The Tudor House and Garden: Architecture and Landscape in the Sixteenth and Early Seventeenth Centuries

Posted on January 20th, 2010 by Charles Boot

Paula Henderson, The Tudor House and Garden: Architecture and Landscape in the Sixteenth and Early Seventeenth Centuries (New Haven, CT, and London: Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, Yale Center for British Art, and Yale University Press, 2005), 240 pp., 50 colour. ills., 100 black-and-white illus., £38.00. ISBN 0-300- 10687-4

This is the kind of monograph that fundamentally alters the way we perceive a subject. It is the first to provide a comprehensive and integrated account of the complex of ancillary buildings, walls, terraces, gardens, ornamental features (including fountains and sculpture) and parkland surrounding greater houses in the Tudor period. Some of the insights about the sophistication of formal garden and landscape design before the eighteenth century and the influence of continental developments are familiar from Roy Strong’s The Renaissance Garden in England (London, 1979, republished 1984). What emerges from this new and wider-ranging account is the sheer scale of building and landscaping activity in the immediate environment surrounding greater houses, as the defensive character of medieval building gave way to outward display and as Tudor architecture extended outwards rather than being contained by protective walls. Paula Henderson reconstructs the constituent parts of the usual complex of structures and spaces surrounding the main building in order to argue persuasively that the way we encounter these houses today is very different from the original concept and experience of them within their settings. The emphasis is on the interconnectedness of the various aspects of what might be termed ‘the extended Tudor house’, as part of a unified architectural scheme of interior and exterior spaces.

Henderson’s discussion incorporates an impressive range of case study material. Alongside descriptions from contemporary documents and the evidence from archaeological excavations, the author makes use of a wide variety of visual evidence including surviving buildings and earthworks, contemporary drawings, plans and estate maps, aerial photography, and contemporary paintings. This visual material is presented to the reader as a wealth of illustrations with informative captions. Estate maps provide particularly vivid evidence in support of the main argument as, for example, with Ralph Treswell’s two surveys of the Holdenby estate, Northamptonshire, which graphically illustrate major development to the setting of the house over a period of just eight years (1580–87).

In some ways the title The Tudor House and Garden does not do justice to the wider range of content in this book, and might lead readers to expect more detailed analysis of the main building. The actual house is considered in the final chapter where there is a valuable, if brief, discussion of nature as subject-matter in interior decoration and the uses of plants within the house. Similarly, the ‘garden’, if understood in narrow terms as various forms of planting, is rightly just part of this account of the wider landscape surrounding greater houses.

The subtitle Architecture and Landscape in the Sixteenth and Early Seventeenth Centuries is far more informative about the emphasis of this study, which is concerned to shift the focus of attention away from the main house towards its ancillary structures and the surrounding landscape. Here Henderson offers a significant and exciting departure from a historiographical tradition that emphasizes the architectural features of greater houses during this period and neglects associated art forms such as the applied arts and landscape art. She encourages us to consider the wider visual experience afforded by these extended buildings, which included interior decoration and garden statuary as part of an integrated scheme of design and ornament; and contributes to a wider revision of the traditional premise that significant developments in countryhouse design took place only in response to Renaissance fashions. Alongside new influences from Renaissance Europe, Henderson usefully traces the history of garden design and the manipulation of the landscape back to medieval precedents. The book embraces regional variations in the design and materials of ancillary buildings, so that the native tradition is celebrated alongside recognition of that fillip provided by continental models.

Henderson also reveals the social functions of exterior spaces and garden buildings. As well as various practical functions (growing and the preparation of food and the provision of lodgings), we find that these spaces offered opportunities for solitude and privacy (for prayer or lovemaking). On the other hand, gardens provided the setting for small and large-scale social gatherings and entertainments. Either way, it is clear that the areas surrounding greater houses provided important supplementary spaces for various aspects of social life that might be difficult to accommodate, due to issues of decorum or practical considerations, within the main house itself.

If the undoubted strength of this book is its wider scope and vision, it is sometimes less rigorous in attention to detail. There are some curious omissions in the endnotes (a reference to studies of tomb sculpture on p. 180 (n.12) references a 1992 PhD thesis but not Nigel Llewellyn’s comprehensive account of Funeral Monuments in Post-Reformation England (Cambridge, 2000)) and there are some minor discrepancies in supporting information (three references to the gatehouse at Lanhydrock House, Cornwall, each gives a slightly different date). However, a publication of this scale will inevitably contain oversights in the fine detail. Any reader will be impressed by the overall achievement of bringing together such a wealth of case material to demonstrate so convincingly the premise of the study.

Tara Hamling
Department of Art History, University of Sussex

33:1 (Summer 2005)

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