Old and New London: Volume 6. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.

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Edward Walford, 'Greenwich', in Old and New London: Volume 6( London, 1878), British History Online [accessed 21 July 2024].

Edward Walford, 'Greenwich', in Old and New London: Volume 6( London, 1878), British History Online, accessed July 21, 2024,

Edward Walford. "Greenwich". Old and New London: Volume 6. (London, 1878), , British History Online. Web. 21 July 2024.

In this section



"On Thames's bank, in silent thought we stood
Where Greenwich smiles upon the silver flood;
Struck with the seat that gave Eliza birth,
We kneel, and kiss the consecrated earth,
In pleasing dreams the blissful age renew,
And call Britannia's glories back to view,
Behold her cross triumphant on the main,
The guard of commerce and the dread of Spain."—Dr. Johnson's "London."

Situation and Origin of the Name of Greenwich—Early History of the Place—The Murder of Archbishop Alphege—Encampments of the Danes—The Manor of Greenwich—The Building of Greenwich Palace, or "Placentia"—Jousts and Tournaments performed here in the Reign of Edward IV.—Henry VIII. at Greenwich—Festivities held here during this Reign—Birth of Queen Elizabeth—The Downfall of Anne Boleyn—Marriage of Henry VIII. with Anne of Cleves—Will Sommers, the Court Jester—Queen Elizabeth's Partiality for Greenwich—The Order of the Garter—The Queen and the Countryman—Maunday Thursday Observances—Personal Appearance of Queen Elizabeth—Sir Walter Raleigh—Greenwich Palace settled by James I. on his Queen, Anne of Denmark—Charles I. a Resident here—The Palace during the Commonwealth—Proposals for Rebuilding the Palace—The Foundation of Greenwich Hospital.

The town and parliamentary borough of Greenwich, which we now enter, lies immediately eastward of Deptford, from which parish it is separated by the river Ravensbourne. As to the origin of the name, Lambarde, in his "Perambulations of Kent," says that in Saxon times it was styled Grenevic—that is, the "green town;" and the transition from vic to wich in the termination is easy. Lambarde adds that in "ancient evidences" it was written "East Greenewiche," to distinguish it from Deptford, which, as we have already stated, is called "West Greenewiche" in old documents. Under the name of West Greenwich it returned two members to Parliament, in the reign of Elizabeth; but no fresh instance of such an honour is recorded in its subsequent history. Down to about the time of Henry V. the place was known chiefly as a fishing-village, being adapted to that use by the secure road or anchorage which the river afforded at this spot. It was a favourite station with the old Northmen, whose "host" was frequently encamped on the high ground southward and eastward of the town, now called Blackheath. In the reign of King Ethelred, when the Danes made an attack on London Bridge, a portion of their fleet lay in the river off Greenwich, whilst the remainder was quartered in the Ravensbourne Creek at Deptford. It was to Greenwich that, after their raid upon Canterbury in 1011, the Danes brought Archbishop Alphege to their camp, where he was kept a prisoner for several months; and the foundation of the old parish church of Greenwich, which we shall presently notice, was probably intended to mark the public feeling as to the memorable event that closed his personal history. A native of England, St. Alphege was first abbot of Bath, then Bishop of Winchester, in A.D. 984, and twelve years later translated to the see of Canterbury. On the storming of that city by the Danes under Thurkill, in the year above mentioned, he distinguished himself by the courage with which he defended the place for twenty days against their assaults. Treachery, however, then opened the gates, and Alphege, having been made prisoner, was loaded with chains, and treated with the greatest severity, in order to make him follow the example of his worthless sovereign Ethelred, and purchase an ignominious liberty with gold. Greenwich, as we have stated, at that time formed the Danish head-quarters, and hither the archbishop was conveyed. Here he was tempted by the offer of a lower rate of ransom; again and again he was urged to yield by every kind of threat and solicitation. "You press me in vain," was the noble Saxon's answer; "I am not the man to provide Christian flesh for Pagan teeth by robbing my poor countrymen to enrich their enemies." At last the patience of the heathen Danes was worn out; so one day, after an imprisonment of seven months' duration (the 19th of April, 1012—on which day his festival is still kept in the Roman Catholic Church), they sent for the archbishop to a banquet, when their blood was inflamed by wine, and on his appearance saluted him with tumultuous cries of "Gold! gold! Bishop, give us gold, or thou shalt to-day become a public spectacle." Calm and unmoved, Alphege gazed on the circle of infuriated men who hemmed him in, and who presently began to strike him with the flat sides of their battle-axes, and to fling at him the bones and horns of the oxen that had been slain for the feast. And thus he would have been slowly murdered, but for one Thrum, or Guthrum, a Danish soldier, who had been converted by Alphege, and who now in mercy smote him with the edge of his weapon, when he fell dead. "It is storied," writes Hone, in his "Everyday Book," quoting from the "Golden Legend," "that when St. Alphege was imprisoned at Greenwich, the devil appeared to him in the likeness of an angel, and tempted him to follow him into a dark valley, over which he wearily walked through hedges and ditches, till at last, when he was stuck in a most foul mire, the devil vanished, and a real angel appeared, and told St. Alphege to go back to prison and be a martyr; and so he gained a martyr's crown. Then after his death, an old rotten stake was driven into his body, and those who drove it said, that if on the morrow the stake was green, and bore leaves, they would believe; whereupon the stake flourished, and the drivers thereof repented, as they said they would, and the body being buried at St. Paul's Church, in London, worked miracles."

