The Savoy Palace was considered the grandest nobleman's townhouse of medieval London, being the residence of John of Gaunt until it was destroyed in the Peasants' Revolt of 1381. It lay between the Strand and the River Thames – the present Savoy Theatre and Savoy Hotel were named in its memory. In its locality the rule of law was different from the rest of London, which special jurisdiction was known as the Liberties of the Savoy.
In the Middle Ages, though there were many other noble palaces within the city walls, the most desirable location for housing the nobility was the Strand, which formed the majority of the principal ceremonial route between the City and the Palace of Westminster, where the business of parliament and the royal court was transacted. There a nobleman could also have water frontage on the Thames, the great ancient water highway, and be free of the stink, smoke and social tumult of the City of London downstream and generally downwind to the east, and its constant threat of fires.
Henry III had granted the land to the queen's uncle, Peter, Count of Savoy, whom he designated Earl of Richmond and gave all the land from the Strand to the Thames, in 1246. The mansion he built there later became the home of Prince Edmund, the Earl of Lancaster; his descendants, the Dukes of Lancaster, lived there throughout the next century. In the 14th century, when the Strand was paved as far as the Savoy, it was the vast riverside London residence of John of Gaunt, a younger son of King Edward III who had inherited by marriage the title and lands of the Dukes of Lancaster. He was the nation's power broker and in his time the richest person in the kingdom. The Savoy was the most magnificent nobleman's mansion in England. It was famous for its owner's magnificent collection of tapestries, jewels and ornaments. Geoffrey Chaucer began writing The Canterbury Tales while working at the Savoy Palace as a clerk.
During the Peasants' Revolt led by Wat Tyler in 1381, the rioters, who blamed John of Gaunt for the introduction of the poll tax that had precipitated the revolt, systematically demolished the Savoy and everything in it. What could not be smashed or burned was thrown into the river. Jewellery was pulverised with hammers, and it was said that one rioter found by his fellows to have kept a silver goblet for himself was killed for doing so. Despite this, the name Savoy was retained by the site.
The grand structure was the most impressive hospital of its time in the country and the first to benefit from permanent medical staff. It closed in 1702 and in the 19th century the old hospital buildings were demolished.
The Masters of the Savoy were:
- 1517 William Hogill
- 1551 Robert Bowes
- 1556 Ralph Jackson
- 1559-1570 Thomas Thurland
- 1594-1602 William Mount
- 1602 Richard Neale
- 1608 George Montaigne
- 1618 Walter Balconquall
- 1618-1621 Marc Antonio de Dominis
- 1621 Walter Balconquall
- 1645-1658? John Bond
- 1658–1660 William Hooke
- 1660 Thomas Warmestry
- 1661-1663 Gilbert Sheldon
- 1663-1697 Henry Killigrew
- 1697-1699 Samuel Pratt
The only hospital building to survive the 19th century demolition was its hospital chapel, dedicated to St John the Baptist. It once hosted a German Lutheran congregation, and is now again in Church of England use as the church for the Duchy of Lancaster and Royal Victorian Order. Before taking up folk music, the young Martin Carthy was a chorister here.
The Savoy is remembered in the names of the Savoy Hotel and the Savoy Theatre which stand on the site. Many of the nearby streets are also named for the Savoy: Savoy Buildings, Court, Hill, Place, Row, Street and Way. Savoy Place is the London headquarters of the Institution of Engineering and Technology.
- "Richard D'Oyly Carte", Lyric Opera San Diego website
- "VCH: "Hospital of the Savoy"". British-history.ac.uk. 2003-06-22. Retrieved 2011-12-21.
- "Hospitals - Hospital of the Savoy | A History of the County of London: Volume 1 (pp. 546-549)". British-history.ac.uk. 2003-06-22. Retrieved 2011-12-21.
- Wright, Stephen. "Bond, John". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/2826. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
- Moore, Susan Hardman. "Hooke, William". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/13688. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)