Where Kings and Queens Kept State
Of all the ancient royal palaces in Britain none has the same charm, none (save Windsor) the same wealth of associations as Hampton Court. Without its associations it would still be one of the most beautiful groups of buildings to be seen anywhere. Even if it were commonplace in architecture, unattractive in situation it would fascinate us, nevertheless, by the memories which stir the imagination as one walks enchanted through its gardens, as one treads its pavements or its parquet floors.
No royal residence-not even Whitehall-has so rich a history. For 200 years it was the home of English sovereigns. To it went, therefore, all who were helping to make those centuries live in the mind of generations to come-the statesmen, the great soldiers, the divines, Court beauties and poets, all matched their wits in these corridors. Famous diplomats from Europe talked over their plots, concocted their alliances, in these light and spacious, but always homely and entirely English rooms.
Here we can picture Henry VIII spending his honeymoons, thinking each new love his final choice, singing madrigals on the quiet river, chuckling at the thought of the ease with which he got the great house with its gardens and park from Cardinal Wolsey -the finest gift a subject ever made to his king.
Next one thinks of Queen Mary, fanatical and melancholy, dwelling here lonely and resentful, waiting for the husband who preferred his Spanish dominions, waiting for the child that never came.
The scene changes, and we see Elizabeth, gay, impulsive, energetic, playing off against one another those who sought her hand, flirting with her favourites, rating her counsellors-all except Burghley: of him she stood always a little in awe, or should we say that she felt as a daughter towards him?
Here she spent much of her childhood, and here she loved to keep Christmas on the scale of her father's time. Here she nearly died of the smallpox, which left her but slightly pitted and did not at all alter her coquettish ways. Here she received ambassadors " in charming undress " and kept them guessing at her intentions. At sixty-five she was dancing " the Spanish Panic to a whistle and a taboureur, none being with her but my Lady Warwick."
James I was not at Hampton Court a great deal. He preferred, as we shall see, Theobalds, in Essex, a strange choice. But Charles I liked the place and often lived there-was living there when he became the prisoner of the Independents and started on his passage to the block.
Already the shadow of Cromwell has been seen in the palace; soon he is living there as Protector and finding it a most agreeable residence. A curious account of his manners there can be found in White-locke's "Memorials." He often hunted the deer in the park, and when one was killed "would embrue his hands in the blood of it, and therewith sprinkle the attendants." Once a week he entertained army officers "not below a captain," and "would show them a hundred Antick tricks, as throwing of cushions and putting live coals into their pockets and boots." When his daughter was married here, he amused himself by "throwing sack posset amongst all the ladies to spoil their clothes, which they took as a favour, and daubing all the stools where they were to sit with wet sweetmeats."
In more sedate moments we can see him listening to Milton's organ music or sitting with his family at a Presbyterian service in the chapel, where ministers, preaching long sermons through their noses, were just as servile and sycophantic as the deans and bishops who preached before kings.
Charles II was very fond of the riverside palace, so fond that he preferred amusing himself there to performing his public duties. "The King and Queen minding their pleasures at Hampton Court," grumbled Pepys in his Diary, "all people discontented." Dutch William fell in love with Hampton Court as soon as he saw it, which was "a very few days after he had been set on the throne." He lived there and went to London only on Council days, which caused some discontent. He and Queen Mary both liked garden-planning. He laid out geometrical beds in the Dutch style. She filled them with her favourite English flowers. But their designs did not last. Queen Anne, to show her independence, had all the box edgings grubbed up!
The Kneller portraits of Court "beauties" were another addition to the palace made by this Queen Mary. She hoped they would be admired equally with those which Sir Peter Lely painted of Charles II's pretty ladies. But poor Kneller had not the same material to work on. He was happier in his portraits of the king, which hang there still. With William's death the great days of Hampton Court ended. Queen Anne preferred Kensington.
