The 2016 Academy Awards are handed out this coming Sunday so I’m celebrating a film that showcases the built legacy of Henry VIII to delve back into the subject I began here on February 2nd. The movie that showcases Henry VIII’s architectural heritage so beautifully is A Man for All Seasons, which swept the Oscars in 1967 by winning awards for Best Picture; Best Actor in a Leading Role; Best Director; Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium; Best Cinematography, Color; and Best Costume Design, Color. It was also nominated for best actor and best actress in supporting roles.
Hampton Court Palace Wins an Oscar!
The film deserved all of the awards it earned but I feel it is particularly worthy of the nod for cinematography, one of the locations soulfully captured by the camera being Hampton Court Palace. Early scenes in the movie make the façade of the castle a veritable character, particularly when the King’s Beasts make dramatic cameos. The ten statues of heraldic animals that flank the bridge over the moat leading to the great gatehouse seem to lick and scream into the cloud-clotted sky.
In a powerful scene in the film, a corpulent Orson Welles swathed in luxuriant red as Cardinal Wolsey is troubled by Henry VIII’s arrival as he canters into the castle courtyard. Paul Scofield, who plays Sir Thomas More and has been summoned by the unhappy cleric, looks on.
The pale stone of the bay window above the gate through which the King has entered glows in the low light of evening. Paired with the rain-slicked pavers reflecting the eerie light, the monarch’s mood is perfectly intimated—he wants a divorce and no one seems to be able to get him one.
As the film unfolds, the camera cuts to billowing storm clouds exploding on the horizon, their edges drawing themselves with luminosity as if they are burning from within. Boats deploy and return, their oars slicing through green-gray water hemmed in row upon row of reeds that draw dark datum lines at the river’s edge. When a night-darkened Hampton Court Palace comes into view, messengers and power-mongers slip past torches that flicker on the castle’s bricked façade. The director, cinematographer and editors who “painted” these scenes transported me to a bygone era when the palace was an important hub of political power and intrigue.
This is one of the buildings that Henry VIII enhanced architecturally, an extant gem in an oeuvre that gained him a reputation as a master builder. According to Dr. Simon Thurley, who surveys the entirety of the King’s built legacy in his book The Royal Palaces of Tudor England, he was regarded as “a perfect Builder” as early as Elizabeth I’s reign. The author also notes the King was equally at home designing jewelry, armor “(‘suche as no armorer before that tyme had seen’), siege engines and a new sort of tiltyard.”
The Joust, the Tiltyard and Henry VIII
The King’s love of the joust drove the latter innovation, his pseudonym during tournaments “Sir Loyal Heart.” While participating in the tournament depicted above, he laid trophies at his first queen’s feet to call attention to his strength and libido. This would become a habit, writes Nicola Shulman in Graven with Diamonds: “During celebrations Henry and his varied queens would sing lyrics after jousting tournaments to celebrate his sexual prowess and virility. The King got a bit carried away during one such ceremony, singing, ‘I hurt no man, I do no wrong/ I love true where I did marry.’ He was still on his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, at the time!” Five more would follow, of course, making his claim of genuine affection preposterous.
A manuscript known as the Henry VIII Songbook has survived from those frolicking days. It contains 20 songs and 13 instrumental pieces ascribed to ‘The Kynge H,’ including “Pastyme With Good Companye” that celebrates the joys of princely life such as hunting, singing and dancing. Shulman believes the manuscript was produced for Sir Henry Guildford, the Controller of the Household and Master of the Revels, somewhere around 1518 because it was found in his house. “He was in charge of organizing parties, pageants, banquets and such,” she notes; “a role that had exploded since Henry VIII had taken the throne.”
The Built Legacy of Henry VIII
Exploded is no exaggeration. Upon Henry VIII’s death on January 28, 1547, it took a group of hired commissioners 18 months to compile a detailed list of his belongings. The first segment of the surviving inventory includes money, jewels, plate, artillery, munitions, ships, arms, armor, horses, masque garments, tents, religious gowns and books. And the second covers other items in the principal royal houses, wardrobes or stores. In total, the lists include hundreds of thousands of objects.
