The Elmbridge Hundred: A lecture to Molesey History Society

The following lecture was presented to Molesey History Society on 15 February 2011 by Alistair Grant.

In 1537, Henry VIII (1491 - 1547) acquired Oatlands Manor in Weybridge. The year before, on 30th May 1536, Henry had married Jane Seymour. Two months after they were married, the king's illegitimate son by his mistress Elizabeth Blount, Henry Fitzroy, duke of Richmond, died at the age of 17. Jane Seymour, who was never crowned queen, died on 24th October 1537, shortly after giving birth to Henry's only legitimate son, Edward. Henry buried Jane in the tomb he had prepared for himself in St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle, making Jane the only of his six wives to be buried with him. For over two years after Jane's death Henry remained single, perhaps genuinely grief-stricken for Jane Seymour. Therefore, Henry's motives for acquiring Oatlands Manor were twofold: After Jane's death, he threw himself into his second favourite manly pursuit, and began creating a vast hunting chase called 'The Honour of Hampton Court'. Oatlands Manor was ideally placed to become a luxurious lodge at one end of the chase, with Hampton Court in the middle, and Nonsuch Palace at the other end. However, a second and more pressing domestic reason soon emerged for developing Oatlands when Henry needed a new palace for his next queen. Following his marriage to Anne Boleyn (the one before Jane) the split from Rome, and the Catholic powers of France and Spain, had left England isolated and vulnerable. On 6th January 1540, Henry married Anne of Cleves, whose brother the Duke of Cleves was seen as an important ally in the event that France and the Holy Roman Empire decided to move against the countries who had rejected Papal authority. Henry wanted a separate palace to keep the new queen's foreign entourage away from the political intrigues of Hampton Court, and keep the prying eyes of the queen's spies from his courtly affairs and dalliances. Despite Hans Holbein's flattering portrait of her, Henry failed to find Anne attractive in the flesh, and quickly moved on to the 'bon-air and buxom' Kathryn Howard. Nevertheless, the manor house and its estate were transformed into a palace quite literally fit for a queen. Henry married Kathryn in the chapel at Oatlands on 28th July 1540. Oatlands, and thereby much of Elmbridge, was fundamentally shaped, like all of English society, by the great division between Protestant and Catholic begun by Kathryn cousin, and Henry's second wife, Anne Boleyn. Despite speaking fluent French, and having great taste in French clothes, poetry, music, and courtly lovemaking, Anne almost certainly introduced to Henry to ideas of religious reform.

It is interesting to note that hardly any English-born Catholics of note were selected, or even shortlisted, for The Elmbridge Hundred, despite the presence of Portmore Park in Weybridge, which was home to Kathryn Howard's family descendants. The Howards became one of the most prominent and powerful catholic families in England. This includes, Henry Howard, 6th duke of Norfolk (1628 - 1684) and his second wife Jane Bickerton (died 1693). Despite being forced to flee Portmore for exile in Bruges for three years, following the Popish Plot and Test Act of 1678, Henry returned to England, and bequeathed his library and rooms to the Royal Society, and the Arundel marbles to the Ashmolean museum. Jane Bickerton was just one of a magnificence of mistresses in Elmbridge, which is apparently the collective noun! There is indeed such a magnificence of them that 'Mistress' warranted inclusion in the list of occupations. Jane Bickerton is a very rare example of a woman from a very modest background marrying into the highest level of the aristocracy in the early modern period. Another famous Catholic who failed to make the shortlist was James 2nd of England, Scotland, and Ireland (1633-1701). Whilst he was duke of York, he acquired Portmore Park from Jane Bickerton in 1688 as a residence for his own mistress Catherine Sedley. Following the 'Glorious Revolution' James abdicated the throne to William and Mary on 11th December 1688. He escaped from his Dutch guards, and probably spent his last night in England at Portmore Park, before fleeing to France on 23rd December. One night in Elmbridge, however momentous was just not good enough for the six panels of local historians who selected the shortlist. The significance of historical duration relative to an important achievement in fixing someone's association with a particular place is a complex and fascinating one however, which occurs over and again in the roll call of The Elmbridge Hundred.

