The Double Cube Room at Wilton House as seen in Bridgerton and More

Like many avid Bridgerton fans, I was captivated with the room chosen for Queen Charlotte’s throne room where the debutantes were presented. It sparkles and oozes luxury with gold and large paintings everywhere. It has also been featured in many other period dramas, The Crown, and the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. So where exactly is it? The room is actually the Double Cube Room at Wilton House in Wiltshire. Wilton is a spectacular house and has been dubbed one of the most, if not the most, beautiful country houses in England. No wonder it has featured in many a period drama and specifically been Buckingham Palace on more than one occasion.

Queen Charlotte from Bridgerton in her throne room, Netflix

Wilton House itself has been a private house since Henry VIII seized a previous religious site on the estate from nuns during the Reformation. The abbey and its vast 46,000 acre estate was given to William Herbert, who would go on to become the 1st earl of Pembroke and Henry VIII’s brother-in-law when he married Anne, the sister of Henry’s last wife, Catherine Parr.[1] Following this change of ownership, an original Tudor mansion was built, but major alterations to the southern wing during the mid-seventeen century was what the house would go on to be famous for.

Charles I was said to have spent most of his time in the summer at Wilton, so an appropriate design fitting a king was needed.[2] The south wing was to be a set of state rooms similar to those found in the courts of royal palaces. These state rooms were meant to be a mixture of public rooms where the monarch could be meet with his court, along with banquets, music and dancing. There were also a few more private rooms which were only entered by invite only.

By the time of the alterations, the 4th earl was in charge, deciding to employ Inigo Jones and his pupil, John Webb, to design a classical style exterior with an flamboyant exterior, similar to Jones’ other works at Banqueting House and the Queen’s House at Greenwich. Who best to design a space meant to hold a mini court? Jones had been a protégé of the Herbert family, so that was also a big factor in choosing him as the designer.[3] He as also an innovator as he was responsible for bringing in the Palladian style, which took influence from the classical styles of architecture found in Greece and Rome. Whilst he was an innovator, the style would sadly not catch on until the Georgian period a hundred years later.[4]

John Goodall, Wilton House (2005), Wikimedia Commons

A fire in 1647 caused serious issues to the building project as it meant a new design, the one we now see, had to be built. Jones was an elderly man by then and so Webb is thought to have taken over more of the duties, whilst Jones was still involved.[5] What was finally completed was truly spectacular. The Double Cube Room, the focus of this post, is perhaps the most recognisable. It was one of the public state rooms, along with its smaller twin Single Cube Room, which was used as a sort of entrance space for the Double Cube Room. Both of the Cube Rooms were so called because Jones had designed them to be a symmetrical cube shape, although the Double Cube Room was originally known as the King’s Great Room as it was mainly used as a presence chamber.[6]

The ceiling was highly decorated in the baroque style that was popular at the time, known for its flamboyance. Again the classical themes were shown in the choice of scenes portrayed on the ceiling as they tell the story of Perseus, the Ancient Greek hero.[7] As if the splendour of the room wasn’t enough with its ostentatious decoration and expensive furniture made by William Kent and Thomas Chippendale everywhere, there are also the many paintings by Anthony van Dyck throughout the room. The largest of which is a portrait of the Herbert family. As it was 17 feet wide, the whole room had to be designed around it.[8] With so many van Dyck paintings in one room, it has often been called one of the best collections of the artist’s work in one place.

A chimneypiece in the Double Cube Room at Wilton House From In English Homes (1904), Wikimedia Commons

Whilst the room has become recognisable to many a period drama fan, in the past it was monarchs who have greatly enjoyed the Double Cube Room, and the rest of Wilton House alike. The house has been visited by every monarch since Edward VI, who would have visited when the whole original Tudor house would have been in existence.[9] It is no wonder that the grandeur of the house has made it as much of a character of the period drama genre as the human characters. Still, one thing is usually forgotten, well it’s certainly something that I didn’t know until researching for this post, that the state rooms, including the Double Cubed Room, served as an allied headquarters during World War Two and the D-Day Landings were planned from there.[10]

No matter how much grandeur the Double Cubed Room has seen during its long lifetime, it still continues to captivate many visitors and viewers of period drama alike. One day I hope to visit Wilton House in person and get to imagine just what it might be like to be an actor in Bridgerton visiting Queen Charlotte’s throne room.


