Elizabethan Prodigy Houses

Prodigy houses are notable English Tudor and Elizabethan houses, usually built large enough to house Elizabeth I and her entourage as they progressed around her realm. The hosts were expected to house the monarch in style and provide sufficient accommodation and entertainment for the travelling court.

     The first “prodigy house” was Richmond Palace which was completed in 1501. Courtiers, wealthy from acquired monastic estates, displayed their wealth and status.  With peace in the realm and weapons that would take down castle walls if there had been war, vast expanses of glass were characteristic of the style.  

Hardwick Hall

     Hardwick Hall which featured long corridors lighted with huge windows provides the best example.  It was built by Bess of Hardwick, a tough and shrewd woman, who married four times to vault from her position as the daughter of a poor gentry family to wealthy matriarch of an English dynasty.  Hardwick Hall incorporated six towers, huge expanses of window glass and inside the original decorations of huge Flemish tapestries, table carpets, painted wall hanging, plaster friezes, inlaid furniture and 16th and 17th century needlework.

     Burghley House was built in 1556 – 87 by Sir William Cecil, later Lord Burghley, who was principal adviser and Lord Treasurer to Queen Elizabeth I.  This prodigy house has been and remains the home of the Cecil family for over 400 years. The rooms are arranged around an elongated courtyard in a medieval pattern with a tall gatehouse at one end and a high-roofed hall at the other. The outer facades are constructed of Barnack stone with large mullioned and transomed windows. The roof-line has cupolas, obelisks and chimneys shaped like Tuscan columns.

Burghley House Interior

While the exterior remained unchanged, the 5th Earl who was one of the leading collectors of his generation and established a huge collection of art treasures at Burghley remodeled the interior extensively. ‘Capability’ Brown landscaped the 300 acre deer park and designed the orangery from 1756.
Tomorrow, The History of Toilets    Rita Bay

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