Vetusta Monumenta: Ancient Monuments, a Digital Edition

Plates 2.23-2.24: Richmond and Nonsuch Palaces

Plates: In 1765 the Society of Antiquaries of London published Plates 2.23 and 2.24 as a set, accompanied by a detailed “Account of the Old Palace of Richmond, in Surrey” that had been commissioned by Parliament in 1649, along with a new half-page introduction. Plate 2.23 is based on a drawing of Richmond Court by Dutch artist Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-1677) from 1636-38, owned by the Earl of Cardigan and now in the British Museum. Plate 2.24 is based on an oil painting that was in the hands of Lord Viscount Fitzwilliam (1711-1776), now in the Fitzwilliam Museum. Together, these plates were offered as two views of the same palace—but in fact Plate 2.24 shows Nonsuch Palace, not Richmond. The painting on which it is based was misidentified. James Basire (1730-1802) engraved both plates. These were Basire’s fourth and fifth engravings for Vetusta Monumenta. On 21 November 1765, Basire brought to the Society his two proof prints which had been “engraved by Order of the Council”; these were approved at that meeting, and Basire “was directed to finish them with all possible Expedition” (SAL Minutes X.62). On 12 December he presented finished proofs of the two engravings (X.71), and copies were delivered to members along with the letterpress “Account” on 1 May (X.143).

Objects: Richmond Court is no longer extant except for a gate house. Evidence of its former existence survives in local street names including Old Palace Lane, Old Palace Yard, The Wardrobe, King Street, Old Palace Place, and Friars Lane (named for a Priory built by Henry VII adjacent to the palace).

Nonsuch Palace is no longer extant but, according to the Fitzwilliam Museum’s website, the outlines of its foundations are visible from the air. It was partially excavated in 1959. A portion of the hunting grounds so prominently represented in Plate 2.24 survive in Nonsuch Park, a large public park located at the boundary between Surrey and the London Borough of Sutton. After it was pulled down in 1682-83, its materials were sold off and reused, both by George Berkeley, 1st Earl of Berkeley, who rebuilt his family house known as “Durdans” (near Epsom) with materials from the Palace, and by local townspeople. In his 1711 description of the town of Epsom, John Toland wrote: “Even the houses of the very townsmen are every where mighty neat, built most of ’em after the newest manner, and extremely convenient, being purposely contrived for the entertainment of strangers, and therefore beautified by the owners to the utmost of their ability, to which the ruins of Nonsuch Palace have contributed not a little’” (Dent 1962, 227).


Plate 2.23: A View of RICHMOND PALACE fronting the River Thames, as built by King Henry / From an antient Drawing in the Possession of the Earl of Cardigan.

Publish’d according to Act of Parliament, Dec 30, 1765. Sumptibus Societatis Antiquariorum Londini MDCCLXV. J. Basire Sculp.

Plate 2.24: A View of RICHMOND PALACE fronting the Green, as built by King Henry / From an Original Painting in the Possession of Lord Visct. Fitzwilliam at Richmond.

Publish’d according to Act of Parliament, Dec 30, 1765. Sumptibus Societatis Antiquariorum Londini MDCCLXV. J. Basire Sculp.

Original Explanatory Account: Click here to read the original explanatory account for Plates 2.23-2.24.

Commentary by Elizabeth J. Hornbeck: Plates 2.23 and 2.24 were issued as a plate set along with the four-page “Account of the Old Palace of Richmond, in Surrey.” Both plates were labelled as Richmond Palace, but Plate 2.24 was misidentified. In fact, it depicts Nonsuch Palace, which was destroyed in 1682-83, and is based on a painting today in the collection of the Fitzwilliam Museum.

Plate 2.23: Richmond Court

Richmond Court, in Surrey, was built by Henry VII to replace Sheen Palace, which had burned down in 1497, and was already the second royal house on the site (Thurley 1993, 27). In 1500 Henry renamed the town of Sheen (Shene) to Richmond after his earldom of Richmond, in North Yorkshire, and in 1501 began building the new palace that would bear the name Richmond Court. The town of Richmond, roughly eight miles southwest of Charing Cross, is today part of the Richmond borough of London. Both Henry VII and his granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth, died in this palace, and it is said to have been Elizabeth’s favorite residence (“Account” 1765, 1). As depicted in Plate 2.23, Richmond Court skirted the Thames, like many other Tudor palaces. It was tucked into a meander, so that the river runs from the southeast (upstream) to the northwest (downstream) past the palace; London lies downstream to the northeast. Thus, Richmond Court was on the opposite bank from Whitehall, Hampton Court, and the Palace of Placentia. Richmond Court continued to be a royal residence until the death of Charles I, after which the land and building materials were sold off by the Commonwealth.

