The manor was in the gift of the Crown, and was held by numerous nominees of the Crown until 1466 when Lady Margaret Beaufort and her third husband, Sir Henry Stafford obtained the Manor by royal grant. Margaret Beaufort was the mother of Henry VII of England.
The first mention of a house on the site is in 1272. There is also later recorded use by Lady Margaret Beaufort, her son Henry VII and her grandson Henry VIII. Woking Manor House was converted into a palace by Henry VII in 1503 and was subsequently remodelled by Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. The site comprises buried and exposed ruins of its old buildings on a cut and grazed water meadow.
It was held by numerous nominees of the Crown until 1466 when Lady Margaret Beaufort and her third husband (of four), Sir Henry Stafford obtained the Manor by royal grant. Depicted as the successful, unlikely kingmaker in The Red Queen (Gregory novel) by historian Philippa Gregory, she regularly figures at the Palace. She rose to prominence through astute marriages and through careful co-campaigning instilled the Tudor dynasty. She then founded many educational and religious institutions, such as Christ's College, Cambridge and St John's College, Cambridge. Her son was Henry VII of England. Historians differ on whether her House of Lancaster forces, close alliances and efforts contributed more to her success than mistakes, betrayals and unpopularity of Richard III of England. Her son's first parliament recognised for her a right to hold property independently from her husband, as if she were unmarried, exempting her from coverture. Towards the end of her son's reign she was given a special commission to administer justice in the north of England.
The palace was moated and can be separated into four parts: north east quadrant; the medieval barrel vault and the King's Hall, built by Henry VII in 1508, in the south east; the King's Garden on the south west; and the Copse to the north west, once the orchard. Woking Borough Council, as custodians, have built a protective roof over the barrel vault, installed a lockable door and carried out protective repairs to the remaining Tudor wall. The King's Garden was originally a formal kitchen garden but is now a rough meadow. The Copse contains two large linear fish ponds and a smaller round pond. The moat is on three sides whilst the River Wey enclosed the site on the fourth side.
Henry VIII often visited Woking Palace and throughout his reign it underwent regular maintenance as well as some alterations. Additions approved commissioned by him included a new wharf by the river Wey and two new bowling alleys. Maintenance works included the replacement of bridge planks, alterations to room partitions, plastering and painting, replacement of glass in windows, retiling of roofs and fireplaces, and, the installation of new windows. James I and VI granted the estate to knight marshal Sir Edward Zouch in 1620 who may well have allowed its remains to be plundered to build his new mansion nearly a mile away, Hoe Bridge Place. By the reign of Charles II (1660-1685), the palace appears to have been abandoned and virtually ruined. Zouch was one of the proprietors of the Plymouth Colony in America and the North Virginia Company. He was first keeper of Woking Park, including the Palace, and in 1620 acquired it from a cash-strapped crown for a rent of £100 a year and the duty of serving the first dish to the king on a feast on St James's Day. The king when at Oatlands Palace often came to Hoe Bridge Place for revels with Zouch playing the fool, singing bawdy songs and telling bawdy tales. In 1631, not long before he died, his tenants set forth a long list of grievances and exploitations by Zouch, and after contributing to the maintenance of Old Woking church, his will requested that he was to be buried at night.
The Portable Antiquities Scheme records cover many finds, including those subject to the Treasure Act 1996, creating the criminal offence of not declaring finds of precious metals, prehistoric base metal, and finds in association with them.
The public record for the site as at 2020 comprises:
- a 1400 to 1550 gold brooch/pin set with a fleur de lys made from amethyst (an inlay).
- a "close parallel" to a c.1750-1900 copper alloy object, perhaps originally cylindrical and in the form of a lid, with a lead or solder filling. The parallelled object bears the image of a horse prancing to the left.
Preservation, visitor facilities and future work
Woking Palace has been critiqued among royal sites of the pre-16th century as an "excellent survival", highly diverse, with large archaeological potential spanning the island and the waterlogged moats. A high "amenity value" in legal planning terms (see listed building) attaches to the site equating to its relatively important national historic, architectural and archaeological values.
The site is designated a Scheduled Ancient Monument (under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended by the in 1983). It is owned by Woking Borough Council.
- Arlene Okerlund, Elizabeth: England's Slandered Queen, Stroud: Tempus, 2006, p. 245.
- Jones & Underwood, 187.
- Barbara J. Harris, "Women and Politics in Early Tudor England", The Historical Journal, 33:2, 1990, p. 259.
- The history of the King's Works, volume 4 : 1485-1660 (Part 2) H M Colvin and others, 1982, London at pages 344-348
- Historic England. "Woking Palace moated site, fishponds and ruins at Oldhall Copse. Designation Type: Scheduling (1019366)". National Heritage List for England.
- Woking Palace Pastscape interactive summaries by statutory body Historic England.
- Friends of Woking Palace
- Woking Historical Society