Tag Archives: Elizabeth I

Ely Palace

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Another in the  occasional series on “London Settings for Shakespeare’s Plays” …

Ely Palace (Richard II)

Ely Palace was originally built in around 1293.  John of Gaunt came to live here after his own Savoy Palace was destroyed in the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381.  In a scene in Shakespeare’s  “Richard II”, he utters his famous dying “This England” speech here.  The palace’s gardens were said to produce the finest strawberries in London, in honour of which a “Strawberrie Fayre” is still held nearby  every June.  In a scene in “Richard III”, Gloster says to Ely: “My Lord of Ely, when I was last in Holborn, I saw good strawberries in your garden there; I do beseech you, send me some of them”.

The palace’s Great Hall was famed for its banquets.  According to surviving records, the guests at one such  in 1531, who included  the Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, managed over the course of five days to work their way through 24 oxen, 51 cows, 91 pigs, 100 sheep, 168 swans, 444 pigeons and 720 chickens – not to mention 340 dozen, that is, 4080, larks!

In 1576, the palace was ordered by Elizabeth I to be leased to  her  favourite Sir Christopher Hatton, for a rent of £10 a year, ten loads of hay, and a rose picked at mid-summer.   It remained more or less continuously  in the possession of the Hatton family until the death of the last Lord Hatton in 1772, when it was finally demolished to make way for what is now Hatton Garden.

“Melody and joy and comfort to all true Englishmen and women” (Henry Machyn, 1558)

Somerset House (Cornelis Bol, c. 1650)Another in the occasional series on contemporary accounts of events in the history of London …

On this day in 1558, Henry Machyn wrote in his diary:

“And so her Grace [Elizabeth I] lay in the Tower unto the fifth day of December, that was Saint Nicholas even.  And there was in certain places children with speeches, and other places singing and playing with regals.

The fifth day her Grace removed by water under the bridge unto Somerset Palace, with trumpets playing, and melody and joy and comfort to all true Englishmen and women, and to all people”.

“The queen removed from the Lord North’s palace” (Henry Machyn, 1558)

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On this day in 1558, Henry Machyn wrote in his diary:

“The 28th day of November the queen removed to the Tower from the Lord North’s palace, [which] was the Charterhouse.  All the streets unto the Tower … new gravelled.  Her Grace rode through Barbican and Cripplegate, by London Wall unto Bishopsgate, and up to Leadenhall and through Gracechurch Street and Fenchurch Street; and afore rode gentlemen and many knights and lords, and after came all the trumpets blowing, and then came all the heralds in array; and my Lord of Pembroke bore the queen’s sword; and then came her Grace on horseback, apparelled in purple velvet with a scarf about her neck, and the sergeants of arms about her Grace; and next after her rode Sir Robert Dudley the Master of her Horse; and so the guard with halberds.  And there was such shooting of guns as never was heard afore; so to the Tower, with all the nobles … ”.

“All London did eat and drink and made merry” (Henry Machyn, 1558)

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On this day in 1558, Henry Machyn wrote in his diary:

“Between 11 and 12 a’forenoon, the lady Elizabeth was proclaimed queen Elizabeth, queen of England, France and Ireland, and defender of the faith, by divers heralds of arms and trumpeters, … dukes, lords  … and the lord mayor and the aldermen, and divers other[s].  The same day, at afternoon, all the churches in London did ring, and at night did make bonfires and set tables in the street, and did eat and drink and made merry for the new queen Elizabeth … ”.

It was the start of a Golden Age.

