It’s spring in London and the flowers are bursting forth on Cheyne Walk, which skirts the edge of the River Thames until it gives way to the Chelsea Embankment. I have ambled along the street for nearly an hour identifying plaques representing the famous people who’ve lived on nearly every block. Finally, I’ve reached Roper’s Garden, a quiet spot that will allow me to contemplate medieval politics of a noble nature. This is the perfect place to do so because I am surrounded by the ghosts of historical figures once caught up in battles ranging from military to humanistic.
The two main phantoms inspiring my reverie, King Richard III and Sir Thomas More, spent time within architectural gems that flank the garden. To my right is a modernized Crosby Hall, which was originally built in 1466 in Bishopsgate. It served as a residence for the Duke of Gloucester, later to become Richard III, when he came to London on business in 1483. The original building burned in 1572 and the handful of architectural elements that survived have been incorporated into the new building, which began its rebirth on Cheyne Walk in 1909.
Architect Walter Godfrey designed the new structure to closely resemble the Bishopsgate building and was asked by the British Federation of University Women, who occupied the property in 1925, to add a north wing that year. The building served as the backdrop for a handful of organizations until wealthy entrepreneur Christopher Moran purchased it as his private residence in 1988. Keen to treat it with the respect it deserved, he began the process of turning it into a medieval gem.
In a 2003 article for Country Life Magazine, which is posted on Moran’s website, Simon Thurley, the former Director of English Heritage, writes that the businessman is creating a setting for the great hall that could have really existed during medieval times: “Modern building techniques were to be used, but every detail, form and feature were to be based on an identifiable precedent from the 16thcentury.” Tudor customs drove the designs of a number of the decorative elements, such as the heraldic motifs and badges on the building’s exterior.
To maintain authenticity, Moran had the College of Arms devise heraldic symbols for him, such as the coat of arms that now adorns the building in several places. Other features that make the new Crosby Hall an amalgamation of Tudor majesty are references to a long list of significant properties, including Cardinal Wolsey’s Hampton Court Palace of the 1520s and Henry VIII’s lost palace at Rochester. Thurley explains, “The intention of this range is to capture the heraldic flamboyance of Henry VIII’s reign, and the charming mix of late-Gothic and Renaissance details that characterizes the first half of the 16th century.”
As I study the strong personality of the building’s profile, the sun rises just high enough that rays of light eclipse the roofline in an effervescent explosion. Witnessing such a dramatic display makes me wonder what story those walls would tell of Richard III could they talk. Would they declare he was the usurper so many during his reign considered him to be—a villainous monarch along the lines of Shakespeare’s portrayal of him? Or would they deem him a kind man who cared about his subjects, as was claimed by the people who were under his authority as a landowner in York? As is often the case, I suspect it could be a bit of both.
One certainty we know of his life is that it was awash in conflict from the time he was a very young boy. Significant players in the Wars of the Roses, his parents were forced to flee by the time he was seven, a circumstance that compelled them to send Richard and his brother George to live with powerful friends who could ensure their safety. Decades later, while his brother Edward IV ruled, he gained a reputation as an astute military man, suppressing the uprisings of the Welsh as the Constable of England. After proving himself a capable commander numerous times as his life wore on, he would also die at war, gaining the distinction as the last English king to perish on the battlefield.
In case you think this brings an aura of glory to his legacy, this is far from true because his death was precipitated by the purposeful negligence of nobles he believed were loyal to him. After he was slain during the Battle of Bosworth, they further humiliated him by slinging his naked body over a pack-horse and taking him to Leicester for an unceremonious burial in the Grey Friars’ chapel. But an even bigger insult was coming: his remains went missing for centuries until they were found buried in an unmarked grave beneath a parking lot in Leicester on August 25, 2012.
His skeleton wasn’t given a burial befitting a king until over five centuries later, the reinterment at Leicester Cathedral taking place during a celebration on March 26, 2015. Philippa Langley and the late John Ashdown-Hill spearheaded the project to find and identify his remains, each of them saying it felt good to lay him to rest with the full dignity and honor he hadn’t received in 1485. As I watch the bright sunlight glance off the masonry of Crosby Hall on this resplendent April day less than a month after he was properly buried, I admit I feel the same compassion for him given he was a notable character in the long human drama we call history.
The Modern Salonnière and The Nature of Noble Loyalty © Saxon Henry, all rights reserved. Saxon is an author, poet and strategist whose booksinclude Anywhere But Here, Stranded on the Road to Promise and Four Florida Moderns. She is also a top writer in several categories on Medium.