Posts Tagged ‘Essex Rebellion’

A guest post by LH Member Neil Holman. 

This wide street is well-known to tourists and locals alike for its theatres and luxury hotels. It is around three quarters of a mile in length from the City limits at Temple Bar to Charing Cross, where there is a sharp bend in the river and so to Westminster, where the law courts sat. A map of the third quarter of the 16th century shows the Strand as an essentially ribbon development on each side of the road and running down to the river. The road itself was in very poor condition. In 1532 it was full of “pots and sloughs, very perilous and noisome” and totally unfit for carriages. Cardinal Wolsey no less would ride in his magnificence with his entourage from his Chancery Lane home to Westminster, probably throwing up mud on all and sundry on his way.


Area covered in this article. Map by William Morgan, 1682

Along the Strand, one large building stands out like no other – Somerset House – which gives hint of the Strand’s past glories. It is in fact Georgian designed as government offices but resembles a palace. The original building stood mid-positioned in a parade of town houses of the leading bishops lying on the strategic route between Westminster, the City and the sinister Tower. Henry VIII pressurised the churchmen to cede them for the benefit of his great lay favourites, who received extravagant gifts of former monastic land, honours and monopolies. They in turn wished to celebrate and show off to the world their newly found status, however transitory. Cardinal Wolsey, through his building of Hampton Court Palace from 1515 and the extension of York Place, later Whitehall, led the way. The king himself engaged in his own audacious building programme. An era of erecting so-called “prodigy” houses was underway, designed to overawe their rivals and impress. It would last into the early Stuart period. Those along the Strand would be where they would scheme, squabble, entertain in splendour, and put each other on trial. Some among them would take the first tentative steps in scientific enquiry, despite the first Stuart king being a fervent believer in witchcraft.

Amid all these mansions was a massive palace, whose name is now synonymous with elegance and style, namely the Savoy. It belonged to the great magnates of a previous age. Originally built by Simon de Montfort, and rebuilt by Henry Duke of Lancaster, it belonged to John of Gaunt at the time of the Peasants’ Revolt (1381). The rebels thoroughly wrecked it as they viewed him as the root cause of their grievances. It would never be restored to its former splendour. Somerset House lies on the other side of the approach road to today’s Waterloo Bridge. The original was built on the site of the inns belonging to the Bishops of Chester and Worchester. The builder was the ruthless Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, uncle and Protector of the young king, Edward VI. It was one of the earliest Renaissance-inspired buildings in England, a two storeyed house arranged around a courtyard with a three storey gatehouse. Elizabeth’s progresses often set forth from the courtyard with as many as some 300 people, all to be accommodated and entertained. She visited the equivalent prodigy houses her courtiers had erected on their country estates. Her visits brought many of her hosts close to bankruptcy.


Savoy Palace, 1650 by Wenceslaus Hollar.

The peace negotiations between England and Spain took place here known as the Somerset House Conference culminating in the Treaty of London of 1604. The building served as the residence of queens Anne of Denmark and Henrietta Maria. During the early 1630s Inigo Jones installed a chapel for the latter, a Catholic, to practice her religion. There was an accompanying cemetery from which some tombstones have been incorporated into a passage under the current courtyard. During the English Civil War it was seized by Parliamentary troops who burst into the chapel mutilating a painting by Rubens, which was then flung into the river. With the Restoration Henrietta Maria resumed occupation and embarked on a major rebuilding programme. Yet another queen, Catherine of Braganza occupied the place, but after she left the country it went into sharp decline becoming barracks.


The Somerset Conference of 1604.


Old Somerset House.

