How the Elizabethan Era was Built
Published: Thu, 21 Sep 2017
Eva A. Flynn
Architecture from during the Elizabethan Era has largely helped to shape architecture in England today. The Elizabethan era began when Queen Elizabeth came into power. This was from vaguely around 1550-1625. There were not a lot of architectural improvements during the rule of Henry VIII because of the lack of money. Money was sparse during this time because the wool trade became less profitable. This caused there to be less extra wealth to expend on architecture. While Queen Elizabeth was ruling over England, she helped the economy to grow by encouraging people to return to farming. England grew wealthier as a result and this allowed more people to have more money. Because England was no longer in debt, there was finally money to spend on architecture (Ross).
Hardwick Hall is arguably one of the most important buildings from the Elizabethan era. Hardwick Hall was originally just a small house in the country where Elizabeth Talbot and her family lived (Dm). Later in life, Talbot became Countess of Shrewsbury and was also known as Bess of Hardwick. She was the second most powerful and wealthy woman in Elizabethan England, the first being Queen Elizabeth herself (Alchin 2). Talbot acquired a large amount of wealth when she was older so she hired Robert Smythson, a very influential Elizabethan architect, to redesign Hardwick Hall for her. The building plan for Hardwick hall is essentially a wide H (Dm). Hardwick Hall has four storeys and there are numerous glass windows. There is even an old English rhyme that says: “Hardwick Hall – more glass than wall” (Alchin 2). Hardwick Hall’s structure follows the trademark Elizabethan design of symmetry. On the inside, Hardwick Hall is very open and dramatic with many different influences, one of them being Italian early Renaissance. Hardwick hall was completed in 1597 but was later restored in 1997. Today, Hardwick Hall still contains most of Elizabeth Talbot’s original furnishings and artwork (Dm).
Even today, Elizabethan architecture is important. Without styles and designs from this era, the world would not contain great masterpieces such as Hardwick Hall and the Globe Theater. Architecture is still continuing to develop in society now. All of the ideas that were brought about during the Elizabethan era have helped architecture across the globe to become more modernized, practical, and even beautiful.
Inigo Jones’s first well-known building in England was the Queen’s House in Greenwich. Jones was called to England by Henry, the Prince of Wales. The House in Greenwich was built for Queen Anne. Many architects used style ideas from this building to improve themselves (Locher). Building the Queen’s House in Greenwich is a large part of what made Jones so well known. Inigo Jones was greatly influenced by the Italian architect Andrea Palladio. Jones took multiple trips to Italy throughout his career. These trips largely helped to shape his understanding of architecture. Another building that helped Jones to gain his fame is St. Paul’s Cathedral. Inigo Jones remodelled the cathedral and added a more classical style to this buildings Gothic looks. Sadly, St. Paul’s Cathedral was burnt down in the Great Fire of London in 1666 (“Inigo Jones”).
Robert Smythson was another influential architect from the Elizabethan era. Robert Smythson commonly used Renaissance designs in his works, but he also added his own style to his buildings (“Great British Architects: Robert Smythson”). Smythson is said to have created the Cross-hall plan, which is present in Hardwick Hall. The Cross-hall plan is another example of how symmetrical and practical ideas were often used for architecture during the Elizabethan era (“Architecture (Elizabethan)”). Smythson made sure his buildings were practical while also being aesthetically pleasing. Smythson would construct high basements to allow light to shine into the basements. Smythson was also known to build many staircases in his buildings so that each part of the building would be easy to access (Locher). Robert Smythson worked for multiple great architectural supporters during the Elizabethan era. Many of his and his son’s technical drawings are still present today. In Smythson’s drawings, his own personal designs can be seen. Robert Smythson’s sons inherited his practice and carried on his work (“Great British Architects: Robert Smythson”)
During the Elizabethan era house were symbols of where someone stood in the social classes. If you were royalty, you would live in a house of royal works (Kamhi). Since the feudal system was no longer up and running, mansions were not built for practicality and defense. Instead, they were built for luxury and beauty (Alchin 2). Royal works were huge, magnificent homes with many storeys. On the different storeys there were numerous rooms and great halls. The mansions were built on top of stone foundations and there were miles of courtyard and gardens (Kamhi). Gardens in wealthy homes were large and had places to sit and view all of the beautiful flowers featured there. These gardens would seem luxurious even today (Mahabal). High upper-class members, such as doctors and businessmen, lived in great houses. Great houses were similar to royal houses, just not quite as grand, but beautiful nonetheless. Merchants, craftsmen, and tradesmen owned smaller country homes. Country homes were homely and inexpensive. Because they were usually owned by merchants and craftsmen who possessed many different materials, not as much money was spent buying items to build them. This usually meant that they were fairly inexpensive. Farm house were for farmers and their families. Unlike the other homes during the Elizabethan era, farmhouses were not for status, they were simply just used as homes to live in (Kamhi).
