In Summary: This is good stuff. An enjoyable read that provides a very niche focus that has more value as background than as esoteric hooks. Considering the relationship of households, architecture and power, it’s definitely worth a GM picking up.
This is Houses of Power, Simon Thurley (2017) — amzn.to/2TXS0W5
The Houses of Power covers the whole of the Tudor period, from the victory that brings Henry VII to power through to the slow, secluded decline of Queen Elizabeth. Unfortunately, at almost 400 pages of actual material (as opposed to index and references), I have only picked at the earlier pages and otherwise “skipped to the end”, where a chapter called Glut settles on the challenges of Queen Elizabeth dealing with a royal estate that spans more than fifty properties.
Much of the early material deals with monarchial progresses, and there are details of the homes of some of those who provided the Queen with accommodation. Sections consider the change in focus away from building to selling off or gifting two-thirds of the estate and the tendency for Elizabeth to make modifications that blend in rather than add chaotic and ostentatious extensions.
The book contains plenty of pictures, various floor plans, and an assortment of colour plates. The floor plans will prove really useful to the GM of any Dee Sanction game, like the overview of Westminster (below), followed by a more detailed room by room plan. These scatter the pages throughout the book, most based on contemporary or near contemporary records, sketches, drawings, similar projects and other material. It’s fascinating stuff—as I say, this is good background material to fill out GM background knowledge.
The esoteric and espionage content demands an open mind. There is, for example, a reference to the Queen requesting that the builders etch the names of the Barons of the Exchequers into the stone bases of timber pillars in completing expansion work at Westminster.
In terms of espionage, reading about the Department of Revels, based out of the Priory of St John of Jerusalem in Clerkenwell, made me think of Bond’s quartermaster. The Q to the Dee Sanction and broader intelligence services at the height of Walsingham’s control feels like it lies here—though, in reality, it had more to do with preparation for and equipping of plays and shows. In The Dee Sanction, the Department offers a source of disguises, costumery, and varied props for Agents.
I envision rooms for disguise training, workshops for creating collapsible props, and elaborate sound stages for complex diversions — akin to The Truman Show, The Prisoner, or the hospital setting that frequently appears in The Blacklist.
I’m going to suggest that Houses of Power scores well for background reading; environment, architecture, protocols. On the game side, there are definitely solid elements you could adapt (and I will, too), but not so much on the esoteric side of things!