The grandfather of James 2nd, James 6th and 1st (1566 -1625), king of England, Scotland, and Ireland was selected for The Elmbridge Hundred. I am half-Scottish, and I am mystified as to why he was selected, but I confess I may be biased. Under James 6th in Scotland, highlanders, including my own clan, became perceived as lawless barbarians, "void of the knawledge and feir of God", prone to "all kynd of barbarous and bestile cruelties". Having researched my own clan history that is fair comment, but before he left Scotland, James had abolished the Gaelic language, and violently suppressed highland culture, which was the cradle of Scottish Christianity and nationhood. James did bring about the Union of the Crowns in March 1603, which meant that Scotland and England had the same monarch. The extent of the union under James remains widely misunderstood, and despite my best efforts with both the 1st and final selection panels, it was the main reason James was selected. Properly speaking, it was merely a personal and dynastic union, with both Crowns remaineing quite separate and distinct. James's was unsuccessful in his desire to create an imperial throne of Great Britain. As I explained, to no avail, to both panels, England and Scotland continued to be fully independent states, despite having a shared monarch until the Acts of Union in 1707. The achievement the panels were attributing to James was actually that of the last of the Stuart dynasty, Queen Anne. It is true that James commissioned the third official English version of the bible, completed in 1611, which has proved to be a much loved, poetic translation. However, few historians, actually bother to read The True Law of Free Monarchies; or, The Reciprocal and Mutual Duty Betwixt a Free King and His Natural Subjects of 1598, in which James set out his belief in 'the divine right of kings'. I have, and I have read The Basilikon Doron of 1599 as well. Woody Allen once quipped, "If I could live my life over again I would do everything the same, except I wouldn't read Beowulf". Without overstating my case, I think that The True Law of Free Monarchies and Basilikon Doron ranks alongside Mein Kampf as unpalatable must-reads for aspiring historians. The total number of causalities of combat and disease in the English Civil War has been described as 'miracles of conjecture', a description that seems apt for much of history. William Petty, the pioneering English demographer, estimated 618,000 dead. That equates to a 3.7% loss to the population in England, 6% in Scotland a loss of, and 41% in Ireland. Recent Marxist historiography has recast the English Civil War as a class war, in which the new trading and industrial classes overcame the despotism of monarchy, established Church, and aristocratic landlords. Whilst this is true to an extent, I think it is wrong to overlook the broader Whig interpretation, popularized by S.R. Gardiner, that it was primarily a religious war, a 'Puritan Revolution' against a repressive Stuart Church, which forced greater religious toleration. William Petty's demographics perhaps prove the point most eloquently, with 112,000 Protestants dead and 504,000 Catholics. For the most part, James' two treatises offer rather sanctimonious and banal advice on how to be an efficient king, and lead a decent daily lifestyle. They are full of "little more than commonplace clichés", as Mussolini said of Mein Kampf. The real problem with James' treatises, are the passages which assert that the king is subject to no earthly authority at all, and derives his right to rule directly from God. James was quite adamant that he was not subject to the will of his people, the aristocracy, or any other earthly estate, including the Church. Moreover, James claimed that because only God could judge an unjust king, the king could do no wrong, and any attempt to depose or restrict his powers was sacrilegious.

This ultimately had grave implications for Oatlands Palace. In 1603, to avoid the plague, and to keep him from his mother's influence, James removed his eldest son, Henry Frederick Stuart, Prince of Wales (1594 - 1612), to Oatlands Palace. Under the governorship of Sir Thomas Chaloner, James surrounded Henry with a retinue of teachers and companions. Two portraits, painted by Robert Peake [the elder] at Oatlands, depict the heir apparent as an athletic young hunter with a slain deer. The Prince of wales court at Oatlands lasted barely three years. By 1604, James wife, Anne of Denmark, had forced the dissolution of Oatlands, leading Henry to live a peripatetic childhood between Nonsuch, Richmond, and St James, and giving Anne constant access to him. As he got older, Henry seems to have increasingly disapproved of his father's conduct in the royal court. James had close relationships with various male courtiers, and historians have speculated that several of his royal favourites, notably Esmé Stewart, Robert Carr, and George Villiers, were his lovers. Henry greatly disliked Robert Carr. In November 1612, aged only 18 Henry died of typhoid. One of the great 'what ifs' of British history is whether Henry would have adopted more agreeable policies than those his younger brother Charles adopted. Charles 1st shared his father's belief in 'the divine right of kings', and engaged in a power struggle with Parliament who sought to curb his Royal prerogative. After the Civil War, the Parliamentarians largely destroyed Oatlands Palace, which was tainted with the tyranny and absolutism of the Stuart monarchy.