When the Elizabethan era began, the style of buildings switched from Gothic designs to Renaissance designs with symmetrical plans. Another architectural difference during the Elizabethan era was that the horizontal line was accented as opposed to the vertical line (Alchin 2). The Renaissance began in Italy around the 1400s but it moved to England later, during the Elizabethan era which was around the 1500s – 1600s (Locher). Dutch influence was intermixed with Renaissance ideas to inspire the Elizabethan details (Ross). Elizabethan architecture utilized ideas from both the Italian and Dutch Renaissance (Mahabal). During the Elizabethan era, architects added chimneys to buildings. Having chimneys made it possible for halls to have ceilings, allowing more floors to be built over them (Manco).
One of the most common floor plans for buildings during the Elizabethan era was the E-shaped plan. This plan helped with air circulation and let in sunlight (Locher). In the E-plan, the horizontal sides of buildings were usually the kitchens on one side and living area on the other. The long, vertical line of the “E” was the main hall and upper floors. The middle horizontal line was the entry of the manor. Some say that the E-plan was a tribute to Queen Elizabeth, but this is not likely to be true. The E-plan probably became so popular due to the fact that it is a practical and symmetrical plan. During the Elizabethan era, practicality and symmetry were largely emphasized (Ross). When viewing buildings from the front, it was noticeable that each side mirrored the other. To keep up the architectural symmetry, chimneys and gables were built on both sides of buildings to exactly replicate the opposite side (Mahabal). Homes in the middle of towns and cities did not have as much ground space to build on. Elizabethan architects managed to find a way to solve this problem by having upper storeys of buildings hang out over the street. Buildings in towns and cities were often built very close together and because they hung out over the streets, Elizabethan streets were covered by shadows of buildings usually.
England began to prosper under Queen Elizabeth, leaving more money for people to spend on luxurious things. All the new money helped architecture to thrive and become even more beautiful (Ross). Designs were not always flashy and noticeable but there is a subtle beauty to Elizabethan architecture. A very common detail used in Elizabethan buildings was strapwork (Cibelli). This detail was used by many architects during this time. Manors with multiple storeys would feature long galleries. These galleries would be used to display portraits and people would sometimes exercise in them. Oftentimes, windows would be on three sides of the gallery and there was usually a fireplace along the fourth side (Ross). Many fireplaces would have intricate designs, adding to the beauty of homes (Manco). Large windows were also commonly present in Elizabethan homes (Locher). Many Elizabethans would have their windows glazed as another aesthetic detail (Manco). Instead of hanging art on the walls of manors, people would sometimes make the walls into their own artforms (Locher).
The Globe Theater played a large part in Shakespeare’s plays during the Elizabethan era. Peter Street designed the Globe Theater utilizing Elizabethan styles and designs. Many of Shakespeare’s plays were performed at the Globe Theater. The original Globe Theater was destroyed by a fire in 1613 but it was rebuilt again a year later (“Architecture (Elizabethan)”). While the original Globe Theater had a thatched roof, the rebuilt theater was topped with a tiled roof (Alchin 3). In 1642, the Globe Theater was closed by the Puritans. Then, it was torn down in 1644. A replica of the Globe Theater was built in 1997 still using details from the Elizabethan era (“Architecture (Elizabethan)”). The actual architecture of the Globe Theater featured ideas from the Roman Coliseum. Some of the architectural designs of the Globe Theater also display Greek details (Alchin 3).
Looking back into the Elizabethan era, many have noticed that houses were often torn down and then built new during the Elizabethan era. This was sometimes called the “Great Rebuilding” (Manco). Houses weren’t always torn down, though. Some Tudor manors were worked on and improved using Elizabethan styles. New ideas that came about during the Elizabethan era allowed architects to renovate old buildings and make them more practical and more beautiful. Queen Elizabeth is largely to thank for the rise in architecture due to all the money that she helped England gain (Ross).
The fact that buildings from during the Elizabethan era are still around today proves that the architects from this period were very skilled and that they built things to stay intact for a while (Alchin 1). Timber was often used for lower classes and upper-class homes were built using stone (Alchin 2). Middle and lower-class homes would have thatched roofs as ceilings (Alchin 1). Thatched roofs would be much cheaper for homes, but also not as safe or durable.
Architecture today is definitely not the same as it was during the Elizabethan era. Nonetheless, all of the ideas from architecture during the Elizabethan era have helped to develop the architecture today. Even the famous White House has some details that are present in Elizabethan architecture. The symmetry of its design and its large columns and massive staircases reflect ideas that were important in the Elizabethan era.
All of the architects from the Elizabethan era brought different ideas that all helped to shape Elizabethan style. Smythson came up with the Cross-hall plan that is used in Hardwick Hall (“Architecture (Elizabethan)”). Inigo Jones traveled to Italy and brought many architectural ideas back to England (“Inigo Jones”). Even the lesser-known architects helped to contribute to the details that made up all of the Elizabethan buildings. Designs from the Renaissance made Elizabethan architecture more classical. Using the E-plan in while building manors and other buildings helped with air circulation and allowed more sunlight to enter the homes (Locher). Size and grandness of homes helped distinguish the differences between social classes (Kamhi).
Without the Elizabethan era, architecture today would be extremely different. If a person were to stop and actually analyze buildings and their structures, they would notice all of the little things that greatly affect how our buildings work. Everything from the basements to the ceilings of homes has been developing throughout time. The ideas that became prominent during the Elizabethan era have helped architects today make better buildings, and Elizabethan ideas will continue helping future architects.
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