Plate 2.23 shows the western elevation of Richmond Court with the Thames in the foreground from edge to edge. The inclusion of the Thames was quite a common convention in palace images including Hampton Court (Plate 2.27), the Palace of Placentia (Plate 2.25), and the Savoy (Plate 2.5), which Henry VII had built to replace a 13th-century palace. In addition to these Vetusta Monumenta plates, the earlier drawings and engravings of all these sites also included the Thames as the main point of orientation. The Thames was the most convenient avenue of transportation between the palaces (as well as Whitehall Palace, the Tower of London, and other such properties), and thus the façades fronting the Thames were grander and more formal than other approaches to these buildings.

Plate 2.23 focuses on the main palace building with its proliferation of towers, chimneys, and narrow vertical lights punctuating crenellated walls. The structure varies from three to four stories in height. To the left (northwest) of the palace is one end of a long low wall with trees rising above it and, in the distance, a group of low buildings including the kitchen surmounted by a prominent pyramidal roof. To the right (southeast) side of the complex is one end of a higher crenellated wall. As the text given on Plate 2.23 indicates, the engraving is based on “an antient drawing in the Hands of the Earl of Cardigan.” This refers to a drawing in pen and wash on paper by Dutch artist Wenceslaus Hollar from 1636-38, now in the British Museum; the Metropolitan Museum of Art also has an etching by Hollar based on his own drawing. Both Plate 2.23 and the Hollar drawing focus on the main palace block as seen from the opposite bank of the Thames. The upper half of the print is a sky filled with fluffy clouds, and a flock of birds flying in the distance on the right. In the foreground, the river is populated by three swans and a boat being rowed by four oarsmen with a fifth man standing at the helm. These picturesque and fanciful details not only provide a sense of scale for the palace, but they also serve as practically the only signs of life in an otherwise static image.

Survey of the Scite of Sheene 1649, and An Account of the Old Palace of Richmond, in Surrey (1765)

In preparation for selling Richmond Court, Parliament in 1649 had commissioned a detailed description of the palace, grounds, and outbuildings, recording the size and arrangement of its many structures. In November 1765 the minutes of the Society of Antiquaries of London (SAL) mention for the first time the 1649 manuscript found in the Augmentation Office and titled Survey of the Scite of Sheene 1649, “taken for the use of the Commissioners appointed by Parliament for Sale of the late King [Charles I]’s Houses” (SAL Minutes, X.49). In December 1765 the President of the SAL, Charles Lyttelton (1714-1768), read to the Society the 1649 document, “a long Account, extracted from Authentic Records, touching the said Palace” (X.71). The Society decided to include the 1649 text in the form of a commentary, preceded by a half-page introduction, to accompany the two plates. The resulting four-page letterpress “Account” has a detailed description of the palace, grounds, and outbuildings, including the size and arrangement of its many structures.

By all written accounts, Richmond Court was enormous and extremely impressive, qualities which are captured in the various extant images. The formal buildings in the complex were built from free stone covered with lead, while the more utilitarian structures were made from brick and wood. Thurley writes that Henry kept the earlier Lancastrian donjon, which had survived the fire of 1497, at the heart of the new palace (1993, 28). According to Thurley, “this adherence to a design conceived over two decades earlier shows that Richmond was one of the last royal domestic buildings to be built on a medieval pattern” (31-32).

The grandest part of the palace, and the central focus of Plate 2.23, is the structure known as the Privy Lodgings. This building was three or four stories high with twelve rooms on every story, all arranged around the Innermost Court so that rooms facing the court as well as rooms facing outwards were all well-lit by windows. The account published alongside the prints tells us there were “fourteen Turrets all covered with lead, standing a convenient heighth above the said Leads; which Turrets very much adorn and set forth the Fabrick of the whole Structure, and are a very graceful ornament unto the whole House, being perspicuous to the Country round about” (“Account” 1765, 2). These turrets or towers are visible in Plate 2.23, each surmounted by an octagonal roof with a spire or vane. In addition, there are countless chimney pipes in singles, pairs, and threes, adding to the proliferation of vertical elements that characterizes this view of the palace. The three-story Chapel Building, to the left of the Privy Lodgings in 2.23, has buttresses separating tall narrow windows that give the impression of fewer stories. The top story of the Chapel is ninety-six feet long and thirty feet wide.

The text describes a number of buildings in the complex that are not visible in the plates, including a round Canted Tower four stories high, covered with lead and battlements, that is “a chief Ornament unto the whole Fabrick of Richmond Court” (“Account” 1765, 2). The remaining formal rooms, built from stone, were two stories tall; they include a Great Hall, a Court-house, the Queen’s Closet, the Prince’s Closet, and a Hall twenty-seven yards long, connecting the Chapel Building to other parts of the palace, as well as the Middle-gate, the Lord Chamberlain’s Lodgings, the Wardrobe, and other Offices.

