The possession of land in England had always conferred upon its possessors certain political rights and social status, that is until the coronation on Christmas Day 1066 of William the Conqueror as William 1 of England (1028 – 1087).
He declared all the land in England belonged to the King. From then on an individual only gained rights to it through the King’s grace and favour. When they had procured enough rights then, and only then would they gain freehold ownership.
King William 1 also instituted the French law of primogeniture, which meant the first born son could inherit his father’s estate.
From that time onward a great deal was achieved by making arranged marriages to acquire more land for along with it came tenants paying rents to farm it and a fighting force to help protect it.
This situation lasted, with few exceptions until the removal of the head of King Charles 1 on the 30th January 1649.
He defied Parliament who no longer recognised his ‘divine right to rule’ and so they installed a new republican movement system of governance, the Commonwealth, which lasted throughout the reign of its instigator and Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell (1599 –1653 – 1658) and his bullies as well as the completely disastrous reign of his ‘hereditary’ heir.
England effectively and collectively lost her smile for eleven years under the Commonwealth, regaining it only when Charles II (1630 – 1685) was restored to the English throne.
His coronation was held on the 29 May 1660 – his 30th birthday.
From that day forward gaining royal favour was no longer a way of obtaining land and wealth as in the past.
The route to the top lay now through achieving outstanding success in a military career, the law, in medicine, the church, or through commerce and trade with the New World.
Money could be gained by fighting or providing services to the government, King or the Queen. However, money, unsupported by power, was likely to be plundered and from the Middle Ages until the nineteenth century in England anyone who wished to have it all invested in the land.
King Charles II (1630 – 1685) was responsible for putting in place new rules for the preservation of excellence in the arts.
He so successfully revived local tradesmen’s skills, that in a remarkably short space of time they began to exceed their continental counterparts, achieving new heights of technical skill.
Together he and his noble peers would become arbiters and rulers of taste who observed universal rules of classical proportion in buildings and in the making of every conceivable article from a silver cream jug to a sedan chair.
They placed no restrictive limits upon innovation and imagination and a patron could be viewed as being as eccentric as he liked, and many were.
An attempt at a new architectural orderliness was the goal of Charles II and his restoration architects.
The so-called Carolean (Latin Carolus – Charles) style introduced Dutch and French architectural influences into England. Belton House reflects the confidence and optimism that followed the restoration.
With a prospect of its park, Belton House was built for the comfort and convenience of the Brownlow family from 1685. It closely follows the disposition of another famous house of this period, Clarendon House which was built on Picadilly in 1664 at London.
Clarendon House is seen as particularly significant to the evolution of domestic buildings in England despite the families personal demise, which led to its demolition by 1684 when the site was being re-developed, but not before it had a major impact.
Compact ‘double pile’ houses had their panelled rooms painted with marble chimneypieces and lime washed plaster ceilings decorated with garlands of fruit and flowers.
For the next 150 years architects, builders and trades people would have the whole hearted support of noble patrons, whose ambition coupled with an informed appreciation of art, design and style, would allow that the men who worked for them would gain unfettered creative expression. At this time here was no separate profession of architecture in evidence in England.
Any educated man of taste could try his hand at it. Christopher Wren, a professor of Astronomy at Oxford, an experimental scientist with a brilliant inventive imagination was one. In 1665 – 66 he paid a long visit to Paris to inspect the buildings of modern architects. Amongst the galaxy of French architectural stars he met Francois Mansart, who was working for Louis XIV and Italian genius, Bernini, who was visiting Paris.
He briefly saw their plans for the Louvre and was able to observe first hand the artists and craftsmen employed under the direction of Louis’ legendary designer Charles Le Brun.
Wren was excited by all that he saw in Paris and was nominated, along with Hugh May (1622-1684) an architect of exceptional talent, as well as Roger Pratt, who had spent over six years studying architecture in France, Italy and Flanders, to provide plans to rebuild London following the calamitous plague of 1665 and Great Fire of London in 1666.
Charles II had fought the flames himself showing great personal bravery, The heaven sent opportunity allowed Wren to present a plan to rebuild the city along classical lines.
He wanted straight broad streets radiating from piazzas, but his plan was rejected as far too radical.
It was partly as a result of this scheme however, that he was appointed Surveyor General to the Kings Works in 1669.
During the next 16 years Wren designed 52 new city churches, the most famous of which was St Paul’s.
Around 1688 some of the grandest architectural gestures of the century occur the most famous of which is the extension of the Duke of Devonshire’s Chatsworth House into a country palace, which was wholly detached in plan and style from current practice.
Set spectacularly against a timbered hillside in rural Derbyshire the springs on the moors above the house supplied ample water for the many ponds built, for its hillside cascade, numerous lakes and fanciful fountains.