George III never cared about Hampton Court. It was said he had had his ears boxed there by his grandfather when he was a boy and could not bear to look upon the scene of such an indignity. More probably he grudged the money that would have had to be spent on keeping up state there. From this time the palace began to be divided up into sets of apartments which were granted to aristocratic persons of slender means. Thus it has remained ever since. To Dutch William's taste for the architectural designs of Wren, at once so charming and so correct, we owe part of Kensington Palace as well as part of Hampton Court. But most people think, not of its appearance, but of the fact that Queen Victoria was born there and lived there as a girl, and it was here that the pretty scene took place when, at five on a summer's morning, the Lord Chamberlain and the Archbishop of Canterbury woke her up to bring her the tidings that she was queen of England.
Whitehall Palace is in most minds associated with Charles I, who was beheaded on a scaffold put up in front of the Banqueting House (which still remains) and approached from its windows. That, however, is but one episode in its long, eventful history.
Like Hampton Court, it was one of Wolsey's houses, and fell into the hands of Henry VIII when the once-powerful Minister was disgraced. It must have been very much like Hampton Court. Unfortunately nothing whatever is left of the original building. Some of it was pulled down by James I, who meant to have a new palace built. But he did not get beyond Inigo Jones's Banqueting House, which, beautiful and stately in itself, was happily preserved when all the rest caught fire towards the close of the seventeenth century.
That was the end of the Palace of Whitehall as a royal residence. Queen Elizabeth had lived there and all the Stuarts. To Londoners it was "the Palace," as Buckingham Palace is to-day. Not without many protests was the glory allowed to pass away from it. After the fire there was talk, while William III lived, of carrying out the whole of Inigo Jones's plans; he had designed a great deal beside the Banqueting House. But the talk came to nothing. Queen Anne divided her time between St. James's and Kensington. Her Hanoverian successors neither knew of nor cared for the great tradition of Whitehall.
Indigo Jones was the inspirer, too, of Greenwich Hospital, which was begun as Greenwich Palace. Charles I commissioned Jones's chief pupil and executor to design a vast building on the site of an old manor house that had belonged to the kings of England since early Tudor days. But only one wing was built, and that was devoted by William and Mary for use as a refuge for old or disabled seamen of the Navy.
Another royal palace near London was that of Eltham. Its banqueting hall can still be seen, though it has been put to base uses during its later history. It reminds one of Crosby Hall; both were built during the reign of Edward IV. From the thirteenth to the sixteenth century all the sovereigns of England occupied Eltham. Even Queen Elizabeth lived there as a child. Then it fell out of favour and sank so low that the hall in which kings and queens had feasted came to serve as a barn.
A pleasant town is Richmond in Surrey, and few spots in Richmond town are pleasanter than the Green. The tide of change which has swept over the main street close by, and even up the famous Hill, has passed the old Green by.
If you stroll around the Green to its western side, you will see over a gateway a coat of arms. They are the arms of Henry VII. Here was once the entrance to the principal court of the royal palace of Richmond. Of that royal palace nothing else remains. For a long time it was called the palace of Sheen. The village of that name lay near by, and the name was well bestowed, for it meant in Anglo-Saxon "bright," which hits off exactly the charm of the landscape still. One wonders what was thought of it by the Scottish chiefs when they came here to make a treaty with Edward after the death of Bruce, their great leader. That visit of the Scots, plaided and bonneted, surprised and suspicious, is but the first of a number of pictures that fill the mind's eye as one runs over the events of the next four hundred years. At Richmond in 1377 died the old, wavering Edward III, deserted, as was Louis the Well-beloved of France long afterwards, by all who had battened on his bounty. Only a poor priest, taking pity on the king's wretchedness, stayed by him in the last moments of his life, put the crucifix to his lips, and heard the dying man murmur, "Jesu, pity!"
The next king, Richard II, was fond of Sheen Palace too-because his wife liked it. It was to them "a place of pleasure," as an old chronicle says, "and served highly to their recreation." But Richard's wife was taken ill and died there, whereupon in a great passion of grief he "caused the palace to be thrown down and defaced."
