The Elmbridge Hundred: A lecture to the Royston Pike group

The following lecture was presented to the Royston Pike group on 9 March 2011 by Alistair Grant.

Henry VIII (1491 - 1547) acquired Oatlands Manor in 1537. A year before, on 30th May 1536, Henry had married Jane Seymour. Two months after they 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 her 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, hunting, and began creating a vast chase called 'The Honour of Hampton Court'. Oatlands Manor was ideally placed to be 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 Papal authority in 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 England. Henry wanted a separate palace to keep the new queen's German 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 fifteen year-old 'bon-air and buxom' Kathryn Howard. Nevertheless, Oatlands was transformed into a palace quite literally fit for a queen. Henry married Kathryn in the chapel at Oatlands on 28th July 1540. So, Oatlands, and thereby Elmbridge, was fundamentally shaped, like all of English society, by the great division between Protestant and Catholic begun by (Kathryn's 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, but I am mystified as to why he was selected, although 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. However, 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 remaining quite separate and distinct. James 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, that if he could live his life over again he would do everything the same, except he wouldn't read Beowulf". The True Law of Free Monarchies and Basilikon Doron are both unpalatable must-reads for history students. As a how-to-handbook for the heir apparent it should have been forgettable, but for the effect they had on James' successor, Charles 1st. For the most part, James' two treatises offer rather sanctimonious and banal advice on how to be an efficient king, and lead a regal lifestyle. They are "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. Estimating the causalities of combat and disease during the Civil War has been described as 'miracles of conjecture'. The description often seems apt for much of history. Including Cromwell's Puritan crusade against Catholics in Ireland, William Petty, the pioneering English demographer, estimated 618,000 dead. That was a 3.7% reduction of the population of England, 6% of Scotland, and an appalling 41% in Ireland. Marxist historiography has recast the Civil War as a class war, in which the new trading and industrial classes overcame a despotic monarchy, repressive Church, and aristocratic landlords. Whilst this is true to an extent, it is wrong to disregard the broader Whig interpretation, popularized by S.R. Gardiner, that it was primarily a religious war, a 'Puritan Revolution' to force greater religious toleration upon the established Church. William Petty's demographics speak most eloquently. By 1653, there were 112,000 Protestants dead and 504,000 Catholics.

This ultimately had grave implications for Oatlands Palace. In 1603, to avoid the plague, and to keep him from his mother's foreign, Catholic 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 and scholar. 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, 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. 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.

The two most notable English Catholics selected for The Elmbridge Hundred were both residents of what is now known as Esher Place. Catholic Norman monks of the Abbey of St Leutfred's Cross 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. The most famous resident was Thomas Wolsey (c.1471-1530), the cardinal and statesman, who was chief adviser to Henry 8th. By 1514, he effectively ran all matters of state and church, but his allegiance (and greatest fear) was to Henry, not the Pope in Rome. He became Lord Chancellor and Archbishop of York, and in 1515 was made a Cardinal. He began building Hampton Court in 1514, and his first association with Esher Place was in 1519 when Richard Foxe, Bishop of Winchester, 'loaned' it to him. Wolsey rapid rise to power had ousted Foxe as Henry's trusted adviser in 1511. When Foxe died in 1528, Wolesey added Winchester, the richest bishopric in England, to his property portfolio. He began improving Esher when he realized that Henry coveted Hampton Court. Wolsey retained royal favour until Henry decided to end his marriage to Katherine of Aragon, so he could marry Anne Boleyn. Wolsey's failure to secure an annulment caused his downfall in 1529. Initially, Wolsey was banished by Henry to Esher, where he fell gravely ill during the winter months of 1529. He fled to Yorkshire where he was arrested and accused of treason, but died at Leicester Abbey returning to London on 29th November 1530. A century before Wolsey, William of Waynflete (1395-1486), who was Bishop of Winchester from 1447-1486, had demolished the original house and built a stately redbrick mansion, of which the gatehouse, known as Wayneflete's Tower, is all that remains today. He was actually born William Pattin, although his father, a merchant called Richard Pattin, assumed the alias Barbour (a name he knew he wouldn't forget it as it was written on the label in his coat). William took the name Wainfleet from his birthplace in Lincolnshire. In 1443, Henry 6th made him provost of the new college he had founded at Eton, and four years later nominated him as Bishop of Winchester. From 1449-1459, Wayneflete was Lord Chancellor of England. During the Wars of the Roses, his loyalty to Henry 6th meant he fell from grace under Edward 4th, but he survived, and saw the restoration of the Red Rose of Lancaster under Henry Tudor before dying at the grand old 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 College Cambridge, thereby promoting the transfer of monastic knowledge, wealth, and property into the foundation of scholastic universities.

I mentioned that Elmbridge had a magnificence of mistresses. In fact, it is such a popular category in the occupation index of The Elmbridge Hundred that local schools Careers Information Officers should consider printing a leaflet, although outlining Typical Work Activities might prove problematic. 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 a famous family. So, there are more women who are famous by association than by their own individual achievements. Of those women selected on their own merit, two were queens, one British and one French, and another was a princess who died aged twenty-one. Three spent their working lives on stage, although two of those were accomplished in other spheres. Only five were selected on their own merit for outstanding careers in business, artistic, scientific, or intellectual pursuits. 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. After deliberating upon over two-thirds of their longlist of figures, one of the first round panels, comprising five men, remarked with pride that they had voted through their first woman. Unfortunately, I had to point out that they shouldn't crow too loud at their enlightened act of gender equality, since the woman they had voted through was Frances Day (1908 - 1984), an erotic dancer. 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 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. She bought and refurbished Wayneflete's Tower in 1941, installing a lift, which she no doubt needed after her exhausting career on and off the stage.

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