Welcome

Welcome to the world of adventure, love and war. You’ve entered 17th Century England. It’s a time of civil war, social upheaval, conspiracies and intrigue. In the world of historical fiction, this is gold.

Join me in this journey. I intend to pique your interest.

Posted in Welcome | 13 Comments

Worcester’s Commandery 

Commandery: "Front" facing Fort Royal

I’ve always felt a strong connection to the Commandery. It’s history runs deep. As you can imagine, speaking before the Battle of Worcester Society in the Great Hall of the Commandery was an unparalleled thrill. If you missed reading about the occasion, click here for the post.

Some buildings are more than just the wood and timber that makes up their frame; more than the collection of rooms that make up their space. They occupy a place in history. Imagine a thousand year old building, with its use and purpose changing with the tides of history. Worcester’s Commandery, with its millennium of social, political, religious and industrial history, is such a place.

The Commandery is situated just outside the old city of Worcester, where once the Sidbury gate once stood. The Commandery started out as a monastic hospital, founded by the Order of the Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem (the Order of Hospitallers), offering relief and shelter to travelling pilgrims. The Knights Hospitallers had many such hospitals scattered throughout the world which were centres of administration and healing. They were specifically built outside the city gates to be able to greet pilgrims who arrived after nightfall, long after the gates were shut.

knights_hospitallers_of_jerusalem_bronze_seal

Knights Hospitallers of Jerusalem bronze seal. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It’s very likely that the original site was originally occupied by an 11th century chapel dedicated to St. Godwald (possibly a Welsh hermit bishop also known as Gulval), but in the year 1203, the chapel was rededicated to St. Wulfstan, who had been canonized the same year. St. Wulfstan was an Anglo Saxon bishop who had been given the bishopric of Worcester a few years before the Norman conquest and who had managed to hold onto the diocese in the years following the conquest.

St. Wulfstan had been associated with healing which suited the purpose of the Commandery. One maimed man claimed that St. Wulfstan had healed him, even to the extent of regenerating dear body parts. The image of the saint was also one of the elements of King John Lackland’s tomb, pictured riding the shoulder of the king’s effigy.

img_1554

During the 13th century until the early 16th century, the Commandery served as an important centre of healing and prayer. The monastery housed a Master, two chaplains and several lay people. Between the years 1480 and 1540, the Commandery was completely rebuilt and expanded into its present Tudor daub and wattle design. Two of its famous features date back to the this time: the Great Hall with the minstrels’ gallery above, and the Painted Chamber.

The Great Hall occupies the centre of the Commandery and opens up off the main courtyard. Most of the floor is a black and white chequerboard pattern while a smaller section is red brick cobbles (at one point used as part of a carriage driveway); both design elements date back to the Victorian era. There is a special medieval stained glass window known as the Oriel window, which depicts plants, a peacock and camel. Given that the building was once owned by the Knights Hospitallers, one could imagine that these exotic images were a fond nod to their travels in far away lands.

The Painted Chamber is one of my favourite rooms in the Commandery. There’s a feeling of calm and peace when you stand inside and look at the paintings on the wall, which is where it gets its name. The chamber dates back to the end of the 15th century, and is considered to be either a sick room or a quiet place for prayer. I’ve no doubt that during the Commandery’s history, the room was used for both. The paintings include images of St. Erasmus, the patron saint of abdominal pain, and St. Thomas a Becket, the patron saint of priests. There is also a scene of weighing of the souls, a painting that suggests contemplation; on the ceiling there is a painting of the Trinity. No doubt, recuperating invalids would gain comfort when they stared at the ceiling.

fullsizeoutput_636

Detail of the Painted Chamber

The Commandery would have likely continued as a monastic hospital were it not for King Henry VIII and the Reformation. With the Reformation came the dissolution of the monasteries, courtesy of Thomas Cromwell. Plum church properties and lands were now handed out to loyal supporters. One close friend and protege of Thomas Cromwell, Richard Morrison, was given the mastership of the Commandery and other monastic hospitals in 1540. Morrison eventually became an ambassador to the German court of Charles V during King Edward VI’s time.

