what lies behind the Stuarts’ taste for extravagant buildings and interiors3 min read
On 7 Could 1603, James VI of Scotland and now James I of England rode into the cash of his new kingdom: the Stuarts experienced arrived. Thousands of Londoners gathered to look at and, at Stamford Hill, the Lord Mayor was ready to current the keys of the metropolis whilst 500 magnificently dressed citizens joined the procession on horseback.
There was a small complex hitch. James need to have been certain for the Tower of London till proclaimed and topped but, inspite of frantic building work, it was nowhere around ready. As Simon Thurley recounts—twitching apart a velvet curtain to reveal the shabby backstage machinery—parts of the Tower, classic powerbase of English monarchs because William the Conqueror, ended up derelict. The good corridor gaped open to the skies and for decades the royal lodgings had been junk rooms. Throughout James’s remain, a monitor wall experienced been created to hide a gigantic dung heap.
Art and architecture for the Stuart monarchs in England—an amazing period of time when the globe was turned upside down 2 times with the execution of one king (Charles I in 1649) and the deposition of another (James II in 1688)—were neither about trying to keep out the temperature nor entirely about outrageous luxury. The royal residences were being complicated statements of ability, authority and rank. The architecture managed the jealously guarded entry to the king and queen: in many reigns, almost any one could get in to stand guiding a railing and enjoy the king feeding on or praying, and a amazingly wide circle was admitted to the condition bedrooms, but only a handful acquired into the real sleeping areas. The alternatives of fantastic and attractive artwork from England, Italy, France or the Low Nations around the world, who obtained to see it—whether an English Mortlake or a Flemish tapestry, a mattress made of strong Tudor Oak or an opulent French just one, swathed in fantastic imported gold-swagged silk—and where courtiers or mistresses ended up stashed, ended up all considerable selections and interpreted as these.
From James’s astonishing takeover of Royston in Hertfordshire as a searching base—nobody who reads Thurley’s account will again see it as just (forgive me) a instead dull prevent on the road north—to the disastrous obstetric heritage of Queen Anne, which finished the Stuart reign in 1714, the sums expended have been extraordinary, even devoid of translating into present-day phrases or comparison with the golden wallpaper of existing Prime Minister Boris Johnsons’ flat. Anne of Denmark, spouse of James I, spent £45,000 transforming Somerset House on the Strand. Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I, expended yet another fortune, including on the most sensitive architecture of the Stuart reigns, an elaborate Roman Catholic chapel (ransacked by a rioting mob in the mid-century Civil Wars).
Thurley recreates some vanished homes, which includes the seemingly beautiful Theobalds in Hertfordshire and a really personal satisfaction dome in a superb garden in Wimbledon. Perhaps the most amazing perception is that in his very last months, imprisoned on the Isle of Wight and engaged in failing negotiations with the Parliamentarians, Charles I was also looking at options to wholly rebuild Whitehall palace, a challenge finished by the axe at the Banqueting Household, one particular of the few buildings that would have been held.
There is considerably less architectural history and extra gossip in this energetic compendium than in the in depth studies of particular person buildings Thurley has already revealed, but there are myriad ground designs and present-day engravings, and a great deal to established the head of the common reader wandering through the prolonged galleries—the new Whitehall would have had a 1,000 ft gallery—and a 29-web page bibliography for all those who want much more.
• Simon Thurley, Palaces of Revolution: Existence, Death and Artwork at the Stuart Court, William Collins, 560pp, eight colour plates moreover black-and-white intext illustrations, £25 (hb), posted September 2021
• Maev Kennedy is a freelance arts and archaeology journalist and a standard contributor to The Art Newspaper