The Bedford dynasty was founded by John Russell, who came from a West Country family, originally in the wine trade. John was military man, but being highly cultivated, he was eminently suited for diplomatic missions. Favoured by Cardinal Wolsey, he survived his great patron’s fall from grace. He was given Woburn Abbey in 1547. Russell remained a close friend of the king even towards the end of his reign, despite the king’s instability exacerbated by concussion from a jousting accident. He acquired the former home of the Bishops of Carlisle along the Strand in 1539, a property which became variously known as Russell Place or House. Further land was given to him in the locality including Covent Garden and Long Acre, which provided pasture, fodder and dairy produce to service his house. John, the first Earl of Bedford and Francis, his son, lived and died at Russell Place. It would the third earl, Edward, who built what became also known as Bedford House opposite and his old house passed out of his possession becoming Worcester House after its new owner. Edward was heavily burdened by debts incurred by his predecessors and had the added misfortune of being caught up in Essex’s revolt albeit on the side lines, incurring a punitive £10,000 fine, partly mitigated when he successfully argued that he was merely at the wrong place at the wrong time. It would be the fourth earl, Francis, who undertook a building project far outstripping the Cecils’ by developing Covent Garden.

The Cecils, William and Robert were great builders, constructing between them, Burghley, Theobolds, Cranborne Manor and Hatfield Houses quite apart from their Strand properties. William Cecil opted for the north side, taking over the mansion of Sir Thomas Palmer. It was not particularly convenient for water transport, but pleasantly positioned on the very outskirts of London. Its location, like nearly all these houses, is roughly identifiable today by the names of streets laid out when the mansions were redeveloped, chiefly in the Restoration period. Lord Burghley greatly expanded the existing house between 1555-87 occupying in 1560 a home he described as his “rude new cottage”, when the queen visited in July 1561 when it was only partly completed. In fact, the house which would become known as Burghley House when he was ennobled in 1571, contained double courtyards – one set behind the other – of three storey buildings with four storey corner turrets. It enjoyed very pleasant gardens, including an ornamental hillock with a winding path, a tennis court and bowling alley. He also built another house on the east side, which would house Robert Cecil while his own home on the south side was being built. This building would later be known as Wimbledon House from the title of yet another Cecil. William’s son by his first marriage, Thomas would inherit Burghley House, then taking on the name of Exeter House. In 1602 Robert’s major house was sufficiently far developed to invite the queen, who was “verry royally entertained” and “marvellously contented”.

Seventy years on, James, the 3rd earl redeveloped some of the site, laying out Salisbury Street on the site of Little Salisbury House and a market, Middle Exchange, next to the great house, an early attempt at a shopping mall. It had only a narrow frontage onto the Strand running almost down to the river. It was poorly conceived and never caught on. It gained the unfortunate nickname of “Whores-nest”. Exeter Street and Exeter Exchange were laid out on the north side at approximately the same time.

The trajectory of Cecil senior’s rise passed through the dangerous latter years of Henry, to Elizabeth’s time. Edward and his Privy Council decided on Lady Jane Grey to be his successor. It would prove to be a disaster on Edward’s death. When John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland rode out towards Framlingham Castle to confront Mary, the Privy Council in London made a sudden volte-face and offered their allegiance to her. Within days Mary asserted her rights and seized the throne. Jane became known as “the Nine Day Queen”. Shock waves passed down the Strand. Cecil had incriminatingly put his signature to the document acknowledging Jane as queen. Cecil was still in a fairly junior position and was able to accommodate himself to the Catholic monarch, attending mass to safeguard his new position. Northumberland as the main instigator was soon executed and so was Palmer, whose house William Cecil had taken over and who had engineered the downfall of Somerset.

Another crisis soon arose, the Wyatt Revolt of early 1554 in opposition to Mary’s imminent marriage to Philip II. There was a real possibility of subjugation of this country to this most Catholic of monarchs and a Catholic heir. The rebels approached from the west as London Bridge had been barred to them, and fierce fighting took place along the Strand up to the gates of the City. Lady Jane Grey and her husband Guildford Dudley, who had so far been spared, met the punishment of traitors. Other courtiers nimbly shuffled their feet to save their lives. One such was another Robert Dudley, the future Earl of Leicester, favourite to Elizabeth I and suitor to her hand in marriage. He was quite willing to fight for Philip to assure Mary of his allegiance. Dudley’s house was at the easternmost end of the street, just by Temple Bar. His father’s was Durham House. Elizabeth lived there as a princess, but also spent 2 months in the Tower suspected of complicity in the Wyatt revolt. When no evidence could be produced she was released, but like Cecil, she prudently attended mass. Her father had granted her Durham House for her own use. In 1553 the Duke of Northumberland took up residence against her wishes.