From the encampments of the Danes in this place may possibly be traced the names of East Coombe and West Coombe, two estates on the borders of Blackheath—coomb, as well as comp, signifying a camp.

The manor of Greenwich, called in the early records East Greenwich, as we have already seen, belonged formerly to the abbey of St. Peter at Ghent. It remained in the possession of the monks, however, but for a very short time, being seized by the Crown upon the disgrace of Odo, Bishop of Bayeux. At the dissolution of the alien priories it was granted by King Henry V. to the monastery of Sheen, or Richmond. Henry VI. granted it to his uncle, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, who was so pleased with the spot that he built on it a palace, extending, with its various courts and gardens, from the river to the foot of the hill on which the Observatory now stands. Upon his death it became again the property of the Crown. The royal manors of East and West Greenwich and of Deptford-le-Strond still belong to the sovereign, whose chief steward has his official residence at Macartney House, on Blackheath.

According to Lysons, in his "Environs of London," however, there appears to have been a royal residence here as early as the reign of Edward I., when that monarch "made an offering of seven shillings at each of the holy crosses in the chapel of the Virgin Mary, at Greenwicke, and the prince an offering of half that sum;" though by whom the palace was erected is not known. Henry IV. dated his will from his "Manor of Greenwich, January 22nd, 1408," and the place appears to have been his favourite residence. The grant of 200 acres of land in Greenwich, made by Henry VI. to Duke Humphrey, in 1433, was for the purpose of enclosing it as a park. Four years later the duke and Eleanor, his wife, obtained a similar grant, and in it licence was given to its owners to "embattle and build with stone" their manor of Greenwich, as well as "to enclose and make a tower and ditch within the same, and a certain tower within the park to build and edify." Accordingly, soon after this, Duke Humphrey commenced building the tower within the park, now the site of the Royal Observatory, which was then called Greenwich Castle; and he likewise rebuilt the palace on the spot where the west wing of the Royal Hospital—or, more properly speaking, Royal Naval College—now stands, which he named from its agreeable situation, Pleazaunce, or Placentia; but this name was not commonly used until the reign of Henry VIII. Edward IV. enlarged the park, and stocked it with deer, and then bestowed the palace as a residence upon his queen, Elizabeth Woodville. In this reign a royal joust or tournament was performed at Greenwich, on the occasion of the marriage of Richard, Duke of York, with Anne Mowbray. In 1482 the Lady Mary, the king's daughter, died here; she was betrothed to the King of Denmark, but died before the solemnisation of the marriage. Henry VII. having—as shown in a previous page (fn. 1) —committed Elizabeth, queen of Edward IV., on some frivolous pretence, to close confinement in the Abbey at Bermondsey, where some years afterwards she ended her days amidst poverty and solitude, the manor and appurtenances of Greenwich came into his possession. He then enlarged the palace, adding a brick front towards the riverside; finished the tower in the park, which had been commenced by Duke Humphrey; and built a convent adjoining the palace for the Order of the Grey Friars, who came to Greenwich about the latter end of the reign of Edward IV., "from whom," says Lambarde, "they obtained, in 1480, by means of Sir William Corbidge, a chauntrie, with a little Chapel of the Holy Cross." The convent above mentioned, after its dissolution in the reign of Henry VIII., was re-founded by Queen Mary, but finally suppressed by Elizabeth soon after her accession.

Henry VIII. was born at Greenwich in June, 1491, and baptised in the parish church by the Bishop of Exeter, Lord Privy Seal. This monarch spared no expense to render Greenwich Palace magnificent; and, perhaps from partiality to the place of his birth, he resided chiefly in it, neglecting for it the palace at Eltham, which had been the favourite residence of his ancestors. Many sumptuous banquets, revels, and solemn jousts, for which his reign was celebrated, were held at his "Manor of Pleazaunce." On the 3rd of June, 1509, Henry's marriage with Catherine of Arragon was solemnised here. Holinshed, in his "Chronicles," informs us how that on May-day, in 1511, "the king lying at Grenewich, rode to the wodde to fetch May; and after, on the same day, and the two dayes next ensuing, the King, Sir Edward Howard, Charles Brandon, and Sir Edward Nevill, as challengers, held jousts against all comers. On the other parte the Marquis Dorset, the Earls of Essex and Devonshire, with other, as defendauntes, ranne againste them, so that many a sore stripe was given, and many a staffe broken." On May 15th other jousts were held here, as also in 1516, 1517, and 1526. In 1512 the king kept his Christmas at Greenwich "with great and plentiful cheer," and in the following year "with great solemnity, dancing, disguisings, mummeries, in a most princely manner." In an account of Greenwich and Hampton Court Palaces, in Chambers' Journal, the writer observes:—"Henry VIII., up to middle age, always kept Christmas with great festivity at one or other of these palaces. Artificial gardens, tents, &c., were devised in the hall, out of which came dancers, or knights, who fought. After a few years Henry contented himself with a duller Christmas, and generally gambled a good deal on the occasion. In the brief reign of Edward VI. a gentleman named Ferrers was made the 'Lord of Misrule,' and was very clever in inventing plays and interludes. The money lavished on these entertainments was enormous; one of his lordship's dresses cost fifty-two pounds, and he had besides a train of counsellors, gentlemen ushers, pages, footmen, &c. Mary and Elizabeth both kept Christmas at Hampton Court; but the entertainments of the latter were far gayer than those of her sister."