More utilitarian structures were built from brick or, in some cases, a combination of brick and wood. These buildings included the Privy Kitchen, Livery Kitchen, Flesh Larder, Pastry, Fish Larder, Poultry House, Scalding House, Plummery, Armory, Bake-house, and the Keeper’s House. The Livery Kitchen, according to the 1649 report, “hath in the middle a large spyred Turret leaded all over, which renders it a special ornament unto the rest of the Buildings” (“Account” 1765, 3). This “large spyred Turret” has, in Plate 2.23, the appearance of a tall steep pyramid straddling a gabled roof, quite an unusual design. There were two small courts associated with these utilitarian buildings.

The formal parts of the palace were arranged around generous courtyards. One of these courts, measuring sixty-six yards by sixty yards, was surrounded by the Wardrobe and other Offices in three ranges of buildings. It had “one fayr payr of strong Gates, leaded, arched, and battled with Stone over-head, leading into the said Court from the Green lying before Richmond House” (“Account” 1765, 2). Then there was a second “fayr payr of Gates leading from the said Richmond Green into the Royal Cellar-court, adorned with divers Pinnacles covered with lead” (2). One of these gates survives today (see below). The Royal Cellar-court, measuring sixty-seven feet by sixty-six feet, was surrounded by the Great Hall Building, the Passage Building, the Building adjoining the West Side of the Chapel Building, and the Middle-Gate Building; it was paved with free stone and contained one very large fountain of lead.

The palace was supported in part by the produce of the Privy Garden (surrounded by a brick wall twelve feet high), the Privy Orchard, and the Great Orchard. The Great Orchard was 200 yards long. The text also mentions a tennis court, built to accommodate a new sport that was wildly popular with the Tudor elite. A Water-gate is mentioned twice, but is not shown in the plate. One would expect to see it in Plate 2.23 because in theory a Water-gate would connect the palace to the Thames by boat.

Richmond Court also had an effective system of plumbing, described in detail in the “Account.” This system was almost surely added later than the original building fabric. By 1649, water was supplied by three nearby conduits, “one of them coming from the Conduit in New-park in Surrey, called the White-Conduit; one other coming from a Conduit in Richmond Town Fields, called the Red Conduit; and the other coming from a Conduit or Spring, near the Alms-houses in Richmond, close upon the River of Thames” (3-4). The palace had two lead cisterns located behind the Privy Kitchen, while the privy garden had its own cistern. Water pipes were used to convey water from the cisterns “into all the principal Rooms of Richmond Court” (4).

In addition to the palace, the “Account” also describes these features not shown in the engraving: Richmond Green, Kew Green, a Friary, Richmond Little Park, a Lodge, and a passage of water called Richmond Ferry. The “Account” explains that in 1622 King James had granted the Ferry to private persons for a period of 40 years (“Account” 1765, 4). Presumably, this was a ferry service for crossing the Thames, but exactly where the ferry was located—close to Richmond Court or beyond Richmond Green on another section of the Thames—is ambiguous. But the Ferry was an important point of reference, as we will see in the discussion of Nonsuch below.

According to the 1649 text, Richmond Court was “bounded with Richmond Green upon the North, with a Lane leading from the said Green to the Thames on the West, with the said River upon the South West, with a Parcel of Land, called the Fryery, upon the South, and with a Way or Lane leading from Richmond Green, into the said Fryers, upon the East, and conteyns upon Admeasurement, ten Acres, one Rood, and ten Perch” (“Account” 1765, 4). Regarding the Friary, which was adjacent to Richmond Court, a footnote states: “No doubt, this was part of the Priory, or House of Observant Fryars, founded here by K. Henry the VIIth, and not demolished at the Dissolution. See Tanner’s Notitia Monast.” (3, note d).

The demise of the palace was preceded by a long period of disuse; according to Thurley, “the fundamental conservatism of its design explains why within thirty years Richmond had been relegated to a third-division royal residence rarely visited by the Court” (32).

Extant Palace Structure

One part of Richmond Court survives today; it is known as the Richmond Palace Gate House, and is located northwest of the modern-day Richmond Green. It includes a generously sized house, probably the original Wardrobe mentioned in the 1649 text. This is a two-story structure, including rooms above the gate through which the road passes. Satellite imagery shows that this gate straddles the road known as The Wardrobe, approximately halfway between The Green and Old Palace Yard. The Gate House is symmetrical when seen from the north. It has two large rounded towers protruding on either end of this façade, and a smaller rounded tower in the center. The roof line above all three towers is crenellated, a widespread feature of the palace as seen in Plate 2.23.

Extant Images of Richmond Court

As mentioned above, Plate 2.23 is based on a drawing in pen and wash on paper by Dutch artist Wenceslaus Hollar from 1636-38, now in the British Museum; the Metropolitan Museum of Art has an etching by Hollar based on this drawing. Hollar shows the Thames (southwest) side of the palace, as well as part of the northwest side. The river is shown in the foreground; in the drawing (Basire’s primary source image), we also see three people standing on the river’s edge closest to the viewer.

