Prince Henry’s room is one of those charming links with the past that lie unnoticed in the path of thousands who never stop to heed the story. At No. 17, Fleet Street, close to the ceaseless traffic of the Law Courts, is an unobtrusive timbered house. Through a low archway you see an eighteenth-century oaken stairway that leads to a sedate Jacobean room, where very few people ever come to disturb the peaceful, dignified atmosphere. The Council of the Duchy of Cornwall is supposed to have once met here regularly and I believe that from time to time Prince Henry’s room is now used for the meetings of various associations, but if you visit it any day between ten and four you will almost certainly find no one to disturb the ghosts of bygone cavaliers but the war veteran who passes his days there ruminating on the delinquencies of historians.
The house is one of the oldest in the City. It was built in 1610, the year that Henry, the elder son of James I. of England, was created Prince of Wales; and the room is known as Prince Henry’s room. Look at the lovely Jacobean art of the panelling on the west wall, and the decorated plaster ceiling, where in the centre you will find the device of this lamented “prince of promise,”who died at the early age of eighteen.
Most people say, “Prince Henry! who was Prince Henry? “and very few connect the name with that little known prince who steals like a shadow across the pages of our history books. But his memory deserves to be kept green if only for the reason that he was a true friend to Sir Walter Raleigh, that unfortunate victim of petty-minded James. After one of his visits to Raleigh in the Garden House of the Tower, Prince Henry said: “No man but my father would keep such a bird in a cage.”A stained glass window sets forth his titles in old French,
Dv . treshavlt . et . trespvissant . Prince . Henry : Filz . Aisne . dv . Roy . Nre . Seign . Prince . do Gavles : Due : de : Cornvaile : et . Rothsay. Comte : de . Chestre . Chevalier . dv . tresnoble . Ordre . de . la . Iartierre . enstalle . le . 2 . de . Iuliet . 1603.
He was in many ways the prototype of our own Prince of Wales and held almost as high a place in the affections of his people. He was everything that a king’s son should be. He was handsome, well-grown and athletic; he was scholarly and brilliant, having all James’ love of learning without his folly and effeminacy. If he was a paragon of erudition, he also loved the practical side of shipbuilding, and he liked to give and receive hard knocks in the miniature tournaments that he organised at Whitehall, when he and his friends would engage the whole evening in mighty battles with sword and pike. And in addition to all this he seems to have had the generous mind and temper of the truly great. It is no wonder that his untimely death evoked a cry of mourning throughout England.
He was playing tennis, threw off his coat and caught a mortal chill. Everything that the doctors of that day could do was done. They even applied pigeons to his head and a split cock to his feet. Sir Walter Raleigh, who loved the youth, sent from his prison in the Tower the recipe of a potent “quintescence “; it did more good than the pigeons or the split cock, but could not save him. Prince Henry died in 1612, when not quite nineteen years of age.
This is what they wrote of him after his death:
Loci Where he shineth yonder, A fixed star in heaven; Whose motion heere came under None of your planets seaven. If that the moone should tender The sunne her love, and marry, They both would not engender So great a star as Harry.