The New York Times Book Review
The New York Times Book Review
- Abrams, Harry N., Inc.
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 8.99(w) x 9.99(h) x 0.93(d)
Read an Excerpt
Built For Envious Show
We then went on into the nearby palace, the royal residence known as Whitehall, ie the White Hall. It is truly majestic ... and it is a place which fills one with wonder, not so much because of its great size as because of the magnificence of its bed chambers and living rooms which are filled with the most gorgeous splendour.
The Diary of Baron Waldstein, 1600
SOCIAL STRUCTURES were altering radically in late sixteenth-century England. A new landed class was emerging, typified by men like Edward Phelips, the ambitious lawyer and builder of Montacute in Somerset; Sir Francis Willoughby, the shrewd industrialist who commissioned Robert Smythson to create a flamboyant hilltop palace at Wollaton in Nottinghamshire; and Sir William Sharington, a shady and unscrupulous financier who bought and converted the former Augustinian nunnery at Lacock in Wiltshire.
These men had much stronger links with business than did the medieval landed elites. A survey of the owners of country estates in Hertfordshire shows a steep increase in the proportion of owners with commercial connections during the later sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, rising from around 1 in 5 among those born in the 1550s, to 1 in 2.5 of those born in the early 1600s. And such men replaced, or at least supplemented, the traditional nobleman with his vast, quasi-military entourage and his highly localised powerbase. Although he did not disappear from the scene entirely, the Elizabethan emphasis on astronger central government based around the Court and the law courts meant that his days were numbered.
Since it was the new class of entrepreneurs who were the major builders at this time, men anxious to consolidate their social position, still able to remember their relatively humble roots and still insecure enough to try to distance themselves from them, it is scarcely surprising that the country houses of the period are characterised by a triumph of form over function. Discussing the links between building and status, Francis Bacon wrote that `when men sought to cure mortality by fame ... buildings were the only way'. William Camden commended the siting of the Countess of Shrewsbury's two houses, the Old and New Halls at Hardwick in Derbyshire, `which by reason of their lofty situation show themselves, a far off to be seen'. Hardwick and Wollaton and Montacute, towering over the landscape, demanding attention and admiration, were clear pointers to the rage to advertise one's wealth and status.
But the desire to impress and to display presupposes an audience, and the scale of the new elite's prodigy houses was clearly intended to attract the notice and respect of more than just the tenantry and immediate neighbours, important though that function might be. For the Court circle, a primary objective was certainly a visit from Queen Elizabeth herself, with all of the opportunities for preferment and perquisites which that might bring. Indeed, William Cecil's Burghley in Northamptonshire, Theobalds in Hertfordshire, where Cecil built one of the most spectacular houses of the age, and Sir Christopher Hatton's vast palace at Holdenby in Northamptonshire, were much more than private country houses: they were intended to flatter and honour Elizabeth. She came thirteen times to Theobalds, making it, in effect, another royal palace. As Cecil cynically remarked to Hatton in 1579 apropos their building schemes, `God send us both long to enjoy her for whom we both meant to exceed our purses in these'. Hatton was more deferential: he rarely visited Holdenby, confessing to Sir Thomas Heneage in September 1580 that he meant to leave this `shrine, I mean Holdenby, still unseen until that holy saint may sit in it, to whom it is dedicated'.
However, if Hatton was reluctant to visit his new `shrine' until it was occupied by his sovereign, others were not. In 1581 Barnaby Rich was commenting that `many gentlemen and strangers that come but to see the house are there daily welcomed, feasted, and well lodged'. There is clear evidence that such major building schemes attracted a great deal of interest among the nobility and gentry. We can see in Rich's statement an indication of a transitional phase between the medieval business of the country house as a provider of hospitality and its more recent function as a place to be visited for its curiosity value.
The combination of the two roles, guest and tourist, was occasionally supplemented by a third: that of the amateur and critic. It was quite common for an aristocrat engaged in a major building project not only to send his mason or surveyor to see other new or partially completed houses, but to go himself or herself, in the case of the Dowager Countess of Shrewsbury, who in the late summer of 1592, when her new residence at Hardwick was in the early stages of construction, visited both Holdenby and Wollaton.
