London – The Chaterhouse

Coming back to Charterhouse Street and turning to the left, five minutes’ walk will bring you to Charterhouse Square, where you can find one of the most lovely and gracious things in all London.

People often bewail the passing of old London without knowing that within this short distance from Holborn Circus they can see a perfect specimen of a sixteenth-century nobleman’s house. There it stands, only needing the addition of a little furniture of the period, that would never be missed from South Kensington Museum, and you could see exactly how my Lord Howard lived when he entertained-and plotted against-his royal mistress three hundred years ago.

One does not like to think of the number of people who leave London without ever having seen the Charterhouse. It is one of the most beautiful places in all London, and its story is packed with romance, intrigue, adventure and benevolence.

The tale falls into three parts. It is begun by that gallant Hainaulter, Sir Walter de Manny, as the English called Walter, Lord of Mausny near Valenciennes, who came over to England in the train of Philippa of Hainault.

According to Froissart he was a “very gentil parfyte knighte,”and when he saw the ghastly heaps of dead bodies of plague-stricken people lying in the streets in 1349, he bought from St. Bartholomew’s Hospital a piece of land called No Man’s Land and caused the dead to be decently buried there. Their bodies at rest, he had thought for their souls, and on March 25, 1349, he laid the foundation-stone of a chapel where the relations might pray for their dead. Twenty years later Sir Walter Manny laid another stone, that of the first cell for the Carthusian monks he brought over from France. The wives and sisters of the dead had prayed so long in the chapel that the right could not be taken from them, so for once the strict Carthusian rule was relaxed and a special place was set apart for the womenkind to come and pray.

Sir Walter Manny died in 1372. He was buried at the foot of the step of the great altar in the chapel that may be seen today, and in the Charterhouse his Carthusian monks prayed according to the tenets of their faith for a hundred and sixty-five years more before the last prior, John Houghton, having been hung on Tyburn Tree, and many of the brothers tortured, the rest submitted to the king’s will. The House of the Salutation of the Mother of God in the Charterhouse near London was dissolved shortly afterwards.

The second phase of the Charterhouse story is a very different one. Twice during the following years it was prepared for the coming of a fair queen, whose head was bowed on Tower Hill instead of in the old chapel.

Charterhouse was granted to that wily old courtier, Sir Edward North, in 1545, and eight years later he “conveyed “it to John Dudley, Earl of Northumberland, the father-in-law of Lady Jane Grey. The Earl of Northumberland never wanted it for himself, as he had already Durham House in the Adelphi, but there was his son Guildford with his fair young wife to be lodged fittingly. So he brought up much furniture from Kenilworth and stored it hard by, little dreaming that his bold plans would miscarry and that he would die on Tower Hill a year before the children whose home he had planned shared the same fate.

North was granted the Charterhouse again by Queen Mary, and when Elizabeth came to the throne in 1558 she stayed six days there before her coronation.

Three years later she paid the old house another visit, but North died in =564 and Charterhouse passed into the hands of crafty, brilliant, fickle Thomas Howard, fourth Duke of Norfolk.

Once more Charterhouse, now known as Howard House, was to be prepared for a royal mistress, and in a royal manner.

The new owner, buoyed with hopes of a marriage with Mary, Queen of Scots, began to put his new house in order. He added the screen in the great hall and the “Tarrass Walk,”the lovely tapestry room, the duchess’s withdrawing-room and the magnificent great staircase.

On the 6th of August, 1568, Elizabeth came in state from Hampton Court to Howard House, to pay a visit to her disloyal servant, already plotting against her and arranging the duchess’s salon for her rival. The air was thick with intrigue, and by the autumn the rumour of the marriage with Mary had reached Elizabeth. Norfolk denied it, but a year later the truth came out, and he spent some time in the Tower, to be released, under surveillance, when the Black Death threatened that district.

