed not only de Caus as the architect, but that the original plan for the south facade was to have been over twice the length of that built; what we see today was intended to be only one of two identical wings linked by a central portico of six Corinthian columns. The whole was to be enhanced by a great parterre whose dimensions were 1000 feet by 400 feet. This parterre was in fact created and remained in existence for over 100 years. The second wing however failed to materialise — perhaps because of the 4th Earl's quarrel with King Charles I and subsequent fall from favour, or the outbreak of the Civil War; or simply lack of finances.

It is only now that Inigo Jones may have taken a firmer grip on his original ideas. Seeing De Caus' completed wing standing alone as an entirety, it was considered too plain — De Caus' original plan was for the huge facade to have a low pitched roof, with wings finishing with no architectural symbols of termination. The modifications to the completed wing were of a balustrade hiding the weak roof line and Italianate, pavilion-like towers at each end. The focal point became not a portico but the large double height Venetian window. This South Front (illustration above), has been deemed an architectural triumph of Palladian architecture in Britain, and it is widely believed that the final modifications to the work of De Caus were by Inigo Jones himself.

Within a few years of the completion of the new south wing in 1647, it was ravaged by fire. The seriousness of the fire and the devastation it caused is now a matter of some dispute. The architectural historian Christopher Hussey has convincingly argued that it was not as severe as some records have suggested. What is definite is that Inigo Jones now working with another architect John Webb (the nephew of his wife) returned once again to Wilton. Because of the uncertainty of the fire damage to the structure of the house, the only work that can be attributed with any degree of certainty to the new partnership is the redesign of the interior of the seven state-rooms contained on the piano nobile of the south wing; and even here the extent of Jones' presence is questioned. It appears he may have been advising from a distance, using Webb as his medium.
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