Where interested social equals were concerned, plans were exchanged, and advice and criticism sought and received. The courtier Sir Ralph Sadleir, whose London residence was Sutton House in Hackney, called in to see the still incomplete Burghley on his way to Scotland in the summer of 1559. He wrote to tell Cecil that `I like what is done, and the order of the rest as your man showed it cannot but be fair. God send you money enough to end it with; other lack I see none.' And in a letter to Cecil dated 9 August 1579, Hatton expressly invited his criticisms of Holdenby, showing at the same time how he had been inspired by the latter's Hertfordshire house: `For as the same is done hitherto in direct observation of your house and plots of Theobalds, so I earnestly pray your Lordship that by your good corrections at this time, it may appear as like to the same as it hath ever been meant to be.' Cecil was impressed, as he wrote to Hatton after his visit:
[A]pproaching to the house, being led by a large, long, straight fair way, I found a great magnificence in the front or front pieces of the house, and so every part answerable to other, to allure liking. I found no one thing of greater grace than your stately ascent from your hall to your great chamber, and your chamber answerable with largeness and lightsomeness, that truly a Momus could find no fault. I visited all your rooms, high and low, and only the contentation of mine eyes made me forget the infirmity of my legs.
As we have seen, both Holdenby and Theobalds were built for the reception of the Queen, and during her reign Elizabeth ranks as the most important and one of the most dedicated of country-house visitors. As soon as she was crowned, she began a series of extended summer tours around the southern and middle parts of her realm. These annual progresses grew out of medieval practice the great lord moving with his household from one estate to another but they became essentially political manoeuvres designed to enhance her public image, to promote goodwill and to foster stronger links with her subjects. Her itineraries varied enormously. Some were little more than short excursions out of the capital, while others were major expeditions into the provinces. But no matter how limited or extensive their scope, the select few who were chosen to play host to their monarch could not afford to spare any expense for her entertainment and pleasure.
The inconvenience of a royal visit was often considerable. Accommodation had to be found not only for the Queen and her personal attendants, but also for large numbers of government officials and their servants. When the Queen visited Theobalds in 1583, for example, perhaps as many as 150 people had to be housed: Cecil had to move his table from the great chamber; his steward gave up his lodgings to the royal plate; and his servants ate in the joiners' workshop and slept on pallets in a converted storehouse. In effect, the house became a temporary royal palace, with one important difference Cecil had to foot the bill. Each royal visit to Theobalds cost Elizabeth's Lord High Treasurer between two and three thousand pounds, `the Queen lying there at his lordship's charge sometimes three weeks or a month, or six weeks together'. Ambassadors would visit her, to be received in full state, and there were `rich shows, pleasant devices, and all manner of sports that could be devised, to the great delight of her Majesty and her whole train'.
Theobalds was exceptional, in that Elizabeth visited no other country house so frequently, and rarely stayed so long. A night or two was the norm, but, even so, she expected the lavish entertainments and extravagant displays of loyalty which befitted the reception of a monarch elevated by state policy almost to the status of demi-goddess. When she visited Osterley in Middlesex, the home of the builder of the Royal Exchange, Sir Thomas Gresham, in the late 1570s, she happened to mention that the central courtyard was too big, and that it might be improved if it were divided in two: `What doth Sir Thomas, but in the night time sends for workmen to London (money commands all things), who so speedily and silently apply their business, that the next morning discovered the court double, which the night had left single before.' One suspects that this anecdote suffers a little from Elizabethan hyperbole: it is hard to believe that any workman could erect a wall overnight without rousing the entire household. But the Queen was said to be both pleased and surprised, while her courtiers used Gresham's display as an excuse for some rather laboured wit, `some avowing it was no wonder he could so soon change a building, who could build a change'; others, referring to some family problems which Gresham was having, `affirmed that a house is easier divided than united'.
By ensuring that Elizabeth had a pleasing stay at his house, the Tudor nobleman not only emphasised his loyalty and obedience to the Crown, but also put himself in the way of those favours which might double his income overnight. But the Queen could be a demanding guest, as her visit to Sir John Puckering at Kew demonstrates only too clearly. Sir John, who had recently obtained a perk worth some £100 a year, was anxious to show his gratitude. As soon as Elizabeth arrived she was given a diamond-encrusted fan. Between the garden gate and the house she was met by a servant with a speech of greeting and a bouquet containing `a very rich jewel, with pendants of unfurled diamonds, valued at £400 at least'. After eating, in her privy chamber Sir John presented her with a pair of virginals; in her bed-chamber he gave her a fine gown. One might think that such a dazzling array of gifts would be enough; however, after all this, `to grace his lordship the more, she of herself took from him a salt, a spoon, and a fork, of fair agate'. It was obviously prudent to lock up the cutlery when Elizabeth came to visit.
Queen Elizabeth, although the most illustrious of `tourists' during the period covered by this chapter, was not the only country-house visitor. Some, to whom we shall return later, were close kin to tourists in the modern sense of the word, but a brief mention at least must be made of another group who were engaged in systematic explorations of the history and antiquities of their country. These were the mapmakers and geographers, chroniclers and antiquaries -- men like John Dee and John Stowe and John Speed, Humphrey Lluyd and William Harrison, Ralph Holinshed and Richard Carew all struggling to create an image of Britain and to pass on their discoveries to their fellows in the flood of topographical publications which appeared during Elizabeth's reign.
