Old and New London: Volume 3. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
THE ROYAL PALACE OF WESTMINSTER.
"But that which makes her name through earth to ring,
She is the chamber to our gracious King,
The place in which the Parliament doth sit
For to determine things most requisite."—Old Ballad.
Extent and Boundaries of the Ancient Royal Palace—Edward the Confessor and the Thief—Death of Edward the Confessor—William the Conqueror—William Rufus builds the Great Hall—St. Stephen's Chapel—Birth of Edward I.—The Palace partially burnt—The Palace pillaged by the Earl of Gloucester's Soldiers—Stew-ponds—The Quintain—Henry VI. presented to the Lords of the Parliament—Death of Edward IV.—Henry VIII and Catharine of Arragon—Jousts and Tournaments—The Gradual Growth of the British Parliament—The Old House of Lords—The Prince's Chamber—The Painted Chamber—Charles I. and Oliver Cromwell—The Old House of Commons—Cotton's Gardens—Parliament Stairs—The Star Chamber—Great Accumulation of "Tallies"—"Bellamy's Coffee House."
The ancient Royal Palace of Westminster was a magnificent and extensive pile, in part covering the ground now occupied by the two large areas or courts known as Old Palace Yard and New Palace Yard, and it consisted of a great number of buildings destined to various purposes. The two courts were bounded on the east by the river Thames, and on the west by the Abbey of St. Peter, St. Margaret's Church, the Great and Little Sanctuaries, &c., and were entered on the north and south by gates, which we shall presently describe more in detail. The original palace in which King Canute the Dane had lived is said to have been burnt down to the ground some thirty years before the Conquest. It was rebuilt by Edward the Confessor, and, as we learn from Fitz-Stephen, was a structure of great strength. Here, as Ingulphus tells us, Edward the Confessor held his court, and entertained the high and mighty Duke of Normandy—his own destined successor—when on a visit to England; and here, doubtless, was enacted the incident depicted in the fifth compartment of the historical frieze in the chapel of Edward the Confessor, in Westminster Abbey. "One day," so runs the legend, "as the king lay silent in one of the chambers of his palace, a young page, unconscious of his master's presence, entered the door; and finding a chest filled with treasures standing open, he filled his purse and departed. Avarice prompted a return; again the little thief came, and began to plunder anew. 'Hold, boy!' cried the gentle king, 'you had better be even content with that you have; for if Hugoline, my chamberlain, should come, you will certainly lose all, and be soundly whipped to boot.'"
The particulars of the death of Edward the Confessor, which occurred here, are thus touchingly told in Mr. Walcott's "Westminster," on the authority of Ailred, Abbot of Rievaulx:—"Upon the Eve of Christmas, 1065, the king was seized with a fever; and for three days, superior to nature, and triumphing over the sickness, he bare the ornaments of majesty, and at the solemn banqueting sat amidst his bishops and nobles with what cheerfulness he might. But on the third day, perceiving that the time of his call was come, he bade that the church [of St. Peter] should be dedicated on the morrow. The joyous festival of the Holy Innocents was dawning, and with the assembled prelates and all the nobles of the king the solemnity began. When it was past, he laid his head down upon the couch, and began to be sorely pained. While he lay sick, he forbade his attendants to weep; and seeing his queen mourning and wailing, 'Mourn not, my daughter,' said he; 'I shall not die, but live; and passing from the country of the dead, verily I hope to behold the good things of the Lord in the land of the living.' So having commended himself wholly unto God, in the faith of Christ, and the hope of His promise, old and full of days, he departed from the world."
William the Conqueror, who was crowned at Westminster with his queen, Matilda, says Stow, "it is not to be doubted, builded much at this palace, for he found it farre inferiour to the building of princely palaces in France." Here the Norman kings occasionally resided when they could be enticed away from Winchester and the pleasures of the chase in the New Forest.
As far back as the reign of William Rufus, if we may trust the somewhat poetical statements of Fitz-Stephen, the buildings of the metropolis were grand in the extreme; at all events, he describes the king's palace as an incomparable edifice, connected with the City by suburbs two miles in length, and adds that the bishops, abbots, and noblemen of the kingdom resorted thither in large numbers, living in beautiful houses and maintaining magnificent establishments. The citizens too, no doubt, were initiated in the luxury of good living; for in the neighbourhood of the palace and of the Thames they had a large cooking establishment, at which dainties of every kind could be obtained. They had also in the same neighbourhood public and private schools of philosophy and polite literature; the drama, too, was cultivated; and Fitz-Stephen, who was himself a monk, writes in high terms of praise concerning the frequent exhibitions here of the miracles and martyrdoms of the saints.
