House, Gardens & Cafe Open Tuesday - Sunday 10.30 - 17.00

The Feminine Monarchie

2023 marks the 400th anniversary of the 2nd edition of Charles Butler’s The Feminine Monarchie. Butler was a parson, grammatist, logician and is known as the father of Bee Keeping and the great great uncle of Gilbert White!

Our latest display in the long corridor is a celebration of Charles Butler’s life and work and the wonderful world of bees! Charles Butler’s work on bees and bee keeping was not the first of it’s kind, however its significance and popularity lies in Butler’s skills as a writer and naturalist. The book was first published in 1609 and revised in 1623, then again in 1634, but it is typically the 1623 version read today. Something Butler and White very much have in common is the gift of observation both naturalists were able to analyse by, as White would put it ‘watching narrowly’.

One of the most notable observations made by Chares Butler is his realisation that the ‘Queen Bee’, as we know it was indeed a female and that the bees had a female monarch. Butler wasn’t the first to make this observation (that was Luis Mendez de Torres in 1586) but was one of the first to establish the fact in popular consciousness. This was later confirmed by Jan Swammerdam’s discoveries in the later seventeenth century.

For Butler, the Queen Bee or Female Monarch brought up images of the late Queen Elizabeth I who had died in 1603 only six years before the first edition of The Feminine Monarchie was published, and the significance of the title of the book wouldn’t have gone unnoticed by readers, especially those who were living in the turbulent times of civil war.

‘The queen is a fair and stately bee, differing from the common ones both in shape and colour: her back is all over of a brighter brown, her belly even from the top of her fangs, to the tip of her train, is of a sober yellow, somewhat deeper than the richest gold.’ – Charles Butler

Perhaps surprisingly in The Natural History of Selborne bees feature only in 8 letters, and often just passingly. It is unclear if White himself kept bees, but he certainly was familiar with the practice of bee keeping and comments on hives in his work.

The Gilbert White Apiary was installed in 2022 and is cared for by the Gilbert White bee keepers a band of volunteer experienced bee keepers. Since the hives have been installed the bee keepers have attended several events, run workshops on bee keeping and produced our own honey for sale in the gift shop! They also have worked with school groups learning all about bees!

You can find out more in our display which is on till the end of August!