Page images
PDF
EPUB

House to remind posterity where the great cardinal once lived. On the ruins thus created was reared this hall on which we are now gazing, a portion only of a vast pile of buildings designed by Inigo Jones as a palace for his royal master. Ill-fated monarch—how little he knew, as he saw the massive hall arise in all its grandeur, it would be in a few short years the stepping-stone to his son's scaffold !

In 1625 the unfortunate Charles was proclaimed king from Whitehall steps, as his father had been twenty-two years before. Here he brought his lovely queen, with all her French priests and maidens; and here in her private chapel was celebrated mass Sunday after Sunday, in defiance of the national prejudice. The splendid ceiling that adorned the grand banqueting-hall—the present chapelroyal—was painted by Rubens when over in England as ambassador from Holland. Here too took place, between Charles and his rebellious commons, many a stormy interview, with what end we all know too well. On the 11th January 1642 Charles left Whitehall for Hampton Court, to return once more—a prisoner.

Seven years later he entered again the palace that had been his, where once he had reigned the peerless monarch of a peerless court, and from the centre window up yonder, that overlooked then as now the surging stream of human life below, he passed to the scaffold firm and serene. “I have a good cause and a gracious God on my side," he exclaimed at the last moment, as he prepared for the fatal stroke. “ You have now but one step more,” Juxon replied. “ The stage is turbulent and troublesome, but it is a short one; it will soon carry you a very great way—it will convey you from earth to heaven.” The king answered: “I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown, where no disturbance can be." He then gave his George to Juxon, and saying, “Remember," stooped to the block. So passed away the martyr king, and with him the historical interest of Whitehall. The rest is soon told. In 1653 Cromwell summoned to Whitehall the Barebones Parliament. Here, too, the crown was offered to the great protector ; and here, on the 3d September 1658, he breathed his last. A few months later, and Charles II. reëntered the home of his boyhood. In the reign of George I. the banqueting-hall was converted into a royal chapel ; and, curious to relate, in 1723 the grandson of Oliver Cromwell was married within its walls.

And now we are out in the noisy street once more, and passing on our right Scotland - yard. Our readers, perhaps, have never realised the meaning of the name. They have come here to find lost umbrellas that never yet were found; and the only idea they have of the place is embodied in the late Sir Richard Mayne. But other visitors used to resort here in old days, who knew not Sir Richard Mayne, and never thought of policeman A 102. On this site formerly stood a palace, erected by one of our ancient kings for the use of the Scotch kings when they came up to London to do homage to the English crown; and hence the name Scotlandyard. King Edgar gave it to Kenneth III. for this humiliating purpose ; and here Margaret, widow of James V. of Scotland and sister to Henry VIII., resided after her husband's death.

We struggle on up Charing Cross, and see before us, to our left, King Charles's statue—the finest statue in London, art-critics will tell you. It has a curious history. Cast during the reign of the ill-fated monarch, it was never put up until long after his death. The Parliament, when Charles fell at Whitehall, seized it, and having naturally a strong objection to its existence, gave orders to a certain brazier, John Rivet, to have it destroyed. The man, with more taste than honesty, promised obedience, but omitted the performance of the promise. He hid the statue, and produced some old pieces of metal in proof of his having fulfilled the directions of the Parliament. Nor was this all: the wily craftsman reaped a rich harvest from his dishonesty, for he made from the pretended remains of the demolished statue bushels of knife-handles, that he sold at good prices to both Roundheads and Royalists. Both parties valued them highly—the former as tokens of their saving victories; the latter as mementos of one whose memory they worshipped. In 1674 the statue, having been found underground, was set up where we now see it. It was originally designed by Hubert le Sæur, a Frenchman. The sword no longer hangs at the king's side: it was stolen when Queen Victoria was on her way to open the Royal Exchange.

