Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Period Style: Tudor and Elizabethan (an Introduction)

Little Moreton Hall
This is the first of several period style guides I am going to post on my blog. I have begun with the Tudor period. It is worth noting that although we often use terms like Tudor, Georgian, Victorian etc, building styles didn’t just stop and change with the monarchs the periods are named after; period styles continued and were mixed together with later styles, buildings are often adapted over time and certain period details lost, so it is sometimes hard to identify buildings to an exact period. The Tudor period discussed here will incorporate late English medieval buildings as well as later Elizabethan styles (Elizabeth I was also a Tudor).

The Tudor period began with the reign of Henry VII in 1457 and ended with the death of Elizabeth I in1603. Henry VIII and Elizabeth I are probably the most famous king and queen to reign during the Tudor period, but there was also Edward I, Mary I (the original Bloody Mary!) and Lady Jane Grey, who reigned for only nine days before losing her head (the Tudors were a bloody lot generally!).

Henry VIII
Henry VIII, famous for his six wives (thanks for spotting that mistake Elga!), had a huge effect on the history and cultural movement in England. He bought artists and sculptors the England, including Hans Holbein the Younger and Pietro Torrigiano (admittedly, he was on the run from Italy for breaking Michelangelo’s nose).

Portrait of Jean de Dinteville and George de Selve 'the Ambassadors' by Hans Holbein the Younger
Henry VIII’s biggest change to English history came from his desire for an annulment of his marriage to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, who he married when he ascended the throne in 1509. His wondering eye had caught the young Anne Boleyn, and Catherine had ‘failed’ to produce a surviving male heir to the Tudor throne (Mary was the only child to survive). The church at that time was controlled entirely by Rome, all church taxes went to Rome and the Pope had absolute power on all religious doctrine in England. If Henry wanted to divorce his wife he must ask permission from the Pope. The Pope was not keen, particularly as Catherine had been Henry’s Brother’s (Arthur) wife before Henry had married her (Arthur had died), and special permission had been sought form the Pope to allow them to marry to begin with. Henry used this as his reason for the divorce, that it had never been valid from the start, and pushed for a divorce.

Rome refused. The end result of this was the Henry broke with Rome, banned Catholicism in England and set up a whole new church for the nation, The Church of England. Henry divorced Catherine, and married Anne Boleyn, who lost her head for treason not long after, and Henry moved on to wife number three (who died… and so on!)
The break from Rome, known as the Reformation, led to the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Church houses (abbeys, priories, monasteries etc) were closed down, their revenues transferred to the king, and the land given to the crown and the aristocracy. Some of the money gained was used by Henry to build new coastal defences (including Deal, Sandown and Walmer Castles, all in the Town were I used to live!). The roofs were removed from the abbeys and monasteries to prevent monks returning, and the stone from these buildings was sold off, or in some cases just taken, to use in buildings elsewhere.

The Renaissance art and architecture of Italy was largely ignored in England too (although the Renaissance began over a century earlier in Italy), as we became more culturally isolated from central and southern Europe, even more so after the Reformation when anything Italian was looked upon with suspision. The English looked towards Protestant Northern Europe instead and the Dutch particularly would have a strong influence on future architecture and art in England.

Rievaulx Abbey ruins

The dissolution left many ruined abbeys across the country, such as Rievaulx, Fountains and Whitby, which would in later centuries inspire writers, poets and artists (Dracula anyone?). Some large houses built on land once belonging to the church also kept the old names; Lacock Abbey is a house, as is Nostell Priory (though built later, in the eighteenth century).

Mary I (Bloody Mary!!)
Henry VIII died in 1547 and was succeeded by his son Edward VI. Mary took the throne in 1553. She tried to convert the country back to Catholicism, married Philip II of Spain (it was NOT a happy marriage and they lived apart) and had hundreds of Protestants burnt at the stake, hence her nick-name Bloody Mary. She died childless in 1558, and her half sister Elizabeth took over the throne. 

Elizabeth I

The Elizabethan period saw England’s wealth grow. Great houses free from any need for defences were built often with huge windows and rich decoration. Britain’s sea power increased, it sent out explorers to make new discoveries, it gained a small amount of new territories, and won the Armada against Spain. The stage also grew in importance, with some of England’s most famous playwrights coming from the Elizabethan age; Ben Johnson, Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare, and new theatres were built in London, including the Globe, which has been reconstructed on the side of the Thames ( though not in the exact spot of the original). 

The Globe London
Next chapter; Tudor and Elizabethan architecture


  1. Andy, I am so thrilled you are doing these --you are so good at it! You should be an Art History professor.

    Very informative and you always choose the perfect images to go along with your text. (Henry TUdor? In that outfit he looks more like a four-door)lol!

    Speaking of Tudors, have you seen the HBO series, 'The Tudors?' Usually HBO does a great job but I can't watch this mess because the ads show Henry VIII played by a buff model type wearing a ruffled shirt undone down to his six-pack! Whatevs, as IF!

