What would old Lendtre, Louis XIV.’s court gardener, who laid out St. James’s Park, think if he could see his handiwork today? He would make a witty jest of it, perhaps, for he was a charming old man of a guileless simplicity that made him beloved of everyone, even in the most artificial court in Europe. Charles II. invited the famous French landscape gardener, who had created Versailles out of a sandhill, to come and transform the swampy meadow that adjoined the palace Henry VIII. had fashioned out of the twelfth-century Lepers, Hospital, dedicated to St. James the Less, which has given its name to the palace and park.
St. James’s has always been a very royal park since the days when the young Princess Elizabeth rode through it from her father’s new palace to the court at Whitehall, attended “with a very honourable confluence of noble and worshipful persons of both sexes.” Charles I. took his last walk through it on his way to the scaffold in Whitehall. Charles II. spent much of his time playing with his dogs and feeding his ducks there, and he planted some of the oaks from the acorns of the royal oak at Boscobel. His aviary on the south side is still remembered in the name of Birdcage Walk, and the tradition is carried on by the aquatic birds that again haunt the ornamental water as before the war.
Walpole in his reminiscences quotes George I. as saying:
This is a strange country. The first morning after my arrival at St. James’s, I looked out of the window, and saw a park with walls, canal, etc., which they told me were mine. The next day, Lord Chetwynd the Ranger of my Park, sent me a fine brace of carp out of my canal; and I was told I must give five guineas to Lord Chetwynd’s servant for bringing me my own carp out of my own canal in my own garden.
I always loved, too, the reply of Walpole’s father to Queen Caroline when she asked how much it would cost to close St. James’s Park for the royal use and he answered, ” only three crowns, Madam.”