Privacy & Inventories

Wednesday 15 September the Privacy staff gathered for a Learning Together Seminar on the use of inventories for privacy research.[1] After a short introduction on some of the particularities of historic house inventories, we tried to reconstruct the floorplan of the first floorplan of the sixteenth-century Chatsworth House.

As an architectural historian I get a big kick out of historic architectural floorplans or sections, but in many cases those do not exist, either because they were never made or because they got lost over time. Floorplans only really became widespread and in-fashion starting from the nineteenth century, with the emergence of building applications. While façade drawings might have sufficed in the early years, soon floorplans of all floors were required for the building administration.

Prior to 1800 floorplans were more the exception than the rule. For important buildings or rich commissioners, they still occasionally got made, often in combination with inventories. And sometimes inventories is all we have left. This is partly because of the way archives store documents. In the nineteenth century there was the habit of separating iconographic sources from their accompanying textual sources. Iconography usually ended up in collections like ‘maps and plans’, while the texts were stored thematically. This can make the search for accompanying material quite difficult, but it does mean that the plans are usually kept under better condition, stored separately between layers of acid-free paper.

Inventories are an indispensable source for research into historic houses that might have changed considerably or even completely disappeared over time.[2] Very often inventories were part of a last testimony and will and they are used to literally ‘inventory’ the possessions in order to decide who inherited what. For the Chatsworth case, the inventory made for Bess of Hardwick in 1601 is an excellent example. However, other occasions might also call the need for the drawing up of an inventory. When the Danish royal family moved into the first Christiansborg in 1740, several inventories were made.[3] Another reason might be a thorough restoration, which allows us now to reconstruct a ‘before and after’ situation.

The way in which inventories were made is fairly straightforward. Someone – usually a clerk – went from room to room to record everything that was present in that room. The difficulty here is that the route of the clerk is a little bit of a mystery to our 21-century reading. Staircases were often omitted (since there was no furniture to record there), so the text can jump between floors and rooms. If the clerk took a lunchbreak and started on a complete opposite end of the residence afterwards, that often leaves no trace in the written account. Figuring out what route the clerk took can thus be quite a challenge.

So what is being recorded in an inventory? Basically, all the things that could be moved or sold. We would expect furniture to be in there, and it is. But there is a lot more. The concept of ‘movable heritage’ went a little further in early modern times than it does today. Wall paneling, for example, is often part of the inventories; mantelpieces could be taken apart and rebuilt. Some of the most interesting inventories even give the amount of windows, the type of floor and so on.

The second part of the seminar the entire group looked at the 1601 inventory for the first floor of Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, UK.[4] The house was built by Bess of Hardwick in the second half of the sixteenth century, and in 1601 she drew up her will with 3 adjoining inventories: one for each of her important building projects, that is Chatsworth, the New Hardwick Hall and the Old Hardwick Hall. Both the old and new Halls at Hardwick, together with their contents, were bequeathed to Bess of Hardwick’s second son William Cavendish and his male heirs. Her eldest son, Henry Cavendish, was to inherit Chatsworth but not its contents, a reflection of their troubled relationship. The contents were bequeathed to William.[5]

Based on the inventory and additional iconographic material, we came to an interesting reconstruction of the spatial organization of Chatsworth House’s first floor.[6] Since no floor plan survives, this reconstruction should be considered more of an organogram, a schematic representation of connections and sequences. Room dimensions, windows or other architectural details can not be deduced from this preliminary reconstruction. Ideally this inventory could be combined with other source material, such as building accounts or descriptions of visits, something we will hopefully be able to do during our visit to Chatsworth in three weeks!

 

Notes:

[1] I want to thank all the Privacy colleagues for their wonderful input and new ideas on the knowledge that can be gained from inventories.

[2] Antenhofer, Christina Inventories as Material and Textual Sources for Late Medieval and Early Modern Social, Gender and Cultural History (14th-16th centuries), in: MEMO 7: Textual Thingness /Textuelle Dinghaftigkeit 2020: 22-46. doi: 10.25536/20200702

[3] Rigsarkivet, Overhofmarskallatet, F: Inventarieregnskaber. Two inventories, dated 1739 and 1741.

[4] Transcriptions of all three of the inventories were published: Levey, Satina, and Peter Thornton. Of Houshold Stuff: The 1601 Inventories of Bess of Hardwick. London: National Trust, 2001.

[5] White, Gillian. ‘“That Whyche Ys Nedefoulle and Nesesary”: The Nature and Purpose of the Original Furnishings and Decoration of Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire’. PhD thesis, University of Warwick, Centre for the Study of the Renaissance, 2005. http://wrap.warwick.ac.uk/1200/.

[6] Mark Girouard has done a similar exercise, with the difference that he based the reconstruction of rooms on the floorplans of the new Chatsworth, as they were included in the Vitruvius Britannicus. Girouard, Mark. ‘Elizabethan Chatsworth’. Country Life CLIV (1973): 1668–72.

