Sunday, 29 December 2013

Oatlands Palace

Another in my mini-series of  ‘Lost Royal Palaces’ is one which was a favourite home of King Charles I and his wife Queen Henrietta Maria. 
Oatlands Palace, an Artistic Impression
Henry VIII acquired a house on the south bank of the River Thames near Weybridge from the Rede family, who were granted a former monastic priory at Tandridge as compensation.  The name Oatlands comes from the thirteenth century owner, Robert dc Ottelond, and probably refers to the oats grown in the area.

Henry VIII
Henry rebuilt the palace in 1538 for Anne of Cleves, and formed part of the Honour of Hampton Court, his huge hunting domain that stretched from Weybridge to Coulson.

The palaces at Oatlands and Nonsuch were needed to house his retinue of servants, courtiers, government ministers, plus visiting dignitaries and their staff in a place easily accessible to London via the River Thames.

Oatlands was built around three adjoining quadrangles with courtyards, incorporating the original 15th century house at the inner court, using stone from the Abbeys at Chertsey, Merton and Bisham, which fell into ruins after Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries. Brick kilns were set up to produce rose red Tudor bricks and the palace eventually covered 14 acres and stood in a park of 538 acres, the result resembling Hampton Court.

Henry married Catherine Howard there on 28 July 1540, but although he used it early in his reign, he rarely visited and it was not even complete when he died in 1548.
Katherine Howard

Edward VI and Queen Mary stayed there in 1548 and Elizabeth I visited many times during her reign and liked to hunt deer in the park.

Mary Tudor had assembled her entire court and nursery staff in preparation for the child she was convinced she carried at Hampton Court. When she suddenly packed her retinue and retired to Oatlands, it was a signal that no child would be born.

James I bred pheasants on the estate and planted mulberry trees and had a 'Silke-worme House' built in an unsuccessful attempt to set up a silk industry in England. James I's wife Anne of Denmark employed Inigo Jones to design an ornamental gateway from the Privy Garden to the Park.
Charles I and Henrietta Maria

In 1640, Queen Henrietta Maria gave birth to her third son, Henry Duke of Gloucester who, during his lifetime was often known as Henry of Oatlands.

Charles I used Oatlands for his queen's residence, and employed John Tradescant the elder to design and manage the gardens. Charles was also imprisoned there by the army in 1647.

When Queen Henrietta was being pursued by Parliamentarians, she gave birth at Bedford House in Exeter, but with soldiers on their way to take the city, she fled to France, leaving the baby behind. She spent some of her first two years at Oatlands before she was smuggled to France by Lady Dalkeith in the summer of 1646 to join her mother. Henrietta Anne became Duchess of Orleans, sister-in-law of Louis XIV.  

After Charles I's execution, the  Commonwealth Parliament sold several royal residences off to raise money for soldiers' overdue pay.  Oatlands was valued at £4,023-18s-0d, and was bought by a Robert Turbridge who demolished it to ground level and sold the recovered building materials.

Only a restored 16th century brick carriage gateway with a tall four-centred archway remains of the palace today. Excavations discovered the north-east triangular end of the palace (surrounded by a moat), stables and what may have been a banqueting house.

The much smaller house which remained was subsequently occupied and extended by Sir Edward Herbert, the Lord Chief Justice, but was forfeited to the Crown when he followed James II into exile. The property was awarded to his brother, Arthur Herbert, 1st Earl of Torrington, who was later the admiral in command of the English and Dutch Fleets at the Battle of Beachy Head.  The house was again enlarged by the Duke of Newcastle, Henry Clinton, who laid out formal gardens.

In 1790, Oatlands was leased from the Crown by the Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany the second son of George III. The composer Joseph Haydn recorded a two-day visit in November 1791, as a guest of the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York, playing music for four hours each evening. He says:
The little castle, 18 miles from London, lies on a slope and commands the most glorious view. Among its many beauties is a most remarkable grotto which cost £25 000 sterling, and which was 11 years in the building. It is very large and contains many diversions, inter alia actual water that flows in from various sides, a beautiful English garden, various entrances and exits, besides a most charming bath.
In 1794 the mansion was burnt down, then rebuilt in the Gothic style, but after the death of the Duchess of York in 1820, the whole property was sold. It was bought by Edward Hughes in 1824, and remodelled in 1830. Hughes had tried to dispose of the estate by public auction in 1829 but let the Mansion and adjoining parkland to Lord Francis Egerton for the next fourteen years.