[1] Ford, Toni ‘Great British Houses: Wilton House- A Stunning Example of Palladian Architecture in Wiltshire’, Anglotopia for Anglophiles, 14 August 2015, https://anglotopia.net/british-history/great-british-houses-wilton-house/

[2] Ellis, Sian, ‘Palladian Wilton House’, British Heritage Travel, 13 July 2016, https://britishheritage.com/palladian-wilton-house

[3] Montgomery-Massingberd, Hugh and Sykes, Christopher Simon, Great Houses of England and Wales (London: Laurence King Publishing Ltd, 1994), p. 117

[4] Ibid, p. 12

[5] Ibid, p. 120

[6] Hinshaw, Victoria, ‘Wilton House- Part Two’, Travels with Victoria, http://numberonelondon.net/2019/05/travels-with-victoria-wilton-house-part-two/

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid; Ellis, Sian, ‘Palladian Wilton House’, British Heritage Travel, 13 July 2016, https://britishheritage.com/palladian-wilton-house

[9] Ellis, Sian, ‘Palladian Wilton House’, British Heritage Travel, 13 July 2016, https://britishheritage.com/palladian-wilton-house

[10] Hinshaw, Victoria, ‘Wilton House- Part Two’, Travels with Victoria, http://numberonelondon.net/2019/05/travels-with-victoria-wilton-house-part-two/

Victorian Art Depicting the Poor

Social Realist paintings were created as direct response to the squalid conditions the poor were living in. The theme was short lived, only really lasting in the 1870s. It aimed to protest against the harshness of the Poor Law, which had meant that outdoor relief was cut and relief was centralised to the workhouse.[1] Despite prior attempts to show the plight of the poor and the conditions they lived in, there still remained a reluctance to portray any hardness in the lifestyle surrounding any image of them.[2] There was a fear that poverty had changed its meaning since industrialisation, so there was some desire to portray it in order to gain understanding. However, attempts often felt otherworldly as they sought  to portray the ‘new citizens of the Empire’.[3] The main theme of art from the early nineteenth century onwards was patriotic, portraying national greatness and reaffirming the superiority of middle class contemporary morality.[4] This meant that there was little appeal for paintings depicting the poor as they were seen as undoing national greatness. It was especially evident in the theory suggesting that the condition of people’s bodies reflected the health of the State. If the poor were in ill health, they were living in “conditions which might give rise to social and political unrest.”[5] To outwardly make not of this possibility would undo the State as a whole. For this reason, many portrayals of the poor showed them in a ‘fashionable’ light, where they still had some invisibility or were purposefully kept at a distance from the intended audience. This helped to reinforce the upper classes social standing because they still were able to control the way in which the poor were portrayed.

S. L. Fildes (1844-1927), Applicants for Admission to a Casual Ward, 1874; Royal Holloway, University of London

In the 1870s, there was a change to the work of some artists, most notably Luke Fildes, known for his famous Applicants for Admission to a Casual Ward (1874). It was based on a similar engraving that featured in The Graphic newspaper, which encourage artists to capture real life, especially if it helped make poverty a public rather than private concern.[6] The idea for the painting came from the experiences Fildes had when he first moved to London, and in his own words he described how he would never “forget seeing somewhere near the Portland Road snowy winter’s night the applicants for the admission to a casual ward”.[7] It purposefully painting showed the different types of people who were reliant on this new form of indoor relief by showing the darkness that a life in poverty created.[8] Art critics had a mixed response to the painting. Some believed that it was “the most notable piece of realism” showing “the startling impression off all wayward and unlovely reality” but others saw it as “revolting for an art which should seek to please, refine and elevate” the poor in the eyes of others.[9] Fildes used this painting as a protest against the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 which stopped all outdoor relief and centred the relief of the poor only within the workhouse. In terms of the painting, it is a direct condemnation of the indignity many poor had to go through to get help. They would first have to report to a police station in order to gain a night ticket for the workhouse, as seen by the policeman in the far left who is talking to a gentleman who looks like a lost ‘explorer’ of the slum.[10] The people who did manage to get some help were often called the ‘undeserving’ poor, so called as they had to prove they were deserving of relief offered by the parish.

