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  • Rebekah Day

The Molyneux Globe

Step back in time at Petworth House, a stately home in the East Sussex countryside that has existed in various reincarnations on the same site for over 900 years.

Perched on the edge of Petworth town, the grand home cuts a stunning figure against the 700 acre backdrop of luscious parkland.

In the 1680's the home was owned by Elizabeth Percy, who had inherited the property, and her husband the 6th Duke of Somerset, Charles Seymour. Charles was inspired by the rebuilding of the Palace of Versailles in France and rebuilt Petworth to reflect this, earning the nickname 'The Proud Duke' as he did so with an air of arrogance.

In the 1760's Charles Seymour's descendant, George O'Brien Wyndham, inherited the estate and ushered in a 'Golden Age' of art and collecting from his base at Petworth house. George hired the famous landscape architect Lancelot 'Capability' Brown to design pleasure gardens on the grounds and was a patron to several artists including JMW Turner. It was in his make-shift studio within the library of Petworth house that Turner painted his famous work, 'The Artist and his Admirers.'

Although the permanent collection at Petworth house boasts hundreds of significant paintings and sculptures, one item has been the recent focus of National Trust conservation and fundraising campaigns. Renowned Elizabethan mathematician Emery Molyneux was the first person to create globes in England, the one on display at Petworth being one of only three left in the UK.

A popular story suggests that the explorer Sir Walter Raleigh gifted the globe to the owner of Petworth, Henry Percy, while both men were imprisoned in the Tower of London for suspected involvement in the Gunpowder Plot. However, the fact that Henry Percy had accounts and paperwork detailing the costs of 'repairing globes' from before this imprisonment could indicate that the globe was his all along. Either way, the Molyneux globe is definitely thought to have spent time in the Tower.

This beautiful example of a 'terrestrial' globe is the result of layers of paper coated with plater, with the maps of the globe surface then being pasted on top. The illustration of England has been completely scrubbed off from years of use, and the globe is now housed in a protective case and sheltered from any direct light. The National Trust webpage dedicated to the globe states that an improved glass case with better lighting could cost upward of £25,000 which is why donation boxes can be found in close proximity to the display.

Seeing the map details up close gives a real insight to how the world would have appeared in the minds of the average Brit at the time. British and Spanish explorers were in a geographical arms race at the direction of their respective royalty, as they set about developing trade routes in Asia and mapping and colonising unfamiliar territories like the Americas. Mysterious sea creatures, missing continents and misshapen coastlines on the globe provide a fascinating comparison to the world we know today

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