Pix & notes: Richmond Palace

The fifth book in my Francis Bacon mystery series, Let Slip the Dogs, takes place at Richmond Palace. Alas, the palace is long gone, so I had to rely on history books and re-creations.

“Richmond was the most orderly and most logical of buildings, and both in its plan and elevations was the perfect expression of the Tudor conception of a community household.” (Dunlop, see below.)

From the beginning

Henry VII

The Tudor monarchs needed a lot of palaces. They built a strong, central government, centered around the monarch. All power descended from the throne. Sure, there were still a few odd dukes or overweening earls out there running their own fiefdoms, but little by little, the Tudors cut their heads off or otherwise reined them in.

With everybody dangling in the monarch’s train all the time, the palace gets dirty, the privies fill up, and all the comestibles in the area get eaten. When that happens, you’ve got to pack up and move on down the river — or up. So they had many palaces along the Thames, from Greenwich to Richmond.

There was a manor house at Sheen, as Richmond was originally called, from the time of Edward I (1239-1307). Richard II made Sheen his primary residence, until his beloved Anne of Bohemia died and he had the place pulled down in his grief. Henry V (not a Tudor, a Plantagenet) started rebuilding it, calling it Sheen Palace, a terrible name. It sounds like a palace well-polished with Acme Palace Polisher.

In 1497, the place burned down. Henry VII (the first Tudor king) rebuilt it. He named it Richmond Palace after the title he inherited from his father, the Earl of Richmond, thus neatly separating it from past associations. Bordering on the magnificent Richmond Park, it was a favorite hunting retreat until the Commonwealth demolished it, selling off the parts. Philistines.

First impressions

Here is the only decent image of the palace as it was. This is an engraving made in 1765 by James Basire, “From an ancient Drawing in the Possession of the Earl of Cardigan, Sumptibus Societatis Antiquariorum, (at the expense of the Society of Antiquaries) London, MDCCLXV.” (Wikipedia.)

When you write mysteries, you study this sort of picture intently, wondering what’s inside those windows and how hard it would be to push someone out. I don’t do that in this book, but it’s always an option. I just think it would be kind of hard to get away with, as a murder method.

I also think it’s a little odd to have windows opening onto the lawn leading right down to the river. That seems very insecure to me. What’s in those rooms? Guards? Or meeting rooms? They must have a few of those, since the Privy Council traveled with the monarch and met every day.

That cone-shaped roof covers the giant kitchen. The crenelatted structure to its right is the Great Hall. See the high, arched windows? Queen Elizabeth dined in private, but she liked for everyone else to eat together in the hall. Now that would’ve been something! Many courtiers brought their own cooks, who had to jostle for working space in the great kitchen. Must have been a semi-controlled madhouse, worthy of its own story, which I have not (yet) written.

A bend in the river

Let’s get oriented. Richmond is southwest of London, more west than South. These days, Richmond is a very posh suburb with lots of chi-chi clothing shops and a pretzel place in the train station that’s worth checking out. The river walk is lined with outdoor cafes and is a lovely, lovely popular place to spend an evening. My book of walking tours has a dandy 5-mile walk that begins and ends in cafe land. I’ll do another post about Richmond Park soon.

So here’s the long view of Richmond. Note the sinuous shape of the Thames in this stretch of river.

See where it curves up again on the right edge? That’s going to take a sharper turn to the north, go past Westminster, and swing on around east again. Richmond, as we can see, is both north and south of the river — and east. There were no bridges down in here Bacon’s day; only London Bridge with its many tall houses far downstream. Most of your traffic in this zone was by boat. There were regular ferries at places like Twickenham.

You can see the vast green expanse of Richmond Park to the south. The green blob in the north is Kew Gardens, a fabulous retreat I’ve blogged about already. Wherry on up river (down on the map, confusingly) past Kingston upon Thames and you’ll take a sharp turn to the left/west, swing north again, and find yourself at Hampton Court Palace surrounded by more sumptuous greenery. That’s how it works. First you have centuries of overweening noblepersons pushing struggling cottagers off the best land; then you have a big world war and a major economic restructuring, and all these parks become, er, parks. Public parks, if you can afford to shlep yourself down here.

Richmond Green, standing in the street in front of the old gatehouse, I think.

Details and dimensions

Ian Dunlop (reference below) used many sources to reveal the contours of England’s lost palaces, including an anonymous description written in Henry VII’s reign and Francis Bacon’s biography of that same king. Bacon would have spent many days at Richmond Palace, and perhaps some nights. He had his own small lodge at Twickenham right across the river, so he could have commuted. I put him in a small, undistinguished chamber at the palace for narrative convenience. (I would have had to make a character out of one of those wherrymen.)