 

Privacy and the Bed(room)

One of the exercises in studying architecture is to colour floorplans according to a gradation of public to more private, often using a green to red colour scale. This leads to varying results in contemporary building plans, with one recurring phenomenon: the bedroom is usually red. This modern idea of the bedroom and the bed as the most private part of the home was born only in the nineteenth century, as rooms became increasingly specific, with designated bedrooms for the different members of the family, gendered drawing rooms and connecting corridors.

example of the segregation of zones according to access by Gauche

The idea of the bedroom as private is thus a relatively recent development, as is the concept of the bedroom as the designated room to put the bed.[1] For the Chatsworth case, I have been reading the inventory of Chatsworth house that was drawn up for the last will and testament of Bess of Hardwick in 1601. Of the 127 rooms mentioned in the inventory, 71 featured at least one bed (but several rooms had two to three beds) and several pieces of beds, including textiles, could be found in the storehouse and other rooms. The use of the word ‘chamber’ usually implied that the room contained a bed.[2] These beds could range from a simple servant bedsted to a richly decorated four-poster bed draped with expensive textiles, as the one present in My Lady’s Bed-chamber at Chatsworth:

“A bedsted, a tester vallans and postes covered all of black wrought velvet with golde lace and golde fringe, curtins of black damask all trimmed with golde lace, a mattris a featherbed, three bolsters too quiltes four fledges, three flannels a pillowe, three fusteans about the bed foure fledges about the bed.”[3]

This bed is believed to be the oldest bed in England. It has been standing in Berkeley Castle for over 400 years (photo from mirror.co.uk).

The bed and the bedroom in the sixteenth century were thus far less private than one might suspect. For starters, personal servants were probably present at all times, to be able to serve their master’s bidding. In France the custom of the public lever and coucher was already commonplace in the sixteenth century, as noble and household servants came in the bedchamber while the king was getting (un)dressed. This public ceremony became part of the daily formal court ceremonial at the court of Louis XIV in the seventeenth century. A similar custom was adopted by the English court at the end of the seventeenth century.

The bed also played a prominent role during other courtly ceremonies, mostly involving the birth of a successor, or the death of the reigning monarch. These life-cycle events were public ceremonies, often with a rather large crowd assembling in or near the bedroom. The drawing of Henry VII’s deathbed by Thomas Wriothesley shows 14 people gathered around the bed in the privy chamber, including the king’s closest friends, courtiers and physicians.[4] Exceptional was, however, that the door to the king’s privy chamber remained firmly shut. This is how the privy chamber ‘worked its magic’,[5] and the king’s death remained a secret for two days while the council prepared for the accession of Prince Henry (future Henry VIII). Only the 14 people present at the death knew that the king had died and they were trusted to keep the secret.

Drawing of the deathbed of Henry VII by Sir Thomas Wriothesley (c) British Library

 

Notes:

[1] See here for a short history of the bed as a furniture piece.

[2] Several exceptions have been recorded: Levey, Satina, and Peter Thornton. Of Houshold Stuff: The 1601 Inventories of Bess of Hardwick. London: National Trust, 2001, p. 16.

[3] ‘The Inventorie of the furniture of household stuff which is meant and appointed by this my late will and testament to be remayne and contynewe at my house at Chatesworth according to the true entent and meaning thereof’, kept in the Chatsworth archives, published by Levey and Thornton: Levey, Satina, and Peter Thornton. Of Houshold Stuff: The 1601 Inventories of Bess of Hardwick. London: National Trust, 2001.

[4] British Library Ms 45131, f. 54: Henry VII on his deathbed, drawing by Sir Thomas Wriothesley.

[5] To use the words of Thurley, Simon.  Houses of Power. The Places that Shaped the Tudor World. London: Transworld Publishers, 2017, p. 88.

What’s in a name? Privacy and the Hermitage Hunting Lodge

As an architectural historian with a PhD on the residential system of Charles of Croÿ, one of the highest noblemen of the Low Countries, I am especially interested in how spatial privacy (in the sense of ‘being alone’) was reflected in the court culture of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In combination with a passion for the detective work in archives, sorting through sources to find that indispensable piece of evidence, I am also interested in digital humanities and how they can be used as a tool to improve our research and articulate new hypotheses.

The blue staircase leading to the dining hall on the first floor of the hunting lodge.

Two months ago I arrived at the Centre for Privacy studies to start as a postdoctoral researcher, in association with the Royal Danish Academy. As a member of the interdisciplinary Copenhagen case team, I will combine my expertise in court architecture and digital humanities to examine how privacy evolved at the court of the Danish monarchs, especially at Copenhagen castle and the first Christiansborg. Together with one of the core scholars of the Centre for Privacy studies Peter Thule Kristensen, I will examine how foreign ambassadors were received at the royal residence, and how much access these foreign visitors were granted to the royal apartment. Were there particular thresholds that could not be crossed?

One of the lanes leading to the Hermitage.

