"THIS IS ASHRIDGE"

by

CAPTAIN HENRY GORDON

Foreword (by Lieut. Col. Alfred Burne); This is Ashridge - Introduction; The Monastery; The Royal Residence; The Manor House and The Mansion; The College; The Hospital; The College after the War

THE ROYAL RESIDENCE

 

 

The wealth of the Religious Houses at the time of the dissolution was enormous, and the distribution of this wealth by the authorities an act of criminal folly. Instead of using it for removing some of the more onerous burdens borne by the people, and for educational advancement as envisaged by Wolsey at Christ Church, Oxford, property was sold or bestowed with indecent haste on personal friends and loyal adherents to the new faith. The Exchequer received some temporary benefit, but a great opportunity was lost. From the deserted and ruined monasteries, manor houses arose, but the tenants discovered little advantage between the clerical landlords of the past and their lay successors.

In this period of transition Ashridge became a royal residence. It was quiet, comfortable and reasonably near London, and we find that the little Prince Edward was nursed here as a baby, and latterly in residence with his sisters Mary and Elizabeth. We can picture them in the gardens or among the old barns and granaries - three future Sovereigns of England, but, providentially without a notion of the role they were to play.

The house was assigned to Elizabeth by her brother after he came to the throne. A letter exists dated Ashridge, September 20th, but without the year, in which the Princess writes to Edward and speaks of the sickness then prevalent and of the King's absence from London. This seems to fix her residence at Ashridge as early as 1551 when "the sweating sickness so raged that in London, 800 died of it in one week."

Elizabeth was living at Hatfield when her brother died. She made hasty arrangements to return to London where she was received affectionately by the new Queen, but simple family ties were not allowed to unite them. The religious and political intrigues of the Court soon estranged the sisters.

Fox tells us that, before she came to the throne, Mary had treated Elixabeth on all occasions with the tenderness of a sister "going no whither but would have her by the hand, and sending for her to dinner and supper; but, after she was crowned, never shewing her any such kindness, but keeping herself aloof from her."

Lord Edward Courtney was supposed to be one of the prime causes of this altered mood. He was much in favour with Mary Tudor and it was believed that she wished to marry him, but "he affected not so high an honour, or rather he beheld her not with eyes of rapture." On the other hand, he was attracted by the youthful charm of the nineteen-year-old Elizabeth, and was not afraid to show his preference. The fury of a woman scorned added fuel to the fire of religious suspicion and the Princess became the public object of Mary's aversion and was subjected to increasing disrespect and humiliation. Elizabeth countered this by begging permission to withdraw from Court, and retired a second time to Ashridge towards the end of the year 1553.

She seems to have abandoned the social life of Court and Capital, and to have returned to Ashridge with the intention of continuing her studies. In this connection she wrote her sister asking for proper furniture for her chapel, as one might do who was sadly in ignorance but well intentioned. It is significant, however, that she did not ask for a Catholic Priest to be sent to her as tutor.

Among other things, the Princess turned her attention to the keeping of her account books, and we are told that "between her 18th and 19th years she took a great interest in her income and outgo and checked every shilling."

The rising of Sir Thomas Wyatt in consequence of the engagement of Mary to Philip of Spain was to have a far-reaching effect on the future of Elizabeth. There is no evidence discovered so far to prove she had any knowledge of the plot, but the plan involved a proposed marriage of Elizabeth to Edward Courtney, and their elevation to the Throne as Protestant Monarchs. It is not surprising therefore to find that with the crushing of the rebellion, Mary summoned her sister peremptorily to Court - Courtney had already been sent to the Tower.

Whether associated with the conspiracy or not, it was a desperate moment for the young Princess, to whom the implications were quite clear. Worried beyond endurance, she fell ill and took to her bed. The Queen was not to be denied, however, and sent her own litter drawn by 29 Spanish mules to convey the invalid back to London. Sir Edward Hastings, Sir Thomas Cornwallis and Sir Richard Southwell, with a troop of horse some 250 strong, acted as escort.

They arrived at Ashridge after ten at night, and found Elizabeth confined to bed and exceedingly ill. Nevertheless they insisted on the Queen's order being conveyed to her, adding that in obedience to their commission, they would take her with them either dead or alive. At 9 o'clock on the following morning, they conducted her, faint and feeble, to the Queen's litter, but she was so weak that she fainted several times before the cavalcade moved off.

Having secured the ailing Princess, the escort moved leisurely towards London. The route is interesting. On the first night they stopped at Redbourn; on the next at the house of Sir Ralph Rowlett at St. Albans "where she tarried both feeble in body, and comfortless in mind." They reached Mimms on the following evening and she passed the night at the house of a Mr. Dodd; then to Highgate where "being very sick she tarried the night and the next day."

Rumour asserted that Elizabeth was at the point of death if not dead. It is surprising to find therefore, that when the cavalcade reached London, she had recovered sufficiently to control her feelings and to sit up in the litter with the curtains pulled back, so that the populace could see her. Some vague hope of rescue may have crossed her mind, but the people had learnt that safety lay in leaving the Tudors to settle their own family quarrels.

She was lodged in an apartment in Whitehall. While confined here, unvisited by any friend, she was examined by the Privy Council and charged as being concerned in the Wyatt conspiracy and other treasonable matters. Elizabeth defended herself fiercely, and vindicated her innocence beyond dispute. Yet the Lords in Council still declared "it to be the pleasure of her Majesty that she should be sent to the Tower, till the matter might be further examined."

Shortly before Easter the Earl of Sussex and Marquis of Winchester informed the Princess that she was to be transferred. The barge was ready and the tide favourable, but she asked the favour of waiting another tide. This was refused with the answer "that neither time nor tide was to be delayed." Finally she persuaded Sussex to carry a note to her sister, but it was of no avail. Two days later, on Palm Sunday, she was conveyed to the Tower and forced to disembark at the famous Traitors' Gate. Hesitant and apprehensive she exclaimed "Here landeth as true a subject, being prisoner, as ever landed at these stairs; and before Thee, O God, I speak it, having none other friends but Thee alone."

Elizabeth remained in the Tower about two months. She was allowed her servants, not treated badly, and was finally removed to Woodstock.

There is no record of when she left Woodstock, but she was back again at Hatfield in December, 1555. Seated under the branches of a great oak which still stands in Hatfield Park, the Princess received the news that she had become Queen in 1558. At the announcement she fell on her knees saying "It is the doing of the Lord, it is marvellous in our eyes." The sun broke through the leaves and was reflected on her yellowish red hair - it seemed an omen of better times.

 

 

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