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Palatial Examples
Medieval London: A City of Palaces Part 2

By Walter Besant

Baynard's Castle stood first on the river-bank close to the Fleet Tower and the western extremity of the city wall. The great house which afterwards bore this name was on the bank, but a little more to the east. The name survived in Baynard's Castle Ward and Wharf. There was no house in the City more interesting than this. Its history extends from the Norman Conquest to the Great Fire - exactly six hundred years; and during the whole of this long period it was a great palace. It was first built, as a castle, by one Baynard, a follower of William the Conqueror. It was forfeited in A.D. 1111, and given to Robert FitzWalter, son of Richard, Earl of Clare, in whose family the office of Castellan and Standard-Bearer to the City of London became hereditary. His descendant, Robert, in revenge for private injuries, took part with the Barons against King John, for which the King ordered Baynard's Castle to be destroyed. FitzWalter, however, becoming reconciled to the King, was permitted to rebuild his house. In 1275, another Robert FitzWalter gave the site to the Archbishop of Canterbury for the foundation of the London House of Dominican or Black Friars. Baynard's Castle in its late formAt the rebuilding of FitzWalter's 'castle' it was somewhat shifted in position and it was probably at this time that it lost its fortified appearance. It was again destroyed, this time by fire, in 1428. It was rebuilt by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, on whose attainder it reverted to the crown. Richard, Duke of York, had it next and lived here with his following of four hundred gentlemen and men-at-arms. It was in the hall of Baynard's Castle that Edward IV assumed the title of King, and summoned the bishops, peers and judges to meet him in council. Edward gave the house to his mother, and placed in it, for safety, his wife and children before going out to fight the battle of Barnet. Here Buckingham offered the crown to Richard III.

Alas, why would you heap these cares on me? I am unfit for state and majesty; I do beseech you, take it not amiss, I cannot nor I will not, yield to you.

Henry VII lived in this palace, which he almost entirely rebuilt. Prince Henry, after his marriage with Catherine of Aragon, was conducted in great state up the river, from Baynard's Castle to Westminster, the Mayor and Commonalty of the City following in their barges. In the time of Edward VI, the Earl of Pembroke, whose wife was sister to Queen Catherine Parr, held great state in this house. Here he proclaimed Queen Mary monarch, as Lady Jane Grey had been only nine days before. When Mary's first Parliament was held, he proceeded to Baynard's Castle, followed by '2,000 horsemen in velvet coats with their laces of gold and gold chains, besides sixty gentlemen in blue coats with his badge of the green dragon.' This powerful noble lived to entertain Queen Elizabeth I at Baynard's Castle with a banquet, followed by fireworks. The last appearance of the place in history is when Charles II took supper there just before the Great Fire of London swept over the building and destroyed it.

Coldharbour on the ThamesAnother house by the river was that called Coldharbour, Cold Harborough or Cold Inn. This house stood just east of the present Cannon Street Station. It was built, or possibly purchased, by a rich City merchant, Sir John Poultney, four times Mayor of London in 1334. At the end of the fourteenth century it belonged, however, to John Holland, Duke of Exeter, son of Thomas Holland, Duke of Kent, and Joan Plantagenet, the 'Fair Maid of Kent.' He was half-brother to King Richard II, whom he here entertained. Richard III gave it to the Heralds for their college. They were turned out, however, by Henry VII, who gave the house to his mother, Margaret, Countess of Richmond. His son gave it to the Earl of Shrewsbury and it was occasionally known as Shrewsbury House. Coldharbour appears to have fallen foul of the Great Fire, though a later building of the same name, erected on the site, was used as the Hall of the Watermen's Company until 1778.

Another royal residence was the house called the Erber. This house also has a long history. It is said to have been first built by the Knight Pont de l'Arche, founder of the Priory of St. Mary Overies. Edward III gave it to Geoffrey le Scrope. It passed from him to John, Lord Neville, of Raby, and so to his son Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland, the staunch supporter of Henry IV. From him the Erber passed into the hands of another branch of the Nevilles, the Earls of Salisbury and Warwick. The Kingmaker resided here, with a following so numerous that six oxen were daily consumed for breakfast alone, and any person who was allowed within the gates could take away as much meat, sodden and roast, as he could carry upon a long dagger. After his death, George, Duke of Clarence - 'false, fleeting, perjured Clarence' - obtained a grant of the house, in right of his wife, Isabel, daughter of Warwick the Kingmaker. Richard, Duke of Gloucester, succeeded, and called it the 'King's Palace' during his brief reign. Edward, son of the Duke of Clarence, then obtained it. In the year 1584, the place, which seems to have fallen into decay, was rebuilt by Sir Thomas Pulsdon, Lord Mayor. Its last illustrious occupant, according to Stow, was Sir Francis Drake.