The earliest extant images of Richmond Court, though, include three made by Anton van den Wyngaerde (1525-1571), now in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford: a site sketch and a finished studio drawing (both shown in Thurley 1993, 29), and a 1562 drawing (labelled “Richmont”). In this last drawing, Wyngaerde includes the environs of Richmond in a vast panorama view. Along the horizon several landmarks are visible—including at the right (northeast), the spire of St. Paul’s Cathedral (labelled “S. Paolo”) and at the left (north), Sion (the site of the Earl of Northumberland’s house, now called Syon House). The Thames lies in the foreground, but we can also see the Thames a second time as it meanders behind Richmond Court to divide Richmond from Sion.

There are considerable differences between Wyngaerde’s drawing and Hollar’s view seen in Basire’s engraving (Plate 2.23). For one thing, Wyngaerde’s perspective is somewhat higher so that we see into the gardens and orchards on either side of the palace; for Hollar (and thus Basire) these are hidden behind walls. Wyngaerde shows those enclosed spaces in their entireties. He also shows the Friary mentioned in the 1649 text. Hollar’s point of view permits him to show some buildings on the northwest side of the palace, including what appears to be the northwest wall of the chapel, which is not visible in Wyngaerde’s images. However, the basic convention of placing the Thames in the foreground, running from edge to edge, and with human activity on the river and the foreground, is present in both.

Richmond Court is also depicted in an inset illustration found on a map of Surrey, in The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain by John Speed, first published in 1606. Richmond is shown in the upper left corner of the left page, while a pendant image of Nonsuch Palace (built by Henry VIII) is shown in the upper right corner of the right page. Both palaces were held up as wonders by sixteenth and seventeenth-century authors including William Camden (1551-1623), who included an encomium on Richmond (and its predecessor, Shene) in his Latin verses on the marriage of the Thames and the Isis (Camden 1789, 169). Nonsuch, Camden adds, rivaled “the monuments of ancient Rome itself,” and he quotes John Leland’s (c. 1503-1552) assertion that Nonsuch was “unrivall’d in design” and thus got its name (169-70). This shared historiography to some extent explains the mistake made by the SAL in identifying Plate 2.24 as another image of Richmond Court.

Richmond Court is also seen in a seventeenth-century oil painting now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, entitled The Thames at Richmond, with the Old Royal Palace. The unknown artist belongs to the Flemish School. The large canvas (152.1 cm. x 304.2 cm.) is composed with the river running diagonally from the lower right corner to the center of the left edge, and shows Richmond in the middle ground, on the opposite side of the river, with Richmond Court in the distance. In the foreground we see a large number of people of a range of classes, walking or standing along the road next to the river, and a large number of boats on the river. The palace itself, though quite small, is shown in great detail with its numerous towers and the exterior of the garden wall that encloses a rather large outdoor space. The Fitzwilliam Museum describes this painting as a companion piece to the painting of Nonsuch Palace on which Plate 2.24 is based.

Another extant oil painting of Richmond Court is in the collection of the SAL, painted by an unknown seventeenth-century hand, a detail of which is reproduced in Thurley (1993, 32). Like the Wyngaerde drawings, it is painted from the opposite bank with the Thames in the foreground. It highlights the contrast between the stone towers of the donjon and the red brick chimneys that proliferate.

Plate 2.24: Nonsuch Palace

Plate 2.24 is misidentified; it is not Richmond Court at all, but instead shows Nonsuch Palace, another lost Tudor palace in Surrey. The caption on the plate explains that it is based on an original painting, 9 feet 10 inches by 4 feet 11 inches, made by “a Scholar of Rubens,” in the collection of Lord Viscount Fitzwilliam. That painting is now held in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. According to the online catalogue entry, “Henry VIII built Nonsuch to celebrate his thirty years as King, and the birth of his long-awaited son Edward. It was intended to be his grandest, most lavish palace, without equal (hence the name ‘None such’), built to match the French king’s Chateau de Chambord...It was designed to be a celebration of the power and the grandeur of the Tudor dynasty” (“Nonsuch Palace” 2020).

Henry VIII built Nonsuch Palace beginning in 1538 on a site where there had previously been no royal residence. In contrast to most other Tudor royal palaces, Nonsuch was not located on the Thames, but in the countryside near the medieval town of Ewell. As John Dent has explained in great detail, in order to build the new palace, the village of Cuddington at this site was “wiped off the map, and fields which had been tilled for centuries were turned into deer parks. Ancient highways were closed because they passed too near the site of the Palace, and the new roads which had to be made are still used today” (Dent 1962, 15). Archaeological excavations in 1959 and 1960 revealed that the inner court of Henry’s new palace was built over the foundations of a fairly sizeable eleventh-century church and its graveyard. The footings of the west wall of the church tower were merged into a palace wall (30).

The Augustinian Merton Priory was suppressed only a week before the building of the Palace began, and much of its building material was reused at Nonsuch, approximately four miles away (Dent 1962, 28). Historical records indicate that, in the summer of 1538, 3,600 tons of stone were carted from Merton to Nonsuch. Carved pieces of stone that were not suitable for use above ground were instead put into the foundations where they were mixed with chalk quarried by the chalk-diggers (42).

