The Hatfield House
This room in the Hatfield House screams out to me:
'I'M A RENAISSANCE THEATRE AND I WANNA PLAY, SO DON'T HIDE ME BEHIND THE MASQUE OF A MEDIEVAL GREAT HALL.'
room is known as the Marble
Hall of Hatfield
is sometimes called a great
hall but it's not a standard one. It was often used as a great hall but it was built as and is actually the only Renaissance theatre still in existence.
In the typical Renaissance theatre the plays were held during the daytime and other events, including banquets, early operas and orchestration, were held at night. Just like the marble hall was used for at Hatfield House.
Most of the theaters in European Catholic countries
after a nearby church. It's design and decoration was almost
always a simplified version of the church. Columns became raised
relief, carvings became paintings and gold leaf became cheap gold
Since the English theatres did not cater to the Catholic Churches they were never patterned after churches and often were much larger. (I'll bet the English theatres were sorry that they didn't get the churches endorsement since the Puritans later shut down all the theatres in England.~1642.])
Now I'll explain it in great detail and prove it to your total satisfaction.
First let me state the obvious proof. The ceiling is Italian, the tapestries are Italian, the marble floor is Italian, the Roman arch doorways are Italian. It is definitely not an English Great Hall. The ceiling is curved (right). That made the ceiling a huge parabolic reflector. This was for acoustics and was mainly done in theatres at the time. It's still done in the best theatres and in most music halls.
The closest and most similar theatre to the one in Hatfield House was the second Blackfriars theatre in London, 1596. (drawing left) You can see it has many of the same elements as does the Hatfield theatre including the very high curved or angled ceiling (for acoustics), the benches used for seating and the nicely engraved box seats (located at the end of the hall at Hatfield House).
The Hatfield House theatre was mainly patterned after an early Byzantine Church in Ravenna Italy, Sant Apollinare Nuovo (right, to see the ceiling and mosaic, scroll down).
Why this church? It was one of the very first true Christian churches and it was Byzantine (originally it was Arian) dating from 530 AD. The early Byzantine or Eastern Orthodox Church was considered to be an uncorrupted version of the early Catholic Church which is exactly what the Anglican Church was considered to be. So it was OK to use an early Byzantine Church as a model for a theatre in England.
How did I do it? Though anyone who was English was suspect of being a heretical Anglican at first I just wore black when I talked with clergy and affected an Irish brogue, since Ireland is where many English Catholics had moved to after the Catholic Church was outlawed in England.
Matching the interior of the Hatfield theatre
with a still standing church in Italy is difficult since certain elements in
both the Hatfield theatre and Sant Apollinare Nuovo have been
changed. Just compare a photo with the 1840 painting on the right or
this large version with how the hall appears today seen in the
next picture (down). Matching
two buildings after 400 years has probably never been done before except
with ancient Greek and Roman theatres but those are just rocks.
Matching Venice and the Venetian casino is presently easy but you
wont find a single match in about 8 years when they tear down the
Venetian Casino in Las Vegas so Disney can
put up something like 'The Matterhorn Hotel, Casino and Mickey Mouse
Flash comparison of the ceiling design and the wall mosaic at Hatfield House with the same of the main sanctuary of Sant Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna Italy, which is where most of the design for the Hatfield theatre came from.
The high ceiling gave it the proper acoustics for a theatre or an opera. Also,the rounded or vaulted ceilings which can be seen on the photo (left) are also typical of any room where sound quality was of the utmost important such as most theatres, opera houses and cathedrals. Now they often just carpet theatres from ceiling to floor but all the good theatres and Opera houses used to be and still are made tall and vaulted like the Hatfield House theatre.
Vaulting (making the ceilings curved) gets expensive since it takes a lot of work and uses a lot more material than regular ceilings. It was to provide for the better acoustics that a theatre needed. This type of vaulted ceiling has probably never been used in a great hall which had gone out of style about a hundred years before we built Hatfield House.
Even before Elizabethan times those halls were considered barbaric in England. There are a dozen other points showing it is not a Medieval great hall such as the fireplace which is in the middle of the room. In a great hall it almost always was located at the end of the room. That made everyone want to be close to the ruler who sat near it with his back against the wall and usually in the corner because he couldn't trust anyone. That way the light from the fire would illuminate any knives or swords that were being drawn and the ruler could see an assassination attempt before it took place. Like I said, barbaric.
