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  • Materializing Space at an Early Modern Prodigy House: The Cecils at Theobalds, 1564–1607
  • Martin Elsky
James M. Sutton . Materializing Space at an Early Modern Prodigy House: The Cecils at Theobalds, 1564-1607Aldershot, and Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 2004. xiii + 223 pp. index. illus. bibl. $89.95. ISBN: 0-7456-3235-0.

Sutton's New Historical study of Theobalds, the celebrated palatial Hertfordshire country house of William Cecil, Lord Burghley, Elizabeth's Secretary of State and Lord Treasurer, takes as its conceptual framework the spatial theories of Michel de Certeau and Henri Lefebvre: Human space is organized according to "codes" that contain "hidden ideological contents" (12). "[S]patial practices," routine behaviors of "lived experience" (13) associated with particular places, call into play the ideological codes embedded in those places, while aestheticized ritual performance may reaffirm or subvert those codes.

The lived experience of Theobalds is for Sutton mostly behavior associated with the display of power between the crown and one of its powerful servants. Sutton treats Theobalds as a stage for a kind of pas de deux between monarch and owner, first Elizabeth and Burghley and then James and Salisbury, Burghley's son. The overarching stratagem of this intricate dance — and the overarching theme of the book — is "allurement" and "contentation" (16), or attraction and containment. The terms are quoted from one of Burghley's letters about his own visit to a rival house, though Sutton has to stretch somewhat for this meaning of "contentation" in the context of the letter. Built into the architecture of Theobalds and its surroundings are the codes of courtly behavior meant to excite just that degree of "liking" in the visitor that stops short of envy or incitement to appropriate the house as one's own, in the case of a monarch. Sutton's study is thus entirely about a symbolic economy that parallels legal or political definitions of monarchical power and property rights. The "material" in the title refers to space as the physical location such as courtyards, and rooms for "hegemonic representation" (30). Matters related to dwelling or habitation are thus implicitly ruled out: Theobalds functions only as a stage for Cecil and the crown to vaunt their power to each other in performances through which, ideally, each reached an equilibrium acceptable to both.

After a very precise description of the design of the house and its "spatial poetics," Sutton moves to the heart of the book, the spectacle of the alliance between Elizabeth and Burghley played out in the internal and external architecture of the house. Upon her visits, a symbolic transfer of ownership to Elizabeth [End Page 258] is ritually effected while at the same time Burghley proclaims his actual ownership. The architecture of Theobalds is designed to stage this ceremonial exchange for the "legitimation of [Burgley's] family interests and policies" (80), as revealed in some nine visits by Elizabeth between 1564 and 1587. At the same time, Sutton devotes some of his most interesting discussions to explaining how the iconography and decor of Theobalds were designed for educating the ascendent Robert to take over the reigns of power. The nature of the entertainments changed, Sutton contends, when the architectural rhetoric no longer was enough to project Burghley's long-held, but newly-expressed goal: the advancement of his son, Robert Cecil, the future Lord Salisbury, to replace him upon his own wished-for retirement. Sutton argues rather schematically that the architecture of Theobalds now needed to be supplemented with words — that is, scripted entertainments — to persuade Elizabeth of this new aim. Sutton provides close readings of the 1591 and 1594 entertainments and their putative location in Elizabeth's Great Chamber, though he presents little persuasive evidence that this is where they actually took place.

The final portion of the books turns to the management of the house's symbolic economy by Salisbury after the accession of James, when Burghley's delicate balance of "allurement" and "contentation" broke down. Sutton explores the notorious visit of James and King Christian of Denmark in 1606, when Salisbury's ceremonious decorum was breached by the royal drunken debauchery, through which, Sutton argues, Salisbury lost control of Theobalds's...


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