The following amusing account of these Christmas festivities may be appropriately quoted here from Hall's "Chronicles:"—"The king, after Parliament was ended, kept a solemne Christemas at Grenewicke to chere his nobles, and on the twelfe daie at night, came into the hall a mount, called the riche mount. The mount was sett ful of riche flowers of silke, and especially full of brome slippes full of coddes; the braunches were grene sattin, and the flowers flat gold of damaske, whiche signified Plantagenet. On the top stode a goodly bekon, gevyng light; rounde about the bekon sat the Kyng and five other, al in coates and cappes of right crimosin velvet, embroudered with flat golde of damaske; the coates set full of spangelles of gold. And four woodhouses drewe the mount till it came before the Quene, and then the Kyng and his compaignie descended and daunced; then sodainly the mount opened, and out came sixe ladies, all in crimosin satin and plunket embroudered with gold and perle, and French hoddes on their heddes, and thei daunced alone. Then the lordes of the mount took the ladies, and daunced together; and the ladies re-entred, and the mount closed, and so was conveighed out of the hall. Then the Kyng shifted hym and came to the Quene, and sat at the banqute, which was very sumpteous." At the Christmas festivities in 1515 was introduced the first masquerade ever seen in England. The following account of it and the other ceremonies on the occasion, given in the work above quoted, may not prove uninteresting, as it affords some insight into the amusements of the period:—"The Kyng this yere kept the feast of Christmas at Grenewich, wher was such abundance of viandes served to all comers of any honest behaviors, as hath been few times seen; and against New-yere's night was made, in the hall, a castle, gates, towers, and dungeon, garnished with artilerie and weapon after the most warlike fashion; and on the frount of the castle was written, Le Fortresse dangerus; and within the castle wer six ladies clothed in russet satin laid all over with leves of golde, and every owde knit with laces of blewe silke and golde, on ther heddes coyfes and cappes all of gold. After this castle had been carried about the hal [hall], and the Quene had behelde it, in came the Kyng with five other appareled in coates, the one halfe of russet satyn spangled with spangels of fine gold, and the other halfe rich clothe of gold; on ther heddes caps of russet satin, embroudered with workes of fine gold bullion. These six assaulted the castle, the ladies seyng them so lustie and coragious wer content to solace with them, and upon further communicacion to yeld the castle, and so thei came down and daunced a long space. And after the ladies led the knightes into the castle, and then the castle sodainly vanished out of ther sightes. On the daie of the Epiphanie, at nighte, the Kyng with xi other wer disguished after the manner of Italie, called a maske, a thing not seen afore in Englande; thei wer appareled in garmentes long and brode, wrought all with gold, with visers and cappes of gold; and, after the banket doen, those maskers came in with six gentlemen disguised in silke, bearing staffe torches, and desired the ladies to daunce; some wer content, and some that knewe the fashion of it refused, because it was not a thing commonly seen. And after thei daunced and commoned together, as the fashion of the maske is, thei tooke ther leave and departed, and so did the Quene and all the ladies."

At the palace here both of the daughters of Henry VIII., Mary and Elizabeth, first saw the light. On the 13th of May, 1515, the marriage of Mary, Queen Dowager of France (Henry's sister), with Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, was publicly solemnised in the parish church of Greenwich.

Of the many splendid receptions and sumptuous entertainments of foreign princes and ministers, that which was given here in 1527 to the French ambassadors appears to have been particularly striking; so much so, in fact, that honest old John Stow is obliged to confess that he "lacked head of fine wit, and also cunning in his bowels," to describe it with sufficient eloquence. This embassy, we are told, that it might correspond with the English Court in magnificence, consisted of eight persons of high quality, attended by six hundred horse; they were received with the greatest honours, "and entertained after a more sumptuous manner than had ever been seen before." The great tilt-yard was covered over, and converted into a banqueting-room. The Hampton Court banquet given by Wolsey to the same personages just before was, says the annalist, a marvellously sumptuous affair; yet this at Greenwich excelled it "as much as gold excels silver," and no beholder had ever seen the like. "In the midst of the banquet there was tourneying at the barriers, with lusty gentlemen in complete harness, very gorgeous, on foot; then there was tilting on horseback with knights in armour, still more magnificent; and after this was an interlude or disguising, made in Latin, the players being in the richest costumes, ornamented with the most strange and grotesque devices. This done," Stow further tells us, "there came such a number of the fairest ladies and gentlewomen that had any renown of beauty throughout the realm, in the most rich apparel that could be devised, with whom the gentlemen of France danced, until a gorgeous mask of gentlemen came in, who danced and masked with these ladies. This done, came in another mask of ladies, who took each of them one of the Frenchmen by the hand to dance and to mask. These women maskers every one spoke good French to the Frenchmen, which delighted them very much to hear their mother tongue. Thus was the night consumed, from five of the clock until three of the clock after midnight."

