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THE NEW YORK
ASTOR, LENOX AND
CHISWICK PRESS : CHARLES WHITTINGHAM AND CO.
TOOKS COURT, CHANCERY LANE, LONDON.
HAM HOUSE AND ITS OWNERS.
TILDER S' BY MRS. HENRY WOOD.
AM HOUSE was built in 1610 by Sir Thomas Vavasour,
are carved on the main entrance; whether there had been a house prior to this is unknown. He sold it in 1625 to John Earl Holderness, who, in 1634, assigned it to Katherine, wife of the first Earl Dysart, who had been given a reversionary lease of the Manors of Ham and Hatch.
The Manor of Ham was granted by Athelston to his minister Wulfgar (circa 930). We next come across a grant of it by Henry II (1154); then King John (1199) granted it to Richard de Mowbray. It escheated to the crown, and was given to Godfrey, Bishop of Winchester, and was valued in survey at £6.
Henry III (1216) gave a charter to Isabella de Croun for a free warren there, and in 1271 granted the manor to Sir Robert Burrell, whose nephew Philip held it in 1329.
Anne of Cleeves had a grant of it for her life; she probably surrendered it to Edward VI on his accession, after which date it was leased variously, and finally settled on the Prince of Wales.
Tradition, which always dies hard, has it that Henry, Prince of Wales, lived at Ham House, and a room is actually shown as his bedroom, but there is no evidence in the Domestic State Papers of his having ever even possessed the house, and Agnes Strickland gives no authority for her statement that he injured his health by bathing after supper while in residence there. Aubrey in his “ History of Surrey," tells us that:
Ham is a manor belonging to the Crown and was formerly a privileged place, so that none could be arrested there, or one arrested at any other place could not be brought through this place, but through long and scandalous neglect this valuable privilege is lost. Ham House, an elegant building, is in this
parish, where the Court for the King is kept. William, first Earl of Dysart, who acquired Ham House in 1634, began his career as whipping-boy to Charles, Prince of Wales; he became gentleman of the bedchamber, and was rewarded by his royal master with the Earldom of Dysart (his father was a minister of Dysart, in Fife) and the Barony of Huntingtower. He left five VOL. VIII.
daughters, and his wife having secured the title to the eldest, she became Elizabeth, Countess of Dysart in her own right. She married, first, Sir Lionel Tollemache, by whom she had issue. She was one of the worst women of her epoch, and was generally credited with having“ kept on the right side of the hedge” during the Commonwealth by encouraging the “familiarities” of the Protector. Of this liaison we can give her the benefit of the doubt; but there is no doubt that she was the mistress of John, Earl Lauderdale, as her relations with him were a scandal, even at the Court of Charles II. She married him on the death of his wife, quite in the odour of sanctity. The entry in the Register at Petersham Church runs:
The ryght Honorable John Earl of Lauderdale was married to the right honorable Elizabeth Countess of Dessart by the Reverend Father in God (Walter) Lord Bishop of Worcester, in the Church of Petersham on the seventeenth day of Februarie 1671-2, publiquely at the time of teaching the common prayer, and gave
the carpet, pulpit cloth and cushion. Elizabeth, generally known as the great Duchess, had an unbounded influence over her husband, who had an unbounded influence over his sovereign, and it was she, therefore, who steered the distressed bark England into the troubled waters in which it lived during the whole reign of Charles II.
Her husband settled all his estates on her, and upon his death she almost ruined his brother with never-ending law suits. Her character is freely canvassed by the writers of the time. There is a quite unquotable pasquil, purporting to be a discussion on her demerits by her two husbands; and Wycherley's satire of her in “The Plain Dealer" is hardly less bitter, though considerably more decent.
The Lauderdales took up their residence at Ham, which under their rule attained an almost regal splendour. They greatly altered and enlarged it, and since their day it has practically remained untouched.
Lord Lauderdale died at Tonbridge in 1682; his widow survived him sixteen years, “buried in linnen” in Petersham Church, During her widowhood Ham House was much deserted, and was offered by William of Orange to James II, who, however, declined it as being “an ill winter house and unfurnished”—an obvious excuse—but James desired to have more than the Thames between himself and his son-in-law.
Evelyn, who has no motives for praise or blame, speaks very differently of the “ill winter house”; he writes of it as “ inferior to few of the great villas of Italy, the house furnished like a great Prince's; Parterres, Aower gardens, Orangeries, groves, Avenues,