Widely regarded as the culminating creation of Henry’s reign, Nonsuch introduced Italian and French Renaissance decorative styles to England. Goodall recounts the numerous craftsmen from the continent whom Henry brought to work on Nonsuch: Nicholas Bellin of Modena, who had worked at Fontainebleau; Nicholas Cure; Giles Gering; Robert Lambert; and most of the junior workmen on the project (Goodall 2011, 423). They implemented “a new idiom of classical ornament termed cartouche work” in emulation of the Gallerie François Ier at Fontainebleau (423). But despite the superficial ornament, Goodall argues, the architectural design of the palace was extremely conservative, “looking back to the types of courtyard design developed in castle and collegiate architecture more than a century previously” (423). He concludes that “Nonsuch was no more than a classic two-court English house under a wealth of cosmetic decoration” (423).

Nonsuch was unfinished at the time of Henry’s death, and was completed by Henry FitzAlan, 12th Earl of Arundel (1512-1580), who purchased the building from Queen Mary in 1556. According to Thea Vignau-Wilberg, “In 1591, Queen Elizabeth I acquired the palace, which she had always loved,” which should come as no surprise given that the best-known representation of Nonsuch shows the arrival of Elizabeth and her retinue at the famed palace as early as 1568 (2017, 258). Nonsuch gradually fell into disrepair after Elizabeth’s death.

Unlike Richmond Court, Nonsuch survived the Commonwealth, when Parliament confiscated it and gave it to General Thomas Pride. In 1660 Nonsuch was restored to Henrietta Maria, the widow of Charles I. After she died in 1669, Charles II gave Nonsuch to his mistress, Barbara Villiers, who apparently never lived there or even visited (Dent 1962, 209). She had it pulled down in 1682-83 and sold off the building materials to pay her gambling debts. According to Dent, Lord Berkeley held his Keepership of Nonsuch from the Crown; Villiers, “to get rid of [Berkeley] once and for all as Keeper, … decided to destroy the things over which he exercised Keepership—her palace and her park” (210). On the other hand, William Gilpin believed that Villiers had the Palace torn down out of fear that Charles II might take back the property (215). Regardless of Villiers’s motives, Berkeley arranged to buy the building materials for use in rebuilding his family home, Durdans, near Epsom (Dent 1962, 227; cf. Camden 1789, 1.178).

Dent tells us that the last person to describe the ruins of the Palace was Richard Pococke in 1754, and that in 1798 William Gilpin was “the last writer for a hundred years to give an accurate description of the position of the Palace” (Dent 1962, 230). By that time there were no remaining vestiges of the palace. Less than a century after its destruction, Nonsuch had disappeared completely.

Extant Images of Nonsuch Palace

There are four extant views of Nonsuch. The earliest is a 1568 watercolor drawing by Joris Hoefnagel, The Progress of Queen Elizabeth I to Nonsuch Palace. It depicts the royal retinue in the foreground and the southern elevation of the palace in the distance. The remarkable southern elevation is organized around a symmetrical five-part design typical of French Renaissance architecture, with two grand corner towers, a protruding central section, and two wide two-story sections uniting them all. The southern elevation is overwhelmingly horizontal, much wider than it is high except for the corner towers. A clock tower rises up behind this wing, which appears to be located on the opposite side of an inner court. Joris Hoefnagel (1573-c. 1632) produced an engraving in 1582 based on his own watercolor.

The second extant view is included on John Speed’s 1606 map, with an inset image of Nonsuch Palace in the upper right corner of the right page (pendant to the image of Richmond on the opposite page, as mentioned earlier). Speed's image shows the palace’s southern elevation but it appears quite different from Hoefnagel’s view. It is still a five-part design, but in Speed’s image the distance between the two corner towers is much less than in Hoefnagel’s. Speed emphasizes vertical elements of the palace much more, so that his corner towers appear taller and narrower than Hoefnagel’s fatter and squatter towers. Speed also takes a more elevated point of view in order to show more of the opposite side of the court behind this southern wing. The same clock tower barely visible in Hoefnagel appears massive in Speed, and we can even see the top of a gate leading away from the court.

The painting in the collection of Viscount Fitzwilliam is the third extant view of Nonsuch, though identified incorrectly in his lifetime as Richmond Court. While Hoefnagel and Speed depict the southern façade, Fitzwilliam’s painting is the only view of the eastern side of the palace; the northern façade is also visible. The Fitzwilliam Museum dates the painting to the early seventeenth century. The northern end of the palace is architecturally quite different from the southern facade. The northern facade has a symmetrical tripartite design with a massive central gate house that towers over the two wings on either side. This façade as well as the ranges of buildings behind it are prominently crenellated in the traditional manner of Tudor architecture. Though the western corner tower of the southern façade is visible in this painting, there is little other evidence of the influence of the French Renaissance style that Henry VIII had incorporated in the southern wing.