Near a hundred years passed before it became again a royal residence. This time it was Henry VII who delighted in its surroundings and changed its name from Sheen to Richmond: he had been Earl of Richmond before he killed Crookback Richard and seized the throne. So Sheen Chase became the Richmond Park we know to-day, and here not long afterwards was held a magnificent tourney in which the young Henry VIII took part. One can fancy him, good-looking, gay, good-humoured, galloping in the lists and hawking on the hills. One must shudder at the remembrance of what that bright boy became.
Wolsey lived here by the king's permission after he gave up Hampton Court. While "Bloody Mary" reigned, her sister Elizabeth made acquaintance with the place as a prisoner. Its charm was stronger than the melancholy associations it had for her. When she became queen, she lived much at Richmond, and it was here that she died in 1603.
Charles I lived a good deal at Richmond and enclosed a big stretch of country so that he could hunt red and fallow deer. Charles II also inhabited the palace when he was a young man.
With the Commonwealth began the decline of Richmond Palace. It was put up for sale, after being damaged a good deal by Puritan troops, and though it became Crown property again at the Restoration, it fell first into disuse and then into decay.
With Theobalds Palace, near Waltham Cross in Essex, the Cromwellian soldiers dealt even more harshly. They demolished a fine house just because kings had lived in it. Nothing was left of its magnificence. The materials were sold for £8,000, and the money divided among the troops. Only the memory of Theobalds remained.
Yet, so splendid a house had it been, so sumptuous were the entertainments given in it, that this memory has remained vivid all these years. Built by the famous Lord Burghley, Queen Elizabeth's counsellor, it was given to James I by Burghley's son, first Earl of Salisbury. The king gave him Hatfield in exchange and flattered himself he had the best of the bargain. Theobalds must have been one of the finest of Tudor mansions, and the gardens matched the house in beauty. Queen Elizabeth admired the place and several times stayed there. Each visit cost her faithful counsellor from £2,000 to £3,000, which in those times was a great deal of money, equal at least to £20,000 to £30,000 to-day. When James was on his way from Scotland to become Elizabeth's successor, he made Theobalds his last stopping place before he reached London. He took an immediate fancy to it and determined to make it his own. So it became soon afterwards a royal palace, and in it dwelt with great content the slobbering pedant, the foul-mouthed pietist, the learned fool, who was king in England for twenty-two years. We can fancy him shuffling round the gardens with "Steenie" (the Duke of Buckingham) or arguing with prelates in the vast high-ceilinged. rooms. We can picture, too, the shocked amazement of a monarch from the north of Europe when he saw at a lavish entertainment in his honour that certain Court ladies who were to act a masque before him were unfortunately too much under the influence of liquor to perform!
Everyone who knows Edinburgh knows Holyrood Palace, the square pile of seventeenth century buildings right under Arthur's Seat, with the ruin of an ancient church attached to them. The church was there long before the palace. In the course of centuries a royal residence grew up beside the Abbey of the Holy Rood, and even the smallest schoolgirl now associates the place with Mary, Queen of Scots.
Scarcely any episode of history is better known than the murder of the Queen's Italian secretary, Rizzio, by a number of Scottish nobles, including her husband, the Earl of Darnley. That, it must be admitted, is what takes most visitors to Holyrood. Were it not for the romantic interest there is little to make it a place of pilgrimage.
This unfortunate lady lived a good deal also at Falkland Palace (Fifeshire), the residence which James VI, who became James I of England, liked best so long as he remained in Scotland. This is now a country house; little of the old building is left. To what remains, however, are attached many memories of ruder, more romantic times. Here took place the murder of the Duke of Rothesay, described by Scott in "The Fair Maid of Perth." Here James V, after his defeat at Solway Moss, came home, a despairing, broken man, to die. And Falkland Palace was connected, too, with that mysterious affair known as the Gowrie Conspiracy, which at the period redounded very little to the credit of James VI (and I).
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