A new hardback book is always something to savour, especially for me a non-fiction one. And this was a sheer pleasure to read. Our guide is the architectural historian Simon Thurley, formerly the chief executive of English Heritage and once the curator of Historic Royal Palaces. As the Times review by De Groot says, he certainly loves his subject, an enthusiasm that steadily bubbles forth from ‘Houses of Power’. The book is about the houses, palaces and castles that the Tudors inherited, built and lived in, and Simon Thurley is just the man to guide us through this novel slant on the life of the Tudors. The reason? Surprisingly little of Tudor Royal buildings survive, so we have here the result of 30 years of meticulous research in the records and the interpretation of archaeological evidence by an expert.
What struck me more than ever was the megalomania of the Tudors, the incredible difference between how the upper levels lived and the great bulk of the population. Henry VIII alone spent about a million pounds on his buildings when the average yearly income was about £20……the avarice of Henry VIII was something rather special. “He is so covetous,” wrote Charles de Marillac, the French ambassador, “that all the riches in the world would not satisfy him . . . he does not reflect that to make himself rich he has impoverished his people, and does not gain in goods what he loses in renown.” I was also amazed to find that virtually the whole of the proceeds of the Dissolution of the Monasteries was spent on Royal building…incredible!
I took a great interest in the logistics involved in living in these buildings. Twice a day about 600 people were fed on an intricately choreographed assembly line that would have impressed Henry Ford. The royal bakehouse produced 1,700 loaves of bread every day. In a typical year Elizabeth’s kitchens went through 1,240 oxen, 8,200 sheep, 2,330 deer, 760 calves, 1,870 pigs and 53 wild boar, not to mention countless partridge, ducks, swans and pheasants.
But so great was the spending that “Calculating exactly how many houses [Henry] had is surprisingly difficult,” Thurley admits. When he became king, Henry inherited about 20 royal houses and a few castles. On his death, the total had risen to more than 70. Elizabeth thank goodness renovated rather than built, and relied much more on visiting her subjects’ houses. A two day visit would turn the hosts’ world upside down, and quite possibly bankrupt them. Did Elizabeth care? Not a jot.
‘Houses of Power’ is a great read and is particularly instructive in how the Court was arranged and how it lived. Everyday life with the royals – fascinating and repulsive!
Bedtime reading for a while was brutal – David Peace’s ‘1983’. The completion of the Red Riding Quartet is if anything even more frightening than the previous books in the series. All about corruption and perversion of justice in 1970’s and 1980’s Leeds. Could things like this really have happened? David Peace persuades us that this was entirely possible. You really get the feeling that you are living through a horror story and witnessing it happen. David is surely one of the truly great Crime authors of all time. Breathless, voyeuristic, and as I say frightening. Read it if you dare. The TV series based on the novels by Channel 4 was I seem to remember rather brilliant too…I must see if it is still available. Who needs Scandi Noire?
This book was a Birthday present, along with the next two booklets, from our lovely daughter-in-law Jennifer (obtained from our wonderful local bookshop ‘The Bookshop Liskeard’ ). Boconnoc is our nearest ‘big house’. So far we have only visited the gardens and church when we went for a Garden Fair. The author has done a great deal of research and first of all takes us through a potted history of the families associated with the house and grounds through the ages. Notably one of the families was able to purchase Boconnoc with the proceeds of the Pitt diamond (now part of the French Crown Jewels on display in the Louvre). Thomas ‘Diamond’ Pitt as he was known bought several other houses with the proceeds too! This part of the family was very closely related to the Pitt Prime Ministers. Catherine Lorigan then traces how the medieval fortified tower house evolved into a Georgian mansion, discusses how the grounds and gardens have been transformed, and examines the relationship of the estate with the agricultural and industrial landscape in which it is set. Still family owned and run, the house was rescued from almost utter dereliction by the present generation, so the whole thing makes a fascinating story. Just my type of book……
‘Really Short Walks South Dartmoor’ A book which we shall use when we travel just that bit further afield for some great walks. Although we lived in Dartmouth for a few years we only visited Dartmoor on a very few occasions (once we were held up on the road by a Hunt I remember). It is a very beautiful area indeed and full of ancient sites and monuments. And talking about ancient sites, Bodmin is of course full of them. Again it is an area we have not yet explored so ‘An Introduction To Bodmin Moor’ will be very handy for our purposes.