« AnteriorContinua »
DESCENT OF THE MANOR.
to Sir John Gates, lieutenant of the Tower, who was afterwards executed for high-treason; and down to the close of Queen Elizabeth's reign, it was successively held of the crown by William Cromer and Lord Cobham. On the accession of King Charles the First, it was held in lease by the Earl of Dorset; but in the time of the Commonwealth, Eltham manor was seized by the Parliament, and, along with the manor house then called Eltham Place, and great part of the demesne lands, was valued and sold to Nathaniel Rich of Fulham. At the restoration a renewal of the lease was obtained on purchase, by Sir John Shaw.–For these brief particulars we are indebted to an “Account of Eltham,” printed about fifty years ago, and drawn up from standard authorities on the subject.
We shall next advert to the historical incidents which connect Eltham Palace with the record of public transactions, while it was the residence of successive monarchs, and the resort of all who were most distinguished in the court history of their day; and then conclude with a brief account of it as it now appears, with all its “venerable scars and chronicled events” clustered together under the roof of its ancient Hall.
During the reign of the early monarchs, and more particularly during that of Henry the Third, Edward the First, and Richard the Second, Eltham appears to have been the locale chosen for the celebration of those court pageantries, and gorgeous festivals of the church, which softened the sterner features of the age, smoothed asperities, and brought the serf into friendly communion with his suzerain. In 1270, Henry the Third and his queen, attended by all the chief men of the state, kept open court at Eltham during the Christmas holidays, making merry with their attendant lords and ladies, and dispensing much generous hospitality to strangers.
Anthony Beck, Bishop of Durham and Patriarch of Jerusalem, who died at Eltham in 1311, is said to have expended great treasure on the fresh “edification and adornment” of the palace. He“ builded,” says Stow, “the manor house, and gave it to the queen;" but this, as appears from “ the statement given in the descent of the manor,” it was not in his power to have done.
Beck," says the author of a paper on this subject, already quoted,* was a trustee under the will of William de Vesci; and the only way in which the fact can be reconciled is, by supposing him to have betrayed his trust, and to have obtained fraudulent possession of the estate.” “This prelate,” says Mr. Hutchinson, in his History of Durham, “merits notice for the singularity of his character; he led the van of Edward the First's army gallantly against the Scots, at the battle of Falkirk, and dared even to make a harsh retort to a
reproof from that stern monarch. At Rome, he opposed single-handed a body of ruffians who had entered his house. So active was his mind, that he always rose when his first sleep was over, saying “It was beneath a man to turn in his bed.' He was so modest, that although he smiled at the frown of a king, he never could lift his eyes to the face of a woman; and when the remains of Saint William were to be removed to York, he was the only prelate whose conscious chastity' permitted him to touch the sacred bones. And yet this mirror of purity could defraud the natural son of his friend, the Lord Vesci, of a large estate which had been trusted to the Bishop's honour.* Beck loved military parade and had always knights and soldiers about him, and through vanity was prompted to spend immense sums. For forty fresh herrings he once gave a sum equal to forty pounds sterling; and a piece of cloth, which had proverbially been said to be "too dear for the Bishop of Durham,' he bought and cut out into horse-cloths. To conclude—this haughty prelate once seized a palfrey of King Edward as a deodand; and at last broke his heart at being excommunicated by the Archbishop of York.”
Eltham was also the favourite residence of Edward the Second, whose son being born here, received the name of John of Eltham: a circumstance in
which originated the
« custos of the citie of London :" died in Scotland in the flower of his age, and was buried in Westminster, where his monument is one of the chief sepulchral ornaments.
It was here, in his palace of Eltham, that Edward the Third held several parliaments; in one of which his faithful commons petitioned him to make his grandson, Richard of Bordeaux, Prince of Wales. In 1364, the same monarch gave a splendid banquet at Eltham, in honour of King John of France, whom
* Camden, in his brief notice of Eltham, confirms For that Bishope, whom the last baron de Vescye had this charge in the following terms; “Antony Becke, made his feofie for trust of all his inheritance to the Bishop of Durham and patriarch of Jerusalem, built use of William Vescye his little base sonne, dealt not this ‘Eltham,' in a manner new, and gave it unto so faithfully as he should with this orphan and warde Queen Eleanor, wife of Edwarde the Firste, after he of his, but despoiled him of Alnwick Castle, of this had craftily conveyed unto himself the inheritance of Eltham, and other faire lands.”—Camden, 327, 8. the Vescyes, unto whom the place before belonged.
