The maze


Even the maze is now almost identical to the way it was 400 years ago. All the other mazes throughout England and Europe were considered mundane and easy to remember once you figured it out until this one. Since I was in charge of it from the beginning I got blamed for making it too difficult ten to twenty times a month.

Once when King James was visiting and about to leave he couldn't find the captain of his guard. Since it was late and kings did not travel after dark with a small retinue it was considered an emergency. So per the norm, one of his guards fired off a shot from his musket. The captain arrived in about 20 seconds from almost the other side of the maze. straight through it! 

His clothes were completely torn up and he was dragging branches but he was ready to defend to the death the King and his outnumbered men who he thought were being attacked.

He had been stuck in the maze for three hours and when he heard the shot he pulled out his sword and hacked right towards the gunshot and through five rows of trees to get back to near where the photo was taken from.

It took him only seconds to completely destroy a five year old maze. Fortunately we grew a whole row of identical trees along the back side of the maze for replacements. They were actually so the local residents could sneak in and chop down those trees instead of the ones from the maze. (About half the peasants could not even understand the concept of owning trees or at least said they couldn't.)

Do you want to know the secret that made it the most difficult maze in Europe and of course the world.

I was a real bad girl when I made this maze and it even made Robert, my husband, wonder if I was a sadist. (Since the word sadist had not been invented yet they were called 'those who like to hurt other people'.) 

I explained to him that everyone expected me to put one over on them as I always had. Th
ey all liked it since it was done in jest and they would have been disappointed if I had missed this opportunity.* Robert knew I was right and from then on he immensely enjoyed this 400 year secret which you to are going to learn about. 

People often said it was difficult to remember because there were no curves or diagonal hedges like in most mazes but that is not why I made it that way. The walkways were also very narrow. I made it this way so the design could be changed easily.

maze sectionEssentially I had 4 wooden planters with hedges that were ~3 feet long that were dropped into any of 20 brick lined holes in the ground. (They looked  'a bit like this picture'. Please excuse my poor 15 minute job of rendering this in photoshop with my limited skills.)

Also, I had 16 planters with just grass and dirt in them. These I put in the other 16 holes. The planters were carefully made to be identical and they fit flush with the ground.

Those planters with hedges looked like they had been there as long as the rows of hedges had been. These segments could be pulled out in about 3 minutes and swapped with a planter that had just grass and dirt in it.

That changed the entire pattern of the maze.

You can see how much of a change just moving two section made. You can imagine what could be done with 4 hedge sections and 20 possible brick lined enclosures.

Life is like this. One small change in the puzzle of life can make a great difference in how long it takes to get through.

The planters and holes were made to fit perfectly and they were even keyed with a piece of wood and a matching slot so that they could not be accidentally turned around and put in the wrong way.

You could not tell where any of the planters were. If you knew exactly where one was, got down on your hands and knees and then scraped away the grass and dirt you just might be able to locate one. 

The maze probably had 10,000 combinations but there were about 50 really good ones that we mainly used. The best combination was pretty close to the one I diagrammed in the animation. That was the 'standard' set up that we left it in most of the time.

Only the gardeners, my husband and I knew that these planters even existed.

The wood itself was soaked in lead, tannin and coal tar to resist decay and it made the planters last for at least five years.  The bricks for the liners were those used for sewers but we glazed them on the side facing inward so they were slippery and waterproof.  Those were on the bottom and on the sides may have been large tiles. It was novel so there was a lot of experimentation that we had to do using different materials. I can't recall which was the final design. I can remember that at one time or another besides brick we tried about four different kinds of materials for the bottom part.

I don't know what they did to the ground when they rebuilt the maze but maybe there are still some bricks and brick plates or tiles in the ground in the maze. Probably gardeners have been finding parts of 'old water cisterns' or 'septic tanks' for the last 400 years and have not known what the brick material was used for. I'd bet with ground penetrating radar someone could locate a lot of these in no time. It seems there was metal involved such as nails so maybe even a metal detector will turn something up.

There should be a much easier way. If the wooden planters were left then there would be a slow decay of the wood. Each side was over an inch thick so the sides and the bottom when rotted will eventually cause at least a 3 inch depression above it looking like the shallow grave of
a short person. Those shallow depressions in the maze have probably made more than a few people suspicious of the Cecil family.

I probably used enough bricks building the maze to pay a workman's wages for a year so they may have all been removed. However, we had lots of loose bricks on the property that were easier to access so at least some of the maze bricks may still be there. Look for shallow depressions in the shape of planters. 

