Nonsuch Palace is a former 16th-century English royal palace,
built by Henry VIII between 1538 and 1547 on the site of the village of Cuddington, near Ewell
Nonsuch Palace Buildings
Construction of the Nonsuch Palace began on 22 April 1538, at
the anniversary of Henry’s accession. The intention to create a nonpareil was there from the start,
for the name first appears in the building accounts in June 1538. Although the main structure was
complete by 1541, decoration continued until at least 1545.
The palace was built around two courtyards, the inner one timber-framed to hold
the long sequences of external decorations for which Nonsuch was renowned.
The decorative scheme, composed of panels of stucco duro set between the wall
timbers and framed by borders of carved, gilded slate covering the timbers, extended over the four
interior walls, rising from the first floor, where the royal apartments were, to a height of c. 5.5
It continued on the east, south and west walls facing the garden, rising c. 9 m
from ground level to the eaves; on the angle towers it reached a height of 18.3 m. The whole
decorative scheme was thus around 274 m long, with a minimum average height of 7.5 m, and covered a
surface of c. 2055 sq. m.
The garden fronts, especially the south front, are well recorded in a drawing by
Joris Hoefnagel and in a view on John Speed’s map of Surrey (1610) but were never described; it is
known only that they contained stuccos of scenes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The stuccos around the
inner court, however, which are merely glimpsed over the roofs of the south front on Speed’s view,
are recorded in several descriptions.
The decorations were arranged in three registers, the subjects reflecting the
division of the inner court between the king’s side (west) and queen’s side (east). The uppermost
register depicted 32 Roman emperors.
The middle register contained 16 gods on the king’s side and 16 goddesses on the
queen’s side. The lower register displayed 16 deeds from the Life of Herculeson the king’s side,
and the Liberal Arts and Virtues (16 personifications each with a representative, e.g. Justice with
Aristides) on the queen’s side. T
hus, looking from the centre of the south side of the court, there was a scene
that was at once didactic (designed to teach Henry VIII’s young son Prince Edward the duties of a
Christian prince), an apotheosis (placing Tudor king and prince among gods and heroes) and tutelary
(invoking divine protection of the dynasty).
It was the single greatest work of artistic propaganda ever created in England
and was inspired by the birth of Prince Edward (1537).
The decorations were probably designed by Nicholas Bellin from Modena, who, with
his company, undertook the carving and gilding of the slate borders. The stuccowork was executed
from at least 1541 to 1544 by Kendall (possibly one William Kendall) and his company and from 1544
to at least 1545 by Giles Gering, an otherwise unknown foreigner.
The programme was probably devised by Henry VIII himself, assisted by the
leading intellectuals of his court, but intensive research has not recovered the sources of much of
the programme or even of many of the mottoes that identified some of the figures.
When Henry VIII died (1547) the building was nearing completion and was finished
by Henry Fitzaltan, 12th Earl of Arundel, after 1556. Nonsuch was demolished in 1682–3 and
excavated in 1959. Spolia from Nonsuch was used to build Durdans Palace (1682–1688; destr. 18th
Nonsuch Park Visitor Information
The few remains of the palace can be found in the Nonsuch Park. Here is the
main page where you can find more information about visitng and events.
Nonsuch Park Map
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Old Nonsuch Palace Photos
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Nonsuch Palace, Watercolour - Source: wkipedia.org
Nonsuch Palace by Flemish School 15th-16th century
The only visible remains in Nonsuch Park
Nonsuch Palace Gardens
Nonsuch was set within
its own Little Park (671 acres), with a Great Park (1000 acres) to the north, both ready to
be stocked with deer by November 1538. Within the Little Park a brick wall, probably built
1538–1547, enclosed the palace, the privy garden, maze, orchard and kitchen
A fenced wilderness
led west towards a banqueting house (destroyed in 1667) around 274 m away on a low hill
overlooking the palace. This was a two-storey building set on a raised platform, and its
balconies enjoyed distant views. Henry VIII probably created all this in
The terracing of the
site into a gentle slope was an essential preliminary that also created the level parterre
of the privy garden on the west, south and east sides of the inner court and probably the
broad, level plain of the wilderness. There may have been an approach from the palace
across the wilderness to the banqueting house.
The only written
evidence of Henry’s gardening records the planting of 200 pear trees from France under the
care of Guillaume de Dieppe in the 1540s. The Italianate garden ornaments, by contrast,
were probably mostly acquired by John Lumley, 1st Baron Lumley, who owned Nonsuch from
1580, and were presumably installed before 1592, when Nonsuch reverted to the
concerning the gardens is derived from travellers’ accounts and other descriptions
(1590–1645), from the Red Velvet Book and from Speed’s view. The gardens then described
were mainly the matured result of Henry VIII’s efforts.
The privy garden was
laid out in ‘severall allyes quarters and rounds set about with thorne hedges’ in
geometrical relationship to the palace behind it.
There were fruit trees
around the walls and wooden porches, and at the intersections of the paths and beside the
towers were a series of marble ornaments (around 1580–1590), including the so-called Venus
Fountain at the central intersection. Set about the privy garden and in the wilderness were
a variety of stone animals.
The wilderness was
divided by broad sanded walks, which led through a dense wood; the central walk provided a
vista towards the banqueting house. Parts of the walks were boarded and partitioned off for
ball-games. Some of the trees were trimmed and trained, both for shelter and as topiary,
and among the trees were wire-netted aviaries.
In the hillside below
the banqueting house lay the Grove of Diana, a wood that was presumably created by Lumley
during the 1580s since it displayed his arms. It was intended to recreate the Vale of
Gargaphy, and there were statues depicting the story of Diana and Actaeon in a grotto and
Nearby was a vaulted,
presumably classical temple, perhaps a rotunda, with verses and maxims in Latin and
English. Other features included an arch and a small banqueting house, as well as trick
In 1665 Samuel Pepys
‘walked in the ruined garden’, which was probably destroyed with the palace. The garden
ornaments (untraced) may have been removed to Durdans Palace, the seat of George, Lord
Berkeley, the last Keeper of Nonsuch (from 1660).