Hertfordshire Genealogy

Guide to Old Hertfordshire


The Palace of Theobalds in the 16th & 17th Century




In the ancient parish of Cheshunt, not far from Waltham Cross

See Theobalds Park for more recent information

The Palace of Theobalds

Gentleman's Magazine, 1836




WHICH Names doubtless it received from some Persons, who in old time were Lords hereof, but the House was built by William Lord Burleigh, late Lord Treasurer of England, which saith Camden, was most fair and elegant in Respect of the Workmanship, and most pleasant in Respect of the Gardens, Orchards, and Walks adorn'd with delicious Groves.

When King James came from Scotland to London, he staid at this House on the 3d of May, where Sir Robert Cecil, the Owner hereof, gave him a noble Reception and a princely Entertainment, and the Lords of the most honourable Privy Council attended his Majesty's coming, and paid their Homage, in whose Behalf the Lord-keeper made an elegant Speech, attesting their assured Love and Allegiance; to which the King was graciously pleased to make a Return, to their great Satisfaction.

The next Day his Majesty made divers noble Men of Scotland, of his Privy Council; the Duke of Lenox, the Earl of Marre, the Lord Hume, Sir George Howme, Treasurer of Scotland, Sir James Elpinton, Secretary to the King, the Lord Kinloss, Master of the Rolls; and of the English Nobility, the Lord Henry Howard, Brother to Tltomas Howard, late Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Lord Howard, Son to the said Duke and also Lord Chamberlain, and the Lord Mountjoy though in Ireland, and the King made twenty eight Knights there.

This King took so great Delight and Pleasure in this Seat, that he gave the Mannor of Hatfield in Exchange for it to Sir Robert Cecil Lord Ceeil of Essindon in the County of Rutland; this Place he often visited, enlarged the Park, enclosed it with a Brick-wall about ten Miles in Compass, and at last died here on the 27th of March, Anno 1625, but on Anno 1641, which was in the time of the late Rebellion, this House was pulled down and from the Seat of a Monarch, is now become a little Commonwealth.

King Charles n. Anno 12 Regni sui, did grant these Mannors to George Duke of Albemarle, and to the Heirs Males of his Body (as I have been informed) in Consideration of his good Services. Upon his Decease it came to Duke Christopher, his Son and Heir, who died seiz'd hereof. Upon his Death it reverted to the Crown; then King William gave it to William Bentinck, who was created Earl of Portland Viscount Woodstock, and Baron of . <!Cirencester, by Patent, dated the 4th of April, 1689,1 Will. et Mari; and he bears, Azure, a Cross Moline Argent.

Chauncy, The Historical Antiques of Hertfordshire, 1700


The Hall at Theobalds - The Favourite Residence of James I

(From an Original Picture at Hinton St George)

C Knight, Old England, Volume II, 1845


The 16th Century Gardens at Theobalds

At Theobalds during the years between about 1575 and 1585 Lord Burghley, a self-confessed garden enthusiast, introduced descending stairways, loggias painted with genealogies, a summer house decorated with 'twelve Roman emperors in white marble' and an equally classical motif of a fishpond. The compilers of the Parliamentary Survey in 1650 seem particularly insistent upon the movement up and down between various sections of the garden: 'with two stepps discendinge into ye midde of ye garden ... 8 stepps discendinge ... 3 ascents ... 3 paire of staires discendinge downe in to ye Levell from ye gravell walke ...' So, although its arrangement in separate courtyards is still rather old-fashioned the particularly Italianate experience of exploring Theobalds was evidently striking. And other visitors remarked upon 'a little wood nearby', at the end of which 'you come to a small round hill built of earth with a labyrinth around. [It] is called the 'Venusberg'. Exactly what the relationship of this grove and mount was to the squared gardens cannot easily be determined; it has the air, however, of the contrast between garden which was remarked upon at Italian villas - compare it with the disposition of the Villa Medici in Rome where the grove beyond the regular garden also had a mount. And for another continental visitor of 1600 Theobalds was full of exactly the same range of interests that we have traced in Italian gardens:

There is a fountain in the centre of the garden: the water spouts out from a number of concealed pipes and sprays unwary passers-by ...

In the first room there is an overhanging rock or crag (here they call it a 'grotto') made of different kinds of semi-transparent stone and roofed over with pieces of coral, crystal, and all kinds of metallic ore. It is thatched with green grass, and inside can be seen a man and a woman dressed like wild men of the woods, and a number of animals creeping through the bushes. A bronze centaur stands at the base of it ...

An outstanding feature is a delightful and most beautifully made ornamental pool ... In the two corners of this pool you can see two wooden watermills built on a rock, just as if they were on the shores of a river.

Garden and Grove: The Italian Renaissance Garden in the English Imagination, 1600-1750
By John Dixon Hunt. Published by University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996. ISBN 0812216040

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