EWELME - A ROMANTIC VILLAGE ITS PAST AND PRESENT. ITS PEOPLE AND ITS HISTORY.
EWELME UNDER THE TUDORS.
Henry VII, doubtless after having taken good stock of the amenities of Ewelme Manor, during his self-proposed visit to Edmund de la Pole before the latter's banishment, decided that it would be well-fitted for a country retreat, later on to be converted into a Royal Palace. In fact, it may have become to the King a sort of Naboth's vineyard. Shortly afterwards Henry found the excuse he wanted for the unfortunate Edmund's banishment, so that once more the estate became confiscate, and it was a simple matter for Henry to arrange to take over the Manor and grounds, to rebuild and enlarge the house and so convert it into an abode worthy to be a King's pleasance. Knowing Henry's economical turn of mind, however, we may be sure that he was careful not to lavish unnecessary expenditure on his new fancy. There was never anything grandiose or pompous about Ewelme Manor, even as a King's Palace (for it soon became known popularly as “Ewelme Palace ”), and it retained its simple charm as a dignified small country-house, and has remained so to this day, although it has now shrunk in size, and only retains a few relics of its former state.
After his father's death, Henry VIII seems to have inherited his father's liking for Ewelme and he first granted it as a residence to his sister Mary, the French King's widow, now married to Charles Brandon, the new Duke of Suffolk, whom she had married, so she told her brother “ to please herself having the first time married to please the King ”. The ill-fated Sir Henry Norris also held the Manor for a short time.
Later, in 1540, Henry, so says the chronicle, finding the Manor of Newelme (sic,-perhaps a contraction of “ in Ewelme ”) “ nigh and commodious to his castle of Wallingford ”, claimed it as a Royal Residence for himself, and he is known to have stayed there at least once, when on a progress with his fifth wife, young Katherine Howard. On one occasion it is recorded that he held a Privy Council at Ewelme on the 25th and 26th of August in 1540, Henry's name still lingers on in Ewelme village in the so-called “ King's Pool ” at the head of the brook (now a watercress-bed) and it is said that Henry used to bathe in the pool daily, perhaps because of the traditional healing virtue of the water which he may have thought might benefit the troublesome ulcer in his leg.
Edward VI granted the Manor of Ewelme to his sister, Princess Elizabeth, for her life, so that as a child and young girl she must often have visited Ewelme, and the venerable walnut tree still stands in the Manor grounds where legend in the village relates that she used to swing with her young companions.* It is also believed that she stayed for a time at the Manor under the care of her discarded step-mother, Anne of Cleves, who is known to have been on friendly terms with both Elizabeth and her sister, Mary. Mary especially remained devoted to her until Anne's death, sometime after Mary had become Queen, Elizabeth in later life was probably never again to know such carefree days and innocent gaiety as she had known as a child at Ewelme.
In later years, Elizabeth, now Queen, in the heyday of her splendour, visited Ewelme, probably more than once with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, who was then at the height of his favour with the Queen. We can imagine Elizabeth strolling with her “ Robin ” as she liked to call him, through the Manor grounds and paths, and perhaps, too, on the Common. We can picture them today as they walk in courtly fashion; Elizabeth, as ever splendidly robed with ruffs and farthingale complete, playing coyly with her fan, while Leicester strides by her side, in plumed hat, velvet cloak and doublet and sword, confident in his swaggering way of the Queen's affection. Indeed, there was in our time a lane in Ewelme still known as “ Love Lane ”; and when my father asked the meaning of the name he was told by an old villager - “ Lor' Sir, don't you know, they do say that's where Queen Elizabeth and that Lord Leicester, they did used to carry on shocking ”! Doubtless a true tradition, and characteristic of the great Gloriana's fancy for her one-time favourite,
There is, too, the authenticated story of Elizabeth's riding behind Leicester on pillion to visit the old Church of Aldworth on the Berkshire Downs above Streatley, which was famous then, as it still is, for its monuments of Crusaders and others, ancient even in Elizabeth's day. Ever since that renowned visit to the church, the tombs have remained unidentified as the list containing the names and history of the dead and details of the various monuments is said to have been missing from the church from that time. Presumably Elizabeth had regarded it as “ Crown Property ”!
Long after those happy days when Leicester had been superseded in favour by the young and foolish Essex, that unfortunate young man, after his fall from favour at court, lived for a time at Ewelme Lodge in semi-banishment when he was forbidden to return to the Queen's presence, and the Lord Treasurer, Burleigh, “ signified her Majesty's pleasure as to his liberty... only he is restrained from coming to court ”. And again later “ My Lord of Essex I hear is gone to Ewelme Lodge and at Michaelmas he will return to London to be a humble suitor to her Majesty's sight ”.
Later again, “ The Earl of Essex is at Ewelme not without hopes of some further grace shortly, and there are many arguments that state that the Queen begins to relent towards him and to wish him near her ” ... Poor deluded Essex --- yet it is believed that Essex was allowed to see her Majesty once more when afterwards she visited her Manor and Palace at Ewelme. In 1584 William Knollys was appointed by Elizabeth to be “ keeper of Ewelme Park and master of the wild beasts therein ” (These “ wild beasts ” were probably wild boars, foxes, and the like - Swyncombe = Swinescombe). - Sir Francis Knollys having held the same position before William. It is said of the noble families of Knollys and Norris that “ Queen Elizabeth loved the Knollys' themselves and the Norris for themselves ” - being sensible that she needed such martial men for her service. The Norris' got more honour abroad, the Knollys more profit at home, conversing constantly at court; and no wonder if they were warmest who sat next to the fire” (Fuller's Worthies). Sir Thomas Knollys, one time custodian of Mary Queen of Scots, also visited Ewelme Lodge, from whence he wrote a letter to Elizabeth. He was Member for Oxford during four sessions of Parliament towards the end of Elizabeth's reign.
A later Lord Knollys of Wallingford was in possession of Ewelme Park in 1619, after which time the connection of the Knollys family with Ewelme seems to have ceased.
After Elizabeth's reign, Ewelme never again enjoyed the same royal favour and became less frequented by the eminent ones of the realm, though throughout the later centuries it has always maintained a certain prestige, owing to its past history, and the perfect preservation of its ancient buildings, also to a certain local pride which has lingered on in its inhabitants, for they know they have a goodly heritage.