The arrival of the London and South Western Railway in 1838 made the area more accessible to London, and in 1846, the estate was broken up into lots and sold at public auction for development and went into private ownership by James Watts Peppercorne and became a hotel in 1856 known as the South Western Hotel, later changed to Oatlands Park Hotel as it is today.

During World War I, the hotel was used as a hospital for New Zealand troops injured in France. Subsequently one of the main streets in Walton-on-Thames was renamed to New Zealand Avenue in honour of these men. 
Archway To The Stables

Excavations at Oatlands Palace

Excavations began in 1968 and revealed that a moated manorial site existed from the late 13th century, and acquired by Bartholemew Rede, a wealthy London goldsmith, soon after 1478. He created a substantial brick-built courtyard house, and extended it into a (mock) fortified manor, with towers at three corners of a moated island, and a tower house at the fourth.

Oatlands was primarily the Queen’s palace, with Hampton Court (the King’s palace) and Nonsuch (the Prince’s palace).The demolition of 1650 left only a wall of the outer court standing. The contents of a series of garderobes, containing material of the 1640s, were sealed by demolition rubble, and form the most interesting of the finds from the excavations.

In 1870-72, John Marius Wilson's Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales described Oatlands thus:

OATLANDS PARK, a chapelry in Walton-on-Thames parish, Surrey; adjacent to the E side of Weybridge, to Weybridge r. station, and to the river Thames at thoboundary with Middlesex, 3 miles S E by E of Chertsey. It has a post-office under Weybridge Station, and a goodhotel. A stately palace was built here by Henry VIII.; stood in a splendid park; was inhabited, at times, by Elizabeth; became a favourite residence of Anne of Denmark; was the scene of a gorgeous entertainment by her, to the Venetian ambassador Busino; under went numerous additions by Inigo Jones; was the birthplace, in 1640, of " Henry of Oatlands, " Duke of Gloucester, and youngest son of Charles I. ...

Sunday, 22 December 2013

How Oliver Cromwell stole Christmas

No Christmas for you! 

Does Christmas make you want to shout Bah Humbug? You are not alone. Nor is the much touted "War Against Christmas" anything new. Oliver Cromwell goes down as history's biggest Grinch. The Lord Protector and his Puritan-led parliament literally stole Christmas in mid-17th century England.

A fervent Puritan, Cromwell was on a mission to cleanse his nation of what he perceived to be papist excess and decadence. He and his fellow Puritans regarded Christ's Mass as an unwelcome revenant of Catholicism, "a popish festival with no biblical justification." Nowhere in the Bible, they argued, were people asked to celebrate Christ's nativity on December 25. Moreover, in Cromwell's mind, the wild, hedonistic excesses associated with the Twelve Days of Christmas, stretching from Christmas Eve to Twelfth Night, undermined core Christian beliefs.

On November 19, 1644, Parliament resolved that Sunday was the "only standing holy day under the New Testament" and within a week they decided that no other holy day would be recognized. The new national liturgy issued on January 4, 1645, made no provision for Christmas and thus its abolition was legally achieved, although a parliamentary ordinance declaring Christmas celebrations a punishable offence was not passed until 1647.

Traditionally the Twelve Days of Christmas was a time of feasting, merrymaking, drinking, mumming, gaming, and dancing. Special plays and masques were performed. It's no accident that one of Shakespeare's most popular comedies is named Twelfth Night after the festive date of its début performance.

The Puritans viewed these festivities as wasteful vanities, an excuse for misrule, drunkenness, promiscuity, gluttony, and gambling. Under Puritan rule, all activities related to Christmas celebrations, including Anglican religious services, were banned and driven underground. In London, soldiers were ordered to seize special foods cooked in celebration of Christmas, such as roast goose. The day of Christ's birth was no longer a holiday--people were expected to be seen at work and were questioned if they were not. The sacred significance of the day could only be legally observed with fasting and private prayer. Exchanging gifts, wearing fine clothes, feasting, and dancing were punished with a fine of five shillings.

 The ban on Christmas endured after Cromwell's death in 1658 and was only repealed with the Restoration of 1660. Likewise the Puritans of New England banned Christmas in Boston between the years 1659 and 1681.

In Restoration-era England, the Anglican Church resumed its traditional Christmas observances. However, hardline Protestants, such as the Presbyterian Kirk in Scotland, continued to discourage Christmas celebrations long after Cromwell's demise.