But it’s possible he would have insisted on a chamber in the palace along with the other courtiers. I figure it’s like staying at the hotel where the conference is being held, rather than at a cheaper place down the road. You want to be where the action is.

Narrow winding stairs, perhaps like the ones in these slender towers. Run up and down one of these in a late period farthingale! I double-dare ya!

Dunlop says the palace covered some 10 acres. By comparison, Richmond Green, across which I have walked, is 20 acres. Most of what we see in the engraving is a complex structure called the Privy Lodgings. There were 14 of those bulb-domed towers, each topped with a gilded weather vane flying a gold & azure banner. In between the towers were three-story buildings, all built of brightly colored stone, all with lots of diamond-paned windows. It must have looked like a fairy palace. It was obviously not built for defense, which must have been part of the point Henry VII was making.

Twelve rooms on each floor, I read. Of what? I ask. There’s no floor plan and that “Privy Lodgings” looks like a multi-building area with probably alleys running between micro-courts, necessary to let in light. I pretty much stayed out it. Somewhere in there, probably facing the Middle Court, were the Queen’s actual chambers: the Presence Chamber, the Privy Chamber where she spent most of the day with her favorites, and the Privy Bedchamber. I imagined these to be laid out much like its contemporary, Fontainebleu, which I visited in May and will blog about soon.

That Middle Court was a treat, in its day. In the center there was a fountain with lions and red dragons and goodly beasts in the upper part, in the middle branches of red roses and other flowers with water running out, and clear pure water into the cistern at the bottom. A good place to stand around in your fancy clothes and gossip, I should think, noticing who is noticing you from the windows of the Privy Chamber above.

The gatehouse is all that’s left. Following this fellow, we walk from Richmond Green into what used to be the Great Court. It’s a square of buildings now, as then, but full of parked cars and thus not much fun to photograph.

The Great Hall, where everyone had their meals and where plays must have been performed in the winter, was 100 ft x 40 ft. Must have had a magnificent hammerbeam ceiling. Outside the hall, past that cone-headed kitchen, we find a confused parcel of buildings, constructed mostly of brick and timber. Flesh larders, fish larders, pastry, and plummery (a place for preserving fruit?), poultry house, scalding house, wood yard, coal house, and at a discreet distance,” ‘a large House of office.’ This is what they called a group toilet. There would have been pipes or a ditch taking the effluent to the river, one assumes.

They got their drinking water from springs in New Park – the White Conduit – and Richmond Town Fields – the Red Conduit. Some of this clean water ran into the fancy fountain in the Middle Court. Servants must have gotten water for their masters to wash their faces there, early in the morning.

Nothing anywhere tells me how many people lived in the palace when the Queen was there. But I find a note about food supplies. Each officer has a cook to look after his food in the Queen’s Kitchens. 18 kitchens, each crowded, a veritable hell.  80-100 sheep consumed every day, 12 head of cattle, a dozen and a half calves, in addition to what’s hunted – rabbits, birds, wild boar, venison.

Pass through the gate leaving the Middle Court and enter the Great Court, 78 feet x 180 ft, paved, surrounded by a range of two-storied buildings for Gentlemen and Grooms of the Privy Chamber and Gentlemen of the Bedchamber.

Officers: Cup-Bearer, Carver, Sewer, Grooms of the Privy Chamber, Spicery, and Chandlery, the Confectioner, the Housekeeper, the Porter, the Chaplains, the Gentlemen of the Bedchamber…. These lodged in the outer quadrangle, aka the Wardrobe Court. Two-story houses which lay between privy chambers and the outer gate, insulating the royal family. I put the Gentlewomen of the Privy Chambers out here, and stuck poor Francis Bacon at the top of an addition to the gatehouse.


Some smart folks at the University of Southern California created a re-creation of Richmond Palace as part of a study of Power and Politics of Architecture in Tudor England. Dashed interesting stuff, what? I relied on their drawing for moving my people around. One small point: the row of buildings on the right side of the Great Court look one-storied in their plan, but Dunlop said two. So I made them two.

They have a three-dimensional version here. Have I mentioned lately how much I love scholars? We would be so much poorer, intellectually and imaginatively, without them. Let’s keep those actual facts flowing, folks, and preserve the institutions that make the work possible.

