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The Tudor Gothic Period

( Originally Published Early 1900's )


THE late 15th and the 16th centuries were in many respects the most remarkable in the destiny of the peoples of England, and marked the final breaking away from the old feudal system introduced by the Normans, and still in evidence until the 15th century.

The war with France had ended disastrously, and was followed by the rebellion of 1450 headed by Jack Cade, and the Wars of the Roses, a strife which resulted in the demolition of the power of the barons and the consequent rising feeling of emancipation amongst the lower classes.

The great and solemn inspiration of the Gothic tradition, behind which was the whole power of the Church, had, after three centuries of domination, passed its zenith and its waning spirit met its final death-blow in the suppression of the monasteries by Henry VIII. The Church, which had for years been accumulating wealth and power, thus sustained a severe blow, and the result was the cessation of the building of the cathedrals and other ecclesiastical buildings which had absorbed the greater part of the work of the craftsmen, who were thus freed to turn their efforts in other directions.

The Renaissance, which had for years previously swept over the Continent, reached this country during the first half of the 16th century. Its effect on architecture and interior treatment of rooms was brought about partly through increased communication with the Continent, and the marked preference shown by Henry VIII for foreign skilled craftsmen. Its early influences, how-ever, were slight, and confined mostly to the decoration of existing buildings or to those still being built in the traditional Gothic manner, a style which, although approaching its end, was still the only one known to the English. The motifs introduced by foreign workers were imitated by native craftsmen, who were fascinated by ideas which were completely novel to them, and attempted to combine them with their own traditional forms. Thus was created the style known as Tudor Gothic, in which we find such curious combinations as the old linenfold and vine decoration, together with often crude renderings of vases, strap work, and medallions.

The system of house planning and the general constructional features, however, remained unaffected by foreign influence, and the tendency towards introducing a greater degree of comfort continued. The law enforced of exceedingly heavy construction, each step being formed by a solid block of oak, and quite devoid of any attempt at decoration.

Fig. 10 illustrates a small room at Thame Park, Oxfordshire, and is characteristic of this type of room during the early days of the Renaissance. The large pointed Gothic window of the previous century is superseded by a small bay, and consists of small separate windows divided by stone mullions. The lancet to the individual windows is, however, retained. The treatment of the panelling forms a good example of the mixed motifs employed at the period. The lower and major portion is decorated with linenfold panels, a survival of the previous century, while the panels at the top are carved with medallions encircling representations of carved human heads. This feature owed its origin to Italian influence, and is often known as Romayne work. An enlarged view of two of the panels is shown in Fig. 11, at A and B, and shows more clearly the foreign influence in the carving of the vases and conventional leafage above and below the medallions. C, Fig. 11, shows a portion of the frieze in which the carved decoration is applied to the ground-work.

Another good example of this Romayne work can be seen in South Kensington Museum in a room removed from Waltham Abbey, which is contemporary with that at Thame, and in which nearly every panel is carved with a medallion, some enclosing human heads, as those at Thame, and others a symbolical or heraldic device. A salient feature of the panelling of this period and previously is that it was generally made in unbroken stretches without the use of pilasters. Panelling quite plain or such as that described, or tapestry, formed the usual method of wall covering during the first half of the 16th century, and usually reached to only a part of the height of the wall.

Tapestry was now manufactured in this country, owing to the emigration of Flemish weavers during the later years of the last century. Previous to this all tapestry had to be imported from France and the Low Countries.

The hall was usually built of considerable height, and being as a rule at the centre of the building, practically cut the house in two. The smaller rooms designed for the use of the family were, as a rule, on the first floor, and were built at the dais end of the hall. Although the roofing to these was still occasionally arched in a similar manner to the hall, a growing practice was to use a flat ceiling covered with plaster. The oak beams forming the framework of the construction were usually visible, and the general tendency was to arrange these in such a manner as to form part of the decorative scheme rather than simply as a constructional necessity to which every other consideration was subservient. The idea of such a treatment was probably prompted by the fact that the flat ceiling was in itself not a vital part of the construction of the house, since it was built quite apart from the roof by which it was superimposed.

A specimen of a late 15th and early 16th century chimney-piece is shown in Fig. 12. The lower portion is of stone, and instances a common treatment of the spandrils formed by the flat Gothic arch consisting of Gothic leafage. It was usual for each spandril to contain a different design. The upper brick portion is recessed in the form of Gothic traceried windows, and is finished at the top with battlementing. The Gothic arch of the fireplace opening was continued throughout the century in many cases, and was actually one of the last survivals of the Gothic style.

Another example of an early 16th-century fireplace is shown in Fig. 13, at Haddon Hall, in which the stone opening is flanked by fluted pilasters rising to the height of the panelling. The treatment of the upper portion, although only a continuation of the panelling of the room, is interesting, as it foreshadows the future importance which the mantelpiece was to assume. A, Fig. 14, shows the capping of the pilasters and the scrolled bracket supporting the cornice moulding.

Fig. 13 also illustrates a good example of a favourite Tudor feature in the bay window. There it will be noticed that the Gothic lancet heading has quite disappeared.

The remaining details at B and C, Fig. 14, are contemporary portions of panelling from the same building, and show the new Renaissance motifs grafted to the traditional Gothic style.

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