Woodstock Palace was a royal palace that lay within the manor of Woodstock in Oxfordshire, and one of the favourite residences of the Plantagenet rulers of England during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and was the birthplace of a number of royal princes most notably;

The palace appears to have originated as a hunting lodge for the early Norman kings of England; both William the Conqueror and his son William Rufus used it as a base for hunting parties. (Woodstock is referred to in the Domesday Book as a royal forest.) It began to develop more of the quality of a royal residence in the early twelfth century when Henry I built a seven-mile stone wall to enclose a portion of the estate which was then stocked with a variety of exotic animals including lions,leopards, camels and the odd porcupine or two. But it was in the thirteenth century, that this hunting lodge really developed into a medieval palace when Henry III greatly extended the range of facilities on offer, adding a kitchen, a larder, a wine cellar,a gatehouse, some stables and no less than six chapels. (And incidentally relocated Henry I's menagerie to the Tower of London where it remained until 1828.)

As noted Woodstock Palace was at its most popular during the reigns of Henry III, and the three Edwards who followed him. It was never quite as well visited thereafter but it continued to be in regular use. Henry VII piped in fresh water from a spring and added a fountain in the courtyard as well as a number of baths, but the palace gradually fell out of favour with later Tudor monarchs who viewed its facilities as rather dated compared to the competing attractions of Hampton Court Palace and the like. Despite this Queen Mary I brought the palace into use as a convenient jailhouse for her sister Princess Elizabeth in 1554, who supposedly carved the words "Much suspected, of me; Little proved can be, Quoth Elizabeth, Prisoner" into one of the windows of the gatehouse.

It was still in use by the early Stuart kings, James I and his successor Charles I, who even added the fashionable diversion of a tennis court, but by that time it was no longer referred to as a 'Palace' but rather as a simple 'Manor House'. During the English civil war it was the location for a series of hauntings by the famous Devil of Woodstock and was in ruins by the time of the Restoration.

The fate of Woodstock Palace

In 1705 the manor of Woodstock was transferred by Act of Parliament from the crown into the hands of the newly created Duke of Marlborough, as a convenient location for the erection of a country residence suitable to the victor of the battle of Blenheim. (Parliament also voted the Duke the sum of £500,000.)

The duke engaged John Vanbrugh as architect for the project but left the details in the hands of his wife Sarah, the Duchess of Marlborough. Whereas John Vanbrugh, wanted to retain the old palace as a picturesque backdrop for his grand vision of Blenheim Palace, the Duchess of Marlborough was determined to have the tatty old ruin pulled down. The DUchess had her way and the old palace was therefore torn down and its remains carted away and used as rubble filling for the Grand Bridge.

Nothing today remains of old Woodstock Palace and only a small stone monument in the grounds of Blenheim Palace now marks the site.

Henry, Eleanor and Rosamund

It is said that Henry II used Woodstock Palace as suitable location for the conduct of his affair with Rosamund de Clifford; at Blenheim Palace today there remains in the grounds an ancient spring that bears the name of Rosamund's Well in remembrance of this royal escapade.

The story goes that Henry kept Rosamund hidden away in a bower nearby, which legend has placed in the centre of a tortuous maze. When Henry's wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine arrived at Woodstock on a surprise visit, she caught sight of a thread caught on the spur of Henry's boot, and followed the line of thread back through the labyrinth and discovered the evidence of her husband's infidelities, to whit the fair Rosamund busy at her needlework. Eleanor is then said to have either killed Rosamund by persuading her to take a drink from a poisoned chalice or to have simply stabbed Rosamund to death.

At which point one might well inquire as to whether medieval queens did indeed travel with spare chalices and lethal poison about their persons and/or armed with knives ready to despatch any royal mistresses they might happen to come across in their travels. Sadly the tale is not true, history records a rather less glamorous death for Rosamund. Although she was indeed mistress to Henry II, she died entirely of natural causes in about the year 1176 after retiring to nearby Godstow Abbey in Oxfordshire, and Eleanor of Aquitaine therefore stands acquitted of the charge of homicide.


SOURCES

  • The 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica entry for WOODSTOCK
    See http://1911encyclopedia.org/index.htm
  • One of the Most Egregious Teardowns in History:Imagine What Once Was http://www.smithsonianmag.si.edu/journeys/01/feb01/woodstock.html
  • Charles Arnold Baker The Companion to British History (Longcross Press, 1996)
  • Blenheim Palace at http://www.blenheimpalace.com/

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