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The waste is no whit lesser than thy land.
King Richard II. act. ii. scene 1.
Under what circumstances Ely House became the residence of John o' Gaunt is not known. It seems, probable, however, that it was either lent or leased to him by Bishop Fordham, after the Duke's own palace in the Savoy had been burnt by the insurgents in Wat Tyler's riots. It was leased, indeed, on more than one occasion to men of high rank. Here Henry Ratcliffe, third Earl of Sussex, was residing in 1547: in the following reign it was in the occupation of John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, afterwards Duke of Northumberland, and here it was that he carried on those famous intrigues which brought the Protector Somerset to the block.
Were it from no other circumstance than its connexion with the pages of Shakespeare, we should look upon Ely Place as hallowed ground. We allude, not only to the death-bed admonitions of John o’ Gaunt, but also to the famous scene in the council-chamber at the Tower, in which the Protector, Richard Duke of Gloucester, after jest
ing with the Bishop of Ely on the excellence and early growth of his strawberries at Ely House, concludes the tragical farce by exposing his shrivelled arm, and sending Lord Hastings, “ without time for confession or repentance,” to the block.
My lord of Ely, when I was last in Holborn,
I do beseech you send for some. The council had been summoned for the ostensible purpose of discussing the precedents and formalities to be adopted at the coronation of the young King, Edward the Fifth, -- a a ceremony which was destined never to take place. the Friday,” says the old chronicler, Holinshed,
many lords assembled in the Tower, and there sat in council, devising the honourable solemnity of the King's coronation, of which the time appointed so near approached, that the pageants and subtleties were making day and night at Westminster, and much victuals killed therefore, that afterwards was cast away. These lords so sitting together, communing of this matter, the Protector came in amongst them first about nine of the clock, saluting them courteously, and excusing himself that he had been from them so long, saying merrily that he had been a sleeper that day. After a little talking with them, he said unto the Bishop of Ely,—'My Lord, you have very good strawberries at your garden in Holborn; I require you to let us have a mess of them.' – Gladly, my lord,' quoth he; ' would to God I had some better
thing as ready to your pleasure as that!' And therewithal, in all haste, he sent his servant for a mess of strawberries.” Such was the first scene of that memorable drama, which was followed by the arrest of Lord Stanley and of Jane Shore, the execution of Lord Hastings, and the dethronement and death of the ill-fated Edward the Fifth !
Not unfrequently we find the Bishops of Ely, in the true spirit of hospitality, lending their fine old hall, for the purposes of feasting and revelry, to the Serjeants at Law; the halls of the Inns of Court being apparently too small to accommodate the required number of guests. It was on one of these occasions, in 1495, that Henry the Seventh was feasted with his consort, Elizabeth of York, with great ceremony and magnificence. “ The King,” says Bacon,“ to honour the feast, was present with his Queen at the dinner; being a Prince that was ever ready to grace and countenance the professors of the law.” But a feast, on a far greater scale of splendour, took place here in November 1531, at which King Henry the Eighth and his Queen, Catherine of Arragon, sat as guests; while at the tables below the dais sat the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and principal merchants of London; the Foreign Ambassadors, the Judges, Masters in Chancery, the Serjeants-at-law and their wives, besides the principal nobility, and numerous knights, and esquires. The entertainment lasted five days; the King and Queen dining in the hall on the principal day, the 13th of November. The bill of fare has been preserved, and is not a little curious, both as evincing the vast scale of the entertainment, and the relative value of money in our own time, and in the days of Henry the Eighth. Among other items are ;
Twenty-four beeves, each
Prynne informs us that the last "mystery” represented in England, ---that of “ Christ's Passion,” -was performed at Ely House before Gondomar, the Spanish Ambassador, in the reign of James the First.
One of the greatest misfortunes which befel Ely House was in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, when her favourite, Sir Christopher Hatton, prevailed upon his royal mistress to demand from Bishop Cox a considerable portion of the buildings and garden, to enable him to enlarge his adjoining mansion, Hatton House. It was natural that the Bishop should be greatly averse to the destruction of a property, which for three centuries had been the pride and delight of his predecessors; and, consequently, we find him earnestly and respectfully entreating the Queen to relieve him from so painful a position. “In his conscience,” he said, “ he could not do it, being a piece of sacrilege; that, when he became Bishop of Ely, he had received certain farms, houses, and other things, which former pious princes had judged necessary for that place and calling; that these he had received by the Queen's favour from his predecessors, and that of these he was to be a steward, not a scatterer. That he could not bring his mind to be so ill a trustee for his successors, nor to violate the pious wills of Kings and Princes, and, in effect, rescind their last testaments.” All his entreaties and arguments, however, proved of no avail. Elizabeth continued fixed in her resolve, and, consequently, after demurring for a considerable time, we find the Bishop compelled to make the required conveyance to the Crown for the sum of 1001. ; reserving, however, to himself and to his successors the use of the gateway; the melancholy pleasure of taking exercise in the garden, and the right to gather twenty bushels of roses annually. The amount of property thus obtained by Sir Christopher Hatton, consisted of the gatehouse of the palace (except two rooms, used as prisons, and the porter's apartments below), the first court-yard within the gate-house; the long gallery, with the rooms above and below it; and no less than fourteen acres of land.