Authors: Suzannah Lipscomb
Many are, however, glorious buildings of great architectural importance: Montacute House, Hardwick Hall, Hampton Court, Burghley House and Kirby Hall are all spectacular, and I’ve included some gems like Little Moreton Hall and Gawsworth Hall — beautiful examples of black and white wattle-and-daub gentry housing — or the simple yet elegant Sandford Orcas Manor House, a sixteenth-century stone house in Somerset.
But not all are houses. There are fortresses and castles such as the Tower of London, Pendennis Castle and Rochester Castle. There are also abbeys and monasteries such as Fountains Abbey,
Walsingham, Glastonbury and Charterhouse, which have important stories to tell about the religious changes afoot in sixteenth-century England.
Some too are tombs: we travel to the tomb of Mary Tudor, Henry VIII’s sister, in Bury St Edmunds; to the many graves at Westminster Abbey; to the unadorned tomb of Katherine of Aragon at Peterborough; and the simple black slab that marks the resting place of Henry VIII and his third wife, Jane Seymour, in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.
I am also a firm believer in the value of
. There are occasional entries where little remains from the period except tantalising shreds of evidence that evoke a particularly strong or striking story: whether they are portraits at the National Portrait Gallery, Arundel Castle or the Walker Art Gallery, or objects at Bosworth Battlefield. In one case, our story centres on a 500-year-old tree in Wymondham; in another, it is a simple memorial in the road in Broad Street, Oxford and sixteenth-century doors licked by the flames of the martyrs’ pyres that tell our tale.
The book attempts to draw attention to the most fascinating parts of the architecture, or to the best parts of the collections but, above all, I hope you’ll feel a sense of walking in the footsteps of the great iconic figures of the Tudor age.
The second principle was that each place should tell a fascinating tale about an important character, event or story from the turbulent Tudor period.
This does mean that some beautiful places were not included, including some of my favourites, such as Haddon Hall, Longleat, Broughton Castle and Oxburgh Hall, but this was never intended to be merely a guidebook to architecture. The stories, as well as the places, are important.
The stories and places intersect in different ways. For Thornbury Castle, Kirby Hall, Buckland Abbey, Sherborne Castle and Hardwick Hall, the buildings are very closely tied up with the fates of their owners. It is as if the destiny of the owner has been played out in stone and glass.
Others are places that shaped people, not places shaped by people. Trinity and St John’s Colleges in Cambridge and Lincoln’s Inn in London were the training grounds of the astrologer Dr John Dee and the martyr Sir Thomas More. Hever Castle, Eltham Palace, Shakespeare’s birthplace, Gawsworth Hall and Hatfield Old Palace were all childhood homes, though in every case our protagonists returned as adults too.
Sometimes there was just a moment that changed everything. Anne of Cleves’s meeting with Henry VIII at Rochester determined her fate. Winchester Cathedral was the scene of Mary I’s happiest day. Henry VIII and his entourage stopped for just one night at Leeds Castle on their way to the Field of Cloth of Gold. Prince Arthur’s death at Ludlow Castle altered the entire course of Tudor history.
Some stories will be well known, others will be less familiar; all are, I hope, compellingly and divertingly retold. I have drawn on primary sources and on the latest research to direct you to interesting treasures and overlooked titbits. Being confined by the evidence means I have not included tales unless I can verify them (so the
apocryphal tale of Sir Francis Drake playing bowls at Plymouth when the Armada arrived didn’t make the cut!): I want you to be able to trust what you read, even if the text, designed for the general reader, is written without the scholarly apparatus of references.
The third principle was that the list must cover the geographical diversity of England, as far as possible.
In some ways, my hands were tied: the Tudor monarchs rarely ventured north and had a preference for London and the South East, so the northern regions are the least well covered, but this is an inevitable consequence of the material.
I chose to cover England, rather than Britain, because it would be anachronistic to do otherwise. Scotland was very certainly not Tudor in this period, and the Irish were fighting the colonialist powers of the English: I didn’t think that either nation would appreciate coming under the erroneous blanket heading of ‘Tudor Britain’. Wales, it is true, after the Acts of Union of 1536 and 1543 was joined to England, but Wales and England were still uncomfortable bedfellows — despite having Welsh Tudors on the throne — so I have confined myself to England alone. But, within these confines, I’ve tried to give coverage of as many regions and counties as possible.
