Tag Archives: John of Gaunt

Savoy Palace

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

Savoy Palace (Richard II)

The Savoy Palace was built by the Count of Savoie or Savoy, the uncle of  Henry III, in 1324.  It was later given to Edward I’s younger brother, Edmund, Earl of Lancaster, and passed down from him to Henry, Duke of Lancaster, who accommodated King John of France there after the latter’s defeat at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356, and in turn from him to John of Gaunt in 1361.  It was burnt  down during the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 (after which John of Gaunt moved to Ely Palace).

Palace - Copy.jpg

Later buildings on the site, evidently re-developed only after having stood derelict for some considerable time, included the Savoy Hospital, founded by a bequest from Henry VII, who died in 1509, and the associated Savoy Chapel.  The Savoy Hospital became a military one in 1642, and was used to treat some of the wounded from the Civil War.  Parts of it later   became a military barracks and prison.  Large parts  of it were damaged by a fire in 1864, and subsequently demolished, making way  for the construction of the Savoy Theatre in 1881 and the Savoy Hotel in 1889.

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Only the Savoy Chapel survives.

St Etheldreda (and Ely Palace)

Today is the Feast of St Etheldreda, who was the Abbess of Ely in the seventh century …

The church of St Etheldreda

Easily  overlooked on account of its tucked-away location on Ely Place, the  church of St Etheldreda was originally built as a private chapel in Ely Palace, owned by the Bishops of Ely,  in  around 1293, possibly on the site of an earlier structure, and pressed into service as an Anglican church after the Reformation.  It was undamaged  in the  Great Fire of 1666, although it has been somewhat modified subsequently.  It was “restored to the old faith” in 1874.

1 - The decorated Gothic exterior of the church of St Etheldreda.JPG

The exterior  is a rare, restrained  and fine surviving example of the Decorated Gothic style of ecclesiastical architecture.

2 - The interior of the church, with effigies of Catholic martyrs on the walls.JPG

The interior contains a number of memorials to Catholic martyrs, including John Houghton, Prior of Charterhouse, who was hanged, drawn and quartered  at Tyburn in 1535 for challenging King Henry VIII’s  supremacy over the Church.

Ely Palace

Reconstruction of Ely Palace.JPG

John of Gaunt lived in Ely Palace after his own Savoy Palace was destroyed in the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381.

John of Gaunt

In a scene in Shakespeare’s  “Richard II”, set here, he uttered the immortal words:

“This royal throne of kings, this sceptr’d isle,|This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,|This other Eden, demi-paradise,|This fortress built by Nature for herself|Against infection and the hand of war,|This happy breed of men, this little world,|This precious stone set in the silver sea,|Which serves it in the office of a wall,|Or as a moat defensive to a house,|Against the envy of less happier lands,|This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England”.

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.  One such, in 1531, attended by the then king, Henry VIII and his queen,  Catherine of Aragon, is said to have lasted for five days!  According to surviving records, the guests managed to get  through 24 oxen, 51 cows, 91 pigs, 100 sheep, 168 swans, 444 pigeons, 720 chickens and over 4000 larks!

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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.