Roger of Wendover and Matthew Paris tell us that soon after he had built the great hall, William Rufus, keeping the festival of Whitsuntide here with royal splendour, and hearing his guests admiring its grandeur, boastfully exclaimed, "This hall is not big enough by half, and is but a bedchamber in comparison of that which I mean to make." Notwithstanding this boast of William, it would appear that the palace soon afterwards was allowed to fall into decay; for early in the reign of Henry II., as Fitz-Stephen tells us, the Chancellor, Thomas à Becket, found it almost a ruin, and repaired it in an incredibly short space of time, namely, between Easter and Whitsuntide. With an amusing detail, which may serve to remind us that carpenters and masons are the same in all ages, he tells us that the workmen employed upon it made such a clatter that the good people who were near could scarcely hear each other speak. King Stephen had a few years earlier added to the royal palace a magnificent chapel, which was dedicated to the proto-martyr whose name he bore. This chapel, though now no longer in existence, has retained its memory; the name, by a sort of fiction and figure of speech, being used as synonymous for the Houses of Parliament themselves. It was rebuilt by Edward I., but having been burnt down in 1298 was restored, or rather built again de novo, under Edward II. and III., in the best and most perfect style of the Decorated Gothic; and it certainly must have formed one of the most elegant additions to the architecture of Westminster. Its walls were exquisitely painted in fresco work with a variety of subjects. When the chapel was fitted up for the use of the House of Commons in the reign of Edward VI., these mural paintings were covered over with wainscoting. They were, however, brought to light in the course of some repairs and alterations in the year 1800, when it was necessary to enlarge the apartment in order to accommodate the Irish members, nearly a hundred in number, who were added to the House of Commons by the Act of Union. At this time the paintings were in such a perfect state as to admit of their being copied and engraven. St. Stephen's Chapel was reduced to a ruin by the great fire in October, 1834.
In 1206, King John granted to Baldwin de London, clerk of his exchequer, the chapelship of St. Stephen's, at Westminster. At that time, therefore—or before it had been already dedicated to St. Stephen—it was probably intended to serve as a chapel for the palace, instead of a small one used by Edward the Confessor, which stood near the west side of Westminster Hall, and occupied a part of the spot where Cotton House afterwards stood; but which might have been thought or found too small or inelegant to suit with a royal residence, of which the present Westminster Hall was intended but as one room. That there was a chapel in use here before the erection of this, is clear, as it is on record that Hugo Flory was confirmed abbot of Canterbury in the king's chapel at Westminster in the time of William Rufus. As a chapel of the palace, and therefore to be maintained at the king's expense from time to time, it does not appear to have originally had any endowment; neither does there seem to have been any kind of property belonging to it until the time of its re-foundation—or, more properly speaking, its first foundation—and endowment by Edward III.
In 1239, this palace was the birthplace of the warrior king, Edward I. In 1263, the building suffered greatly by fire; and four years later, during the rupture between the king (Henry III.) and the Earl of Gloucester, "the soldiers lying at Southwark rowed over to Westminster, made havoc in the king's palace, drank up his wine, and broke the glass of the windows, and all other necessaries belonging to that palace they destroyed and wasted."
In the reign of Edward I. (1299) another fire destroyed or very much injured this ancient palace, and many houses adjoining; indeed, it received so much damage that the Parliament—which was at that time holding its sittings there—was held in the ensuing year at the house of the Archbishop of York in Whitehall.
Somewhere near the palace there were extensive stew-ponds in the reign of Henry III.; for, towards the end of that king's life, we find an order for the purchase of six hundred luces or pikes, a hundred of which were to be put into the king's ponds at Westminster.
Matthew Paris informs us that during the reign of Henry III. "the young Londoners, who were expert horsemen, assembled together to run at the quintain, setting up a peacock as the reward of the best player." The king happening then to be holding his court at Westminster, "some of his domestics came to see the pastime, and treated the Londoners with much insolence, calling them cowardly knaves and rascally clowns;" insults which, we may be sure, the Londoners were not slow to resent. In fact, if the truth must be told, the Londoners gave the king's domestics a sound drubbing. "The king, however," says Matthew Paris, "was incensed at the indignity thus laid upon his servants, and not taking into consideration the provocation which the Londoners had received, he fined the city a thousand marks."