The reasons for this new interest in the nation's history and geography are diverse and complex, but chief among them was the need to legitimise the new post-Reformation course which England was taking, independently from many of its neighbours. A number of Protestant scholars and historians were seeking to discover or even to manufacture a national identity almost as an act of solidarity, by drawing together past and present into a single assimilable whole, giving a shape to what had previously been little more than a loose, imperfectly perceived collection of settlements, monuments and anecdotes.
The first of these Tudor topographers and antiquaries was John Leland (1503-52). Having been given a warrant by Henry VIII `to peruse and diligently to search all the libraries of monasteries and colleges of this your noble realm, to the intent that the monuments of ancient writers as well of other nations, as of this your own province might be brought out of deadly darkness to lively light', Leland was inspired to visit and record the places of which he had read. In the words of his New Year's gift to the King in 1546, he was:
totally inflamed with a love to see thoroughly all those parts of this your opulent and ample realm that I had read of in the aforesaid writers. In so much that all my other occupations intermitted, I have so travelled in your dominions both by the sea coasts and the middle parts, sparing neither labour nor costs by the space of these six years past, that there is almost neither cape nor bay, haven, creek or pier, river or confluence of rivers, breaches, washes, lakes, meres, fenny waters, mountains, valleys, moors, heaths, forests, woods, cities, boroughs, castles, principal manor places, monasteries, and colleges, but I have seen them, and noted in so doing a whole world of things very memorable.
His intention was to make a great map of England and Wales, and to write the first detailed topographical description of them a monumental task, but one that would have gone a long way towards shaping a cohesive national consciousness.
Given the scope of Leland's proposed work, it is scarcely surprising that he provides little in the way of detailed architectural description. His account of Denbigh Castle in Wales is lengthier than most:
The castle is a very large thing, and hath many towers in it. But the body of the work was never finished. The gate house is a marvellous strong and great piece of work, but the fastigia of it were never finished. If they had been, it might have been counted among the most memorable pieces of works in England [sic]. It hath divers wards and divers portcullisses.
Strength and size are the keynotes in an account of military architecture, and it would be unfair to criticise Leland for superficiality: the vocabulary necessary for critical analysis hardly existed in his day (although it would soon appear), and, in any case, his purpose was to record rather than to evaluate. Rarely does he describe interiors, although he does say of Ewelme Manor, near Wallingford in Oxfordshire, that `the hall of it is fair and hath great bars of iron ... instead of cross beams. The parlour by is exceeding fair and lightsome: and so be all the lodgings there.' Occasionally, however, he does express a hint of a more thoroughgoing antiquarian appreciation of the monuments to the past, as in his remarks on Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire, which `goeth to ruin, more pity'.
In the event, Leland was prevented from achieving his aim of publishing a nation-wide survey by `a most pitiful occasion he fell besides his wits', in the words of a friend, and he died insane in 1552. But his researches, which circulated in manuscript form, laid the foundations on which others were to build. County surveys, beginning with Lambarde's Perambulation of Kent (1576), and continuing with Richard Carew's delightful Survey of Cornwall (published in 1602, but written in the 1590s) and George Owen's Description of Pembrokeshire (1603), showed that an increasing number of scholars were touring the countryside, voraciously recording, collecting and interpreting all that they saw industries, natural phenomena and architectural monuments and remains.
The most famous of these new topographers, after Leland, was one who attracted the praise of both Edmund Spenser
Camden! the nurse of antiquity,
And lantern unto late succeeding age,
To see the light of simple verity
Buried in ruins ...
Camden! though Time all monuments obscure,
Yet thy just labours ever shall endure.
-- and Ben Jonson:
Camden, most reverend head, to whom I owe
All that I am in arts, all that I know ...
What name, what skill, what faith hath thou in things!
What sight in searching the most antique springs!
What weight, and what authority in thy speech!
