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English Home Life in the Reign of James I



The domestic habits of Englishmen were getting more established. We have seen how religious persecution during preceding reigns, at the time of the Reformation, had encouraged private domestic life of families in the smaller rooms and apart from the gossiping retainer, who might at any time bring destruction upon the household by giving information about items of conversation he had overheard. There is a quaint passage in one of Sir Henry Wotton's letters, written in 1600, which shews that this home life was now becoming a settled characteristic of his countrymen.

"Every man's proper mansion house and home, being the theatre of his hospitality, the seate of his selfe fruition, the comfortable part of his own life, the noblest of his son's inheritance, a kind of private princedom, nay the possession thereof an epitome of the whole world may well deserve by these attributes, according to the degree of the master, to be delightfully adorned."

Sir Henry Wotton was Ambassador in Venice in 1604, and is said to have been the author of the well-known definition of an ambassador's calling, namely, "an honest man sent to lie abroad for his country's good." This offended the piety of James I., and caused him for some time to be in disgrace. He also published, some 20 years later, "Elements of Architecture," and being an antiquarian and man of taste, sent home many specimens of the famous Italian wood carving.

It was during the reign of James I. and that of his successor that Inigo Jones, our English Vitruvius, was making his great reputation; he had returned from Italy full of enthusiasm for the Renaissance of Palladio and his school, and of knowledge and taste gained by a diligent study of the ancient classic buildings of Rome. His influence would be speedily felt in the design of woodwork fittings, for the interiors of his edifices. There is a note in his own copy of Palladio, which is now in the library of Worcester College, Oxford, which is worth quoting: -

"In the name of God: Amen. The 2 of January, 1614, I being in Rome compared these desines following, with the Ruines themselves. - Inigo Jones."

In the following year he returned from Italy on his appointment as King's Surveyor of Works, and until his death in 1652 was full of work, although unfortunately for us, much that he designed was never carried out, and much that he carried out has been destroyed by fire. The Banqueting Hall of Whitehall, now Whitehall Chapel; St. Paul's, Covent Garden: the old water gate originally intended as the entrance to the first Duke of Buckingham's Palace, close to Charing Cross; Nos. 55 and 56, on the south side of Great Queen Street, Lincoln's Inn; and one or two monuments and porches, are amongst the examples that remain to us of this great master's work; and of interiors, that of Ashburnham House is left to remind us, with its quiet dignity of style, of this great master. It has been said in speaking of the staircase, plaster ornament, and woodwork of this interior, "upon the whole is set the seal of the time of Charles I." As the work was probably finished during the King's reign, the impression intended to be conveyed was that after wood carving had rather run riot towards the end of the sixteenth century, we had now in the interior designed by Inigo Jones, or influenced by his school, a more quiet and sober style.

The above woodcut shews a portion of the King's room, in Ford Castle, which still contains souvenirs of Flodden Field - according to an article in the Magazine of Art. The room is in the northernmost tower, which still preserves externally the stern, grim character of the border fortress; and the room looks towards the famous battle-field. The chair shews a date 1638, and there is another of Dutch design of about fifty or sixty years later; but the carved oak bedstead, with tapestry hangings, and the oak press, which the writer of the article mentions as forming part of the old furniture of the room, scarcely appear in the illustration.

Mr. Hungerford Pollen tells us that the majority of so-called Tudor houses were actually built during the reign of James I., and this may probably be accepted as an explanation of the otherwise curious fact of there being much in the architecture and woodwork of this time which would seem to belong to the earlier period.

The illustrations of wooden chimney-pieces will shew this change. There are in the South Kensington Museum some three or four chimney-pieces of stone, having the upper portions of carved oak, the dates of which have been ascertained to be about 1620; these were removed from an old house in Lime Street, City, and give us an idea of the interior decoration of a residence of a London merchant. The one illustrated is somewhat richer than the others, the columns supporting the cornice of the others being almost plain pillars with Ionic or Doric capitals, and the carving of the panels of all of them is in less relief, and simpler in character, than those which occur in the latter part of Elizabeth's time.

The earliest dated piece of Jacobean furniture which has come under the writer's observation is the octagonal table belonging to the Carpenters' Company. The illustration, taken from Mr. Jupp's book referred to in the last chapter, hardly does the table justice; it is really a very handsome piece of furniture, and measures about 3 feet 3 inches in diameter. In the spandrils of the arches between the legs are the letters R.W., G.I., J.R., and W.W., being the initials of Richard Wyatt, George Isack, John Reeve, and William Willson, who were Master and Wardens of the Company in 1606, which date is carved in two of the spandrils. While the ornamental legs shew some of the characteristics of Elizabethan work, the treatment is less bold, the large acorn-shaped member has become more refined and attenuated, and the ornament is altogether more subdued. This is a remarkable specimen of early Jacobean furniture, and is the only one of the shape and kind known to the writer; it is in excellent preservation, save that the top is split. It shews signs of having been made with considerable skill and care.