D. G. C. Rossetti, Found, c.1869; Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, USA

The ’undeserving’ poor were not allowed help as they were classed as undeserving and were left to fend for themselves. A main category of this type of poverty depicted in art at the time was the fallen woman, a woman who prostituted herself. The image of the fallen woman came to represent the idea of sexual immorality that the middle class believed was rife within the working classes. Female weakness within Victorian art was seen as a way of showing some compassion but not enough to put off a middle-class audience.[11] The Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti, used his unfinished painting Found (c.1869), to represent the prostitution that Dickens and Mayhew had already debated about in their writings.[12] The painting depicts a rural man encountering an old lover who had moved to the city and has now become a prostitute. Urbanisation and industrialisation are seen as the reason for her moral ‘affliction’ and is purposefully compared with the righteousness of her rural lover.[13] The loss of rural innocence and her possible fate is symbolised in the calf that has come into the city from a rural life only to be led to slaughter.[14] Women who did not conform to middle class feminine ideals were used by artists because it was able to create more distance between the audience and the poor they depicted. Distance was also created by the frozen sense of drama which Lamborne indicates was a key feature of paintings depicting fallen women.[15]

In contrast to the fallen woman being used metaphorically for the wrongs of the working poor, the masculinity of the labouring man was the metaphor for how the city was able to improve people’s spiritual life. Ford Madox Brown (another Pre-Raphaelite artist) was able to portray moral concerns surrounding the poor in Work, one of the most famous paintings of the Victorian age.Even Brown himself suggested the inspiration for the painting was his belief that labourers were “at least as worthy of the powers of an English painter as the fisherman of the Adriatic, the peasant of the Campagna or the Neapolitan lassarone”, because they were still working, even they were the lowest in society.[16] The navvies who do the main and physical work are seen as heroes who bask in light whereas the aristocracy are in the dark background as they do not participate in work.[17] The street urchin girl at the front also shows a feminine ideal of work as she shows a motherly persona towards her siblings but the red colour of her dress and her exposed shoulders subtly indicate that she has the signs of a future prostitute.[18]

F. M. Brown, Work, 1852-65; Manchester Art Gallery, UK

Despite the good intensions of Social Realism, it was never fashionable as the middle class were the main buyers of art, meaning those depicted would have represented their work force. For this reason, they were not interested in the pity created in the paintings, for the people in them were their capital.[19] Despite the artists hoping to create a realistic portrayal of the poor, the Victorian poor, sentimentality did play a role. With the middle-class audience in mind, an altered image was needed to create a hidden message of social realism. This came in two forms: the idea of the fallen woman, who appealed to the middle class because it did not conform to their feminine ideals, thus distance was created between themselves and the model within the painting; the masculinity of the working poor could also appeal to the middle class connection with work and moral improvement.[20] There also would have been those who purposefully wanted to turn a blind eye, so having a painting of the poor would have been just too close to home for some.


[1] Paxman, J., The Victorians: Britain Through the Paintings of the Age (London: BBC Books, 2009), p. 68; Des Cars, L., The Pre-Raphaelites: Romance and Realism (London: Thames & Hudson, 2000), p. 49.

[2] Paxman, J., The Victorians, p. 63.                                   

[3] Flint, K., The Victorians and the Visual Imagination (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), p. 156.

[4] D’Arcy Wood, G., ‘Visual Pleasures, Visual States: Art, Entertainment, and the Nation’ in Klancher, J. (ed), A Concise Companion to the Romantic Age (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), p. 246; Pulham, P., ‘The Arts’ in Williams, C. (ed), A Companion to Nineteenth-Century Britain (Oxford: Blackwell, 2007) p. 449.

[5] Flint, K., The Victorians and the Visual Imagination, pp. 152-153.