Richard is a friend of mine, born in the 1960s in a remote village in the Scottish Highlands. In his tight-knit, kirk-attending community, he never celebrated Christmas. Instead the midwinter revels took place at Hogmanay, the Scottish New Year's celebration, an unabashedly hedonistic celebration of dancing, drinking, parades, and festivals.

Hogmanay, like many folkways related to Christmas itself, may have its roots in ancient, pre-Christian Celtic or Norse midwinter celebrations.

 "We drank like heathens," Richard remembers fondly.

 No doubt Cromwell is rolling over in his grave.

Source: Ronald Hutton, The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Nursery Rhymes

It can be hard to find a topic relating to the seventeenth century that is seasonally appropriate. The last thing I want to write about, let alone read, at Christmas are stories of death and misery! And, of course, we are talking about the century when Christmas was banned (see my Hoydens post of 8 December 2008 - click HERE).

So this week, for something lighter, I thought I would look at some familiar Nursery Rhymes, purportedly with their origin in the seventeenth century.

At the most basic level, nursery rhymes are used as a way of familiarising a child with the patterns of their native tongue. Every culture uses variations of these simple rhymes. I can remember rocking my own fractious babies to sleep with “Rock a bye baby” and thinking at the time that the words must have originated from a frustrated mother, not unlike myself, harbouring dark thoughts about her infant… have you ever thought about how violent the words actually are? “When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall and down will come baby, cradle and all…”. So the rhyme served 2 purposes, calming the baby and satisfying the mother’s urge to commit infanticide at the same time!

Back to the seventeenth century. The origins of many nursery rhymes are lost in history and those for which we do think we know the origin, may turn out to be specious.


Ring-a-ring o' roses,
A pocket full of posies,
A-tishoo! A-tishoo!
We all fall down.

The common belief is that this rhyme originated with the Plague of 1665 (or the Black death of the 1300s). The words were believed to have described the symptoms of the plague - a rash (the ring of roses) and sneezes and of course death (we all fall down). This interpretation of the rhyme is a comparitively modern one and folklore scholars (now there’s a profession) have dismissed this origin arguing that 1) It did not appear in written form until the mid nineteenth century 2) the description is not accurate for the bubonic plague (although it is for the pneumonic plague) and 3) the plague theory did not appear until the 1950s. Hmm… just because it wasn’t written down until the mid nineteenth century doesn’t mean it didn’t exist in oral tradition for years, if not centuries.

A FROG HE WOULD A WOOING (or courting) GO:

A Frog He Would A-Wooing Go
Whether his mother? let him or no
He rode right to Miss Mousie's den
Said he "Miss Mousie are you within?"
He said "My dear I've come to see"
If you Miss Mousie will marry me"?

I was always under the belief that this rhyme/song referred to Charles II and his love of beautiful women, but scholars believe its origin is earlier. It first appeared in written form in 1611 and it could refer to the reputed marriage of Francis of Anjou to Elizabeth I but versions of it are known from even earlier in the Tudor dynasty. Certainly it is a political satire but which Queen and which Frog are now lost in time.


Georgie Porgie, Puddin' and Pie,
Kissed the girls and made them cry,
When the boys came out to play
Georgie Porgie ran away

George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham
This rhyme is believed to have originated with George Villiers, the first Duke of Buckingham and boon companion to Charles I. The beautiful George was known to “bat for both teams” (to use a cricketing metaphor) and was reputedly the lover of both James I and Ann of Austria (the Queen of France). Political furore about his influence over Charles I led to his eventual execution assasination (oops!) and will make a good topic for a future post. 

However there is no real evidence for this story and it could just as easily refer to Charles II (Rowley Powley pudding and pie) or George II, both notorious womanisers. 


I do not like thee, Doctor Fell,
The reason why - I cannot tell;
But this I know, and know full well,
I do not like thee, Doctor Fell

This little rhyme is said to have been written by the English poet Thomas Brown around 1680 and refers to one of the dons at Oxford, Doctor John Fell of Christ Church, who expelled the young Brown for mischief.

To conclude… one of the best known and most beloved Nursery Rhymes:


Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the King’s horses and all the King’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again

Like all the rhymes, its origins are reputedly many and varied. “Humpty Dumpty” was a term used in the middle ages to describe someone of large girth and folklore scholars (them again!) have posited the theory it refers to Richard III but by far the most likely origin comes from the English Civil War. In 1648 the town of Colchester was held for the royalists and besieged. The story goes that the King’s men had a large (and presumably rotund) gun which they placed strategically on the wall of the town. However the wall was not built to withstand the weight of the gun and it collapsed, taking the great gun, nicknamed Humpty Dumpty, with it. Despite the efforts of “all the King’s men and all the King’s horses” the great gun was too heavy to be raised again.