Somewhere hereabouts, nearly 600 years ago, the funeral procession of Queen Eleanor deposited its sad burden, previous to its interment in Westminster Abbey ; and to commemorate that event a cross of stone was raised in her honour; and hence the name Charing Cross. Some old writers affirm—with more poetry than truth—that the name Charing is derived from the French chère reine—the cross of the dear queen:

“ Erect a rich and stately carved cross,
Whereon her statue shall with glory shine,
And henceforth see you call it Charing Cross :
For why, the chariest and the choicest queen
That ever did delight my royal eyes
There dwells in darkness."

Peele. What a different scene the mourners looked upon that day, as they laid their royal burden on the green turf by the roadside, to what we gaze on now! Hardly a house was to be seen near. The winding road, as it descended to Westminster, was surrounded by fields and shaded by trees, through which arose, in all its splendour, the old abbey. To the left the river, old Father Thames, then as now, was hastening to the German Ocean, and over the windings of the flowing stream might be seen in the distance London as it then existed, the old spire of St. Paul's glittering in the sun, and the white Tower standing out massive and stately above the surrounding buildings. The atmosphere was clear and bright, and only now and then some fitful sound borne on the wind informed the travellers that they were near the metropolis of England. But now, in 1870, we find ourselves surrounded by endless streets of houses, deafened by every conceivable noise; no more able to see the Tower or St. Paul's through the yellow fog that hangs upon the river, than to see the dome of St. Peter's at Rome, and without the remotest shadow of a doubt as to our being, not only near, but in the very heart of England's capital. The old cross, of which we have been speaking, was pulled down in 1647, and part of its stones formed the pavement before Whitehall. On its site, some of the regicides were executed in 1660 : Major-General Harrison, Thomas Scott, Gregory Clement, John Jones, and Robert Scrope. On our left we see the name

Spring Gardens." Here, in the reign of Charles I., a garden was laid out and used as a bowlinggreen. The name is derived from a jet or spring of water, which sprung up with the pressure of the foot. The following description, from the Strafford Papers, shows us what kind of place it was in those days: “ The bowling-green in the Spring Gardens was put down one day by the king's command, but by the intercession of the queen it was reprieved for the year; but hereafter it shall be no common bowling-place. There was kept in it an ordinary of six shillings a meal (when the king's proclamation allows but two elsewhere), continual bibbing and drinking wine all day under the trees ; two or three quarrels every week. It was grown scandalous and insufferable ; besides my Lord Digby, being reprehended for striking in the king's garden, he said he took it for a common bowling-place, where all paid money for their coming in.”

We are now in the Strand, and on our right is Northumberland House, built in 1605 by the Earl of Northampton. A few years later it passed into the hands of the Earl of Suffolk, and was called Suffolk House. In 1642 the Earl of Northumberland married the daughter of the second Earl of Suffolk, and came into possession of the house, from whence its present name.

The Strand used to be the old highway between the cities of Westminster and London. Along the river-side in old days were built the bishops' inns or hostels, as the names we meet with at every corner remind us. Cunningham tells us that as many as nine bishops, at the period of the Reformation, had their dwellings here; and Selden, in his Table-Talk, declares that “the noblemen lay within the city for safety and security ; but the bishops' houses were by the river's side, because they were held sacred persons whom nobody would hurt.” Here is Exeter-street, named after the bishop of Exeter ; Durham-street, where lived the bishop of Durham. On the site of the present Somerset House stood three inns,

belonging respectively to the bishops of Llandaff, Chester, and Worcester. Arundel House occupied the spot now called Arundel-street, and Beaufort-street takes its name from Worcester House, Henry Marquis of Worcester, afterwards Duke of Beaufort, having, in 1682, bought the ground on which it stands. Old York House used to stand on the site of Buckingham-street. When Wolsey was expelled from Whitehall, the archbishops of York remained without a town residence until Queen Mary gave Archbishop Heath, her lord chancellor, Suffolk House, in Southwark, which he sold, and bought in its place Norwich Inn, near to Charing-cross, called henceforth York House. In 1624 it was assigned by Parliament to the king, who made it over to the duke of Buckingham ; hence Buckingham-street. The duke erected other buildings on the spot, more especially the water-gate which now stands at the bottom of the street, the work of Inigo Jones. In 1649 York House was given to Lord Fairfax, captain-general of the army. The various streets that here run into the Strand all derive their names from King Charles's pampered favourite. Villiers-street, Chandos-street, Duke-street, and Buckingham-street, all recall to our memories a page in history not the most pleasing or the most edifying. On our left we see Burleigh-street. Here stood Burleigh House, the residence of the great minister, Sir William Cecil, afterwards made Lord Burleigh. In 1598 he died here, and his son and successor changed the name to Exeter House. Here once stood Exeter Change, and here now stands Exeter Hall.