Perhaps you can more easily see the ceiling and the mosaics of the cathedral in this very large photo. If you are interested then you can see more of the mosaics at Sant Apollinare on this web site.
The floor at Hatfield is a black and white marble checkered pattern. It was the same in Ravenna. It must have worn out or been replaced in the Ravenna church since it has been covered with a more recent brownish color material (which you can see in this very large photo).
that ugly brown is a black and white checkered pattern which is
almost identical to the floor of the Hatfield theatre. The only
proof I can provide is the photo at the right taken
of the Ravenna chapel altar which of course would not wear out as much
as the rest of the floor (found on this
They say the marble floor at Hatfield was installed later than it was:
Marquess filled in the windows in 1834 and laid the marble
That may have been in the Armoury but at least in the theatre that black and white checkered floor was installed at least by the 1620's. I'm almost certain that I recall it and that I imported it from Italy. In the 1800's they may have replaced the floors with a better quality black and white marble. After all they don't say on the Hatfield House website what was there before 1834.
that the upper half of the walls at Hatfield House (top
photo) are covered with large tapestries in the style of the
mosaics in the
Basilica Sant Apollinare Nuovo at Ravenna (right). We used tapestries
at Hatfield rather than mosaics for the acoustics but notice the
styles and colors are nearly identical right down to the gold colored
This Roman Arch (right) in the doorway at Hatfield House is, well needless to say, Italian. The design came from Sant Apollinare Nuovo. You can see similar lines and breaks on the columns (left) as on the door frame at Hatfield (right).
several walls in the Marble Hall were originally a series of arches
done in bas-relief. Someone later paneled the entire wall with oak
except for the doorway. Pull off one of those wood panels and you
will probably find evidence of those arches in relief underneath,
again, just like at Ravenna Italy. (I don't actually know what
you will find under the panels since I was dead when they were installed. All I can say is
that when I left that life about 1634 I left faux arches on the walls
in the Marble Hall.)
The wood panels certainly do not match the rest of the Marble Hall. In fact, at the time, wood paneling was mostly out of style and they would not have been used. Stone was considered an improvement over wood in the early 17th century. Wood walls were thought to be medieval and were mainly found in old homes while stone, masonry and brick were considered as being 'modern'. The wood panels which are now found in the 'Marble Hall' were probably added about 200 years later when wood was once again back in vogue since it was considered 'modern'. Since Hatfield lumber would have been used I would not be surprised if there is no record of it being done.
Let's forget about past lives and for a second let's pretend that it is all a figment of my imagination. Why is there English Oak paneling in this room AND why are you still doubting that I was Lady Cecil?
If you pull off one of those wood panels I'll bet $500 that there will be remnants of faux arches like those at the Ravenna Church, Sant Apolinare Nuovo. I'll be $500 richer and the Marquess of Salisbury will have the only Renaissance Theatre on earth.
In the early 1600's
this faux style was very popular for all sorts of European
buildings and not just theatres. There have been many others who
have copied that style and imported it into their own countries
than just one family in Hertfordshire England.
One other thing, compare the benches and tables in the top photograph with those in the picture of Blackfriars theatre (below). They are almost identical but facing the wrong direction to see the play. As I recall there were also some benches that were a lot like church pews but maybe I was wrong.
Another point which needs to be made is that this room is a totally different style than any other room in Hatfield House.
I can recall at least a dozen theatres on the mainland that were built this way. Most used windows in the ceilings to let in light. Some had high windows all the way around the top, just below the roof, in arches to let in the light. The Hatfield House marble hall, with the side wall all windows, is identical to two theatres that I distinctly recall. Two were in the south of France. Those windows faced large gardens and one was quite elegant but the most impressive one was, I think, in Naples. It was in the style of an enclosed portico with arches facing the Mediterranean Ocean. It was quite breathtaking to be able to turn from a play and watch all the action in the bay.
One theatre had windows in the rear of the stage and a garden beyond it. That one was distracting but they usually had screens in front of it that would let through the light which bathed the entire stage in a diffuse glow. The most technically advanced theatre had panels up high in behind the stage. These were reflective and mounted on hinges. They could be opened and adjusted so the sun would reflect off of them and on to the stage. Most of these lighting techniques were impractical at Hatfield House so we settled on a wall of windows.