Finally, the fourth principle was that taken together, these stories would represent virtually every significant person and event of the Tudor age, to ensure that there were not, for example, fifteen entries on Henry VIII and nothing on Shakespeare.
This was harder. Many great characters left no fixed abode, or didn’t build houses. Sir Francis Walsingham invested his fortune not in palaces, but in people: in Elizabeth I’s spy network, rather than a lasting edifice to his name. Many places that were built do not survive. There are two men that I feel particular chagrin about not covering in any depth — Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex and Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset — but there had to be something to
Christopher Marlowe, another fascinating character, was murdered by Ingram Frizer in a lodging in Deptford: but where is that now?
This is fundamentally a book about
For several years, I was a curator at Hampton Court Palace and one of the things I grasped while working for Historic Royal Palaces was the value of telling ‘history where it happened’. There is something undeniably powerful about walking along the Processional Gallery at Hampton Court in the very steps that Henry VIII would have taken as he emerged from his privy chambers and went to the Chapel Royal, or standing where Sir Christopher Hatton stood at Kirby Hall as he yearned to return to his ‘holy saint’ and great love, Elizabeth I. When I was discussing this book with Natalie Grueninger of
, she put it perfectly: when in those places, only time, not space, separates us from the people whose lives we seek to understand. The great historian G. M. Trevelyan once wrote:
the poetry of history lies in the quasi-miraculous fact that once, on this earth, on this familiar spot of ground, walked other men and women, as actual as we are today, thinking their own thoughts, swayed by their own passions, but now all gone, one generation vanishing after another, gone as utterly as we ourselves shall shortly be gone, like ghosts at cock-crow.
In the places featured in this book, the veil between the past and the present seems very thin. It feels possible to see the past reenacted before one’s eyes — as if one could almost reach out and touch it.
Finally, I’ve observed several things in my search for Tudor places. In some ways, they rarely exist. There are precious few buildings that are exclusively Tudor, and have not been changed in any
way since Elizabeth I sat on the throne. In fact, the standard story for England’s great houses is something along the lines of: what you see now is a 1930s renovation of a Victorian restoration of a sixteenth-century building that was slighted (partially destroyed) during the Civil War, and originally stood on a Norman site!
There are so many different scenarios a building can go through. At the end of all of these, what appears to us today is an accident of happenstance and history that has depended on the whims of a building’s individual owners, the mishaps of time (fires play a large part) and the fashions and politics of the day. Many originally Tudor buildings have been substantially altered in the intervening centuries: the interiors of Burghley House, for example, were overhauled in the late seventeenth century by John Cecil, the fifth Earl of Exeter, while at Hampton Court the private apartments of the Tudor palace were demolished to make way for William and Mary’s new baroque palace.
Our attitudes towards conservation today are very different from those of our forebears. I was fortunate enough to be married at Hampton Court Palace, but the opportunity came with an understandable list of things we could not do, among them eat red-coloured jam on our scones in the Little Banqueting House or stand up with a glass of red wine in the Great Hall. Compare this with the fate of Nonsuch: what was allegedly one of the greatest palaces in all of Europe was given by a disinterested king to a negligent mistress (Charles II to Barbara Villiers), who set about dismantling it to pay off her gambling debts.
This leads to a question that many a historic house owner has had to answer: do you leave buildings in their historic state, even when they need interventions to preserve them, or do you restore them and risk destroying what remains? Over the years, even some well-meaning ‘restoration’ has damaged original Tudor fabric, as at the Old Hall at Lincoln’s Inn. William Morris founded the Society
for the Protection of Ancient Buildings in 1877 precisely to stop what he considered the ‘feeble and lifeless forgery’ of restoring buildings to some imagined past. Given the necessity of restoration in most cases, to what period do you restore a building? All buildings with a Tudor history have a story since, and it’s rather hit-and-miss which ones retain their Tudor features or are represented in their Tudor state. Therefore, for the places in this book, although I’ve tried to contextualise each building within their longer histories, I’ve focused on picking out the Tudor parts and explaining why the buildings — and the places, people and events associated with them — are significant from a Tudor point of view.
The book doesn’t attempt to be a substitute for a comprehensive guidebook to each site through its ages but, in what follows, I attempt to explain how to experience these buildings as a visitor to Tudor England. What I hope this book accomplishes is that it shows you how to peel back the layers and experience the history of each place from a Tudor perspective, looking at it through Tudor eyes and with Tudor stories in mind. I will be your guide and companion.