The quintain, according to Strutt's "Sports and Pastimes," was originally a military exercise. It is of great antiquity, and was formerly much practised by the youths of London and Westminster. The sport is said to have been named after its inventor, one Quintus, possibly one of the Roman legions quartered in London sixteen hundred years ago; though who he was or when he lived is uncertain. Long anterior in date to the jousts and tournaments of the Middle Ages, the "quintain" would appear to have been originally nothing more than the trunk of a tree or a post, set up for the practice of tyros in chivalry with their spears. Subsequently, it became a more complicated sport, and one which required much skill and nerve. "A staff or spear was fixed in the earth, and a shield being hung upon it was the mark to strike at; the dexterity of the performer consisted in striking the shield in such a manner as to break its fastenings and bear it off. In process of time this diversion was improved, and instead of the staff and the shield, the resemblance of a human figure carved in wood was introduced. To render the appearance of this figure more formidable, it was generally made in the likeness of a Turk or Saracen armed at all points, bearing a shield on his left arm, and brandishing a club or sabre in his right. The quintain thus fashioned was placed on a pivot, and so contrived as to move round with facility. In running at this figure it was necessary for the horseman to direct his lance with great adroitness, and to make his stroke upon the forehead between the eyes, or else upon the nose; for, if he struck wide of those parts, especially upon the shield, the quintain turned round with much velocity, and in case he was not extremely careful, it would give him a severe blow upon the back with the wooden sabre held in the right hand, which was considered as highly disgraceful to the performer, while it excited the laughter and ridicule of the spectators."
In 1422, Henry VI., an infant of eight months at his accession to the throne, was carried in his mother's lap in an open carriage from the City to Westminster, to be presented to the Lords of the Parliament, which was then holding its sitting; and we read that after his coronation, at ten years old, he was presented at Westminster with £1,000, by the Lord Mayor and citizens of London.
At his palace here, on the 9th of April, 1483, died King Edward IV. He was succeeded by his son Edward V., whose uncle Richard, Duke of Gloucester, acted as his guardian and Protector of the realm; and it was to the precincts of the Abbey that the young king's mother fled for refuge on hearing that Richard had ordered the Lords Rivers and Grey, and the other friends of her son, to be imprisoned in Pomfret Castle.
To the Abbey and Palace of Westminster went in solemn procession the young, and at that time promising king, Henry VIII., accompanied by his first wife, Catharine of Arragon, on his accession to the throne, the streets and public buildings on that occasion being enlivened with the gayest of decorations in honour of the royal visitors. Here the same monarch, in the days of his youth and popularity, reviewed the largest muster of the citizens of London that had ever been seen. They consisted of three divisions, each of 5,000 men, exclusive of pioneers and other attendants; and the king much approved of their appearance.
Westminster had long been the seat of the Royal Palace, of the High Court of Parliament, and of our legal tribunals; most of our sovereigns, since the Conquest at least, had been crowned and buried in the Abbey; and it was not until the ancient palace had been almost wholly destroyed by fire that Henry VIII., in 1530, bought Whitehall from Cardinal Wolsey—a purchase which put an end to most of the royal glories of Westminster proper.
This palace, indeed, was partially deserted by royalty in 1512, when part of it was burnt; but the grounds belonging to it seem to have been occasionally used for State purposes in later years; for in honour of the marriage of Henry VIII. with Anne of Cleves, we read that on May Day, 1540, unusually splendid "jousts" were opened at the palace, the challengers being headed by Sir John Dudley, and the defenders by the gallant and accomplished Earl of Surrey. "This entertainment," says Miss Lucy Aikin, "was continued for several successive days, during which the challengers, according to the costly fashion of ancient hospitality, kept open house at their common charge, and feasted the king and queen, the members of both Houses of Parliament, and the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of London with their wives."
All that now remains of the ancient palace is the Great Hall (of which we shall speak in a subsequent chapter) and the crypt under the Chapel of St. Stephen. So much of the rest of the structure as remained to our days—namely, the Star Chamber, the Painted Chamber, and the chapel itself with its cloisters, and the tapestry representing the Spanish Armada—were all destroyed in the fire which burnt down the Houses of Parliament on the 16th of October, 1834.
