31 October 2020

Queen Elizabeth I Visits Gorhambury Manor in 1577

The ruins of Gorhambury Manor

While researching for book two of my new Elizabethan series, I discovered the accounts of the queen's visits to Gorhambury Manor House, near St Albans, Hertfordshire, which was was built by Sir Nicholas Bacon (1510-1579), Lord Keeper of the Great Seal during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

When the queen declared her intention to visit Gorhambury in 1572, Sir Nicholas was concerned enough to write to his friend Lord Burghley, ‘If it be true, then I might understand your advice for what you think to be the best way for me to deal with the matter, for in very deed, no man is more raw in such a matter than myself.’

It seems the visit didn’t go too well as the queen is reported to have said ‘My Lord, what a little house you have gotten’ to which Sir Nicholas replied ‘Madam, my house is well, but you have made me too great for my house!’ 

Sir Nicholas added a hundred-and-twenty foot long  gallery to the house for her second visit to Gorhambury on Saturday May 27th, 1577. The vaulted ceiling was painted with murals and, in what might have been a misjudgement, a life-sized statue of Henry VIII in gilded armour acted as a focal point. He also built a new ballroom with a minstrel gallery, for the evening entertainment. 

Lady Bacon was in charge of the banquet, and records show she prepared beer and ale and wines of all kinds, beef, mutton, veal, lambs, rabbits, cow’s udders and calves feet. There were chickens, geese, mallards, teals, larks and curlews, and all kinds of fish.

Sir Nicholas also had to pay for presents for the queen’s officers, and return travel costs from London to Gorhambury, as well as a golden cup as a gift for the queen, with twenty-five bucks and two fine stags. The total cost of the three day visit was about a fifth of the cost of building Gorhambury Manor.

Queen Elizabeth was so pleased with her visit, she gave Sir Nicholas a portrait of herself, which he later found out she’d been displeased with, as she thought it unflattering and a poor likeness.

Sir Nicholas only had another eighteen months to enjoy his gift, as he died in 1579, and Gorhambury passed to his son Anthony - and then to Sir Francis Bacon.

Tony Riches

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