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.