Elizabeth I and Windsor
A gallery range commissioned by Elizabeth I is the most important surviving memorial of her personal architectural patronage and testifies to her affection for the Earl of Leicester, as Simon Thurley explains
Simon Thurley reveals the Queen’s architectural heritage and how it testifies to her affection for the Earl of Leicester
That henry VIII was a megalomaniac is well known. his architectural output was prodigious: on his death, he owned perhaps as many as 70 houses, at least 50 of which were acquired for the Crown during his lifetime. henry’s children could not but fail to be in the shadow of this architectural colossus.
Edward and Mary were barely on the throne long enough to build anything and Elizabeth I, who reigned for 44 years, is generally thought to have been little interested in architecture. But was this really the case? Elizabeth was intensely image-conscious and an essential ingredient in establishing the image of the Queen was the architectural setting she inhabited (Fig 2).
It was not only image that might have inspired Elizabeth I to build—it was also comfort and privacy. Unlike those of her father, whose inner rooms were filled with male courtiers and politicians, Elizabeth’s private lodgings were populated only by her ladies and there she liked to relax, lounging on large turkish cushions on the floor.
Of all the Queen’s houses, Windsor Castle was the most venerable. It had been transformed into a great palace by Edward III between 1359 and 1368 and, subsequently, almost every monarch had favoured the place. In 1498 to 1501, henry VII modernised the vast medieval chambers of his predecessors by adding a neat, comfortable tower containing a new bedroom, closet and library; henry VIII had then used the rooms his father had built (Fig 1).
On account of its tremendous setting and its hunting parks, Elizabeth I loved Windsor and she made her favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, its constable. Dudley was a brilliant horseman and, with the Queen,
hunted fearlessly, Elizabeth sometimes riding pillion behind him on the same horse.
The Spanish Ambassador said of the Queen hunting at Windsor in August 1565 that she ‘went so hard that she tired everybody out, and as [for] the ladies and courtiers who were with her they were all put to shame. There was more work than pleasure in it for them’.
By the time Elizabeth became queen in 1558, the bedchamber that Henry VII had built at Windsor was very old-fashioned. Although there were two handsome rooms above it, probably used as a library, there was no private accommodation for the Queen and her ladies. At all her other houses, next to the bedchamber, was a private (or privy) gallery for recreation and private audiences. This is why Elizabeth asked her secretary, William Cecil, Lord Burghley, to commission a new gallery for her in 1576.
The Office of Works architect, Henry Hawthorne, was instructed to prepare a number of options for the Queen to look at. The design finally chosen is most interesting because it not only provided a gallery and closets for Elizabeth, but it linked her bedchamber with the lodgings of Dudley.
In every royal house, Dudley had lodgings close to the Queen. At Greenwich, for instance, he had rooms on the riverfront over Elizabeth’s and his bedroom had a balcony on the roof where he had supper. They were richly furnished with his own tapestries and furniture: in November 1584, when Dudley moved his stuff from Hampton Court to St James’s, eight men spent two days transporting it in nine carts at a cost of 9s 6d.
The Constable’s Lodgings at Windsor occupied the whole of the inner gatehouse, now misleadingly called the Norman Gate, a spacious structure of 1351–68 (Fig 5). The fact that it was intended to interconnect with the Queen’s private lodgings shows that, although the passion between them had somewhat cooled by the 1570s, access to Dudley was still really important to her.
In July 1600, with the Court away from Windsor, a young Moravian nobleman was shown the gallery and tells us that it contained a couch on which Elizabeth sat to consult privately with her ministers. The new privy gallery was not only a place for business, it was also a place of private recreation. Roger Ascham, Elizabeth’s former schoolmaster, would come to Windsor and read Greek and Latin texts with her; this, and her work translating Boethius’s de
Consolatione Philosophie, that she started at Windsor in 1593, is likely to have been undertaken in her gallery—a room linked to the rooms above her bedchamber that probably contained her library.
Before the Constable’s Lodgings were incorporated into Hawthorne’s chosen scheme, however, Dudley was sent to the Netherlands, where, the following January, he became Governor General. For three
Of all the Queen’s houses, Windsor Castle was the most venerable
To ‘walk invisible’
A reconstruction of the gallery range designed by Henry Hawthorne in 1576 specially commissioned by COUNTRY LIFE showing the intended connection with Earl of Leicester’s rooms in the constable’s lodging (1). The building was of stone and incorporated a gallery measuring 100ft long and 15ft wide on its upper floor (2). At its west end, the gallery terminated in a giant bay window (3) opened through one tower of the 14th-century gate. Next to this was the site of the intended door (probably never built) that communicated with Dudley’s lodging (4).
On the north side of the gallery was a square closet with a fireplace and bay window looking out towards Eton and the north (5). The floors beneath this contained a large staircase built round a solid newel (6). The stair did not come up to the Queen’s gallery, but was linked to it by a secret stair (7) built into the wall that connected with the gallery through a hidden door in the bay window.
This was a very ingenious piece of planning. The secret stair allowed the Queen to leave her lodgings and go down to the terrace (8) where she could mount her horse and ride out into the park. It was also a place in fine weather to promenade and enjoy the views.
