A new garden has been created at Hampton Court Palace to commemorate the 500th anniversary of King Henry VIII’s accession to the throne in 1509. The Tudor Garden has been designed by landscape architect Todd Longstaffe-Gowan and now fills the hitherto empty Chapel Court.
Planted with flowers and herbs that were available in 16th century England it also includes the heraldic beasts that were used by the King to represent his lineage and reinforce his claim to the throne.
I was commissioned to carry out research into the pigments that were available at that time, the colours that were used and the correct disposition of colour. It was one thing to show that the dragon was meant to be red, for example, but what colour were its claws and its eyes? I produced a report mindful that…
Heraldry is sometimes called a little science; and an artist, however skilled in other spheres, who tries his hand at it without previous long experience in its complex and capricious ways, may be entering the realms of Trouble.1
The range of pigments in use has changed since the sixteenth century. Many of the earlier ones were unsatisfactory. Far from providing the clear bright colours required of heraldry several were unstable and prone to fading when applied in an oil medium – especially on external surfaces.
The principal heraldic colours (or tinctures) of the time were as follows:
Sable – Black (mixed with lamp black)
Gules – Red (mixed with vermilion)
Azure – Blue (mixed with azurite)
Vert – Green (mixed with verdigris)
There are also two Metals:
Or – Gold (frequently shown as yellow)
Argent – Silver (usually shown as white as silver tarnishes)
The eight Royal Beasts in the Tudor Garden have been painted (and gilded) with the correct heraldic colours of the period.
The Royal Beasts
1. White Greyhound of Richmond
The Greyhound is a symbol of loyalty and celerity, and was a beast adopted by Edward III and by many of his descendants, particularly those of the House of Lancaster, from which line Henry VII was descended. Edmund Tudor, the Earl of Richmond and father of Henry VII was granted a white Greyhound as a heraldic supporter2 by his half-brother Henry VI, which is why it was known as the Greyhound of Richmond. The Greyhound was a favourite Tudor beast and a supporter of the arms of both Henry VII and sometimes of his son Henry VIII.
It appears that the Greyhound was also a badge and supporter of Sir John Beaufort, Earl of Somerset as may be seen in the Somerset Chapel in Canterbury Cathedral. Sir John was John of Gaunt’s eldest son by Katherine Swynford, and from him the Greyhound, like his son’s Yale (q.v.), descended to Henry’s mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort (Henry VIII’s grandmother).
2. Golden Lion of England
A golden Lion has been the royal beast of England since the early 12th century.
Richard I probably first chose three golden lions as the Royal Arms of England. The Lion was used frequently by Henry VIII for his dexter3 supporter and has been one of the supporters of the Royal Arms since James I in 1603.
3. White Hart
The White Hart may have been derived from Richard II’s mother, Joan Holland’s badge of a hind. It was adopted as a Yorkist badge and is shown as a supporter of the arms of Edward V in the south aisle of St George’s Chapel, Windsor.
4. Black Bull of Clarence
The black bull was used as a badge by Lionel Duke of Clarence, second son of Edward III, and ancestor of the Yorkist kings. It was the sinister heraldic supporter of the arms of England under Edwards IV and V and Richard III.
5. Silver Yale of Beaufort
The Yale has the body of an Antelope, a Lion’s tail and horns which can swivel round to counter attack from all quarters. It is usually shown spotted with gold roundels (called bezants). The horns, hooves, tusks, tufts of hair and the crown about its neck and its chain are all gold.
The Yale appears for the first time in heraldry as a supporter of the arms of John, Duke of Bedford and Earl of Kendal (a son of Henry IV). His earldom of Kendal and the dukedom of Somerset were granted in 1443 to Sir John Beaufort (Henry VII’s grandfather) who took the Eagle and Bedford Yale as supporters.
For more on the Yale see Seeing Symbols website.
6. Red Dragon of Wales
The Red Dragon was used as his badge by Henry VII’s grandfather, Sir Owen Tudor, who took it as a token of his supposed descent from Cadwalader, the last native ruler of Britain. The Welsh Dragon was used by all the Tudor sovereigns – the three kings colouring it red, while Mary and Elizabeth made it gold.
A Panther had been counted among the number of royal beasts since the time of Henry IV. The heraldic Panther is generally shown as “incensed”, with flames coming from its mouth and ears, which represents its fragrant breath. The flames induce all other animals to approach it; the Dragon alone retreats.
The Panther is also usually shown with red and blue spots although there are early examples which are spotted with red, blue and gold.
A Panther is also found as the dexter supporter of the Duke of Beaufort’s arms.
8. Silver Falcon of Plantagenets
Although the silver falcon was first used by Edward III, it became a Yorkist creature. It descended to Edward IV. When shown with an open fetterlock it refers to the struggle Edward IV had to ascend the throne.
There have been a couple of attempts to recreate a Tudor Garden in recent years, but this one at Hampton Court Palace must be one of the most magnificent.
1) The Hon. Sir George Bellew, Garter King of Arms, in Foreword to Stanford London’s The Queen’s Beasts. Newman Neame. 1953, 10.
2) Supporters are the creatures placed on either side of the arms as this contemporary example of Queen Jane Seymour’s arms shows:
3) In heraldic terms Dexter means the right-hand side of the shield from the standpoint of the man behind it and Sinister means the left-hand side.
A short film in which Todd Longstaffe-Gowan, the Garden’s creator, talks about his intentions:
Over the years I have carried out a lot of other work at Hampton Court – see also:
a) Great Gatehouse Ceiling, and
b) The Tijou Screen.
Click on my beast for more information on what I do.