Also among his assets were the Whitehall, Hampton Court, Greenwich and Richmond palaces. Before his expansion and refinement of it, Whitehall was called York Place. Like Hampton Court, Henry VIII took the property from Wolsey. Once he’d made it his own, he asked Flemish topographical artist Anthony van den Wyngaerde, who created the sketch of Richmond above, to work with him in redesigning the buildings. It was at Whitehall where Henry would marry Anne Boleyn in 1533 and Jane Seymour in 1536, and I can only imagine the magnitude of the celebrations that would have taken place during these occasions, which would likely have included grand tournaments within the palace’s tiltyard shown in the sketch below.
Jousting at Whitehall Palace
Though I didn’t come across any descriptions of these events, I did find a recounting of a jousting tournament at Whitehall Palace during Queen Elizabeth I’s reign. G.H. Gater and E.P.Wheeler, the editors of The Tiltyard and the Horse Guards, recorded it, proclaiming that the tiltyard at Whitehall was exemplary “for Noblemen and other to exercise themselves in lusting, Turneying, and fighting.” I think it is quite ironic that I found an account of Elizabeth celebrating the joust given the Queen’s father had declared that her birth didn’t merit a tournament! Lupold Von Wedel recorded a fuller description of these festivities held at Whitehall on November 17, 1584, in his book Journey Through England. The reference is fabulously alive with details, such as the sums of money spent and the courtly behavior shown to the Queen:
“The costs amounted to several thousand pounds each. When a gentleman with his servant approached the barrier, on horseback or in a carriage, he stopped at the foot of the staircase leading to the Queen’s room, while one of his servants in pompous attire of a special pattern mounted the steps and addressed the Queen in well-composed verses or with a ludicrous speech, making her and her ladies laugh. When the speech was ended he in the name of his lord offered to the Queen a costly present, which was accepted, and permission given to take part in the tournament.”
Once cleared to participate, Von Wedel notes the jousters rode against each other two-by-two, breaking lances across the beam. “On this day not only many fine horses were seen,” he continues, “but also beautiful ladies, not only in the royal suite, but likewise in the company of gentlemen of the nobility and the citizens. The fête lasted until five o’clock in the afternoon, when milurtt [milord] Lester, the royal Master of the Horse, gave the sign to stop. The Queen handed the first prize to the Counts of Ocsenfortt and of Arundel. […] The others got prizes according to their performances.”
Henry VIII Master Builder
Most of Whitehall was destroyed by fire, though King James I’s Banqueting House survived, as did the tiltyard Henry VIII built there, now the Horse Guards Parade (pictured above). Richmond also burned, both losses taking with them chunks of the Tudor King’s architectural legacy. The fact that the Banqueting House still stands is fortunate because its interiors hold the only surviving in-situ painting by Peter Paul Rubens, a treasure I will make time to see the next time I’m in London.
Not much of the version of Greenwich built by Henry VII and renovated by Henry VIII survived either. I found one reference that states the foundations of the two brick towers that flanked the spectator stands hemming the tiltyard built there are buried beneath the lawns of the Queen’s House. If anyone can confirm this, I’d love to know if it’s true.
Henry VIII once again used masonry to achieve an aesthetically pleasing façade at this sporting venue, as is shown in the architectural model above, which is all that remains of the project. It’s easy to see why William Harrison’s Description of Elizabethan England, published in 1577, declares that, “Certes masonarie did neuer better flourish in England than in his time.” Thurley calls the tiltyard towers at Greenwich diminutive castles, “a make-believe backdrop to the mock-warfare of the Tudor Court.” It was atop the layers of sand, gravel and lime plaster he commanded be put down beside the palace in which he was born where Henry VIII would suffer his most serious accident while jousting—on January 24, 1536, at the age of 44.