"After the king's marriage to Anne Boleyn," writes Charles Mackay, in his "Thames and its Tributaries," "he took her to reside at Greenwich; and when it pleased him to declare the marriage publicly, and have her crowned, he ordered the Lord Mayor to come to Greenwich in state, and escort her up the river to London. It was on the 19th of May, 1533, and Father Thames had never before borne on his bosom so gallant an array. First of all the mayor and aldermen, with their scarlet robes and golden chains, followed by the common councilmen in their robes, and by all the officers of the City in their costume, with triumphant music swelling upon the ear, and their gay banners floating upon the breeze, walked down to the water-side, where they found their own barges ready to receive them, and fifty other barges filled with the various City companies, awaiting the signal of departure. Then, amid the firing of cannon, and the braying of trumpets, the procession started. A foist, or large flat-bottomed boat, took the lead, impelled by several fellows dressed out to represent devils, who at intervals spouted out blue and red flames from their mouths, and threw balls of fire into the water. 'Terrible and monstrous wild men they were,' says Stow, 'and made a hideous noise. In the midst of them sat a great red dragon, moving itself continually about, and discharging fire-balls of various colours into the air, whence they fell into the water with a hissing sound. Next came the Lord Mayor's barge, attended by a small barge on the right side filled with musicians. It was richly hung with cloth of gold and silver, and bore the two embroidered banners of the king and queen, besides escutcheons splendidly wrought in every part of the vessel. On the left side was another foist, in the which was a mount, and on the mount stood a white falcon, crowned, upon a root of gold, environed with white and red roses, which was the Queen's device, and about the mount sat virgins, singing and playing melodiously.' Then came the sheriffs and the aldermen, and the common councilmen and the City companies, in regular procession, each barge having its own banners and devices, and most of them being hung with arras and cloth of gold. When they arrived at Greenwich, they cast anchor, 'making all the while great melody.' They waited thus until three o'clock, when the queen appeared, attended by the Duke of Suffolk, the Marquis of Dorset, the Earl of Wiltshire, her father, the Earls of Arundel, Deroy, Rutland, Worcester, Huntingdon, Sussex, Oxford, and many other noblemen and bishops, each one in his barge. In this order they rowed up the Thames to the Tower stairs, where the king was waiting to receive his bride, whom he kissed 'affectionately and with a loving countenance,' in sight of all the people that lined the shores of the river, and covered all the housetops in such multitudes that Stow was afraid to mention the number, lest posterity should accuse him of exaggeration."


Here, on the 7th of September following, was born, writes Miss Lucy Aikin, "under circumstances as peculiar as her after life proved eventful and illustrious," Elizabeth, daughter of King Henry VIII. by his second consort, Anne Boleyn. Her birth is thus quaintly but prettily recorded by the contemporary historian Hall:—"On the 7th day of September, being Sunday, between three and four o'clock in the afternoon, the queen was delivered of a faire ladye, on which day the Duke of Norfolk came home to the christening." The Princess was baptised on the Wednesday following, in the midst of great pomp and ceremony, at the neighbouring church of the Grey Friars, but of which ancient edifice not a single vestige is now remaining.


In 1536, on May-day, after a tournament, Anne Boleyn, the mother of the Princess Elizabeth, was arrested here by order of the king, who saw her drop her handkerchief, and fancied that it was meant as a signal to one of her admirers. She was beheaded on the 19th of the same month, on Tower Hill, as every reader of English history knows.

"The royal couple," observes Charles Mackay, in his work on the "Thames and its Tributaries," "had continued to reside alternately at the palaces of Placentia and Hampton Court until the year 1536, when poor Anne Boleyn became no longer pleasing in the eyes of her lord. On May-day in that year Henry instituted a grand tournament in Greenwich Park, at which the queen and her brother, Lord Rochford, were present. The sports were at their height, when the king, without uttering a word to his queen or anybody else, suddenly took his departure, apparently in an illhumour, and proceeded to London, accompanied by six domestics. All the tilters were surprised and chagrined; but their surprise and chagrin were light in comparison to those of Anne Boleyn. The very same night her brother and his friends, Norris, Brereton, Weston, and Smeton, were arrested and conveyed up the river to the Tower, bound like felons. On the following morning the queen herself was arrested, and a few hours afterwards conveyed to the same prison, where, on the fifth day of her captivity, she indited that elegant and feeling epistle to her tyrant, dated from her 'dolefull prison in ye Tower,' which every one has read and hundreds have wept over. The king had long suspected her truth; and the offence he took at the tilting match was that she had dropped her handkerchief, accidentally it would appear, but which he conceived to be a signal to a paramour. On the 19th, the anniversary of her coronation and triumphal procession from Greenwich three years before, her young head was smitten from her body by the axe of the executioner, within the precincts of that building where she had received the public kiss, in sight of the multitudes of London! Alas! poor Anne Boleyn!"

Here, in January, 1540, Henry VIII., "magnanimously resolving to sacrifice his own feelings for the good of his country—for once in his life," as Miss Lucy Aikin remarks with dry humour, was married "with great magnificence, and with every outward show of satisfaction," to his fat and ungainly consort, Anne of Cleves. Three years later the king here entertained twenty-one of the Scottish nobility, whom he had taken prisoners at Salem Moss, and gave them their liberty without ransom.

