The Elizabeths of the Charterhouse

Our Collections Volunteer Harriet Taylor takes a closer look at the two royal Elizabeths closely connected to the Charterhouse

Elizabeth I (1533-1603)

The Charterhouse has a longstanding history with the Monarchs, stemming as far back to Henry VIII. However, I thought I would shine light on the Elizabeths as I found it interesting that both Elizabeths have had such an interesting history with the Charterhouse. I hope you enjoy my research as much as I enjoyed looking into it!

Elizabeth I had a relationship with the Charterhouse, visiting often throughout her reign. This relationship started as her reign began. After Queen Mary died, (17th November 1558), Elizabeth decided to leave Hatfield on 23rd November, where she had been staying, to come and take up residence at the Charterhouse as her base in London before her coronation.  The Charterhouse was one of only four substantial buildings in London that Elizabeth would still recognise today and was chosen because it was the largest and most luxurious house in the vicinity of the city, but also because of its location being just outside the city walls. During her stay at the Charterhouse, it is thought that Elizabeth’s Privy Council met in the Great Chamber, from Monday November 24th to Friday 28th. Since coming to power as Queen, Elizabeth had reduced her Privy Council, unlike her half-sister Mary, and the meetings that took place at the Charterhouse were thought to be the real turning point of royal control since the reign of Henry VIII. On 15th January 1559, Elizabeth was crowned and officially became Queen Elizabeth I. Elizabeth’s next visit to the Charterhouse didn’t take place until 10th July 1561, when she was accompanied by the court. A diary entry by Henry Machyn, a clothier and diarist in the 16th Century, provides an insight into this visit.

[The x day of July the Queen came by water] unto the Towre of London by x [of the clock, until] v at nyght, and whent and sa(w) all her my[nts; and they gave the] Quen serten pesses of gold, and gayff the [lord] of Hunsdon had on, and my lord marques of [Northampton,] and her grace whent owt of the yron gatt [over] Towre hyll unto Algatt chyrche, and so down Hondyche [to the] Spyttyll, and so downe Hoge lane, and so over the feldes to the Charter howse my lord North(‘s) plase, with trumpetes and the penssyonars and the haroldes of armes and the servantes, and then cam gentyllmen rydyng, and after lordes, and then [the] lord of Hunsdon and bare the sword a-for the quen, and then cam [ladies] rydyng; and the feldes full of pepull, gret nombur [as ever was] sene; and ther tared tylle Monday.

The Charterhouse had been retained by Sir Edward North during the reign of Elizabeth’s half-sister Mary. He was a member of Mary’s Privy Council. North had an interesting life. He was the Clerk of Parliaments, Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire, and a successful lawyer. It was North’s mansion in the Charterhouse that Elizabeth had used during her accession.  Elizabeth’s next visit to the Charterhouse was in January 1568 – three years after it had been acquired from North’s son by Thomas Howard, fourth Duke of Norfolk. Following this, some buildings were named Howard House, due to Howard’s position at court from his high status as Duke.

Elizabeth visited the Charterhouse for the last time before her death on 24th March 1601. Howard was executed in 1572, which resulted in Howard House passing to Thomas Howard’s eldest son, Philip. It is thought that the last visit that Elizabeth made to the charterhouse was on 17th January 1603, when the Charterhouse was occupied by Thomas, Lord Howard De Walden, who, during Elizabeth’s last visit to the Charterhouse, is believed to have been her host.

Queen Elizabeth II (1926 – 2022)

Queen Elizabeth II’s first visit to the Charterhouse was on 13th February 1958. Accompanied by Prince Philip, The Queen visited the Charterhouse after restorations were made following a disastrous fire that broke out in May 1941 during the London Blitz. This brief news report at the time is an interesting watch!

This was the start of an ongoing relationship that the Charterhouse had with The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh. On 15th February 2005, Prince Philip, who was also a Royal Governor of the Charterhouse, opened and named the Queen Elizabeth II infirmary. It is now one of the crucial parts of the Charterhouse, giving all the Brothers the care they need later on in their lives when they leave the Charterhouse flats.

The Charterhouse has sixteen Governors who are the charity’s trustees. This arrangement of governance was established by Thomas Sutton on 22 June 1611. Each governor, including the Royal Governors, has a designated ‘Brother’ assigned to them in order that they may have a more personal relationship with the beneficiaries of the charity.  This includes the Royal Governors, and whilst they don’t play an active role, it is thought that The Queen did refer to ‘her Brother’ once, which obviously confused everyone!

The next visit by The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh was three years later. To mark the 50th Anniversary of the re-opening of the Charterhouse after the Second World War, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip visited the Charterhouse on 11th June 2008.

The Queen’s most recent visit to the Charterhouse was on 28th February 2017 when The Queen officially opened the Charterhouse’s new museum and learning centre.


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