I wonder what happened to these Renaissance theatres in Europe? They became fully extinct and nobody seems to even know they ever existed. Did the pope issue a bull or brief requiring that churches get out of the 'entertainment industry'. Since smoking was coming into vogue at the time maybe many of them burned down. That seems to be the most likely reason but I have absolutely no idea since I died while they were still in vogue.
I can conjecture only that since many of these theatres also served as local markets once or twice a week some of them probably ended their days selling produce.
Do you realize the priests let me climb up to the ceiling of the church in Ravenna on some scaffolding they set up for me so that I could make close up drawings and measurements of the ceiling design? I took up huge pieces of mural canvas that are used for laying out murals and I'd place it on the patterns. Then I'd run my arm across the canvas to make impressions of the patterns. I had already sketched the patterns from the floor but I needed to get the angles correct so that I could then reproduce them at Hatfield. Not the surrounding area, just the geometric patterns. Then I would just drop the cheap canvases and they would float 40 feet to the floor. Later I would roll them up and take them back to England. The Monsignor they sent up to help me was an artist and he was appalled when I would drop the canvases.
He was a painter and was probably lucky to get one canvas the size of a piece of today's notebook paper several times a year to paint on and I didn't even paint on mine. He had never seen so much canvas in his entire life and there I was just making a mockery of it's importance to him by throwing them on the floor. The first time I dropped one he thought it was an accident so he tried to grab it in mid air and almost went over the side and 40 feet to the floor.
I remember that I
clambered around on the second of the three levels of roofs/ledges
looking in through windows to see the decorations on the opposite
walls from a level viewpoint. A bird suddenly flew out from under
a cornice and hit me in the face with an upward flap of his wing
which stunned me. I actually blacked out. I was standing right at
the edge of a 30 foot drop and when I came to my senses I looked over
at the Monsignor who was in the middle of a very hastily apology
for having to touch me when he prevented me from falling head over
heels from a great height to my death by grabbing my arm.
He had been looking at his footing and did not even see the bird.
There was blood everywhere and it was my blood. It came from a 2
inch gash that left one heck of a scar which people often stared
at to avoid looking me in the eyes when conversing with me. The
Monsignor said it was probably one of the huge Ravens that I was
told the city (Ravenna) was named after. Ravenna was famous for
them. I was told they had breed the Ravens for
friendliness so they could raise and export them as pets.
Commercial theatres were always built tough and strong but they usually lasted less than 50 years for one reason or another. They were especially susceptible to fires, especially the fires set by Puritans. If not that then the wear and tear of massive numbers of often ill behaved or at least indulgent patrons almost always did them in rather quickly. Old residences were different. After 400 years there are still plenty of them around and some are in great shape. One in particular was owned by a bard who, like many modern day show biz people, installed a theatre in their home which she had built with her husband. That theatre still stands and it is in far better condition than any commercial theatre that is 50 years old or any that is 20 years where customers have been allowed to smoke. That is simply because Hatfield was essentially a standard commercial theatre meant to serve about 12,000 ill mannered patrons a month which was built on a private estate in the country where it rarely served more than 450 well mannered patrons a month.
If someone found a theatre from 1811 in this pristine of condition it would be considered a national treasure. If it was one from 1711 then it would be a U.N. world treasure. But from 1611, it's priceless and supersedes everything else by such a large margin that there is no comparison. It's the Mona Lisa of Theatres.
I was wondering why nobody noticed the hall was a theatre since it was so obvious to me. So I looked for another example on the internet and was shocked to find that the oldest theatre that still exists is from the late 18th century. No wonder it is not obvious to anyone what the hall in Hatfield House is. Nobody has seen a Renaissance stage in probably 300 years but how do I prove it beyond a doubt?
To find out more about why people would not know a Renaissance theatre if they saw one please go here. There you will read about a bird that many people would not know if they saw one.
The oldest drawing of a small English stage is from the 1640's. There are some earlier examples and drawings including the Blackfriars and Globe theatres but the Globe at least is of a completely different design.
The Globe and other huge English theatres were exceptions due to their incredible size. They were designed differently due to the need for greater acoustics which a round shape affords.
On the right is said to be one of the earliest extant illustrations of the English Restoration stage'. It's from the 1640's. Here.
I have no
idea what an 'English Restoration stage' is since
it came about after I died. It doesn't look at all like our stages.