Previous to this fire, the Parliament had been in the habit of assembling here for nearly three centuries. Macaulay reminds us in his "History," that since the days of the Plantagenets the Houses of Parliament had regularly sat at Westminster, except when the plague was raging in the capital. He must have forgotten, however, the assembling of a Parliament at Oxford in the reign of Charles I.
The old house and the lobby belonging to it formed a building at right angles to the Hall, to which it joined on at the south-eastern corner. The building extended towards the river, being divided from it at the east end by a part of the Speaker's Garden. The length and breadth of the old house, with its lobby, were about half of those of the Hall, occupying about a fourth part of its area.
It is often said that the first assembling of the House of Commons originated from the battle of Evesham. It is true that the earliest instance on record of the representatives of the people assembling in Parliament occurred in the same year with the battle of Evesham; but it had no connection whatever with the event of that engagement, since the Parliament (to which for the first time citizens and burgesses were summoned) was assembled through the influence of the Earl of Leicester, who then held the king under his control; and the meeting took place in the beginning of the year 1265, the writs of summons having been issued in November, 1264; while the battle of Evesham, in which the Earl of Leicester was killed, did not happen till August 4, 1265, or between five and six months after the conclusion of the Parliament. From that period to the death of Henry III., in 1272, it does not appear that any election of citizens or burgesses, to attend Parliament, occurred. The next instance of such elections seems to have happened in the 18th of Edward I.; and the first returns to such writs of summons extant are dated the 23rd of the same reign, since which, with a few intermissions, they have been regularly continued. The correctness of these statements will appear from a reference to the 4th and 5th chapters of Sir W. Betham's work on "Dignities Feudal and Parliamentary," or to Sir James Mackintosh's History of England.
The assembly met on the 22nd of January, 1265, according to writs still extant directing the sheriffs to elect and return two knights for each county, two citizens for each city, and two burgesses for every borough or burgh in the country.
Sir William Blackstone says that we find the first record of any writ for summoning knights, citizens, and burgesses to Parliament towards the reign of Henry III.; but in another place he is more particular, and affirms that this constitution has subsisted, in fact, at least from the year 1266, the forty-ninth of Henry III. Sir Edward Coke has remarked that anciently the two houses sat together; and this appears to have been the case at least so late as the sixth year of Edward III. The surest mark of the division of the Parliament into two houses dates, as he says, from the time when the House of Commons first elected a permanent Speaker, as at the present day. After this division, he adds, the Commons assembled in the chapter-house of the abbot of Westminster, citing as his authority the parliament roll of the 50th Edward III., No. 8, which, consequently, proves the division to have taken place before this date.
Blackstone likewise says that the Parliament is supposed most probably to have assumed its present from during the reign of Edward III., by a separation of the Commons from the Lords; and that the statute for defining and ascertaining treasons was one of the first productions of this new-modelled assembly, and the translation of the law proceedings from French into Latin another. The statute of treasons was passed in the 20th year of Edward III., and that for the translation of law proceedings into Latin in the 36th year of the same king.
Inconvenience in the dispatch of public business must, no doubt, have been found to arise from the distance between the two houses, so long as the Commons continued to sit in the chapter-house of the Abbey; no wonder, therefore, that some more conveniently-situated building should have been thought of for that purpose; and that, on the surrender of St. Stephen's Chapel to the Crown, that edifice was assigned to the Commons as a place of meeting.
The old House of Lords, as it stood prior to the fire in 1834, was an oblong chamber, formed out of an ancient building long known as the Court of Requests. It was decorated with pinnacles on the side next to Abingdon Street, but had little in the way of architectural beauty to recommend it to particular notice. The interior was ornamented with tapestry hangings, consisting of historical figures, representing the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. They were the gift of the States of Holland to Queen Elizabeth. The tapestry was divided into compartments by a framework of stained wood, and each design was surrounded by a border containing portraits of the several gallant officers who commanded in the English fleet at that important period. The throne was an arm-chair, elegantly carved and gilt, ornamented with crimson velvet. Above it was a canopy of crimson velvet, supported by two gilt Corinthian columns, and surmounted by the imperial crown.