It was here that Will Sommers, the Court fool to Henry VIII., was chiefly domesticated. He used his influence with the king in a way that few Court favourites—not being "fools"—have done before or since. He tamed the royal tyrant's ferocity, and occasionally, at least, urged him on to good and kind actions, himself giving the example by his kindness to those who came within the humble sphere of his influence and act. Armin, in his "Nest of Ninnies," published in 1608, thus describes this laughing philosopher: "A comely fool indeed, passing more stately; who was this forsooth? Will Sommers, and not meanly esteemed by the king for his merriment; his melody was of a higher straine, and he lookt as the noone broad waking. His description was writ on his forehead, and yee might read it thus:—

'Will Sommers, born in Shropshire, as some say,
Was brought to Greenwich on a holy day;
Presented to the king, which foole disdayn'd
To shake him by the hand, or else ashamed;
Howe're it was, as ancient people say,
With much adoe was wonne to it that day.
Leane he was, hollow-ey'd, as all report,
And stoope he did, too; yet in all the Court
Few men were more belov'd than was this foole,
Whose merry prate kept with the king much rule.
When he was sad the king and he would rime,
Thus Will he exil'd sadness many a time.
I could describe him, as I did the rest;
But in my mind I doe not think it best.
My reason this, howe'er I do descry him,
So many know him that I may belye him;
Therefore to please all people one by one,
I hold it best to let that paines alone.
Only thus much: he was the poore man's friend,
And help'd the widdows often in the end;
The king would ever grant what he did crave,
For well he knew Will no exacting knave;
But wisht the king to do good deeds great store,
Which caus'd the Court to love him more and more.'"

It is a comfort to think that Henry VIII. had at least one honest and kind-hearted counsellor, even though he was a—Court fool.

Henry VIII. at one period of his reign was so much attached to Greenwich Palace, that he passed more of his time there than at any of his other royal abodes. He adorned and enlarged it at considerable expense, and made it so magnificent as to cause Leland, the antiquary, to exclaim with rapture, as he gazed upon it—

"How bright the lofty seat appears,
Like Jove's great palace, paved with stars!
What roofs! what windows charm the eye!
What turrets, rivals of the sky!"

Such, at least, is Hasted's translation of Leland's Latin verses. During the reign of the two succeeding sovereigns, Greenwich lost that renown for gaiety which it had acquired from the festivals and constant hospitality of Henry VIII. Here his son, the boy-king, Edward VI., died on the 6th of July, 1553, not without some suspicion of poison; and here Dudley sent for the Lord Mayor, and aldermen and merchants of London, and showed them a forged will, or letters patent, giving the crown to the Lady Jane Grey, who had married his son.

Mary, too, during her brief reign, was an occasional resident at the Palace of Placentia. It is recorded that on one occasion of her sojourn here a very singular accident occurred. The captain of a vessel proceeding down the Thames, observing the banner of England floating from the walls, fired the customary salute in honour of royalty. By some oversight the gun was loaded, and the ball was driven through the wall into the queen's apartments, to the great terror of herself and her ladies. None of them, however, received any hurt.

With the reign of Elizabeth the glories of Greenwich revived. It was her birthplace, and the favourite residence of her unfortunate mother; and during the summer months it became, for the greater part of her reign, the principal seat of her Court. In the year of her accession she here reviewed a large force of companies, raised by the citizens of London in consequence of the Duke of Norfolk's conspiracy. The number of men present on this occasion was 1,400, and the proceedings included a mock fight in the park, which, we are told, "presented all the appearances of a regular battle, except the spilling of blood." The following is the account of the "entertainment," as told by Miss Agnes Strickland, in her "Lives of the Queens of England:"—" The Londoners were so lovingly disposed to their maiden sovereign, that, when she withdrew to her summer bowers at Greenwich, they were fain to devise all sorts of gallant shows to furnish excuses for following her there, to enjoy from time to time the sunshine of her presence. They prepared a sort of civic tournament in honour of her Majesty, July 2nd, each company supplying a certain number of men at arms, 1,400 in all, all clad in velvet and chains of gold, with guns, morris pikes, halberds, and flags, and so marched they over London Bridge, into the Duke of Suffolk's park, at Southwark, where they mustered before the Lord Mayor; and, in order to initiate themselves into the hardships of a campaign, they lay abroad in St. George's Fields all that night. The next morning they set forward in goodly array, and entered Greenwich Park at an early hour, where they reposed themselves till eight o'clock, and then marched down into the lawn, and mustered in their arms, all the gunners being in shirts of mail. It was not, however, till eventide that her Majesty deigned to make herself visible to the doughty bands of Cockaine—chivalry they cannot properly be called, for they had discreetly avoided exposing civic horsemanship to the mockery of the gallant equestrians of the Court, and trusted no other legs than their own with the weight of their valour and warlike accoutrements, in addition to their velvet gaberdines and chains of gold, in which this midsummer bevy had bivouacked in St. George's Fields on the preceding night. At five o'clock the queen came into the gallery of Greenwich Park gate, with the ambassadors, lords, and ladies—a fair and numerous company—to witness a tilting match, in which some of the citizens, and several of her grace's courtiers took part."

While Elizabeth kept Court at her natal palace of Greenwich, she regularly celebrated the national festival on St. George's Day, with great pomp, as the Sovereign of the Order of the Garter, combining, according to the custom of the good old times, a religious service with the picturesque ordinances of this chivalric institution. "All her Majesty's chapel came through the hall in copes, to the number of thirty, singing, 'O God the Father of heaven,' &c., the outward court to the gate being strewed with green rushes."

Elizabeth's first chapter of the Order of the Garter was certainly held in St. George's Hall, at Greenwich; for we find that the same afternoon she went to Baynard's Castle, the Earl of Pembroke's place, and supped with him, and after supper she took boat, and was rowed up and down on the river Thames, hundreds of boats and barges rowing about her, and thousands of people thronging the banks of the river to look upon her Majesty, all rejoicing at her presence, and partaking of the music and sights on the Thames. It seems there was an aquatic festival, in honour of the welcome appearance of their new and comely liege lady on the river; for the trumpets blew, drums beat, flutes played, guns were discharged, and fireworks played off, as she moved from place to place. This continued till ten o'clock, when the queen departed home.

