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Woodstock Palace: Once a Royal Residence and Jail

Woodstock Palace in Oxfordshire, England was a royal hunting lodge, birthplace of princes and a Tudor jail. It's been lost in history.

Woodstock Palace, a former manor house and hunting lodge was used by English royalty until the 18th century.

Woodstock Palace, a former manor house and hunting lodge was used by English royalty until the 18th century.

Woodstock Palace

Woodstock Palace, formerly known as Woodstock Manor, was situated in Oxfordshire in the quintessentially English rolling hills. The palace provided a hunting lodge and residence for the royal family from the 13th century until the early 18th when the Stuart queen Anne made a gift of the land that it stood on to John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough. This was his reward for victory at the Battle of Blenheim. He and his wife Sarah commissioned the opulent Blenheim Palace. The old Woodstock Palace was razed to the ground because it spoilt their view of the rural idyll.

In Anglo-Saxon, the name Woodstock meant “wood place” or “clearing in the woods”. We have no proof that the Anglo-Saxons constructed or used a property at Woodstock although rumours that Alfred the Great visited persisted long enough to be considered possibly accurate.

Oxford & Woodstock, Oxfordshire

Norman and Plantagenet History

It’s claimed that when William the Conqueror and the Normans arrived in England in 1066 they appreciated the location of the then manor house. It was central enough to act as a gateway to several provincial areas.

The hunting available provided another major draw for the royals and their courtiers, most notably during King Henry I's 12th-century reign. The public was not allowed to hunt on the substantial acreage around the manor because it lay in a forest claimed as royal territory.

King Henry II created the Borough of New Woodstock and upgraded the manor to a palace. He chose to conduct business at the palace but he normally slept nearby in the Moorish-inspired property "Rosamund’s" in a cluster of buildings set around the Everwell spring. Henry II’s mistress was named Rosamund Clifford, hence the name.

Although contemporary floor plans no longer exist it is believed that Woodstock Palace had an outer and inner courtyard and it was unusual in that both the king and queen of the day had separate great halls. The manor house had a wall around it to deter anyone from stealing into the royal domain.

King Henry II often spent the night at Rosamund's rather than in Woodstock Palace.

King Henry II often spent the night at Rosamund's rather than in Woodstock Palace.

Notable Woodstock Palace Events

  • Woodstock Palace was the site of some notable royal births including Edward, the Black Prince who was also known as Edward of Woodstock. He was the son of King Edward III. He died in 1376 before he became king.
  • The Lancastrian king Henry VI commissioned a round stone tower for himself at the palace but in the power struggle that was the Wars of the Roses, he was not able to enjoy it. By the time the construction was completed his enemy King Edward IV, a House of York ruler was comfortably sitting on the throne of England.
  • The first Tudor monarch Henry VII added a gatehouse and jewel house to the existing palace and he carried out extensive repairs. He found that Woodstock was well located for his royal progresses, giving him a home away from home as he travelled around his realm. Henry VIII used it for the same purpose.
  • In the 1550’s Queen Mary I, “Bloody Mary”, had Elizabeth her half-sister and the future Elizabeth I incarcerated for 4 years in the palace’s gatehouse after news of a coup reached her. Possibly, Elizabeth lived in the palace as well but the commonly held belief is that the cramped gatehouse was her jail. Her health suffered in the damp conditions. She etched a message on one of the windows to confirm her presence at Woodstock for future generations:

“Much suspected by me,
Nothing proved can be,
Quoth Elizabeth prisoner.”

Although this period can’t have held pleasant memories for her when she was the queen she happily returned to the palace and it became one of her favourite residences.

Blenheim Palace: On the grounds a plinth marks the position of Woodstock Palace.

Blenheim Palace: On the grounds a plinth marks the position of Woodstock Palace.

  • Woodstock Palace provided royals with a safer location to evade the plagues that came all too frequently throughout history. Nobody who could flee London elected to stay there when fresh air and the countryside were on offer in Oxfordshire.
  • King James I (VI of Scotland) awarded the palace to his eldest son Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales. A banqueting hall was added in the early 1600s but the prince died in 1612 which is why Charles I, his brother, became Britain's next ruler.
  • During the English Civil Wars, Woodstock Palace found itself in the storm of fighting. Oxford, the Royalist’s weakening base was a short distance away. The Woodstock lands and properties were garrisoned in 1646 and after almost three weeks of combat and siege, the beleaguered Royalists surrendered to the Parliamentarians. The locals used materials from the palace to repair their own homes and premises.
  • During the interregnum under Oliver Cromwell and his son Richard, Woodstock was rented out to Parliamentarian figures.
  • With the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 King Charles II reclaimed Woodstock as royal property. Charles, James II (VII of Scotland), William III and Mary II rarely visited their Oxfordshire pile.

Position of Blenheim Palace

Woodstock Palace Makes Way for Blenheim Palace

Queen Anne decided to present the manor of Woodstock to the victorious John Churchill after the Battle of Blenheim. John and his ambitious wife Sarah created the 1st Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, and spent the next two decades designing, arguing with their architect Sir John Vanbrugh, erecting and dismantling sections of their new home. Renowned landscaper Capability Brown significantly altered the vista by creating waterfalls, lakes and sweeping lawns. On the Marlboroughs' instructions, he destroyed the once-valued and—by then—less-grand Woodstock Palace.

Today a plinth marks the position of the long-lost Woodstock Palace on Blenheim's grounds.

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Joanne Hayle