Power and Politics of Architecture in Tudor England

The First Tudor Palace: Richmond

With Henry VII’s construction of Richmond Palace, there began a move towards more intimate private chambers, rather than completely open and non-private living. As Henry VII built the residence, he put more emphasis on the entirety of the palace rather than just the Great Hall and the chapel. Richmond Palace became the image of British monarchical power during the reign of Henry VII; Prince Arthur and Catherine of Aragon were married here, Henry’s daughter was betrothed here, and numerous other state events took place in this palace. Having just come out of the Wars of the Roses, England needed an image of monarchical power that was strong and united. Richmond Palace provided this strength, there was enough opulence to impress someone no matter which room they were in. Richmond Palace was designed with a fortress-like style that was almost entirely more decorative than functional. As there was less need for impenetrable castles, due to realm-wide peace, the builders began to play off the past styles by using it solely as decoration.

Sheen Palace, renamed Richmond Palace and rebuilt by Henry VII around the turn of the sixteenth century, was the precursor of subsequent Tudor Palaces. It was built on a grand scale around three courtyards, with spectacular Thames-side fa├žade of three storeys enlivened by picturesque towers and cupolas. However, Richmond was still fundamentally medieval in appearance.[1]

In Richmond Palace, the Great Hall and Chapel were no longer the only extravagant rooms in the building. In prior medieval houses those two rooms were the only ones in which there was a significant amount of extravagance; private chambers were not usually lavishly appointed. In Richmond, Henry VII showed his power by lavishly appointing every single room and gallery. He had spent many years reigning and building up the wealth stored in the King’s treasury. When he had become comfortable enough with the state of the finances he made one of the most powerful moves he would make as King and that was to build Richmond Palace. Henry wanted to not only prove that he was meant to be King and higher than any other man in the land, he also wanted to live lavishly in any room in his palace.
[1] Barnes, A Wealth of Buildings, 264

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