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Horace Walpole: Regency Author, Historian, Antiquarian and Politician

Horace Walpole by Joshua Reynolds, 1756
Horace Walpole by Joshua Reynolds, 1756

Horatio Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford (24 September 1717 – 2 March 1797) was an English art historian, man of letters, antiquarian and Whig politician.

He is now largely remembered for Strawberry Hill, the home he built in Twickenham, south-west London where he revived the Gothic style some decades before his Victorian successors, and for his Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto. Along with this book, his literary reputation rests on his Letters, which are of significant social and political interest.

Walpole was born in London, the youngest son of British Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole and his wife Catherine. Like his father, he received early education in Bexley he was also educated at Eton College and King’s College, Cambridge.

Walpole’s first friends were probably his cousins Francis and Henry Conway, to whom Walpole became strongly attached, especially Henry. At Eton he formed with Charles Lyttelton and George Montagu the “Triumvirate”, a schoolboy confederacy. More important were another group of friends dubbed the “Quadruple Alliance”: Walpole, Thomas Gray, Richard West and Thomas Ashton.

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Strawberry Hill: A Gothic Fantasy

Strawberry Hill House, often referred to simply as Strawberry Hill, is the Gothic Revival villa that was built in Twickenham, London by Horace Walpole beginning in 1749. It is the type example of the “Strawberry Hill Gothic” style of architecture, and it prefigured the nineteenth-century Gothic revival. Walpole, an author in his own right (among many other things) was said to have been inspired by his home, to write the  novel, “The Castle of Otranto” generally regarded as the first gothic novel.

800px-Strawberry_Hill_House_from_garden_in_2012_after_restoration
Strawberry Hill House in 2012 after restoration

Walpole rebuilt the existing house in stages starting in 1749, 1760, 1772 and 1776. These modifications added gothic features such as towers and battlements outside and elaborate decoration inside to create “gloomth” to suit Walpole’s collection of antiquarian objects, contrasting with the “riant” (smiling) garden. The interior included a Robert Adam fireplace; parts of the exterior were designed by James Essex. The garden contained a large seat shaped like a Rococo sea shell.

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