The House of Lords did not occupy the whole of the old Court of Requests, part of the north end being formed into a lobby, by which the Commons passed to the Upper House. The royal approach to the old House of Lords was at the south-east corner of Old Palace Yard; it consisted of an enclosed Gothic corridor, with a porch of the same character, leading to a noble flight of stairs. It previously led to the Prince's Chamber and other apartments of the ancient palace, which had been taken down in 1823, when the foundations were laid for the royal gallery. Part of the ancient site was appropriated for a library and committee-rooms for the House of Lords and the House of Commons. Adjoining the ancient building known as the Prince's Chamber was the room which had long served as the House of Lords, in the cellars of which the celebrated "gunpowder treason" was intended to have taken effect. All this was destroyed towards the close of the last century, and some mean brick edifices were erected in their stead. The royal staircase of the late House of Lords was in two flights; on the top were recesses; to the right and left were arched openings to a decorated vestibule, which was adorned by eight scagliola columns, supporting four galleries; to the left, between four columns, was a large opening to the royal gallery. This chamber was divided into three compartments, each of which had a lantern dome filled with stained glass, and the whole surface of the ceiling and parts of the wall were extravagantly adorned with carvings of flowers and scrolls, whilst the lantern lights were vaulted, highly enriched, supported by columns, and additionally decorated by candelabra.
Adjoining the old House of Lords, and separating it from the House of Commons, was the ancient building called the Painted Chamber. This was an apartment in the old Royal Palace, and was often used as a place of meeting for the Lords and Commons when they held a conference. The chamber was small. When, in consequence of increased accommodation being required in the House of Commons, the tapestry and wainscoting were taken down, it was discovered that the interior had been originally painted with single figures and historical subjects, arranged round the chamber in a succession of subjects in six bands, somewhat similar to the Bayeux tapestry. Careful drawings were made at the time by Mr. J. T. Smith for his book on Westminster, and they have since been engraved in the "Vetusta Monumenta," from drawings made in 1819 by Charles Stothard.
The subjects represented were chiefly battle scenes. We learn from Walpole's "Anecdotes of Painting" that they "were certainly as old as 1322, and perhaps much older, since in the twentyfirst year of the reign of Henry III. a mandate occurs for paying to Odo the goldsmith, clerk of the works at Westminster, 'four pounds and eleven shillings for pictures to be done in the King's chamber there.'" It was from these mural paintings that the apartment came to be called the Painted Chamber. In this room the Parliaments were at one time opened, and it is said to have been the bed-chamber of Edward the Confessor. Howel relates a tradition that that monarch died in it. That Edward the Confessor died at Westminster, and consequently in his palace there, is an historical fact; but whether this identical chamber was the scene of his decease is a point open to speculation. On the third, fourth, and fifth days of the trial of Charles I., the examination of witnesses was carried on in the Painted Chamber, Whither the court had adjourned from Westminster Hall. In this chamber, says Mr. Walcott, in his "Westminster," "occurred the ill-timed buffoonery between Oliver Cromwell and Henry Martin, when they inked each other's faces while engaged in signing the death-warrant of their king. Here the last remains of the gentle Elizabeth Claypole, and, in more recent times, the eloquent Earl of Chatham, and his son, William Pitt, successively lay in state. Here, also, on the night of February 14, 1685, was the last restingplace of the embalmed body of King Charles II. before it was finally laid within the royal vaults of the Abbey."
We may here add that in the library of the House of Lords is the original warrant for the execution of Charles I., signed by Oliver Cromwell and the other Parliamentary leaders. It was found shortly after the Restoration in the possession of an old lady in Berkshire, and its damning autographs formed the ground of the prosecution of the regicides. It is framed and glazed, and preserved here as a most curious and valuable document. It was lost for a time in the confusion consequent on the burning of the House of Lords in 1834, but was again found and replaced. It seems as if the element of fire was averse to blotting out the memory of these wicked knaves.
The old building used by the House of Commons for their sittings occupied, as nearly as possible, the site of the present, and, as already stated, was originally the chapel of the ancient palace. Being a free chapel, it was included in the statute of 1st Edward VI., and being transferred from the Church to the Crown, fell into the king's hands, by whom it was assigned for the sittings of the representatives of the people.
The building was of an oblong shape, about ninety feet in length by thirty in width, and had externally at each corner an octagonal tower. It was lighted by five windows on each side, and its walls were supported by substantial buttresses between each window on the outside. It consisted of two storeys, the upper one being used as the House of Commons. The lower storey, which was level with the pavement of the street, was formerly known as the Chapel of St. Mary in the Vaults; but part of it was latterly enclosed to contain a stove for warming the chamber above, and another portion served as the Speaker's state dining-room. The whole front, next to the street, was rebuilt in the Gothic style and cased with stucco at the beginning of the present century. The building is described by Mr. Allen in his "History of London" as "a confused and illformed assemblage of towers, turrets, and pinnacles, jumbled together without taste or judgment; rendered the more offensive from the proximity of the Abbey and the Hall, and certainly not improved by the poverty-struck cloister subsequently appended to its basement."
