Who was the Earl of Orkney?
George Hamilton, first Earl of Orkney (1666-1737) was a distinguished army officer who fought in the Nine Years’ War (1689-1697) and the War of Spanish Succession (1702-1713), becoming one of the Duke of Marlborough’s best officers. In 1696 he acquired the Cliveden estate.
A younger son
A younger son of a Scottish aristocratic family, Orkney had to make his own fortune in the world, entering the army at a young age and marrying William III’s wealthy former mistress, Elizabeth Villiers, in 1695.
Despite his wife's fortune, Orkney’s resources were often constrained and this is reflected in his work at Cliveden. He later said that ‘I always thought it too great for me even when my purse could have pretended to such a place’.
In the gardens, for example, earlier ornate and more expensive parterre proposals by designers including the French gardener Claude Desgots were abandoned in favour of what Orkney called his ‘Quaker parterre’ – a plain grass sward which he confided to his brother was extremely cheap yet ‘I hope it will be approved by the connoisseurs’.
Royalty at Cliveden
For Orkney, who became a senior courtier, Cliveden was not only a rural escape from the bustle of London, but also an important entertaining space for the new Hanoverian royal family. For example, George I dined at Cliveden in 1717 and 1724, and in 1729 the Orkneys hosted a banquet for George II’s wife Queen Caroline as well as some of the princes and princesses.
Newspaper reports indicate these occasions were great successes and, after Orkney’s death in 1737, Frederick, Prince of Wales, went on to rent Cliveden until his own death in 1751.