What took roughly two decades of dedicated labor and the equivalent of £104 million (2009) to build, stood for 150 years before it was dismantled completely in a relatively short time at the behest of a royal concubine trying to pay off her gambling debt. In so doing, this silly slattern deprived Great Britain of an architectural treasure.
Now Henry VIII’s ‘lost’ palace can be seen for the first time in more than 300 years – in a scale model based on 50 years of research.
The replica of Nonsuch Palace – so named because there was no other like it – took 1,250 hours to make.
It measures 7.2 ft by 4 ft (2.2m by 1.2m) and is made of wood, with intricate architectural detail added in plastics, fibre-glass resin and brass.
The courtyards are decorated with 700 stucco plaster panels depicting Roman emperors, gods and goddesses and tiny paintings attached to the walls.
Nonsuch was commissioned in 1538 by Henry VIII to celebrate the birth of his son, the future Edward VI, and outshine his rival, King Francois I of France.
The building was so grand that it inspired a foreign visitor to comment: ‘This which no equal has in art or fame, Britons deservedly do Nonsuch name.’
But by 1690 it had been completely dismantled by Charles II’s mistress, who sold its raw materials to pay off her gambling debts.
The model of Nonsuch was based on the research of Oxford University Professor Martin Biddle, who co-ordinated the first excavation on the Surrey palace’s site as an undergraduate in 1959.
He then spent years poring over illustrations, archaeological evidence, written sources, and artefacts from Nonsuch, including thousands of original stuccos and statues.
Modeller Ben Taggart used this research as the basis for his 1:75 scale replica, now on display at the Friends of Nonsuch Museum, near Cheam, Surrey.
Professor Biddle, 74, said the model was ‘astonishing’, adding: ‘It has revolutionised the understanding of the nature of Nonsuch and leads us to know why it really was regarded by contemporaries as “that which has no equal”.’
Mr Taggart, who runs modelhouses.co.uk, said: ‘I hope [the model] will bring it to life for people today.’
Behold the glory that was Nonsuch Palace: