Whitehall Palace, of which Banqueting House is the only surviving building, has seen its fair share of romance. It was at Whitehall Palace that the King Charles I and his wife Queen Henrietta Maria love blossomed and where their son, Charles II juggled his many mistresses. However, today I am going to focus on two Tudor women, a mother and daughter, who can arguably be said to be the most famous of the period Anne Boleyn and her daughter Queen Elizabeth I. Both these women would experience courtship and possible love within the walls of Whitehall Palace.
In fact it was Queen Elizabeth who was responsible for the first Banqueting House to be built on this site. It was 1581 and Elizabeth had been on the throne for 23 years. She had ordered a banqueting house to be built for a celebration and reception of Francis, Duke of Alecon, brother to the King of France. He was coming to visit Elizabeth and to discuss their proposed marriage to one another.
The two had been in marriage negotiations for three years and it was beginning to look like Elizabeth was finally going to marry and there was hopes that she would finally produce an heir. Francis was not the first person to have offered marriage to Elizabeth. She had had various proposals since her birth for her hand, most usually for political reasons. Her ‘would be’ husbands varied from courtiers of her own court like the Earl of Arran and the Earl of Arundel to foreign princes and nobles such as her late sister Mary’s husband Philip, King of Spain to Eric, King of Sweden. Some of these matches were rejected straight away, others however like the one to Francis was dragged out mainly to keep the foreign princes sweet and on peaceful terms with her and England.
Francis had originally been offered to Elizabeth by his mother, Catherine de Medici. She wanted to keep the friendship between England and France strong. Her eldest son, Henri had rejected a proposal of marriage to Elizabeth as she was now 38 years old, and was deemed to be too old, so his younger, 17 year old brother was offered instead. At the age of 8 Francis had suffered from Smallpox and it had left him scarred and pot faced. He also had a slightly deformed spine and was short in stature which made him the subject of ridicule. As he was so young in age and was not much of an attractive prospect Elizabeth had originally scoffed at the idea of marriage to him as he was also a catholic. However her spymaster Francis Walsingham persuaded her to at least consider which she did. Even though later on Walsingham would speak openly against the match.
Another reason for Elizabeth entertaining all these proposals was purely a vain one, she like the attention and also the fact that it was believed that she was already in love with a married man from her childhood, Robert Dudley, but that is another story.
The courtship of Elizabeth and Francis began with the two corresponding to one another by letters. In 1579, Francis sent his representative Jean de Simier to England to attempt to woo Elizabeth on Francis behalf. Simier gave Elizabeth from Francis a gem encrusted book which she kept with her constantly and in return she gave him a pair of gloves and a miniature of herself to send to the duke. Simier was so confident in how things were progressing that in March 1570 he presented a draft marriage treaty to Elizabeth’s council.
Francis eventually came to England to see Elizabeth in person. He arrived secretly on 17th August 1570 to Greenwich Palace. Elizabeth is supposed to have declared upon meeting Francis that ‘I have never in my life seen a creature more agreeable to me’. However this wooing of the queen abruptly came to an end, when on the 28th Francis had to leave and head back home to mourn the death of a friend. Before even departing on his ship he and composed four letters to Elizabeth and then another three when he arrived a Boulogne where he signed the letters ‘the most faithful and affectionate servant in the world.’
But this was not the end. Eleven years later the hopes of their union was re kindled when Francis visited Elizabeth again in November 1581. It was this occasion that the Banqueting House was built for.
A banqueting house was a highly decorated little building situated a short walk away from the main dining hall. Their role had developed from the small little meal of exotic desserts and snacks after large meal while waiting for the entertainment to begin. In the medieval period this is what banqueting was. And so as time went by little rooms or ‘houses’ were built for them to consume his meal and for the entertainment to be performed.
It was at this time that Elizabeth openly declared her intention to marry him and the even exchanged rings. She gave him the nickname of her frog and even kissed him on the lips in front of her whole court. But as she would not fund his venture in the Netherlands, where he wanted to become their king, King Henri refused to allow the marriage to go ahead. This was suitable to Elizabeth as she did not really want to marry the Duke and to her council as most of them were against the marriage because he was a foreigner, a Frenchman and a Catholic. The duke heartbroken refused to leave and so Elizabeth was forced to pay him and he finally left in February 1582.
It is said that Elizabeth wept at the end of the courtship. Either she had grown very fond of her frog or it was for the fact that he would have been her last chance for marriage and children as she was now 49 years in age. She was mourning for the loss. Upon the dukes death in 10th June 1584 she is said to have wept publicly for three whole weeks and wore black for six months. To the French ambassador she declared that she was a widow woman.
Many historians have debated over Elizabeth and her lack of husband. Some stating psychological reasons behind her lack of commitment to a man. Elizabeth was after all under a lot of pressure to marry, she was only the second anointed monarch who was a female and was therefore constantly urged to take a husband. On one occasion she broke down in front of them as they seemed to had pressured her so much. Whatever her reasons she never married and therefore did not produce any heirs. Elizabeth, it seems did not find real love within Whitehall but her mother did.
Anne Boleyn had been raised in the French court and arrived at the English court in 1522. She eventually caught the eye of the married king Henry VIII and he began to seek her out. We do not know when Henry first fell for Anne. Anne did perform with some ladies of the court in a Chatai Vert Dance for the King at York Place in 1522 but Henry did not start writing her love letters until 1527. It was around this time that he asked her to become his only mistress, his maîtresse-en-titre. Anne was horrified by this and asked Henry why she had done which offended him so. She would only give up her maiden hood to her husband and no other. It was also around the same time that Henry began to question the legality of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. She had been his brother’s wife first. I’m the bible it stated “If a man shall take his brother’s wife, it is an impurity; he hath uncovered his brother’s nakedness; they shall be childless.” And even though Catherine swore she was still a virgin when she wed Henry he still decided that it was a sin towards God and that they were being punished for it by not being allowed to produce a living male heir. Eventually Henry, after splitting from the Catholic Church had his marriage to Catherine annulled in England and was now free to wed Anne who had been holding the king at bay for six years.
In 1532 the two went on a visit to meet the French king. It is thought that as Anne’s marriage to Henry was finally in sight she had given in to him and was now pregnant. So to make the baby legitimate when it was born the two had to marry quickly and in secret as the final divorce had not been passed. It was in a ‘high chamber’ within the Holbein gate at Whitehall Palace that Anne and Henry wed on 25th January 1533. The ceremony had been so secret that it was not made public until three months later.
Whitehall Palace was originally a townhouse owned by the Archbishops of York, and was owned and lived in by Cardinal Wolsey. It was at his fall that the transformation of York place into Whitehall Palace began. This was the creation of Anne’s and Henrys. The two of them, after Cardinals Wolsey’s fall, embarked upon a massive building project of York place to transform it into Whitehall palace. However Anne would not see it finished. The child she had conceived turned out to be a girl, Elizabeth, and her next two pregnancies ended in miscarriages. After 1000 days of being queen she met her demise on a scaffold within the Tower of London after being charged with treason against Henry, her charge had been to have committed adultery with 6 other men of the court, one of them being her own brother.
On the day of her execution it is believed that Henry got engaged to his third wife, Jane Seymour and the two would marry within the walls of Whitehall Palace three months later.
These are just two women who experience love and marriage within the walls of Whitehall palace and certainly were not the last.
Thurley, S (1993) The Royal Palaces of Tudor England, Yale University press. Singapore.
Thurley, Simon (2008) Whitehall Palace. Historic Royal Palaces, in association with Merrell. London.