A huge old grey statue sits half hidden in a corner between the arched walls of the Monks Garden and one of the entrances to the Secret Garden. Tall deep green yew trees planted behind it ensure it always has shade and it begins each day looking either to the right or left. Like many other families, mine included, Geordie’s family claims kinship to this ancient king and here at Highclere his statue is a colossal reminder of him – Charles the Great, Carolus Magnus who was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in Aachen Cathedral on Christmas Day 800 AD.
I often wonder if the face on the statue is in anyway similar to the visage of the real man but it would be serendipity were it to be so given the centuries that have passed. There are some similarities: a 9th century contemporary records that he was “heavily built, sturdy, and of considerable stature” “large and lively eyes, a slightly larger nose than usual, white but still attractive hair, a bright and cheerful expression, a short and fat neck.”
Part of Charlemagne’s success was due to his skill as a warrior but he combined this with those of an administrator and ruler and he had a great admiration for learning and education. He enjoyed books and music although apparently, he found it hard to sleep. He was a practical man as well and in some ways was ahead of his time. His religion taught him that life began in a garden, in Paradise, but he took it a stage further and, in order to ensure everyone lived well, he promoted a list of 94 plants to be grown in every city “Capitualre de Villis”.
“It is our wish that they shall have in their gardens all kinds of plants: lily, roses, fenugreek, costmary, sage, rue, southernwood, cucumbers, pumpkins, gourds, kidney-bean, cumin, rosemary, caraway, chick-pea, squill, gladiolus, tarragon, anise, colocynth, chicory, ammi, sesili, lettuces, spider’s foot, rocket salad, garden cress, burdock, penny-royal, hemlock, parsley, celery, lovage, juniper, dill, sweet fennel, endive, dittany, white mustard, summer savory, water mint, garden mint, wild mint, tansy, catnip, centaury, garden poppy, beets, hazelwort, marshmallows, mallows, carrots, parsnip, orach, spinach, kohlrabi, cabbages, onions, chives, leeks, radishes, shallots, cibols, garlic, madder, teazles, broad beans, peas, coriander, chervil, capers, clary. And the gardener shall have house-leeks growing on his house. As for trees, it is our wish that they shall have various kinds of apple, pear, plum, sorb, medlar, chestnut and peach; quince, hazel, almond, mulberry, laurel, pine, fig, nut and cherry trees of various kinds. The names of apples are: gozmaringa, geroldinga, crevedella, spirauca; there are sweet ones, bitter ones, those that keep well, those that are to be eaten straightaway, and early ones. Of pears they are to have three or four kinds, those that keep well, sweet ones, cooking pears and the late-ripening ones.”
I have included the whole of the list as I find it entirely fascinating: diverse, sensible and offering the basis for a good life both in terms of ensuring a ready supply of food but also in that it stopped the towns becoming too cut off from the countryside. Rural life and work often seems very undervalued today, with the landscape seen only as a place for leisure, for trampling through wildlife on a search for personal benefit.
Just over one hundred years ago a man called Ebenezer Howard developed the garden city movement: communities surrounding the central city which offered areas of residences, industry and agriculture. He inspired people in both the USA and UK but it was here in the UK that it was really put into practice in a meaningful way, most famously in Hampstead Garden Suburb in 1907 and Welwyn Garden City in 1920.
It was all about living a healthier lifestyle after the appalling conditions that developed in cities following the industrial revolution with an emphasis on space, fresh air and access to nature.
Plus ça change – let’s plant, eat well, eat locally, include plenty of vegetables and go for some walks.
We have become a universal society that has become dependent upon instant gratification and a life of leisure. I live in the Midwest of the United States that is primarily farm country but I don’t know many people that grow their own gardens for food anymore. And there is too much of life always being “on the go“ there aren’t many people that appreciate nature from a slower standpoint like our ancestors did. Most observation of nature nowadays comes from a car window and moving it speeds that are not natural to the average man in movement. It is nice that you recognize and validate that the slower things allow for appreciation and not only the beauty of nature but also in where the food supply comes from. I hope you’re having lovely weather as we start to turn into the autumn season.
