Stories of the Streets of London

Baker, H. Barton
1899

CHAPTER XVI: Whitehall--Its History, Etc.

WHITEHALL: ITS HISTORY AND ASSOCIATIONS.

CHAPTER XVI: Whitehall--Its History, Etc.

WHITEHALL: ITS HISTORY AND ASSOCIATIONS.

 

 

BUT for the reign of the Saints, Whitheall would have been the noblest palace in Europe. The Banqueting House is still unrivalled in the domestic architecture of London; how beautiful it is may be judged by comparing it with the abortive imitation that now shoulders Inigo Jones's masterpiece on the southern side. In the original plan, which was never finished, there were four of these structures; five courts, the largest 245 feet square; an embankment, with flights of steps down to the water, faced the river, while towards the street were beautiful gardens and a lake. The entire facade would have been 1152 feet long.

In the reign of Henry III. one of the great barons, Hubert de Burgh, Chief Justice of England, erected a castle upon this site, and bequeathed it to the Dominicans. It was afterwards sold to the archbishopric of York, and was thereafter known as York Place. Its history begins with Cardinal Wolsey, who enlarged the building and kept regal state in it. Cavendish, his biographer, writes: " The banquets were set forth with masques and mummeries, in so gorgeous a sort and costly a manner, that it was heaven to behold....

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I have seen the king suddenly come hither in a mask, with a dozen other maskers, all in garments like shepherds, made of fine cloth of gold, and fine crimson satin paned, and caps of the same; their hair and beards either of fine gold wire or else of silver, and some being of black silk; having sixteen torchbearers, besides their drums, and other persons attending upon them with visors, and clothed all in satin of the same colours." Then, in a passage too long for quotation, the writer goes on to recount all the forms and ceremonies, and how the table was laid with " 200 dishes or above of wondrous costly meats and devices, subtlely devised ". Some readers will be able to recall the splendid realization of this picture in the Lyceum revival of Shakespeare's King Henry VIII.

At the fall of the great Cardinal his royal master took possession of York House, added some grand apartments, and rechristened it Whitheall. It was at a masque at the cardinal's house that Henry first met Anne Boleyn; the grand fetes that followed his marriage with that lady, those given to celebrate the notable events of his reign, and at the receptions of foreign princes, surpassed in magnificence even Wolsey's time. Within those walls the tyrant Blue Beard breathed his last. Under puritan Edward and bigot Mary, Whitheall had no history outside preachers and priests, both being equally priestridden; the first by perfervid Reformers, the second by persecuting Romanists.

Elizabeth revived the glories of the court; and there

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were tournaments and maskings and revels as in the days of her father, and a galaxy of great men to give them lustre, such as no other sovereign of the world was ever surrounded by. Here foregathered the superb figures of Essex, Leicester, Sidney, Raleigh; that greatest of buccaneers, Drake; wise Bacon, Burleigh and Cecil.

Probably the splendours of the court were little, if at all, diminished by her successor; but whereas under the great Tudor queen all was high bred and orderly, coarseness and drunkenness tarnished the state of the first Stuart, whereof some very unsavoury pictures may be found in the secret history of the reign: of ladies so intoxicated that they could not keep their legs under them, and of His Majesty dancing while in the same condition. The most brilliant and decorous period in the history of Whitheall is that of Charles I. Drunkenness and open profligacy were banished, while gorgeous show was chastened by artistic taste. Charles was not only the patron of Rubens, Vandyke and Ben Jonson, but of all men of art and letters that came within his sphere. His collections of paintings and articles of vertu were matchless; the catalogue of them when dispersed by the Roundheads filled over 1000 pages. His court was the most polished in Europe, and its magnificence and "exquisite order " excited the admiration of Bassompierre, who was familiar with all the courts of Europe. The famous fetes of Louis XIV. were modelled on those of England. Never before or

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since has this country held such a supreme position in the world of culture.

Foremost among the entertainments of the court of the first Stuarts was " The Masque ". It was in vogue in Henry VIII.'s time, but was then little better than mummery; nor did it make much progress in grace and refinement under the regime of his great daughter. James and Charles had the good fortune to have these entertainments written by such men as Jonson, Middleton, Heywood, Shirley, and illustrated by such fine artists as Inigo Jones and Gerbier. The queens both of James and Charles, as well as the great ladies of the court, frequently danced and took part in them. This was one of the severest accusations brought by the Puritans against Henrietta Maria. All that has been achieved in our time in the way of stage splendour and illusion, after allowing for the absence of lime-light and electricity, was quite equalled in these exquisite productions. 1

For the benefit of those who may not have the original to refer to, I will give some brief account of Shirley's "Triumph of Peace," which was presented by the gentlemen of the Inns of Court before Charles I. and his queen, in 1633. It was the most magnificent of all the masques, and cost over £20,000.