He had )earned no lesson. Either a devouring ambition or the attraction of the most fascinating woman in Europe lured him on. Plots and counterplots were hatched in the long gallery that now forms part of the upperstory quarters of the Master and Registrar of Charterhouse. Mary’s emissaries were seizedone of them, called Bailly, has carved the lesson these events taught him in the Beauchamp Room in the Tower-and the luckless queen was betrayed in her turn, even as Elizabeth had been, by the man who so short a time before had decorated the Charterhouse to receive her as a bride.

He told, like a coward, the place where her cipher was hidden under a tile in the Charterhouse, but nothing could save his own neck, and he followed his father and his two girl cousins, Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard, in June 1572.

The next owner of Howard House, Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel, was only a boy of fifteen when he inherited his father’s property, but he was of sterner stuff, for he refused to abjure the Roman Catholic faith he had embraced, even to see his wife and children, before he died, worn out, and under sentence of death, in 1595. Elizabeth had kept him prisoner in the Beauchamp Tower for ten years, and it was there, in 1587, that he carved the words, “The more suffering for Christ in this world, so much the more glory with Christ in the life to come.”

He had lived very little at the Charterhouse, and when it passed into the hands of his halfbrother Thomas Howard, Earl of Suffolk, the fortunes of the old house changed with the advent of the great English Admiral who could swear with truth “‘Fore God I am no coward,”when he was admiral of the squadron at Flores in the Azores, “and the little Revenge ran on right into the heart of the foe.”

Lord Thomas Howard was one of the honoured, trusted servants of Elizabeth, and she came once more in 1603, not long before her death, to pay him a visit in the Charterhouse.

In a few months James I. came there, even as she had done, to spend the days before his coronation as the guest of the son of the man who had been his mother’s false suitor.

But brave Lord Thomas Howard was building a new house at Audley End, and needing money he sold Howard House for L13,000 to Sir Thomas Sutton. The brilliant days of the Charterhouse as a nobleman’s mansion were at an endanother chapter was concluded and the third phase of the story was to begin.

Sir Thomas Sutton, the new owner, was the Lord Rhondda of the sixteenth century. He was a Lincolnshire man with a wide knowledge of men and things, whose military profession never prevented his having a keen eye for business. He made a large fortune before he died in 1611, leaving the provision to found a hospital for eighty impoverished gentlemen and a school for forty boys, under the name of the Hospital of King James in Charterhouse.

There was much discussion, “about it and about,”before Sir Thomas Sutton’s chosen trustees could carry out his wishes. James L, true son of his father Darnley, had to be placated by a Pourboire of L10,000, and even Bacon, jealous at not being among the trustees, tried to belittle the bequest and advise that the money should be used for his master’s benefit instead of for the poor. Sir Edward Coke, Lady Hatton’s husband, steered the hospital through the shoals that surrounded its launching and the more dangerous peril of the king’s genial idea that the Charterhouse revenues might fitly be used to pay for his army. The Charterhouse was founded, and for three hundred years the school has produced great Englishmen and the hospital harboured men who have found that in the evening of a working life the stars do not always appear.

Among the Charterhouse scholars have been the bearers of great names such as Lovelace and Crashaw, Addison and Steele, John Wesley, Sir Henry Havelock, Thackeray, Leech, Thomas Lovell Beddoes, Lord Alverstone and many others. The school was removed in 1872 to Godalming, and the buildings were taken over by the Merchant Taylors’ Company for their boys’ school.

The hospital for the poor brothers no longer harbours eighty men. Their number is reduced to sixty owing to the depreciation in the value of Sir Thomas Sutton’s land and the fact that since the Charterhouse has always been considered a wealthy foundation no further bequests have ever been made to bring the number once more up to the four score of the founder’s intention.

That, briefly told, is the dramatic tale of the Charterhouse. You will readily believe it all if you take the District Railway to Aldersgate Street and go and see the Charterhouse for yourself. Its beauty is unimpaired by time. The Guesten Hall where the poor brethren take their meals, the great sixteenth century carved staircase, the chapel where Colonel Newcome sat, the false duke’s arcade, and the old gatehouse-all are there and many more things to recall the most dramatic pages of England’s history.