25th January 2019

By Stephen J.Bowe

The 16th century house at Loseley Park  (Photo: Amyhoo / Creative Commons)

Loseley Park, near Guildford (Surrey) may be unique in terms of its mulberry tree heritage. Not only does it have a veteran black mulberry in the walled garden that may date to Elizabethan times, it also has representations of mulberry trees incorporated in its plasterwork, ceilings and fireplaces. Built by Sir William More during the years of 1562 – 1568, in the reign of Henry VIII, the house has remained in the More (later to become More-Molyneux) family ever since – almost 450 years. And therein lies the secret behind Loseley Park’s unusual links with the mulberry.


Morus is the Latin name for the mulberry species, but it is also the Latin form of the name More and gave rise to the pun in the More family motto: Morus tarde moriens morum cito moriturum, [the Mulberry tree is slow to die, while its fruit quickly decay]. This is interpreted to mean that the More family [tree] will live on, while its individual representatives [fruit] will have a relatively brief human existence.

Mulberry tree imagery is entwined in the very fabric of the house.  The drawing room has a plasterwork frieze which contains family emblems of moorhens, the mythical cockatrice and mulberry trees.  Meanwhile, the family motto features over a fireplace, either side of a representation of a mulberry tree.

In the 16th century, More/Morus was famously at the origin of a whole raft of puns between Sir Thomas More (Henry VIII’s ill-fated Chancellor) and the humanist, Erasmus.  Sir Thomas is linked to the More-Molyneux family by marriage. His father, Judge Sir John More, re-married three times after the death of his wife. His fourth wife (Alice Clerke, née More) was the sister of Sir Christopher More of Loseley and effectively became Thomas More’s stepmother, even though they were of a similar age.

A portrait of Sir Thomas More hangs in the drawing room, opposite the fireplace. Saint Thomas More (he was canonised in 1935) has his own associations with mulberries of course, because of the Morus-More pun, and also his fondness for the heart-shaped leaves of the black mulberry. He planted a black mulberry (Morus nigra) in the grounds of the house he built (Beaufort House) in Chelsea, on the banks of the Thames. Although More’s house was demolished centuries ago, 14 mulberry trees now grow in the grounds of Allen Hall seminary, on part of the  site, one of which claims to be a scion of More’s original tree .

Black Mulberry at Allen Hall {Chelsea) on the site of Chancellor Sir Thomas More's house in the 16th century.
(Photo: (c) Peter Coles)

The Loseley Park mulberry association continues with individual portraits in the drawing room of James I of England (and VI of Scotland) and his consort, Queen Anne of Denmark. The royal couple were ardently involved in trying to start an English silk industry, with mulberry trees supplying the leaves to feed silkworms. King James and Queen Anne visited Loseley Park on more than one occasion, carrying on a close link with the royal family that had been encouraged by Elizabeth I.

Mulberry trees in the grounds

There are also various black mulberry trees in the grounds at Loseley Park.  The oldest, in the walled garden, is claimed to have been planted by Elizabeth I, who visited the house four times and had her own bed and bedroom.  Although the tree was damaged by strong winds in 1946, it has survived by the re-rooting (‘layering’) of fallen branches, like so many veteran mulberry trees.

Veteran black muberry in the walled garden at Loseley park

Other mulberries have been planted over the years, too, including one by Queen Mary in 1932.  This succumbed to the famous hurricane of 1987 in which so many mulberry trees were felled. This features in the book The Material Culture of Mulberry Trees by the author, which details Peter Goodwin’s (of Titchmarsh and Goodwin) efforts to salvage the mulberry wood to make into furniture. 

Because of the strong links with the Morus species, the More-Molyneux family have planted a number of young mulberry trees in reserve for future generations.  And the Molyneux family (Earls of Sefton) also have a mulberry tree, hidden away in the grounds of their ancestral home, Croxteth Hall (family no longer in residence), Liverpool.  The tree, which is near to the carpark, is quite difficult to find and in relatively poor condition.

Black mulberry at Croxteth Hall, ancestral home of the Molyneux family

Loseley Park is unique as a stately home in having mulberry associations both inside and outside of the house.  A plasterwork ceiling at Knole was used as inspiration for a fabric in a Zoffany and National Trust collaboration/collection which suggested mulberry leaves and fruit.   However, given the scale of the imagery on the actual ceiling these are probably intertwining bunches of grapes and leaves.

Read more about Loseley Park at www.loseleypark.co.uk - it is well worth a visit.


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