[6] Paxman, J., The Victorians, p. 66; Korda, A., Printing and Painting the News in Victorian London: The Graphic and Social Realism, 1869-1891 (Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2015), p. 93.

[7] Fildes cited in Paxman, J., The Victorians, p. 69.

[8] Paxman, J., The Victorians, p. 78.

[9] Art Journal, July 1874 cited in Paxman, J., The Victorians, p. 70.

[10] Paxman, J., The Victorians, p. 68.

[11] Des Cars, L., The Pre-Raphaelites, p. 52.

[12] Des Cars, L., The Pre-Raphaelites, p. 52.

[13] Des Cars, L., The Pre-Raphaelites, p. 52; Baringer, T., Reading the Pre-Raphaelites, Second Edition(New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012), p. 109.

[14] Baringer, T., Reading the Pre-Raphaelites, p. 109.

[15] Lamborne, L., Victorian Painting (London: Phiadon Press Limited, 1999), pulp. 375.

[16] Ford Madox Brown cited in Paxman, J., The Victorians, p. 81.

[17] Baringer, T., Reading the Pre-Raphaelites, pp. 113-114.

[18] Baringer, T., Reading the Pre-Raphaelites, p. 115.

[19] Paxman, J., The Victorians, p. 72; Pulham, P., ‘The Arts’, p. 450.

[20] Korda, A., Printing and Painting the News in Victorian London, p. 94; Baringer, T., Reading the Pre-Raphaelites, p. 18.

Charles II’s Search for His Royal Image

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John Gilbert, The Restoration of Charles II,  engraving from the Illustrated London News, 1 June 1861, Private Collection/Bridgeman Images.

For me, Charles II so rightly deserves the title given to him by the BBC children’s TV series, Horrible Histories, as the ‘King of Bling’. In the few essays I’ve written about him during my time as a student, I will confess that is how I address him in my personal notes. I did this even more so on an essay I did on the material culture of the Restoration period being a product of power, especially Charles’ royal power at the time. The most interesting part of this was his search for the art that was looted and sold on from his father, Charles I’s, collection after his execution.

The royal image during the Restoration period needed to be re-established in order to reflect the new role of a constitutional monarchy. Charles II needed to prove he was worthy of being King, whilst also separating himself from the unsuccessful regimes of his father, Charles I, and Oliver Cromwell.[1] However, this was a complicated process. First of all, Charles had to reclaim his father’s art, then create new meanings to them that would apply to his political restoration.[2] The main aim of the Restoration period was to find a midway between the absolutism Charles I had practised, and the Puritanism practised by Cromwell. The way Charles did this was by making luxury consumption an essential part of the pageantry of the royal court.[3] This performance element was most noticeable in the art created for Charles II, as it was essential in creating and maintaining his own form of power.

Upon Charles II’s restoration as King of England, he had stated that his rule would be one of peace and reconciliation.[4] Upon the restoration, symbols of the Commonwealth were destroyed in celebration of what was to come.[5] What is interesting to note is that the political peace was actually closely linked with the retrieval of the goods, jewels and pictures once owned by Charles I. Within a few days of the restoration of the monarchy, a committee was held to find out what had happened to the old king’s collection. It soon became clear that the political restoration of Charles II couldn’t happen “without the material restitution of the trappings of royal power”.[6]

So why was it so important for Charles II to reinstate his father’s collection when it had connections to the absolutism that caused Charles I to lose his head and the destructiveness of the Commonwealth under Cromwell? Art was seen as part of the royal image and it was important to use the old images of the previous king who practised absolute authority in order to show how the new constitutional monarchy would be under the reign of Charles II. The main way to do this was for a shift in the types of artists used for royal art commissions. Charles II didn’t want to repeat his father’s mistakes by buying art for the sake of it and so only brought and commissioned art he believed would be for his own political benefit.[7]

As Charles II hadn’t actually lived in England since he was a teenager, art was needed to familiarise his subjects with what he looked like now.[8] Depictions of him were hung up in many streets so that the ordinary man could know who was going to be in charge of this new political regime.[9] Nothing was more important to spread this message than Charles’ coronation portrait (see below).

