Stowe House and Garden
and the Temple-Grenville family

Stowe House and Garden lie about two miles to the north-east of Water Stratford.  They were created by the Temple-Grenvilles who became the dominant family of the Buckingham area in the 16th to 19th centuries, rising rapidly through the aristocracy.  The Temples claimed descent from Leofric, Earl of Mercia (968-1057) and his wife, Lady Godiva, but the earliest written records of them are as sheep farmers near Witney, Oxfordshire.  The Grenvilles are supposed to have arrived with William the Conqueror.  The Temple line of succession (father to son except where otherwise indicated) was:

Thomas Temple, 1418-1500, of Witney.
William Temple, 1443-1530, of Witney.
Thomas Temple, 1498-1560, lived and died at Witney but added to his estates by marrying Alice Heritage of Burton Dassett, Warwickshire.
Peter Temple, 1516-1577, lived and died at Burton Dassett but in 1571 took the family's first lease on Stowe.
John Temple, 1542-1603, inherited this lease then bought the manor and estate in 1589, and was the first of the family to be High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire.

Sir Thomas Temple, 1st Baronet, 1567-1637, bought a knighthood in 1603 and a baronetcy in 1611.

Sir Peter Temple, 2nd Baronet, 1592-1653, left significant debts.

Sir Richard Temple, 3rd Baronet, 1634-1697, paid off most of the debts and built the core of the present house, which was greatly extended by his three immediate successors.

Sir Richard Temple, 4th Baronet, then Baron Cobham, finally Viscount Cobham, 1675-1749.

Richard Grenville, Earl Temple, Cobham's nephew, 1711-1779, reputedly the richest man in England.

George Nugent-Temple-Grenville, Marquess of Buckingham, Temple's nephew, 1753-1813.

Three Dukes of Buckingham and Chandos.  The first two squandered the family wealth to such an extent that the second duke was known as the 'greatest debtor in the world'.  The third duke made valiant efforts to restore the family fortunes but he had no sons and the direct male line became extinct, though some junior titles continued through female lines.  Much of the art in the house and garden was sold during Victorian times and Stowe itself was sold in 1921, becoming Stowe School from 11th May 1923.  The school transferred the garden and park to the National Trust in 1989. 

Myres makes a serious mistake in referring to this family's Sir Peter Temple as a regicide.  There were two Peter Temples of similar age, both were MPs at the same time (for Buckingham and Leicester respectively) and both took parliament's side against the king, but it was the Leicester man who was 16th of the 59 signatories of Charles I's death warrant.  The 28th signatory was James Temple, who was a first cousin of the Buckingham man and whose sister was grandmother to the Duke of Marlborough's wife, Sarah Churchill.

Sir Peter's grandson, Viscount Cobham, was one of Marlborough's generals and probably the ablest of the owners of Stowe.  He laid the foundations of a political dynasty and his collaboration with the famous garden designers Charles Bridgeman and William Kent was largely responsible for the garden as we now know it.  Much of the work was supervised by Stowe's head gardener from 1741 to 1751, the soon-to-be-famous Lancelot 'Capability' Brown (often incorrectly said to have married Kent's daughter but his only marriage was to Bridget Wayet at Stowe Church in 1744).  Brown and William Pitt the Elder laid out the gardens of the Grenville seat of Wotton House (about fifteen miles south of Stowe) which was run in tandem with Stowe once Richard Grenville had succeeded Cobham.

Stowe's grounds are rich in political iconography, reflecting Cobham's antipathy to the man who is usually called Britain's first prime minister, Sir Robert Walpole.  Cobham never took political office himself but his protégés (Cobham's Cubs) continued this opposition and four members of his dynasty became prime minister, starting with Richard Grenville's younger brother, George (1712-70), from 1763 to 1765.  In 1754, Richard and George's sister Hester married William Pitt the Elder (1708-88), who dominated British public life for many years but was officially prime minister only from 1766 to 1768, taking the title of Earl of Chatham five days after taking office.  Their son, William Pitt the Younger (1759-1806), was one of Britain's greatest prime ministers, in office from 1783 to 1801 and 1804 to 1806.  The final Stowe PM was George's son, William Wyndham Grenville (1759-1834), younger brother of the Marquess, who headed the Ministry of All the Talents from 1806 to 1807 following Pitt's untimely death.

The Covid-19 lockdown in 2020 caused the temporary banishment of Stowe School's students from the house and garden but gave the Headmaster, isolated on the site (and where better to be locked down?), time to create films about Stowe.  HERE is his guide to the landscape and some of the garden 'temples'.