I’m in the Midwest and thoroughly enjoy my vegetable garden! (As do the squirrels …)
I’m in southern Oregon and split my time between my garden and the local growers market. We’re seeing a whole new appreciation for the “slow life” in the younger generation (mid 20’s to mid 30s)…so many more families homesteading and living more simply.
I often wonder about the speed at which we move. When we travel to Pismo Beach (a 10 hour drive), we always end up with a stuff nose; I think it’s because we’ve moved much too quickly through too many different climates, never giving our bodies a chance to acclimate.
We appreciate life at a slower pace since leaving the rat-race of California. The forests call to us and we answer…as often as possible.
I remember admiring the statute of Charlemagne’s statute on our visit to your wonderful home and property a few years ago. The variety of fruits and vegetables would ensure good health and medicines for illness such as colocynth for diabetes and cholesterol which they may not have been aware of at the time, but learned how these varied foods helped residents. There are quite a few that I have never heard of and will now research. Thank you for providing a comprehensive list!
Like you, I’m now going to heavily research this list…..as a South Carolina Mastergardener, I didn’t think I’d be unable to immediately identify such a large portion of that list but both Charlemagne and Lady Fiona have challenged me to up my game…….it can only serve to benefit our local health! Lady Carnarvon, y’all have intrigued us one again.
What a fascinating story. Even moreso because Charlemagne is my 37th Great Grandfather.
For the past 25+ years, I have been tracing my ancestry, and have gotten as far back as the 300’s. I am related to Charlemagne through his son Pepin of Italy, King of the Lombards (777-810).
William the Conqueror is my 27th Great Grandfather as well, and my lines go down through several Kings of England and France. Absolutely fascinating hobby! Sometimes enlightening as well. I found a few “skeletons” that were very unexpected. One from my mother!
Thank you so much for your blogs and books. I dearly hope to visit one day.
Dover, Ohio, USA
So fascinating. I love these historical stories. Thank you so much for sharing. Wishing we in the US had more garden cities. The older I get I sent to yearn for my garden and expand it if I can. Love your blog and recipes.
Greetings once again Lady Carnarvon,
Thank you for another informative and educational blog. Impressive historical listing of so many garden items able to grow centuries ago!
Also, quite an elaborate head and shoulder covering sculpture of Charlemagne. So much stone carving talent back then. Glad it is still partially exposed to view. Thank you for sharing.
Any concerns that the roots of the plant growing up the base of the Charlemagne statue may grow into it forcing cracks that someday may crumble it down? Prayers going out it won’t!
No I am sure the Gardner’s will look after him!
I continue to be amazed with the similarities you often lay before us in your posts between long ago persons of thought and caring and those who do the same in our lives today. We have locally, and I’m sure elsewhere, Meals on Wheels, taking food to many who are elderly, infirm, or otherwise unable too choose from the variety of foods in the supermarkets, or farm stands in the country.
My thanks for this interesting history of how sensible Charlemagne was for his people.
Lady Carnarvon, you amaze me. When I think I have read your best story, the following week is even more splendid. I am very keen on this one. Perfect!. Cheryl.
Yes we should grow more and by that know what we eat. Visited Highclere last Thursday and took some photos of Charlemangre and its so nice now to know the history. I’m still reeling after my visit as I sit here home in Ireland wait to collect some 100 photos in order to put an album together in keepsake of our visit. Thank you so much for allowing public into your magnificent castle. It was lovely to sip wine while listening to the lovely 20’s music all in keeping with your heaven.
Glad you visited Luis bar while at Highclere!
Thank you so much for the list of plants that Charlemagne required to be grown in his towns. It certainly sounds as if he really enjoyed a very healthy tasteful diet. I was pleasantly surprised to see plants and trees I have in my garden which every year produces food not only for my family but also for the bees and local wildlife. Charlemagne truly was a man of great vision. Thanks again for sharing him.
It warms my heart when your post pops up. I’ve been to England but not to Highclere, which is on my list for next year. Yes, times were less stressful in times past. I remember my grandmom out in her garden which inspired me to always have a garden of vegetables & beautiful flowers. I raised my children on a 20 acre farm & the house dated back to 1745. They would play hide & seek in the cornfields. Ah, those were the days. Enjoy the rest of your summer.
