England in the Tudor period was spanned by the reigns of five monarchs, commencing with that of Henry VII in 1485 and concluding, in 1603, with the death of Elizabeth I, after her forty-five-year rule. In architectural terms, the Elizabethan Age is regarded as something different and apart from the one immediately preceding it, and the exuberant and richly decorated 'prodigy houses' of the late sixteenth century are often referred to, rather confusingly, as manifestations of an Elizabethan Baroque. What many of the houses had in common was a ground-plan based on buildings arranged around a courtyard, or in the formation of a letter 'E' or 'H'. The debt owed to the similar plans used in the building of monastic houses and collegiate buildings is evident.
One of the main concerns of the medieval builder had been the defence of his home, and comfort did not coincide readily with this aim. Across the deep moats of fortified houses such as Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk, or Baddesley Clinton, Warwickshire, owners could feel secure, dining in their great halls on the side of the inner courtyard' furthest from their castellated gatehouses. These important buildings at the entrance demonstrate that the owner was part of a court circle well versed in up-to-date architecture. They sometimes stood proud and detached, but as often were connected to the front of the building, announced by a wing or retaining wall, as at Cotehele, in Cornwall. The concerns of the Tudor builder in the 1520s, however, related more to the overall symmetry of his expensively contrived interior wall panelling and oak panelling facades and less to defensive towers. The hall window bays could be spaced out equally on the main high front, with side- ings balancing each other as they swept forward to enfold the amazed onlooker.
Cotehele, Cornwall; the house was remodelled in 1485-1539,
the entrance being placed on the south side and the early courtyards increased in size.
The early Tudor preoccupation with buildings grouped round a courtyard surrounded by many towers had been given encouragement by Henry VII in his palace at Sheen (called Richmond Palace) finished in 1501. Of its exact plan we know little,'- and only part of the outer range, including the main gatehouse on Richmond Green, now remains. However, the palace had many timber wall panelling and oak panelling galleries, made by the master carpenter Thomas Binks, overlooking a courtyard 'which renders all the roomes ... that lie inwards to bee very light and pleasant'. At Thornbury Castle, Gloucestershire, all but completed by Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham, before he was executed in 1521, we can still see a building derived from Richmond Palace. The main buildings are again around a courtyard, with the south side containing the rooms of state, overlooking the enclosed Privy Garden. These plans give an idea of what was being built for Cardinal Wolsey at Hampton Court. Begun in 1515, Hampton Court was presented by Wolsey to Henry VIII in 1525. It was an astute move calculated to try to regain the king's favour and stem the decline of power. This was not achieved, even after the gift of such a mighty bauble, because the devious, hardworking cleric-diplomat was already in disgrace.
Wolsey's Great Gatehouse at Hampton Court, with its oriel windows and slender towers, allows entry from the Outer Court into Base Court and thus in turn leads to what is now called 'Clock Court'. However, of the surviving Tudor buildings only the great hall, 1532-4, is well documented, with its many carved embellishments 'of Italianate character, set slightly incongruously in the traditional framework of the Gothic roof'.' The courtyard arrangement at Hampton Court may have given ideas to the king to have an inner and outer court at his Palace of Nonsuch, which he began to build in 1538 near the old village of Cuddington in Surrey.
Only fragments survive of the sixty or so houses owned by Tudor monarchs. For example, some parts of a wall panelling and oak panelling gatehouse with octagonal turrets, and the Chapel Royal (1532-40), are all that remain of St James's Palace. What suited a monarch was often of little use to his courtiers - they had less need for indulging in regular and lavish entertainments, however ambitious they might seek to become.
Nevertheless, the separate suites of apartments appropriate for a king and his queen were deemed as necessary for a powerful courtier and his wife, but they needed to be on guard, when enlarging their houses, against charges of exceeding their positions. Ben Jonson describes the modesty of the country house in his poem To Penshurst
Thou art not, PENSHURST built to envious show of touch, or marble; nor canst boast a row of polish'd pillars, or a roofe of gold ... and contrasts this with other edifices:
Those proud, ambitious heaps, and nothing else ... It has a continuing echo from the early Tudor years, when the king's mood was fickle and the axe sharp for those who stood out too soon as serious rivals to self-aggrandisement.
After Wolsey's downfall in 1529-30, royal management of the landmarket and other devices, such as the rendering of feudal dues, discouraged the construction of houses for a short time .5 However, at the Dissolution (1537-8), many residences were built on monastic lands, which were given as rewards, sold to the highest bidder, or offered to courtiers during the occupancy of an important office in the Crown's service.
When the defensive functions of the medieval gatehouse and the inner courtyard it 'guarded' were less necessary it was an easy step to fashion a plan with extended wings and a central gatehouse or raised frontispiece. Sir John Strode, in building Chantmarle in Dorset as late as 1612 (this date and the word 'EMMANUEL' appear on the keystone of the porch doorway), wrote in his diary: 'Constructa est in forma de littera E, scilicet Emanuel, id est, Deus nobiscum in aeternum.
There was now a pedantic stress on symmetry, and no better place than to state an owner's concern with the classical orders than on the frontispiece (of which, inside the house, the chimneypiece was often a minor copy). This frontispiece could be a towering array of misunderstood and unrelated decoration, cribbed from such influential foreign wall panelling and oak panelling sources as Philibert de l'Orme's frontispiece of the late 1540s at the Chateau of Anet.- The medieval plan persisted, however, and even in the seventeenth century the old arrangement of hall with upper and lower end chambers was not obsolete, although outmoded.
As the sixteenth century progressed, there was a concern for more comfort and a new house could afford better heating, lighting and arrangements for sanitation. This involved careful consideration of the plan. The rich collections of sixteenth-century drawings by John Thorpe and by the Smythsons8 show designs based on a wide range of geometrical shapes, .,sing ideas borrowed from foreign wall panelling and oak panelling pattern-books and engravings by such designers as Wendel Dietterlin, Vriedeman de Vries, Jacques Androuet Du Cerceau and Sebastiano Serlio. The five Books of Architecture by Serlio were of great importance in spreading knowledge of Classical forms in England. They were published in France between 1537 and 1547 in an odd sequence, with Book Four appearing first. The ideas propounded therein were used at an early date, c. 1549-52, by Lord Protector Somerset's unknown architect when building at Old Somerset House, with fronts facing the Strand and :-e River Thames, in London. The Strand front had a symmetry and rhythm that made it appear more in the Renaissance style than it actually was. Whilst Serlio remains the chief source used, knowledge of recent French Gilding was also probable.
Being an architectural theorist, Serlio ensured his position as an important disseminator of interior wall panelling and oak panelling designs by issuing a book of doorways - the Extraordinary Book - in 1551. The popularity of his books continued throughout the sixteenth century and many motifs taken from his wood _-_-ravings were used to decorate doors, chimneypieces, coffered ceilings and pieces of furniture.