His penchant for brick interspersed with stone is again apparent in the image of Hampton Court Palace above. And, though he was a prolific builder in these materials, he wasn’t the first. That distinction belongs to Henry V, whom John Schofield, writing for the Department of Architecture at the University of Cambridge, claims sourced bricks from Calais to rebuild the royal house at Sheen in 1414. This building would become Richmond Palace after Henry VII’s substantial renovation of it. I have a hunch that these kings had an influence on the younger monarch’s regard for building, a passion that, according to Harrison, gained him the nickname “the Phoenix of fine and curious masonry!”
Henry VIII’s most productive years constructing and renovating, which began in 1529, coincided with Cardinal Wolsey’s downfall and Anne Boleyn’s influence. There is an interesting pie chart in Thurley’s book showing how Henry VIII came to own his many domestic residences, only a small portion of them resulting from new construction. During the last seven years of his reign, three new building projects of substance were begun—the grandest being Whitehall, which was unfinished when he died. The remainder of undertakings that kept him busy, a substantial list to be sure, were renovations of existing properties.
One of the angles I enjoyed the most about Thurley’s book is how he shines a light on Henry VIII’s influence historically. He declares The Preaching Place, built at Whitehall and shown in a woodcut above, as one of the most extraordinary structures erected during Henry VIII’s reign for the lasting impact it had: “The preaching place was an outdoor pulpit surrounded by a loggia and overlooked by the King’s lodgings. The importance of this classical loggia in the history of English architecture, and particularly its influence on Inigo Jones when designing the Banqueting House for James I, has gone almost unnoticed.”
Sport During Tudor Times
Thurley believes his many sporting compounds were likely inspired by his father, who built the first sport complex at a royal house—still referred to as “the father of all subsequent English royal recreation centers.” Henry VIII loved sports so much that his Court was launched into an almost incessant round of it when he took the throne—hunting and jousting, the most popular and frequent sports of his youth, most often on the agenda.
And chivalry was at the heart of it all, notes Lord Scales, who is referencing Henry VIII’s design of the venue at Greenwich when he wrote, “For him tournament was the most graphic expression of the chivalric bent of his Court. The tiltyard building with their castellar overtones emphasised the chivalric values underlying jousting.” How anxious was Henry VIII to make his mark as a builder of recreational centers? The first noted payment he made as King was to Henry Smith for a tiltyard at the Tower of London, a project that doesn’t appear to have been realized.
The Power of Architecture in History
The level of revelry and the progressive building spurt this King did achieve as medieval times moved toward the renaissance is described by Osbert Lancaster in Pillar to Post, a fabulous vintage book that Bethanne Matari sent me recently. Cheekily subtitled English Architecture without Tears, it has just been re-released with two other Lancaster books. Alan Powers, writing for the Financial Times, deems it “a potted history of architecture from ancient Egypt to the near-present.”
In small bites, it highlights the influence of different periods of world development on the architecture in the UK, each section illustrated by one of Lancaster’s appealing drawings. Summing up the atmosphere in which Henry VIII and his Courtiers made such great strides with their built legacies, the author notes, “…with the firm establishment of the Tudors, conditions altered and the country gentry had now the leisure and the necessary assurance of safety to return their minds to the development of the unfortified manor house”
He goes on to contradict himself a few sentences later when he adds, “although the country no longer suffered from constant civil wars the memories of past dangers were still vivid and led to the retention of many of the features of the castle.” These were obviously contrarian times for a King bent on building!
Looking back, it’s no wonder danger was top of mind for the elite—if being invaded by foreign kings wasn’t enough of a threat, anyone afforded a position in a Tudor Court was subjected to a remarkable amount of scheming that made it treacherous to be a nobleman. And one didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of retaining a modicum of influence unless the formal residence was imposing enough. This is the power of architecture’s authority throughout history. And not much has changed in the four centuries since. Otherwise, who would care whether our country’s royal residence, the White House, is grand or not?
The Diary of an Improvateur and this entry, The Built Legacy of Henry VIII, © Saxon Henry, all rights reserved. Saxon is an author, poet and journalist based in New York City. Books include Anywhere But Here, Stranded on the Road to Promise and Four Florida Moderns. She is also a contributor to Architizer.by