The Science and Art Department keep for reference an album containing photographs, not only of many of the specimens in the different museums under its control, but also of some of those which have been lent for a temporary exhibition. The illustration of the above two chairs is taken from this source, the album having been placed at the writer's disposal by the courtesy of Mr. Jones, of the Photographic Department. The left-hand chair, from Abingdon Park, is said to have belonged to Lady Barnard, Shakespeare's grand-daughter, and the other may still be seen in the Hall of the Carpenters' Company.

In the Hall of the Barbers' Company in Monkswell Street, the Court room, which is lighted with an octagonal cupola, was designed by Inigo Jones as a Theatre of Anatomy, when the Barbers and Surgeons were one corporation. There are some three or four tables of this period in the Hall, having four legs connected by stretchers, quite plain; the moulded edges of the table tops are also without enrichment. These plain oak slabs, and also the stretchers, have been renewed, but in exactly the same style as the original work; the legs, however, are the old ones, and are simple columns with plain turned capitals and bases. Other tables of this period are to be found in a few old country mansions; there is one in Longleat, which, the writer has been told, has a small drawer at the end, to hold the copper coins with which the retainers of the Marquis of Bath's ancestors used to play a game of shovel penny. In the Chapter House in Westminster Abbey, there is also one of these plain substantial James I. tables, which is singular in being nearly double the width of those which were usually made at this time. As the Chapter House was, until comparatively recent years, used as a room for the storage of records, this table was probably made, not as a dining table, but for some other purpose requiring greater width.

In the chapter on Renaissance there was an allusion to Charterhouse, which was purchased for its present purpose by Thomas Sutton in 1611, and in the chapel may be seen to-day the original communion table placed there by the founder. It is of carved oak, with a row of legs running lengthways underneath the middle, and four others at the corners; these, while being cast in the simple lines already noticed in describing the tables in the Barbers' Hall, and the Chapter House, Westminster Abbey, are enriched by carving from the base, to the third of the height of the leg, and the frieze of the table is also carved in low relief. The rich carved wood screen which supports the organ loft is also of Jacobean work. There is in the South Kensington Museum a carved oak chest, with a centre panel representing the Adoration of the Magi, of about this date, 1615-20; it is mounted on a stand which has three feet in front and two behind, which are much more primitive and quaint than the ornate supports of Elizabethan carving; while the only ornaments on the drawer fronts which form the frieze of the stand are moulded panels, in the centre of each of which there is a turned knob by which to open the drawer. This chest and the table which forms its stand were probably not intended for each other. The illustration on the previous page shews the stand, which is a good representation of the carving of this time, i.e., early seventeenth century. The round-backed arm chair which the Museum purchased in 1891 from the Hailstone Collection, though dated 1614, is really more Elizabethan in design than one would expect.

There is no greater storehouse for specimens of furniture in use during the Jacobean period than Knole, that stately mansion of the Sackville family, then the property of the Earls of Dorset. In the King's Bedroom, which is said to have been specially prepared and furnished for the visit of King James I., the public, owing to the courtesy and generous spirit of the present Lord Sackville, can still see the bed, originally of crimson silk, but now much faded, elaborately embroidered with gold. It is said to have cost £8,000, and the chairs and seats, which are believed to have formed part of the original equipment of the room, are in much the same position as they then occupied.

In the carved work of this furniture we cannot help thinking that the hand of the Venetian craftsman is to be traced, and it is probable that they were either imported or copied from a pattern brought over for that purpose. A suite of furniture of that time appears to have consisted of six stools and two arm chairs, almost entirely covered with velvet, having the "X" form supports, which, so far as the writer's investigations have gone, appear to have come from Venice. In the "Leicester" gallery at Knole there is a portrait of the King, painted by Mytens, seated on such a chair, and just below the picture is placed the chair which is said to be identical with the one portrayed. It is similar to the one reproduced on page 100 from a drawing of Mr. Charles Eastlake's.

In the same gallery also are three sofas or settees upholstered with crimson velvet, and one of these has an accommodating rack, by which either end can be lowered at will, to make a more convenient lounge.

This excellent example of Jacobean furniture has been described and sketched by Mr. Charles Eastlake in "Hints on Household Taste." He says: "The joints are properly 'tenoned' and pinned together in such a manner as to ensure its constant stability. The back is formed like that of a chair, with a horizontal rail only at its upper edge, but it receives additional strength from the second rail, which is introduced at the back of the seat." In Marcus Stone's well-known picture of "The Stolen Keys," this is the sofa portrayed. The arm chair illustrated above is part of the same suite of furniture. The furniture of another room at Knole is said to have been presented by King James to the first Earl of Middlesex, who had married into the. Dorset family. The author has been furnished with a photograph of this room; and the illustration prepared from this will give the reader a better idea than a lengthy description.

