The Tudor architectural style is the final development of Medieval architecture in England, during the Tudor period (1485–1603) and even beyond, and also the tentative introduction of Renaissance architecture to England. It followed the Late Gothic Perpendicular style and, gradually, it evolved into an aesthetic more consistent with trends already in motion on the continent, evidenced by other nations already having the Northern Renaissance underway and Italy already well into its revolution in art, architecture, and thought. A subtype of Tudor architecture includes Elizabethan architecture from about 1560 to 1600.
In the much more slow-moving styles of vernacular architecture, "Tudor" has become a designation for half-timbered buildings, although the truth is there are cruck and frame houses with half timbering that predate 1485 by quite a bit and the style bleeds early into the Jacobean era and a closer examination is required to determine the edifice's age. In this form the Tudor style long retained its hold on English taste. Nevertheless, 'Tudor style' is an awkward style-designation, with its implied suggestions of continuity through the period of the Tudor dynasty and the misleading impression that there was a style break at the accession of James I in 1603, first of the House of Stuart.
The low Tudor arch was a defining feature. Some of the most remarkable oriel windows belong to this period. Mouldings are more spread out and the foliage becomes more naturalistic. During the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI, many Italian artists arrived in England; their decorative features can be seen at Hampton Court Palace, Layer Marney Tower, Sutton Place, and elsewhere. However, in the following reign of Elizabeth I, the influence of Northern Mannerism, mainly derived from books, was greater. Courtiers and other wealthy Elizabethans competed to build prodigy houses that proclaimed their status.
The Dissolution of the Monasteries redistributed large amounts of land to the wealthy, resulting in a secular building boom, as well as a source of stone. The building of churches had already slowed somewhat before the English Reformation, after a great boom in the previous century, but was brought to a nearly complete stop by the Reformation. Civic and university buildings became steadily more numerous in the period, which saw general increasing prosperity. Brick was something of an exotic and expensive rarity at the beginning of the period, but during it became very widely used in many parts of England, even for modest buildings, gradually restricting traditional methods such as wood framed daub and wattle and half-timbering to the lower classes by the end of the period.
Scotland was a different country throughout the period, and is not covered here, but early Renaissance architecture in Scotland was influenced by close contacts between the French and Scottish courts, and there are a number of buildings from before 1560 that show a more thorough adoption of continental Renaissance styles than their English equivalents.
Tudor style buildings have several features that separate them from Medieval and later 17th-century design. The earliest signs of the Renaissance appear under Henry VII; whereas most of his building projects are no longer standing, it is actually under him and not his son that the Renaissance began to flower in England, evidenced by ample records of what was built and where, materials used, new features in gardening that did not at all fit the pattern of the earlier medieval walled garden, letters from the king expressing his desires and those of his wife's in the case of Greenwich Palace, as well as his own expressed interest in the New Learning.
Prior to 1485, many wealthy and noble landowners lived in homes that were not necessarily comfortable but built to withstand sieges, though manor houses that were only lightly fortified, if at all, had been increasingly built. Castles and smaller manor houses often had moats, portcullises and crenelations designed for archers to stand guard and pick off approaching enemies.
However, with the arrival of gunpowder and cannons by the time of Henry VI, fortifications like castles became increasingly obsolete. 1485 marked the ascension of the Tudor Henry VII to the throne and the end of the Wars of the Roses that had left the royal coffers in deep trouble-Yorkists had raided the treasury just after the death of Edward IV. In 1487 Henry passed laws against livery and maintenance, which checked the nobility's ability to raise armies independent of the crown, and raised taxes on the nobility through a trusted advisor, John Morton.
Henry Tudor was hellbent on repairing the damage done by so many years of war, and that meant increasing financial security. It also meant recentralising power in London with the crown alone and away from interrelated nobles who had been squabbling over scraps of power since the reign of Richard II, evidenced by the crown beginning to be fought over by different branches of the descendants of Edward III at that time. This move was particularly unpopular and ensured that the king, above all others, was the most powerful and wealthy noble in England rather than well landed lords, and thus the example to follow. Henry VII was not above giving out bills of attainder to disobedient or faithless nobles who refused to bend the knee to him as king, which incidentally also often meant their lands or titles would revert to the crown. During the reign of Henry VII, he made some savvy business investments in the alum trade and made vast improvements to the waterborne infrastructure of the country: the site of his dry dock in Portsmouth still is used today, and equally because of Henry's investments in alum (a mordant used for dying wool, a major export of England at the time) records also show a striking increase in the volume of ships and thus trade coming in and out of England. Portsmouth was an early pet project of Henry VII, one he paid approximately £193 for the entire construction, a sum that for its time was enormous.
