Hatfield before Hatfield House, Part 3

Hatfield before Hatfield House –

the Medieval Manor of the Bishops of Ely

Part 1 and Part 2 of Hatfield before Hatfield House explained how the Bishops of Ely came to hold the estate and how the park and township developed.  Part 3 will deal with the medieval manor of the bishops of Ely at Hatfield.

It is known that the bishops of Ely had a substantial house at Hatfield from early on, though we don’t know exactly when it was first built or what it looked like. [i]

Royal Visitors

The Ely clergy had probably quickly realised that the estate in Hatfield was not only a good source of timber and income, but also a convenient stop-over place during journeys to and from London (the distance from Hatfield to Westminster is approx. 20 miles = 32 km).

The bishop’s manor at Hatfield offered comfortable accommodation for the clergy.  However, it also welcomed royal and other high status visitors.  King John came on Saturday, 26 March 1211, while travelling from Bristol to London.  He seems to have stayed over the weekend and arrived in the capital on Monday, 28 March 1211.[ii]

Edward I spent a few days in February 1303 at Hatfield and Edward II came in July 1309.  Edward III seems to have appreciated the place particularly and came fairly often.  Some say, he even celebrated Christmas there in 1336, but the itinerary in Ormrod’s Edward III states that it was rather Hatfield in Yorkshire.  This fits, as he was the days before in Doncaster.  After the Christmas period, he seems to have gone south, as he was on 5 January at the Tower of London.  According to Ormrod, Edward was also in the Hatfield in Yorkshire from 28 January to 2 February, and again 14-18 February 1337. However, given that he stayed for the rest of January and February in and around London, I think it is more likely that this was the Hatfield in Hertfordshire.[iii]


We know of one uninvited visitor, who behaved very badly.  William de Valence, the half-brother of Henry III, held Hertford Castle, but also a park directly to the east of the Great Park of Hatfield (Gacelyn’s Park, established before 1300).  In 1252, he strayed out of his own park and went hunting in the Hatfield park without permission.  This was probably in the private Middle Park, which very likely was used for breeding deer.  Obviously hunting the deer, before it was old enough to be released in the Great Park, was not acceptable.

Hatfield before Hatfield House, Part 3

Medieval wine casks

This illegal hunting must have been thirsty business. William and his entourage went to the manor and demanded something to drink.  The servants refused to give him anything stronger than beer. William was furious.  Maybe he had already had too much by the time he arrived, and the servants just acted responsibly by not giving him anything stronger.  Whatever the reason, William proceeded to break open the door of the buttery and ransacked the bishop’s wine cellar.  He took out the taps of the casks and spilled a great quantity of good wine.  The best wines he could find, he drank and shared them around among his grooms.  In this episode, William de Valance comes across as rather arrogant.

Deaths and Births

Several bishops of Ely died at Hatfield:  John Barnet on 7 June 1397, Philip Morgan on 25 October 1434, and Louis de Luxembourg on 18 September 1443.

However, Hatfield was not only a place of death and royal misdemenour. There are three births for which Hatfield, Herts. has been suggested, though at least two of them are controversial.

The first is William of Hatfield, a son of Edward III, who was born on 16 February 1337.  As discussed above, it is likely that his father was in Hertforshire at the time, and if his mother accompanied Edward, he would have been born there.  On the other hand, his mother gave an annual thank-offering to Roche Abbey, which is close to Hatfield in Yorkshire.  The offering was transferred to York Minster, when William was buried there.  This might boost Yorkshire’s claim, where she may have stayed on while her husband set off to the south on his own.[iv]

It is rather probable that Jasper Tudor was born at “our” Hatfield, c.1431.  He was the second son of Owen Tudor and Catherine of Valois, widow of Henry V.  Jasper would later be mentor of his nephew Henry Tudor (Henry VII). Catherine is known to have spent time in Hertfordshire. Jasper’s older brother Edmund was born at Much Hadham, Herts., which belonged to the bishop of London.[v]

