Recreated, the Tudor garden where an ambitious earl wooed the Virgin Queen

It was a setting for one of the most famous love stories in English history. The great scented garden that Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, created at Kenilworth Castle, his home in Warwickshire, especially to woo Elizabeth I has been re-created by English Heritage and opens to the public tomorrow.

Dudley was one of Tudor England's most powerful – and most glamorous – courtiers. He and Elizabeth had known each other since childhood. They had both been imprisoned in the Tower of London by Elizabeth's sister and predecessor, Queen Mary, who saw them as potential rivals for the throne. They had similar interests. What's more, they were deeply in love.

But Dudley's wife had died in an apparent accident at their home some years earlier and his political and religious enemies had accused him of deliberately killing her in order to try to marry Elizabeth. This potentially scandalous situation was among the considerations which had prevented the Queen from marrying him.

By 1575, Dudley decided to make one last plea to the Virgin Queen. He had the gardens of his home magnificently made over ready for her 19-day visit. He planned to stage a masquerade there in which an actor playing the "messenger of the gods" was to have bluntly told Elizabeth: "How necessarie were for worthy Queenes to wed, that know you wel whose life alwayes in learning hath beene led".

In the end it was cancelled, officially because of bad weather but more likely because the Queen found the planned garden masquerade politically inappropriate.

But Dudley did not give up. Instead he asked the man who had written the masquerade to run alongside the Queen's horse, warning her what would happen to Dudley if she spurned him. The Earl, she was warned, would turn into a holly bush called "Deep Desire!", adorned with "the restlesse prickes of his privie thoughts". Then, in even an more risqué comment, the warned the Queen that ladies too could become holly bushes. "Now some will say that the she-holy hath no prickes but thereof I intermeddle not," he quipped.

The one-acre walled garden is the first genuine Tudor garden ever to be recreated and the work has been made possible partly because of a vivid description of it written by Robert Langam, a member of Dudley's staff. In a letter thousands of words long, Langam describes the garden's size and layout, its paths and grass verges, its aviary, fountain, obelisks, statues and even the dimensions of the great terrace which overlooked it.

A team of researchers also conducted an exhaustive survey of images portraying other gardens of the Elizabethan Age to obtain crucial technical information not provided by the letter. Dozens of engravings by Dutch architect and artist Hans Vredeman de Vries and paintings by English artists were subjected to detailed study.

Some have speculated that the 19-day spectacle organised by Dudley was the inspiration for Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. "However, the real significance of this extravagant event was political," said Dr Janet Dickinson, of Durham University, an authority on 16th-century English history.

"It was the point and place where Elizabeth finally said no to Dudley's offer of marriage. If she had said yes, subsequent English history would probably have been very different. As it was, she turned him down and her decision led to the coming of the Stuarts 28 years later."

In 1578 Dudley, spurned by Elizabeth, decided to marry Lettice Knollys, the daughter of the Queen's cousin, who looked strikingly similar to Elizabeth. The Queen called her "that she-wolf" and banished her from court. Dudley died a decade later and the Queen, stricken with grief, locked herself in her apartment until concerned courtiers ordered that the royal door be broken down. She kept Dudley's last letter to her in a casket by her bedside.

After Dudley's death, Kenilworth became crown property and by 1620 the garden had been grassed over. Its recreation has cost £2.1m but English Heritage is confident it will become one of the most popular historic attractions in England.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific