The construction of Nonsuch began on 23 April 1538, the thirtieth anniversary of Henry VIII’s accession to the throne, on the site of the village of Cuddington, near Ewell, Surrey. The palace’s primary function was to serve as a hunting lodge; more importantly it was conceived as a visual expression of Tudor supremacy both temporal and spiritual, a celebration of the birth of Henry’s first legitimate son (the future Edward VI) on 12 October 1537 and, in flattening the parish church of Cuddington, it literally demonstrated Henry’s new dominance as head of the Church in England. Most importantly, it was proof that Henry was equal to the architectural achievements of François I of France. It was named ‘Nonsuch’ as no other palace could equal its magnificence.Share
Still incomplete when Henry VIII died in 1547, Nonsuch was sold to Henry FitzAlan, Earl of Arundel, by Mary I in 1557. It returned to royal hands in 1592, when Arundel’s heir Lord Lumley gave it to Elizabeth I in settlement of a debt. It was eventually granted by Charles II to Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine, in 1670, when she was created Baroness of Nonsuch, Countess of Southampton and Duchess of Cleveland. In late 1682 she took the step of beginning to dismantle the Inner Court, as merely the first stage of an ordered demolition which enabled her to sell the raw materials for money with which to pay off her gambling debts. By 1690 the palace was all but gone, and for almost four hundred years its fabulous appearance was only known through written records and the few known visual representations.