Under James 1st, Inigo Jones improved Oatlands Palace, and designed a silk works there in 1616, and a Huguenot sericulturalist named John Bonoeil became silk master to King James. Later, the silk works were run by John Tradescant the elder (c1570s - 1638) the great naturalist, gardener, collector, and traveler. Tradescant was gardener to one of James' royal favorites, George Villiers, 1st duke of Buckingham, but after Buckingham was assassinated in 1628, Charles 1st appointed Tradescant Keeper of his Majesty's Gardens, Vines, and Silkworms at Oatlands. From 1630, he redesigned the gardens at Oatlands, although his most enduring legacy is his collection. He assembled a huge collection of curiosities of natural history and ethnography in a large house, called 'The Ark', in Lambeth. 'The Ark' comprised the 1st major example of a 'Cabinet of Curiosities' in England, and was effectively the 1st public museum in England, called Musaeum Tradescantianum. Tradescant divided his curiosities into natural objects (naturalia) and manmade objects (artificialia). After Tradescant's son's death in 1662, the collection was acquired by the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, where it remains.

Thomas Wolsey (c.1471 - 1530), the cardinal and statesman, who became chief adviser to Henry 8th, was of course, a notable English Catholic. By 1514, he effectively led all matters of state and church, but his allegiance (and greatest fear) was king and state, not the church in Rome. He became Lord Chancellor and Archbishop of York, and in 1515 was made a cardinal, giving him precedence over the Archbishop of Canterbury. He began building Hampton Court in 1514, and his first association with Esher Place was in 1519 when Bishop Foxe 'loaned' it to him. Wolesey repaid the loan by ousting Foxe from his Bishopric, and began improving Esher from 1528, most likely because he realized that Henry would oust him from Hampton Court. Wolsey retained royal favour until Henry decided to end his marriage to Katherine of Aragon, so that he could marry Anne Boleyn, and Wolsey's failure to secure an annulment caused his downfall in 1529. Initially, Wolsey was banished by the knig to Esher, where he fell gravely ill during the winter months of 1529, before traveling to Yorkshire where he was arrested and accused of treason. He died at Leicester Abbey on 29th November 1530 returning to London.

It was Catholic Norman monks of the Abbey of St Leutfred's Cross that built the first house on the banks of the River Mole on land given to them by William the Conqueror. Early in the 13th century, it was acquired by Peter de Roches, Bishop of Winchester and was held by the Bishopric for over 300 years. In the middle of the 15th Century, William of Waynflete (1395-1486), who was Bishop from 1447-1486, demolished it and built a stately redbrick mansion, of which the tower gatehouse is all that remains today. William of Wayneflete was actually born William Pattin, although his father assumed the alias Barbour, was provost of Eton, bishop of Winchester, and Lord Chancellor. He took the name Wayneflete from his place of birth in Lincolnshire. He was educated at Wykeham's Colleges in Winchester and Oxford, and became master at Winchester until 1443, when Henry 6th made him provost of the new royal college he had founded at Eton. Four years later, Henry 6th nominated him, and he was duly elected Bishop of Winchester. From 1449 to 1459, Wayneflete was Lord Chancellor of England. During the Wars of the Roses, his loyalty to Henry 6th meant he fell from favour under Edward 4th, but he survived and saw the restoration of the Red Rose of Lancaster under Henry Tudor before dying at the age of 91 in 1486. His lasting achievement is the founding and endowment of Magdalene College at Oxford, and encouraging Henry 6th in his endowments of Eton and King's at Cambridge, thus promoting the evolution of monastic, ecclesiastical wealth and property into the foundation of colleges.