We are fortunate in having left one house at least, or a fragment of one, out of the many London palaces. The Fire of 1666 did not reach Bishopsgate and so Crosby Hall was spared. Though most of the old mansion has been pulled down of the years, there yet remained the Hall to be taken down and completely Crosby Hall in Chelseare-erected in Chelsea in 1909. The mansion formerly covered the greater part of what is now called Crosby Square. It was built by a simple citizen, a grocer and Lord Mayor, Sir John Crosby, in the fifteenth century. He was a man of great wealth and great position: a merchant, diplomat, and ambassador. He rode north to welcome Edward IV when he landed at Ravenspur. He was sent by the King on missions to the Duke of Burgundy and to the Duke of Brittany. Shakespeare has Richard of Gloucester living in this house as early as 1471, four years before the death of Sir John Crosby, a thing not likely. But he was living here at the death of Edward IV, and here he held his levιes before his usurpation of the crown. In this hall sat the last and worst of the Plantagenets thinking of the two boys who stood between him and the crown. Here he received the news of their murder. Here he feasted with his friends. The place is charged with the memory of Richard Plantagenet. Early in the next century another Lord Mayor obtained it, and lent it to the ambassador of the Emperor Maximilian. It passed next into the hands of a third citizen, also Lord Mayor, and was bought in 1516 by Sir Thomas More, who lived here for seven years, and wrote in this house his Utopia and his Life of Richard the Third. His friend Antonio Bonvici, a merchant of Lucca, next lived in the house. To him, More wrote his well-known letter from the Tower. Successive owners or occupants of this house include William Roper, More's son-in-law, and William Rustill, his nephew; Sir Thomas D'Arcy; William Bond, Alderman and Sheriff, and merchant adventurer; Sir John Spencer, ancestor of Lord Northampton; Mary, Countess of Pembroke, and sister of Sir Philip Sidney - the gentlest shepherdess that lived that day - and Sir Stephen Langham. It was partly destroyed by fire - not the Great Fire - in the reign of Charles II. The Hall, which escaped, was for seventy years a Presbyterian meeting-house. It then became a packer's warehouse. In the 1830s, it was partly restored, and became a literary institution. In the late 19th century, it was a restaurant, gaudy with colour and gilding. The Duc de Biron, ambassador from France in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I was lodged here with four hundred noblemen and gentlemen in his train; and here also was lodged the Duc de Sully.

In a narrow street in the city, called Tower Royal - Tour De La Reole, built by merchants from Bordeaux - survives the name of a house where King Stephen lived in the short intervals when he was not fighting. King Richard II gave it to his mother, and called it the Queen's Wardrobe. He afterwards assigned it to Leon III, King of Armenia, who had been dispossessed by the Turks. Richard III gave it to John, Duke of Norfolk, who lived here until his death at the Battle of Bosworth Field. There is no description of the house, which must have had a tower of some kind, and there is no record of its demolition. Stow only says that 'of late times it has been neglected and turned into stabling for the king's horses, and is now let out to divers men, and is divided into tenements.'

The College of Arms in Queen Victoria Street, already mentioned, stands on the site of Derby House. Here the first Earl, who married the mother of Henry VII, lived. Here the Princess Elizabeth of York was the guest of the Earl during the usurpation of Richard III. The house was destroyed in the Fire and rebuilt in a quadrangle, of which the front portion was removed to make room for the new street.

Half a dozen great houses do not make a city of palaces. That is true; but there were many others. The FitzAlans, Earls of Arundel, had their town house in Botolph Lane, Billingsgate, down to the end of the sixteenth century. The street is, and always has been, narrow and, from its proximity to the fish-market, is, and always has been, unsavoury. The Earls of Northumberland had town houses successively in Crutched Friars, Fenchurch Street and Aldersgate Street. The Earls of Worcester lived in Worcester Lane, on the river-bank. The Duke of Buckingham on College Hill - observe how the nobles, like the merchants, built their houses in the most busy part of the town. The Beaumonts and the Huntingdons lived beside Paul's Wharf. The Lords of Berkeley had a house near Blackfriars. Doctors' Commons was the town house of the Blounts, Lords Mountjoy. Close to Paul's Wharf stood the mansion once occupied by the widow of Richard, Duke of York, mother of Edward IV, Clarence and Richard III. Edward, the Black Prince, lived on Fish Street Hill - the house was afterward turned into an inn. The De La Poles had a house in Lombard Street. The De Veres, Earls of Oxford, lived first in St. Mary Axe and afterward in Oxford Court, St. Swithin's Lane. Cromwell, Earl of Essex, had a house in Throgmorton Street. The Barons FitzWalter had a house where now stands the Grocers' Hall, Poultry. In Aldersgate Street were houses of the Earl of Westmorland, the Earl of Northumberland, and the Earl of Thanet, Lord Percie, and the Marquis of Dorchester. Suffolk Lane marks the site of the 'Manor of the Rose,' belonging successively to the Suffolks and the Buckinghams. Lovell's Court, Paternoster Row, marks the site of the LoveIl's mansion. Between Amen Corner and Ludgate Street stood Abergavenny House where lived, in the reign of Edward II, the Earl of Richmond and Duke of Brittany, grandson of Henry III. Afterward it became the house of John Hastings, Earl of Pembroke, who married Lady Margaret, daughter of Edward III. It passed to the Nevilles, Earls of Abergavenny, and from them to the Stationers' Company. Warwick Lane runs over Warwick House. The Sidneys, Earls of Leicester, lived in the Old Bailey. The Staffords, Dukes of Buckingham, lived in Milk Street.

Such a list, numbering no fewer than thirty-five palaces, is by no means exhaustive, and does not include the town houses of the Bishops and great Abbots, nor the halls of the companies, many of them very noble, nor the houses used for the business of the city, such as Blackwell Hall and Guildhall. It is, however, sufficient to prove that London was indeed a City of Palaces.

Edited by David Nash Ford, from Walter Besant's London (1892).

Part 1: A City of Palaces

Britannia's London




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