The Northern Loggia at Cranborne Manor House

King James I of England had granted the manor of Cranborne to Robert Cecil in recognition of his role in bringing about the peaceful transition from the Tudor dynasty to the Stuart dynasty after James claimed the English throne in 1603.

The remodelling of the medieval lodge provided an opportunity to employ some architectural features to elevate a modest-sized manor into a unique and curious building.

Cecil hoped that James I might visit Cranborne as one of his passions was hunting. With Cranborne Chase on the doorstep, it was ideal hunting land. Another of James’s passions was masques. Cecil commissioned Ben Jonson to stage masques at his houses for the royal family. Cranborne with its courts, loggias and medieval ornamentation provided the perfect backdrop for a masque. James visited in 1607 and 1609 and after Cecil died in 1612, some five times between 1615 and 1623. His visits were always in the month of August.

There are two loggias at the manor. The southern one is approached through the gatehouse. According to maps the northern loggia would have been the main entrance to the manor back in the 17th C. Loggias were designed to standout as ornate, compact ‘rooms’, reminiscent of loggias in Italian Renaissance villas. They provided a transition point between the garden and the formality of the internal arrangement of the house.

Figure 1: The North Loggia

William Arnold was Cecil’s mason at Cranborne. He had designed and built Montacute House in Somerset for Sir Edward Phelips. An ornamental feature that is also found at Montacute is the shell-headed niche. As at Montacute they are the right height for sitting on. At Hext’s alms houses at Somerton in Somerset there are pairs of such niches (without the shell-head decoration), which would have been for the practical use of resting rather than decoration.

  Figure 2: Shell-headed Niche at Montacute House, Somerset

Figure 3: Shell-headed Niche Cranborne Manor House










Figure 4: The coolness of the north facing loggia, emulating an Italian Renaissance villa


Figure 5: The fine carving ornamentation of the loggia. I wonder if the inner walls were painted in Cecil’s time. The central carving on top of the loggia is the heraldic achievement (i.e. the full entitlement of arms of the bearer) of the 2nd Earl


Figure 6: Face in strapwork carving

Figure 7: Egg and dart decoration on the Roman-Doric column capital

Figure 8: One of the four lion gargoyles on the loggia – I find myself wondering if they were used in some way as part of a masque with water set up to run through their gaping mouths. Notice the decoration on the entablature and on the moulding of the arch.


Cranborne must have been a welcome escape for Cecil and King James from the formality and purpose of the English Court. The north loggia offers welcome shade on a hot summer day. It would have provided an ideal stage set for a masque entertainment.  With the elevated view over the north garden and countryside, it must have felt like Arcadia in Dorset.


‘Cranborne’, in An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Dorset, Volume 5, East (London, 1975), pp. 4-16. British History Online <>[accessed 18 July 2019]
Croft, Pauline, ‘Cecil, Robert, first earl of Salisbury’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2008 <> [accessed 10 July 2019]
Girouard, Mark, Elizabethan Architecture: Its Rise and Fall, 1540-1640 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009)
Henderson, Paula, The Tudor House and Garden: Architecture and Landscape in the Sixteenth and Early Seventeenth Centuries (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2005)
‘The Manor Garden’, <> [accessed 22 July 2019]