The first Christiansborg was actually completely newly built by Christian VI (r. 1730 – 1746), one of the great builders among the Danish monarchs. Unfortunately most of his architectural gems did not survive the test of time, with one notable exception: the Hermitage hunting lodge, north of Copenhagen.[1] So on a sunny day in October, I strapped on my walking boots and followed in Christian VI’s footsteps through the magnificent hunting park, filled with over 2000 deer, to the hunting pavilion on the highest point of the park. Long lanes crossing the entire park facilitated the hunt, as they allowed to spot deer from afar. Most of these lanes still exist today, and make for a beautiful walk to my destination: the Hermitage. The name alone alludes to the function of the building: for the King to be alone or ‘en ermitage’, in solitude, like a hermit.

The hunting lodge was never intended to be lived in, but was rather conceived as a setting for the lavish banquets that accompanied the royal hunts. The exterior shows a compact and symmetrical design, located at the centre of several divergent lanes. The decoration reflects its original function, with deer heads holding up the terrace on the back façade and plenty of windows oriented towards the different lanes. Being invited to hunt was a privilege ever since the sixteenth century. Only the lucky few were extended an invitation, since the hunting activities and accompanying banquets provided direct access to the monarch.[2]

A stove surrounded by little mirrors in one of the rooms of the hunting lodge.

Up until today the pavilion is property of the Danish Royal Family, and it is usually closed for visitors. I was able to join the students of the Royal Danish Academy for an exceptional visit, getting an extraordinary look inside the building. Recently restored, the vibrant colours and lush decoration give an impression of what the interior must have looked like in the eighteenth century. The lodge was built by architect Lauritz de Thurah, who also worked on the interior of the first Christiansborg castle, together with German architect Elias David Hausser and Nicolai Eigtved. The first floor of the lodge features beautifully decorated rooms, with the Queen and the King’s rooms provided with Chinese decorations and black window frames. What struck me the most were the tiny mirrors incorporated in the wall decorations of the different rooms. Our guide and Royal Academy colleague Mathias Mentze suggested that they might have been used to reflect the green landscape outside the windows, therefore really ‘pulling the greenery in’. A very interesting hypothesis, if you think that the color green was preferred for the decoration in most of the private lodges and rooms of Frederik II (r. 1559 – 1588) in the sixteenth century.[3]

The dining hall on the first floor of the hunting lodge.

The compact pavilion was built for the reception and entertainment of guests during the royal hunts. Everything was put in to place to host the most magnificent banquets: food supplies were brought directly into the base of the building, where the kitchens were located. The prepared food was put in a hoisting apparatus and transported to the second floor, to the main dining hall. This complex piece of machinery meant that the staff did not have to go up the stairs to serve the guests, the banquet appeared – almost magically – from the ground up through the apparatus, reverse deux ex machina style. An inventive piece of machinery thus insured the privacy between the monarch and his guests and the staff that stayed in the kitchen. A similar apparatus is known through drawings of the reception of Charles V and his son, the future King Philip II in the residence of Mary of Hungary in Binche. An anonymous drawing of the ground floor salette shows the famous apparatus rotating the food under the sound of thunder and flashing lightning.[4] This anonymous drawing gives a wonderful insight in the architectural language of Jacques du Broeucq, architect of the palace at Binche.

The “enchanted room” (salle enchantée) of the palace at Binche built for Mary of Hungary in 1549 (Royal Library of Belgium).

With this visit to the only remaining building commissioned by Christian VI, I hope to connect it to the architectural language of the first Christiansborg and especially the spatial characteristics of the royal apartment.

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NOTES:

[1] Grinder-Hansen, Poul. Eremitageslottet. København: Gads Forlag, 2013.

[2] Christianson, John R., ‘The Spaces and Rituals of the Royal Hunt: King Frederik II of Denmark (1559-1588)’, in Beyond Scylla and Charybdis. European Courts and Court Residences Outside Habsburg and Valois/Bourbon Territories 1500-1700. Vol. 24. Publications from the National Museum, Studies in Archaeology & History, edited by Bøggild Johannsen, Birgitte, and Konrad Ottenheym. Copenhagen: University Press of Southern Denmark, 2015, p. 159-170.

[3] Grinder-Hansen, Poul, ‘Im Grünen: The Types of Informal Space and their Use in Private, Political and Diplomatic Activities of Frederik II, King of Denmark’, in Beyond Scylla and Charybdis. European Courts and Court Residences Outside Habsburg and Valois/Bourbon Territories 1500-1700. Vol. 24. Publications from the National Museum, Studies in Archaeology & History, edited by Bøggild Johannsen, Birgitte, and Konrad Ottenheym. Copenhagen: University Press of Southern Denmark, 2015, p. 171-182.

[4] De Jonge, Krista, ’Le langage architectural de Jacques Du Broeucq: entre Rome et fontainebleau’, in: Le château de Boussu. Vol. 8. Etudes et Documents, série Monuments et Sites, edited by De Jonge, Krista, and Marcel Capouillez. Namur: Ministere de la Région wallonne, 1998, p. 161-187.