There is no evidence which links William and Elizabeth bar circumstantial facts but the circumstantial evidence, as you’ll hear in this story, is very strong.
William Craven came from a poor merchant ancestry but his father built his business up and made a fortune which set William up to be able to change his life entirely. Like Jane Austen’s relative which I blogged about the other week, William was another Dick Whittington style character who became Lord Mayor of London in 1610, but that was no where near his greatest acclaim.
William’s family fortune raised him up in the world at a time the Royals needed money. He made his name as a soldier not fighting in England but fighting on the continent for Frederick V, Elector of Palantine, King of Bohemia. Frederick’s fight to keep Bohemia was unsuccessful and so he fled to Holland and the safety of the Hague with his wife and family. It was at some point in this early association with Frederick, William Craven met King Frederick V’s wife, Elizabeth Stuart, sister to King Charles I of England, a renowned beauty of her time and I assume he fell in love. Certainly the first fact we know to prove this, is that he stayed abroad and supported Elizabeth financially when Frederick died in 1632. But William equally invested his fortune in Elizabeth’s brother King Charles I making donations from his vast fortune to aid the Royalists through the Civil War in England. So perhaps he is just a Royalist you may think. William did have his lands in England confiscated when the Royalists lost and King Charles was beheaded.
Perhaps he was just generous and kind, after all someone must help the Queen of Bohemia and sister of the King of England to survive when she is living in a foreign land in exile with no financial support – and we know William did support her because there are letters in existence of Elizabeth writing to him and pleading poverty, declaring a lack of candles and meat to feed her children. It could be kindness.
Well perhaps what happens when Elizabeth returns to England might convince you a little more than kindness was involved? William Craven returned at the time of the restoration with King Charles II. William is now a close friend and confident of the whole Stuart family, though I am sure his fortune played a part in their return devotion. Feeling vulnerable in his recently restored status King Charles II refused to fund the return and keep of his Aunt Elizabeth, the Winter Queen, afraid of draining the Royal purse with the extravagances of hangers on and getting his head chopped off. So who pays for her return? William Craven of course – that in itself may not be any implication, but what is, is that when Elizabeth returned to England she moved into his home in London and resided there with him.
Some historians believe they married in secret but there is no proof they did. Yet it was exceptional for a woman to live in a man’s house, while he was also living there, unmarried.
The final evidence I have of William’s and Elizabeth’s bond is Ashdown House which still stands on a hill in Wiltshire, high up on the chalk downs near the ancient Ridgeway.
Ashdown House is one of two houses William built for Elizabeth, this being the lesser of the two, a hunting lodge for them to ride away to for long weekends, ‘a nest for the lovers perhaps.’ The other house he built for her was a lavish mansion to rival the continental palaces, at Hamstead Marshall, so she might feel like the Queen she was again. Both properties were built in white stone, and designed to catch the female eye with beauty and satisfy Elizabeth’s every whim. Wether there was a love affair or not, William Craven was certainly devoted to Elizabeth. Sadly Elizabeth died before Ashdown was finished and Hamstead Marshall even begun, she never saw either property but she left William her own portrait and the portraits of her children in her will. These now hang at Ashdown House which is open to the public.
Now you might still be sceptical over whether or not there was a physical relationship between them and as I said at the beginning there is no actual evidence they were lovers in a physical sense, but then let’s throw the design of Ashdown into the mix. The whole place is a phallic symbol, and there are many hidden sexual references and innuendo in its design and decoration. Lord Craven was a life loving man. He lived hard and he played hard. He held many formal offices during King Charles II’s reign and we know he played hard with Charles II, who was a frequent visitor at Ashdown once it was built (the wine cellar, which is larger than the footings of the house is testament to the parties they held at Ashdown). Records of the time note William’s bawdy language but also note he remained in London to help manage the burials of plague victims when others deserted the city in fear, and he helped plan how to stop the fire of London in 1666.
Now tell me this man, who builds a whole house in the shape of a phallic symbol for a woman he has been devoted to for years, is going to bring her there for long weekends of hunting and not take her to his bed, or get in to hers. Let us also remember the court at the time under King Charles II’s reign. I wrote a blog a little while ago after visiting Hampton Court Palace on the portraits of the Ladies in Waiting there –
It seems to me that in the culture of the time it would be extremely more unlikely Elizabeth and William’s relationship was chaste than it was a full blown affair of the heart and the bedroom. It is just such a shame that Elizabeth was never able to stand on the roof and watch the hunt and see what a perfect little hideaway William had created for them.
I’ll leave you to work out the phallic impressions in Ashdown House yourselves.
Another story next week
The Marlow Intrigues
The Lost Love of Soldier ~ The Prequel
The Illicit Love of a Courtesan
The Secret Love of a Gentleman
Jane’s books can be ordered from booksellers in ebook or paperback
4 thoughts on “Ashdown House and the love story of William Craven, 1st Earl of Craven and Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia, the Winter Queen”
Dear Ms. Lark, I am very intrigued with your insight into Elizabeth Stuart’s “life after Frederic”. I am searching for information of English persons in her household while living in Hanover before her father’s death and the Hague both just after her marriage to her death. Would you have any insite on this aspect of her life?
Hi Meredith, I’m really sorry, I don’t know much more than what’s in the post, so I’m sorry, I can’t help I’m afraid.
Hi great story, it’s actually part of my ancestry! Just wondering where did you found the information regarding this story. I’d love to find out more and even any way of contacting people who might know more about Ashdown House or Hamstead Marshall? trying to find family related to the Cravens.
Hi, Ashdown House is managed by the National Trust so you could ask them if they have more details, I also know there are a few books around on the history of the Cravens, but you would have to search for them.