I mentioned that Elmbridge had a rich history of mistresses, or at least a history of rich mistresses, such that it was unavoidably a category on the occupation index of The Elmbridge Hundred. In fact only eleven of the final hundred were women that were selected on their own merit. A further twelve women were selected because they were part of a famous marriage, or member of famous family. So, there are more women who are famous by association than by their own individual achievements. Whilst this is surely indicative of both the political disenfranchisement, and undervaluing of women's public and private roles, it is also an indication of how many more men there were on the selection panels. At one of the first round panel meetings, after deliberating upon over two-thirds of their list of figures, a group of five men remarked with pride that they had voted through a woman. Unfortunately, I had to point out that they shouldn't crow too loud at this generous act of gender equality, since the woman they had voted thorugh was Frances Day (1908 - 1984), an erotic dancer and singer. The American-born 'actress' whose real name was Frances Victoria Schenck began in New York as a nightclub singer before achieving great popularity in the 1930s on the musical stage in London. An Australian impresario called Beaumont Alexander brought her to London, changed her name to Frances Day, had her hair dyed platinum blonde, sent her to elocution lessons to lose her New Jersey accent, then managed her career as one of London's 1st erotic cabaret stars. Dancing in West End nightclubs, she caused a sensation by performing in a G-string with only an ostrich fan to keep warm. In 1932, aged 23, she starred in the musical Out Of The Bottle, and the following year, she found film stardom for her sexual performance as a notorious nightclub singer in Alexander Korda's movie The Girl From Maxim's. Day was flagrantly pansexual, having affairs with Tallulah Bankhead and Marlene Dietrich, and attracting the passionate attentions of Eleanor Roosevelt. She was supposedly the mistress of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward 7th, and his younger brother Prince George, the Duke of Kent. Not content with English monarchy she also entertained Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, Prince Bertil of Sweden, and the Foreign Secretary and future British Prime Minister, Anthony Eden She bought and refurbished Wayneflete's Tower in 1941, installing drainage and water, and a lift, which she no doubt needed after her exhausting career on and off the stage.

Another of Frances Day's liaisons was with Louis Alexander Mountbatten, [formerly Prince Ludwig of Battenberg] (1854-1921). A brief liaison with the actress Lillie Langtry resulted in the birth of a daughter, Jeanne-Marie Langtry, in March 1881, and to avoid scandal, a financial settlement was made. He became 1st sea lord in 1912, which was a controversial appointment given Prince Louis's German origins. On 29th October 1914, after British losses at sea, he found his position increasingly unpopular and he resigned. In July 1917, at the king's request, to help 'Anglicize' the royal family, Prince Louis relinquished his title prince, and assumed the surname Mountbatten. He was raised to the peerage of the United Kingdom as marquess of Milford Haven. In 1894, he and his wife Victoria lived at Elm Grove estate in Walton-on-Thames. Nicholas the last Czar of Russia, stayed with them for several weeks with his future bride, Princess Alix of Hess-Darmstadt. Louis Mountbatten was selected as one of The Elmbridge Hundred along with his wife Victoria Alberta Elisabeth Mathilde Marie Mountbatten, marchioness of Milford Haven [formerly Princess Louis of Battenberg; née Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine] (1863-1950). The panels decided to select a number of married couple together because they had shared in their achievements. Princess Victoria was a favourite granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Her son Earl Mountbatten called her "a walking encyclopedia. All through her life, she stored up knowledge on all sorts of subjects, and she had the great gift of being able to make it all interesting when she taught it to me… She was outspoken and open-minded to a degree quite unusual in members of the Royal Family. And she was also entirely free from prejudice about politics or colour and things of that kind." It is a pity then that she did not also take a hand in the education of her grandson Prince Philip. The duke of Edinburgh of course famously told British students he met on a State Visit to China in 1986' "If you stay here much longer, you'll all be slitty-eyed", and told the President of Nigeria dressed in traditional robes, "You look like you're ready for bed!"