There is just no connection at all between this, the
earliest extant illustrations of the English Restoration stage,
and any Renaissance theatre including the one at Hatfield House.
I wonder if this is why and when the true purpose of this room in Hatfield House was hidden. I guess it is better than having the pilgrims burn down your home because it has a Renaissance theatre. I just read a little about the direction that England's stages took after I died and I found it very depressing. In fact Medieval and it was exactly what I was really trying to get people away from which is why I found it depressing so I stopped reading. You don't know how really offended I felt looking at the crude stage and acting in that picture.
Do you want to know what I see when I look at photographs of the theatre at Hatfield House?
The seating is for about 200 which is near the upper limit of the size of a theatre which the voice of a non trained actress could fill with ease. If it was much larger she would have to yell. With voice training an actress can project her voice and fill about a 500 person theatre but this theatre had to accommodate both the trained and the untrained actress so it was on the small side.
Filling up the room with sound is more important than you might think. It gives a sense of personal involvement to both the actor and the audience. When an actor or actress can't fill a room then you in the audience have to strain to hear them. When you do that then you feel like you are secretly listening in on a private conversation. When the actor or actress fills the room then they are talking to you or at least you feel like you are part of the conversation. One is socially acceptable and the other one isn't.
The advent of
amplified sound has destroyed this taboo. As a result many
people now think they have a right to invade other peoples privacy
and everyone knows the pain and anguish that has caused.
(In order to fill the 3000 person London theatres with sound we hired castrati, castrated males who escaped from Catholic Choirs, to play the female roles in the bard's plays. I wrote a whole page about it here. That is the only way that we could have come anywhere to near filling theatres like the Globe with sound before the invention of electronic sound amplification.)
Here on the left is the 'North Gallery'. It's located at the very top of the photo at the top of this page. You can see how this room of box seats looks out over the Marble Hall. This is actually the theatre's box seats which should have given away the real purpose of the room below them if nothing else did.
It's probably true what they say on the Hatfield House web site:
The tradition is that after dinner wives could keep an eye on their husbands, and if it appeared that they had been drinking too freely, send down to have them carried to bed! Here
This probably happened later on. It could have happened 200 years ago so there is no conflict with what it was used for 200 years before that. In fact this observing of husbands may have happened in my lifetime but I just don't recall it or else I was not one of those wives.
It's obviously box seats for the theatre. If you think about it the room is too narrow to be anything else. If it was anything other than private seating then that room would have been built wider across.
I have never been totally happy about that room.
Another point is that it is not from the same church. It was from Florence as I recall but that church seems to be no longer standing. That makes me even less happy about that room.
purpose of the North Gallery was to be used by mainly King James I who
wanted to watch plays and did not want their presence known.
Those are panels on the left could be opened quietly so nobody would even know anyone was inside. There were also black gauze screens that could be pulled into place to be really certain that nobody saw inside from below. There were some openings that were adjustable so that you could look out and see the stage but not the audience.
The reason it extends out is because it was kind of an afterthought. It was added right when we were finishing up the house. It may have been actually added about two years later in 1613. It was initially for keeping the visits of King James a secret so it was made for him and one other person. Keeping certain visitors a secret was much more important than you might at first think.
King James (and other royals) kept most of his visits a secret so that he would not have to walk through the estate with 50 bodyguards.
Without his kingly attire King James (left) looked a lot like our gardener John Tradescant (the Elder(right). Also John had a similar accent to King James' so they sounded almost the same. He and John Tradescant had become hard and fast friends. John taught King James until the king knew more about the gardens than almost anyone else did. King James also loved gardening so he could often be found working in the garden alone and in a floppy hat and old clothes. He had multiple 'projects' going on in the Hatfield House gardens from the cross breeding of flowers (most from the New World) to making European fruit trees resistant to the colder weather of the little Ice Age in England. One apple that he exclusively developed became the prominent variety throughout England and then Northern Europe. This was not a minor endeavor. I recall that there was a orchard of at least 100 trees that he used for his breeding experiments. King James also developed a variety of plums but they were not as great an improvement as the apples which went worldwide.
The king enjoyed indulging visitors who would often mistake him for our gardener by taking them on quite good and knowledgeable extensive tours of our gardens and woods.
For some reason these tours just upset me to no end!
Now I recall why they bothered me. Once I looked out an upstairs window to see the King of England leading three visiting merchants that we barely knew off into the woods, by himself, on one of his tours and I wondered if the merchants were sent as part of some horrific plot and if we would ever see the king again. (They weren't and we did.)