A few short years after being given the Commandery, Morrison sold the Commandery to a Thomas Wylde in 1545. Wylde was a prosperous Worcester clothier whose fortunes were on the rise. A short time after purchasing the Commandery, Wylde served as bailiff, a councillor and eventually became a Member of Parliament for Worcester. It was during this period that the old chapel would have been demolished and the house expanded to include a new kitchen. It was also at this time when the Painted Chamber was plastered over. The paintings would have to wait to be discovered four centuries later when the Commandery underwent a refurbishment.

The Wylde family continued to own the Commandery through it’s most turbulent period—the English Civil War and one chapter of this engagement rage immediately outside the Commandery’s doors. Ironically, it also involved another Cromwell.

The first two civil wars were from 1642 to 1648 and ended when King Charles I was executed on Jan 29, 1649. His son and heir, Charles Stuart, launched a bid to reclaim his father’s throne and made an alliance with Scotland. On August 22, 1651, King Charles II and his Scottish army of 12,000 – 14,000 strong marched into Worcester, the end of a nearly three week trek into England. The Parliamentarian army, led by Oliver Cromwell, were closing in on them and the Royalists knew they wouldn’t be able to reach London as they had at first hoped. Worcester had always been a loyal royalist town and it had a number of natural features to make it defensible, including Fort Royal Hill which was immediately behind the Commandery. While Charles II may not have been quartered in the Commandery, it was most likely that many of his senior officers, such as the Duke of Hamilton, had been.

On the morning of Sept 3, 1651, the battle began and some of the hottest fighting occurred just outside the Commandery. The royalists were outnumbered two to one and by the end of the day, they were in retreat. The king managed to escape into the city through the Sidbury gate and joined other fleeing fugitives to escape from the city. The Duke of Hamilton took a shot to the leg and was carried back to the Commandery. They tried to treat his injuries in one of the main floor rooms, but his wounds were grave. He refused to accept the assistance of Cromwell’s surgeon and died nine days later. His final resting place is in Worcester Cathedral. To find out more about who is buried there, read my post, Worcester Cathedral.

img_1545

The Commandery was thankfully not destroyed or ruined during the battle and remained in the Wylde family until the mid-18th century. In 1764, the Wyldes sold the estate to John Dandridge, a Worcester lawyer and land developer. He didn’t need the entire sprawling estate and had the clever idea of subdividing the property and leasing it out in parts, an arrangement that continued into the 20th century. In 1866, the College for Blind Sons of Gentlemen leased out some of the premises until 1888. At that time, the last owner, Joseph Littlebury purchased it, a publisher who ran his business out of the Commandery. I’ve managed to find a few postcards produced by Littlebury Press around 1910 that featured interior pictures of the Commandery. The publishing house continued until 1973 when the last owner decided to retire.

commandery-postcards

The Commandery was converted into a museum run by the city of Worcester and while for many it’s associated with the English Civil War, the depth and richness of its history transcends this period. The museum has an excellent audio tour that allows you to explore every part of the building and step back into time as you explore each room. Take a wander through the kitchen gardens and remember that at one time, this was a place where people prayed, loved and died.

fullsizeoutput_15d


This article was originally written for the English Historical Fiction Authors Blog (EHFA) and posted January 23, 2017. If you haven’t yet visited the EHFA blog, I encourage you to check out their website (click here) for high quality articles pertaining to English history.

Posted in 17th century | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Dreaded Bio

4873641335_aa58917b5a_b

The Hesperides (Labour of Hercules)- Photo credit: Ian W Scott via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-SA

My publisher, Endeavour, needs a bio from me. For civilians, that is what we call a biography; for writers, it’s the 3rd worst painful exercise to subject a writer to.

The undisputed most painful exercise, of course, is the synopsis. Cue the deep-throat narrator. One woman…one natural disaster…one hour to live… can she survive?

Writing a synopsis is the equivalent of facing screaming legions of Hell during the Apocalypse. Do you have any idea on how hard it is to boil your full length novel down to a one or two page synopsis and not make it sound like, “and then this happened, and then that happened, and finally, this happened.” You might as well have a vulture pick at your liver.

