An Angel Amongst Strange Bears: John Hobart, 2nd Earl of Buckinghamshire, Blickling Hall, Norfolk
EAST ANGLIAN BOOK AWARDS (Biography and Memoir) Shortlisted 2023John Hobart, 2nd Earl of Buckinghamshire is buried in the strange pyramid mausoleum in the grounds of Blickling Hall. This is the first extensive biography of John Hobart, whose curriculum vitae included being Ambassador to Catherine the Great of Russia before becoming Lord Lieutenant and Viceroy of Ireland at the time of the War of American Independence and revolution in France. A post which revealed his insecurity and lack of confidence in his own abilities. At home, he dealt diplomatically with his rich and powerful neighbours at Houghton, Holkham and Gunton. The lower orders learned to respect him firstly as their MP, as a judge and then, when 2nd Earl of Buckinghamshire, as a fair and just landowner.
Joy Beresford Frye, who, as a volunteer guide at Blickling, became curious as to why the 2nd Earl and his two wives came to rest in such an unusual place. Drawing on the Earl's letters and other contemporary correspondence, it tells of a convivial man heavily influenced by his Grand Tour when young playing his part in Georgian society. As Member of Parliament for Norwich he immersed himself in politics where local duties were sometimes onerous, remarking, “I was told it would be extremely proper for me to dance with the Mayor's daughter in law, a beauteous maiden of fifty, but declined the honor and content'd myself with gazing upon her at a distance”. His energy, charm and natural diplomacy made him a popular figure at the Russian court known for its “gaiety and dissipation”. His letters show his propensity for 'society gossip', how he admired and was a fervent lover of the fairer sex, marrying twice, women who were considerably younger than himself. Scandal befell his family when his eldest daughter was put on trial for adultery and tragedy struck too often with the deaths of four of his eight children. His customary good humour was understandably extinguished during these events.
This most genial of men had a great love for Norfolk, its people, and most especially for Blickling. It is John Hobart we must thank for, amongst other things, preserving the then unfashionable Jacobean architectural style, for the serpentine lake, the Orangery, and the grand state rooms, particularly the magnificent Peter the Great room. His lasting memorial is the Mausoleum in the Great Wood commissioned, in his honour, by his widow and his second daughter, both named Caroline.
Shortlisted for the East Anglian Book Awards 2023: Biography and Memoir, Stephen Bumphrey, judging the category remarked:
This thorough account of Hobart's life is a colourful and intriguing step into Norfolk's thriving and sometimes turbulent past. As he engages with life and love and in foreign and home affairs we see Hobart's diplomatic skills, empathy and philanthropic bent shine brightly. So much so that I wonder how the world would be today had there been a few more of his kind.