If you want to understand more about a professional and successful man like Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, there is surely a need to understand more of his home life and relationship. Brown’s working life is fairly well documented and covered in-depth elsewhere, but what of his own marriage? Isn’t it essential to know something of the woman who helped create a home worth returning to whilst he endured, and enjoyed his many long trips away?
Brown’s working life was long, his landscapes many, and his dedication to his art is clear. However, achieving all that he did wasn’t at the expense of a personal family life. Throughout his career he would have enjoyed the support, I assume, of a loving wife, a wife who appeares to have given birth to nine children no less – his affectionate (I hope) term for his wife was ‘Biddy’. We can assume his family were well provided for as they moved from Stowe, through Hammersmith to Wilderness House at Hampton Court, and finally of course acquiring the Manor House at Fenstanton, Huntingdonshire.
A full appraisal of the life of Mr. and Mrs. Brown this is not. This post is merely a point for us to take note, consider and appreciate the marriage that may have helped make the man. I know my wife plays a major part in my work and personal success, and I hope I play the same role in hers. Brown’s eighteenth century ‘family’ situation is rarely mentioned however, moved over quickly in search of his landscape improvements. It appears his situation was more typical of the day; the house, children and many more things besides being creatively ‘managed’ by his wife and lady of the house – Bridget.
Lancelot, aged twenty-eight tied the knot with his Biddy in the center of one of Britain’s most spectacular landscape gardens – Stowe. Biddy was just one year younger when they wed at the beautiful little Church of St. Mary, hidden from the landscape then, much as now, by trees. They moved into one of the two ornamental ‘Boycott’ pavilions, at the entrance to Stowe Park. Therefore in Buckinghamshire, a very long way from their precious Northumberland and Lincolnshire homes, the Brown’s started their married life. It is also worth saying that at Stowe, just two years later, the Brown’s also began their significant journey as parents.
As mentioned, this post is purely in celebration of the anniversary of Mr. and Mrs. Brown, and for that reason, in this post I’m keeping the children to one side. It wouldn’t b
e correct however if I didn’t mention the spark for this post, that being Jane Brown’s 2011 book ‘The Omnipotent Magician’. It may be one of many books about the landscape gardener, but one that I think really tries to set the background scene, and effort is made within the text to help people see
what life could really have been like for Lancelot. The book sets Brown in a family and professional context. Even allowing for a little imagination between the many facts, it is clear that Jane worked hard to describe the up-bringing that both Lancelot and Bridget enjoyed, including events that could have conspired to bring them together. For that reason amongst others, I can heartily recommend the book, and will leave you to tease out Brown’s story from the book.
Moving rapidly to the later days of the relationship… Lancelot reputedly collapsed at the door of his daughter Bridget’s home on a winter’s night in 1783 – the very next morning, presumably not disturbed any earlier – Biddy joined him. Lancelot passed away later that night. The Brown’s had enjoyed thirty-nine years of marriage, which, these days makes them just shy of their Ruby Anniversary. Sadly, Bridget lived on for just three more years.
I like to think of them as a happy couple, who both reveled in the success of their collaboration. I say ‘their’ because Lancelot’s achievements were almost certainly under-pinned by Bridget. In considering only his landscapes, his clients, and the men who Lancelot worked with, we could be missing out his most important partner.
We must remember the woman who cared for him during illness, and who smiled when he left for long journey, after journey. We must not forget the person who strived to create a home to which Lancelot could retreat, and who reared their children whilst he was away on business. Bridget could well have been the key to Lancelot’s success, yet I’m sure they worked as a team. After all, as people say: Behind every great man, is a …..