In what manner the House of Commons was at first fitted up nothing definite is known. In the seal for the Court of King's Bench at Westminster (1648), that for the Common Pleas for the county palatine of Lancaster (1648), the Parliament seal (1649), and the Dunbar medal (1650), the walls are represented as having only a plain wainscoting. However, it appears about the year 1651 they were covered with tapestry hangings, probably to conceal this wainscoting, for they are so given in the perspective view of the House of Commons, on the back of the Great Seal of the Commonwealth (1651), and in this manner they continued to be decorated down to the time of Queen Anne, in whose reign Sir Christopher Wren was employed to repair the building, and to fit the interior with galleries.
The house in itself had nothing very striking to recommend it; convenience, not ornament, appears to have been the principal object of those who enlarged this ancient chapel and applied it to the use of the Legislature. The galleries, which ran along the sides and west end, for the accommodation of members and strangers, were supported by slender iron pillars, crowned with gilt Corinthian capitals, and the walls were wainscoted to the ceiling. The Speaker's chair stood at some distance from the wall; it was highly ornamented with gilding, and bore the royal arms above. Before the chair was a table at which sat the Clerks of the Parliament. In the centre of the room, between the table and the bar, was a capacious area. The seats for the members occupied each side and both ends of the room, with the exception of the passages. There were five rows of seats, rising in gradation above each other, with short backs, and green morocco cushions. The usual entrance for members of Parliament to the old House of Commons, was, as at the present time, through Westminster Hall.
The Speaker's House adjoined St. Stephen's Chapel, and there, in the days of Mr. Manners Sutton, Theodore Hook, as a clever and witty Tory writer, had often been agreeably entertained. Paying his last visit to the Speaker's House after the fire of 1834, he was received, it seems, in an apartment which had escaped, but exhibited sad marks of the surrounding devastation. It was the break-up of many kind and grateful associations. In his diary-book, he says, "I turned after leaving them and kissed the threshold. I shall be there no more." His prophecy was true; for with the new year Mr. Manners Sutton was superseded by Mr. Abercromby as Speaker.
On the south side of St. Stephen's Chapel were Cotton's Gardens, so called because they formed part of the residence of Sir Robert Cotton, the founder of the Cottonian Library, which forms such a valuable part of the British Museum. They are now partly covered over by the new House of Lords and the Peers' Court. Strype thus mentions Cotton House: "In the passage out of Westminster Hall into Old Palace Yard, a little beyond the stairs going up to St. Stephen's Chapel, now the Parliament House" (that is, the present St. Stephen's Hall), "is the house belonging to the ancient and noble family of the Cottons, wherein is kept a most inestimable library of manuscript volumes found both at home and abroad." Sir Christopher Wren describes the house in his time as in "a very ruinous condition." Charles I. stayed at Cotton House during part of his trial in Westminster Hall. On the side of Cotton's Gardens there was formerly an ancient chapel dedicated to "Our Lady de la Pieu;" though the name is variously spelt, in all probability it is a corruption of les puits, "the wells."
Between the Houses of Lords and Commons and the river were "Parliament Stairs." These stairs were open for the accommodation of the Westminster Scholars for rowing. Such, at all events, was the case as lately as 1801, when, as we learn from that matter-of-fact antiquary, Mr. J. T. Smith, "the key was held by Mr. Tyrwhitt, whose servants regularly opened and closed the gates morning and night."