See the orchards near the river on the top left? I love orchards. We had cherry trees, probably some of them espaliered against those warm brick walls. Undoubtedly also pears, apples, peaches, gooseberries, raspberries, and plums. Coming toward us, at the bottom left of the plan, is the big formal garden through which we stroll, morning and evening, in our colorful raiment. Level, symmetrical, neat, loaded with symbolism — that’s what Tudors liked in a garden! Leave the wildness out there in the wilderness.

But they would have fantastic beasts of carved and painted wood on pillars dotted about. I’m afraid those things are just long gone. But I can close with one from a recreation at Hampton Court, courtesy of Culture 24.nti_HRP_Garden_03.JPG



Duncan, Andrew. 2002. Favourite London Walks: 50 Classic Routes Exploring London’s Heritage. London: New Holland. [NB: This book is printed on coated stock, so it is heavy! I copy the walks I mean to take and just carry the featherweight sheets of printer paper.]

Dunlop, Ian. 1962. Palaces and Progresses of Elizabeth I. London: Jonathan Cape.

Montague-Smith, Patrick, and Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd. 1981. The Country Life Book of Royal Palaces, Castles & Homes, Including Vanished Palaces and Historic Houses with Royal Connections. Country Life Books.

Pix & notes: Christopher Marlowe's Paris

I was in Paris in May this year, when the City of Light was the City of Flowers. We visited several lovely parks, about which more another time, but spent most of our days in the magnificent museums: the Louvre, the Museum of Man, the Musée de la Préfecture de police, which also deserves its own post. But I did get my traditional early Sunday morning to romp around the Left Bank taking pictures. Little remains of Kit’s Paris beyond the twisty streets and the Cathedral of Notre Dame, but what there was, I saw & snapped.


Of course we need a map! Wikipedia, whence cometh this fine map, says that Paris was the largest city in Europe in 1550, having about 350,000 inhabitants. It’s only 2.2 million now, lagging well behind London’s 8.7 million. Everyone said, “Paris is a very compact city,” resting neatly inside its circling highway, the periferique. It’s very easy to get around by means of the excellent metro system — unless the trains are on strike that day!

Paris ca 1550, Olivier Truschet et Germain Hoyau.

The island in the middle is the Île-de-la-Cité. That largish box near the top right corner is the Cathedral of Notre Dame, built between 1163 and 1345. Marlowe would certainly have toured that very famous landmark. He grew up in Canterbury, remember, where the equally famous cathedral was rebuilt in the Gothic style in the twelfth century.

Notre-Dame de Paris

Notre Dame

Today you join a queue of tourists from all over the world to stroll through the vast building, craning your neck to marvel at the wealth of imagery inside. In Marlowe’s day, there would have been tourists from all over Europe, if none from China or Japan, similarly craning their necks — while keeping a hand on their purses! All of today’s tourists are literate; we can only guess at the literacy rates of Kit’s contemporaries. It doesn’t matter. Everything is bent toward teaching you the story of Jesus and the saints. Paintings, stained glass, sculptures, and a series of painted wood carvings all depict important stories from the Bible for those who don’t read and don’t understand the Latin of the songs and sermons. Marlowe had both skills, but only a brute could fail to appreciate the beauty of Notre Dame’s abundant works of art. 


I love gargoyles, but my little camera isn’t up to zooming that far with any kind of focus. (Could be time for a better camera!) So here are two suffering souls from the front facade, doomed to bear a row of church worthies forevermore.



Walking tours of Paris

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a huge fan of London Walks, the wonderful guided tours of London and environs. I don’t think Paris has anything quite like that, and I wouldn’t have had time for it anyway, since I was with other people, which means lots of screwing around at the beginnings and ends of days. Super Tourist (c’est moi) gets up and gets going!

But before we left I found this cool site with downloadable self-guided tours: History Walks Paris. I printed out the one for the sixteenth century, which didn’t have Marlowe in mind, but it might as well have. But first, a couple of pix of things that he definitely did not see. Cool things!

st-ephrem1733Saint-Ephrem le Syriac was built in 1733. It’s now used for performances of classical music, which I didn’t get to hear, and is filled with fine paintings, which I did not see. Next time, eh?









This magnificent beast is part of the Fontaine St-Michel on the Boulevard Saint Michel near the fontaine-st-michelSeine. It was built in 1858-1860, during the French Second Empire when so much of the grandest parts of grand Paris were built. This really is the City of Grandeur! My Moriartys can see all these fabulous monuments, but this fountain was just a small square in Marlowe’s day; nothing to write home about.









