Georgian Period

Frances, Countess of Hertford, was appointed in 1723 a Lady of the Bedchamber to Caroline, the Princess of Wales (later Queen Caroline). When Lady Hertford’s husband inherited an even grander title in 1748 and became one of the richest landowners in the country, she became Duchess of Somerset. As one of the great society ladies of the 18th century, Lady Hertford created a fine garden to the south of the Mound. She ordered the construction of a Grotto some time between 1718 and 1735 at the foot of the Mound. Certainly, she claims in her correspondence dated 10th/21st June 1739 that:

The trees I planted some years ago in my garden now afford me a delightful shade (under which I pass many solitary hours) . . . . The grotto that we have made under the mount . . . . is much prettier than that at Twickenham.

By constructing such a garden with a grotto, Lady Hertford was at the forefront of what later became known as the English Landscape Movement. Her more immediate concern was to compete with the Twickenham garden and grotto of Alexander Pope, who finished his first grotto in 1725. Pope used the grotto to attract visits by fashionable ladies like Lady Mary Wortley Montague, as did Horace Walpole at Strawberry Hill.

Lady Hertford liked to keep a ‘poet in residence’ each summer, if possible. She would invite the poet to entertain her circle of lady-friends and guests with readings, possibly in the Grotto. Lady Hertford’s group of friends met regularly at Marlborough from 1725 until 1740 and saw themselves as Arcadian shepherdesses worshipping at the shrine of the muse of poetry! Accordingly, Lady Hertford became a patron of the poet, James Thomson. She appears to have begun her association with him when she invited him to visit her in Marlborough in the summer of 1727. Thomson wrote at least some of his poem Spring in Marlborough. When he published it in 1728, he dedicated it to Lady Hertford with all the customary flattery accorded to patrons. He became well known for this poem, published in his collection of four pieces as The Seasons in 1730. In 1740, Thomson wrote the words for "Rule Britannia" as part of the masque Alfred (set to music by Thomas Arne); it became one of the most well-known British patriotic songs of the era.

Lady Hertford also induced another poet, Stephen Duck, the ‘Wiltshire Thresher’, to publish tributes in her honour. In 1733, Duck had been made a Yeoman of the Guard by the queen, despite his very humble, rustic origins; and that year he married Queen Caroline's housekeeper at Kew. In 1735, Caroline made him keeper of the Queen's library at Merlin's Cave in Richmond. One must suspect that Lady Hertford had been instrumental in introducing him at court after meeting him first in Wiltshire. During this period, Duck wrote many poems, with increasing polish and urbanity. His Poems of 1736 had both Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift as subscribers. In 1736, Duck’s "A Description of a Journey to Marlborough" includes the following admiring lines:

His Muse to silver Kennet flies,
On whose green margin Hertford’s Turrets rise.
Here often round the verdant Plain I stray
Where Thomson sung his bold, unfetter’d Lay;
Or climb the winding, mazy Mountain’s Brow……………………
When Thomson sang of Spring and Hertford’s Grace,
And where Bramnall shares a lasting Place
Within the Basis of the Verdant Hill
A beauteous Grot confesses Hertford’s Skill
Who, with her lovely Nymphs, adorns the Place
Gives ev'ry polish'd Stone its proper Grace
Now varies rustic Moss about the Cell
Now fits the shining Pearl, or purple Shell
CALYPSO thus,...