In and Out of London Or, the Half-holidays of a Town Clerk
Loftie, W. J.
TRAVELLERS on the London and North- Western Railway may observe, shortly after emerging from the great cuttings and the tunnel at Boxmoor, a thick wood on the right of the line and facing the long straggling town which occupies a slope on the left. The town is Berkhamsted, or as it is sometimes spelt, Berkhampstead; indeed some fifty other ways of spelling the name are given in Mr. Cobbe's History and Antiquities of Berkhamsted. Just as we pass the railway-station, two fragments of a double wall standing parallel to each other near the edge of the wood catch the eye for a moment. In another moment the wood is out of sight, and the open country, pleasantly undulating, extends to a distant horizon on both sides. But those two little fragments of flint masonry have a history worth pausing over. They have their place even in the history of the nation. To keep the passage between them was once a charge worthy of the greatest subject in the realm. Through the gateway whose place they mark, in peace or war many a noble procession has
|passed. They admitted in turn, John of England, and Louis of France; John of France and Richard King of the Romans. Here the Black Prince lived, and here, in the days of his son, was clerk of the works. Froissart was here with the Queen in . But all the glory is now departed; except the site, little is left, and it looks to-day probably much as it did when, in , Robert of Mortaigne came at the Conqueror's bidding to build the castle. The earthworks and the mound were there then as they are now, but hardly anything beside, unless some wooden sheds for the shelter of the soldiers. At what date the mound was made, and the ditches were first opened, it is not possible to say. When the Conqueror came they were there, and his coming is perhaps the first authentic event in the history of Berkhamsted, unless we accept it as the scene of St. Brithwald's Council in , and not rather Birsted near Maidstone, or Brasted near Sevenoaks. But if authentic history is silent, tradition is not. St. Paul was here when he had journeyed into Spain, and, according to the same authority, he signalised his visit by an act of exorcism similar to that, some three centuries later, performed by St. Patrick in Ireland. Both serpents and lightning have visited the parish since, and seem to regard the exorcism from the sceptical point of view which seems now generally appropriate to the pleasant fables of local tradition. We only know that before the Conquest, Berkhamsted|
|was a place of importance,-perhaps on account of its military position; and because, as Mr. Clark pointed out to the Archaeological Institute during their recent visit, it is one link of a complete chain of fortresses, which surrounded and guarded the valley of the Thames. Though it had previously been inhabited, and possibly strengthened, by the Kings of Mercia, and afterwards by the successors of Alfred, it owes its first regular fortification to William, whose military genius recognised it as one of the series of which Rochester, Guildford, Farnham, Windsor, and Wallingford were the other members. He was here before he reached London, and, as we have seen, he probably found here already the cone on which the keep of his castle was to rise, as similar cones had been found and turned to account at four out of five of the other places. In some respects the Berkhamsted keep may have resembled that of Windsor, being surrounded by a moat of its own, partly within the moat of the whole fortress and partly conterminous with it. The mound was used to support a hollow shell of masonry, as at Cardiff, but only the saucer-like configuration of the summit now remains to indicate its existence. And all the rest of the buildings which made up the Castle have shared the fate of the keep. There was once a chapel near the foot of the mound, one of three with which the Castle was sanctified. Of it there only remains a broken candlestick,|
|discovered lately on the site. The two decaying walls near the railway station are all that is left of the entrance gateway, and a key dug up when the road was made all that is tangible of the gate itself.|
Whether the builder of Berkhamsted Castle was ever Earl of Cornwall, is more a matter of nomenclature than of actual historical question; but it is certain that from his time the Castle has followed the fortunes of the Earls and Dukes of Cornwall. The Prince of Wales now owns it. To the first duke, better known as the Black Prince, it was a favourite residence; here, in , he took his last leave of his mother, when Froissart was told of the prophecy of Merlin that the crown would never rest on the heads of Edward or the next prince, Lionel, but descend to the son of the third brother John. While living at Berkhamsted, before the sad days which closed his father's glorious reign, he fell ill, and when but half recovered set out from here to meet the Parliament at Westminster, only a few days before his death. Of older memories than these, the Castle has no lack. We may choose between such names as those of the FitzPiers and the Mandevilles, Lords of Berkhamsted; of , sometime its custodian; of King John, who granted the town its first charter; of Louis of France, his siege of the Castle, and the fruitless bravery displayed by the defenders; but the two most interesting names in the list of its occupants
|are perhaps those of Richard King of the Romans, and of Cicely Duchess of York.|
Richard seems in a kind of way to have succeeded to the title which his father had sometime borne. As Earl of Cornwall, he lived much at Berkhamsted. From it he set out on his expeditions, first to the Holy Land, and afterwards on a scarcely less unreal errand: this was to Germany, in quest of the crown of the Romans, which, when he had lavished much of the treasure gathered from the English Jews, he obtained in . As King of the Romans, he lived and died here; and here he brought successively his three wives. The first was one of the co-heiresses of the Marshalls, Earls of Pembroke, and the widow of Gilbert de Clare. She died in child-bed at Berkhamsted, and perhaps it was owing to his grief that he assumed the cross. On his return, after three years' widowhood, he married Sanchia, one of the four queens, daughters of Raymond, Count of Provence. After sixteen years' exile from the sunny skies of her native land, she too died at Berkhamsted, having lost all her children successively except one, Edmund, who survived his father but eventually died childless. The King's third wife was perhaps better suited to the climate of Hertfordshire. According to most accounts, she was the niece of Archbishop Conrad, of Cologne, and she survived her husband. In April , the body of Richard, King of the Romans, Count of Poictou, and Earl of Cornwall, was carried from
Berkhamsted to Hales Abbey for interment, and
his heart to the church of the Friars Minor
at Oxford. In , his only son died, and the
county of Cornwall, with the castle of Berkhamsted, reverted to the Crown. Edward I. made it
the dower of his second wife, and is further posthumously connected with the place, because one of
the letters of Edward III., dated from this castle,
relates to the renewal of the cerecloth of his grandfather,-|
Six picked men from Berkhamsted served at Crecy, but this reign is signalised in the annals of the town by an event of a different character. In , John of Berkhamsted, a native, was elected Abbot of St. Albans. During his rule it was that the remains of Queen Elinor rested at St. Albans on their long journey from to Westminster, and he was the Abbot who, in , succeeded in obtaining for the clergy protection from the additional taxes levied to support the King's wars. Of Abbot John we shall have occasion to speak more at length in our chapter on St. Albans.
