Restoration and Reaction: Palaces of the Restoration

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Charles II's court has often been portrayed as devoted to pleasure and debauchery. While this is true to an extent, Charles was also an astute political operator who understood the importance of court etiquette - in which architecture was very important. He introduced new fashions and forms into English palaces but, under the surface, many of his innovations were backward-looking and reactionary, reinforcing traditions and practices that had been established before the Civil War. 

This lecture untangles architectural innovation and reaction in the Restoration years.

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22 April 2015

Restoration and Reaction:

 Palaces of the Restoration

Professor Simon Thurley


The English Republic dealt a devastating blow to the stock of royal residences which Charles I had enjoyed. Several, such as Richmond, were never to be occupied again, and others like Greenwich, despite plans to the contrary, were never to regain their former position. But in many respects the Commonwealth was only a catalyst in a process which had begun much earlier in the seventeenth century. Changing functional requirements, patterns of movement, modes of transport, architectural taste and standards of comfort had already begun to re-draw the royal itinerary and redefine the purposes of individual royal residences. The ending of the Republic at the Restoration provided Charles II with an opportunity for a re-assessment of royal residential requirements which he unhesitatingly seized. The King's plans were constrained by lack of sufficient finance and, with the single exception of the remodelling of Windsor castle, remained incomplete.


Tonight I will be talking, not about Windsor, but about his plans to create a new out of town royal residence. Windsor I am saving for another occasion; I am in the process of completing a major study of the Castle in Charles II’s time with the aid of the Royal Collection and when that is complete I will be able to tell a new and most interesting story. But for now I want to begin with Greenwich.


The story of Charles II's Greenwich is closely bound up with that of the Restoration itself. Since the reign of Henry VII, the house at Greenwich had been the second or third most favoured of royal residences but of all the royal houses it suffered the worst damage during the 1640s and 50s and was totally uninhabitable at the Restoration. Because of Greenwich's earlier popularity, it was widely assumed that the palace would be brought back into a fit state quickly and indeed, in May 1661, Charles II ordered a survey of the much damaged palace and within two months the mason William de Keyser was drawing elevations for proposed new buildings. On 19 October, John Evelyn visited the Surveyor General of the King's Works, Sir John Denham, to discuss the siting of the palace, noting that Denham was already assisted by John Webb, the former pupil of Inigo Jones. By December a wooden model of the new designs had been made and soon the demolition of the Tudor palace was put in hand.


The plans for Greenwich underwent various stages of development. But the idea was for a 'U' shaped palace with a western range which can be confidently identified as the King's side with Guard, Presence, Privy and Withdrawing chambers leading to a bedchamber beyond which was a gallery and closets. On the other side were a series of very grand state rooms.


These two schemes embody a unique scheme, an English Royal Palace designed with provision only for the monarch and not his consort. It could be argued that the lack of a queen's side reflected Charles's unmarried state at the Restoration, but as early as July 1660 he had been offered the hand of Catharine of Braganza with an enormous dowry and had started negotiations on that basis. It is therefore inconceivable that Greenwich was commissioned for a bachelor king - Charles fully intended to marry. The reason behind Greenwich's unique plan almost certainly lies in Greenwich's position on the Thames, at the head of the estuary some four miles east of London. The river provided the principal means of access for foreign visitors to the capital and the King. From the reign of Henry VII, Greenwich had played a singular role in the ceremonial reception of ambassadors and other visitors to court, and at the Restoration Charles II saw no reason not to revive Greenwich's highly individual part in state occasions. Before the restoration a standard diplomatic reception procedure had been developed. Ordinary or resident ambassadors were greeted at Gravesend and then again at Tower Wharf before transferring to a coach for their reception at Whitehall. Favoured or important ordinary ambassadors and all extraordinary embassies and other important dignitaries and their delegations likewise arrived at Gravesend but then were conveyed up river to Greenwich where their preliminary reception would be held. There they transferred to the King's barge and were taken to Tower Wharf where a secondary reception took place, finally they were brought through the city by coach to Whitehall. This ceremonial use of Greenwich persisted under the Republic.