The old inn of the Bishop of Bath and Wells in time came to Thomas Seymour who fought his brother Edward for control of the young king but lost the power battle. The property then passed to Henry FitzAlan, 12th Earl of Arundel, after whose title the house would be named. Arundel was one of those who abruptly swapped allegiances once he realised support for Lady Jane Grey was ebbing and betrayed Northumberland. The 12th Earl negotiated his way through the political turbulence. A crypto-Catholic he sailed close to the wind with his intrigues, but managed to survive. His son-in-law Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk was a Catholic and died as such. His son Philip the 13th Earl of Arundel and many of his family were recusants, canonised in 1970 as one of 40 martyrs in England and Wales. Eventually the property came down to Thomas Howard 14th Earl of Arundel, a courtier to James I and Charles I. Like the 1st Duke of Buckingham at York House he was a major patron of art, amassing a collection of 700 paintings, sculptures, books and what would become known as the “Arundel Marbles”, destined ultimately for Oxford University. In 1621 he was briefly in the Tower of London for insulting a fellow courtier. He sponsored Wenselaus Hollar, who drew part of the lavish house and roof terrace. He was abroad during the lead-up to the Civil War and would never return to England. He helped the Royalist cause with substantial sums of money and reverted to Catholicism. More members of the Howard family lived at Northumberland House and at Essex House.

Statue of Eros from the Arundel Marbles.

The latter dwelling belonged to the powerful medieval order, the Knights Templars, passing from them to the Knights of St. John when the Templars were dissolved. The most eastern of all the houses, it was leased to the Bishop of Exeter, but it would come into the hands of Robert Dudley, who rose quickly under Elizabeth, becoming a Privy Counsellor at 30 and two years later Earl of Leicester. He was granted much land in North Wales. During the Armada emergency he was Commander in Chief of the land forces. His inheritance from his father had been lost because of the attainder on his possessions. However, he received Kenilworth Castle and radically developed it. For Elizabeth’s progress to 1575 Kenilworth Castle, which lasted around 18 days Dudley created a fantasy world of surprises, no expense spared, among which was Elizabeth’s reception by trumpet playing giants. Dudley was almost ruined.

Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl Of Essex took over Leicester House on the other’s death, now renamed Essex House. He stepped into Dudley’s shoes as Master of the Horse, monopoly holder for sweet wines and royal favourite. He had a history of disobeying the queen, and did so again in the disastrous Nine Years’ War by returning home from Ireland. He was put on trial and he would lead a rebellion from his own house in the Strand to the City, thinking as a popular figure people would rally to his cause, but it fizzled out, leading to his execution. In 1590 the house had 42 bedrooms and a picture gallery, kitchen, banqueting suite and chapel. In time it came to another Robert Devereux, the 3rd Earl of Essex, but although supporting Parliament he lost it through debt. The house was mostly demolished between 1674-79. Essex Street was laid out between 1675-80.

Durham Place received its name from the bishops who used it during their stays in London. Wolsey as the bishop lived there in 1516 and 1518. It consisted of two courtyards, the outer one at the front contained lodgings and service rooms while the inner one with the great hall on columns back onto the river. It was one of the properties that the king demanded in an exchange which was to the bishop’s disadvantage. The document of surrender mentions there being gardens, orchards, pools, fishing and stables. Edward VI was in temporary residence before taking the throne when he granted it to Princess Elizabeth in accordance with his father’s will. From time to time, it was used to house ambassadors. In 1553 John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland persuaded a reluctant Princess Elizabeth to let him take up occupation. Edward died on 6th July that year and Lady Jane made the journey by water from the house to the Tower of London on the 10th. Only nine days later Mary was proclaimed queen. The future Spanish king Philip II briefly stayed here in 1554. He was 27 years of age while Mary was 38. The marriage was very much intended to produce a Catholic heir. The new queen returned the mansion to the bishop, but it was also used by ambassadors.
Much later, around 1590, it would be occupied by Sir Walter Ralegh, a great favourite of the queen. Unlike seadogs such as Hawkins and Drake, he came from an aristocratic family. A soldier as a young man, both in France and in Ireland, he received his knighthood in 1585 and other generous rewards from the queen, including Sherborne in Dorset, where he built a new house, now known a Sherborne New Castle. Like so many of the high-flying courtiers of the period he spent a spell in the Tower, in his case for the unauthorised marriage to one of the queen’s ladies in waiting.

