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Shedding more light on Stafford Shugborough love mystery

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: February 09, 2014

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IN response to Richard Webber's letter in The Bugle (January 16 edition) about Shepherd's Monument at Shugborough, Stafford, and the love mystery, the first, minor point is that Maria's family name is usually spelled Dolman. That might help with internet searches.

Secondly, 'DM' on the monument is a standard abbreviation on Roman memorials, for 'dis [or diis] manibus'. According to Wikipedia, this is usually translated as something like 'to the souls of dead loved ones'.

The reversal of the Poussin image, carved by Peter Scheemakers, is not continued elsewhere by, for example, reversing the letter forms. It's not impossible, of course, that the remaining letters should be read in reverse order. The monument looks as if it should be a memorial, not only because of 'DM', but because the subject of the painting is a group of shepherds clustered round a tomb. The painting's title is 'Et in Arcadia ego': even in the ideal pastoral world of Arcadia, death is present.

The theme of Arcadia in Renaissance literature was carried through into English landscape gardening, so that Alexander Pope, William Shenstone and others brought their love for classical works such as Virgil's Eclogues into garden design.

At this point, Shugborough becomes a special case. Anson's architect, Thomas Wright, was not only a brilliant astronomer; he – and apparently Anson – were interested in esoteric studies that continued into the Enlightenment from medieval alchemy, through Freemasonry for a start.

The Poussin picture became involved in the Prieure de Sion hoax of the 1950s, which was taken seriously in The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail by Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln.

This formed the basis of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, although Brown's book came after the revelation of the hoax.

Anyone attempting to decipher the Shugborough abbreviations must disentangle 20th century accretions from occult beliefs genuinely held two centuries before.

Esoteric intellectual complexity seems to have delighted Anson and his circle.

Simply reversing 'MD' as a memorial to Maria Dolman might well appear too easy.

Andrew Baker notes that the earliest reference to the monument is by Shenstone, in a letter written after her death. Shenstone refers in the same paragraph to his own urn erected in her memory, and yet he does not give any clue as to the dedication of Anson's monument, to Maria or anyone else – assuming he was let in on the secret.

Christine Buckley,

srb55@talktalk.net

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