Great hospitality was exercised in the palace at Greenwich, which no stranger who had ostensible business there, from the noble to the peasant, ever visited, it is said, without being invited to either one table or the other, according to his degree. No wonder that Elizabeth was a popular sovereign, and her days were called "golden;" for the way to an Englishman's heart is a good dinner.

The royal park was the scene of a good story, thus told by Miss Agnes Strickland:—" One of her majesty's purveyors having been guilty of some abuses in the county of Kent, on her removal to Greenwich, a sturdy countryman, watching the time when she took her morning walk with the lords and ladies of her household, placed himself conveniently for catching the royal eye and ear, and when he saw her attention perfectly disengaged, began to cry, in a loud voice, 'Which is the queen?' Whereupon, as her manner was, she turned herself towards him, but he continuing his clamorous question, she herself answered, 'I am your queen; what wouldst thou have with me?' 'You,' rejoined the farmer, archly gazing upon her with a look of incredulity, not unmixed with admiration—'you are one of the rarest women I ever saw, and can eat no more than my daughter Madge, who is thought the properest lass in our parish, though short of you; but that Queen Elizabeth I look for devours so many of my hens, ducks, and capons, that I am not able to live.' The queen, who was exceedingly indulgent to all suits, offered through the medium of a compliment, took this homely admonition in good part, inquired the purveyor's name, and finding that he had acted with great dishonesty and injustice, caused condign punishment to be inflicted upon him;" indeed, our author adds that "she ordered him to be hanged, his offence being in violation of a statute-law against such abuses."

Holinshed relates in his "Chronicle," that in 1562, at the reception of the Danish ambassadors here, there was a bull-bait, at the end of which the people were delighted with the sight of a horse with an ape on his back—a sight which, no doubt, gave birth to the sign named among those of London two centuries ago, in the Spectator, (fn. 2) the "Jackanapes on Horseback."

The old annalists make constant mention of other proceedings of Elizabeth at Greenwich. One interesting ceremony which has been described was that enacted on Maundy Thursday, on March 19, 1572. The Court being then located here, the queen, according to ancient custom, washed the feet of the poor on that festival, in remembrance of our Saviour washing the feet of the apostles. "Elizabeth will scarcely be blamed in modern times," writes Agnes Strickland, "because she performed the office daintily. The palace hall," she continues, "was prepared with a long table on each side, with benches, carpets, and cushions, and a cross-table at the upper end, where the chaplain stood. Thirty-nine poor women, being the same number as the years of her Majesty's age at that time, entered, and were seated on the forms; then the yeoman of the laundry, armed with a fair towel, took a silver basin filled with warm water and sweet flowers, and washed all their feet, one after the other; he likewise made a cross a little above the toes, and kissed each foot after drying it; the sub-almoner performed the same ceremony, and the queen's almoner also. Then her Majesty entered the hall, and went to a priedieu and cushion, placed in the space between the two tables, and remained during prayers and singing, and while the gospel was read, how Christ washed His apostle's feet. Then came in a procession of thirty-nine of the queen's maids of honour and gentlewomen, each carrying a silver basin with warm water, spring flowers, and sweet herbs, having aprons and towels withal. Then her Majesty, kneeling down on the cushion placed for the purpose, proceeded to wash, in turn, one of the feet of each of the poor women, and wiped them with the assistance of the fair bason-bearers; moreover, she crossed and kissed them, as the others had done. Then, beginning with the first, she gave each a sufficient broad cloth for a gown, and a pair of shoes, a wooden platter, wherein was half a side of salmon, as much ling, six red herrings, two manchetts, and a mazer, or wooden cup, full of claret. All these things she gave separately. Then each of her ladies delivered to her Majesty the towel and the apron used in the ablution, and she gave each of the poor women one a-piece. This was the conclusion of the ladies' official duty of the maundy. The treasurer of the royal chamber, Mr. Heneage, brought her Majesty thirty-nine small white leather purses, each with thirty-nine pence, which she gave separately to every poor woman. Mr. Heneage then supplied her with thirty-nine red purses, each containing twenty shillings; this she distributed to redeem the gown she wore, which by ancient custom was given to one chosen among the number." Our readers will remember that part, but part only, of the same ceremony is still annually performed by some representative of the sovereign on each Maunday Thursday, at Whitehall. (fn. 3)

