“The Caroline era refers to the period in English and Scottish history named for the 24-year reign of Charles I (1625–1649). The term is derived from Carolus, the Latin for Charles. The Caroline era followed the Jacobean era, the reign of Charles’s father James I & VI (1603–1625), overlapped with the English Civil War (1642–1651), and was followed by the English Interregnum until The Restoration in 1660. It should not be confused with the Carolean era which refers to the reign of Charles I’s son King Charles II.
The Classical architecture popular in Italy and France was introduced to Britain during the Caroline era; until then Renaissance architecture had largely passed Britain by. The style arrived in the form of Palladianism, the most influential pioneer of the style was the Englishman Inigo Jones. Jones travelled throughout Italy with the ‘Collector’ Earl of Arundel, annotating his copy of Palladio’s treatise, in 1613–1614. The “Palladianism” of Jones and his contemporaries and later followers was a style largely of facades, and the mathematical formulae dictating layout were not strictly applied. A handful of great country houses in England built between 1640 and 1680, such as Wilton House, are in this Palladian style. These follow the success of Jones’ Palladian designs for the Queen’s House at Greenwich and the Banqueting House at Whitehall (the residence of English monarchy from 1530 to 1698), and the uncompleted royal palace in London of Charles I.
Jones’s St Paul’s, Covent Garden (1631) (seen right of picture above – looking towards Henrietta Street, London WC2. Henrietta Maria was wife of Charles I and mother of Charles II) was the first completely new English church since the Reformation, and an imposing transcription of the Tuscan order as described by Vitruvius – in effect Early Roman or Etruscan architecture. Possibly “nowhere in Europe had this literal primitivism been attempted”, according to Sir John Summerson.
Jones was a figure of the court, and most commissions for large houses during the reign were built in a style for which Summerson’s name “Artisan Mannerism” has been widely accepted. This was a development of Jacobean architecture led by a group of mostly London-based craftsmen still active in their guilds (called livery companies in London). Often the names of the architects or designers are uncertain, and often the main building contractor played a large part in the design. The most prominent of these, and also the leading native sculptor of the period, was the stonemason Nicholas Stone, who also worked with Inigo Jones. John Jackson (d. 1663) was based in Oxford, and made additions to various colleges there.
The owner of Swakeleys House (1638), now on the edge of London, was a merchant who became Lord Mayor of London in 1640, and the house shows “what a gulf there was between the taste of the Court and that of the City.” It features prominently the fancy quasi-classical gable ends that were a mark of the style. Other houses from the 1630s in the style are the “Dutch House”, as it was known, now Kew Palace, Broome Park in Kent, Barnham Court in West Sussex, West Horsley Place and Slyfield Manor, the last two near Guildford. These are mainly in brick, apart from stone or wood mullions. The interiors often show a riot of decoration, as carpenters and stuccoists were given their head.
Raynham Hall in Norfolk (1630s), where the origins of the design have been much discussed, also features large and proud gable ends, but in a far more restrained fashion, that reflects Italian influence, by whatever route it came.
Following the execution of Charles I, the Palladian designs advocated by Inigo Jones were too closely associated with the court of the late king to survive the turmoil of the Civil War. Following the Stuart restoration, Jones’s Palladianism was eclipsed by the Baroque designs of such architects as William Talman and Sir John Vanbrugh, Nicholas Hawksmoor, and even Jones’ pupil John Webb.”