Sulgrave Manor, with the flags of Great Britain and the United States of America flying on opposite ends.
It seemed appropriate that our last outing to the English countryside, before we repatriate to America, would be to the ancestral home of the first president of the United States.
George Washington's forefathers were, of course, from England, but he was born in the colonies, in what is now the state of Virginia. His great-grandfather John Washington emigrated on a ship from England, bringing goods to the colonies since they weren't allowed to manufacture anything (really?). When the ship's manifest of tobacco, bound for England on the return journey, was lost, he was blamed. He sought refuge from a local landowner, Nathanial Pope, and ended up marrying his daughter and inheriting land near the Potomac River.
Thus was George Washington born in the United States, rather than at the family's ancestral home near Banbury on the edge of Oxfordshire.
Sulgrave Manor was built in Tudor times, and the original owner was Lawrence Washington, who married well twice and found himself in need of property fitting his social situation. The current house was modified over the years. Half of the original Tudor home burned sometime in the 17th century, leaving a house that's a bit of a hodgepodge, as English country estates typically are.
In 1914 the British Peace Centenary Committee purchased the manor to celebrate 100 years of peace between Britain and America, using funds raised on both sides of the Atlantic. It's now a historical property available for tours and weddings, with a special appeal for curious American tourists like us.
When we arrived, we were greeted by one of the Sulgrave tour guides. After paying our dues, I struck up a conversation with the woman, who mentioned that she was a Tudor historian. After learning I was from America, she told me that Americans must not learn as much history as the British do. I started to explain that we Americans focus on different histories, including the history of our individual states and the Americas, but then I let her go on thinking we were a bunch of ignorant savages. It's more fun that way, I've found: Never let yourself be overestimated by the natives.
Later on, as the tour started, I learned from another tour guide that George Washington actually was a general in the War of 1812! Not, as I'd always assumed, in the War of Independence, or rather, The War In Which The Colonies Broke Away From Their Cruel Overlords. I guess we are a bunch of ignorant savages, because I had no idea George Washington served in the American Army after he was president; indeed, after his death in 1799. We colonials learn something new every day here in the Motherland.
The hour-long tour turned out to be two hours and counting, because the Tudor enthusiast I'd first met couldn't resist joining the tour and sharing every facet of Tudor life experienced in the manor house. I guess she felt it was her duty to educate us ignorant Americans, and I was grateful for that. My previous visits to Hampton Court Palace, Hardwick Hall, Basing House, and numerous other Tudor sites, as well as several history courses at Oxford, didn't include all those details about Tudor food. After all these ten year living here, I finally learned about all the uses for dead mice in Tudor times.
Seriously, I would have quite enjoyed the lengthy tour if we hadn't been in a hurry to leave, as we had to take care of pre-moving business later in the day. These last few weeks have been filled with moments like that: I realize I should be enjoying my last outings in this beautiful and historically rich country, but my mind has been filled with all the logistics of a trans-Atlantic move. I wish there were a shipping company like John Washington's who would just take me and my household goods and most importantly, my dog, straight across the Atlantic, with the impressed sailors from the colonies along to provide protection.
Oops. I was wrong about the origins of the War of 1812, which was started, as we were surprised to learn, because the "Americans wanted to go to war" after the White House was burned. Yep. We were a war-like bunch of colonials even then. The impressment of American sailors had nothing to do with it. Apparently.
Oddly, I noted that this was the only time I've ever heard the War of 1812 mentioned here, and when it was, they had the facts all wrong. (Notice the date for the burning of the White House, 200 years ago today, after the war of 1812 began in—wait for it—1812.) I suspect they don't study American history here.
And thus my last visit to a historical property here brought me full circle to my roots in my homeland, established by those who fled these shores either by duress or by the force of hope offered by a new land. (Or perhaps by a desire to never have to learn history.) I, too, am leaving under duress, yet I have budding hope that my life in what is my "old country" will be prosperous.
Or that, at the very least, I'll be able to manufacture my own textiles.
Some photos of Sulgrave Manor:
This emblem on the front wall of Sulgrave was, perhaps, the inspiration for the Stars and Stripes. Or perhaps not.
The Great Hall, a Tudor room that was uncovered when Sulgrave was restored.
Gilbert Stuart's portrait of George Washington, one of many that the artist reproduced.
"George Washington as a Younger Man" by Archibald Robertson
Some examples of Tudor and Georgian food on display in the Tudor kitchen
George Washinton's liquor cabinet
The garden at Sulgrave Manor
A last glimpse of the Union Jack flying at Sulgrave Manor