If you have ever visited Blickling and taken a wander in the park, you may have come across a strange pyramid hidden amongst the trees, and wondered what on earth it is doing there. A folly? An alien spacecraft? It is actually a mausoleum and the man it was built for was Sir John Hobart, the 2nd Earl of Buckinghamshire, and he is buried inside, lying between his two wives.
This is just one of the many fascinating snippets of information we learn reading Joy Beresford Frye’s new biography. Joy is a guide at Blickling and like many others, had been curious about the man in the pyramid. So much so that she decided to research his history and ended up writing this book. And one of the remarkable things about it is that she tracked down swathes of correspondence which gives us a real insight into the character of the man and his family life.
Hobart followed a fairly typical path for a young gentleman of his rank, educated at Westminster School and Cambridge, then two years abroad on the ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe, only returning home when he was elected in his absence as MP for Norwich and his father had been elevated to Earl of Buckinghamshire, making him now Lord Hobart.
In 1753, Hobart’s father died and he became the 2nd Earl. He married in 1761 and 18 months later was appointed as Ambassador to the Court of Peter III of Russia, finding on arrival that Peter had been overthrown and his wife, Catherine was now Empress. An example of the author’s style is that in explaining this situation she provides us with a brief but clear and factual explanation of the events leading up to these momentous events.
Buckingham (as he was now known) wrote many letters home during this period and we learn a great deal about life at the Russian court. Anyone who followed the entertaining (but not remotely accurate) television series ‘The Great’ will find this part of the book fascinating, especially the discovery that some of the more outlandish parts of the drama were in fact true!
After spending a time back in England with his family, and undertaking various works at Blickling, Buckingham was appointed Viceroy of Ireland in 1775. The author documents his time in Dublin where he had to deal with a multitude of issues whilst England was fighting the war of independence in America.
The remainder of his years were mostly spent at Blickling with his family. His correspondence with his family and others provides an illuminating window into the society of this period. It’s not quite ‘Bridgerton’ but you can certainly see where those stories come from.
Overall this an entertaining and fascinating book, well researched and well written. Essential for anyone interested in the history of this period in general and of Blickling and Norfolk in particular.