At the Restoration the reception of the French Ambassador the Compte de Cominges followed the established pattern. Although he had been in England since December 1662, the Count only achieved his formal reception the following April 'landing' at Greenwich where he was received by the Master of Ceremonies and other officials. After being entertained there for an hour he was escorted in four barges by six gentlemen of the bedchamber to Tower Wharf. Thus Greenwich had a particular ceremonial and diplomatic function intertwined with its primary use as a riverside palace. Precisely what the architectural requirements of this role were are unclear, but the reception of large and influential delegations by high ranking courtiers clearly needed a suitable architectural stage. It seems that the terrace and balconies on the south side of the Queen's House as built by Henrietta Maria were intended to form part of the auditorium of an ambassadorial reception. Especially on the occasions when the monarch or his consort was involved in the ceremony a suitably splendid location was required. This was recognised after the death of Charles II by his niece, Queen Mary II, who, according to Nicholas Hawksmoor writing in 1728, desired to make the Queen's House into a small retreat for herself and a place where 'Embassadors, or Publick Ministers might make their entry into  London. This is, in fact, the key to understanding the role of Greenwich and the nature of its buildings. The two schemes devised in 1661 were specifically intended to provide a ceremonial gateway to the kingdom; its magnificent open courtyard facing the landing stage providing a spectacular disembarkation, the ceremonial stair and an entire wing full of reception halls first-rate reception space and in addition a set of ceremonial apartments for the king's own use.


So Charles II started rebuilding his palace at Greenwich and Samuel Pepys was present for the laying of the foundation stone of the first part of the building - the riverside block, now known as the King Charles Block. But the energy behind this early, and very ambitious commission soon fizzled out and by 1670 the lower windows of the King Charles Block were boarded up, the foundations for the next phase of work were filled in, Webb's last month's salary had been paid and the account book was closed.


Despite the strains placed on Charles II's parlous finances, it was not realised immediately that work had effectively come to an end; there were several attempts to complete the King's side and to revive work on its corresponding wing but none of them came to anything and still to this day all we have of Charles II’s grand vision is the King Charles Block – albeit incorporated into the later Hospital for Seamen.


The important point about Charles II's plans for Greenwich is that right from the start the King had no intention of re-creating a traditional standing house. Charles's Greenwich was to be the ceremonial gateway to his Kingdom, not a regular residence. But the Kings interest in Greenwich seems to have been killed by the financial constraints on him in the late 1660s. He was to concentrate what sums became available to him in the 70s upon the refurbishment of Windsor Castle, and it was not until work there was drawing to a completion that his mind turned once more to larger designs. By 1680 his finances were no longer precarious, and the expense of architecture was once again a possible pursuit.


To understand the King’s next attempt to build a country house we have to travel far from London to the flat heathlands north of Cambridge at Newmarket. Here, King James I had established a hunting lodge. James was not very keen on the big London houses. In fact he spent as little time as possible in London, much preferring to be out and about in the countryside hunting with his close friends. As a result he bought a series of new palaces which he converted into hunting lodges for his pleasure.


One of his most important new houses was at Newmarket where he started leasing an Inn in 1605. But he soon bought and demolished it and built himself a handsome new residence which became one of his most favoured houses. Here James entertained ambassadors, watched plays performed by actors from Cambridge and, most importantly, he hunted. Now very sadly I cannot give you a picture of this building. But it was, in fact pretty ramshackle, a converted inn with various bits added over a period of years.


This funny collection of buildings at Newmarket was one of a breed of new palaces, a place where the monarch spent a great deal of time far from the hub of government in Westminster. The attraction of places like Newmarket for James was hunting. In fact James as an obsessive hunter, never happier than when he was chasing a stag across the flat fields of Cambridgeshire. But his son and heir CharlesI was also interested in racing. We know that the first Gold Cup run at Newmarket probably took place before Charles I in 1634. But it was Charles II who founded the Newmarket we know today building the first stables and founding England’s most venerable training establishment. Charles not a mere spectator. He owned and rode horses and twice won the Newmarket Town Plate a race that is still run today.


