2 November 2020

New book sheds light on Capability Brown’s role as Royal Gardener

Dr Jan Woudstra’s new book, Capability Brown, Royal Gardener: the Business of Place-Making in Northern Europe is published this week (Monday 2 Nov), by White Rose University Press.

Capability Brown, Royal Gardener
Cover Illustration: Harewood House from the south, J.M.W. Turner, 1798. Reproduced by courtesy of the Harewood House Trust.

Jan, who is Reader in Landscape History and Theory in the Department of Landscape Architecture, has edited the new volume alongside Professor Jonathan Finch from the University of York.

The book, which is the first publication since the 300th anniversary of Brown’s birth in 2016, takes his neglected role as royal gardener for its starting point and explores his methods, contemporaries, collaborators and European influence.

It brings together, for the first time, a number of perspectives from a varied range of authors, with contributors drawn internationally from archaeology, art history, history and landscape architecture.


This volume brings together a group of international experts who have collaborated to paint one of the most vivid and fascinating accounts of his life, times and importance as a royal gardener in the eighteenth century.

Lucy Worsley

Chief Curator, Historic Royal Palaces and BBC presenter


It provides new insights into Brown and his career, as well as shedding new light on his landscape practice and his ways of working, in a national and international context.

Dr Jan Woudstra said:Brown is unusual as he was feted in his time and recognised by the Crown. However, his style was readily copied over his later life and, particularly, after his death.”

“Arguably this ubiquity led to the denigration of his achievements and even his character, particularly by the agents of the Picturesque. He has been characterised as a destroyer of earlier landscapes, whilst the lack of any primary material from Brown himself has hindered attempts to provide a rounded and credible account of the man and his works.”

“Here, by exploring his practices, associates, collaborators, and his role as Royal Gardener, new light can be thrown on the man, his landscapes and his landscape legacy”.

Published by White Rose University Press, this richly-illustrated volume results from a conference held at Hampton Court Palace in 2016. The conference drew together academics from a variety of disciplines as well as practitioners working in historic gardens, who demonstrated new insight into Brown’s legacy and lasting impact in previously under-explored areas.

Lucy Worsley, Chief Curator, Historic Royal Palaces and BBC presenter said: “This book eloquently demonstrates that Capability Brown was first and foremost a place-maker and business man, but that in order to get a full understanding of his importance we must consider his role as a royal gardener who had an impact both at home and in continental Europe.”

“This volume brings together a group of international experts who have collaborated to paint one of the most vivid and fascinating accounts of his life, times and importance as a royal gardener in the eighteenth century”.

Professor Jonathan Finch adds: “In this book we explore Brown’s career, placing him within the world of nurserymen and landscape designers, and his practice of recruiting and retaining a well-paid circle of workmen, draughtsmen and designers, allowed him to manage a huge number of projects and a substantial financial turnover.”

“A key component of his career and reputation was grounded in his position as royal gardener, something which has perhaps been neglected. The English landscape garden, with which he was so closely associated, continued to influence landscape aesthetics and design well into the nineteenth century across Northern Europe.”

Capability Brown, Royal Gardener: the Business of Place-Making in Northern Europe is available as an Open Access (OA) work, free to read online or download from the White Rose University Press website, with print copies also available to buy through the print on demand ordering service.

This is one of the first OA publications of this scale in this field, opening up the ground-breaking scholarship within and making it accessible to everyone - scholars and practitioners alike - without any financial barrier.

Available from 2 Nov 2020, this book is published with the support of funding from the University Libraries of Sheffield and York. It is available to buy, or to read online and download for free, from White Rose University Press.

Read: Capability Brown, Royal Gardner