what lies behind the Stuarts’ taste for extravagant buildings and interiors

On 7 May possibly 1603, James VI of Scotland and now James I of England rode into the funds of his new kingdom: the Stuarts had arrived. 1000’s of Londoners collected to observe and, at Stamford Hill, the Lord Mayor was waiting to existing the keys of the town although 500 magnificently dressed citizens joined the procession on horseback.

There was a smaller technical hitch. James should have been bound for the Tower of London till proclaimed and crowned but, inspite of frantic creating perform, it was nowhere in close proximity to all set. As Simon Thurley recounts—twitching aside 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 excellent corridor gaped open up to the skies and for decades the royal lodgings had been junk rooms. Throughout James’s stay, a display wall experienced been developed to disguise a gigantic dung heap.

Art and architecture for the Stuart monarchs in England—an amazing interval when the environment was turned upside down 2 times with the execution of just one king (Charles I in 1649) and the deposition of another (James II in 1688)—were neither about trying to keep out the climate nor fully about outrageous luxury. The royal residences ended up intricate statements of electric power, authority and rank. The architecture managed the jealously guarded accessibility to the king and queen: in lots of reigns, just about any person could get in to stand behind a railing and watch the king feeding on or praying, and a remarkably vast circle was admitted to the state bedrooms, but only a handful acquired into the precise sleeping spots. The possibilities of fine and attractive artwork from England, Italy, France or the Small Countries, who acquired to see it—whether an English Mortlake or a Flemish tapestry, a mattress manufactured of strong Tudor Oak or an opulent French one particular, swathed in fabulous imported gold-swagged silk—and where by courtiers or mistresses have been stashed, had been all significant decisions and interpreted as these.

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 rather uninteresting stop on the street north—to the disastrous obstetric historical past of Queen Anne, which finished the Stuart reign in 1714, the sums used ended up incredible, even without translating into present-day phrases or comparison with the golden wallpaper of recent Prime Minister Boris Johnsons’ flat. Anne of Denmark, wife of James I, invested £45,000 reworking Somerset Residence on the Strand. Henrietta Maria, spouse of Charles I, used another fortune, such as 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, like the apparently wonderful Theobalds in Hertfordshire and a quite personal enjoyment dome inside of a glorious backyard garden in Wimbledon. Most likely the most amazing insight is that in his past months, imprisoned on the Isle of Wight and engaged in failing negotiations with the Parliamentarians, Charles I was also taking into consideration ideas to totally rebuild Whitehall palace, a task finished by the axe at the Banqueting Home, one particular of the handful of structures that would have been retained.

There is fewer architectural background and more gossip in this lively compendium than in the comprehensive scientific tests of unique buildings Thurley has currently revealed, but there are myriad ground plans and contemporary engravings, and a lot to established the intellect of the general reader wandering by means of the extended galleries—the new Whitehall would have experienced a 1,000 ft gallery—and a 29-web site bibliography for these who want additional.

• Simon Thurley, Palaces of Revolution: Lifetime, Loss of life and Artwork at the Stuart Court docket, William Collins, 560pp, 8 color plates plus black-and-white intext illustrations, £25 (hb), posted September 2021

• Maev Kennedy is a freelance arts and archaeology journalist and a typical contributor to The Art Newspaper