Somerset House

Somerset House in 1722 (Kip)

The original Somerset House was built for the Lord Protector Somerset in 1547-50.  After Somerset’s  execution in 1552, it came to owned, occupied and modified in turn by the then-future Queen, Elizabeth I, in 1553; by    the then King, James I’s wife, Anne of Denmark, in 1603; by  the then-future King, Charles I, in 1619; and by the then King, Charles I’s wife, the French Henrietta Maria, in 1626.  It then survived the Civil War and Commonwealth of 1642-60, during which time it was temporarily appropriated by Parliamentarian authorities, as well as the Great Fire of 1666.  In 1669, the then King,  Charles II’s wife,  the Portuguese Catherine of Braganza, acquired it, and in 1692, shortly after Charles II had died and James II, who was a Catholic, had been deposed,  she relinquished it, fearing  for her safety there in the midst of what by that time had become a fiercely anti-Catholic populace.  It was then  allowed to fall into disrepair, and substantially demolished to make way for the present building in 1775.

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Of the original, only some footings survive, in the “Archaeology Room”, together with some headstones from the former – Catholic – chapel, in the “Dead House”.

Whitehall Palace (1529)

On this day in 1529, the Tudor King, Henry VIII appropriated the thirteenth-century York Place, which had  originally been built for the Archbishops of York, from the then Archbishop, Cardinal Wolsey, and he renamed it Whitehall Palace (whence, from Shakespeare’s “King Henry the Eighth”, “You must no more call it York Place: that is past; For since the Cardinal fell that title’s lost.  ‘Tis now the King’s and called Whitehall”).   Whitehall Palace essentially came to take the place of the  Old Palace of Westminster, large parts of which had been rendered unusable by a fire in 1512.

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It was considerably extended by Henry VIII and later by his daughter Queen Elizabeth I, and  by the Stuart Kings  James I, Charles I and Charles II.  It was undamaged in the Great Fire of 1666, but substantially burnt down in another fire in 1698.

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Detail from Rubens's ceiling

Essentially only the Banqueting House, built for James I by  Inigo Jones in 1622, and notable as the first Renaissance building in London, with a ceiling by Rubens, still stands (together with “Henry VIII’s wine cellar” in the nearby Ministry of Defence building in Horse Guards’ Avenue, the site of his tilt-yard in Horse Guards’ Parade, part of his tennis court  in the Cabinet Office at No. 70 Whitehall, and “Queen Mary’s Steps”, built in 1691, on the Embankment).  The Holbein Gate, built in 1532, and notable as the probable  place of the clandestine marriage of Henry and Anne Boleyn in 1533,  survived  both fires, but was demolished in 1759.

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Charles I was executed outside the Banqueting House in 1649.

The execution of Walter Raleigh (1618)

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The Devonian landed-gentleman, writer, poet,  court favourite,  politician, soldier, spy and explorer Walter Ralegh was executed on this day in 1618.

Ralegh was granted a Royal Charter by Elizabeth I in 1584 to explore, colonise and rule any “remote, heathen and barbarous lands, countries and territories, not actually possessed of any Christian Prince or inhabited by Christian People [in the New World]”,  in return for one-fifth of all the gold and silver that might be mined there.  He first organised, although did not himself participate in, two voyages to Roanoke in Virginia in the 1580s, in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to establish an English colony in North America, under the governorship of John White (it was not until 1607 that a successful colony was to become  established, at Jamestown in Virginia).   White first went out to Roanoke in 1587, but returned to England shortly afterwards in order to pick up further supplies.  He had intended to go back again within the year, but, for various reasons, was not actually able to do so until three years later than planned.  When he finally did arrive back in Roanoke, he found no trace of the colony or of the colonists, other than the word  “CROATOAN” carved into tree trunks.   Ralegh then himself participated in a voyage in  1595 in search of “El Dorado”, the fabled city of gold in South America, again with no success.  In between times,   in 1591,  he had been temporarily imprisoned in the Tower of London, for having married Elizabeth Throckmorton, one of Elizabeth I’s  ladies-in-waiting, without first having sought the Queen’s express permission.  Later, after  Elizabeth I died, and James I succeeded her to the throne, Ralegh was imprisoned again, this time on the altogether more serious charge of complicity in the so-called “Main Plot” against the new King in 1603 (which sought to remove him and replace hm with his cousin Arbella Stuart).  He was eventually pardoned and released from captivity in 1616, in order to undertake a second voyage in search of “El Dorado”.  This time, he did find gold, albeit by the expedient of ransacking a Spanish outpost, in violation of the terms not only of his pardon, but also of   the Treaty of London of 1604, that had brought to an end the long-running Anglo-Spanish War.  On his eventual return to England in 1618, he was arrested and executed in Westminster Palace Yard, essentially to appease the Spanish.

