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The Beauties of Tudor England

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Architecture contributed immeasurably to the beauty of Tudor England, and the land is rich, even now, in its heritage of fine buildings reared between 1485 and the accession of the Stuarts in 1603. Although their numbers have been sadly reduced and many have been mutilated almost beyond recognition, sufficient are standing to show with what skill they were built and with what beauty they were endowed.

Until the middle of the fifteenth century our national architecture had given expression to the popular enthusiasm for building: the religious fervour of the people had caused wondrous churches to be raised from one end of the land to the other, while their daily life and necessities had no less persistently called for strong and spacious dwellings. All through that century great social developments had been preparing: a transition from the conditions of the Middle Ages had been taking place, and with the accession of the Tudors a new phase began.

The long bloodshed of the Wars of the Roses was ended, but the old feudal families, sorely diminished in numbers and power, now had serious rivals in the merchants, who, profiting by the trading policy of Edward IV, had carried on business and amassed money undisturbed by the civil wars of the noble classes. A new class had sprung up, a "middle" class of rich merchants, tradesmen - independent as members of the trading guilds - and farmers, who were now tenants and freemen.

Just as the barons had lost power and prestige, so had the Church. The influence of the monastic centres as the sole source of learning was lost in the rise of the universities and grammar schools. And the monks had become, in many cases, spiritually inert. Wealth was changing hands, and the form and character of building altering to meet new requirements. Though ecclesiastical builders still expressed themselves in the fine building of abbots' houses and secular additions to their monasteries, church building was almost entirely in the hands of the laity. The parish churches, that are such integral features of the English countryside, and which were the outcome of the growing spirit of independence, had for some time been built and endowed by the people themselves and their local patrons; many an inscription tells of individual benefactors. All these conditions reacted definitely on building enterprise.

The style at the end of the fifteenth century, and even throughout the reign of Henry VIII, was still the "Perpendicular" Gothic of the previous century in both ecclesiastical and domestic work. Traditions die hard, and especially the traditions of a building people. Forms ecclesiastical or military in their origin found their way into civil architecture and, remodelled and adapted, gave its most salient features. Yet what more natural, for in days when architecture was a living art there was not one style for a church and another for a house; there was but one system of building, but the builders knew how to vest their work with varying expression according to the requirements of the structure upon which they happened to be engaged.

The English builder is as conservative as any of his fellow-countrymen, and his cathedral-building ancestors had handed down a vigorous tradition which he was loath to relinquish. Upright lines in tracery and panelled wall surface still prevailed. Immense windows filled with stained glass, strengthened by vertical mullions and horizontal transoms, flooded the churches with tinted light, and the arched heads to windows and doorways were deeply moulded. The four-centred "Tudor arch" of depressed proportions characterises this phase of English building in its many manifestations. Wonderful skill in masonry and versatility in vault design culminated in the fan vaults that no other country evolved. Henry VII's Chapel, Westminster; King's College Chapel, Cambridge; and S. George's Chapel, Windsor, all building in the early years of the sixteenth century, cannot fail to arouse admiration for their consummate workmanship and rich stateliness of effect. Ecclesiastical architecture of a purely arcuated style could go no further. Churches and collegiate buildings of the older universities proclaim its vitality and adaptability. But marked progress in domestic building was welcomed and new impetus was given to the erection of dwelling houses, great and small. Of the numerous houses built in the sixteenth century for the newly enriched class, the most beautiful - of a type which was purely national-were built or remodelled in the reign of Henry VIII. While the prosperous were vying with one another in the erection of comely houses, the king and his court, discontented with the confined quarters and inconvenience of the older buildings, set out to erect immense dwellings which can only be described as palaces; the early Tudor period was the age of palace building, and reflected the pomp and display which characterised the courts of the Tudor monarchs. At Greenwich and Richmond, on the banks of the Thames, vast dwellings, for the most part of brick, and with sumptuous, well-lighted apartments and lofty roofs, housed the courts first of Henry VII and later of Henry VIII. At Bridewell and St. James's, in London, at Nonsuch, near Ewell, Surrey, and at New Hall, near Chelmsford, Essex, Henry VIII caused to be reared palaces in which all the arts found an illustrious place.

