Tag Archives: King Henry VIII

Remembering Syon

The Monastery of St Saviour and St Bridget of Syon

Time Team reconstruction of Bridgettine Monastery Church SyonOn  this day (March 3rd) in 1415, the “Monastery of St Saviour and St Bridget of Syon” was founded in Sheen (later, in 1431, moving to a nearby new location between Brentford and Isleworth).  The monastery-cum-nunnery was of the Bridgettine order, the richest and most powerful of  its time, named after its founder, the mystic and later saint Queen Birgitta of Sweden (1303-73).

One of the brothers, Richard Reynolds, was hanged, drawn and quartered in 1535 for challenging King Henry VIII’s  supremacy over the Church; famously encouraging those who suffered alonsgide him by promising them that after their “sharp breakfast” they would have a banquet in heaven.  The monastery itself was dissolved in 1539, by Henry.  Henry’s fifth wife, Catherine Howard, was confined here while awaiting her execution in 1542.  Five years later, in 1547, the coffin containing Henry’s body was accommodated overnight here on route from Westminster to Windsor.  According to one colourful account, the decomposing body burst open during the night, and in the morning dogs were discovered lapping up the liquid that had seeped from the coffin!

Syon House

Syon House was built on the site of the monastery by Edward Seymour, the First Duke of Somerset (and Lord  Protector), sometime between 1547-1552.    After Seymour’s execution in 1552, it came to be owned by John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland, and it was here that his daughter-in-law Lady Jane Grey was offered the crown at the beginning of her short  and ill-fated reign.  After Dudley’s execution in 1553, it reverted to the monarch.  In 1594, the then Queen, Elizabeth I, granted the house to Henry Percy, the Ninth Earl of Northumberland, and it has remained in his family from that time to this.  In the late eighteenth century, Hugh Percy, the First Duke of Northumberland, commissioned Robert Adam to redesign the interior, and Capability Brown to landscape the gardens, thereby creating “one of the finest villas in Europe”.

The fourteenth-century  “Monastery Barn”  and seventeenth-century “Ninth Earl’s Arch” still stand in the grounds of the house.

Archaeological Excavations

Time Team reconstruction of Bridgettine Monastery Church Syon

Time Team reconstruction of Bridgettine Monastery Church Syon

Google Earth visualisation of Kings College Cambridge (for comparison)

Google Earth visualisation of Kings College Cambridge (for comparison)

In 2003, a  “Time Team” archaeological excavation in the grounds of the house unearthed the remains of the Bridgettine monastery church – which was evidently approximately twice as large as the broadly contemporary King’s College Chapel in Cambridge!

A number of burials were later unearthed within the church by a team from Birkbeck University of London. Surviving written records, including a “mortilage”, have enabled the buried individuals to be identified.  One was the order’s last recorded librarian, Thomas Betson, who died in 1517. Betson’s library catalogue shows that at one time the monastery possessed nearly 1750 books, many of them the only copies in Britain, but almost all now lost.  His notebook includes a herbal, that is to say, a list of healing plants, and a list of remedies.

The death of Henry VIII – and Whitehall Palace

Close-up of the Banqueting House ceiling by Rubens

Close-up of the Banqueting House ceiling by Rubens

January 28th –  On this day in 1547, Henry VIII “dyed at hys most princely howse at Westminster, comenly called Yorkeplace or Whytehall”  (Stow).

The house, or rather palace, was originally  built for the  Archbishops of York in the thirteenth century, circa 1240, when it was known as York Place.  It was acquired by Henry VIII from the then Archbishop of York, Cardinal Wolsey, in 1529.  This was  not long after a fire had rendered parts of the nearby Old Palace of Westminster unusable, in 1512.

The Banqueting House

The Banqueting House

 General view of the Banqueting House interior - from the entrance

General view of the Banqueting House interior – from the entrance

Under Henry,  the palace was  renamed Whitehall, and the populace was reminded “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” (Shakespeare,  “King Henry the Eighth”).

The palace was extended both by Henry and by James I.  It  was undamaged in the Great Fire of 1666, but substantially burnt down in another fire in 1698.  Essentially only the Banqueting House, designed by the Neo-Classical or Palladian architect 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 real tennis court in the Cabinet Office building at No. 70 Whitehall; and “Queen Mary’s Stairs”, built in 1691, on the Embankment).

General view of the Banqueting House interior - looking back towards the entrance

General view of the Banqueting House interior – looking back towards the entrance

Charles I was executed outside the Banqueting House in 1649.  The Holbein Gate, built in 1532 and notable as the probable place of the clandestine marriage of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn in 1533, survived both fires (i.e., 1666 and 1698), but was demolished in 1759.

 

 

 

Close-up of the Banqueting House ceiling by Rubens

Close-up of the Banqueting House ceiling by Rubens