It was for this reason that Charles II decided to rebuild his father’s old house at Newmarket so he could have a palace close to the races. The Italian nobleman Cosimo de Medici who visited soon after the Charles’s buildings were completed thought that it ‘did not deserve to be called a king’s residence’ and John Evelyn thought it the buildings the ‘most improper imaginable for an house of Sport and Pleasure’. Despite these remarks Charles II liked the buildings and spent much time there in the 1670s.


Thebuilding was designed by a little known architect called William Samwell and was of brick with a deeply hipped roof and a cornice. It had some of the earliest sash windows ever built in England and so was in some ways innovative. But to us the palace would have seemed more like a large town house rather than a place for the monarch of one of Europe’s most powerful countries. In plan it was a long narrow range running up from the road. In a pavilion at the end was a bedchamber backstairs etc. Rooms for the Queen too and for the Duke of Monmouth and the Duke of York. Architecturally modest.


So what went on in these new types of palace? How did Charles II, for instance, spend his days there? The diarist John Evelyn spent the night at Newmarket in October 1671 and found ‘the jolly blades racing, dancing, feasting and revelling, more resembling a luxurious and abandoned rout than a Christian Court’. Racing was not the only entertainment at Newmarket, there was a tennis court and a bowling green and most important of all a cockpit. Sometimes while the court was in residence there would be cock fights twice a day. Whether it was racing, cocking, tennis or bowls the outcome would be the subject of a wager. Huge sums of money changed hands as the courtiers bet on almost every activity they undertook.


As a result of the new royal house Newmarket’s fortunes vastly improved during the 1670s. A number of prominent Caroline nobleman bought houses in the town including The Duke of Ormonde and the earls of Suffolk and Oxford. But the very success of Newmarket sowed the seeds of its decline from favour. There were never enough lodgings for the courtiers and royal household let alone for visitors to court. The town’s feeble infrastructure could not cope with the effluent and rubbish produced by so many visitors.


This was one of the reasons why the King’s attentions turned elsewhere. Newmarket was soon to be abandoned as Charles’s eye had fallen on Winchester. Winchester, in as much as a city can have a self-image, had always seen itself as royal. It was not only one of the two ancient royal seats of England, but it had played host to all the Tudor and Stuart monarchs before the civil war and in 1647 the mayor and aldermen took the bold step of offering the civic mace to Charles I, as prisoner, when he passed through on his way to the Isle of Wight. These facts alone would have been an attraction to the newly restored King Charles II in 1660 but Winchester offered other delights too, good hunting and, importantly racing.


Racing had continued at Winchester through much of the Commonwealth and at the Restoration the corporation decided to try and obtain royal patronage for the sport placing a notice in the London Gazette in July 1682 announcing that 'the inhabitants of this city being ambitious of the honour of his majesties presence' would establish a plate to be run on the downs at the end of August in the hope that the king and his court would attend. The invitation was accepted and the King, Queen and much of the court removed to Winchester at the end of August 1682 for the race. During their brief stay the King was welcomed by large crowds, touched over 60 people for the King's evil and seems crucially to have settled on the idea of a residence in Winchester.


The city reacted with lightning speed, 'selling' the King the site of the medieval castle for 5s, promising him building timber and carriage, and even restricting the grants of new leases in the town subject to royal plans. Behind the readiness of the corporation to oblige the king over his building plans lay the fear shared in the early 1680s by all incorporated boroughs, that of losing their charter and privileges. The city's obsequiousness, however, did not save it from having to surrender its charter in 1684, nor did it ensure a prompt replacement. To compensate for this very real fear was the prospect of considerable financial returns for the city from the regular presence of the king and the court. During the short 1683 summer visit to Winchester the crown spent £1,755 19s 10d and in due course Charles was to outlay over £44,000 on building the palace,  much of which flowed into local pockets.