He is my 39th great grandfather!
Hope you have some of his suggested plants!!!
Thanks a lot for your interesting informations and for your amazing blog.
House-leeks? How fascinating! Thanks for another enjoyable start to the week.
Better that sort of lee(a)k ….
You are too funny!
Where did you find the list of fruits, vegetables, and herbs? I am sure Charlemagne’s writings were preserved somewhere but when were they translated into English? I find history fascinating and love how you make connections with our lives today. Now to look up some of those unknowns of long ago!
Thank you for your musings and fascinating tidbits each week which I find fascinating.
i found them in my research for my Seasons at Highclere book
Lady Carnarvon lovely pictures of Charlemagne and you and lord Carnarvon have lovely weekend and fan of Downton abbey and lovely to visit highcelere castle thank you for the email very kind of you
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
It is so refreshing to hear about the history of your property and especially about Charlemagne. Even though times have changed, his story resonates with being strong in the face of adversity.
Additionally, your list of garden verities and orchard trees will be going into my garden notebook. Your list will be there for both remembrance and to inspire me to yearly choose a garden variety that we both will share. The distance between us, bridged…
Thank you again for your inspirational words.
Thanks for the full list of produce! WOW! And the photo of your ripening pears is beautiful.
We a finally enjoying Frost Peaches from our tree. It was a cool slow start to our summer here in the Pacific NW. Looking forward to a trip we have planned to England in October! Enjoy the bounty from your land.
I hope we see you at Highclere?
Enjoyed the expression on your Manager’s face as he demonstrated “walking”!
Thank you for your interesting articles.
I’m from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I’m fascinated by the English history and the way Lady Carnavan writes are very much expressive….I really love it. Thank you, muito obrigado.
Charlemagne’s wishes are working their way through the America’s these days, as leeks are getting more popular than ever, especially in the American south. They have been a staple in my garden for some years, grown beside the sweet potatoes, and the cilantro (coriander), and bordered by lemongrass and cosmos. I discovered leeks 20 years ago on a visit to Norge. Mt friend Charlotte (coinky dink I’m sure) introduced them to be as they were sautéing in her copper pan, in preparation for a Jule dinner she was hosting. Their sweet smell as they bubbled softly in butter got my immediate attention, and I had to know everything about them, and how I could grow them in my garden. I must have them now for all of my stuffing’s, known here in the south as dressing. I’m tasked wherever I spend Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter to prepare the dressing. It’s an honor I cherish, as long as the list of ingredients I require, including sage sausages, fresh oysters, and a pan of week old cornbread is honored. I know well by now to bring my own leeks. It’s my little secret ingredient I always try to sneak in, hoping to elicit a “what is that” from a niece, nephew, or in-law. Just my way of spreading my love of leeks, and the sweet anise flavor no one can quite put their finger on. Not one morsel of my leeks goes unused, as there is great flavor and texture from root to green tip. This year I’ll sport a knowing grin, that Charlemagne would be happy with my offering, and perhaps ask for a second helping with the wispy greens garnishing the gravy. Thank you again Lady Carnarvon. Your weekly offering never fails to enlighten!
You are kind!
Charlemagne used culture to strengthen the unity of his empire so that everyone could have the same knowledge. “Right action is better than knowledge, but in order to do what is right we must know what is right”( Charlemagne). In that period Music was a great instrument of union thanks to the introduction of a new musical writing system and the establishment of the schools of Metz and St. Gallen for the diffusion of a single musical language. Thank you for describing Charlemagne ‘s historical period and above all your romantic and enchanting gardens where everything seems to have a soul. The best and the most extraordinary estate all over the world! Looking forward to know Christmas events for Friends of Highclere, best regards!
Thank you – I think Friends need tea!
This is such an timely post both in the description of Charlemagne’s approach to leadership and these times of climate change concerns!!! I live in Canada but I would like to share this with many of the leaders of our country!!! Certainly “food” for thought!
I was thrilled to read your story today about Charlemagne. I too like many others have traced my ancestry and discovered that Charlemagne is my 36th great-grandfather. And also Pepin, King of Italy as he is Charlemagne’s son. I think the majority of Americans obviously have decedents in Europe.