The old idea of defence lingered. In the first half of the century there was still a show of fortified precautions. As peace became an established fact, so comfort and convenience could be thought of rather than security, and the Englishman of Tudor times built a house in which to live and to entertain his friends rather than a stronghold in which to defend himself against his enemies. The larger houses, nevertheless, perpetuated the old arrangement of buildings disposed round a courtyard, which was entered through a gateway in the form of an embattled tower, and the whole, when practicable, surrounded by a wide moat. Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk, where a room in the gateway tower was occupied by Henry VII in 1487; Hever Castle, Kent, the scene of many meetings between Anne Boleyn and her royal suitor, and Haddon Hall, Derbyshire, the incomparable home of the Vernons, are all courtyard houses retaining their semi-fortified character. The gateway towers of Lambeth Palace and St. James's Palace are familiar examples of this form of entrance. The Lambeth gateway is probably the earliest remaining brick building in London, and the rebus of Cardinal Morton, who erected it in 1490, can still be seen: at St. James's Palace carvings over the gateway show the initials of Henry VIII. These are brick buildings, as are many of the most fascinating of this prolific period, for the possibilities of brick were exploited as never before in this country. At Hampton Court Palace - a magnificent example of Tudor brickwork - much remains of Wolsey's ambitious project which materialised between 1515 and 1530, and Henry VIII's additions (1530-35), which carried on the same general scheme, include the great hall with its hammer-beam roof, unrivalled in richness of decorative carving.

The great hall formed the nucleus of every house, large or small, and upon it the best craftmanship was lavished. The dais with its oriel window, the "screens" surmounted by the minstrel gallery, and the open-timbered roof, all gave opportunity for rich display and ensured a setting in harmony on festive occasions with the pastimes and gorgeous clothes of the revellers. The open-timber roofs - the especial pride of Tudor England - preserve the true spirit of Gothic art in the expression of purpose and suitability of treatment, and so strong was the affection for the lofty hall with its open roof and carved members that it is often found in quite modest manor houses. In no part of the interior can the atmosphere of the times that called it into existence be more keenly appreciated than in the great hall, even though it may be, and too often is, robbed of its original fittings and furniture.

Whether built of brick, stone or timber, all this Tudor building has the charm of local character - in harmony with the landscape - resulting from the use of the materials of the locality. To this character, so often lost in these days of easy transport, much of the beauty and spontaneity of the architecture is due. Bast Anglia abounds in brick houses, products of the clay soil, as at East Barsham, Norfolk; Kentwell Hall, Suffolk; and Horham Hall, Essex (1502-20); or walling built of flints "knapped" or split and sometimes used in chequered patterns, as in many buildings at Norwich - notably the Guildhall - and its neighbourhood. All these methods of building are peculiarly attractive. The stone houses resulting from deposits of free-stone extending from Somerset to Lincolnshire have given their share to the beauty of a large part of England. What more delightful than the many-gabled stone houses of the Cotswolds with their roof coverings of stone slates? The half-timbered houses of Cheshire, Lancashire and Shropshire are world-renowned. The Tudor houses of this country of vast oak forests, with their black and white blending of plaster and beam, have a character of their own, directly attributable to the right use of local material. But oak was plentiful over a wide area in those days, and the streets of many a country town and village, such as Lavenham in Suffolk and Potterne in Wiltshire, owe their picturesque charm to the timber-built houses and guild and market halls set beside them. Timber in combination with stone and brick never lacks interest and colour: at Ockwells Manor House, Berkshire; Compton Wynyates, Warwickshire (c. 1480-1520), and in scores of smaller houses veritable triumphs of constructive skill were brought to completion. Tudor builders revelled in the fretted skyline which comes with the use of steep gables, shaped pinnacles, heraldic finials, lofty bay windows and ornate chimney-stacks. Unconscious of the demands of symmetry, they intuitively knew how to secure balance of part to part, and how to let common sense determine the expression most suited to necessary structural features. In nothing is their skill seen to greater advantage than in the brick chimney-stacks which rise in splendid profusion out of the parapets of gate-houses and above the long imposing roofs of dwelling houses.