Dent reports that the same painting was identified as Theobalds House, in Hertfordshire, in C.J. Richardson’s Architectural Remains of Elizabeth and James I (1838), and was reproduced in Richmond and its Inhabitants (1866) as “The Monastery in Richmond Gardens, erected by Henry V.” Finally, Dent tells us, “Sir Alfred Clapham, writing in 1913 or 1914, in Some Famous Buildings and their Story, claimed to be the first to recognize it as a view of Nonsuch” (Dent 1962, 70 and 303n70).

A fourth view of Nonsuch Palace is the painting attributed to Hendrick Danckerts and dated c. 1666-1679 called Nonsuch Palace from the North East. In 1959, according to Dent, “a visitor to Berkeley Castle noticed a similar painting [to the Fitzwilliam painting] wrongly titled,” which Dent was able to identify as Nonsuch. Today this painting is on permanent display at Epsom Town Hall in Surrey due to the efforts of Dent, who in the late 1950s began to acquire copies of every book, manuscript and picture he could find related to Nonsuch, collecting them for the Epsom and Ewell Library (Dent 1962, 16). While Viscount Fitzwilliam’s painting shows the palace from the northwest, the Danckerts painting shows it from the northeast; the eastern corner tower of the southern façade is visible in the distance, but no more of the southern façade. The palace’s walls, crenellated in the Tudor Palace Style, are prominently displayed. Dent points out that in this painting, “signs of neglect are visible: the coping of the garden wall is damaged, near the coachman’s head and after turning the corner, and the pinnacle on top of the hidden south-west tower is bent” (70). Yet another extant painting is possibly copied from the Danckerts painting, as it shows the same viewpoint as well as the same sunlight and shadow” (71).

Nonsuch Palace and the Society of Antiquaries

Like the Fitzwilliam painting, Basire’s Plate 2.24 treats the palace as a minor feature with an active hunting scene in the foreground. Scattered throughout the park, from the foreground to the distant middle ground, are four hunters on horseback; at least four standing men and one running man; five dogs; and, centered in the foreground, a running stag that is the focus of the chase. The figures are dressed in the style of about 1620 (Dent 1962, 70). At the left edge of the print is what appears to be a high wooden gate at the north end of a formal walkway lined with elm trees and defined by low wooden fences on either side. This walk leads through the park to the Bowling Green, where a game is in progress, and thence to the Outward Court Gatehouse, forming an axis from the left to the center of the composition where the palace provides an architectural point of interest. Dent describes this view as “painted from a position on the edge of the present London Road, on the Ewell side of the Park gate.” Four coaches can be seen in the meadow just beyond the Bowling Green.

There is little doubt that Plates 2.23 and 2.24 do not represent the same palace, as there are no common features between them. Notably, Plate 2.24 lacks the massive pyramidal roof atop the kitchen and the proliferation of narrow towers and other vertical elements seen in Plate 2.23. Two questions demand answers: 1) why didn’t the antiquaries in 1765 notice that Plate 2.24 was not Richmond Court but Nonsuch? and 2) why didn’t the SAL deliberately produce an engraving of Nonsuch—specifically its distinctive south elevation—given its architectural and historical importance?

As to the first question, both Richmond Court and Nonsuch Palace had long vanished with hardly a trace, so the antiquaries were working with visual and textual representations only. Lord Fitzwilliam mistakenly believed his painting to represent Richmond Court, and his misconception was accepted without question. In a letter to the SAL, Fitzwilliam attempted to explain the discrepancies between his painting and Plate 2.23. He argued that

the Front of the Palace to the Green, is exactly represented in the Print [Plate 2.23], and resembles the painting he has of it; but … the other View differs from it; his Picture being taken in a diagonal Prospect from the Ferry; and the Society’s Print from a diagonal View from Moses Hart’s Terrace at Isleworth (SAL Minutes X.71).

Fitzwilliam refers to the ferry that is, presumably, the one mentioned in the 1649 text describing Richmond Court. He certainly had to make a convoluted argument for what would have been practically the only vantage point on Richmond Court that would not include the Thames, as the river wrapped around the town of Richmond to its south, west, and north. Accepting Fitzwilliam's unlikely argument, the SAL thanked the Viscount for allowing his painting to be engraved. It would be another 150 years before it would be correctly identified as Nonsuch.

Fitzwilliam’s error had, no doubt, been passed down to him from his predecessors, and like him, the antiquaries were also in the dark as to the building’s actual appearance from the north. The only two correctly identified depictions of Nonsuch, by Hoefnagel and Speed, both showed the southern elevation. As we can see in the case of Richmond Court, artists had most often focused on only one view of each royal palace that was deemed worthy of representation, typically the view from the Thames. Nonsuch is quite unusual in that views of all four elevations survive (Fitzwilliam’s showing north and east, and Danckerts’ showing north and west), most likely because it was not situated on the banks of the Thames and therefore lacked the standard point of reference. The southern elevation is stylistically so different from the rest of the palace that it would have been impossible to infer from Hoefnagel’s drawing what the rest of Nonsuch would have looked like.

