On 7 Might 1603, James VI of Scotland and now James I of England rode into the money of his new kingdom: the Stuarts experienced arrived. Hundreds of Londoners collected to enjoy and, at Stamford Hill, the Lord Mayor was ready to current the keys of the metropolis though 500 magnificently dressed citizens joined the procession on horseback.
There was a tiny complex hitch. James ought to have been sure for the Tower of London until proclaimed and topped but, even with frantic building perform, it was nowhere near ready. As Simon Thurley recounts—twitching apart a velvet curtain to reveal the shabby backstage machinery—parts of the Tower, conventional powerbase of English monarchs because William the Conqueror, ended up derelict. The terrific hall gaped open to the skies and for many years the royal lodgings had been junk rooms. Throughout James’s remain, a screen wall experienced been constructed to cover a gigantic dung heap.
Art and architecture for the Stuart monarchs in England—an extraordinary period when the world was turned upside down two times with the execution of a single king (Charles I in 1649) and the deposition of one more (James II in 1688)—were neither about holding out the weather nor entirely about outrageous luxury. The royal residences were being complex statements of power, authority and rank. The architecture managed the jealously guarded obtain to the king and queen: in numerous reigns, pretty much anybody could get in to stand powering a railing and enjoy the king having or praying, and a shockingly broad circle was admitted to the point out bedrooms, but only a handful obtained into the genuine sleeping sites. The selections of high-quality and attractive art from England, Italy, France or the Lower International locations, who acquired to see it—whether an English Mortlake or a Flemish tapestry, a mattress created of strong Tudor Oak or an opulent French just one, swathed in fabulous imported gold-swagged silk—and wherever courtiers or mistresses have been stashed, were being all substantial choices and interpreted as this kind of.
From James’s astonishing takeover of Royston in Hertfordshire as a looking base—nobody who reads Thurley’s account will all over again see it as just (forgive me) a somewhat uninteresting halt on the road north—to the disastrous obstetric historical past of Queen Anne, which finished the Stuart reign in 1714, the sums used have been remarkable, even without having translating into present-day phrases or comparison with the golden wallpaper of present-day Prime Minister Boris Johnsons’ flat. Anne of Denmark, spouse of James I, used £45,000 transforming Somerset Residence on the Strand. Henrietta Maria, spouse of Charles I, put in a different 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, such as the apparently attractive Theobalds in Hertfordshire and a very personal enjoyment dome inside of a wonderful backyard garden in Wimbledon. Probably the most amazing perception is that in his final months, imprisoned on the Isle of Wight and engaged in failing negotiations with the Parliamentarians, Charles I was also thinking of strategies to totally rebuild Whitehall palace, a undertaking ended by the axe at the Banqueting Household, a person of the couple of buildings that would have been retained.
There’s considerably less architectural background and additional gossip in this energetic compendium than in the in-depth scientific studies of unique structures Thurley has now revealed, but there are myriad floor strategies and up to date engravings, and loads to set the mind of the typical reader wandering via the long galleries—the new Whitehall would have had a 1,000 ft gallery—and a 29-webpage bibliography for people who want more.
• Simon Thurley, Palaces of Revolution: Life, Dying and Artwork at the Stuart Court, William Collins, 560pp, 8 colour plates plus black-and-white intext illustrations, £25 (hb), printed September 2021
• Maev Kennedy is a freelance arts and archaeology journalist and a standard contributor to The Artwork Newspaper