It must be noted that not all Tudor architecture was of a residential nature, and this particular one is very important as it laid the foundation for other civic projects done under Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Henry Tudor built the very first dry dock in the world at this site. It was a big leap forward from what was available during the Medieval period: for most of the period ships were poorly suited to trade that reached any farther than just off the coast and were no match for the turbulence of waters like the North Sea let alone crossing the Atlantic. Within three years of Henry Tudor's ascension to the throne, however, Bartolomeu Dias had rounded the future tip of today's South Africa and by doing so would change the world forever: he opened up a sea passage to Asia and opened a route that completely cut out the reliance on the Silk Road and the Turks who controlled it. Ships were beginning to get faster and more capable of much longer journeys. Patronage of explorers would be a theme of the rest of Henry's adulthood, and it behooved him to take advantage of having the only place in all of Europe that could repair ships, build new ones, remove barnacles and shipworms, and break up and recycle older ships.
Purchasing eight acres, he handed off the job of constructing it to a trusted councillor Sir Reginald Bray with the final construction, according to a 17th-century tome. It measured 330 feet on each side, the bottom of the dock 395 feet long, and the whole 22 feet deep. The wharf on the outside of the piers that marked the dock's location were 40 feet on each side at a depth of 22 feet. Henry VII and the dock operated by swinging some hinged gates open, allowing the ship to enter, and then water was taken out with a bucket and chain pump worked by a horse-gin.
In the early part of his reign, Henry Tudor favored two sites, both on the River Thames though in opposite directions, with one west of Westminster and one east of it. Upon his rise to power he inherited many castles, but notably he did very little to these. Recent evidence suggests that he made notable improvements to other properties belonging to the crown, including Greenwich Palace, also known as the Palace of Placentia. Although today the Old Royal Naval College sits on the site of the palace, evidence suggests that, shortly after ascending the throne, Henry spent a very large amount of money on enlarging it and finishing off a watchtower built prior to his reign; his Queen, Elizabeth, gave birth to Henry VIII and his brother Edmund in this palace. Henry Tudor's palace facing the Thames Estuary would have had a massive brick courtyard that faced the River Thames and commanded a view of the ships passing by. As of 2018 archaeological digs continue and much has been discovered regarding the kind of palace Henry (and later his son) invested so much money and time into. For example, recent archaeology suggests that Greenwich had "bee boles": these were found in the basement of the palace and were little nooks in which beehives were kept during winter when honeybees hibernate. They would be taken out to provide for the king's table in spring and they are numerous, suggesting the desire for grand amounts of entertaining. Surprisingly, much of the remains beneath the royal college reveal an edifice built with brick, not stone: castles in England going back to the Normans had been built with stone, never brick, hence this is an early advancement in technology and style and given its load bearing position at the bottom of the building it is extremely unlikely to have been erected under the aegis of any later monarch. It is also believed he added a sizeable chapel to the grounds with black and white tiles, discovered in 2006.
Sheen, was someway down river from (and in the present day part of) London and became a primary residence as Henry's family and court grew larger. This had been one of the royal palaces since the reign of Edward II, with the most recent additions as at 1496 being by Henry V in 1414. The building was largely wooden with cloisters and several medieval features, such as a grand central banqueting hall, and the Privy Chambers facing the river very much resembling a 15th-century castle.
This burnt to the ground at Christmas 1497, with the royal family in residence; accounts of it made by a foreign ambassador to the court describe a catastrophe so big in magnitude that it nearly killed the king himself. However, within months Henry began a magnificent new palace in a version of Renaissance style. This, called Richmond Palace and now lost save for some fragments, has been described as the first prodigy house, a term for the ostentatious mansions of Elizabeth's courtiers and others, and was influential on other great houses for decades to come as well as a seat of royal power and pageantry of an equivalent of modern-day Buckingham Palace or the 18th century St. James's Palace.
Henry VII was succeeded by his second son, Henry VIII, a man of a very different character of his father, who spent enormous amounts of money on building many palaces, most now vanished, as well as other expensive forms of display. In a courtyard of Hampton Court Palace he installed a fountain that for celebrations flowed with wine. He also built military installations all along the southern coast of England and the border with Scotland, then a separate nation.
Henry VIII's most ambitious palace was Nonsuch Palace, south of London and now disappeared, an attempt to rival the spectacular French royal palaces of the age and, like them, using imported Italian artists, though the architecture is northern European in inspiration. Much of the Tudor palace survives at Hampton Court Palace, which Henry took over from his disgraced minister Cardinal Wolsey and expanded, and this is now the surviving Tudor royal palace that best shows the style.