I was excited to discover his bust in your garden on our visit in 2019.
And we were also able to enjoy the wonderful tea party on the beautiful lawn at Highclere. It was the perfect visit and I will treasure the memory always. We met in Nashville, TN several years ago at the Antique & Garden Show and I have been blessed to visit Highclere twice since then.
Thank you for sharing the fascinating history of Charlemagne. I enjoy your weekly blog posts immensely.
How very kind- I did enjoy Nashville too!
Such a delight of history and suggestions for our garden and larder.On to research!
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
Another wonderful Monday article. I always learn something new and was totally impressed by Charlemagne’s list of fruits and vegetables to be grown in every city. He was a very forward-thinking individual and it’s good to know that today we are trying to emulate his ideas by creating community gardens. Also, so many restaurants are farm-to-table which is such a treat.
Enjoy your evening,
It is time to go forwards again !!!
I do hope that you will, in a future book, include recipes using “rocket salad” and “hazelwort!” I did not know a lot about Charlemagne, but now I would like to read more about him.
We may be 90th cousins! I too have traced my ancestry back quite far, and it includes nine signers of the Magna Charta; they were related to all the royal houses of Europe and descended from various kings and queens. One ancestor, Christopher Branch, grandson, of the English king, came to the colony of Williamsburg (Virginia) at age nineteen, so that is one reason I am in the U.S. In fact, all of my mother’s ancestors, were English also, but sadly, I have not found from where most came in England, thanks to their common surnames. I have enjoyed my trips to England immensely.
Lots of books exist on Charlemagne who is an ancestor to many people (he had numerous illegitimate descendants!) in Europe and elsewhere consequently. Interesting man anyway and his list of plants was known all over Europe and later beyond, especially through herb gardens in Abbeys and herborists. With a friend guide at the Abbey of Villers-la-Villle we did some research on the subject some years ago.
Always interesting to read your lines Lady Carnarvon. Thank you very much.
Once again you peak our interest and stimulate the imaginations of those of us who have only been able to visit Highclere Castle through your words! And for 3 years that has been our plight. BUT at long last, we, the 9 ladies from Yakima, WA. will be leaving for Great Britain this Sat. and we will be visiting you on Sept. 10th. in dress. you have no idea how excited we are that the day is almost here!!!!! ❤️
I look forward to meeting you at ‘Magic of the Movies’
Dear Lady Carnavon,
Such a beautiful and interesting text !
Marie Louise Pépin
Dear Lady Carnavon,
thank you for this flashback into history up to Charlemagne.
And again I learned something new. Past and present, many things are becoming topical again and that’s right. Sometimes we have to look back to start something new. Tradition always has its value.
I have your new book and I can read and see how gardens, parks and kitchen gardens at Highlere Castle are in harmony, too. It’s the same in our garden. Only in small…
Greetings from Germany
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
Your blogs are always entertaining and educational. The plant list is especially interesting–I wonder how many of the plants are actually the same as the ones we call by those names. Even today, common names for plants vary from place to place, at least in the U.S. Charlemagne was clearly a ruler interested in the welfare of his people.
There was a glitch this week and I didn’t receive your blog as usual on Monday morning (here). Would it be possible for someone to check and make sure my email is still on the list? I’m also wondering if this happened to others, as usually by this time you have 60 or more comments to peruse. : )
I will check there has been no issues – thank you for bringing it to my attention
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
We visited your beautiful home and gardens several years ago, and remember well the statue of Charlemagne! Thank you for the background on how he incorporated his love for gardening into his stewardship of his people, and it gives the significance of his place in your garden. You and the Earl have taken it to heart and have done an amazing job sharing the wonders of Highclere with the world, and we are so appreciative of all that you do! We do hope to have the opportunity to visit again!
Warm regards from California,
Dear Lady Carnarvon:
Thank you for this Monday’s blog, and for sharing a brief history of Charlemagne. I am definitely keeping the list you provided of the fruits, spices, and vegetables He recommended to be planted in one’s garden.
Also, Ebenezer Howard’s concept of “city gardens” has caught on here in the United States, particularly within the City of Detroit; see Google for Wikipedia reference.
Until later, may you have a pleasant week.