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There is a portrait of Ralegh,  by an unknown artist of the  English School, in the National Portrait Gallery.  It depicts a handsome  man wearing an embroidered and padded white doublet, and a sable-trimmed and pearl-studded cloak, in the Queen’s colours of black and white.  Ralegh is of  course remembered  for supposedly once having made the chivalrous gesture of casting  one of his cloaks upon a puddle  so as to allow the Queen to walk over it without getting her feet wet.  He is also widely credited with  having supposedly introduced the potato, and tobacco, to England

“Shakespeare and his fellow actors promise to be good neighbours” (Henry Carey, 1594)

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On this day in 1594, Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon, wrote to the Lord Mayor of London:

“Where my now company of players have been accustomed … for the service of her majesty [Elizabeth I] …  to play this winter time at the Cross Keys in Gracious [Gracechurch] Street; these are to require and pray your lordship (the time being such as, thanks be to God, there is now no danger of the sickness [plague]) to permit and suffer them to do so.  The which I pray you rather to do for that they have undertaken to me that, where heretofore they began not their plays till towards four o’clock, they will now begin at two and have done between four and five and will not use any drums or trumpets at all for the calling of people together and shall be contributories to the poor of the parish where they play, according to their abilities”.

Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon

Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon (1526-96) was a nobleman, a courtier to his cousin, Elizabeth I, and a politician as well as a patron of Shakespeare’s playing company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.  He was the son of Anne Boleyn’s sister Mary, and it has been speculated that he was fathered by Henry VIII.

The Battle of Flodden Field, and the bizarre tale of the King’s Head (1513)

St Michael Wood Street

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Flodden Field, one of the bloodiest ever fought on British soil, between the English and the Scots, which took place in 1513.  According to Stow, in his “Survay of London written in the Year 1598”, sometime after the battle, the decapitated head of the defeated Scottish King, James IV, ended up being buried in  the church of St Michael, Wood Street, just off Cheapside (*). The church was later  burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666, rebuilt  by Christopher Wren between 1670-75, and modified  in 1887-88, only to be demolished in 1897. Nothing remains of it at its former site, now occupied by a public house – called not the “King’s Head” but the  “Red Herring”!

(*) The relevant part of the text reads more-or-less in full as follows:

“There is …  , … without any outward monument, the head of James, the fourth king of Scots of that name, slain at Flodden field, and buried here by this occasion: After the battle the body of the said king being found, was enclosed in lead, and conveyed … to the monastery of Shene in Surrey … .  Since the which time workmen there, for their foolish pleasure, hewed of his head; and Lancelot Young, master glazier to her majesty [Elizabeth I], … seeing the same dried from all moisture, and yet the form remaining, with the hair of the head, and beard red, brought it to London to his house in Wood Street, where for a time he kept it … , but in the end caused the sexton of that church to bury it amongst other bones … ”.

Celebrating Sir Francis Drake

 

 

On this day in 1586, Sir Francis Drake was feted in the Middle Temple on his return from the New World – where he had been busy “privateering” (plundering Spanish possessions).

Drake is also famous as  the first person to circumnavigate the globe, between 1577-80, aboard the “Golden Hind(e)”.  On April 4th, 1581, Elizabeth I visited his ship, which had been “drawn into a creek … at Deptford as a perpetual memorial for having circuited round about the whole earth”, and “consecrated it with great ceremonie, pompe and magnificence eternally to be remembered”; and knighted him.  The ship  remained at Deptford for about 100 years, until it started to disintegrate and had to be broken up.  A  plaque on the water-front there marks the site and commemorates the event.  There is a modern reconstuction of it  in St Mary Overie Dock in  Southwark.