Standing parallel with the river, on the eastern side of New Palace Yard, was the ancient council chamber of the royal palace, where the king sat in extraordinary causes. It was for some time used as the Lottery Office, and had been for centuries known as the "Star Chamber." The origin of the name of the Star Chamber has been much disputed; but "the most satisfactory explanation," says the author of "Things Not Generally Known," "appears to be that given by Mr. Caley, in the third volume of the 'Archæologia,' namely, from the ceiling of the chamber being anciently ornamented with gilded stars." The occupation of the "Chambre des Estoyers" or "Estoilles," by the king's council, in the Palace at Westminster, can be traced to the reign of Edward III.; but no specific mention of the Star Chamber as a court of justice is found earlier than the reign of Henry VII., about which time the old title-deeds of "the Lords sitting in the Star Chamber," and "the council in the Star Chamber," says the author above referred to, seemed to have merged in this one distinguishing appellation. After the sittings, the Lords dined in the inner Star Chamber at the public expense. The mode of the proceedings was twofold: one ore tenus, or by the mouth; the other, by bill and answer. The proceeding ore tenus, usually adopted in political cases, originated in "soden reporte," which Mr. John Bruce, writing in the eighth volume of "Archæologia," considers to mean private and probably secret information given to the council. The person accused or suspected was immediately apprehended, and privately examined. If he confessed any offence, or if the cunning of his examiners drew from him, or his own simplicity let fall, any expressions which suited their purpose, he was at once brought to the bar, his confession or examination was read, he was convicted ex ore suo (out of his own mouth), and judgment was immediately pronounced against him. Imagination can scarcely picture a more terrible judicature. This tribunal was bound by no law, but created and defined the offences it punished; the judges were in point of fact the prosecutors; and every mixture of those two characters is inconsistent with impartial justice. Crimes of the greatest magnitude were tried in this court, but solely punished as trespasses, the council not having dared to usurp the power of inflicting death. Among the many abuses of the process was that, in the time of Queen Elizabeth, "many solicitors who lived in Wales, Cornwall, or the farthest parts of the North, did make a trade to sue forth a multitude of subpœnas to vex their neighbours, who, rather than they would travel to London, would give them any composition, though there were no colour of complaint against them." The process might anciently be served in any place: in the pre-Reformation times it was usually served in the market or church. The largest number of the council who attended the court in the reigns of Henry VII. and VIII. was nearly forty, of whom seven or eight were prelates; in the reign of Elizabeth the number was nearly thirty, but it subsequently declined. The chancellor was the supreme judge, and alone sat with his head uncovered. Upon important occasions, persons who wished "to get convenient places and standing" went there by three o'clock in the morning. The counsel were confined to a "laconical brevity;" the examinations of the witnesses were read, and the members of the court delivered their opinions in order from the inferior upwards, the archbishop preceding the chancellor. Every punishment, except death, was assumed to be within the power of the Star Chamber Court. Pillory, fine and imprisonment, and whipping, wearing of papers through Westminster Hall, and letters "seared in the face with hot irons," were ordinary punishments inflicted by this court.
Henry VII. had a fondness for sitting in the Star Chamber: the court was the great instrument for his "extort doynge;" and " the king took the matter into his own hands," was a Star-Chamber phrase; and "my attorney must speak to you," was a sure prelude to a heavy fine. Wolsey made a great display of his magnificence in the Star Chamber: he proceeded to the sittings of the court in great state, his mace and seal being carried before him; "he spared neither high nor low, but judged every estate according to their merits and deserts." After his fall, with the exception of occasional interference in religious matters and matters of police, we seldom hear of the Star Chamber.
The proceedings in the Star Chamber, being taken under ecclesiastical instead of royal authority, have always been regarded by Englishmen with extreme dislike and aversion. And it may be added that the severity of its sentences in proportion to the importance of the offences has given good reason for its unpopularity. Thus we read that "one Bennet was fined a thousand pounds to the king, and another thousand to the Earl of Marlborough, for saying that he dealt basely with him for not paying him thirty pounds, . . . . and laying to his lordship's charge that he was a common drunkard." Dr. Osbaldiston, too, a prebendary of Westminster, and formerly a master of Westminster School, and Dr. Williams, Bishop of Lincoln, were here found guilty of scandalum magnatum for defaming the great men of the day, by calling Archbishop Laud "the great Leviathan." The bishop was sentenced to pay a fine of £5,000, and Osbaldiston to have his ears tacked to the pillory in Palace Yard, a punishment which he escaped by going beyond the sea.
