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The Elizabethan Snail Mount

The viewing mount at the Garden of Cosmic Speculation (see previous post) is of particularly illustrious ancestry, being a type favored by the Elizabethans who conferred upon it a typically emblematic meaning.

Sir Francis Bacon's garden (c. 1620) had 'in the very middle, a fair mount, with three ascents, and alleys, enough for four to walk abreast; which I would have to be perfect circles...and the whole mount to be thirty foot high'

A mount of this height had to be ascended by stairs (expensive) or by circular spiralling paths (cheaper), leading to the name 'snail mounts'.

The best surviving example, shown above, is at Lyveden New Bield in Northamptonshire, where twin snail mounds arise from a moated landscape surrounding Thomas Tresham's haunting, never-finished Trinitarian retreat.
(Highly recommended for a visit as one of the most intact Tudor landscapes.)

As with many garden adornments, the romantic Elizabethans could not resist conveying upon the snail mount a deeper meaning. At an entertainment staged for Queen Elizabeth I at Elvetham in 1591, the snail mount 'resembleth a monster', and was addressed by the entertainment's actors with reference to arch-enemy Spain:

'You Ugly monster creeping from the South
to spoyle these blessed fields of Albion
by selfe same beames is changed into a snail
Whos bullrush hornes are not of force to hurt.
As this snaile is, so be thine enemies.'

Whereupon, presumably, they fired upon the snail mount with cannon.

[from The honorable Entertainment gieven to the Queenes Majestie in Progresse, at Elvetham in Hampshire, 1591. On-line if you have access to EEBO, image here]
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1 comment:
Nancy J. Bond said...

What an absolutely fascinating field of study you've chosen! So interesting!

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