All anyone had to do was ask him a question about either the garden or woods and off he would take them on one of his tours. Dozens of times he could have been kidnapped or murdered by this ruse.
That is why his tours bothered me so much.
King James' invisibility was so complete and made him so happy that he visited Hatfield an average of about once every two weeks for quite a few years. Mostly in secret. The Chinese Bedroom was originally part of his exclusive permanent apartment. Then again both Robert and I were involved in the top levels of England's government so he had a good excuse to visit. However, protocol was such that we were supposed to go to the king and were happy to do so. It was not supposed to be the other way around. He would leave from London for his estate, Theobalds, and then change to a plain carriage on the way or after he got there. Then he would cut over to Hatfield House where no spies ever thought to look for him (or if they did they did not want to tangle with us Cecil's who were the spy masters of England). Hatfield is only about 8 miles from Theobalds so it did not take very long to travel the distance. In fact in bad weather when there was lots of show or mud it was often faster to travel to Hatfield from London via Theobalds (now the A10 and M25) than to go directly (via what is now the A1).
Later the most critical person that used the box seats was a visitor in the form of a young man named Louis. As long as he was a child nobody gave him a second glance but as he grew older he had to pretend to be someone else. Louis became King Louis XIII, the just of France. He secretly crossed the channel to have fun at his aunt and uncles house at Hatfield. I was his aunt, about twice removed, and you can read about how I was his aunt here. More about him is found on the next page about Hatfield House.
seen the old seats for the theatre? They were dark brown and looked
like pews from a church that seated four people and they could be
stacked so the hall could be used for a dance. Maybe a 'new' church
nearby that was built in the 1700-1800's ended up with them. They
might be seen in an old painting.
There were several stages that were used.
One was made of cross sections of very large oaks (which Hatfield Estate is famous for). My husband, Robert Cecil, surprised me with his creativity when he had the stage made. He drew out the design so that the 50 oak pieces interlocked into a huge jigsaw puzzle. It was a hit with everyone since it was the first jigsaw puzzle ever made. He got the idea from the maze we made in the garden.
The puzzle, could all be disassembled and the entire stage could be taken apart without any tools by 4 men in 20 minutes so that the room could also be used as a large hall. Putting the puzzle together could take as long as three days if you did not know the puzzle pieces were marked on the side with spy master dots. Very tiny marks that nobody noticed. Oh, maybe you also had to know the code. I'm not certain though. The oak pieces were heavy so I left them alone and made them someone elses responsibility.
Only one thing really set it apart from all the rest of the Renaissance theatres on the Continent. The box seating was not the typical one seen in theatres except in one which was in Paris, one in Rome and about six other theatres. It was something Robert was never certain about and I was never quite comfortable with. Hence it was made so that it could be dismantled in a week by two workmen. (Or about two hours by one fed up lady of the house with a sledge hammer.)
Private screening rooms (private theatres) are not that unusual. Wealthy people and especially those in the entertainment industry often have them in their homes for both themselves and their friends.
Then there is Queen Elizabeth's Ermine Portrait which you can see near the right edge of the first photo. It was Queen Elizabeth's practical joke and a trap to catch her enemies. Of course a joke like that needed to end up on that wall. It added to the whimsy of the theatre if you are 'in the know'. Go immediately to this short page in my Queen Elizabeth section to get some 'in the know'.
I had also planned to to convert the old palace into a 'Worlds Fair' with exhibits from around the world including a jungle in an all glass house. (They had precisely two greenhouses in all of England and they were at either Oxford or Cambridge. I did testing to make sure a ceiling of glass would warm up a room and then I knew I could make a jungle in England.) However, it was too far from London for the public to visit. (I did make about four greenhouses to put plants in during the winter and I can point out their location for archaeologists.) I had everything for the Chinese room including a rickshaw and 12 styles of traditional Chinese clothing from different Chinese provinces. I had about 15,000 large sea shells from the Caribbean and was going to build a beach out of them using local sand. It was also going to have lots of art from each country, so the ceilings would have been perfect for it. I think I had about 1/2 of everything I needed to exhibit life in about 12 countries.
(Page 2)Other rooms in Hatfield House and how it was built
Back to the site index
All rights reserved. © J Pinil, Inc. 2006