Friday, 8 June 2007

William, Earl of Craven - The Last Cavalier

It was William Craven, Baron of Hamstead Marshall, Viscount Uffington and Earl of Craven, who had the present day hunting lodge built at Ashdown in 1661 - 1662.

Craven was a fascinating character largely overlooked by history. Born in 1608, William Craven was the son of a self-made man from Yorkshire who had been apprenticed in the cloth trade, made a fortune and became a money lender to the crown, married well and was Lord Mayor of London. When William Craven inherited his father's fortune and estates he was one of the nine richest men in Stuart England. He was also one of the most ardent royalists devoted to the Stuart cause.

Still in his teens, William Craven left England to serve in the army of Maurice of Orange and over many years he gained great distinction as a soldier. He fought alongside Frederick of Bohemia and his sons in their attempts to regain the ancestral palatine lands they had lost in the Thirty Years War and he supported Elizabeth, the Winter Queen, in her exile in the United Provinces.

All William Craven's estates, with the exception of Combe Abbey, were sequestrated during the Commonwealth and he was able to return to England only on the restoration of King Charles II. He started building on both his estates at Hamstead Marshall and Ashdown on his return.
Lord Craven lived until the age of 87. He was a friend and comrade in arms of Prince Rupert of the Rhine, and was the executor of Rupert's will and guardian of his daughter Ruperta. He remained a loyal servant of the Stuarts throughout his life.

Who lived in a house like this?

Ashdown House is sometimes called "the house built for the love of a woman who never lived to see it." The lady in question was Elizabeth of Bohemia, the Winter Queen, daughter of King James I of England and sister of Charles I.

Elizabeth was born in 1596 in Scotland, before her father succeeded Queen Elizabeth I to the throne of England. She spent much of her childhood in the care of the Harington family at Coombe Abbey in Warwickshire. It was from there that the gunpowder plotters planned to seize Elizabeth and put her on the throne as a puppet queen after blowing up her father and brother in the Houses of Parliament. Elizabeth's response to the failed plan was that she would rather have died alongside her father than been Queen of England.

She married at the age of 16 to Frederick, the Elector Palatine, a political Protestant match that nevertheless turned out to be very happy. Elizabeth and Frederick lived in Heidelberg in present day Germany before Frederick was offered the throne of the Kingdom of Bohemia in 1619. He ruled for one year only before being defeated at The Battle of the White Mountain by the forces of the Holy Roman Emperor. It is from this time that it is said Elizabeth and Frederick gained their titles of The Snow King and The Winter Queen because they melted away before the spring came. Forced into exile, they lived in the Netherlands and raised their growing family there. Frederick campaigned unsuccessfully for the return of the Palatine lands and died in 1632.

It was during her exile in The Hague that Elizabeth met William Craven, who was to become one of her most ardent supporters. It was Craven who offered Elizabeth the use of his house in Drury Lane, London, when she first returned to England after the Restoration of her nephew, King Charles II in 1660. It is also said that Craven conceived the idea of building a hunting lodge for Elizabeth on one of his Berkshire estates. Work started on Ashdown House in 1661 but sadly Elizabeth did not live to see the finished house. She died in London in February 1662.

More about Elizabeth anon. But if she didn't live in a house like this - who did?