The second question—why didn’t the SAL deliberately produce an engraving of Nonsuch given their apparent goal of creating a complete series of Tudor palaces—can be answered by way of the SAL and Council minutes. Well before Basire engraved these two plates, the SAL had evinced a high level of interest in Nonsuch. In November 1758 a member of the SAL, one Dr. James Parsons (1705-1770), had introduced Nonsuch in connection with a biography of Henry Fitzallan Earl of Arundale, who had been granted the unfinished estate by Queen Mary, and who subsequently completed the building (unfinished at Henry VIII’s death). This biographical manuscript, which Parsons believed was written during the latter part of Elizabeth’s reign, lavished praise on both Fitzallan and Nonsuch. Parsons quoted from the manuscript at another meeting in January 1761: “[Nonsuch] is now evident to be beholden of all Strangers and others, for the honour of this Realm, and a Pearle thereof” (SAL Minutes VIII.272). Parsons, a physician and scientist as well as an antiquarian and writer, took an interest in Nonsuch for nationalistic as well as antiquarian reasons, seeing it as a great source of pride for Britain.

Parsons introduced his proposal concerning Nonsuch in 1758 by presenting a print of its southern elevation engraved in 1582. The print was based on the watercolor drawing made by Hoefnagel in 1568. Parsons also mentioned Speed’s image of Nonsuch published 32 years later, and argued that Hoefnagel’s drawing would have been more reliable, having been made when the palace was still standing (SAL Minutes VIII.86). The minutes summarize Parsons’s hyperbolic argument at length:

The Sumptuousness and Magnificence of this Structure, which had not its equal here; the Number and Excellence of those elaborate Productions of eminent Artists employed in ornamenting it, which drew the admiration of all Men, and in which it rivalled even Rome itself; and its present annihilated State, which has not left a Vestige or wreck behind of its pristine Glory or Existence; and the little that has been hitherto said, either by our Antiquaries or Historians, on this Object of national Splendor and Glory, which might have employed the utmost force of Genius in its Description; have induced our worthy Member to attempt to rescue it from ideal Oblivion at least, towards which it was advancing, by bringing together such Anecdotes as he could collect, towards its History, and laying the same, together with the said Print, before the Society, in order to engage them to give it a Place among their Works, and thereby transmit the faint Image and Resemblance of it yet left us, to latest Posterity. (X.86)

This effusive passage suggests considerable support for Parsons’s motion to commission an engraving of Nonsuch based on Hoefnagel’s print, and the SAL Council Minutes confirm that such a decision was taken, but the engraving was never completed.

On 28 May 1767, the Council of the SAL resolved “to take into Consideration…the Engraving of Nonsuch Palace, in order to compleat the Series of Royal Palaces, if a good, or sufficient Copy can be made out, or obtained for the purpose” (SAL Council Minutes I.124). On 4 June, however, the Council “Postponed the engraving Nonsuch Palace, til a more accurate & perfect Copy, than that published by Hoefnagle or Speed, can be procured” (I.128). At the same meeting, Basire was directed instead to engrave a drawing of the painted window in St. Margaret’s Church, Westminster (Plate 2.26); and the Council ordered the publication and sale of Basire’s print of Placentia Palace (Plate 2.25) that had recently been completed.

A year and a half later, at the 17 November 1768 meeting, the Council hired a new engraver, James Pye, to replace Basire (temporarily as it turned out). Pye was “directed to make an Engraving of Nonsuch Palace from Housnagle’s Print thereof, Anno 1582" (SAL Council Minutes I.153). This was apparently the print presented by Parsons in 1758, which in 1767 Basire had deemed unsuitable for engraving. At this meeting another significant document came to light: “The President at the same time informing the Council, That he had a Copy of the Parliamentary Survey of the said Palace; It was proposed, & agreed, to accompany the Engraving with a Letter-Press Account of the said Survey” (I.153). The date of said Parliamentary Survey is not given, but it may have been contemporary with the Survey of the Scite of Sheene 1649. Although the Nonsuch Survey does not survive, it can reasonably be inferred that it would have served the same function that the Survey of the Scite of Sheene 1649 served for the Society’s Richmond Court plate set.

Sadly, the events of 1767 repeated themselves; less than two weeks later “The Council resumed the Consideration of engraving Nonsuch Palace from Housnagle’s Print thereof; & finding from a Sketch made by Order of a small Part of the said Building upon a larger Scale, that the Figures & other Ornaments appeared not only uncouth, but impossible to be ascertained; the Design of engraving it was wholly laid aside” (SAL Council Minutes I.158). Apparently, both Basire and Pye found the Hoefnagel drawing and print unsuitable for engraving, resulting in the omission of Nonsuch from the Series of Royal Palaces.