Under Edward III., the Castle attained its greatest splendour, or rather under his son the Black Prince, of whose tenure of it we have already spoken. Richard II. gave it to his favourite Vere, but on his attainder it returned to the Crown. Edward IV. gave the town a fresh charter, which was of more real importance to the inhabitants than even the presence of and Froissart. It is
|not many years since the exemption of the tradesmen from serving on juries was acknowledged by the law courts, in accordance with the privileges of this charter. And thus we reach the name of the King's mother, the last and one of the greatest of the denizens of the Castle. This was Cicely, Duchess of York, the daughter of the head of the Nevilles, the niece of Henry IV., the aunt of the King-maker, sister of five peers of the realm, mother of two kings, and for many years the greatest lady in the land. has passed into a proverb, and no one can wonder if she was proud. Whether she was or not, one thing is certain: she was a woman of sufficient talent to keep her high position all her life, and of sufficient strength to survive the misfortunes which in those days seemed appropriate to high rank. Her husband, her brother, and her second son, all perished after the fatal field of Wakefield; yet she survived to see another son put to death by his own brother, and a third slain in battle. She outlived Bosworth nearly eleven years. Before her death she saw her eldest son's heiress on the throne, and the young Henry- who after bearing for a time the title which had been her husband's, was destined to extinguish in the blood of her granddaughter the last fading glimmer of the great Plantagenet name-had reached the age of five years. She lived and regulated her household, at Berkhamsted, until , when, after seeing her granddaughter's husband put her grandson to death,|
|and her daughter take up the cause of an impostor, she died, full of honours and of all the attendants of honour, after a life which, viewed in the perspective of four centuries, appears, according to the light turned upon it, either such a long tragedy, or else such a course of prosperity, as is unexampled in our annals.|
After her death the Castle fell to decay, and her descendant Queen Elizabeth granted it, at the annual rent of a red rose to be paid on the feast of St. John the Baptist, to Sir Edward Carey, the father of the first Lord Falkland, and cousin of the Queen's cousin Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon. It was already ruined, as Leland describes it, and when Sir Edward built the house on the hill just above it, the old walls no doubt formed a convenient quarry for the supply of building stone.
After it had thus mounted the hill piecemeal its connection with great folk and great events continued as before the translation. Here Lucius, Lord Falkland, spent much of his boyhood; and when the Careys ceased to live here the house was occupied by some of the household of James I. Prince Charles was here in , and as Duke of Cornwall obtained from his father a charter for the town by which its privileges were enlarged and a bailiff and burgesses appointed. Camden granted the corporation a coat of arms, in which the Castle figures prominently
But after lasting less than
|fifty years, the trouble of electing and sustaining a corporation grew too great for the sleepy little town, and though they still claim some of their privileges, as we have seen, the charter has long been a dead letter to the burgesses of Berkhamsted. Under the Commonwealth, the house which had succeeded the Castle was again prominent. During the Protectorate it was occupied by Colonel Axtel, the Regicide; after the Restoration, by Weston, Earl of Portland, the Chancellor, in whose day the greater part of it was destroyed by fire. In its reduced state it was rented by John Sayer, who, as his epitaph in the church informs us, had been "Archimagirus," or chief-cook, to Charles II. It still belongs to the Duchy of Cornwall, and is now under a lease, with the Castle, or its site in the valley below, to the owner of the neighbouring park of Ashridge.|
The Castle and its successive occupants have left less mark upon the church of Berkhamsted than might have been expected. None of the royal and princely folk seem to have selected it as a burialplace, and the only monuments which connect it with the Castle are those of King Charles's cook, as already mentioned, and of Robert Incent,
Incent was his son, and founded the Grammar-
school in ; dying in , he was buried in
the church, but his monument is no longer extant.
The name of Incent or Innocent still lingers in the
parish, and the quaint arms of the Dean are still
to be seen on stained glass in the Head-master's
parlour. They are alluded to in lines preserved
by Weever, but now no longer to be seen; and
the description, |
seems to mean an infant holding a rose.
The last event connecting Berkhamsted and royalty seems to have been the residence here of
Peter the Wild Boy, which commenced about and lasted till his death in . The collar with
his guardian's name and address is still at Ashridge,
But the modern traveller will be more interested by another and worthier association. In the Rectory House was born, in , the great Christian poet, William Cowper, and in the east window of the church, recently filled with stained glass in honour of his memory, we may see him depicted, and at his feet the three tame hares which he immortalised.