In 1585 Ralegh had organised an expedition to modern-day USA, founding Roanoke Colony, which had vanished when a relief expedition arrived three years later. In 1595 he went in search of a “City of Gold”, El Dorado and the Orinoco River in South America. But as soon as Elizabeth passed away, Cecil and Henry Howard, his neighbours at Salisbury and Northumberland Houses had him evicted. Worse was to befall Ralegh. He would again be thrown into prison. He was implicated in the Main Plot of 1603, aimed at replacing James with Lady Arabella Stuart, another unfortunate lady, who was to pay a heavy price for being too closely related to the monarch. Ralegh is famed for introducing tobacco and smoking to England, whereas James launched a thunderous attack on the substance in his A Counterblaste to Tobacco of 1604. The practice can hardly have ingratiated Ralegh to the monarch. However, Ralegh was eventually pardoned in 1617 to lead another expedition to South America in search of the elusive glittering city. Despite strict orders not to fight the Spanish, some of his men did so. This was in violation of the conditions of his release. This time he was to forfeit his life. Ralegh showed amazing bravado at the time of his execution declaring “Let us despatch. At this hour my ague comes upon me. I would not have my enemies think I quaked from fear.” He is honoured by North Carolina, who have named their state capital after him.

In another of Henry’s property swaps, the Bishop of Norwich’s house came to Charles Brandon, Henry VIII’s brother-in- law. During Mary’s reign it was surrendered to the Crown, and Mary bestowed it on the Archbishops of York, who happened to be Lord Keeper. After Mary, this office was carried out by laymen, starting with Nicholas Bacon, but the house kept its name of York House. The house was to feature prominently when the Earl of Essex returned in 1599 from his lacklustre military expedition to Ireland. He was put into the custody of the Lord Keeper in York House and faced two trials, in the first forced to stand and in the second to kneel during the whole session lasting “from 8 of the clock in the morning until almost 9 at night without either meat or drink”. In time he was allowed to return to Essex House under house arrest, although dismissed from all offices, but soon this custody order was lifted. However, he insisted on a pardon, and on this not being granted, he took up arms with disastrous results.

Francis Bacon, born at York House, eventually attained the same office as his father had held. A lawyer by trade, he was a philosopher credited with developing the Scientific Method. However, progress in his chosen career was slow under Elizabeth. In time his relationship with his aunt’s husband, the redoubtable William Cecil brought preferment. In 1598 he was arrested for debt, but his standing with the queen was improving. He served on the prosecution side in the case against Essex, becoming Attorney General and Keeper of the Privy Seal, which brought use of York House. He was made Viscount St. Albans in 1621, celebrating with a lavish banquet in York House. However, his world would shortly come crushing down burdened by debt and facing corruption charges. The sentence was a swingeing fine of £40,000 and imprisonment in the Tower. As it turned out, he was only locked up for a few days and the fine was cancelled, but his career was over.


George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham by Michiel van Miereveld.