In Hentzner's "Itinerarium" ("A Journey into England"), written at the close of the sixteenth century, will be found a graphic account of the court of Queen Elizabeth, at Greenwich Palace, in the latter years of her reign. The writer tells us how he was admitted to the Presence Chamber, which he found hung with rich tapestry, and the floor," after the English fashion, strewed with hay" [rushes]. It was a Sunday, when the attendance of visitors was greatest; and there were waiting in the hall the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of London, a great number of councillors of state, officers of the court, foreign ministers, noblemen, gentlemen, and ladies. At the door stood a gentleman dressed in velvet, with a gold chain, ready to introduce to the queen any person of distinction who came to wait upon her. The queen passed through the hall on her way to prayers, preceded in regular order by gentlemen, barons, earls, knights of the Garter, all richly dressed and bareheaded. Immediately before the queen came the Lord Chancellor, with the seals in a red silk purse, between two officers bearing the royal sceptre and the sword of state. The queen wore a dress of white silk, bordered with pearls of the size of beans, her train borne by a marchioness. As she turned on either side, all fell on their knees. She "spoke graciously first to one, then to another, whether foreign ministers, or those who attended for different reasons, in English, French, and Italian." The ladies of the court, "very handsome and well-shaped, and for the most part dressed in white, followed next to her, and fifty gentlemen pensioners, with gilt battle-axes, formed her guard." In the ante-chamber, next the hall, she received petitions most graciously; and to the acclamation, "Long live Queen Elizabeth!" she answered, "I thank you, my good people." After the service in the chapel, which lasted only half an hour, the queen returned in the same state as she had entered. The table had been set "with great solemnity" in the banquetingroom, but the queen dined in her inner and private chamber. "The queen dines and sups alone, with very few attendants; and it is very seldom that anybody, foreign or native, is admitted at that time, and then only at the intercession of somebody in power." The German traveller is particular in describing with exact minuteness the personal appearance of the queen, who was then in her sixty-fifth year, and "very majestic:" "her face," he says, "was oblong, fair but wrinkled; her eyes small, yet black and pleasant; her nose a little hooked; her lips narrow, and her teeth black (a defect the English seem subject to, from their too great use of sugar). She had in her ears two pearls with very rich drops; she wore false hair, and that red. Upon her head she had a small crown. Her bosom was uncovered, as all the English ladies have it till they marry; and she had a necklace of exceeding fine jewels." We may add here that in Walpole's "Catalogue of Royal and Noble Authors" there is a curious head of Queen Elizabeth when old and haggard, done with great exactness from a coin, the die of which was broken. A striking feature in the queen's face was her high nose, which is not justly represented in many pictures and prints of her. She was notoriously vain of her personal charms, and, affirming that shadows were unnatural in painting, she ordered one artist, Isaac Oliver, to paint her without any. There are three engravings of her Majesty after this artist, two by Vertue, and one, a whole length, by Crispin de Pass, who published portraits of illustrious personages of this kingdom during the sixteenth century.

Greenwich Palace was, as we have just seen, much mixed up with the domestic life of Queen Elizabeth; but it was not all sunshine with her, as the following episode, told by Miss Agnes Strickland, will show:—"The terror of the plague was always uppermost in the minds of all persons in the sixteenth century, at every instance of sudden death. One day, in November, 1573, Queen Elizabeth was conversing with her ladies in her privy chamber, at Greenwich Palace, when, on a sudden, the 'mother of the maids' was seized with illness, and expired directly in her presence. Queen Elizabeth was so much alarmed at this circumstance, that in less than an hour she left her palace at Greenwich, and went to Westminster, where she remained."

On the return of Sir Walter Raleigh to England, with a high reputation for courage and discretion, after successfully quelling the disturbances of the Desmonds, in Munster, he was introduced to Queen Elizabeth at Greenwich Palace, and soon obtained a prominent position in the Court. His advancement is said to have been greatly promoted by an almost fantastic display of gallantry, which he made on one occasion before the queen. He was, it is stated by some historians, "attending her Majesty in a walk, when she came to a place where her progress was obstructed by a mire. Without a moment's hesitation he took off his rich plush cloak, and spread it on the ground for her footcloth. She was highly pleased with this practical flattery, and it was afterwards remarked that this sacrifice of a cloak gained him many a good suit." The grounds of Saye's Court have been fixed upon by some writers as the scene of this little episode; others, however, state that Raleigh placed his cloak on the landing-stage opposite the palace at Greenwich on one occasion when her Majesty alighted from her barge, the customary floor-cloth having by some oversight been forgotten.

The antiquarian reader will not have forgotten the fact that ladies, when as yet coaches had not been invented and introduced into England, were accustomed to make their journeys on horseback, seated on pillions behind some relative or servingman. In this way Queen Elizabeth, when she went up to London from her palace at Greenwich, used to seat herself behind her Lord Chancellor or Chamberlain.

In 1605 James I. settled Greenwich Palace and Park on his queen, Anne of Denmark, who forthwith rebuilt with brick the garden front of the palace, and laid the foundation of a building near the park, called the "House of Delight," in which the governor of Greenwich Hospital afterwards resided, and which now forms the central building of the Royal Naval Schools. In the following year the Princess Mary, daughter of James I., was christened at Greenwich with great solemnity.

Charles I. resided much at Greenwich previous to the breaking out of the civil war; and Henrietta Maria so "finished and furnished" the house which Anne of Denmark had begun, that, as Philipott, the Kentish historian, wrote, "it far surpasseth all other houses of the kind in England." Inigo Jones was employed as the architect to superintend the work carried on in the building, and it was completed in 1635. Rubens was frequently in attendance on the Court of Charles at Greenwich; and it is stated that Queen Henrietta was anxious to form a cabinet of pictures here, and to have the ceilings and walls of her oratory and other rooms painted by Jordaens or Rubens, and that negotiations were entered into with those painters for the purpose, but pecuniary or political difficulties intervened. Most of the ceilings in the palace were subsequently painted for Charles I. by Gentileschi. Some idea of the general external appearance of the palace at this time may be obtained from what is called "The Long View of Greenwich," printed in 1637; it is to be seen among the etchings of Hollar, in a few choice collections. It was originally dedicated to Queen Henrietta Maria; and it is said that Hollar worked this plate for a publisher for thirty shillings! The latter, finding the queen's unpopularity to interfere with the sale of the plate, induced Hollar to erase the dedication, and to substitute in its place a copy of verses which are found in some impressions. In the foreground is the observatory hill and park, with ladies promenading, and in the distance we see the parish church, and the shipping on the river. The palace, by the river-side, appears as an irregular Gothic structure with two towers. In the middle distance stands a more modern mansion, apparently in the middle of a corn-field. As already mentioned by us, (fn. 4) over the buttery there formerly stood two rude wooden figures, known as "Beer" and "Gin;" they are now in the Tower of London.


