Ashdown House and the love story of William Craven, 1st Earl of Craven and Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia, the Winter Queen

William Craven and Elizabeth Stuart

William Craven and Elizabeth Stuart

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, 1st Earl of Craven

William, 1st Earl of Craven

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.

Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia

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

Ashdown House

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.

Ashdown House

Ashdown House

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.

Ashdown House Gardens

Ashdown House Gardens

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

Discover hours of period drama (2)


The Lost Love of Soldier ~ The Prequel

The Illicit Love of a Courtesan  

The Passionate Love of a Rake

The Scandalous Love of a Duke

The Dangerous Love of a Rogue 

The Secret Love of a Gentleman  

The Reckless Love of an Heir 

The Tainted Love of a Captain 

Jane’s books can be ordered from booksellers in ebook or paperback

This week I’m slipping back a couple of centuries to 2nd July 1644 with a story about a formidable woman of the age, Jane Ingleby and Oliver Cromwell

Ripley Castle

I discovered this story at Ripley Castle in Yorkshire, a family owned property which is still owned by Jane Ingleby’s family descendents.

So Jane Inglyby’s story. Her brother, Sir William Ingleby (1620-1682), owned Ripley Castle at the time, although it was not truly a castle but more a fortified manor. But the important fact about Jane and her family at the time was that they were Catholic’s and staunch Royalists. Therefore when Prince Rupert sought to gather an army locally, in defence of Charles I, to raise the siege of York against the parliamentary army, of course Sir William Ingleby participated and drew together a troop of those who could ride and were willing to fight from Ripley village. This was not unusual as the Civil War ravaged the whole of England and families were forced to take sides and fight for or against the king. (My last blogs on Stoneleigh Abbey, Jane Austen’s ancestral home, included a story from the Civil War when Charles I took refuge there, most stately homes and castles have some Civil War story unless they were built after that time).

The difference in this little gem of a story though is that in true historical romance heroine style Jane Ingleby, Sir William Ingleby’s sister, rode into battle with the troop of horse William had gathered, dressed as a man and wearing full amour, determined as any other to fight for the cause she believed in – Charles I.

However Prince Rupert’s army never reached York. Instead they were intercepted by William Cromwell and the Parliamentarians. The battle at first went the way of the Royalists, in fact they almost won but then they made an error and did not press forward a success and rout the Parliamentarians after they’d gained the advantage. Cromwell’s army regrouped and came back at the Royalists and won the battle of Marston Moor with a shattering defeat of the Royalists. This was one of the most notable battles of the Civil War.

The door Cromwell entered through

Both Jane and her brother William survived and fled back to Ripley Castle with Oliver Cromwell on their heels, chasing the stragglers from the field of the battle to bring them to justice and to gain still more ground. Jane and her brother made it home scarce minutes before Cromwell arrived and knocked on the narrow tower door which led into the oldest part of the house. As it was now dark he was seeking to commandeer their property for the night so he and his army might rest there. He was unaware whether or not the family had fought at Marston and Jane and her brother certainly did not wish him to know they had otherwise they’d lose their lives and their property, leaving William’s family unprotected. Of course Jane’s brother could not answer the door, as a known Royalist, Cromwell would have arrested him on sight. So William raced upstairs and hid in the priest’s hole in the room above. But they could not not answer the door. Cromwell would most certainly turn to aggression if they did not open it. So Jane opened the door, hiding a wound and holding two pistols.

The tower Jane spent the night in with Cromwell

Guardedly she then negotiated with the sworn enemy she had fought in battle against only an hour before. She refused to give him and his senior men a bed for the night but she could not infer she was hiding her brother in case Cromwell chose to ransack the house. Nor could she blatantly refuse to given him any hospitality otherwise again he might turn to hostility. So she claimed to fear only for her own person (which I am sure she did fear for too, with a whole army flooding into the courtyard of their small manor). She displayed her lack of trust and expressed her fear for her chastity and thus excused her refusal to allow him a bed. What she agreed was that his men may occupy the outbuildings, barns and stables and the open space of the courtyard. While he might sleep in a chair in what is now the library the first room in the house providing she was allowed to keep her pistols and sit opposite him to ensure he made no false move.

Jane must have been formidable because Cromwell actually agreed, and they spent a night together in that dark room with only low flickering candlelight and Jane fighting to stay awake and watch Oliver Cromwell as he slept slumped in an upright chair. While she knew her brother must be curled up hidden in the hole cut into the stone wall above usually used to hide their priest, tucked away behind the wooden panelling and wondering what was happening downstairs.

It must have seemed like days not hours, and she must have contemplated shooting him, but then she’d have known his army would sweep in and kill her and likely find her brother and kill him too. She must have either feared death then or loved her brother intensely otherwise she’d have taken the opportunity to possibly win the war for the crown. But why would she not have loved her brother when in the 1600s she had gained enough of his respect that he would let her dress as a man and fight with him.

The entrance Cromwell’s army would have poured through

When the grey light of dawn first crept into the room she must have felt her heart pound and known a sweeping rush of relief to think her ordeal nearly over.

Ripley Castle Gatehouse

In the morning Cromwell’s army left, but not before he had taken the opportunity to make a point and shoot some of his Royalist prisoners from the battle the day before, standing them up against the gatehouse and executing them in cold blood. The bullet holes are still there to prove the family story which has passed down generations is true.

Jane Ingleby never married and remained dependent on her brother but lived a long healthy life and probably entertained her nephew and nieces and their children with this story for years.

Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories.

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