A chance conversation – I was dining at Stowe – led me to review the correspondence of Mrs W of Nether Lamport (see for example my note 8). For I surmise that after all there is an underlying significance to the names of things. A name first given without apparent thought will be discovered to resonate with the sub-conscious and to convey depths of meaning never suspected by the conscious mind of the namer. Thus it is with the multi-named Saxon Temple, or Gothic Temple, or Temple of Liberty. It is as if all three names were needed to establish that myth of Whig history that the ancient race of Britain (the Saxon) practised a certain form of architecture (the Gothic), and lived the life of the free. The message being that the 18th century English should recognise that England’s strength resided in its ancient liberty, and that this liberty should be protected and celebrated.
Why then I wonder was the Catholic and Tory James Gibbs called upon to design the building, a project for which his career to that point had apparently little suited him. Could it be that a Catholic had to be called upon, so to speak, to haul down the flag of Catholicism, hitherto associated with the Gothic, and to exchange it for the flag of Whiggism and liberty?
The sudden association by the ‘Patriot’ Whigs of Catholic autocracy and the liberty of the English parliament is no more striking than the position of the ‘Country’ Tories, who were upholders of the established protestant church of England with their plan for fifty new churches in the City of London while at the same time they were suspected of residual Catholic sympathies; at the same time loyal supporters of the status quo (Hanover) and supporters of the Stuart succession.
It might be simplest to conclude that neither religion nor politics were quite the fixed poles that we see them to be at a distance of 300 years.