King Charles left Greenwich palace with the fatal resolution of taking his journey northward, and the turbulent state of the times prevented him from again visiting it. In the night of the 3rd of November, 1642, three companies of foot and a troop of horse were sent by the Parliament to search the town and palace of Greenwich for concealed arms; but, says Lysons, "they found only a few two-handed swords without scabbards." On the king's death, in 1648, the palace passed out of the royal keeping. In 1652, the Commonwealth requiring funds for their navy, the House of Commons resolved "that Greenwich House, park, and lands should be immediately sold for ready money." A survey and valuation of them was ordered to be made, just as had been done in the case of Hyde Park, (fn. 5) and finally an ordinance was passed for carrying the sale into execution. Particulars were accordingly made out of the "Hoby stables" and other smaller premises belonging to the palace, which were sold, but no further proceedings as to the rest of the estate were taken at this time. John Evelyn, in his "Diary," under date of April 29, 1652, writes: "We went this afternoone to see the Queene's House at Greenwich, now given by the rebells to Bulstrode Whitlock, one of their unhappy counsellors and keepers of pretended liberties." In 1654, when the Crown lands were sold, Greenwich was reserved, and eventually it was appropriated to the Lord Protector as a residence. On the restoration of Charles II., in 1660, it reverted to the Crown, with the other royal demesnes. The king, finding the old palace greatly decayed by time, and the want of necessary repairs during the Commonwealth, ordered it to be taken down, and a new palace was commenced in its place. One wing of this new palace was completed at a cost of £36,000, and now forms, with additions, the west wing of the present edifice. Sir John Denham, the poet, was at that time the royal surveyor, or official architect; but as he knew little of building practically, he employed Webb, the son-in-law of Inigo Jones, from whose papers his designs are said to have been made. Evelyn evidently did not think much of Sir John's qualifications as an architect, for he writes in his "Diary," under date of October 19, 1661: "I went to London to visite my Lord of Bristoll, having first been (sic) with Sir John Denham (his Majesty's surveyor), to consult with him about the placing of his palace at Greenwhich, which I would have had built between the river and the Queenes house, so as a large square cutt should have let in the Thames like a bay; but Sir John was for setting it on piles at the very brink of the water, which I did not assent to, and so came away, knowing Sir John to be a better poet than architect."

A VIEW OF THE ANCIENT ROYAL PALACE CALLED PLACENTIA. (From a Print published by the Society of Antiquaries in 1767, after an Early Drawing.)

"His Majesty," writes Evelyn, under date of January 24, 1662, "entertained me with his intentions of building his Palace of Greenwich, and quite demolishing the old one; on which I declared my thoughts." What his "thoughts" were, he does not tell us; but probably they were in accordance with those of his brother "diarist," Samuel Pepys, who, on March 4th, 1663–4, writes: "At Greenwich I observed the foundation laying of a very great house for the king, which will cost a great deal of money." On the 26th of July of the following year, Pepys writes: "To Greenwich, where I heard the king and duke are come by water this morn from Hampton Court. They asked me several questions. The king mightily pleased with his new buildings there." A few years later—viz., in March, 1669—Pepys, after recording a visit paid to him by "Mr. Evelyn, of Deptford, a worthy good man," and his own visit subsequently to Woolwich, goes on to tell us how that he returned "thence to Greenwich by water, and there landed at the king's house, which goes on slow, but is very pretty."

The widowed Queen of Charles I., Henrietta Maria, spent several months at Greenwich after the restoration of her son; bonfires were lit to greet her on her arrival here. She continued to keep her Court in England till July, 1665, when she finally embarked for France. She died at Colombe, near Paris, in 1669; and her son, James II., says of her that "she excelled in all the good qualities of a good wife, a good mother, and a good Christian."

Notwithstanding the apparent eagerness of King Charles II., at first, for the construction of the palace and the improvements of the grounds, he seems to have given up the idea of continuing the work after the completion of the wing mentioned above, and nothing further was done to the building either by him or his successor to the crown. As William III. divided his time between Kensington and Hampton Court, Greenwich was no longer thought of as a royal residence; but Queen Mary conceived even a nobler use for the then unfinished building. Charles II. had, in 1682, laid the foundation of the hospital at Chelsea for disabled soldiers; but this was only completed by William and Mary in 1690. Mary, we are told, thought there should be a similar hospital for disabled seamen. "Amid the rejoicings called forth by the great victory of La Hogue, in May, 1692, the feelings of the queen were harrowed by the large number of maimed and wounded soldiers landed at our naval ports. William was in Holland, and Mary, as his vicegerent, after making every possible provision for the wounded, now publicly declared in her husband's name that the building commenced by Charles should be completed, and should be a retreat for seamen disabled in the service of their country." As such we shall deal with it in the following chapter.


  • 1. See ante, p. 119.
  • 2. See Spectator, No. 28, April 2, 1711.
  • 3. See Vol. III., p. 368.
  • 4. See Vol. II., p. 87.
  • 5. See Vol. IV., p. 380.