Much of the turbulent history of the Tudor era took place at Hatfield House. It was the residence of three future monarchs. It once again rose to prominence in the Victorian age.
The story of Hatfield is intertwined with that of the Tudor dynasty. In the 1530s, King Henry VIII became infatuated with Anne Boelyn. Unlike many other ladies in Henry's court including Anne's sister, Anne would not oblige Henry and become his mistress. She insisted that he marry her and make her queen. Henry already had a queen - - Queen Catherine of Aragon - - but he had become convinced that it was Catherine's fault that he did not have a male heir. He was also convinced that without a male heir, England would return to the type of prolonged civil war that had plagued the country before his father Henry VII came to the throne. So Henry decided to get rid of Catherine.
Therefore, Henry applied to the Pope for a divorce. When the Pope refused to grant one, Henry broke with the Vatican and established himself as the head of the church in England. He then granted himself the desired divorce.
A by-product of this move was that all of the property which had belonged to the Catholic church became the property of the Crown. One such property was Hatfiled Palace, which had beenbuilt by Cardinal Morton, Bishop of Ely, in 1497.
Henry did not live at Hatfield. However, he did find it useful as a place to house his inconvenient children. The first such child was Mary Tudor, the future Queen Mary I. Mary was the daughter of Queen Catherine and when Henry divorced Catherine, he needed a place to keep then Princess Mary. Hatfield was selected.
When Queen Anne failed to produce a male heir, Henry had her beheaded. This left the question of what to do with her daughter Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen Elizabeth I. Once again, Hatfield was selected.
Henry's third wife, Jane Seymour, produced the desired male heir. However, Henry did not want him around all the time and so Prince Edward, the future Edward VI, ended up living with his sister at Hatfield.
The years following Henry's death were full of turmoil. Edward was still a boy when his father died and a struggle erupted over who would be the power behind the throne. When the sickly boy died he was suceeded by Mary Tudor who attempted to return England to the Church of Rome. For much of this time, Princess Elizabeth was virtually a prisoner at Hatfield, skillfully avoiding the various intrigues that went on at her brother's and later her sister's courts. Still, it was not entirely a bread and water imprisonment. Queen Mary wrote to her sister complaining about the extravagant entertainments that Princess Elizabeth was holding at Hatfield.
It was while sitting under a tree in the park at Hatfield that a royal messanger approached and told Princess Elizabeth that her sister had died and that she was now Queen Elizabeth. She held her first council of state at Hatfield. Thus, the Elizabethian Age began at Hatfield.
Now that she was Queen, Elizabeth chose to live elsewhere. However, Hatfield remained a royal possession throughout her reign and the house contains various artifacts of her reign including her sun hat, silk stockings, and gloves as well as contemporary portraits of Elizabeth including the famous “Rainbow portrait”.
During Elizabeth's reign, the person with the best claim to the throne was her cousin Mary Queen of Scots. Mary was a Catholic and had fled Scotland after being defeated by Protestant nobles in a civil war. While in England, Mary became involved in a plot to depose Elizabeth and return England to being a catholic country. This plot was uncovered by Elizaneth's chief minister William Cecil, Lord Burghley. Based upon the evidence produced by Lord Burghley, Elizabeth signed Mary's death warrant.
Lord Burghley's son Robert Cecil, followed him as Elizabeth's chief minister and, like his father, became very powerful. Elizabeth had no children and would not name a successor. Therefore, as her reign drew to a close, Lord Cecil secretly arranged for King James VI of Scotland to become king of England after Elizabeth's death. James was the son of Mary Queen of Scots but had been raised as a Protestant, which made him acceptable to the powers at Elizabeth's court. Furthermore, he apparently held no resentment aginst the Cecils for their part in his mother's death and so Lord Cecil would be able to continue as the powerful chief minister under the new king.
King James I did not care for Hatfield. However, he did like Lord Cecil's house Theobalds. The King proposed to swop Hatfield for Theobalds and in those days when the king made such a suggestion, it was a good idea to agree. Consequently, Hatfield came into the hands of the Cecils.
Above: The remains of the Old Palace.
Below: Inside the Old Palace.
Lord Cecil, who was now the Earl of Salisbury, did not really care for Hatfield either. Therefore, he tore down most of the old house and built a new house that is in the shape of an “E”. Thus, while the house we see today was built in the Jacobean period, it is actually Elizqabethean in design.
The Cecils remained one of England's leading families but, for the most part, they lived quietly at Hatfield for the next couple of centuries. But then in the Victorian era, Hatfield was once again at the center of power.
During the time of the 2nd Marquess of Salisbury, Hatfield was a social and political center. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert stayed at Hatfield. The Duke of Wellington was a close friend of the 2nd Marchioness.
However, Hatfield achieved its greatest prominence under her son, Robert Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury. He was the leader of the Conservative Party and was three time prime minister. This was during the height of the British Empire and Salisbury was its political leader for much of that period. At home, he introduced new innovations to Hatfield including the telephone and electric wiring. The latter would occasionally burst into flames which the family would extionguish with pillows. Lord Salisbury also encouraged his children, both boys and girls, to argue and debate with their parents on equal terms.
Hatfield reflectsthe two great periods of its history. The interior has an Elizabethean atmosphere over laid with Victorian influences. It contains artifacts and art work relating to the Cecils and the many famous people who have been associated with them. The remaining section of the Old Palace is still used for banquets and events.
For information about visiting, see the Hatfield House website.
Cruise destination - England - Hertfordshire - Hatfield House