In the Star Chamber, in the year 1587, Philip Earl of Arundel was fined £10,000. In 1636, John Lilburne, being here convicted of publishing seditious libels, was sentenced to pay £5,000, to stand in the pillory, and be whipped at a cart's tail from Fleet Prison to the gate of Westminster Hall. About this time a more celebrated character figures in its annals. William Prynne, a barrister of Lincoln's Inn, was cited to appear in the Star Chamber for having published an attack upon the stage in the shape of a quarto volume of more than a thousand pages, entitled, "Histrio-Mastix: the Player's Scourge, or Actor's Tragedy;" he was also charged with having railed not only against all stage-plays and players, dancing, &c., but against all who thought fit to attend such performances, while he knew that the queen, the lords of council, &c., were oftentimes spectators of masques and dances. It was urged against him that he had thus cast aspersions upon the queen, spoken censoriously and uncharitably against all Christian people, and, in addition, had made use of infamous terms against the king. He was sentenced to stand twice in the pillory, to lose both his ears, to pay a heavy fine, and to be imprisoned for life. Mr. Gerard says, in one of his letters to Lord Strafford, "No mercy was showed to Prynne: he lost his first ear in the pillory in the Palace at Westminster, in full term; the other in Cheapside; where, whilst he stood, his volumes were burnt under his nose, which had almost suffocated him."
The Star Chamber held its sittings, from the end of Elizabeth's reign until the final abolition of the court by Parliament in 1641, in apartments on the eastern side of New Palace Yard; these buildings appear to have been restored by Queen Elizabeth, as they bore the date 1602, and "E. R.," and an open rose on a star; they corresponded with the "Starre Chamber" in Aggas' plan of London (1570). The last of the buildings were taken down in 1836; drawings were then made of the court, which had an enriched ceiling, but there were no remains of the star ornamentations behind the Elizabethan panelling; the style of the chamber was TudorGothic. A view of the building will be found on page 504. The remains were sold by auction and purchased by Sir Edward Cust, the walls of whose dining-room at Leasowe Castle, Cheshire, they now decorate. They consist chiefly of oakpanelling, and a handsome chimney-piece of the Renaissance style, together with a single length of an earlier date, which stood at the end furthest removed from the chimney-piece, and was thought to have formed a background for the king's chair of state, if ever he chose to be present in the Council. The rose, the fleur de lys, the portcullis, and the pomegranate, which adorned parts of these remains, show their date conclusively—namely, the period of the first marriage of Henry VIII. The Star Chamber, it may be added, on the suppression of the Court which sat in it, became a depository for rubbish; and when the fire in which the Houses of Parliament were destroyed was extinguished, it was found that one side of it was full of the old "tallies," which were used—though it is difficult to believe the fact—down to the end of the Georgian era, to keep the national accounts!
Adjoining the old House of Commons was a coffee and chop house of great celebrity—indeed, it may be said of Parliamentary fame—known among the veterans of St. Stephen's Chapel as "Bellamy's." Englishmen, as we all know, can do nothing without a dinner, or a luncheon, at the least; and so to "Bellamy's," day after day during the Parliamentary session, would repair the members of committees, witnesses, lawyers and their clients, and in the evening many of the leading M.P.'s lounged in during dull debates, making it serve the purpose of a club. "Nothing is more common," observes a writer of the last generation, "than to adjourn upon occasions of triumphs in the Committee Rooms to 'Bellamy's,' where some of the best wine that can be drank in London, and some of the best chops and steaks that were ever sought to be cooked, almost console even a country member or a stranger for an hour or two's imprisonment in a close room or crowded gallery. A man with eyes to see and a nose to smell, or a tongue to taste, perforce acknowledges that not even the houris in Paradise could serve up a better steak to the most devout Mohammedan that finds his way thither. . . . . The steaks are so hot, and so tender, and so accurately dressed, the old Nankin China is so inviting, and the port, the sherry, and the madeira so unexceptionable, and so excellently bodied for an Englishman's palate, that really now and then a man would rather dine at 'Bellamy's' than at home. And then it is so pleasant to watch the magical skill with which grave and learned members who have just alighted from their carriages and commenced an apology for their dinner or supper, as the case may be, jump up from their seats on hearing the 'division bell' ring, and run downstairs headlong into 'the House' in order to give their votes. True, they may not have heard a word of the debate, they may not know who has spoken, or what has been said in their absence; but I presume that in the House of Commons gentlemen come to vote by instinct. On many occasions have I been sipping my port in that coffee-room, and have heard the charmed bell rung, and have seen twenty members rise up, like Macbeth's guests, in most admired disorder." The "Family Joe Miller," published in the year 1848, writes—of course in fun—"The Bellamy privilege of feeding the House of Commons with beef is to be withdrawn, unless the honourable gentlemen are regularly crammed with wit for our volume before each debate." But "Bellamy's" time-honoured chop-house has passed away, having been superseded by cooking done on the premises under the surveillance of a committee of "the House" itself: and so, stat nominis umbra.