The Palace of Theobalds in the 17th century. Artists impression. (This image is arguably Nonsuch Palace and incorrectly attributed as Theobalds)
Theobalds House (also known as Theobalds Palace), located in what is now Cedars Park in the parish of Cheshunt in the English county of Hertfordshire, was a significant stately home and (later) royal palace of the 16th and early 17th centuries. Set in extensive parkland, it was a residence of statesmen Lord Burghley and his son, both leading royal advisers. James I enjoyed staying so much he acquired it from the Cecil family, further extending house and park. It was a notable example of the Elizabethan prodigy house, but was demolished as a result of the English Civil War.
A new mansion was built in the Georgian era further to the West: house and park were then acquired and the house extended by millionaire brewers the Meux family. For a time London's Temple Bar stood in the park. They are now a hotel and conference venue known as Theobalds Park; the house is a Grade II* listed building.
The manor was originally called Cullynges, later Tongs (after William de Tongge), and since 1440, Thebaudes, Tibbolds, and finally Theobalds. The original manor house was surrounded by a moat. In 1563, it was bought by William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, senior councillor of Queen Elizabeth I.
Lord Burghley commissioned a grand new house, which was built between 1564 and 1585. Burghley's intention in building the mansion was partly to demonstrate his increasingly dominant status at the Royal Court, and also to provide a palace fine enough to accommodate the Queen on her visits. The formal gardens of the house were modelled after the Château de Fontainebleau in France, the English botanist, John Gerard, acting as their superintendent. The Queen visited eight times, between 1572 and 1596. The location was ideal in that it lay just off the main road north from London to Ware, a 2.5 hour horse trot journey from London, and thus an ideal stop at the end of the first day of a royal tour.
Lord Burghley's younger son, Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, inherited the house, and after the Queen's death in 1603, arranged for the new king, James I, to stay on his way from Scotland to London, and receive homage from the Privy Council. In 1606, Cecil again entertained King James and his brother-in-law, King Christian IV of Denmark, at Theobalds. Both monarchs were notoriously heavy drinkers, and according to some of those present, the occasion was simply an orgy of drunkenness, as few English or Danish courtiers had their rulers' capacity to hold their drink: an attempt to put on a masque of Solomon and Sheba descended into a farce, as most of the players were too inebriated to remember their lines, or even to stand up.
In 1607, King James I acquired Theobalds in exchange for Hatfield Palace, also in Hertfordshire. It quickly became the King's favourite country residence. He died there on 27 March 1625. Later, after the execution in 1649 of his son, King Charles I, Theobalds was listed, amongst other royal properties, for demolition and disposal by the Commonwealth. This was achieved speedily, and by the end of 1650, the house was largely demolished. After the Restoration, the estate was granted to George Monck, 1st Duke of Albemarle, but reverted to the Crown after the death of the 2nd Duke of Albemarle, who left no heir.
Eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: the new house
It was then given by King William III to William Bentinck, 1st Earl of Portland and descended in that family until sold in 1762 by 3rd Duke of Portland to George Prescott, a merchant and MP. Prescott built a Georgian style mansion known as The Cedars about a mile to the west of the original palace.
The new house passed from the Prescott family to the Meux family of Meux's Brewery fame in about 1820, and they made extensive alterations and added extensions during the nineteenth century. These included a remodelled entrance based on Sir Christopher Wren's Temple Bar, which had been dismantled and stored in a yard at Farringdon Road. In 1888, it caught the eye of the beautiful (painted by Whistler) and eccentric Lady Meux (formerly a banjo-playing barmaid named Val); the gateway was purchased from the City of London and the 400 tons of stone was transported by horse-drawn carts to the park, where it was carefully rebuilt at a cost of £10,000. Lady Val Meux often entertained in the gateway's upper chamber; guests included King Edward VII and Winston Churchill.
When Sir Hedworth Lambton, the commander of the Naval Brigade at Ladysmith, returned to England, he called on Lady Meux at Theobalds to recount his adventures. She was so taken with him that she made him the chief beneficiary of her will, on condition that he change his surname to Meux (she was without direct heirs, and had been snubbed by her husband's family). When she died on 20 December 1910, he willingly changed his name by Royal Warrant, and inherited the Hertfordshire estate and a substantial interest in the Meux Brewery.
In 1921 part of the park, the site of the demolished Elizabethan mansion, was given to the town of Cheshunt by Meux and a public park, The Cedars, created. After his death in 1929, the house was a hotel for some years. During World War II, the house was used by the Royal Artillery and then by the Metropolitan Police as a riding school. Renamed to Theobalds House, in 1955 it became a secondary school and after 1969, an adult education centre. In the 1990s it was refurbished for use as a commercial conference centre and later converted to its current (2015) status as the Theobalds Park Hotel in the De Vere Venues chain. The Temple Bar had remained in the hands of the trustees of the Meux family estate and despite its status as a Scheduled Ancient Monument, had lapsed into decay. After a long campaign, it was decided to return it to the City in 2001. The arch was again dismantled, and was reconstructed on a site next to St Paul’s Cathedral. The project was completed in November 2004, and a commemorative plaque was placed in Theobalds Park.
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- Historic England. "THEOBALDS PARK COLLEGE (1348341)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 27 December 2015.
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- "'Theobalds', The Environs of London: volume 4: Counties of Herts, Essex & Kent".
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- "Commemorative Plaque | Temple Bar Gateway". Thetemplebar.info. Archived from the original on 2010-08-03. Retrieved 2013-08-10.