July 9, 2013

For virtue, grace and manners make the man

It's Tuesday and that seems like a fine day to rub shoulders with some royalty.  Want to come along?  Having left Great Hopes Plantation, why don't we stroll down the lane to the Governor's Palace?  Completed in 1722 after sixteen years of construction, it served as home to seven royal governors as well as Virginia governors Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson.  A professor from the College of William and Mary described the Palace in a book published in 1724, when the city was just 25 years old.

"From the Church," he wrote, "runs a Street northward called Palace Street; at the other end of which stands the Palace or Governor's House, a magnificent Structure built at the publick Expense, finished and beautified with Gates, Fine Gardens, Offices, Walks, a fine Canal, Orchards, &c. . . . This likewise has the ornamental Addition of a good Cupola or Lanthorn, illuminated with most of the Town, upon Birth-Nights, and other Nights of occasional Rejoicings."

The word "Palace" was first used for the governor's house about 1714. Whether the term was used as irony in reference to its expense, or simply to designate an official residence is debatable.  When all was at last done, however, the building measured up to the name compared to other colonial structures, but not to European palaces. There stood a five-bay Georgian home laid up in Flemish bond with glazed headers and rubbed brick window jambs and lintels. It had three floors of about 3,380 square feet each, a cellar with 11 wine bins, a row of dormers in the roof, and an iron balcony at the central upper window. Just inside the gate – guarded by a stone unicorn on one side and a stone lion on the other – stood two one-and-one-half story brick advance buildings with gabled roofs.

Beyond the house was a formal garden in which guests could stand on the mound of earth that covered the ice-house to look into a large, naturalistic park that stretched away to the north.
 The stable, carriage house, kitchen, scullery, laundry, and an octagonal bathhouse were arranged in service yards beside the advance buildings.

This carriage carried Queen Elizabeth II on her last trip to Williamsburg in 2007.  What do the British think when they visit Williamsburg, I wonder? 
Let's take a peek inside, shall we? The grand hallway was built to impress, and intimidate, the visitors to the Palace.  I was most suitably in awe.
The decorative weapons were put to use, however, when the city recoiled from the removal of gunpowder from the Magazine in 1775.  The final British Royal Governor, John Murray, the fourth Earl of Dunmore, summoned 40 sailors to the Palace to protect him from angry citizens. On May 15, 1775, he said he had turned it into a garrison. On June 8, Dunmore fled under cover of darkness, never to return. The Palace muskets and swords were pulled from the decorative displays by a delegation of local men and carried to the Powder Magazine for use in defending the colony.

Following the hasty royal retreat, General Charles Lee of the Continental army made the Palace his headquarters until it became a hospital. Then Virginia's government ordered the structure renovated for Governor Patrick Henry. Thomas Jefferson succeeded Henry in office and residence. In 1779 he drew a floor plan of the Palace, perhaps with a view to remodeling. The government, however, moved the next year to Richmond, and nothing came of the plans. The Palace served again as a hospital in the fall of 1781, this time for American soldiers wounded in the Battle of Yorktown. Some 156 of them, and two women, are buried in the garden.

But before the War, and the disrepair it finally fell into, the Palace was home...even if it was less impressive than many of the family homes British royal governors were accustomed to back in England.  Bedrooms had to accommodate both the children and their governesses.  I am sure you can figure out which bed belonged to each (don't let the doll fool you!)

The Palace hosted the colony’s fashionable society and finest entertainments. The October 31, 1771, Virginia Gazette reported:
"Last Friday night being the anniversary of our Most gracious Sovereign's Accession to the Throne, his Excellency the Governor gave a Ball and an elegant Entertainment at the Palace, to a numerous and splendid Company of Ladies and Gentlemen."
The magnificent ballroom is painted a dazzling blue called Palace Ballroom Wallpaper Prussian Blue.   Note the harpsichord and the carpet that was definitely meant to impress!
If you forgot for a moment that you were still a subject of the Royal Crown, the watchful eyes of King George III and Queen Charlotte quickly reminded you of where your loyalty ought to lie!
And if you grew weary of hours of dancing (with very few chairs available for resting tired feet) you could partake of light refreshments and punch in the adjoining supper room, with its vivid green walls and equally impressive carpeting!
Or, if the air grew stale and the talk turned to politics, you could always escape to the gardens for a quiet rendevous!
Let's finish with a stroll around the lovely gardens, my favorite part of the Palace tour.

And once again, here is a favorite poem of Thomas Jefferson's, an extract from the "Mirror for Magistrates"  (anonymous) that was copied in Jefferson's own hand into his scrapbook.  "Mirror for Magistrates" was a collection of English Renaissance poems that dates to 1560.  It seems most apropos after our tour of the Palace and its lovely gardens.

WHAT doth avail to have a princely place,
A name of honour, and a high degree;
to come by kindred of a noble race.
Except we princely, worthy, noble be!
The fruit declares the goodness of the tree
Do brag no more of birth, or lineage then;
For virtue, grace and manners make the man.

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