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The Royal Palaces of Tudor England: Architecture and Court Life, 1460-1547.

Simon Thurley's impressive new study of the architecture, furnishing and use of Tudor royal palaces represents a major contribution to English architectural and social history. Broad in scope yet rich in detail, the book is genuinely interdisciplinary in both method and content. Building on scholarship by historians, archaeologists, and art historians to establish the framework of questions for each specialized area of study, Thurley casts his net wide and brings up a wealth of new material on topics ranging from the construction of garderobes to the fashion for grotesques. Without fanfare he guides us effortlessly through detailed descriptions of a number of Tudor palaces and their surroundings, and from there through an extended discussion of the form and use of rooms of every size and description, stopping to consider questions of style, sources of ornamental designs and the origins of court fashions. From halls and chambers to kitchens, stables, tennis courts and chapels, we become acquainted with these buildings as living environments, places so well-used by the king and his extensive household (ranging from about 750 in the riding household to a full winter Court of 1500) that they had to be thoroughly cleaned, repaired and renewed not only before but also after each visit (72).

The originality of this approach and of much of the material presented here is nearly obscured by the modest and even-handed tone. New discoveries are presented alongside well-known and accepted information as parts of a historical overview, and it is only by consulting the footnotes that one discovers how much material is taken from archival sources. The many illustrations, both color and black and white, complement the narrative by providing clear plans and contemporary views as well as images of surviving buildings and little-known details. The book is attractively and cleverly laid out to balance text and image, and this breaks up the large blocks of text which so often present a daunting prospect in a large-format scholarly book.

The book begins with a brief summary of royal domestic accommodations and household structure in the late Middle Ages. In chapter 2, Thurley explores the concept of magnificence and the influence of the Burgundian Court on English patronage and court culture in the fifteenth century. Thus, while the book focuses on the building activities and court of Henry VIII, the medieval background is considered in detail, and this provides a context in relation to which subsequent developments can be interpreted. Discussion of well-known sites like Whitehall, Hampton Court and Nonsuch are balanced by treatment of lesser known buildings.

While Thurley relies heavily on material published in the volumes of The History of the Kings Works (1962-1983), there is a great deal of new material here. Moreover, this book focuses on social history, material culture and the history of taste; the military and political significance of these royal buildings is only sketched in summarily. In early chapters, the sequence of activities at each site is presented, as well as the layout of rooms, their use and decoration. Later chapters shift the focus from individual buildings to an overview in which broad topics (e.g., "The Tudor Royal Kitchen," "Hygiene and Sanitation," "The Household Chapel") are taken up. General conclusions are proposed but the beauty of the book is in the details: from locks and keys, to bath tubs and hunting platforms (or "standings"), Thurley brings these buildings to life in a book which will become both the standard work on the subject and an interdisciplinary model for others to follow.

ALICE T. FRIEDMAN Wellesley College
COPYRIGHT 1996 Renaissance Society of America
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Friedman, Alice T.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1996
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