The King's initial reaction to Winchester and his future plans were widely reported. Just four days after the visit Sir Charles Lyttleton wrote to Christopher, the first Viscount Hatton, that 'the King is mightily pleased at Winchester...The Duke [of York] says tis abundantly better place for all sort of pleasure than Newmarket, and then tis neere ye forest for hunting.' But there was more to the attractions of Winchester than sport, Lyttleton continued 'there is faction in this business too, ye Whig party being Lords at Newmarket, as hunting, got houses and possest themselves of ye best conveniences there'. As I mentioned just a few minutes ago it was certainly true that many of the best houses around Newmarket belonged to Whigs, a fact which was at first inconvenient and distasteful and one which the events of 1683 proved to be positively perilous.


What happenedduring Charles II's visit of 1683 to Newmarket went towards the hardening of his resolve to build at Winchester. Conditions at Newmarket had been worsening for some years and the lodgings for courtiers had never been adequate. What alienated the King was the depletion of game through over-hunting, and in March 1683 he attempted to remedy this by issuing a proclamation controlling hunting near Newmarket.


The contemporary newspaper The Loyal Protestant reported on the 9 March that 'The country people have very much spoiled and destroyed His Majesties Game, which, together with the dirtiness of the town, tis said His majesty is not well pleased with; and it's discoursed that He will not for the future spend so much time in this place as formerly'.


The King's displeasure was compounded by the calamity of a fire which later that month reduced half of the town to ashes, narrowly avoiding the king's own house. John Evelyn believed that the fire 'made the King more earnest to render Wi[n]chester the seat of his Autum[n]al field diversions for the future'; it was, he tells us 'infinitely indeede preferable to New Market, for prospect, aire, pleasure and provisions'. But more serious than this was the fact that the fire probably saved  Charles's life as it caused the court to leave Newmarket earlier than planned and thus inadvertently to foil not one, but two plots against the King. One to murder him planned by some Cromwellians from London and another to capture him by a number of leading Whigs.


What with limited accommodation, poor hunting, dirt, squalor, a major fire, a failed kidnap and high treason at Newmarket Charles was even more eager to see work at Winchester advanced and to that end he moved there with the court on August 29th 1683 and spent most of September there. Now rather amazingly we have a list of where the King and his courtiers stayed during this visit. The Queen stayed in the Dean of Winchester’s house. The King stayed in the house next door to it which was set up as a mini royal palace for him. Scandalously in the house next door (Mr. Beaumont’s house) was the Duchess of Portsmouth the king’s old mistress together with one of her children the Duke of Richmond. Then even more bizarrely just round the corner in another house in the close belonging to one Dr Sherake was Nell Gwynn with one her children by the King the Earl of Burford. Nearby too was the Duke of York, the king’s brother and Lord Arlington. What an extraordinary set up. The close filled with the royal family and the king’s mistresses and bastard children; I wonder what the good people of Winchester made of it all?


Well, the evidence is that they were very enthusiastic. The Hampshire grand jury offered the King the shire hall (the medieval great hall of the castle) and more ground nearby was granted to him for building work. Land for the new hunting park, over 352 acres was also bought at a cost of over £7,000. At the end of the visit the earl of Sunderland reported; 'We are like to be here twice a year, the King growing fonder of his building and the country every day'. 


The commission to build a new palace at Winchester next to the great hall of the old castle was given to the King’s surveyor of the Works, the most senior architect in England, Sir Christopher Wren. Wren had waited all his life for a commission like this. Although he was working on St. Paul’s Cathedral, the city parish churches and had made various extensions to royal palaces like Whitehall, he had never before built a whole new royal palace from scratch. But there was a problem with this commission. Charles was in a great hurry. He knew that he was getting on, and that if he was to enjoy his new house it would have to be built at breakneck speed. Huge pressure was brought to bear on Wren to speed the work along. When asked by Charles II to say how soon it would be done, Wren answered, ‘two years to do the job properly but one year 'not so well, nor without great confusion, charge, and inconvenience'. The King insisted 'if it be possible to be done in one year, I will have it so, for a year is a great deal in my life.'