OK. Here’s a street in the Latin Quarter. It would have been more thatch with plaster walls, MUCH more crowded with people in woolen garb and muddy shoes, muddy street with a kennel of crap running down the middle. Kit would have felt very much at home visually, while his sharp eyes tuned in to the Parisian French all around him. I imagine him absolutely loving it. His plays are filled with fabulous place names, suggesting a young man eager to explore the world. At least he got to see Paris!


I walked across the Pont de Neuf, built between 1578 and 1607. So unless they had spanned the river before finishing all the details, Marlowe couldn’t have crossed here! He would have had to use the bridges connecting the Île-de-la-Cité.

pont neuf

The Louvre palace

The walking tour starts at the Louvre. It started out as fortress against English soldiers in Normandy, built by Philip II. Charles V converted it to a residence, then Francis I remodeled it into the palace we see today. Francis Bacon would have spent time here, watching the court with his bright eyes and listening with his sharp ears. This is where he polished his French language skills to a fare-thee-well, as well as his ability to spend his days idling at court.

Marlowe would have entered at least this courtyard, where I took pictures. He served as a messenger, I think, delivering letters from some important English person or persons, probably someone on the Privy Council. I’ve blogged about that. He would have been expected to keep his sharp ears open too, maybe ask a discreet question here and there. He was handsome, articulate, charming, and quick-witted. I think he spent time in this courtyard playing dice with the other messengers, learning whatever he could that might interest his masters, as much for the sport of it as for the extra shillings.

This yard would have been crowded with men old and young, a few women, perhaps, selling food and drink or sexual favors. Maybe a gentlewoman waiting for someone. Horses clattering through. Barrels, maybe, crates, straw littering the ground. Shouts and vendors’ cries echoing off the walls.




According to History Walks, this was “the parish church of the kings of France.” The kings are gone, but they still hold services here, with or without tourists strolling quietly about snapping pictures. (I’m far from the only one doing this.) I give you this view because (a) the square-cut trees of Paris fascinate me and (b) the lofty tops of churches would have stood out above the lesser buildings and thatched-roof houses, helping people orient themselves in the city, as well as in heaven, one supposes.




The Lombard church

I was excited to discover the church of Saint-Merri, the parish church of the wealthy Italian Lombards in Paris. Alone among Marlowe aficionados, perhaps, I think he might have delivered messages for one of my favorite Elizabethans, Sir Horatio Palavicino. He was actually born in Genoa, but they didn’t have a Genovese church in Paris. He was the scion of aristocratic bankers who became a Protestant and moved to England, where he lent Queen Elizabeth several boatloads of money. He bought a house near Cambridge the year after Marlowe graduated, but I like to think they met during a house-hunting trip. Marlowe would have appreciated a wealthy, cosmopolitan master and Sir Horatio would have recognized Marlowe’s exceptional qualifications as a confidential messenger.

So I spent a little time in this church, soaking up the atmosphere. Churches were excellent places for quiet little meetings, in olden days as well as our own. It’s hard to get a picture of this place, because it’s tucked into a district of narrow streets. And my pictures of the narrow streets don’t look like anything much either. You just have to imagine Christopher Marlowe meeting a wealthy Lombard in that aisle, handing him a folded letter and leaning in to murmur the unwritten portion of the message in their common language, Latin. He would have been paid with a silver franc, perhaps, and paid again when he got back to England with the reply.

church of Saint-Merri

church of Saint-Merri

Hôtel de Ville

This fine building has been the headquarters of the municipality of Paris since 1357. Sacre bleu, that’s a long time! History Paris tells us that it was one of the most popular gathering places in medieval and Renaissance Paris,where goods were unloaded, celebrations and executions occurred, and strikes were held. Marlowe would have strolled through the crowds, soaking it all up whilst munching on a sack of roasted chestnuts or a sweet cheese pie. Or perhaps a French breakfast taco, which is what I call a crepe filled with egg, cheese, and bacon.

hotel de ville
Hotel de Ville, 2018
Hotel de Ville, 1583

These sculptures weren’t there. I don’t know who the naked lady is (all sculptures of women must be naked), but Moliere lived from 1622-1673.


Marlowe wouldn’t have wasted his precious francs on books – not while he lived at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge University, which had one of the finest libraries in England in his day. But he would have enjoyed browsing and practicing his French on the bookseller. “I’m Christopher Marlowe,” he might say, after Tamburlaine rocked European theater back on its heels. “Oh, yeah, and I’m the Queen of Sheba,” the bookseller would have scoffed.

Be yourself, unless you can be Christopher Marlowe in Paris, in which case, be Christopher Marlowe.

bookseller, paris

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