For reasons of climate the Englishman had to spend more time indoors than the Southerner: living in more prosperous and peaceful times than his ancestors, he covered the walls of his best rooms with oak panelling of the favourite "linen-fold" pattern. Although to some extent this took the place of the tapestry hangings upon which vast sums had been spent in the previous century, the splendid tapestries of the great mansions of Elizabeth's time are a special feature, and part of Wolsey's fine collection still hangs in Hampton Court Palace.

England in Tudor times was by no means ignorant of the classic renaissance in architecture then in full burst on the Continent, and that its influence should reach these shores was inevitable, it was the custom for noblemen to send their sons to Italy to study, and the fame of Bramante's new S. Peter's must have been well known, although it doubtless seemed very far away and "foreign." It was Henry VIII, young and generous, delighting in new fashions and interested in the new learning, who gave impetus to the new movement. Italians were attracted to his court, and Pietro Torrigiano wrought for him the tombs in Westminster Abbey of his father and his grandmother Margaret, Countess of Richmond. All the details are Italian, and carved angels, wreaths and pilasters take the place of the traditional panels and niches. While this Italian influence lasted their terra-cotta work was very popular, and there are unusually interesting examples of its use at Layer Marney, Essex (c. 1510), and at Button Place, near Guildford (c 1525).

In the latter part of Henry VIII s reign the religious questions of the times hardly encouraged Italians to stay in this country, and it is less from Italy than from Flanders and Germany that the new style came to stay. These countries had stronger ties of race and religion and greater commercial intercourse with England, with the result that there was a general acceptance of Flemish detail in the latter half of the century, encouraged by books published in the Low Countries. Little progress was made in the reigns of Edward VI and Mary, but throughout the reign of Elizabeth, German and Flemish influence predominated in the design of decoration, both internal and external. All through the age of the Tudors foreign influence never penetrated far beneath the surface: it brought about a fanciful and ornate style which pleased the fancy and satisfied the unbounded curiosity of the times. An Elizabethan house, as distinct from an early Tudor house, presents a curious combination of features derived from many sources, but by an effect of the picturesque combined with one of homeliness and repose, the style is closely associated with our ideal of an old English country home.

Marked advances were made in planning. The courtyard still survived for the greater houses, but the tendency was to abandon the closed form for one entirely open on one side, giving more light and an added effect of spaciousness and gaiety. Projecting wings and a central porch brought about the well-known E-shaped plan that has been thought to be a compliment to Elizabeth. The great hall as a common living-room went out of fashion as the number of rooms increased and the long gallery grew in favour, till eventually it became little more than a fine entrance vestibule. The gallery was always on an upper floor and ran the whole length of the house, sumptuous with panelled walls, coloured glass and ceilings enriched with elaborate plaster work. What was lost in the hall was gained in the staircase. The main rooms were now on the upper floors, and the oak staircase was treated as an important feature, with straight flights of ample width and newels, balusters or pierced balustrade all profusely carved. With the desire for light and air, as with the opening up of the courtyard, came even larger windows, several tiers high, of which Bacon complained that he could find no place where to be out of the sun or the cold. Square-headed lights were customary by this time, and they were multiplied, while the bay window was elaborated, occasionally reaching the whole height of a house and designed as an important part of the elevation. These windows, moreover, gave excellent opportunity for heraldic devices in coloured glass. The possession of armorial bearings had been jealously guarded for some centuries, and a display of them in windows and on chimney-pieces and in various other decorative ways was in keeping with an atmosphere of family dignity that belongs particularly to the Elizabethan house.

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