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.
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.
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.
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