Cort_Tityus_or_Prometheus

By Cornelis Cork -cyfrowe.mnw.art.pl via Wikimedia [Public Domain]

The second most painful rite of passage is creating the blurb, the back-jacket copy that is meant to entice readers. Sounds easy…ha, you think! You might argue that by sailing around the synopsis on the River Styx, you already have the bare bones of a blurb, but not so, my young grasshopper. Where the synopsis is meant to tell the reader what your story is about, the blurb is meant to tease them with as little information as possible. Pick up your favourite book and see what they included in the blurb as well as what they didn’t. Clever right?

Ancient Book and Key

But the third is definitely the bio, because now it’s all about you. If the synopsis is like breaching the castle walls and the blurb is like sacking the citadel, the bio is reaching the inner sanctum. In there you will find a glowing box perched atop a stone podium and all you have to do is pop it open and REVEAL WHO YOU ARE. Introverts run from the room screaming. Extroverts, not so much.

Pandoras box

Here’s the thing, most writers tend to be introverts which makes this exercise particularly ironic. I can only postulate that forcing a bunch of writers to talk about ourselves is just the universe’s way of inflicting payback for the hubris of wanting to write a book.

Have you noticed that many authors include information about their pets in their bio? Since we’re mainly introverts, this makes perfect sense if you think about it. Pets are a safe subject. Everyone likes them and they really are the only ones who truly understand us. Pets really don’t look for conversation. Maybe a warm keyboard to curl up on (while it’s in use) but that’s about it.

But what if you don’t have any pets, as it happens in my case? What now?

“Cryssa doesn’t have any dogs or cats but she would consider getting a snake except that she objects to their diet.”

Which is true, but I’m thinking that I need something better than that. Not everyone connects with snakes. I settle in my chair, poise my fingers over the keyboard, close my eyes and think…what do I want a reader to know about me?

“Cryssa Bazos is an incurable romantic and a history nerd.”

Anyone who has been following my blog will know that yes, I am a history nerd, especially a 17th century history nerd. I squeal over re-enactments. The content I share on twitter, through the EHFA, the HNS and even through my new broadsheet, Mercurius Istoria (shameless plug: click here to subscribe ) is all historical content. Because I love history.

Then there is the romantic part. This is the part where the glowing box starts to open and reveal a truth that I haven’t really touched on before. I am an incurable romantic. Not a gushy romantic who delights in red roses and chocolates offered by a knight on a white charger. I do love fragrant pink English roses, not long stemmed red tea roses which take themselves far too seriously and have no fragrance (or personality) at all. But is a rose any more romantic than a daisy?  I will never turn away Purdy’s dark chocolate caramels with pink Himalayan sea-salt but I really don’t consider them romantic either—addictive, yes, but not heart-warming. And as for white horses, I do prefer the image of a dashing cavalier to a medieval knight, but it isn’t necessarily what I consider romantic either. Now a highwayman…

11086747854_d7abd6e7cc_b

The black highwayman via VisualHunt

Love, romance, romantic elements (or any way that you want to call it) are essential ingredients to a good story. People struggling to connect, to find love in the hardest and harshest conditions is romantic fodder for me.  It doesn’t have to fill the entire story and may just be a small piece of it, but that connection is what makes for a memorable story. I would argue that this drive to connect, emotionally and romantically, is even more important in historical fiction than we’ve given it credit for. When recreating the past, whether writing about a historical character or a purely fictional one, you can’t do it without understanding their fears, hopes and motivations. Give this concept a shake and you will find that love, in all its nuances, underpins our motivations. This is what connects us as human beings. This is what gives truth to fiction.

So yes, count me in as an incurable romantic. So glad to have gotten that off my chest.

First line done. Now to stop procrastinating and get back to the rest of the bio.

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Mercurius Istoria ~ March 2017

mercurius-istoriaMercurius Istoria is now out. This month’s broadsheet features curated articles with the theme ‘words do matter’.

Subscribe now and receive Mercurius Istoria by email. Keep up with 17th century news.

To access the March 2017 edition, click here.