We are now approaching the Savoy, which lies on our right, between us and the river. In 1245, the uncle of Henry III., Peter of Savoy, obtained possession of many houses and much land in this part of the Strand, and erected on the site of the present chapelroyal a spacious mansion. Here, after the famous battle of Poictiers had been fought and won, the ill-fated King John was confined ; and here too, after his release, the unhappy monarch died, when on a visit to this country. In 1381, John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, lived here; and the famous Wat Tyler, when in possession of London, from some special feeling of animosity against the duke, burnt the palace to the ground. From that day to Henry the Seventh's reign it appears to have remained a ruin. In 1505 a hospital, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, was established here by the king for the relief of the poor.

Edward VI. suppressed it, but it was again revived by Queen Mary and continued by Queen Elizabeth, and became in her reign the resort of the worst characters in London. At the Restoration in 1661 the great Savoy conference was held here on the revision of the Liturgy. The church of St. Mary-le-Savoy was originally a chapel to the hospital, but was made parochial on the destruction of St. Mary-le-Strand by the Duke of Somerset.

And now we have arrived at Somerset House, the destined end of our half-mile walk. Let us turn into the large quadrangle, and, shutting our eyes to the more modern associations that surround us, endeavour to recall the past. Here, on this spot, the great but unfortunate protector, Somerset, in the reign of his nephew Edward VI., raised a sumptuous palace, the completion of which he was never destined to see. In the height of his power and the zenith of his fame, when his will was law and his enemies trembled before him, he determined to raise a mansion worthy of his name. The inns belonging to the bishops of Chester and of Worcester were seized and levelled to the ground to make room for it. The great cloister on the north side of St. Paul's, containing the “Dance of Death," and the church of St. John of Jerusalem, were blown up and demolished to find the materials wherewith to erect it. And for the same purpose the charnel-house attached to the cathedral was destroyed, and the bones impiously flung into Finsbury-fields. Nothing was spared that could insure the success of the undertaking ; but Fortune, as usual, proved but a fickle mistress, and ere the great builder could enter upon the scene of his triumph his head rolled on the block, and his palace was confiscated to the crown. The old story, so often repeated in the pages of history, the story of favourites basking for a while in the sunny smile of their sovereign, rising step by step up the ladder of success, and then, when the highest point is gained, hurled to sudden destruction by the caprice of a master or the jealousy of a rival.

In 1596 Lord Hunsdon was appointed keeper of Somerset House by Queen Elizabeth ; and twenty years later the name was changed for a time to Denmark House, by order of King James I. Here Anne of Denmark kept her court, which was, as Wilson says, a continued masquerade, where she and her ladies, like so many sea-nymphs or nereïds, appeared in various costumes, to the ravishment of the beholders.”

Here, in the following reign, the fair Queen of Charles I., Henrietta Maria, had a chapel built for the free use of the RomanCatholic religion. The French priests and attendants who were thrust out of the royal palace at Whitehall, found at Somerset House a place of refuge until the wrath of the king was blown over. Underneath the stones on which we are now standing may be seen to this day the old tombs of those Frenchmen who died during their sojourn here.

The palace appears to have been assigned to the queen for her particular use; for in 1632 we find her majesty taking part in a royal masquerade within its still unfinished apartments. Prynne, the sturdy Puritan, owed the loss of his ears to this masquerade, for his Histriomastic appeared the following day, and a certain sentence not very complimentary to female actors appearing in it, he was condemned to lose the above-named useful appendages. Here,

« PreviousContinue »