I stumbled across a little bit of Tudor related news just now on BBC news which is really very exciting. Professor Martin Biddle, a rather brilliant archaeologist, has managed to design a scale model of Nonsuch Palace, the palace designed and built by Henry VIII. His designs and archaeological drawings of the site have allowed a gentleman by the name of Ben Taggart to build the model. Biddle took part in the excavation of Nonsuch palace in 1959 and has been researching the site of Nonsuch for over 50 years.
Martin Biddle and the new scale model of Nonsuch palace. Image from BBC news.
Work on Nonsuch Palace began in 1538, just after the birth of Henry’s son Prince Edward, and took many years to complete although by 1541 substantial building works had taken place. According to Biddle the palace was built by Henry as a celebration of the birth of little Edward, his long awaited heir. Sadly however, when Henry passed away in 1547, his magnificent palace was incomplete. In 1556 Mary I sold the palace to the 19th Earl of Arundel who held the house until the 1590’s when it returned into royal hands. However in 1670 Charles II gave the house to his mistress who had it pulled down, its materials being used to pay off gambling debts. Parts of the house were incorporated into other buildings, for example some of Nonsuch’s wood panelling can still be seen today in the Great Hall of Loseley Park. Whilst no traces of the building exist above ground, the British Museum holds examples of the building materials.
For the longest time, Nonsuch Palace was only a myth. That was until Martin Biddle, an undergraduate of Cambridge University, and John Dent a local historian set about finding the location of the site. At the time, work was under way on the History of the Kings Works, and the Ministry of Works agreed to fund an excavation so that a ground plan of Henry VIII’s famous palace could be included in the works. After all, this famous palace had been the Palace that introduced the Renaissance style of building works into England! In total, over 500 individuals were brought in to work on the site with a huge voluntary workforce of diggers from local schools, colleges and technical institutes lending a hand. The main excavation of the house went ahead as planned and attracted over 60,000 visitors over 12 weeks and a temporary museum was erected in an aluminium hut which attracted over 26,000 people who paid 6d each. This left a considerable amount of funds to allow the excavations to continue and for Biddle & Dent to continue their work.
These excavations were done to complete the ground plan of the Palace, which has led to the scale model of the Palace being completed, and to collect samples of the building materials that had been used in the Palace (which until then had only been seen in the few contemporary paintings of Nonsuch). Both of these objectives were completed and since then there has been an exhaustive study into the documentary evidence surrounding the palace including descriptions of the palace by its visitors, pictorial evidence as well as study of the finds from the palace. All of this work has allowed Biddle to continue his research into Nonsuch and most of all has allowed the first ever scale model of the Palace to be built.
This is a very exciting development in the study of Tudor history and archaeology, and the culmination of many years work. I remember reading the site reports on Nonsuch by Professor Biddle when I was at University and thinking of how magnificent it must have been in its hey-day and wishing more than anything that I could have been involved in the excavations. Alas, it was all done many years before I was born. But thanks to the wonderful work of Biddle we now have a fantastic model of the palace, the first of its kind, which can only open a plethora of new doors for study on this wonderful palace.
The model of Nonsuch
will be on public display at the Friends of Nonsuch Museum
September and 5th
November. I know I’ll be trying really hard to get myself up there to have a look at this wonderful work!