Queen Elizabeth I at the Charterhouse

Research by Stephen Porter.

When Queen Mary died on 17 November 1558 her half-sister Elizabeth was at Hatfield House. She had passed a perilous few years as the heir apparent and the hope and expectation of the Protestants during Mary’s reign. Mary had not only restored the Roman rites in the English church, but had overseen the persecution and execution of Protestants. Elizabeth was bound to be suspected of collusion in plots to put her on the throne in Mary’s place; in the aftermath of the rebellion of Sir Thomas Wyatt she was imprisoned in the Tower and released to virtual house arrest. Marriage to a European prince would have removed her from England. But she was not convicted of any treason, nor did she marry, and she survived to claim the throne.

Elizabeth travelled to London a few days later and went directly to the Charterhouse which had been retained by its lay owner, Sir Edward North, during the religious reversals of Mary’s reign. The new queen arrived on Wednesday, 23 November from Hadley, where she had spent the previous night. The two sheriffs of London met her ‘at the further ende of Barnett towne . . . and so rood afore her tyll she came to Charterhowse gate’. According to the diarist Henry Machyn she was also accompanied by more than a thousand ‘lordes, knyghtes, and gentyllmen, lades and gentyllwomen’. She entered through the back gate to avoid the muddy streets; her informality and lack of decorum in doing so were popular gestures. She stayed for five days before going to the Tower of London on 28 November. If North vacated his rooms for her use, then she slept on the first floor of the west wing of Master’s Court; if she stayed in the ‘guest chambers’ then she was on the first floor of the east wing. Some members of North’s household presumably were displaced during the visit, but even so it is a mystery how those attending the queen were accommodated.

Meetings of Elizabeth’s Privy Council were held in the Charterhouse, almost certainly in the Great Chamber.  It met there on 24 November, twice, then on 25, 26, 27 (a Sunday), 28 November. The Privy Council had met at Hatfield House on the 20th, twice on the 21st and again on the 22nd. Elizabeth dismissed two-thirds of her sister’s Privy Councillors and reduced the size of the council by two-thirds, to just twenty members, presumably to make it a less unwieldy body and minimise the contention among its members. She also appointed Sir William Cecil as Secretary of State.  Attendance at the meetings in the Charterhouse was between twelve and fifteen members, with the Archbishop of York, Nicholas Heath, the senior figure present. He was to be deprived of the archbishopric in the following July. On Mary’s death the ports had been closed, for security reasons, and an order was issued from the Charterhouse that they should be re-opened. The other business discussed was largely routine, including the arrangements for removing six prisoners in the Tower from their rooms so that there would be space for the queen and her entourage. The royal palace there had scarcely been used since Henry VIII’s accession. The final item minuted on 28 November was for the Lord Mayor, Aldermen and Common Council to seal bonds for loans raised for the crown on the Antwerp money market by Thomas Gresham, the royal agent there; a needed supply for the new regime. Elizabeth wrote on 26 November to the Emperor Ferdinand, in Latin, dating the letter ‘at the Royal Palace in London’; presumably giving the buildings that status because she was in residence there. That must have been the only time that the Charterhouse has been so designated.

Throughout her reign Elizabeth and the court visited the houses of the aristocracy and towns; the longer tours were known as progresses, while the short ones, made on a single day, were visits. More than seventy of her visits were within London. Most European monarchs carried out such tours, allowing them to see their subjects and country, and perhaps as importantly, to allow the subjects to see them. Those within London were less important in that respect, as the monarch would in any case be seen when carrying out some public functions, and Whitehall Palace and the Tower were at least partially accessible to the citizens. For the hosts, a royal visit meant honour, and great expense. Elizabeth visited North at the Charterhouse in 1561, accompanied by the court and staying from 10-14 July. The queen also paid a visit to the Charterhouse in January 1568, three years after it had been acquired from North’s son by Thomas Howard, fourth Duke of Norfolk. As the only duke and first subject, as a descendant of Edward I, Norfolk had a prominent position at court, and the buildings were now properly to be called Howard House. In the following July she was there once more, staying for almost a week. Norfolk was executed in 1572 and the house passed to passed to his eldest son, Philip Howard, who held the courtesy title of Earl of Surrey until he succeeded his grandfather as Earl of Arundel in 1580. Perhaps that was what prompted a visit from the queen in that year, although its duration is not fully recorded. Howard House reverted to the crown and in 1601 was granted by Elizabeth to Thomas, Lord Howard de Walden. He was her host for her final visit, on 17 January 1603. She died on 24 March 1603.




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