I shall conveniently ignore the earliest written forms of this rhyme which make no mention of “King’s” men or horses or the fact it could refer to a kind of ale mixed with brandy, or an exceptionally clumsy person.

Mons Meg at Edinburgh Castle

But reference to a giant siege gun of the English Civil War segues nicely into a casual mention of my January release… CLAIMING THE REBEL’S HEART, a historical with romance set in a siege during the English Civil War. It will be released on January 22 and for more information and to read an excerpt, visit my website by clicking HERE.


Monday, 9 December 2013

Hoydens News - December 2013

It is good to stop and draw breath for a minute and reflect on the busy year the Hoydens have enjoyed.

But firstly we are thrilled to welcome three new members as regular posters to the Hoydens. All these ladies have been guest posters over the past year so they will be familiar to you all. So in no particular order allow us to introduce:

Christy K Robinson is published in the historical fiction, nonfiction, and inspiration genres, and has edited and contributed to a variety of other books and magazines during her career as a writer and editor. Mary Dyer Illuminated and Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This are her first novels. To follow her research in 17th-century England and New England, or to contact her, visit  

Andrea Zuvich, aka The Seventeenth Century Lady, lives in a small town in England. She is a full-time historian, author of historical fiction set in the 17th Century, and often gives lectures about the Late Stuart period, in which she specialises. Originally from Philadelphia, Zuvich grew up in Florida with a keen interest in Early Modern European history. She was one of the original developers of and guides on the Garden History Tours at Kensington Palace. Find out more about Andrea at The Seventeenth Century Lady Website

Jo Ann Butler, author of The Reputed Wife and Rebel Puritan, was born during the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany, when Teutonic myth destines her to become a werewolf. In the meantime, she has been a colonial archeologist, genealogist, home health therapist, executive dogsbody, and a computer jockey in San Diego’s aerospace industry. Now Ms. Butler is an essayist and historical novelist. What comes next – besides lycanthropy? 

We are looking forward to their future posts.

And for the battle hardened veterans?

For ANITA DAVISON (writing as ANITA SEYMOUR) The year started off with the release of ROYALIST REBEL, a fictionalised account of the life of the scandalous Elizabeth Murray.  She is currently entertaining murderous thoughts and working on a cosy mystery set in the early years of the twentieth century.

MARY SHARRATT goes from strength to strength with her critically acclaimed recent release ILLUMINATIONS: A NOVEL OF HILDEGARD VON BINGEN winning the 2013 Nautilus Gold Award: Better Books for a Better World. 

DEBORAH SWIFT's latest release A DIVIDED INHERITANCE, a story of love and treachery set in early seventeenth century England and Spain, is getting consistent 4 and 5 star reviews. She has just finished a teen (YA) novel set in the English Civil War so all fingers are crossed that her agent finds a home for it.

KIM MURPHY's non fiction book, book I HAD RATHER DIE: RAPE IN THE CIVIL WAR  (that is the American Civil War) will be released on January 1 2014.  
 "A meticulously documented and gut-wrenching account of the gratuitous acts of violence against women's bodies, black and white, slave and free, young and old… A major work of scholarship that was long overdue, and that all historians should be grateful for." --Susan Brownmiller, author of Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape.

ALISON STUART's late 2012 release, the  World War One paranormal romance GATHER THE BONES went on to become an Amazon best seller and to gather award nominations in five major awards during 2013.  In 2013 she released a short time travel romance with an English Civil War setting SECRETS IN TIME (currently on sale at Amazon until 14 December). In January 2014 CLAIMING THE REBEL'S HEART, an English Civil War set historical romance based (very, very loosely) on the siege of Brampton Bryan castle will be released. 

If you are looking for some good holiday reading, there are some wonderful options here...

The Hoydens thank their readers for all the support during 2014 and wishes everyone a happy and safe holiday season.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

London before the Great Fire by Deborah Swift

Whilst researching A Divided Inheritance I had to find out what London was like before the Great Fire. My novel is set in 1609, and at that time London was mostly still Elizabethan, even medieval in character, just as Shakespeare would have known it. The closely packed houses would have been timber-framed and tiled with red tiles just as in this 1920's painting of Staples Inn, Holborn.