Compared to religion, issues of race and ethnicity might seem a long way removed from Elmbridge, despite the rich social diversity of people of many nationalities that have lived or passed through the area. However, for me the most controversial figure by far who was selected for the The Elmbridge Hundred was the politician Samuel Dicker (?-1760). Dicker was not however selected for his undistinguished political achievements, nor is that what makes him controversial to my mind. Dicker was elected MP for Plymouth in 1754, and held the seat for a mere six years before he died in 1760. Samuel Dicker was selected simply for commissioning the 1st bridge over the Thames at Walton. However, what for me makes him a difficult character is the source of the wealth that paid for that undoubtedly iconic and famous bridge. Dicker owned slave plantations in Jamaica, and in 1738 was appointed a Councilor of Jamaica where he served the interests of his fellow slave owners and traders. I have chosen to depict Samuel Dicker with this late 18th century clay pipe. With an outsized bowl, it was not designed for smoking but domestic display, to indicate that the owner was a slave-owner. On retiring to England a wealthy man, he became a landowner in Walton-on-Thames, with an estate at Mount Felix. In 1750, he obtained an Act of Parliament to enable him to build a bridge across the Thames at Walton at his own expense, and levy tolls. His bridge replaced the local ferrymen, made the river difficult to navigate by barges, and was not really wanted by the residents of Walton. The central arch the widest unsupported span in England, but what made the bridge famous was that Canaletto, who lived in London between 1746 and 1755, was commissioned by Thomas Hollis in 1750 to make a painting of the bridge. After seeing Hollis' painting Dicker also commissioned Canaletto to paint the bridge in 1754/5, which is the famous picture now in Dulwich Picture Gallery. I mentioned earlier the significance of historical duration relative to an important achievement in fixing someone's association with a particular place. For me, the fleeting visit of Canaletto to immortalize a bridge is far more important in defining the history of a place than the profiteering of a local landowner and slave owner. However, the inclusion of Dicker is a salutary reminder that every corner, even the most idyllic scenes of English society and art, were untainted by the economic gains of slavery.

Thankfully, modern historiography (ethnography, feminism) has started to redress the balance between dominant and subordinate narratives. Samuel Dicker's is placed in shameful context by the truly inspiring life story, and enduring character, of a successful coal merchant who lived in Thames Ditton, called Cesar Picton (1754/5-1836). Cesar's original name is unknown. He was born in Senegal, and brought to England in 1761, aged 6 by Captain Parr, an army officer serving in Senegambia, who gave him as a gift, along with a parakeet and a duck, to Sir John Philipps of Kingston. Following his baptism in December 1761, he was named Cesar, or Caesar. Although probably purchased from slavers, Sir John, and his family always treated Cesar as a servant, and he seems to have been given some of the kindness and affection of an adopted child. In 1788, following the death of Lady Elizabeth Phillips, he was given a bequest of £100 in her will. Cesar took the surname Picton and set himself up as a coal merchant. His business prospered. In 1801, Sir John's daughter Mary bequeathed him another £100. In 1816, he moved to Thames Ditton, where he bought a property for the large sum of £4000. In 1820, Picton received further bequests of £100, and £50 plus £30 a year for life from Sir John's two remaining daughters. He lived in Thames Ditton for 20 years, and died at Picton House, which was later renamed Sunnyside House. His will records ownership of a horse and chaise, two watches with gold chains and seals, brooches, gold rings and shirt pins, a tortoiseshell tea chest, and silver spoons and tongs, together with portraits of friends and one of himself. Sadly, its whereabouts is now unknown. This famous depiction of a slave in shackles was published in 1835. It was the heading of a broadside publication of John Greenleaf Whittier's poem, My Countrymen in Chains! The anti-slave trade campaign adopted the image, which was one of the first uses of a logo. Josiah Wedgwood reproduced the design on mass-market pottery and medallions, as an easily recognizable emblem of the campaign. In response to the role played by women in the campaign, cameo brooches with the inscription 'Am I not a woman and a sister?' were also produced.

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