Political gardening at Wentworth Castle Gardens

The sun monument and Stainborough Castle at Wentworth Castle Gardens

Everywhere you look at Wentworth Castle Gardens there are stories to tell. Stories of power and politics, family infighting, misery and hope are all around – you just need to know where to look.

Sir Thomas Wentworth (1672-1739) created this estate to outshine his cousin, building a house and gardens that would rival the nearby Wentworth Woodhouse. This bold statement started centuries of work at Wentworth Castle Gardens, creating the stories hidden in monuments around the estate today.

Queen Anne Monument

In 1714, the crown of England controversially passed from the Stuart royal line to the Hanoverians. This 1734 monument is dedicated to Anne, the last Stuart monarch, and is unique in an English garden. It’s an almost treasonous statement by Thomas Wentworth, and hints at what he thought of the regime change (particularly since this change caused him to lose both his power and influence).

Patriotism and planting in the Union Jack Garden
The Union Jack Garden at Wentworth Castle Gardens, Yorkshire
Patriotism and planting in the Union Jack Garden

Union Jack Garden

The geometric design of this maze-like garden was very fashionable when it was first created for Thomas Wentworth in 1713. But there’s a patriotic message here too – Thomas created the design to combine the crosses of St George and St Andrew, celebrating the union of Scotland and England in 1707. This union was a proud moment in Queen Anne’s reign, and so even after her death this garden stands as proof of his loyalty to her.

The Kneeling African Sundial

Thomas designed his gardens to show off his wealth, influence, and political views. In 1713, he helped to negotiate the Peace of Utrecht, an international treaty that confirmed Britain as the most important commercial power in Europe. This included a lucrative monopoly over the Atlantic slave trade, something he proudly represented in his house and gardens, including a sundial in the shape of a kneeling African man, now in the conservatory. Like many of his contemporaries, Wentworth made and inherited a great deal of money from the sale and labour of enslaved Africans. This human misery helped pay for the house and gardens he built.

The Kneeling Slave at Wentworth Castle Gardens
The Kneeling Slave statue at Wentworth Castle Gardens
The Kneeling Slave at Wentworth Castle Gardens

Lady Mary Memorial (or the Sun Monument)

This monument is thought to be the oldest in the country dedicated to a (then) living non-royal woman. It is a tribute from William Wentworth, Thomas’ son, to Lady Mary Wortley-Montagu. A poet and letter-writer, Lady Mary made medical history by pioneering inoculation against smallpox in the 1720s, with William and his sisters all being treated to protect them from the disease. She is also well known for her travel writing, including vivid descriptions of Muslim women and their lives in the 18th century Ottoman Empire.

It is also rumoured that the bronze disc which sits on top of the monument was angled to reflect the sunlight across to the Wentworth Woodhouse estate, in what must surely have been an annoying distraction on sunny days. Could this be another example of family rivalry on show?

Argyll Column

In 1744, William Wentworth dedicated this grand column to his late father in law, the 2nd Duke of Argyll. But is this simply a touching family tribute, or could this also be a political statement? Shortly before his death, the Duke had been punished for opposing the government's harsh anti-Jacobite policies in Scotland. This column dedicated to his memory is topped with a statue of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom and war, who faces south to London. Was William making a subtle political comment with this monument?