The City skyline was characterised by the spires of innumerable churches from all the different parishes : St Giles, Criplegate, St Mary le Bow, (of the famous Bow Bells) St Michael Paternoster. Most had been there since medieval times, and all had bells to summon parishioners to prayer, to ring out for births, marriages and deaths, and to tell the hour. More about these churches can be discovered in Reaching for the Heavens: the City Churches of Medieval London by Sarah Valente Kettler & Carole Trimble.

Just what this skyline looked like can be seen in Visscher's fabulous engraving, a map I consulted often whilst working out the layout of London for all three of my novels. Of course the landscape is dominated by the bridge (see my previous post) - still the only one across the Thames, and St Paul's Cathedral, which undfortunately had lost its spire during a storm when it was struck by lightning.

Southern Bridge Gate still held the spikes which displayed the heads of traitors. In my novel these traitors would likely have been the Gunpowder Plotters, to act as a warning to Catholics about their fate should they decide to try the same ploy to remove James I from the throne.

Living in the city was not as romantic as it looks from a distance as narrow alleyways led down to the river where the night-soil men dumped the city's waste. Within the actual city streets the houses were two to three storeys high, with overhangs that blocked the light. Apart from churches, the other large buildings were the Halls of the City Companies, such as Brewers, Bankers, Cloth Merchants. London trade through shipping made up a third of all England's trade. The Halls had often been acquired from the monasteries after the dissolution (in fact in The Gilded Lily, Whitgift's Pawnbrokers is on just such a site.)

E.3 (2)
Plan of Greyfriars Monastery before it was used as a hospital
Another example of a monastery being re-used is the old cloisters of Greyfriars Monastery in Newgate Street, which  became a hospital for poor children, known as Christ's Hospital. As well as housing the invalid poor, the former nave was used by a stationer to store books. You can imagine how the repressed Catholics felt, seeing their holy buildings now converted for trade - and not always ethical trade at that.

There was some new building going on at this time though, but upstream at Westminster, then unconnected to the city itself. Nearing completion was the new Banqueting Hall by Inigo Jones. It was built to replace a previous one lost by fire, and linked to the city via a highway running through the village of Charing. It was set amongst other noblemen's houses which enjoyed the setting of formal gardens. The purpose of this building in 1622 was to act as a symbol to glorify the house of Stuart, and provide the centrepiece of a proposed palace. The actual banqueting hall is just a fraction of the development below, shown just to the left of the main courtyard, so you can see how ambitious the plans were.

File:Ingo Jones plan for a new palace at Whitehall 1638.jpg
Outside the city gates though, the houses sprawled haphazardly beyond the walls. The population increased from 250,000 to 400,000 from the beginning of James's reign until the Great Fire. This is even despite the Plague which killed 100,000 people. Slum areas within the city and outside its walls became gradually known as 'rookeries'. One famous rookery is the St Giles area and it existed from the 17th century and into Victorian times. Another is Seven Dials - named for its innovative plan of seven streets radiating from a central 'sundial'. Unfortunately Seven Dials became overrun with cheap and shoddy housing and soon became a byword for the hangout of the criminal underclass. More about rookeries in The Beer Flood - the tale of the exploding brewery in St Giles.

The nickname 'rookery' came from the fact that there were similarities between a city slum and the nesting habits of the rook, a crow-like bird which nests in large, untidy colonies. The nests are all crammed together.  The word might also be linked 16th century underworld expression to 'rook'  - which means to steal. Rooks were notorious birds for thieving. Many of these urban slums remained similar for a few hundred years, with no great increase in sanitation or home comforts.
Rookery at St Giles about 1800
My protagonist Elspet Leviston was lucky, she lived in a better area close to Convent Garden (now Covent Garden). When researching her house I could find no manor house still surviving in London that I thought was suitable in terms of period, so I used the model of Bampfylde House in Exeter as my inspiration for West View House in the book.
Bampfylde House Exeter
You can find out more about Jacobean Houses and Bampfylde House in particular on another of my posts here. Scroll  down to find the post. Happy Reading!

My latest book - A Divided Inheritance - is the story of a lace-trader's daughter who must leave her London home to track down her cousin, a man who has stolen her inheritance.

Not only must she confront the cousin she loathes, but she must travel to Seville, a city in the grip of the Inquistion, and a place which in 1610 is about to undergo one of the biggest upheavals in its history.

More about my researches about Golden Age Seville and the book can be found on my website

Bibliography : Wren's London by Eric de Mare
The Illustrated Pepys by Robert Latham
Life in Stuart London by Peggy Miller