ELTHAM-A ROYAL PALACE.
the fate of war had made his prisoner, but whose captivity was soothed by every demonstration of respect and hospitality on the part of his royal brother and his consort. “ The court of this sovereign,” says Warner, “was the very theatre of sumptuous carousal and romantic elegance. The martial amusements of tilts and tournaments, which were always accompanied by splendid feasts, were so much encouraged, that we have instances of their being solemnly celebrated by royal command, in different cities, no less than seven times in the course of one year.” “This gentle king of England,” says Froissart, “ the better to feste these strange lordes and all their company, held a great court on Trinity Monday in the Friers, whereat he and the queene his mother were lodged, keeping their house eche of them apart. At this feaste, the king had well five hundred knights, and fifteen were new made. And the queene had well in her courte sixty ladies and damozelles. There might be seen great nobles, plenty of all manner of straunge vitaile. There were ladies and damozelles freshely apparelled, ready to have daunced if they might have leave.” The above, though applied by Froissart to the reception of John of Hainault, was a general feature in the court life of this period; and it is no wonder that King John of France, whom Prince Edward had pronounced“ the bravest of knights,” found the weight of captivity much lightened in the congenial atmosphere of Eltham palace.
The evening of Edward's reign, however, exhibited a very different picture. Feast and tournament were gone, or rather the pleasures which they had once furnished to that chivalrous monarch during a long protracted reign, had now lost their zest. He spent the last months of his life between Eltham palace and his manor at Shene. “Decay,” says the historian, “had fallen heavy on body and spirit; he was incapable of doing much, and he did nothing. The ministers and courtiers crowded round the Duke of Lancaster, Prince Richard, and his mother. The old man was left to his mistress; and even she, it is said, after drawing his valuable ring from his finger, abandoned him in his dying moments.”
The splendour of Eltham, however, was speedily revived in the person of his grandson, Richard the Second, whose reign, dazzling at its commencement, inglorious in its course, and disastrous at its close, the poet Gray has thus strikingly depicted :
“Fair laughs the morn, and soft the zephyr blows,
While proudly riding o'er the azure realm,
Youth on the prow, and Pleasure at the helm;
“Fill high the sparkling bowl!
The rich repast prepare ;
Close by the regal chair,
Of the numerous historical scenes and incidents connected with King Richard's sumptuous court at Eltham, a very few may be here introduced as characteristic of an age when “the example of the monarch sanctioned the extravagance of the subject.” He celebrated in particular three Christmases at Eltham, at which every imaginable entertainment was provided for a court overflowing with all the beauty and chivalry that could flatter a monarch, and scatter flowers over the dangerous precipice to which he was hastening. “The king,” says Hollinshed, “kept the greatest part, and maintained the most plentiful house that ever any king in England did, either before his time or since; for there resorted daily to his court above ten thousand persons, that had meat and drinke there allowed them. In his kitchen there were three hundred servitors, and every other officer was furnished after the like rate. Of ladies, chamberers, and landerers, there were above three hundred at the least; and in precious and costlie apparell they exceeded all measure.
Yeomen and groomes were clothed in silks, with cloth of graine and skarlet, over sumptuous, ye may be sure, for their estates. And this vanitic was not
KING RICHARD THE SECOND.
onelie used in the court in those dayes, but also other people abroad, in the townes and countries, had their garments cut far otherwise than had been accustomed before his daies, with embroderies, rich furs, and goldsmith's worke, and everie daie there was devising of new fashions, to the great hinderance and decaie of the commonwealth.”—Page 508, sect. 10.
From this description, the reader may easily picture what must have been the splendid profusion which marked King Richard's doings at Eltham, when arriving with his gorgeous retinue from the capital, he “courted repose” in a new and most extravagant series of festivities. The extensive park, which spread its wooded avenues in all directions, afforded ample scope for the indulgence in silvan sports; while minstrels, jesters, and jongleurs drove ennui from the gate, and kept the monarch and his guests in a continued enjoyment of mirthful excitement. On one of these occasions, the arrival in England of a guest of no ordinary station was announced, and on the following day was received by the king and queen at Eltham. “This,” says Speed, “was Leo, King of Armenia, a Christian prince, whom the Tartars had expelled out of his kingdom. The pretence of his negotiation was to accord the realms of England and France, that the princes thereof might, with joint forces, remove the common enemy from Christendome. Therein he could effect nothing; but his journey was not otherwise unfruitful to himself; for King Richard, a prince, to speak truly, full of honour and bountie, gave him, besides a thousand pounds in a ship of gold, letters patent, also, for a thousand pounds yearly pension during life.”
Eltham Palace was also the scene of the following incident in the court life of King Richard. “The king having proclaimed that he would hold a solemn feast at his palace here on Palm Sunday, invitations were sent to the Dukes of Lancaster and York, and the Lords of the Council, to be in attendance for the occasion. When the day of the feast was arrived, and all the lords had retired after dinner with the king to his council-chamber, Earl Marshal, having settled in his own mind how to act and what to say, threw himself upon his knees before the king and thus addressed him Very dear and renowned Lord, I am of your kindred, y' liege man and marshal of England; and I have besides sworn on my loyalty, my hand within yours, that I never would conceal from you anything I might hear or see to your prejudice, on pain of being accounted a disloyal traitor. This I am resolved never to be, but to acquit myself before you and all the world.' The king fixing his eyes upon him, said, 'Earl Marshal, what is your meaning in speaking thus? We will know it.' Very dear Lord,' replied the Earl, as I have declared, I will not keep any secret from you: order the Earl of Derby to come to ye presence, and I will speak out.' The Earl of Derby