Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Guarding a Tudor Garden: Henry VIII's "Kyng's Beestes"

Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Susan reporting:

For most of us, the notion of an English garden is pleasantly idyllic, with nodding roses and sweet-smelling annuals. King Henry VIII (1491-1547), however, seems to have had an entirely different idea. Judging by the newly recreated Chapel Garden at Henry's palace at Hampton Court, His Majesty expected his gardens to be something more than places for quiet reflection and relaxation.
Opened in 2009 to honor the 500th anniversary of Henry's accession to the throne in 1509, the garden is not an exact replica of a specific historical garden, but a historically based plausibility. In other words, it could have existed, and all of the aspects of its design are accurate to the Tudor era. With bold color and geometry as well as imaginary creatures, this garden makes a brave statement about power, male aggression, and royal lineage among the Tudors.

Bordered with green and white striped enclosures, the beds are filled with plants and herbs common to 16th c. gardens. The garden is the work of well-known historical gardener Todd Longstaffe-Gowan (click here for a splendid overhead photo of the garden, complete with Henry himself in the middle, and more examples of Mr. Longstaffe-Gowan's work.)

But what most people will remember about the garden are the "Kyng's Beestes" that guard it. These fantastical carved male figures (and imaginary or not, they are all very obviously male) are drawn from Tudor heraldry, and would have been instantly recognized by members of Henry's court as representing the royal family. Even the paint colors were carefully chosen to reflect heraldic traditions, and are appropriate to the time. The Tudor Court was not one known for subtlety, particularly in design; even stone statues were often brightly painted.

The three beasts shown here are the Red Dragon of Wales, the Panther (shown as "'incensed', with flames coming from its mouth and ears, which represent its fragrant breath"), and the Golden Lion of England. Others include the White Greyhound of Richmond, the White Hart, the Black Bull of Clarence, and the Silver Yale of Beaufort. And no, I didn't know what a Silver Yale was, either –– it's a beast with "the body of an Antelope, a Lion's tale and horns which can swivel round to counter attack from all quarters."

Whether these beasts feel the need to counter attack present-day tourists to Hampton Court remains to be seen. But considering Henry's nature, I'm sure he would have loved this gaudy, bellicose anniversary "gift."

These photographs come courtesy of the blog of Patrick Baty, a master painter who specializes in historically accurate paints for projects ranging from these Tudor garden ornaments to Georgian churches and Victorian bridges. For more about this garden and photographs of the other "beestes" as well as examples of his other projects, check out Mr. Baty's blog here.

UPDATE: Even better! I just found this video on YouTube--a tour of the chapel court garden and an explanation of the beasts by Todd Longstaffe-Gowan, who designed it.


Emma J said...

Too cool! Though to me these animals look more Harry Potter than Henry VIII, LOL!

Vanessa Kelly said...

Harry Potter-ish is a good way to describe them, especially the Silver Yale!

Susan, I love Patrick Baty. He always has great stuff on his website, and lots of fascinating and useful links on Twitter.

avery said...

But is there a harvard in the hollyhocks?
Great blog, thanks.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Emma, they do look like they belong in Harry Potter illustrations! I thought they also resembled the various figures on old-fashioned merry-go-rounds, particularly with the bright paint.

Vanessa, yes, the Baty blog/website is one that all good NHGs can get lost in for, oh, far too long!

Avery, I don't believe there are any mythical beasts called Harvards. But you did make me laugh. *g*

Lady Burgley said...

Henry did love his beasts!
Thank you so much for the fabulous links.

LaDonna said...

These are too much. We don't think of the Tudors as being this garish. I like the leopard with the clown-polka-dots, however. There's something haute about him, like the Gucci leopards.

Anonymous said...

Well, they have added some new things since I was last at Hampton Court! Very whimsical...

Anonymous said...
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Unknown said...

There is also a set at Kew, copies of the plasters made for the Coronation in 1953. I can't find a picture of the set easily on the web, but here is the Wicki about them:
and one image:

Far from the only 'royal menagerie;' Augustus the Strong had near life size figures of animals and birds, 296 of each modeled by Kirchner and Kaendler, made for him by the Meisssn factory. This is a vulture, now in the V&A, London:

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

By coincidence, Mr. Baty has just posted more about various royal "beasts" and their colors:


At the bottom of the post, he links to a photographer, Sam Styles, who has imaginatively photoshopped an image to show how the stone beasts on the Moat Bridge at Hampton Court would have been painted:


Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

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Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Michael, here are two more beasts that have had a long and wandering history. What caught my eye was that they might have originally been at Nonsuch Palace, and part of our old friend Lady Castlemaine's "get richer quick sale" of that palace in 1682.


Unknown said...

Thanks, Susan. Was not aware of that fascinating discovery.

Overnight remembered that Minton produced a set of small reproductions of the 1953 group.
(For those interested in prices who don't want to go to the bother of logging on the lot did not sell.)

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Well, it would be fun to have a small collection of porcelain Beasts to arrange on the table or desk, wouldn't it? Though the price might have been a bit steep...
Thanks for sharing, Michael.

Meg @ write meg! said...

I saw the garden while it was still "under construction" when visiting London last year -- too cool! Hampton Court was such an amazing place to visit... wish I hadn't been feeling ill that day -- or that it wasn't almost 90 degrees in England. Was completely unprepared for the heat!

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