Built by the Bishop of Ely, the original Old Palace at Hatfield House has a unique and colourful history dating from 1485, and is one of the foremost examples of medieval brickwork in Britain.
The Old Royal Palace was confiscated by Henry VIII after the dissolution of the monasteries in 1538, and became known as the Royal Palace of Hatfield. Henry used the palace as a nursery for his three children Mary, Edward & Elizabeth.
But it is with Elizabeth that the old Palace is most closely associated.
Princess Elizabeth (daughter of Anne Boleyn) was to spend her first 25 years at Hatfield Palace- sent to live there when she was only three months old. She had a happy childhood, sharing in her brother Edward’s education- it was the children’s own private household, managed by a staff of nurses, courtiers and tutors.
When Elizabeth’s half-sister became Queen in 1553, (Bloody) Mary feared that her enemies might plot to place her protestant sister on the throne. Effectively Elizabeth was kept under house arrest at Hatfield.
Queen Mary I died childless in November 1558. Elizabeth learnt of her succession to the throne while sitting under an oak tree eating an apple in the grounds of the Palace.
On receiving the news that she was now Queen of England, the courtiers who came bearing the news bowed before their new queen. Elizabeth knelt and said in Latin:
“A Domino factum est illud et est mirabile in oculis nostris.”
“This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes” [Psalm 118:23]
Elizabeth I Queen of England and Ireland, would rule England for the next 44 years, her reign was considered to be the ‘Golden Age’ of England.
The ‘New’ Hatfield Palace
In 1607, King James I exchanged the Old Palace at Hatfield for Theobalds- the home of Robert Cecil, (1st Earl of Salisbury-advisor to Elizabeth I and James I).
When the original Old Palace was built, the palace formed a quadrangle set around a central courtyard. In 1608 Robert Cecil set about demolishing three-wings of the Old Palace (the back and sides of the square) and used the bricks to build the present structure of the ‘New’ Hatfield House (below).
For the next three centuries, the only remaining wing of the original Old Palace served as the stables for the New Hatfield House, until it was extensively restored by the 4th Marquess in 1915- including The Banqueting Hall which still has most of its original roof timbers.
It was here that Elizabeth I as the new Queen called her trusted advisers, led by William Cecil & Baron Burghley together for her first Council of State.
Today, the ‘New’ Hatfield House is the home of the 7th Marquess and Marchioness of Salisbury, and is open to the public. The Banqueting Hall is used to hold weddings, Elizabethan banquets, and other special events surrounded by a beautiful knot garden, created by the 6th Marchioness in 1984.