When I had large parties, mainly for hunts, which might go on for five days or more, we would usually take a day off to play games. One day was sometimes spent in the maze. We would have one race in the morning and one in the afternoon. Every one would bet and each person would stagger their starting times by a few minutes. Then we timed when they came out. Afterwards we would pay off bets that we made with each other and take a break for lunch.

People would often mark the path with small objects, coins, threads, broken off leaves or else they would slit leaves so they could win the afternoon race. So during lunch I would send in a number of gardeners into the maze. I would tell the party goers it was to straighten up the maze and trim off broken leaves. I would sometimes tell my guests that there were too many markers being left in the maze and that to make things more interesting I would just have the gardeners move some of the markers to different locations, instead of removing them like I normally did. 

What the workmen were mainly doing was swapping around the planters. Where there had been a wall before lunch there would now be an open path and one of the four open pathways nearby would have become a wall.  I had this done while everyone was eating lunch and no one ever knew about it.

Then everyone would bet ten times as much since they were certain that they had the maze memorized. I would just watch them lose their money. The ships captains took it the hardest since their lives often depended on their memory and being able to navigate through mazes of islands and rivers without error. They would often break down in tears.

This is why ours was the most difficult maze in Europe. I never told anyone. I made a promise to the gardeners that they would be given a large bonus for as long as nobody found out the secret. They got the bonus every single year since nobody ever caught on.

The bonus was actually about three times their normal wage. I never liked seeing people live a hand to mouth existence and I always alleviated it if I could do so (without alienating them.)  It  was a fortune, but we were the spy masters of England and we didn't get that way by not knowing the value of a secret and rewarding those that kept them.

There were other factors that made the maze more difficult.

Change in the maze

I have noted the path as it is now and how it was. I have produced a slow animation of the maze showing the relatively small change involved. Here is why it was very 'upsetting'.

Notice how the 'red' path used to go all the way to the left side and passed along that wall? (Labeled 17th. century) When they got there they would usually think it was right near the end. The people would feel cooler air coming through the hedge from the outside and they could often hear noises and voices from the out side so they knew they were at the outer row of hedges.  Very close to the outside.

They would be within three feet of the starting point (in blue on the left side) although they often got turned around so they thought it was the other end and that there had to be an exit nearby. That was really confusing to nearly everyone.

Then when the gardeners changed just 2 of the planters it completely changed the maze. (Labeled NOW)

There was a very lewd brass statue in the middle of the maze. It was quite lewd even for the French so that is why I put it where grandmothers would not come across it. It had a nasty habit of giving young couples ideas and they got lost for a couple more hours every time they went in there. Well at least they didn't have to worry about grandmothers in there. 

Someone probably stole it. I was afraid that might happen.

This was the 120 mph roller coaster of the 17th century. It was the most difficult maze in Europe.


*In jest is the word I use since I had taken on the role of Elizabeth's court jester when I had been her Chamberlady. I was essentially told that was one of my job requirement when I took the job. She was going to make me a Chamberlady anyway and then she read one of my comedies and said 'she has a sense of humor' and just as suddenly doubled my work load with fun.  (A prime example of being her court jester can be seen here.)

The only people that escaped my jesting were royalty and I never did it to a royal even once.
I actually had to explain this once to King James when he was getting ready to throw a fit.

He actually did throw a fit about me leaving him out of the fun once. He sent word by mouth that he wanted to be included in one of my masques. I had thought he wanted to only attend it and did not even consider that he might want to be in it. The masque was meant to entertain him.

He thought it wasn't fair that he did not get included in my masque. His chamberlain sent a messenger and I immediately went into his court and explained to him, in front of everyone (so they could confirm this fact) that I was never 'familiar' with any royalty. Even with Queen Elizabeth, my dear queen, I never once trespassed and crossed that respectful social barrier. 

It was the same directness that I used with France's Prince Louis, the future King Louis XIII, the just, which I explain more about on another page. Once when he was about five years old he beat a hunting dog for no reason other than to dump his anger on a living animal. (A person obviously would have been next so he had to be shown that violence begat violence by being spanked)  I had long before gotten the spanking thing straight with his father the King of France.)

I gave him the choice of deciding who he wanted to have give him the spanking and everyone else fled the room and then the estate. Forty people were gone in five minutes. His highness had time to think about the injustice he had done to the dog after I spanked him and left him alone while I went to stoke the fires and stir the food until the cook came back. Most of the household stayed away until I put up an appropriate signal flag which indicated a 'cleared way for shipping'.

More about the prince/king Louis the Just is on the house page.

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