At Ely and Hatton Houses the gentlemen of the four Inns met, and thence went in procession to Whitheall. First, to the music of hautboys or clarionets, 1 See Ben Jonson's "Masques," and the article on " Masques" in Disraeli's Curiosities of Literature.

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started the Ante-masque, a crowd of grotesque figures in showy dresses attended by torch-bearers; then a number of allegorical personages, Fancy, Opinion, Confidence, Jollity, Laughter, etc., suitably attired; others, dressed as beggars, mastiffs, all kinds of birds, jays, kites, owls, satyrs, Don Quixote, Sancho Panza and the windmill; then a drummer and fourteen trumpeters, in crimson satin, followed by the marshal and ten horse and forty foot, in scarlet and silver; to these succeeded 100 gentlemen splendidly mounted, each attended by two pages and a groom in rich liveries. Then came two chariots, each drawn by four horses, adorned with gold and silver, and containing musicians dressed as priests and sibyls, playing upon lutes, each attended by footmen in blue and silver bearing flambeaux; four chariots after the Roman form: the first, silver and orange; the second, silver and pale blue; the third, silver and crimson ; the fourth, silver and white, all surmounted by canopies of feathers and silver fringe, contained the grand masquers, and between each rode four musicians in robes and garlands, attended by torch-bearers and crowds of splendid lacqueys.

This is but a very condensed description of the procession. Within the Banqueting House the scene was yet more picturesque: the king and queen under a canopy of state, attended by their superb court, and opposite them the raised stage enclosed in arbour-work of loose branches and leaves, festooned with draperies, fruits and flowers; children with silver wings blowing

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golden trumpets, and on each side of the proscenium two figures in Roman habits representing Minos and Numa.

When the curtain was drawn up the stage represented a large street with sumptuous palaces, porticoes, pleasant trees and grounds; a spacious place adorned with public and private buildings, among which was the forum of Peace. Over all was a clear sky with transparent clouds which enlightened all the scene. The stage direction marks " From one of the sides of the street enter Opinion and Confidence," which shows that this was not a mere flat canvas but a "set". In another scene " there appeared in the highest and foremost part of the heaven, by little and little to break forth, a whitish cloud, bearing a chariot feigned of goldsmith's work, and in it sat Irene or Peace, in a flowery vesture like the Spring," etc. Again: "Out of the highest part of the opposite side came softly descending another cloud, of an orient colour, bearing a silver chariot curiously wrought, and differing in all things from the first; in which sat Eunomia, or Law, in a purple satin robe, adorned with golden stars, a mantle of carnation, laced and fringed with gold, a coronet of light upon her head," and so on. "A third cloud of various colour from the other two begins to descend towards the middle of the scene with somewhat a swifter motion, and in it sat a person representing Justice, in a white robe and mantle of shining satin, fair long hair circled with a coronet of silver fishes, white wings and buskins, a crown imperial in her hand."

Passing over other transformations we come to this exquisite finale: " The Revels being passed the scene is changed into a plain champaign country, which terminates with the horizon, and above a darkish sky, with dusky clouds, through which appeared the new moon, but with a faint light by the approach of morning; from the farthest point of the ground arose by little and little a great vapour, which being about the middle of the scene, it slackens its motion, and begins to fall downwards to the earth, from whence it came; and out of this rose another cloud of a strange shape and colour, on which sat a young maid with a dim torch in her hand; her face was an olive colour, so were her arms and breast, her garment was transparent, the ground dark blue and sprinkled with silver spangles," etc. This is the forerunner of the morning, "and is that glimpse of light which is seen when the night is past and the day not yet appearing ".

Such a combination of regal splendour, of poetry, music, painting, dancing, enshrined within those noble walls, vaulted with pictures by Rubens, and hung with rare tapestries, formed a coup d'oeil that is scarcely realizable by imagination. What a contrast to that dark January morning, when the Master of all this magnificence passed through this same apartment to the black draped scaffold without, to be brought back a headless trunk.

