My best bits of seventeenth-century Britain, from The Guardian

Guardian Travel section cover 2 big versionFrom The Guardian’s Travel section, 18th August, 2012.

My best bits of historic Britain: historians’ top tips. From a tomb 5,000 years old to a club famous 50 years ago, the UK is so rich in sites it’s hard to know where to start. Here historians and authors pick their favourites. Lucy Worsley on the 17th century…

I’m amazed that Bolsover Castle (english-heritage.org.uk, £8/£4.80) in Derbyshire doesn’t cause crashes on the M1. It’s perched on a hilltop near Junction 201 south of Sheffield, and you can’t help but stare are you pass.  It looks like fairytale castle, with dinky battlements and turrets.  Although it appears older, it is a Gothic, chivalric, romantic recreation of a medieval castle begun in the 1610s. It incorporates up-to-the-minute details from Italy, such as naked classical gods and goddesses having an orgy, and “lascivious beasts” decorating the fountain of Venus in its garden.

The Banqueting House in Whitehall, London (hrp.org.uk, £5/free), designed by Inigo Jones, represents the future of British architecture. Built in the 1620s, and the only surviving bit of the great, lost palace of Whitehall, the Banqueting House prefigures all those later, classical, Georgian museums and terraces and government buildings. It’s easy to miss it as you walk along Whitehall, because it looks so familiar, but it really was the first of its kind. Inside, Rubens painted ceilings immortalising the Stuart dynasty. This is why, in a moment of delicious irony, the Parliamentarians chose to execute King Charles I directly outside.

Go to Ham House (nationaltrust.org.uk/ham-house, £9.90/£5.50) in Richmond, west London, for life after the Restoration, including tiny, richly decorated 17th-century closets used as repositories for jewels, secrets and silence. Charles II, his dissolute courtier buddies and his merry mistresses enjoyed themselves in interiors like these. Nearly a century from where we started, Hampton Court Palace (hrp.org.uk, £16.95/£8.50) heralds the arrival of the baroque and the influence of France rather than Italy. Built from 1689 by William and Mary, after they deposed the despotic and Catholic James II, this is a palace for a pair of constitutional monarchs. It’s the British version of Versailles: Louis XIV was an absolute monarch, and his grandiloquent palace reflects his absolute power. William and Mary had given some royal power away to Parliament, so their palace is a cut-price version: beautiful, yet also warm and friendly, with cheap red brick as well as expensive white stone.

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