Its architect William Talman (1650-1719) was a quarrelsome character who became a major figure in the last two decades of the seventeenth century.
The son of a Wiltshire gentleman we really know little about his preparation as an architect.
The third Earl, and first Duke of Devonshire however saw his many gifts and employed him from 1686 in the gradual rebuilding of his old house.
In style Chatsworth has been likened to Bernini’s design for the Louvre and the way Talman disposed its many parts skillfully concealed the old original Elizabethan house behind it.
It is a majestic statement of an original kind with a distinct change at roof level by the use of Italianate balustrades helping to exaggerate a horizontal emphasis. The west front reveals a certain style of extravagance, especially in light of its exterior windows, which were coated with real gold to reflect the setting sun.
The Duke enjoyed himself so much supervising the incredible change he enlarged his original intentions so that the works continued until just before his death in 1707.
During the first decade of the eighteenth century it was all about establishing a revolution in taste and about setting a mood for living a classical life indoors.
At this time London was a scene and setting for concerts and recitals, a parading ground for the latest fashions in dress and jewellery, a gathering place for artists and writers, a forum for intellectual debate, a showcase for paintings, sculpture and other works of art and above all a testing ground for new ideas in architecture and in interior design.
However it was also choked with traffic, horses and cattle, littered with rubbish and manure, dusty in warm weather and awash with mud when it rained. And, in the city hawkers and barrow boys screamed at the top of their lungs so that they could be heard above the general din.
To show off their fashionable style to advantage the new generation went to the Vauxhall pleasure gardens a forerunner of today’s theme parks, designed purely for enjoyment.
Johnathan Tyers signed a thirty year lease on the gardens from 1661 until 1728 and went about erecting triumphal arches, tiny temples, soaring obelisks, shell encrusted grotto rooms, places for refreshment and places for dancing.
At the St. Martin’s Lane Academy, Slaughter’s Coffee house, and at Vauxhall artists, craftsmen, writers and actors with new ideas would gather to converse intent on giving birth to a new style of freedom and tolerance.
They earnestly wanted to contribute to bringing back national confidence and creating stability and wealth for all
To a rural and agricultural society as it was land that was unproductive was considered bad land. At London in the first decade of the eighteenth century it became very important to invest in the future by developing areas of land around the city not yet under cultivation.
It also needed to be managed carefully in order to provide the vast quantities of money needed to develop settings to suit the new ideals and status of the gentry. We could say that the new rulers of taste thought of themselves as ‘payers of the piper’ and consequently believed they should ‘call the tune’.
Taste is not really a very satisfactory word, but in many ways it expresses an immutable quality of discernment, criticism and perception and an always active sensitivity to prevailing fashions, moral or otherwise.
The existence of individuals who believe they are endowed with the power of discernment is not peculiar to the eighteenth century.
What is peculiar is a seemingly apparent general agreement upon what constituted correct taste at that time and an attempt to substitute the certainty of the correct for the more doubtful, the true or the good.
The site for Spencer House, like its many contemporaries was chosen because at the time it was said the land where it was built was no better location in London for health, convenience or beauty.
It adjoined and overlooked what is now known as Green park, which had the benefit of good clean air, a rare commodity in mid Georgian London.
British peer and politician John Spencer, 1st Earl Spencer (1734-1783) suffered all his life from bouts of ill health and for him this would have been his most important consideration in choosing St James’s Place, which was closed at one end with no through traffic allowed.
That meant that those building in this quiet haven at the edge of a bustling metropolis would be spared the noise and pollution, which characterised the busier thoroughfares of the city.
Spencer House was completed in 1766 and is today the only intact surviving palace of the eighteenth century at London.
John Spencer, the 1st Earl Spencer, his peers and the majority of people found that as the Georgian era approached, arrived and progressed that a far more rational way of confronting the problems of the new century perhaps lay in at first endeavouring to comprehend them.
Debate and discussion at all levels of society would become an important activity and the eighteenth century would become the era of the uncommon man.
When Britain first, at Heaven’s command
Arose from out the azure main;
This was the charter of the land,
And guardian angels sang this strain:
“Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
“Britons never will be slaves.”
The ‘Masque of Alfred’ performed first midway during the eighteenth century for Frederick Prince of Wales at Cliveden House gave birth to a song, Rule Britannia, which reflected that its protagonists by now in the main were seemingly on the right track.
Written by Dr. Thomas Arne (1710-78) in 1740, and heard first in London in 1745, Rule Britannia became an instant hit developing an independent life of its own. Its rousing pace and vitality reflected the prevailing mood of the country had changed a great deal since the restoration of the monarchy.
Its people now took pride in their past, enjoyed a stout belief in the present and looked forward with faith and hope to a whole new future where grace and favour would still persist, albeit in other guises.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2011, 2012 – 2015
*Gk Philosopher Plato (427BC-347 BC)