Changed indeed was Whitheall when Protector Cromwell reigned there, though the transformation was not quite as complete as the more zealous of the

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saints would have desired; Milton and Waller and Marvell gave a flavour of culture to the surroundings, and Oliver, who was very fond of music, had a concert as often as he dared, though some smite- thedevilhip-and-thigh preacher denounced it from the pulpit. And after solemn feasts, at which the grace was longer than the feeding, my Lord Protector would exercise his superfluous exuberance by such horseplay as bedaubing the faces of the ladies with sweetmeats, and pelting his companions with cushions, which they failed not to return, so that presently the chamber rather resembled a boys' dormitory than the room of a palace. And, if the Chroniques Scandaleuses tell the truth, there were other diversions much less decorous, smacking rather of the court of James than that of his son. There is little doubt but that Lady Dysert, afterwards Duchess of Lauderdale, and General Lambert's wife were Cromwell's mistresses; the former, however, was too lively for the godly, and had to be put aside; but they held that there could be no hurt in his "holding heavenly meditations with Mrs. Lambert," who was a very prayerful woman.

There was a strange scene when the death-warrant of the king was signed. When it came to Cromwell's turn to affix his signature he wrote his name hastily, and then, in a nervous burst of mirth, smeared the ink in his pen across the face of Henry Martin, who after signing returned the compliment.

A yet stranger scene was that when Cromwell visited alone the room in Whitheall, where lay the headless

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trunk of the king, which had been put into a coffin, covered with black velvet, and carried thither through the snow. Unshrouding the corpse and gazing long upon it he muttered, " Cruel necessity! "

The latter days of the great Protector were scarcely less gloomy than those of the King whom he had doomed. Haunted by remorse, by the shadow of the dead, by the reproaches of his favourite daughter on her deathbed, in hourly dread of assassination from fanatical republicans, as well as over-zealous royalists, not daring to sleep three successive nights in the same chamber, or to employ the services of a barber lest his enemies should bribe the man to cut his throat; even his gloomy faith in being one of the elect failing him at times, and plunging him into the terrors of hell; diseased in body, diseased in mind, all his glory, all his ambition, all his successes were withered into dust and ashes. While he lay tossing in extremis in his chamber in Whitheall on that September night, the last of his life, an awful storm arose, such a storm of wind and rain as there was no record of in England. It was impossible even for horses to make their way through the streets. All next day, the anniversary of Dunbar and Worcester, the storm raged with the same fury, and about four o'clock my Lord Protector's dark and daring spirit passed away, amidst the crash of the thunder, upon the wings of the lightning. A curiously appropriate finale to so tempestuous a career. Charles was happier in his death than his doomsman.

Brilliant and gay once more is the Whitheall of

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Charles II., but as destitute of nobleness as it is of refinement and morality. There are feastings, and balls and music and concerts, but the poetical " Masque" would be too slow for the Rochesters and Sedleys and the second Buckingham, for my Lady Castlemaine, Nell Gwynne, Louise de la Querouaille, La Mazarin and the other ladies of that ilk; they care for no poetry beyond a love song, for no wit that is not salacious, for no dramatic work that keeps within the bounds of decency; there is no restraint, moral or ceremonious; courtiers flout at the king, and his mistresses treat him with no more respect than a fish-woman does her husband; all is unbridled licence and self-indulgence. Pepys has rendered every detail of this joyous, godless life as familiar to us as our personal experiences. We see the maids of honour strolling in the galleries, in their riding garbs of coats and doublets with deep shirts, " just for all the world like mine, and buttoned their doublets up to the breast, with periwigs and with hats; so that only for the long petticoats dragging under their men's coats, nobody would take them for women in any point whatever". May I not write 1666-1899? We watch with the dear old gossip the maids of honour in their velvet gowns playing cards with the Duke of Monmouth ;[1]  and stand beside him at the ball while the

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king leads a lady a single coranto, all the lords and ladies following. "Then to country dances, the King leading the first, 'cuckolds all awry,' the old dance of England."

The rule of life at Whitheall is-let us eat, drink and be merry, for to-morrow we may die. And this gospel of hedonism is fulfilled to the letter. In the midst of his toyings and revellings the English Sardanapalus is struck down. Always good natured, the man " who never said a stupid thing nor ever did a wise one " is true to himself to the last. He earnestly recommends the Duchess of Portsmouth and her son to his brother, and begs him "not to let poor Nelly starve ". When the queen implores his pardon for any offence she may unwillingly have given, he cries: " She asks my pardon, poor woman; I ask hers with all my heart". On the last night of his life he apologises to those about him for the trouble he has caused them, and almost his last words are--that he has been an unconscionable time dying, but he hopes they will excuse it!

The advent of James II. wrought another change in the ways of the palace. A gloomy seclusion marked his brief regime, outward decorum was restored, but true-blue Protestants were frightened away by the sight of brown-frocked friars; and saturnine priests and haughty monseigneurs were not to the taste of the courtiers. On a bleak, rainy December night the queen and the infant prince, the last of the Stuarts born in the purple, were secretly conveyed out of the

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palace, placed in a boat under the care of Lauzun and rowed across the black river to Lambeth; horses carried them to Gravesend, where a vessel was waiting for their reception. A few nights afterwards James himself fled in the darkness from the home of his ancestors. He was captured and brought back. But on the morning of 18th December, 1688, through grey gloom and beating rain he took his last sight of the grand old palace. 1 Ten years after the flight of James it perished in a great conflagration, not without suspicion of incendiarism. The Banqueting House alone escaped destruction, and was converted by George I. into a chapel royal. It is now incorporated with the United Service Museum.