So in a great hurry where did wren turn for his inspiration? Well, in 1665 he had been sent by Charles II to Paris in order to see what the most modern buildings there looked like. Charles hoped to rebuild his principal residence Whitehall, and hoped that Wren would be inspired by the royal buildings of Louis XIV that he had himself seen in and around Paris. Unfortunately the great fire of London intervened and Wren was not to rebuild Whitehall. But he kept with him the vast collection of prints drawings and architectural books that he had collected in France, ready and waiting for the day he was commissioned to build a palace for the King. On being asked to build at Winchester it was to his great French archive that Wren turned.


And this iswhat he came up with. A great building of brick with stone dressings round the windows and doors. A strong hipped roof and a great portico of Portland stone columns.


This design was nothing if not French, profoundly influenced by his first-hand experience of the architecture of Louis XIV leading architect Louis Le Vau. It is often, and rightly, remarked that the Winchester design owes a great debt to Versailles as first enlarged for Louis XIV by Le Vau. Here you see it in its early state and you can see clearly the receding courtyards, exactly as at Winchester.


However people have not concentrated so much on another, to my mind more important inspiration, Louis Le Vau’s Collège des Quatre Nations. The Collège, now the Institut de France, was sited on the banks of the Seine opposite the Louvre and was founded by Cardinal Mazarin in 1661. It was one of the buildings that Wren actually saw under construction and the library in it has long been recognised as having influenced Wren’s designs for Trinity Library, Cambridge. The Collège was, in several senses, the prototype for Winchester. Unlike Versailles, with which Winchester shared its receding courts, it was crowned by a central dome above a portico. It was also brilliantly integrated into the Parisian cityscape on an axis with the King’s apartments in the Louvre. This idea Wren took up at Winchester which was, as we shall see, designed to be set in a new urban landscape. 


Wren’s first experiment in the manner of the Collège des Quatre Nations was the Royal Hospital at Chelsea with its weakly domed portico facing the Thames. But the tremendous elevated site of Winchester and its royal purpose produced a design of greater size, elaboration and ambition. The palace, like Chelsea, was built of brick with stone dressings and enclosed a court with one side open. However Winchester was approached by a large Cour d’honneur and the main block was made up of a series of receding stages focussed on a central portico surmounted by an octagonal cupola. Two pavilions sited at the angles of the narrowest part were also topped with cupolas. Wren intended to make the most of the palace’s position on top of the ancient castle hill to the west of the town. The cour d’honneurwas sited lower down the hill and from here Wren planned to drive a great boulevard through the densely populated streets of medieval Winchester to align on the west front of the cathedral.


This was a remarkable idea and one that Wren must have discussed in detail with Charles II. In London such a processional route existed. Between Whitehall and St Paul’s Cathedral was the great royal route of England, still today used for ceremonies of state. The Strand and Fleet Street linked the west front of St Paul’s with Charing Cross and Whitehall to its south. This was the route which Kings and Queens of England since Richard II had used on their coronation making their way to Westminster Abbey for their coronation. It was the route which Elizabeth I had used from Whitehall to St Pauls to give thanks for the defeat of the Armada. So at Winchester, Charles was creating a new royal processional route which would have allowed him to process from his palace to the cathedral for great ceremonial occasions, for thanksgivings, royal marriages and christenings.


In 1684, the King returned to the city twice, briefly in June and with the court for four weeks in late August and September. after the June visit a Dutch mat and a green damask travelling bed were ordered for the queen and sent down in preparation for the longer Autumn visit. When the court arrived a substantial building must have been on site, most of the masonry was up and the roofs probably started. Shortly before his death on 6 February 1685 the King remarked to the Earl of Aylesbury 'I shall be most happy this week, for my building will be covered with lead'. Charles II's death was unexpected and it brought the building work at Winchester to an immediate halt, although it was another two years before James II decided to abandon the project.


