Power and Politics of Architecture in Tudor England

Background of Tudor Dynasty

Henry VII ascended the throne with much to prove. He had a weak claim to the throne, at best, and was for all intents and purposes a usurper. This meant that Henry VII needed to do all that he could to project his kingly power and assure the people of England that he was in fact the rightful king. Henry took many steps to assure that people had as little ground to question him as possible. One of the longest lasting steps was arguably the elaborate architecture and construction that he undertook. This desire to build structures that showed power through the size, intricacy, and sheer cost of the project helped to show the people that Henry VII was the rightful King of England.

Symbolic steps to prove legitimacy only went so far and that is why the Tudor monarchs had such elegant residences. They needed true tangible displays of how much money the Crown had and how much power came with that money. King Henry VII was fiscally prudent as a monarch. When he took the throne, the exchequer was effectively bankrupt. Edward IV’s treasury had been emptied by his wife’s Woodville relations after his death and before Richard III’s accession. The English monarchy had never been one of the wealthiest in Europe and even less so after the War of the Roses. But through his monetary strategy and by avoiding war, Henry managed to steadily accumulate wealth during his reign by introducing ruthlessly efficient mechanisms of taxation. 

This paper will examine what kinds of architectural trends developed during the Tudor dynasty, specifically during the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII. Why did Henry VIII have 60 residences? Was it in an attempt to convince himself and his subjects that he was truly the rightful King of England and his father was not a usurper? The Henrys both had an obsession with large palaces and extravagant interiors; this obsession trickled down to their noblemen as well who all saw this as a way to project their power over their subjects. Is there anything more to it than just money? Was it about Intricate designs and size? The Tudor period saw many new trends in the architecture and one must consider whether or not there may have been any correlation between these trends and the monarch’s power.

Since Henry VII knew that he had a weak claim to the throne, he had to do everything within his power to show the people that he was meant to be King of England. The Tudor monarchs and their courtiers portrayed their power and wealth through the size, intricacy and details, emphasis on privacy, and cost of their palaces and prodigy houses. There are many ways to convey legitimacy, but there is almost nothing that beats a building that will last for hundreds of years. Especially one that incorporates the newest trends and costs exorbitant amounts of money. 

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