In 1603 James I
takes the English throne, bringing his Scottish entourage with him. This son of Mary Queen of Scots is an
intellectual, tolerating Papist practices but squanders the treasury of his
inherited country in masques and pageantry and encloses the people’s farmlands
for royal use.
Robert Cecil, a notable statesman
of his day has a magnificent estate at Hatfield House in Hertfordshire, with
beautiful gardens overseen by John Tradescant, his chief gardener and friend.
Tradescant believes wholeheartedly in the master-servant hierarchy of
authority, to serve his Lord until the man either dies or discharges him
After Cecil's death, Tradescant's
beautiful gardens are admired by George Villier, the Duke of Buckingham, a
confidant of both King James and his heir, King Charles I. Buckingham is a man of pride and excesses who flaunts
all the rules of propriety and manners due to his closeness with the King, with
whom it is rumoured he is having a sexual relationship. Tradescant is wary of the man's reputation, but when he meets
Buckingham, he too is mesmerised at the man’s commanding presence and masculine
By the end of James’s reign, the
Duke is second only to the new king, Charles I, who, like his father, ignores
the troubles of his people to indulge in his own pleasures. Rumours circulate
that Charles has taken his father’s place not only on his throne, but in
Buckingham’s bed. John is helpless to
deny the Duke and falls completely under George Villier’s power, though the
people murmur their heritage is being squandered by their self indulgent
Over the years, John travels to
Holland, Muscovy, France and Algiers, gathering cuttings and rare plants,
leaving his wife at home for years at a time.
Elizabeth Tradescant questions the superiority of Kings and is fiercely
religious, tending towards Puritanism.
She is devoted to John and he to her, but her husband's obsession with the Duke of
Buckingham is too strong to be ignored and when the Duke beckons, John comes
His duty and love for both his
masters brings as much despair into John’s life as it does satisfaction as he
puts together some of the most beautiful gardens in the royal palaces, with the story
encompassing the Gunpowder Plot, the great crash of the tulip market in
Holland, and the clash of King and Parliament which throws the country into chaos
by its selfish and spendthrift monarchy.
When Buckingham leads as
disastrous expedition against Cadiz in 1625, Parliament is furious and has him
impeached. Charles I dissolves Parliament to prevent his favourite going on trial. Then George
Villiers takes troops into La Rochelle to relieve the Huguenots in a mad
exploit for power and glory but fails miserably with the loss of hundreds of
When at Portsmouth preparing
a second expedition for La Rochelle, Buckingham is assassinated by John Felton,
a disgruntled naval officer. John
Tradescant is shattered, his Lord is dead and his ordered world is over.
This is a poignant story of love and loss,
divided loyalty and some fascinating narrative about the construction of the royal gardens of the early 17th Century