The next occupant of the house would perhaps be the most colourful of all the characters of the period. George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham was court favourite to both James I and Charles I. In 1622 he was able to move into York House, which he had long been coveting. He was a domineering figure at court, controlling patronage and much of policy. He himself attained the position of Lord Admiral. He became the bosom friend of Charles the future king, who took him on an unsuccessful mission to Spain to win the hand of the Infanta Maria. Although he chose to live elsewhere, the house was well used. Possibly it was rebuilt, but is more likely to have been renovated. James gave him 2,000 tons of Portland stone for the purpose. Some 200 tons were used for the water gate designed by Inigo Jones, which still stands, now on the edge of the Embankment. Like Arundel he was a great collector of art, but with an eye for self-aggrandisement: he was a great patron of the arts, commissioning many portraits of himself in particular. One painting by Rubens lost for 400 years was rediscovered in 2017. He also had a collection of Roman busts and statues. A much-hated man, he was assassinated in 1628 at Portsmouth. Alexandre Dumas includes him as a character in The Three Musketeers. His description serves as a suitable epitaph: “The favourite of two kings, immensely rich, all-powerful in a kingdom which he disordered at a fancy and calmed again at his caprice, George Villiers was one of those fabulous existences which survive, in the course of centuries, to astonish”. The house passed down to the son, the 2nd duke and was sequestrated during the English Civil War and Interregnum. He was restless and returned before the Restoration. He managed to win the hand of the daughter of Thomas Fairfax, who had been granted the house. He would be part of the “Merry Gang”, the outrageous band of courtiers, who surrounded Charles II.

Next door stood Hungerford House. The name Hungerford is very familiar to Londoners from the footbridge across the Thames. But few are aware of the mansions and market-places, which once stood on the site of Charing Cross Station. The Hungerford family never tried to gain high office, but they variously commanded parliamentary forces or their Royalist counterparts during the Civil War. One of them was a notorious spendthrift, squandering 500 guineas on a wig. To recover his fortunes, he hit upon the idea of setting up a market just like the Duke of Bedford had done in Covent Garden, but it would be a complete flop. Sir Christopher Wren may have designed the market house.

When Elizabeth finally passed away in 1603, Henry Howard – despite being suspected of being a covert Catholic – was warmly welcomed as he had helped James ascend the throne, but Sir Walter Ralegh fell out of favour. Howard rose precipitously under James, and was ennobled in 1604. He was a negotiator at the Somerset House Conference along with Cecil. The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 is familiar to everyone. Once again Cecil was at the centre of the discovery and was determined that all who were implicated were brought to justice. This was a Catholic plot. One of the Percys, the so-called “Wizard Earl” was imprisoned in the Tower from 1605 -21 for alleged involvement. This family had not yet acquired Northumberland House. It was built by Howard and passed to his nephew, Thomas Howard, 1st Earl of Suffolk. He rebuilt Audley End in Essex, on former monastic land. This was one house, so massive that it is still substantial even after two thirds have been demolished to reduce maintenance costs. Thomas foolishly boasted to the king that he had spent £200,000 on it. He was the Lord High Treasurer. The Duke of Buckingham informed the king of what was happening, and both Thomas and his wife were put on trial, prosecuted by Francis Bacon. They were fined £30,000 and imprisoned. However, within days they were released and their fine was reduced, but Thomas’s career was over. He died at Charing Cross. It soon came to the Percys when the 10th Earl of Northumberland, Algernon married the daughter of the second earl and bought the property for £15,000, as part of the dowry. He was born at the other end of the Strand in Essex House as his mother was a Devereux. His father was the “Wizard Earl”. In the Civil War he backed the Parliamentary side, and crucially controlled the Navy. Like his relation the 3rd Earl of Essex, who was a Roundhead commander, he was a moderate, opposing the trial of the king and the execution of the regicides. His house was at an unfortunate location, being only a few hundred yards from Whitehall Palace, outside which Charles I was beheaded and right by Charing Cross, where the regicides were put to death, virtually on his doorstep.


Northumberland House, 1752, by Canaletto.

In 1874 Northumberland House was the last of the Strand mansions to be demolished being replaced by luxurious Victorian hotels. The rebuilt Somerset House, parts of the arch at the end of Essex Street, York House Watergate and a host of street names are left to recall these glories from the past.


York Watergate today. Image: Mike Paterson.

Read Full Post »