The stair also had another purpose. On the other side of the gallery, on the ground floor was an anteroom and, in here, people could wait to be ushered up secretly to the Queen’s gallery (9). There had been back stairs before in many royal houses, but never had one been so carefully integrated into the plan of the building. Burghley was a master at this. In his own houses, the Queen’s lodgings were serviced by secret stairs that allowed people to come and go to her inner lodgings. Francis Bacon, the future Lord Chancellor and nephew of Burghley, thought such devices allowed his uncle to ‘walk invisible’ at Court.
years, his lodgings at Windsor lay empty; the Queen’s gallery was completed, but no doorway was made.
Then, in 1588, in preparation for Dudley’s return, work restarted on the Constable’s Lodgings with the creation of a fine new entrance hall, staircase and other new rooms on the south side of the gate (Fig 6). However, it was all too late for, with his health fatally weakened by his time in the Netherlands, Dudley died in September 1588 before his lodgings were completed.
In 1590, Lord Howard of Effingham became constable, so it is very unlikely that the long-planned connection was ever made between the Constable’s Lodging and the Queen’s bedchamber.
Although the gallery was remodelled in the 1830s (Fig 4), when it was converted into the royal library, it is the only room from the hundreds of Elizabethan royal interiors that gives some impression what they were like. The original ceiling was innovative—instead of making a fret of shallow timber batons enriched with lowrelief decoration in timber, the whole ceiling was moulded out of plaster, creating a much more harmonious composition that flowed in white, unifying the whole space. It was widely copied.
The fireplace created by the London joiner and carver Robert Pinckney (Fig 3) was a masterpiece—not only was the quality of the carving the very finest, but the proportions and use of the Classical orders of architecture were much more sophisticated
than the jumble of motifs that had been so fashionable under Henry VIII.
The hard architecture of Elizabethan royal interiors was softened and enriched by textiles that formed the principal decorative element. There were tapestries, of course, but it was the silks and velvets that gave these rooms their rich appearance. In big rooms like the Windsor gallery, there were floor-to-ceiling curtains hung from metal rods over the windows, creating splashes of bright colour.
Increasingly, galleries in particular were hung with paintings for which richly carved and gilded frames were made. Paintings also had their own curtains hung from neat rails fixed to the walls above them.
Smaller and more intimate closets were hung with silk and velvet. We don’t know what the Queen chose to hang in her new closets at Windsor, but, in 1596, Elizabeth had a room she called her ‘cabinet’ redecorated at Greenwich. The walls were hung with panes of yellow, crimson and light-blue velvet with white-satin embroidery on the borders. The velvet field was embroidered with gold and twisted braid of gold and silver.
A matching suite of five cloth-of-gold cushions was supplied as well as long yellowdamask window curtains. The closets and bedchamber in and around the Queen’s gallery at Windsor must have been similarly decorated.
The Windsor gallery so carefully designed and decorated for Elizabeth I remained a key part of the royal lodgings under James I and Charles I. There is little doubt that both Elizabeth and James would have agreed with Michael Drayton, who, in 1612, in his poetic description of England, PolyOlbion, described Windsor Castle and Forest as ‘that supremest place of the great English Kings’. However, the Civil War treated the castle roughly. The royal furniture and furnishings were sold off and, for periods, the castle was a barracks.
In the 1670s, Charles II decided to make Windsor the centre of Court life near London and ordered a remodelling of the state rooms. The scheme, executed by the architect Hugh May, envisaged no major role for the Queen’s gallery and it remained a vestigial part of the royal suite until, in 1830–36, Sir Jeffry Wyatville converted it into a library for William IV. Most of the Tudor interiors were lost, but, in Gothicising mode, some were reproduced, retaining the feeling of an ancient interior.
Today, in its new guise as the royal library, Elizabeth I’s gallery is one of the most evocative of all royal interiors, capturing a remarkable moment in time when Elizabeth and the Earl of Leicester used Windsor Castle as their playground.
‘Houses of Power’ by Simon Thurley (Bantam Press, £30) is published this month and reviewed on page 122
Elizabeth I’s gallery is one of the most evocative of all royal interiors
Fig 1 above: Windsor Castle as depicted on John Norden’s 1607 survey of the castle. Edward III recast the upper ward of the castle as a palace in the 14th century. Elizabeth I’s gallery is depicted here beneath the central Round Tower. It extends between a tower with compass windows constructed by her grandfather, Henry VII, and the Norman Gate. Fig 2 left: A detail of Marcus Gerard’s Proceeding of the Sovereign and Knights of the Order of the Garter at St George’s Feast in 1578. Windsor Castle is shown in the background, with the Upper Ward above the Queen’s head. The ends of the gallery range are just visible to either side of the central arcade pier
Fig 3 above left: The gallery fireplace carved by the London joiner Robert Pinckney is designed in a sophisticated and idiomatic neoclassical style. Fig 4 above right: In the 1830s Elizabeth I’s gallery was converted into a library. The decorative Tudor ceiling was recreated, but the terminating window punched through the wall of the Norman Gate, visible here, was reduced in size
Fig 5: The Norman Gate, actually built in 1358-61, stands beneath the motte and the Round Tower. It is the principal entrance to the Upper Ward. The terminating window of the library fills the middle storey of its left-hand tower
Fig 6: The Norman Gate in a late-18th-century view by Paul Sandby. This shows how the Constable’s Lodgings were extended and maintained in fashionable style and provided with a moat garden. The huge Elizabethan window of the gallery is clearly visible to the left