March 24: King Fancypants
2016/03/24 § Leave a comment
On this day in 1603 James I was crowned.
Following the last of the Tudors–Elizabeth I (who died with no heir)–James instituted the Stuart Monarchy, and the stones cried out with glee. For all her accomplishments, Elizabeth was no great builder. She turned her energies to other pursuits (like supporting religious tolerance, defeating the Spanish Armada, forging national identity, going to plays, and not having babies). The architectural period style named for her has been dismissed by many as an ungainly casserole of misfit parts. We think this is too harsh; Elizabethan architecture has a certain charm to it, but the thing is, it happened in spite of the monarch, who really didn’t care much about buildings, rather than because of her interest in building things.
Then there’s James (1566-1625), King of Scots, England and Ireland, and General Fancypants of the Realm. He had the good fortune to pick up where Elizabeth left off in her support of literature (continuing the “Golden Age” of Shakespeare, Donne, Johnson, and Bacon) and supported the translation of the Bible that still bears his name (oh yes, that King James). He patronized hundreds of spectacular dress-up drama-parties called masques, and was a great builder. He started a restoration of the doomed St. Paul’s (that would be left unfinished at the time of the Great Fire), built Covent Garden Square, the Queen’s House in Greenwich and the Queen’s Chapel in St. James Palace for his Catholic wife Henrietta, and the Banqueting House in Whitehall. (And he had the good sense and taste to hire Inigo Jones to do those things–but more of him later.) The fact that he directed his portrait artist to include the startlingly Classical (and thus for England, super-modern) Banqueting House in the background of the painting above shows that architectural patronage ranked in significance as a sign of his monarchy with the crown, orb and scepter, ermine, and those excellent, wonderful shoes.
image: James I by Paul van Somer, ca. 1620 (from this source)