Ten years later, on 10 February 1441, Cecily Neville, wife of Richard, duke of York, gave birth to a son, who is referred to as Henry of Hatfield.  He died while still a baby.  Had he lived, he would have been an older brother to Edward IV and Richard III.  Again there is debate which Hatfield it was.  Some authors claim it was the one in Hertfordshire, while others maintain it was the Hatfield Chase.  It is possible that Cecily, like others before her, was travelling to or from London and stopped over at the house of the Bishop of Ely, and her son happened to be born there. Her husband was at that time preparing to take up the command in France for a second time, so he might very well have been in London, where his wife might have accompanied him. Someone in a chat group once suggested that Cecily stayed at Hatfield, while her husband was at court, as it was close enough for him to visit her.  (I quite enjoyed the mental image of this medieval commuter catching the train to King’s Cross in the morning or getting stuck in traffic on the A1(M) in his sports car.)

On the other hand, it might have been at the hunting lodge in Conisbrough in the Hatfield Chase, which was held in dower by Richard’s stepmother, Matilda Clifford, before he inherited it after her death 1446.[vi]  The duke of York might have had an interest in it before that date.

The author of the Annals, attributed to William of Worcester (1415-1482), says that Henry was born on 10 February at 5 o’clock in the morning at Hatfield.  In the immediately following paragraph, he talks about Edward (IV) being born in Rouen 14 months later, and that he was “conceived in the chamber next to the chapel of the palace of Hatfield.”[vii]  Obviously the author cannot possibly have known, where Edward was conceived, and also gives a lot of other somewhat superfluous information.  However, William was a contemporary and might very well have had some idea, where Cecily was when.   The birth of a son of the duke of York would have been an event he had heard about and would be correct in identifying it.   If he states that Cecily was at the relevant time of Edward’s conception at “the palace of Hatfield”, this expression most likely refers to the manor of the bishops of Ely.  And as he does seem to indicate that the place of Henry’s birth was the same as the one of Edward’s conception, it would follow that this was also Hatfield in Hertfordshire.*

The Manor

In 1292, the house, which existed then, was extended, after obtaining permission to divert a pathway from the churchyard to a field called Osmundescroft, so that they could have a bigger courtyard.  From this description it has been concluded that this early house was in the same spot where what is now known as the ‘Old Palace’ stands.

A survey in 1396 found that the house was in a poor condition.  It was evidently a large timber-framed building, with farm-buildings, a granary, dove-house, and vines in a ‘little garden’.  After the survey, repairs were carried out and completed by the time Jasper Tudor was born here in 1431.  By then, the manor at Hatfield was again in a state to offer comfortable accommodation.

Vines in the little garden

I was quite intrigued by the mention of vines.  There is still a vineyard at Hatfield House, but this was only created in 1611 (at the time when the present Hatfield House was built.  This vineyard contained 30,000 vines, some the gift of the queen of France, which were planted and managed by Frenchmen. Unfortunately, “Despite this specialist input there are no records of a single bottle of wine ever being produced!”[viii]

The mention of vines as part of the medieval manor indicates that there was an earlier vineyard, though I have not been able to find any other reference to it.  Along with other monastic houses, especially in southern England, the abbey of Ely is known to have had vineyards. The Domesday Book records that there was a vineyard at their house in Ely. Indeed, the vineyard of Ely abbey is regarded as “the most significant vineyard”, and Ely was referred to as the “Isle de Vignes’. It is known that the bishop of Ely received wine as “tithes from the vines in his diocese”.  There was also a vineyard at Ely Place in London.[ix]  Therefore, it seems likely that the bishops had a vineyard at their estate in Hatfield, too.  Maybe the wine wasted by William de Valence was a special Hatfield Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon?

Unfortunately, nothing remains of the medieval manor (or its vineyard).  Towards the end of the 15th century, It was replaced with the ‘Old Palace’, which we shall look at in Part 4.