William Camden (1551-1623) was a thirty-five-year-old schoolmaster at Westminster when the first edition of his Britannia was published in 1586. The book is hard to discuss as a single entity, not least because it developed from a small octavo volume to a massive, copiously illustrated folio consisting of some 860 pages when the author, who became Clarenceaux Herald in the College of Arms in 1597, was enabled by his new job to spend even more time in touring the country. It is wide-ranging in its aims and in its achievements; in Camden's own words, his intentions were: `In each county ... to describe its ancient inhabitants, etymology of its name, its limits, soil, remarkable places both ancient and modern, and its dukes or earls from the Norman Conquest.' His descriptions are, like Leland's, brief, informative, factual and wide-ranging, from the iron-works in Birmingham, through the prospects from Windsor Castle and Hardwick Hall, to the Roman Camp at Ambleside in the Lake District and King John's Cup at King's Lynn in Norfolk. But Camden's importance and the importance of his fellow-scholars for a study of tourism and popular perceptions of architecture lies not so much in what he said, or even in his attitudes towards past and present building, as in the fact that, unlike previous writers, he actually went to see so many of the things which he described. Certainly he borrowed from others, and recorded hearsay and rumour; but, together with a team of like-minded friends, Camden did tour large areas of Britain, and his researches, like those of Leland, not only fostered a notion of the value of the remains of the past, but also helped to encourage succeeding generations to leave their firesides and to explore their country for themselves.
Another, more clearly defined group of explorers touring England and Wales in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries were foreigners, mainly from the Protestant states of Germany and Middle Europe. They were young men, mostly -- the discomforts of long-distance travel were not for the elderly and they came either on diplomatic or quasi-diplomatic missions, or as part of a general `Grand Tour' of Europe, completing their education in much the same way that the English aristocrat would travel to France and Italy one hundred years later.
For such visitors, a clear pattern of travel had already emerged by the 1580s: a crossing from Calais or Boulogne to Dover, usually in August or September; post-horses to Canterbury (with perhaps a quick visit to the Cathedral), Sittingbourne, Rochester and Gravesend; and then by boat along the Thames to London 2d for a place on the common barge, which sailed on every tide, and 6d for a seat in the tiltboat. In the capital the tourist and his entourage would set up base in one of the inns which specialised in catering for foreigners the White Bear, perhaps, or the Black Bell, or Monsieur Briard's Fleur de Lys in Mark Lane.
Such an itinerary sounds straightforward. In fact, it was beset with dangers and difficulties, beginning with the Channel crossing itself. The experience of Duke Frederick of Würtemberg's party, who sailed from Emden in August 1592, was typical: `Not being accustomed to the sea, we were seized by horrible vomitings, and most of our party (with the exception of his Highness) became so dreadfully ill that they thought they were dying.' The eighteen-year-old Moravian Baron Waldstein suffered a similar fate on his return journey from Dover to Boulogne, but described his experience rather less melodramatically: a plaintive note scrawled in the margin of his diary on 6 August 1600 simply records `I was seasick'.
Nor did the foreigner's trials and tribulations end at Dover. If he didn't possess the necessary credentials, he might be kept waiting for several days while his name was cleared by government officials in London. (Waldstein was told by the Port Authorities that he would not be allowed into the country until his name had been submitted to the Queen, because of a security scare caused by the arrival at one of the royal palaces of three Austrians, who looked round the kitchens and then bolted, obviously giving rise to suspicions about poisoning Elizabeth.) When the traveller was finally allowed to move up through Kent, the strangeness of the English saddle could make the ride by post-horse an unpleasant experience, as reported by Jacob Rathgeb, the Duke of Würtemberg's private secretary:
Some of the party did not feel themselves quite at ease, particularly his Highness, on account of the saddles being in these parts so small and covered only with bare hide or leather, and therefore painful and hard to ride upon, and it is difficult, especially for any one who is corpulent and heavy, to settle himself comfortably on such small saddles.
Although most tourists put up with the discomfort, one at least gave up at Canterbury, and went in search of a coach for the rest of the journey. Thomas Platter, touring in 1599, remarked on his companions' `great discomfort from the posts because of the small saddles which they had to ride without post cushions', and went on to describe the five-horse wagon which they hired, and which had `like all such wagons in England only two wheels, yet they hold as much as do our coaches abroad, for they are very long'.
Safely ensconced in London, the tourist had now to arrange for a guide and interpreter to show him the sights, especially if he planned to make an extended tour. Aids to overcoming the language barrier were being published as early as the 1580s, in the form of tourists' phrase-books. They contained little incidents with scenes which the foreign traveller might meet on his journey, including the following account of how to communicate with a chambermaid:
TRAVELLER: My shee frinde, is my bed made? is it good?
JOAN: Yea Sir, it is a good federbed, the scheetes be very cleane.
TRAVELLER: Pull of my hosen and Warme my bed: drawe the curtines, and pin them with a pin. My shee frinde, kiss me once, and I shall sleape the better. I thanke you fayre mayden.
And on leaving, the traveller is shown the correct procedure with regard to tipping: `Where is ye mayden? hold my shee freend, ther is for your paines.' One can only marvel at the thought of the Duke of Würtemberg, or Baron Waldstein, phrase-book in one hand and chambermaid in the other, making advances to his `shee frinde' in halting English.
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >
Amazing.....!Excellent......!Just enjoy it.....!