  2. Love the pictures and history although I always thought Henry had six wives and not eight.

  3. LOL!!! yes Elga you are right! Henry did have six wives! better change that!

  4. Hi John, not sure about being an art history professor, but did you notice the funny blurred shape in the middle of 'The Ambassador's' painting? If you make that image larger, and look at it side ways on, it becomes a skull! They often uses skulls and skellingtons in paintings during this period, to remind them that death was never far away! Cheery bunch weren't they!

    That Tudors show was on the BBC over the past few years, didn't watch it, as I felt the same as you, mind you Henry wasn't too bad looking early on, but all that feasting and drinking took its toll!! a sad lesson for us all!! lol!

    Talking of buff young things, I am slightly drawn to the 'Ambassador' on the left, what do you think?

    1. Hi, Andy! I did not notice the skull right off, but I DID notice your Ambassador! (If I'm not mistaken I think he was spied last weekend in red flannel at Bear Night, lol).

    2. LOL! yes, think I saw him there too! I think more bears should try fur, it totally works on him! (shame its real, but hey, it was a LONG time ago!)

  5. Hello again Elga, have corrected my mistake! thanks for that, red faced here! I've edited it elsewhere too, hope it makes more sense now!

  6. A stunning article, Andy!!! I promise more slowly read and study it, it's very interesting!!! I will be attentive to others that you post. A big hug!!!

    1. Pedrete gracias, espero que disfruten de estos artículos Tudor, estoy pensando en añadir una pieza de Tudor y el traje isabelino que le puede resultar útil también! ;)

      gran abrazo a mi amigo!


      Thanks Pedrete, I hope you enjoy these Tudor articles, I am thinking of adding a piece on Tudor and Elizabethan costume which you might find useful too! ;)

      big hugs my friend!


  7. Don't worry as a child I did think it was 8 too, I mean Henry VIII with 8 wives did kind of make sense, if he lived any longer it might have just happened, he should have taken better care of himself!!!

    1. Well I always knew it was 6, its something we learned at school at a very early age, 'divorced; beheaded; died; divorced; beheaded; survived.' guess it was just having to keep writing Henry VIII, the number eight just got stuck in my head!

  8. Andy,

    I'm back again! I did actually see this post last night but the stupid wifi was hanging and I couldn't post anything. I love your History posts, this period in particular I know a wee bit about because its Paul's special interest. I think I've had all the Tudor and Elizabethan kings and Queens drummed into me! In reference to Johns comment about H VIII being buff, Paul had always told me when he was young he was quite fit and handsome but as you say Andy all the feasting got to him. He was supposed to be very Tall too but when you see his armour (I cant remember which Castle it was in. Paul's not up yet.Was it Hever??) by todays standards he is not that big, 6ft maybe....but back then that would have been enormous.......Paul doesn't think thats very tall as he is 6.5)

    The Abbey's are magnificent (or were ) it's such a shame to see them in this state. Although as you say Andy at least they came to some good, with out them there wouldn't have been such a source of inspiration! I happen to be reading Dracula.......recently suggested to me by a friend...........; )

    I love Elizabeth......nothing like a bit of girl power!!!

    Keep them coming.

    Fi x

    1. Well I'm glad you sorted your hanging wifi (honestly, kids today with all their new fangled technology! what's wrong with a good book and the wireless!?)

      I hope Paul isn't too keen to follow in the footsteps of Henry, or I'd be worried about you!

      On a recent episode of QI ( celeb panel show with Stephen Fry) they said that it was a bit of a myth that peopel were shorter in the past, but I'm not sure I believe that, diets were poor for everyone back then, mind you the Tudors did eat some salad, which is more than a lot of men in the UK do these days!! lol! I think Henry was considered tall, but it's worth remembering that any images we still have of him are painted in a FLATTERING light, so gods only know what he really looked like!!

      I hope you are enjoying Dracula Fi, you must come and visit us here in our castle one day, take care on the roads though, for they are rock strewn and deeply rutted!!

  9. Hi Andy,

    Dont get me started on kids and technology!!

    Dont get me started on Paul and Henry either.......I could really loose my head over it!!!

    I think Paul's favourite show is QI but I'm not sure we saw that one. I think the doors in all the cottages must be some kind of a guide though. I know it is a worry when you look at some of the paintings and think, wow if they look that ordinary in the painting what must they have really looked like.

    Andy you just gave me a shiver.........you know I have been reading two books as I can't read Dracula at night, Paul keeps sneaking up behind me and pretending to sink his teeth into my neck. I threatened him the other day and said if you do it again you'll wind up with a stake through your heart!!!!

    I do wonder how I look on the beach sitting in my floppy hat, under my umbrella reading Dracula........ I think Gone with the wind would fit the scene better, but I've always liked to surprise people....... ; )

    Fi x

  10. Hi Fi

    I think if I was painting a portrait of a king/queen wellknow for taking off the heads, or hanging by the neck until almost dead, drawing out the internal organs then having the body torn apart by horses, I would be painting them in a flattering light too!! lol!! But yes I do sometimes wonder what the person in the portrait was thinking as they were being painted, what they did during the day, how they relaxed, that is what is so interesting about these paintings I think.

    Sorry to scare you, promise I won't bite!! I don't like steak!!