* In the Ricardian Bulletin (March 2017, p.34), Joanna Laynesmith, Research Officer of the Richard III Society, argues that the place of Henry of Hatfield’s birth was the bishop of Ely’s palace in Hertfordshire.  It seems Henry died at Fotheringhay and was also buried there. (added 20 March 2017)

Hatfield before Hatfield House

Part 1: the Anglo-Saxons and Ely
Part 2: the Park and Township at Hatfield
Part 4:  the 15th century ‘Old Palace’



[i] Unless otherwise stated, the sources for this post are: ‘Parishes: Hatfield’, in A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 3, ed. William Page (London, 1912), pp. 91-111.  URL:  http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/herts/vol3/pp91-111 [last accessed 9 March 2016]; ‘Bishop’s Hatfield’, in An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Hertfordshire (London, 1910), pp. 52-62. British History Online.  URL:   http://www.british-history.ac.uk/rchme/herts/pp52-62  [last accessed 22 March 2016]; Emery, A., ‘Hatfield Palace, Hertfordshire’, Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales, 1300-1500: East Anglia, Central England, and Wales.  Cambridge University Press, 2000, pp 253-255;  Rowe, A., Medieval Parks of Hertfordshire.  University of Hertfordshire Press, Hatfield, 2009, pp.108-19; Thompson, I., ‘Hatfield’, Extensive Urban Survey, English Heritage (2005). Available at URL:  http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archiveDS/archiveDownload?t=arch-436-1/dissemination/pdf/hatfield.pdf [last accessed 16 March 2016]

[ii] Hardy, T.D., A Description of the Patent Rolls in the Tower of London: To which is Added an Itinerary of King John, with Prefatory Observations. 1835

[iii] Ormrod, W.M., Edward III.  Yale University Press, 2014 (first published 2011)

[iv] Drake, F., Eboracum:  or the history and antiquities of the City of York.  London, 1736, p.490

[v] Thomas, R.S., ‘Tudor, Jasper , duke of Bedford (c.1431–1495)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2008 [last accessed online 20 March 2016]; Skidmore, C., Bosworth: The Birth of the Tudors.  Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2013, pp.9-10

[vi] The History and Antiquities of Thorne, with Some Account of the Drainage of Hatfield Chase.  S. Whaley, 1829, pp.23-4; ‘Manor of Conisbrough’, National Archives.  URL:  http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/rd/d4693f1a-85a9-426a-a5d2-eed6e9b26a09 [last accessed 28 March 2016]

[vii] Annales Rerum Anglicarum of William of Worcester, in J. Stevenson, ed., Letters and Papers Illustrative of the Wars of the English in France during the Reign of Henry VI King of England, 2 vols, Rolls Series, London, 1861-64, II, part 2, p.763, quoted and translated: Jennifer C. Ward, Women of the English Nobility and Gentry, 1066-1500.  Manchester University Press, 1995, p.58; Nicholas Orme, ‘Worcester, William (1415–1480×85)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2006 [last accessed online 18 March 2017]

[viii] Hatfield House, ‘Park walks – Red Walk’.  URL:  http://www.hatfield-house.co.uk/18/Park-Walks [last accessed 5 April 2016]

[ix] McLeod, J.M., In a Unicorn’s Garden: Recreating the mystery and magic of medieval gardens.  Murdoch Books, 2008, p.189; Tarr, R.J., ‘The History of English Wine’, English Wine.  URL:  http://www.english-wine.com/history.html#domesday [last accessed 7 April 2016]; Thornbury, W., ‘Ely Place’, in Old and New London: Volume 2 (London, 1878), pp. 514-526. Available at British History Online URL:  http://www.british-history.ac.uk/old-new-london/vol2/pp514-526 [last accessed 5 April 2016]; Atkinson, T.D., et al, ‘City of Ely: The middle ages’, in A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 4, City of Ely; Ely, N. and S. Witchford and Wisbech Hundreds, ed. R B Pugh (London, 2002), pp. 33-40. Available at British History Online URL:   http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/cambs/vol4/pp33-40 [last accessed 5 April 2016]

2 thoughts on “Hatfield before Hatfield House, Part 3

  1. Pingback: The Manor of Ware | Dottie Tales

  2. Pingback: Richard III Society of NSW » Blog Archive Birth of Henry Plantagenet at Hatfield

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