It was commonplace after Charles II's death to believe its purpose was merely to replace Newmarket. Evelyn tells us in 1685 that it was 'intended for a hunting house when his majestie came to these parts, and having an incomparable prospect'.  In about 1696, Celia Fiennes, on visiting the incomplete building, heard that it was for Charles II 'when he came to hunt, and for aire and diversions in the country'. Wren's son in Parentalia also tells us that the 'best judges' esteemed it 'an excellent model of a royal hunting seat', and so does J. Mackay in his Journey through England, commenting on the 'Deliciousness of the country for all manner of country sports'. Daniel Defoe, who wrote in the early 1720s, but perhaps visited Winchester earlier also believed that the house's principal function was hunting, and that if finished it would have made 'that part of the country, the Newmarket of the ages to come'. However unlike all other contemporary commentators he went on to observe that 'The Design included a noble Palace, sufficient like Windsor, for a summer residence for the whole court'. Defoe realised that even in its incomplete state Winchester Palace exceeded in size any other royal hunting house, and was exceeded only by Windsor Hampton Court and Whitehall, the three palaces meant to accommodate the entire court for long periods of time.


The plan ofWinchester Palace leaves no doubt that it was meant to be a substantial royal residence. Its western façade was longer than the eastern façade erected in the 1690s at Hampton Court. Winchester was to have provided more royal accommodation than Hampton Court with both state apartments and privy lodgings for the king and queen as well as for the Duke and Duchess of York and the Duchess of Portsmouth, the King's mistress, and both palaces had some 100 lodgings for courtiers. Importantly Winchester also had a council chamber and provision for Clerks of the Council. This latter point is key because the provision of so much well thought out space for the King's council sets the palace apart. Only Whitehall had such facilities, not even Hugh May's work at Windsor included a council chamber, Windsor being considered (as it still is) the principal suburban retreat. When Charles was at Windsor the Council would meet at Hampton Court and he would either walk or ride to Hampton Court to attend.


Even more so than the later Hampton Court, Winchester, in its layout and architectural pretension, clearly emulated Versailles as first enlarged for Louis XIV. Like Versailles it was set in a vast hunting park and was intended to have a magnificent broad approach which in Winchester's case, involved considerable urban demolition to create a mall aligned on the west front of the Cathedral. All these features were a far cry from the diminutive scale of Newmarket and other royal hunting lodges where part of the attraction was the escape from many monarchical duties. These features create an unassailable presumption that at Winchester Charles II was building, at the time of his death, a significant new standing house rivalling Hampton Court or Greenwich before the Civil War.


And there is one other piece of evidence that strongly points to this; something which has not been noticed or commented on before. 1683 was the year that Charles decided to build a great new palace at Winchester and I believe to move the whole royal court there on a permanent basis. 1683 was also the year in which Louis XIV decided to move his court from the Louvre in the centre of Paris out to his new palace of Versailles. All Europe knew of Louis’s decision and so was Charles spurred on in his decision to move the headquarters of the monarchy by Louis XIV actions? I think he was almost certainly was. The French court was the most fashionable in Europe, and as we have seen Winchester was based on French Royal buildings. So you see Winchester was almost certainly deliberately designed by Charles to be England’s Versailles.


The presumption that Charles II was creating a new greater house at Winchester and the rapidity with which, in 1683, the choice was made and with which the project proceeded, suggests that he had been considering potential sites for a new palace for some time. Certainly the King had developed distaste for London which had played such a large role in the downfall of his father, and the events of the early restoration did little to endure the metropolis to him. The Bawdy House riots of 1668, the first major political riots in London of the reign were accompanied by slogans such as 'ere long we will come and pull Whitehall down'. But much more serious and certainly the spur for the decision to build at Winchester was the extreme ferment in the capital caused by the Exclusion Crisis. The decision to summon Parliament to Oxford in March 1681 had been an expression of royal unease with London, which was to be borne out by the exclusion riots of November 1682. It is almost certainly no co-incidence that within nine months Charles had decided on a new standing palace far from the metropolis.


