The Earl of Architecture and the Prince of Wales

Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington and 4th Earl of Cork, was a very talented architect who is credited with bringing Palladian architecture to the United Kingdom and Ireland in the 18th century.

NPG 4818; Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington and 4th Earl of Cork

Howard Colvin, who was one of the foremost scholars in British architectural historians, wrote that, “Burlington’s mission was to reinstate in Augustan England the canons of Roman architecture as described by Vitruvius, exemplified by its surviving remains, and practised by Palladio, Scamozzi and Jones.” Several of Burlington’s buildings remain standing today, although most had to be restored at some point in the last century. A good example of his work is Chiswick House in London.


What interests me most about Burlington is not his architecture, however. No, what interests me most about him is his family. Burlington married the artist Dorothy Savile in 1720, and they had several children. Dorothy’s maternal grandmother was  Lady Essex Rich, who was named for her grandfather, the 1st Earl of Essex. The Earl of Essex’s wife, Lettice Knollys, was the grand-daughter of Mary Boleyn, the sister of Anne Boleyn and maternal aunt of Queen Elizabeth I. This means, of course, that the Burlington’s children were direct descendants of Mary Boleyn.

One of Burlington’s great-great grandsons was the well-connected but untitled Reverend Charles William Frederick Cavendish-Bentinck. Since the good Reverend was so far down the line of succession (albeit of multiple dukes), he married Caroline Louisa Burnaby, the daughter of local gentry with no real connections to the English peerage. In fact, Burnaby’s maternal grandfather was a mere solicitor from Dorset by the name of Thomas Salisbury. The humble antecedents of his wife makes me think the Reverend either married her because he was madly in love with her middle-class family had somehow gotten rich and were able to dower her lavishly.

The marriage between Charles Cavendish-Bentinck and Burnaby was a fruitful one, and their eldest daughter married Claude George Bowes-Lyon, 14th and 1st Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, who was an interesting fellow in his own right:

he was known as “14th and 1st Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne”, because he was the 14th Earl in the peerage of Scotland but the 1st Earl in the peerage of the United Kingdom … He had a keen interest in forestry, and was one of the first to grow larch from seed in Britain. His estates had a large number of smallholders and he had a reputation for being unusually kind to his tenants … He worked his own land and enjoyed physical labour in the grounds of his estates. Visitors mistook him for a common labourer.

Claude was also leery of royalty, in spite of his own titles. He must have passed these reservations on to his own children, because his youngest daughter, Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon, turned down Prince Albert, Duke of York the first two times he proposed to her because he was the second son of King George V. Elizabeth, who was called Lilibet by close friends and family, like the duke well enough, but she didn’t want to be married into the royal family and deal with all that pressure. She was wise, but in the end she was too in love with the Duke of York, who was known as Bertie to his intimates, to hold out after a third proposal. They married in the spring of 1923 and had a very happy union.


They were happy together even after Bertie unexpectedly and reluctantly became King George VI in 1536

Lilibet and Bertie had two little girls, Elizabeth (b. 1926) and Margaret (b. 1930), who became next in line to the throne in 1936. After Bertie’s early death in 1952, his eldest daughter became the current monarch of United Kingdom, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Lilibet lived another five decades, dying at age 101 in 2002.

Through her mother’s family, Queen Elizabeth II is therefore the direct descendant of Mary Boleyn, which is (to be frank) really cool in my opinion. But she is also the direct descendant of a excellent architect, which I also find very interesting in light of her eldest son Charles’s well-known love of architecture and building preservation. Many modern architects are apparently less than thrilled with the Prince of Wale’s love of historical edifices and determination to fight modernism and postmodernism styling:

An unpleasant sense of deja vu occurs every time HRH The Prince of Wales comes down from Balmoral to pipe up about contemporary architecture. For more than 30 years now, he’s been the bane of the architectural profession, wielding his accidental power to influence the design not only of individual buildings and projects, but the entire debate about what architecture is, who it is for and what it should look like. So when the Architectural Review recently published his series of 10 principles for architecture, it was hard to know whether to go apoplectic or simply roll one’s eyes: “It’s that man again … ”

Nonetheless, considering the vile buildings that modern architects have inflicted on venerable and venerable cities in the UK and Ireland (Have you SEEN some of the ugly concrete shoeboxes they have throw up right next to gorgeous buildings from days of yore and semi-yore?), I am on Team Charles with this. HRH insists that:

I have lost count of the times I have been accused of wanting to turn the clock back to some Golden Age. Nothing could be further from my mind. My concern is the future. We face the terrifying prospect by 2050 of another three billion people on this planet needing to be housed, and architects and urban designers have an enormous role to play in responding to this challenge. We have to work out now how we will create resilient, truly sustainable and human-scale urban environments that are land-efficient, use low-carbon materials and do not depend so completely upon the car. However, for these places to enhance the quality of people’s lives and strengthen the bonds of community, we have to reconnect with those traditional approaches and techniques honed over thousands of years which, only in the 20th century, were seen as ‘old-fashioned’ and of no use in a progressive modern age. It is time to take a more mature view… As traditional thinking teaches, basing designs on the timeless universal principles expressed by Nature’s order enables the full scope of our humanity to be fulfilled, on the physical, communal, cultural and spiritual levels. What has concerned me about the design and planning of so many modern built environments during the greater part of the 20th century is that these four interconnecting levels have been completely abandoned and ignored, to the extent that their rediscovery is seen as an exciting revelation. Emphasis has been placed purely on the functional with no integrated understanding of how the order of Nature informs the well-being of people. Hence, towns have been systematically broken down into zones with shopping and commercial zones sitting separately from the housing zones they serve, many of which look exactly the same, being made of the same industrialized materials wherever in the country they are built. And, with business parks and leisure centres built on urban fringes, the entire system only functions because of the car. The opportunities for fragmentation and isolation are everywhere.

The Prince of Wales is right. There have been multiple studies showing how living and work space effect the mind. Modern architecture, from McMansions to malls, can leave the dwellers within them with a desperate physiological need for coziness, comfort, and connections.

If Charles inherited a love of classic design from his many-times-over-great-grandfather, Richard Boyle, I think it was not a bad thing at all.

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