Accession Day on 17 November was ‘a holidaye which passed all the popes holidayes’ and the Tilts were a fundamental aspect of the festivities.1 These jousting tournaments often described as decadent, were celebrated in the tiltyard of Whitehall Palace and their imagery was designed to build up ‘the political and theological position of Protestant England’.2
This paper concerns the roles of users and architecture in relation to history. Issues of site include the architecture of Whitehall Palace, the tiltyard and the ephemeral locations alluded to in the jousting narratives. The Palace was the centre of royal life since 1530 and was argued to be ‘an artistic, political, and social focus’.3 A fire in 1698, subsequent sporadic rebuilding and occupancy as government offices have hampered historical reconstruction efforts.
The notion that the reading of architecture is not fixed and static is important if buildings are to contribute to history meaningfully. Hence all shifts, material or otherwise are important. Buildings cannot simply act as backdrops to events, but need to be integrated and read as part of the said occasion. The Horse Guards Parade currently occupies the site of the tiltyard, and accommodates the daily Changing the Queen’s Life Guard as well as the ceremonies of Beating the Retreat and Trooping the Colour.
The notion of ‘lost sense of sight’ in relation to Elizabethan vision refers to the ability to understand the intention and meaning of certain elements to enable deeper appreciation in works of art. In this instance, the argument extends to the physical context of Whitehall, and how the ability to interpret, apply and infer historical material regarding the Palace and festivities of the Tilts provides different understandings that enriches the users’ experiences, and transforms their perception of London.
1 Roy Strong, ‘The Popular Celebration of the Accession Day of Queen Elizabeth I’ in The Tudor and Stuart Monarchy, vol. II: Elizabethan Pageantry, Painting, Iconography (Woodbridge, UK: The Boydell Press, 1995), p. 123.
2 Frances Yates, ‘Elizabethan Chivalry: The Romance of the Accession Day Tilts’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol. 20, no. ½ (January – June, 1995), p. 7
3 Simon Thurley, The Whitehall Palace Plan of 1670 (Surrey, UK: The London Topographical Society, 1998), p. 1.