Dr Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, links architecture, court life and politics to paint an intimate picture of everyday life in the palaces of the monarchy from the Saxons to the Stuarts. He contends that government and palace life were inextricable and that to unlock the secrets of royal architecture throws new light on the history of the nation.
War Halls: Royal Houses from the Saxons to the Hundred Years’ War
Tonight we will see how by the death of King Edward III England’s royal palaces had changed from being a conglomeration of disparate buildings focussed round a great hall, to well-organised carefully planned structures which became machines for rule, houses of power, buildings that were perfectly honed for medieval kingship. I will also try and suggest why this happened and how this happened. And to understand this we need to understand a little about how medieval kings lived and ruled and as an introduction think a little about what constituted a palace.
Playing Catch-up: Palaces from the Hundred Years’ War to the Wars of the Roses
Last time I finished by showing you this plan of Windsor Castle. It shows the extraordinary suite of royal chambers constructed by King Edward III as they existed at his death in 1377. These works at Windsor were utterly and completely consuming and it is perhaps not surprising that during Edward III’s reign Windsor was very much the centre of royal gravity. But in the second year of Richard II’s reign came a reform that was to shift the focus away from Windsor to Westminster and was to establish a permanent office or department to organise royal building.
Magnificence: A Tale of Two Henrys
We reach the Tudors, and this evening, I am going to really concentrate on the planning of the Royal Palaces. It is an extraordinary story and it starts in January 1457, when a baby was born at Pembroke Castle in Wales – he was christened Henry Tudor. At the time he was born, I think no one could really have imagined that this little baby was one day going to become the king of England and the founder of one of the most successful dynasties ever to occupy the throne. Yet, this young baby held a very important place in the Lancastrian succession: he was the nephew of Henry VI, and with the failure of the Lancastrian dynasty to produce any heirs, he was one of a very small group of Lancastrians who could lay a claim to the throne, and it was for this reason that when Edward IV seized the throne in 1461, deposing Henry VI, Henry Tudor, still a little baby, was put under the guard of William Herbert, to whom Edward IV granted Henry’s father’s property, and his title, the Earl of Pembroke. Herbert removed Henry from Pembroke and took him to his own castle in Gwent, called Raglan.
Simon Thurley had seven lectures at Gresham College in London on the topic of palaces in England. Click here to watch the full series.