Death of the Royal Powerhouse Professor Simon Thurley
This is my last lecture in my series on royal palaces. We started off in the Anglo Saxon Period and now have come to the final years of the seventeenth century. We have seen how the palaces of monarchs were much more than residences - these were the places from which England, and then Britain, was ruled. The very person of the sovereign was the source of all power and therefore the sovereign’s house was literally a powerhouse – a place inextricably linked with the exercise of power, with the business of government.
But after the death of Charles II, there began to be some big changes. His Roman catholic Brother failed to hold on to the throne for long and he was effectively deposed by his daughter and her husband, William and Mary. The basis of William and Mary’s rule was entirely different from Charles II’s – they were monarchs by invitation of parliament not by hereditary and divine right.
Now, this change had profound architectural consequences; consequences that were immediate and very visible. But they came about in a complex and unexpected way. Tonight I am going to explain how the Glorious Revolution of 1688 brought with it major a watershed in royal building.
I will be talking about Hampton Court, Kensington and Whitehall, but I will also be spending quite a lot of time referring to William III’s residences in Holland. Now, I am guessing that you will be less familiar with these so for my first fifteen minutes I am going to explain a little about William and Mary’s life in the Low Countries.
I want to begin with a quick survey of the houses that William of Orange inherited when he became Stadtholder in 1672. For each, I will briefly describe what he inherited and then explain the changes he made to them before he became King of England. Broadly speaking there were two periods in which William concentrated on architecture, the first was immediately after his marriage to Princess Mary (who was of course the daughter of James, Duke of York, and niece to Charles II). In this phase, he enlarged houses adding rooms or suites for his new wife. The second phase was after the death of Charles II in 1685 when William and Mary became next in line to the throne of England after James. William’s court, such as it was, was swelled by English visitors and his palaces were enlarged and made more magnificent both to entertain them and to reflect his increased status.
But before I look at the buildings, I want to make an important point which is that just as the court of Charles II of England was obsessed with the fashions of Louis XIV court, so also was the house of Nassau in the Netherlands. As early as 1634 an English visitor to The Hague was to write that ‘The ladies and Gentlemen here all Frenchified in French Fashion’. William, as much as his Grandfather, occupied a world in which the predominant cultural influences emanated from the court of France. Thus both the English and Dutch courts sought to emulate the same styles and fashions. The difference, as we shall see, is in how they were applied to the organisation of royal space.
So, bearing in mind my introductory points, let us turn to look at the buildings. First we have the Stadtholder’s quarters in the Binnenhof at The Hague. The Binnenhof was the seat of government and was, in English terms, the equivalent to Whitehall and Westminster and was recognised as being as such by English travellers. Here was a long range containing two suites of apartments one above the other for the Stadholder and his consort. They had been extended and redecorated in 1632-4 by Prince Frederick Henry and William extended them further by four bays on his marriage to Mary in 1677. There were a small number of reception rooms and a dining room as well as a bedroom and closets. The ceiling of Mary’s bedroom survives, on show, in the Rijksmuseum.
The other ancient Nassau residence was at Breda. The Castle at Breda was the ancestral or dynastic seat of the Nassau family. The massive square, moated castle was begun in the 1530s and 40s but left incomplete. The increased status given to William on the death of Charles II spurred him on to finish it. Here he created the only building that the English might call a palace. It, with Honselarsdyke, was the only place to actually have a throne, and a throne room. After 1685, a suite of royal apartments in the English style were created. Off a great hall there were three ante rooms before a great presence chamber with a throne. Beyond this, were the state bedchamber, a cabinet and a dressing room. Beyond the backstairs there were more private lodgings. William furnished the castle with dynastic portraits and antique tapestries emphasising his lineage and creating the effect of an ancient family home. Whether this was in deliberate imitation of English royal houses he knew from his trips across the channel is unclear, but after 1685 William did have one residence that in plan and decoration was similar to the palaces he would inherit in 1688.
As well as these two venerable residences, perhaps equivalent in English terms to Whitehall and Windsor, there were three modest country houses similar perhaps, in function, to Hampton Court, Greenwich and Richmond. The oldest one of these William inherited from his grandfather Prince Frederick Henry. Huis ter Nieuburch (House Ten Newburg) was begun, just outside The Hague, at Rijswijk in 1630. Unfortunately it was pulled down around 1800, but it is a vitally important building architecturally. It was designed on the French Pavilion system but not in a courtyard rather as a single range. Two remote pavilions were linked by galleries to a central block that contained the principal rooms. This French influence is important for it was also to be the mainspring behind another country residence Honselaersdijk (Hon Selers Dyke). Honselaersdijk was seven miles from The Hague towards Delft and was William’s father’s principal house built in the 1640s and 50s. We do not know who designed it, but we do know that the French architect Jacques de la Vallée was involved in its conception. It was completely demolished in 1816, but is well recorded, so we know quite a lot about it.
Like Huis ter Nieuburch it was based on a French pavilion plan. The main block was connected to two pavilions by galleries that made up three sides of a courtyard. A colonnade and gallery closed the fourth side. Honselaersdijk was very similar in plan to the Palais de Luxemborg, Marie de Medici’s residence in Paris. We know that Marie de Medici was so proud of her new palace that plans of it were sent across Europe. Honselaersdijk was one of its closest progeny to the extent that it contained massive portraits of Marie and Henri IV of France. This became William and Mary’s principal country palace the only residence, other than Breda, to have a throne. After 1685 it was densely hung with paintings of William and Mary’s Stuart forbears.