 

Posted in Mercurius Istoria | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Footnotes in History: Major Peter Burgoine

depositphotos_21899637_original

Diving into the minutiae of history. Some call it research while others, procrastination. I prefer to think of it as inspiration.

History is my source for inspiration, and it tends to be the small things that attract my attention. The information you can find in footnotes can be veritable gold. There’s the main historical account and then there are these nuggets of information that don’t quite fit in with the  narrative, but were fascinating for the historian nonetheless. It’s like a impromptu “by the way did you know” anecdote; an invitation to explore the rabbit warren. The gaps in history and the ‘what if’s’ send my muse off like Nancy Drew.

Allow me to share with you an interesting skeleton of a story that I uncovered in a footnote of history. I was researching gaols one day and idly trolling through British History Online (aka Historical Fiction Procrastinators Anonymous)…wait, why gaols you ask? When your main character is a highwayman, you become very fascinated with them. No spoilers, but they tend to be an occupational hazard. Clears throat and continues. 

So there I was flipping through references to Warwickshire gaols, and I come across an entry in the Calendar of State Papers. The Calendar of State Papers was a record of the government’s business, motions and decisions, and not a court of law. This particular entry was made on September 12, 1650 (British History Online).

“To write Col. Purefoy to examine the charge against Major Burgoine of Coventry, upon the articles enclosed to him.”

“40s. To be paid to James Grayle, who came from Coventry to inform Council of the disturbances there by Major Burgoine, about proclaiming the King of Scots King of England.”

To give a bit of background, the King of Scots is a reference to Charles Stuart, later Charles II. In 1650, he was an exile trying to reclaim his late father’s English throne. King Charles I had been executed a year and a half earlier by his Parliamentarian enemies, and the twenty year old Charles Stuart had made a bargain with Scotland, two months prior to this entry, to help him get his crown back. The closest that the Parliamentarians came to acknowledging his kingship was as the Scottish King, which was ironic because Charles was more English than Scottish.

But this wasn’t what actually intrigued me. Who was Major Burgoine and why would this James Grayle make the troublesome journey from Warwickshire to London to sell the man out? Clearly, Grayle had initiated this trip. He hadn’t been summoned to Whitehall to chat about the state of Coventry.

So why did James Grayle, Informant, feel that this was the juiciest piece of information and hightailed it to London to share with the merry men at Whitehall? They were grateful for the news, judging by the compensation they awarded Grayle for his troubles. 40s represented roughly a month’s wages for a labourer.

I had to dig into this further. The hunt was on.

The next entry regarding the matter of Major Burgoine was on October 9, 1650 in the Calendar of State Papers (British History Online) and there was a neat little twist:

To write the Militia Commissioners for Coventry that Council is much dissatisfied with Burgoyne’s escape, and particularly as the gaoler who suffered him to escape is not proceeded against; and to desire them to re-examine the business and the informer, and commit the gaoler, until he gives good bail to appear at the next assizes for trial, and to bind over the prosecutor and witnesses to appear and prosecute, and to return an account to Council.”

Within a space of a month, our Major Burgoine/Burgoyne (creative spelling was a thing then) had been arrested, locked up in Coventry gaol and then engineered an escape! Even better, the gaoler had been implicated as his accomplice. Now, this would not really have been a shocker of a revelation at that time. Gaolers were usually local men who were paid a very nominal fee by the town to guard the prisoners. The majority of their pay would have come from the prisoners themselves. The more well off the prisoner, the better the lodgings. Those who couldn’t afford to pay were at the mercy of the parish and were kept in the worst lodgings, the ‘two penny’ ward. Many gaolers were not above a bit of free trade and were willing to consider a better offer. But in this situation, there was a further twist: the authorities in Coventry had not bothered to arrest the gaoler for his dereliction. Did they feel sorry for the man, having to support a wife and (possibly) multiple children, or instead, were their sympathies with the prisoner?

img_0754

Who was Major Burgoine? If he had proclaimed Charles the King of England, surely he had been a Royalist?