As time wore on, quadrangular, 'H' or 'E' shaped floor plans became more common, with the H shape coming to fruition during the reign of Henry VII's son and successor. It was also fashionable for these larger buildings to incorporate 'devices', or riddles, designed into the building, which served to demonstrate the owner's wit and to delight visitors. Occasionally these were Catholic symbols, for example, subtle or not so subtle references to the trinity, seen in three-sided, triangular, or 'Y' shaped plans, designs or motifs. Earlier clerical buildings would have had a cross shape so as to honour Christ, such as in Old St Paul's and the surviving York Cathedral, but as with all clerical buildings, this was a time of great upheaval catalyzed by Henry VIII's Reformation.
A part of his policy was the suppression of the monasteries and several examples of the Middle Ages today lie in ruins because of the nobility raiding the properties for building materials, gold, and anything of monetary value: for many the only way to escape being destroyed was the monarch holding a personal interest in keeping the abbey or cathedral intact (Westminster Abbey being an excellent example). One of the most famous examples of this lies in East Anglia, near the village of Walsingham. Predating the Norman Conquest, this area of the present day United Kingdom was a major site of pilgrimage dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the mother of Christ. Over the centuries an Augustinian priory was erected upon the site that grew wealthy from pilgrims' donations and for its era this one of the most popular shrines in all of England: Monarchs from Henry III-Henry VII had worshipped at the place by 1510, and even men as famous as Erasmus visited. During Henry VIII's Reformation, however, the records show that the monks at Walsingham were turned out into the streets, the priory chapel was desecrated, and the gold and silver ornamentations of the architecture were looted. The statue of Our Lady of Walsingham at the center of the shrine was brought back to London as a trophy to be destroyed, and the property itself was turned over to a man in the king's favour whereafter it was mined for its stone.
The great majority of images, and elements of church furniture disapproved of by the Protestants, were destroyed in waves under Henry VIII, Edward VI, and later during the English Commonwealth. For example, during the reign of Edward VI parishioners witnessed a royal decree ripping out the rood screen in every single church: none of these now survive and in addition many altarpieces were burned. While Henry VIII was still alive, many statues and shrine objects were smashed or burnt: they were considered "abused images" and a form of idolatry by many aligning with the king. Building of new churches became much less frequent, and as a result England actually has larger numbers of medieval churches whose main fabric has survived than most parts of Europe. Tragically, however, larger buildings like Jervaulx or Fountains, buildings whose wealth and grandeur were meant to rival Notre-Dame de Paris often do not even have their stained glass windows and are a shadow of their former selves. Henry and Edward are responsible for enormous losses and gaps in the cultural record; the damage was massive. Manuscripts, many of them illuminated, were lost, with many being burned. Some of these went back to the time of the Anglo-Saxons, but as few could read the runic alphabet (including the king himself) they were destroyed and their intricate covers, sometimes bejeweled, were looted. Distinctly English styles of craftsmanship in religious metalwork for chalices, bishops' croziers, patens, and cruets were melted down for the crown.
During this period, the arrival of the chimney stack and enclosed hearths resulted in the decline of the great hall based around an open hearth that was typical of earlier Medieval architecture. Instead, fireplaces could now be placed upstairs and it became possible to have a second story that ran the whole length of the house. Tudor chimney-pieces were made large and elaborate to draw attention to the owner's adoption of this new technology. The jetty appeared, as a way to show off the modernity of having a complete, full-length upper floor.
Buildings constructed by the wealthy or royal had these common characteristics:
The houses and buildings of ordinary people were typically timber framed. Timber framing on the upper floors of a house started appearing after 1400 CE in Europe and originally it was a method used to keep water from going back into the walls, instead being redirected back to the soil. The frame was usually filled with wattle and daub but occasionally with brick. These houses were also slower to adopt the latest trends, and the great hall continued to prevail. Fireplaces were quite large by modern standards, and intended to heat as much of the home as possible as well as cook upon them because in this period England was much more prone to snow.
Smaller Tudor-style houses display the following characteristics:
(see also: Perpendicular Gothic)
(see Prodigy house)
In the 19th century a free mix of late Gothic elements, Tudor, and Elizabethan were combined for public buildings, such as hotels and railway stations, as well as for residences. The popularity continued into the 20th century for residential building. This type of Renaissance Revival architecture is called 'Tudor,' 'Mock Tudor,' 'Tudor Revival,' 'Elizabethan,' 'Tudorbethan,' and 'Jacobethan.' Tudor and Elizabethan precedents were the clear inspiration for many 19th and 20th century grand country houses in the United States and the British Commonwealth countries. A 19th and 20th century movement to build revivalist institutional buildings at schools and hospitals often drew from famous Tudor examples (see Collegiate Gothic).