Tudor Palace Style

Richmond Court and Nonsuch are two of several Tudor palaces included in Vetusta Monumenta (Plates 2.5, 2.25, 2.27), and as such they demonstrate the SAL’s preservation interest in that period. Both exemplify the Tudor Palace Style and the changes it underwent in the short span of time that included the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII. Nonsuch Palace, with contrasting northern and southern approaches, demonstrates changes visible within a single building complex.

The Tudor Palace Style is found in Tudor royal residences up to mid-Elizabethan times. Derived from the fortified residences of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the early Tudor style had militaristic features but these were more decorative than functional. Battlements and towers provided a “chivalresque palace” suitable for jousts, banquets, masques, festivals, and other entertainments common in what Summerson calls the “last phase of the age of chivalry” (Summerson 1958, 2). The Tudor Palace Style is a transitional phase between English medieval and renaissance architecture. From the vantage point of the mid-eighteenth century, the SAL describes Richmond Court as having “much Gothick Magnificence and Grandeur” (“Account”, p. 1). This statement demonstrates just how wide-ranging and imprecise the term Gothic still was in the eighteenth century.

In keeping with the military character embodied in the Tudor Palace Style, Richmond Court had crenellated or battlemented walls which are prominent in Plate 2.23; narrow vertical windows; and a proliferation of turrets or towers with octagonal roofs at the top. The vertical emphasis created by the towers and tall narrow windows is also quite noticeable.

Looking at Nonsuch Palace as shown in Fitzwilliam’s anonymous and misidentified oil painting, we can also see a proliferation of towers and battlements. One subtle difference from Richmond Court is the symmetrical organization of Nonsuch along the north-south axis, but its decorative medieval aesthetic is undeniable. The northern end of Nonsuch is reminiscent of Hampton Court, another one of Henry VIII’s palaces. Hampton Court (Plate 2.27) had originally been built for Cardinal Wolsey, but Henry confiscated and expanded it.

Under Henry VIII this transitional style evolved further. After Cardinal Wolsey’s fall, his preference for Italian artists was replaced with Henry’s preference for French artists, whose skills quickly passed into English hands. That preference is made clear in the southern façade at Nonsuch, which is known to have been inspired by Chateau de Chambord built by Francis I between 1519 and 1547. Henry’s famous rivalry with Francis I from 1515 to 1547 (the year both men died) led the two into one extravagance after another, with the result that “royal patronage made possible the spread of the art of the Renaissance in France and England on a scale which otherwise…could never have been achieved” (Dent 1962, 37).

At Nonsuch, Dent reports, “a Gothic building was erected, but one half of it was so overlaid with Classical decoration that the building itself has often been described as ‘Renaissance’ or ‘Italian’….[I]t was a basically English building to which was added a great deal of Classical ornamentation” (Dent 1962, 27). Thus we can see very clearly the transitional nature of Nonsuch, as well as its importance as an influence on later English architecture.

The comparison between early and later Tudor architecture in Vetusta Monumenta is something we also saw in the representations of the Tudor-style Holbein Gate (Plate 1.17) completed in 1532, and the later King Street Gate (Plate 1.18) that was built in a classicizing, French-inspired architectural manner, and completed in the last years of Henry VIII’s reign. Both gates were part of Whitehall Palace. The King Street Gate was described as “one of the pioneer works of Henry’s reign” (Summerson 1958, 6-8). The southern façade of Nonsuch would also fall into the category of pioneering works, and it is a shame that this remarkable view of Nonsuch Palace was not included in the series of Tudor palaces in Vetusta Monumenta.

Works Cited:

Astington, John H. 1987. “The King and Queenes Entertainement at Richmond.” Records of Early English Drama 12, no. 1: 12-18.

An Account of the Old Palace of Richmond, in Surrey.” 1765. In Vetusta Monumenta, Vol. 2.

Camden, William. 1789. Britannia: Or, a Chorographical Description of the Flourishing Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland, and the Islands Adjacent; from the Earliest Antiquity. Edited and expanded by Richard Gough. 3 vols. London: John Nichols.

Dent, John. 1962. The Quest for Nonsuch. London: Hutchinson & Co.

Goodall, John. 2011. The English Castle, 1066-1650. New Haven & London: Yale University Press.

Nonsuch Palace.” 2020. The Fitzwilliam Museum.

Society of Antiquaries of London. 1718-. Minutes of the Society's Proceedings.

------. 1754-. Minutes of the Council of the Society of Antiquaries of London.

Speed, John. (1606) 1675. The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain, Presenting an Exact Geography of the Kingdom of England, Scotland, and Ireland and the Isles Adjoyning… London, Thomas Bassett & Richard Chiswell.

Summerson, John. 1953. Architecture in Britain 1530 to 1830. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Thurley, Simon. 1993. The Royal Palaces of Tudor England: Architecture and Court Life 1460-1547. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Vignau-Wilberg, Thea. 2017. ,Joris and Jacob Hoefnagel: Art and Science around 1600. Berlin: Hatje Cantz.