… I keep reading about this. Whenever I find a really good book on the subject, I get this knee-jerk reflex to either buy my own copy or else hold on forever to the library copy. Or to take notes. Well, here I am taking notes, and I might as well post them here; why not?
Ha ha, I am such a trivia nerd.
Some royal palaces during the Elizabethan era: Windsor (a castle out in the country, upriver from London and commanding approaches down the Thames), Hatfield (?), Richmond (Henry VII’s favorite palace, at which he died), Hampton Court, Greenwich, Whitehall and the Tower of London (at which the monarch traditionally stayed overnight before coronation, afterward progressing through the city to be crowned at Westminster). Westminster palace was not yet built.
Floors. Everyday houses often had earthen floors at ground level (think dust and mud, alas). Wealthier homes at ground level were floored with tiles or else bricks set on edge. Upper storeys would have suspended timber floors; some had tile floors, but the weight involved was a problem. (Henry VIII had a tile floor in his great hall at Hampton Court, on the first floor.) Over this, rush matting. Carpets were expensive luxuries, probably not installed on the floors but laid, moveable – for main rooms and important events. Oriental carpets were imported (Henry VIII had a lot of them according to the inventory taken at his death – he had a collection of over 800 carpets).
Most of the flooring in Henry VIII’s palaces were oak boards covered with plaster of Paris. Then perhaps a sprinkling of rushes, but more probably rush matting. The rush matting industry was big business at the time.
Windows. Glass was plentiful and cheap. The best was imported, but there was an English glass industry – but the best-quality glass came was Burgundy glass, or Normandy or Rhemish glass. It was valuable enough that panes were reused if possible … Houses with larger windows were in vogue circa 1570 or so, but they made the rooms colder in winter and hotter in summer. Panes of stained glass were fashionable to decorate homes – the elaborate stained glass we know nowadays was used in chapels, but other rooms might have display panes of heraldic glass: panes showing off the arms of the family, set into clear glass windows.
Walls. Wainscotting in oak to panel the interior walls, often painted or (very) decorated – painted in bright colors, gilded (! as in at least some rooms in the royal palaces), painted to mock marble. Or decorated with fine plasterwork, in elaborate designs; or with limewood carving in the same sort of designs; or with leather-mache, which was shredded leather mixed with size and brick dust (when dry, it could be painted or gilded – this was the method used to decorate most of Henry VIII’s palaces). The leading style in plasterwork et al was grotesque (copying designs from grottos found underground in Rome around then) also called “antique work” – small figures amidst intertwining foliage, with masques, heraldry, weaponry, objects like vases, whatever.
The overall style for rooms was a riot of colors and designs. Above the panelling, the walls could be decorated with murals. Or plastered and then hung with tapestries, which were very expensive; or hung with painted cloth, which wasn’t. Or plastered and decorated (but still painted – color was a big thing). Home-owners who couldn’t afford panelling and plaster might have painted walls, and treat the paintings like wallpaper, which came later – paint over them with new ones whenever the spirit moved, in stencilled designs, freehand painting, geometrical designs, mixtures of different techniques, or whatever.
Ceilings. They could be painted to match the walls. There was a fashion for exposing the structural timbers and then gussying them up with paint, mouldings, carvings, gilding … Opulence was in. Elaborate plasterwork was one step down in cost from elaborate carved woodwork.
The lighting was either natural light in the daytime, or candle- and lamp-light, softer than today’s artificial light. That’s probably one reason to have the colors bold and bright.
Source: Pleasures and Pastimes in Tudor England, by Alison Sim, 1999.