The decision to build a new palace at Winchester broke with two hundred years of royal building which had located the crown's standing houses in the Thames valley. From the fifteenth century there had been an increasing concentration of royal, noble and episcopal houses along the Thames between Greenwich and Windsor. The river not only provided a quick, safe and comfortable way to travel between houses but also cheap transport for building materials and a free sewerage system. The last standing house to be built outside the Thames Valley was Henry VIII's manor of New Hall in Essex, notably the least successful of his residences visited a mere thirteen times during his reign and not at all after 1530. In practice during the sixteenth century, standing houses, designed to be used by the full court in the winter months, could not be sustained if they were not on the Thames. Eltham, for instance, was a substantial, but land-locked residence which lost its precedence to Greenwich for that very reason. But during the early years of the seventeenth century, a significant change began to take place in modes of royal transport. By the 1630s travel by coach had become normal for Charles I and a network of royal roads was built up between the major royal palaces to ensure quick and comfortable transport between them. From at least the time of Charles I one of these private roads had linked Lambeth to Greenwich allowing rapid access by coach from Whitehall. The disadvantage of this particular route was that it was necessary to take the ferry at Lambeth to cross the Thames. During Charles II's peak enthusiasm for Greenwich in 1664, and in anticipation of the completion of the new works there, the possibility of a bridge being built across the Thames at Westminster to improve access by land was considered. Thus for Charles II the primary access to Greenwich was to be by road, not river.


The Winchester project illustrates almost better than anything else the tangible consequence of the change in the crown's attitude to transport between its residences. In choosing a new site a good road with appropriately placed bridges had become more important than proximity to the river Thames. The fact that Hampshire had good, ancient road links with London, the state of the London to Winchester road being described in 1675 by John Ogilby as 'very good', must have greatly influenced the choice of Winchester for a new standing house. At Winchester the king and court were at a comfortable distance from London, but even so remained conveniently accessible at all times. If good road access allowed Charles II to contemplate building at Winchester, the city, as a traditional royalist stronghold, was politically an obvious option. During the Exclusion Crisis the city's royalist sympathies were confirmed when its members, in conjunction with the majority of the Hampshire M.P.s, stood firm in their support for the Duke of York, whom together with the king Winchester made honorary freemen. After the dissolution of the Oxford parliament Hampshire dignitaries rallied to the crown. In October 1682, on the announcement of the choice of Winchester, it was said that the king was 'extremely satisfied with the loyalty of that city'. Well he might be in light of the growing tension in Newmarket and London.


Another factor in Winchester's favour was the excellent accommodation it could offer for the supernumeraries of the court and the administration, in telling contrast with Newmarket. A year after Charles II death Winchester could provide bedding for 336 persons and stabling for 1,048 horses, only five other places in the kingdom being better supplied. In addition to these merits, Winchester's geographical position had much to commend it, being only a short distance from the increasingly important naval base at Gosport, which preoccupied much of the king's time. In 1665 he had begun extensive improvements to the fortifications there and in the summer of 1683 rode from Winchester to inspect the continuing work with the Duke of York and Prince George.  It is difficult to imagine that the two projects, geographically so close together, were far separated in the royal mind.


Charles II died in February 1685 the very month the lead was laid on the roof of his new palace. The interiors were not yet designed and furniture remained un-ordered.


England’s Versailles remained uncompleted and none of the king’s successors returned to finish it.


But this was not the end of royal building ambitions for, as we shall see in my next lecture, William III was to leave a much more tangible legacy for today.


© Professor Simon Thurley, 2015

Professor Simon Thurley, former Provost of Gresham College

Professor Simon Thurley CBE

Visiting Professor of the Built Environment

Professor Thurley is a leading architectural historian, a regular broadcaster and was, for thirteen years and Visiting Gresham Professor of the Built Environment.

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