It seems from a comparison of the Knole furniture with the designs of some of the tables and other woodwork produced during the same reign, bearing the impress of the more severe style of Inigo Jones, that there were then in England two styles of decorative furniture. One of these, simple and severe, shewing a reaction from the grotesque freedom of Elizabethan carving, and the other, copied from Venetian ornamental woodwork, with cupids on scrolls forming the supports of stools, having these ornamental legs connected by stretchers, the design of which is, in the case of those in the King's Bedchamber at Knole, a couple of cupids in a flying attitude holding up a crown. This kind of furniture was generally gilt, and under the black paint of those at Knole, traces of the gold are still to be seen.

Mr. Eastlake visited Knole, and made a careful examination and sketches of the Jacobean furniture there, and has well described and illustrated it in his book just referred to; he mentions that he found there a slip of paper tucked beneath the webbing of a settle, with an inscription in Old English characters which fixed the date of some of the furniture at 1620. Mr. Lionel Sackville West has confirmed this date in a letter to the author, by a reference to the heirloom book, which also bears out the author's opinion that some of the more richly-carved furniture of this time was imported from Italy.

In the Lady Chapel of Canterbury Cathedral there is a monument of Dean Boys, who died in 1625. This represents the Dean seated in his library, at a table with turned legs, over which there is a tapestry cover. Books line the walls of the section of the room shewn in the stone carving; it differs little from the sanctum of a literary man of the present day. There are many other monuments which represent furniture of this period, and amongst the more curious is that of a child of King James I., in Westminster Abbey, close to the monument of Mary Queen of Scots. The child is sculptured about life size, in a carved cradle of the time.

Holland House, Kensington, is a good example of a Jacobean mansion. The chief interest, inseparable from this house, is, of course, associated with the memory of the third Lord Holland, "nephew of Fox and friend of Grey," who gathered around him within its walls the most brilliant and distinguished society of the day, presiding over it with that genial courtesy which was the rich inheritance of his family.

Macaulay, at the conclusion of his essay on Lord Holland, has, with his unrivalled power of description, told us of the charm and fascination of "that circle in which every talent and accomplishment, every art and science, had its place" - enumerating also the names of many of those who formed it, and expatiating on "the grace and the kindness, far more admirable than grace, with which the princely hospitality of that ancient mansion was dispensed." Princess Liechtenstein has also preserved for us, in "Holland House," a charming record of many of the historical associations of this famous old place.

There are in the house also many objects of great interest, of various periods, which, by the courtesy of Lady Ilchester, the writer has been allowed to examine. Our business, however, is with the 17th century, and we must now return to a consideration of the furniture and woodwork of that time.

The Holland House of the time of James I. was commenced in the year 1607, as "Cope Castle," by Sir Walter Cope, who then owned the extensive "Manor" of Kensington. Cope's daughter married Sir Henry Rich, who became Earl of Holland in 1624, and was executed by the Parliamentarians in 1649. He it was who added to the house the wings and arcades. Princess Liechtenstein tells us the story of "the solitary ghost of its first lord, who, according to tradition, issues forth at midnight from behind a secret door, and walks slowly through the scenes of his former triumph with his head in his hand."

There is some good old woodwork of the early part of the seventeenth century, and the panelling and chimney-piece of the famous "white parlour" are of the times of James I., the work, still in good preservation, being in the best Jacobean taste. The panels are formed by bold uncarved mouldings, separated at intervals by flat pilasters with fluted shafts and carved capitals; the panels in the frieze, between the trusses, which support a "dentilled" cornice, are enriched with fretwork ornaments in relief, and the whole has a simple but decorative architectural effect of the best English rendering of the Renaissance. The "gilt room," where the ghost is said to commence its nocturnal promenade, was decorated by Francesco Cleyn, an Italian, who also worked for the King (The present decorations of the room were painted either actually by Watts or under his directions, when, as favourite artist to the fourth Lord Holland, he did so much to beautify the house and made so many additions to its store of portraits. His work is fully described in "Holland House," by Princess Marie Liechtenstein. London, 1874.). The room was prepared for a ball which was purposed to be given in honor of the marriage of Prince Charles to Henrietta Maria. There are now on the chief staircase of Holland House, two chairs with their backs carved as shells, and with legs shaped and ornamented with scrollwork, and masks with swags of foliage, which are also attributed to Cleyn. Horace Walpole, in a reference to Holland House, has mentioned these chairs in "Anecdotes of Painters." "Two chairs, carved and gilt, with large shells for backs.... were undoubtedly from his designs, and are evidences of his taste." Walpole also mentions a garden seat of similar design by Cleyn. A drawing of one of these chairs forms the tail piece of this chapter.

There is another Jacobean house of considerable interest, the property of Mr. T. G. Jackson, A.R.A. An account of it has been written by him, and was read to some members of the Surrey Archaeological Society, who visited Eagle House, Wimbledon, in 1890. It appears to have been the country seat of a London merchant, who lived early in the seventeenth century. Mr. Jackson bears witness to the excellence of the workmanship, and expresses his opinion that the carved and decorated enrichments were executed by native and not by foreign craftsmen. He gives an illustration in his pamphlet of the sunk "Strap Work," which, though Jacobean in its date, is also found in the carved ornament of Elizabeth's time.



















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