On 7 May possibly 1603, James VI of Scotland and now James I of England rode into the capital of his new kingdom: the Stuarts experienced arrived. Countless numbers of Londoners collected to enjoy and, at Stamford Hill, the Lord Mayor was waiting to existing the keys of the city even though 500 magnificently dressed citizens joined the procession on horseback.
There was a small technical hitch. James ought to have been certain for the Tower of London right up until proclaimed and crowned but, even with frantic constructing perform, it was nowhere near ready. As Simon Thurley recounts—twitching apart a velvet curtain to expose the shabby backstage machinery—parts of the Tower, common powerbase of English monarchs due to the fact William the Conqueror, were derelict. The terrific hall gaped open to the skies and for many years the royal lodgings experienced been junk rooms. For the duration of James’s continue to be, a screen wall experienced been designed to cover a gigantic dung heap.
Art and architecture for the Stuart monarchs in England—an remarkable interval when the globe was turned upside down twice with the execution of 1 king (Charles I in 1649) and the deposition of a further (James II in 1688)—were neither about trying to keep out the climate nor solely about outrageous luxury. The royal residences were sophisticated statements of ability, authority and rank. The architecture managed the jealously guarded obtain to the king and queen: in a lot of reigns, virtually any person could get in to stand powering a railing and watch the king consuming or praying, and a amazingly wide circle was admitted to the point out bedrooms, but only a handful received into the actual sleeping sites. The selections of fine and attractive art from England, Italy, France or the Low Countries, who obtained to see it—whether an English Mortlake or a Flemish tapestry, a bed manufactured of strong Tudor Oak or an opulent French just one, swathed in fantastic imported gold-swagged silk—and wherever courtiers or mistresses ended up stashed, ended up all sizeable decisions and interpreted as these types of.
From James’s astonishing takeover of Royston in Hertfordshire as a hunting base—nobody who reads Thurley’s account will once more see it as just (forgive me) a alternatively boring prevent on the road north—to the disastrous obstetric background of Queen Anne, which finished the Stuart reign in 1714, the sums expended were amazing, even with no translating into modern phrases or comparison with the golden wallpaper of latest Key Minister Boris Johnsons’ flat. Anne of Denmark, wife of James I, expended £45,000 transforming Somerset Dwelling on the Strand. Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I, expended 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 properties, which includes the reputedly wonderful Theobalds in Hertfordshire and a really private satisfaction dome inside a wonderful back garden in Wimbledon. Potentially the most remarkable 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 taking into consideration plans to totally rebuild Whitehall palace, a job ended by the axe at the Banqueting House, just one of the couple structures that would have been kept.
There’s fewer architectural record and a lot more gossip in this lively compendium than in the in depth experiments of unique structures Thurley has previously published, but there are myriad ground strategies and up to date engravings, and a good deal to set the head of the normal reader wandering by means of the long galleries—the new Whitehall would have had a 1,000 ft gallery—and a 29-site bibliography for these who want far more.
• Simon Thurley, Palaces of Revolution: Lifetime, Dying and Artwork at the Stuart Court docket, William Collins, 560pp, eight colour plates moreover 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