I caught up with Major Burgoine in a House of Lords Journal dated February 4, 1643 (British History Online), the first winter of the civil war. The record listed the Parliamentarian business for their war effort. For the raising of troops for Parliament, our major (then a sergeant major) was given this commission for the “city and county” of Coventry in Warwickshire. Our man was a Parliamentarian!

The next reference to the major was another House of Lords Journal dated May 26, 1645 (British History Online) when he was offered the governorship of Coventry. He had responded to their promotion with a letter dated May 16th addressed to the Speaker of the House of Commons:

“Honourable Sir,

“I cannot but take Notice of a Report of my being appointed Governor of Coventry by both the Honourable Houses. In the First Place, to return my most humble Thanks for so high an Honour conferred upon me, whereby I am ever obliged to lay out myself, as hitherto I have done my best Endeavours, so hereafter in my heartiest Prayers for your Honours, and your good Successes in all your pious Counsels and Undertakings; for that I must needs become an humble Suitor to your Honours (as with much Favour you have conferred this Place upon me), so you will please to take into Consideration my ingenuous Acknowledgement of mine utter Insufficiency to undergo so great a Burthen and Charge, by reason of mine Age, and the Infirmities that of late have beyond Expectation extraordinarily accompanied it; which, though it no Whit lessens the Vigour of my Will and Affections to the Cause and your Service, yet I must needs acknowledge my Disability of Body to be such, as that I am not only minded to beg Leave to resign this Employment newly conferred upon me; but am inforced, by the sensible Increase of my bodily Dispositions, to take my Ease, and very shortly to bid Farewell to all the Activity of Soldiery, though with my best Advice I shall still continue to serve the State, jointly with the rest of the Committee, for the Preservation of this Town and County, according to the Trust reposed in me; which is all I humbly pray may be expected from me, or imposed upon me; for which Favour I shall be yet further obliged to remain,

“Your Honour’s humble and ever devoted Servant,

Covent. May 16th, 1645.

“Peter Burgoyne.”

This would have been near the end of the first civil war and things were not going well for Parliament (though that would reverse a few weeks later at Naseby, which was a huge victory for Parliament and a major kick in the teeth for the king). After years of fighting was our major ill and shattered? It’s not unreasonable to suppose he was. They even offered up prayers for the man.

Perhaps the answer lies in the next record I found was under the December 2, 1648 Acts and Ordinances (British History Online). Peter Burgoine was once again listed as one of the commissioners for raising the militia in his county, though without a rank. Presumably, his health improved, or in their need, Parliament didn’t care and forced him to break his retirement. For you see, they were facing a crisis. King Charles I had been captured in 1648 and his negotiation for terms caused a divide in Parliament.

The moderates favoured a negotiated treaty with their monarch so everyone could make up and play nice again. The king would get his crown back, albeit with curtailed powers. On the other side, the New Model Army grandees were opposed to treating with the king; they simply did not trust his word, which was fair as he had no intention of honouring any agreement that would restrict his kingship. The General Council of the army lobbied to end the negotiations and put the king on trial. Naturally, the moderates were horrified and rejected their demands. What they forgot was that he who controls the army, wins.

English Civil War Society re-enacts Charles I's trial and execution

London, United Kingdom. 25th January 2015 — Every year on the last week end of January the English Civil War Society re-enactors retrace Charles I’s trial and execution.

The army marched on London and occupied it on December 2nd, the day that Parliament was naming commissioners to raise troops. Four days later, Colonel Pride of the New Model Army stormed into a sitting session of Parliament and arrested all the moderate Members of Parliament, an act known as Pride’s Purge. A month later, Parliament (or those who were left) voted themselves supreme authority without having to answer to the King or to the House of Lords. Their first action was to order the King’s Trial. He was found guilty on January 27, 1649 and beheaded two days later.

Where did that leave Major Peter Burgoine? Sometime over the next six to eight months, he must have suffered a change in conscience in order to switch sides. Was it the execution of the king that tipped it for him or was it the high handed way that the army seized control? Many of the Parliamentarians had, after all, fought the king to force a constitutional monarchy. Pride’s Purge was essentially a military coup. Whatever his reasons, Peter Burgoine had enough. His anti-government activities clearly shocked the Council. If Parliament could lose such a faithful and highly respected servant to their cause, this did not bode well for them. No wonder James Grayle rushed to London to tip them off.