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John Michael Wright, Charles II,  Royal Collection Trust © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 2018 / Bridgeman Images

The portrait by John Michael Wright was seen as a definite portrayal of the restoration of royal power.[10] The tapestry behind him is The Judgement of Solomon and was one of the pieces of his father’s recovered collection, showing how important the reclamation process to Charles’ royal image and comparing his own rule to that of his father’s.[11] The comparison with his father goes even deeper when used in connection with the Latin inscription of the portrait. It is taken from 1 Chronicles 29:23 and compares Solomon’s rule with that of his father, King David (of David and Goliath fame): “Solomon sat on the throne of the Lord as King instead of David, his father, and prospered; and all Israel obeyed him”.[12] This clarifies Charles relationship with his father in terms of monarchy. He knew that if his regime was to survive, he had to separate his way of ruling with the absolute monarchy that had been practised previously. Still, there was also some expectation that he would be obeyed as a king for the Order of the Garter symbol still appears. Whilst this is not used to claim divine status as Charles I would have once used it, it still showed links to royalist loyalty and confirmed his new level of authority.[13]

Art was the way Charles reinforced ideas of his own authority onto others. It also helped to solidify the royal image after decades of it being undermined by his father’s eventual fate and the Commonwealth[14]. It helped to define exactly what the new image of constitutional monarchy was by describing it as different to the absolutist monarchical image practised by Charles I. Using art to portray this was vitally important as a monarch’s life and image was meant to reflect the state he was in control of.[15] After the horrors and uncertainty of the English Civil War and the Commonwealth under Cromwell, it was necessary for Charles to create an image that would portray himself as a magnificent monarch who was the answer to the country’s hopes of stability and as someone who would bring glory back to the nation.[16] Most of this was actually illusion, for he was only a constitutional monarch and parliament had more power, but it still had the desired effect.[17] It did largely make Charles a popular monarch at the start of his reign, but this dwindled the longer his reign continued. Still, he was more successful than his two predecessors as he was able to maintain more stability for the nation. All of this was down to how he presented himself in the royal image due the way he imposed his power through portraiture that would be seen throughout the country.[18]

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Smiadecki, F., Charles II, Private Collection/Philip Mould Ltd/Bridgeman Images

[1] Uglow, J., A Gambling Man: Charles II and the Restoration (London: Faber and Faber, 2009), p. 2.

[2] Brotton, J., The Sale of the Late King’s Goods: Charles I and His Art Collection (London: Macmillan, 2006), p. 316.

[3] Jacobsen, H., ‘Luxury Consumption, Cultural Politics, and the Career of the Earl of Arlington, 1660-1685’, The Historical Journal, 52.2 (2009), p. 297.

[4] Malcolm, J. L., ‘Charles II and the Reconstruction of Royal Power’, The Historical Journal, 32.5 (1992), p. 317.

[5] Porter, S., Pepys’ London: Everyday Life in London, 1650-1703 (Stroud: Amberley, 2011), p. 46.

[6] Cited in Brotton, J., The Sale of the Late King’s Goods, p. 316.

[7] Brotton, J., The Sale of the Late King’s Goods, p. 326.

[8] Jackson, C., Charles II: The Star King (London: Penguin, 2016), p. 42.

[9] E. Scott, The Travels off the King: Charles II in Germany and Flanders, 1654-1660 cited in Jackson, C., Charles II: The Star King, p. 42.

[10] Brotton, J., The Sale of the Late King’s Goods, p. 340.

[11] Brotton, J., The Sale of the Late King’s Goods, p. 340.

[12] Jackson, C., Charles II: The Star King, p. 45.

[13] Jackson, C., Charles II: The Star King, pp. 43 and 45.

[14] Uglow, J., A Gambling Man: Charles II and the Restoration, p. 2.

[15] Uglow, J., A Gambling Man: Charles II and the Restoration, p. 2.

[16] Uglow, J., A Gambling Man: Charles II and the Restoration, p. 51.

[17] Uglow, J., A Gambling Man: Charles II and the Restoration, p. 77.

[18] Veblen, T., Theory of the Leisure Class, Reprint (Breman: Outlook, 2011), p. 26.