The Whitheall of the Tudor and Stuart days was a collection of heterogeneous buildings, ranging from the Tudor period through the Jacobean and Carolian, some handsome, some mean, some shabby and decayed. These various piles were separated into blocks by courtyards or gardens, and included, besides the sovereign's state and private apartments, residences for court officials and favourites, quarters for officers and soldiers, and dwellings for the vast swarm of servants and dependants attached to the palace. The area of the entire demesne extended from the Thames to St. James's Park, the road from London to Westminster dividing it into two unequal 1 Charles lost his head for refusing to renounce the Church of England, his son lost his crown for attempting to subvert it. What a strange fatality hung over the Stuart race!

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parts. This road followed the same line as the present thoroughfare; between Scotland Yard and the Banqueting House it was tolerably wide; but to the west of the latter it narrowed and passed through Holbein's gateway, a handsome structure of twocoloured glazed bricks, designed by the great painter whose name it bore, and finally it debouched into King Street, through another massive gateway.

On the western side of the road were the Tennis Court, Tilt Yard, Bowling Alleys and Cockpit, etc. On the Tilt Yard Charles II. built the first Horse Guards, the present building dates from 1751; the Cockpit was also covered with buildings, in which were General Monk's apartments; likewise a theatre, frequently referred to in Pepys' Diary; Downing Street now occupies the site. Wallingford House, also within the precincts, which William III. converted into the Admiralty Offices, was built early in the reign of Charles I.

Spring Garden, so called from one of those jets d'eau which did not act until pressed by some unwary foot, and then deluged the victim, originally a part of the private grounds of Whitheall, became in the time of Charles I. and his sons the Vauxhall of the seventeenth century. In 1634 we read in Garrard's Strafford's Letters, that the bowling was put down in Spring Garden[2] for one day, " but by the intercession of the queen, it was reprieved for this year; but here-

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after it shall be no common bowling-place. There was kept in it an ordinary for six shillings a meal, when the king's proclamation allows but two elsewhere: continual bibbing and drinking wine all day long under the trees, two or three quarrels every week. It was grown scandalous and unsufferable; besides my Lord Digby being reprehended for striking in the king's garden, he answered that he took it for a common bowling-place, where all paid money for their coming in."

A little farther west was the notorious Mulberry Garden. Evelyn refers to it in 1654 : " My Lady Gerrard treated us at Mulberry Garden, the only place of refreshment about the town for persons of the best quality to be exceedingly cheated at; Cromwell and his partisans have shut up and seized upon Spring Garden, which till now had been the usual rendezvous for the ladys and gallants at this season ". One of Sedley's comedies is called The Mulberry Garden: the action takes place under the Commonwealth, but the manners depicted are as gross as they were under Charles. The Restoration and Revolution dramatists abound in references to this place as the favourite rendezvous of lovers. Buckingham Palace is supposed to stand upon the site, though some say Arlington Street covers it.

The most extensive and important division of Whitheall was on the Thames side; the royal and state apartments, the famous galleries, the privy gardens, over three acres in extent, set out formally

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in sixteen grass plots with a statue in the centre of each, and the royal seraglio, which far surpassed all the rest in splendour.

King Street, which has just been pulled down, could boast of illustrious residents. Edmund Spenser died there in almost actual want, though his remains were carried to the abbey in great state. There lived Lord Howard of Effingham, High Admiral of the Fleet sent against the Spanish Armada; the brilliant Earl of Dorset so frequently mentioned in these pages; that delightful lyrist, Thomas Carew. Oliver Cromwell resided here in 1648, and his mother died in that same house-it was at the north-west end--after her son had attained almost regal power. The Bell Tavern was the headquarters of " The October Club," the members of which were 150 High Church Tory country gentlemen, who drank "old October" to "the king over the water"; it was established in opposition to the Mug Houses and Calves' Head Club, but was broken up after the death of Queen Anne.

 
 
Footnotes:

[1] Pepys writes (14th February, 1667-8): "I was told to-night that Lady Castlemaine is so great a gamester as to have won £ 15,000 in one night, and lost £ 25,000 in another night at play, and hath played £1000 and £ 1500 at a cast".

[2] There were two or three other Spring Gardens in other parts of London.