What happened to Peter Burgoine? There is no further mention of him. Very likely he made good on his escape, otherwise, there may have been a followup entry that the prisoner had been caught. Did he leave England and join Charles II in The Hague as many exiles did, or did his age and ill health finally catch up to him?

We’ll never know. Therein lies the gold.

For another story that I stumbled on while procrastinating researching in British History Online, check out Puzzles in the Historical Record: The Highwayman Did it?

 

Posted in historical records | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Tudor House: 17th century life

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to step back into the 17th century? Last summer, I had the pleasure of getting a guided tour of the English Civil War era landmarks in Weymouth by local historian, Mark Vine. What was then the twin towns of Weymouth and Melcombe, separated by the quayside and a bridge, today it’s simply Weymouth.

One of the must see haunts is the Tudor House, a beautifully preserved Elizabethan home. It’s situated by Brewers Quay on the harbour, and if you account for the fact that the quayside has been expanded in modern times, in the 17th century, the house would have fronted right onto the harbour.

tudor_house_museum_weymouth_dorset

By Ajsmith141 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Tudor House is a three story home built around 1600 and believed to have been a merchant’s house. Today, the Weymouth Civic Society offers tours that allow you to step back into the 17th century to see a glimpse of what live was like back then. Here are some highlights.

image

On this wooden dresser, some of the favourite games of the time are displayed. Cards were popular by this time along with the inevitable wagering that were integral to the game. The cards had no letters or numbers, only symbols, for not everyone could read, though literacy did improve significantly as the century progressed. One of the favourite card games of the time was a game called Ruff, a trick taking game which became the precursor to the popular 18th century game of whist.

The wooden board with the pegs is another popular game, Fox and Geese. The object of the game is to trap your opponents pieces. One person plays the fox, with one peg, while the other player is the goose with multiple pegs. The geese try to hem in the fox while the fox gobbles up the geese and removes them from play. Fox and Geese is a very old game and a variation of the game was adopted for outdoor play.

We take mirrors for granted, but in the 16th and early 17th century, they were very much a luxury item. It was during the 16th century when Venice took their expertise in glass making and extended it, with some technological advancements, to mirror making. At that time, Venice dominated the market and most mirrors had to be imported, but by the mid-17th century, mirror manufacturing had extended to England.

The above mirror was displayed in one of the bedrooms in the Tudor House. The wooden frame is gilded and hand decorated with roses–perhaps a nod to the Tudor monarchs?

 

image

And now for some practical household items. The mallet and wooden dowel-like device was used to tighten the ropes that supported the bed mattress. Over time, without our modern box mattress, the ropes would loosen as people slept on them. A maid would have periodically performed this duty when she was straightening up the bedding. To freshen up the sheets, they often sprinkled dried lavender between the linen.

image

Besides the bed, another piece of important furniture was the press, or what we would call the wardrobe. 17th century clothing optional. A far cry from our modern walk-in closet, with its cubbies for shoes and purses, but still functional. Not unlike the typical 17th century woman’s wardrobe.

image

On the main floor you’ll find an interesting collection of household bowls atop a work surface. Pestle and mortar would have been used to grind spices and roots (used in home remedies). The wooden bowl that you see at the far end of the table was made of sycamore for the reason that when separating whey from milk, the sycamore didn’t taint the milk. One of the least pleasant (and most memorable) displays in this room would be the bottle of scents. The museum had vials of different materials to give visitors an idea of what smells they would have expected in a 17th century home: woodsmoke, laced with black tar and high notes of urine. I’m thinking that I’d rather crawl back into the lavender scented sheets in the bedroom.

img_1087

It’s no exaggeration that the hearth was the heart of the home. The fireplace was source of heat and light, where food was cooked and where people gathered especially during the dark days of winter. The iron backing you see behind the fire was there to protect the wall from being burnt (fires after all represented a huge risk) as well as to reflect the light back in the room. Very clever.

Late at night, when the master and his family were tucked upstairs in their lavender scented sheets, the maid would have banked the fire for the night, just enough to contain the fire, but not enough that she couldn’t coax it to start come the morning.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our brief tour of Weymouth’s Tudor House. If you’re interested in learning more about Weymouth’s history during the English Civil War (and Tudor House would have been in the thick of it), check out Mark Vine’s blog, the Crabchurch Conspiracy.

 

Posted in 17th century | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

Exploring the Banqueting House

This article was originally written for the English Historical Fiction Authors Blog (EHFA) and posted Feb 2, 2016. If you haven’t yet visited the EHFA blog, I encourage you to check out their website (click here) for high quality articles pertaining to English history.


 

On this anniversary of the execution of King Charles I in 1649, I am reminded of the place where this drama played out–the Banqueting House at Whitehall.

Banqueting_House_London-2

Wikimedia commons- see Media below for attribution

Completed in 1622, the Banqueting House is the only remaining structure of Whitehall Palace and is situated across from the Horse Guards. During the Tudor age, the original Banqueting House was little better than a temporary venue. When King James I of England (VI of Scotland) succeeded Elizabeth on the throne in 1603 and ushered in the Stuart Age in England, he got down to work building a proper Banqueting House. His queen, Anne of Denmark, had been fond of masques and was a patroness of the arts.

The famous 17th century architect, Inigo Jones, was commissioned to design the building. What you have is a beautiful example of Palladian architecture with stately pillars and expansive high ceilings. Galleries line the upper hall. But what is truly a marvel in the Hall did not exist until King Charles I succeeded his father to the throne.

The Banqueting Hall

The Banqueting Hall- Photo by C.Bazos

Charles commissioned the great Flemish artist, Peter Paul Rubens, to create a series of paintings to grace the ceiling. The panels were completed in Ruben’s workshop before being shipped to England for installation.

The paintings were a delight of classical gods and motifs, the most noteworthy being the centre panel titled The Apotheosis of James I. The scene glorifies his late father, James I as though he were being crowned by the heavens. It is meant to reinforce the concept of the king being God’s representative on earth and his divine right to rule.

Banqueting_House_03

These paintings remain the only work of Rubens on display outside of a museum. Fortunately for the preservation of the paintings, masques ceased to be performed following their installation. The smoke from the candles would have damaged them over time.

Below the Banqueting Hall is an area known as the Undercroft. During King James’s time, it was used as the royal party den, but in later years, they held other amusements such as lotteries. It’s curved ceilings gives the impression of a cosy cave. One can imagine how it once looked, crowded with men drinking and gambling while lit with golden torchlight.

The Undercroft (vaulted basement)

Undercroft- Photo by C.Bazos

Ironically, the Banqueting House, which evolved as a testament to the divinity of kings, would stand as a confirmation of their mortality.

On a cold winter day, on 30 January, 1649, a scaffold was erected outside the Banqueting House, accessed from a second story landing. King Charles I stepped out on the scaffold, clad in two shirts to keep warm. Facing his subjects, he left them with his famous parting words, “I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown.” Here ended his reign.

There is so much art and history wrapped up in the Banqueting House. The next time you are visiting London, I encourage you to visit this marvellous building. You may even be greeted by a Parliamentary soldier.

Parliamentary Guard

Parliamentary Guard outside the Banqueting House- Photo by C. Bazos

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Media:

Street view of the Banqueting House: “Banqueting House London” by en:User:ChrisO – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons –

Apotheosis of James I: “Banqueting House 03” by The wub – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons –

Posted in 17th century | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Mercurius Istoria

mercurius-istoria


hHere Ye! Here Ye! A new broadsheet is born! Hot off the presses.

The 17th century saw an explosion of printing and in particular the publication of newspapers, the most popular being Mercuius Politicus. In that tradition, I have started my own broadsheet.

Mercurius Istoria is a monthly newsletter offering the subscriber a brief flavour of my news, interesting historical links and images.

Subscribe now and receive Mercurius Istoria by email. You don’t even need to find an urchin on a street corner hawking a copy. Delivered straight to your inbox.

The December edition is now available. Click here to view.

 

 

 

Posted in Mercurius Istorie | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments