The Savoy Palace

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The next large house, only separated from Somerset House by a narrow lane called Duchy Lane, is the imposing building known as the Savoy Palace. It has stood here for many years, and was originally built by the Earl of Savoy in 1245.

His niece Eleanor was then the Queen of England, and her four sisters were all Queens-Margaret, the eldest, Queen of France; Sanctia, Queen of the Romans; Beatrix, Queen of Naples; and Johanna, Queen of Navarre.

The Earl left it to a religious community, the Brethren of Mountjoy, but Eleanor bought it back from them and gave it to her son, Edmund of Lancaster, who greatly enlarged it.

It was in the possession of the House of Lancaster at the time that John, King of France, was lodged in it in 1357, after the battle of Cressy; and Froissart tells us that Edward and Philippa often came to see him and "made hym gret feest and cheere." He returned to the Savoy in 1363 and died there.

Henry, Duke of Lancaster, who died some time previous to this splendid captivity of the French King, left two daughters only, the younger of whom, Blanche, married John of Ghent, or Gaunt, as we islanders call it, Edward the Third's third son, who was created Duke of Lancaster. As his wife's elder sister Mary died without issue, he succeeded to the estates.

During the lifetime of this "time-honoured Lancaster," the Savoy was the scene of more than one riot and tumult. The Duke was not popular with the Londoners; he had befriended Wyclif and insulted and threatened the Bishop of London in his own cathedral.

The palace was attacked by a mob, and if the Bishop himself had not exerted his influence with the mob and persuaded them to disperse, they would have proceeded to extremities.

On a second occasion, some four years afterwards, the palace was again attacked by Wat Tyler and his adherents, and Duke John had to fly for his life. The palace was pillaged and set on fire, and all its costly furniture destroyed.

A gang of the rebels had unfortunately found their way to the wine cellars, "where they dranke so much of sweet wines that they were not able to come out in time, but were shut in with wood and stones that mured up the door, where they were heard crying and calling seven days after, but none came to help them out till they were dead."

For upwards of a hundred years the palace stood a heap of blackened ruins but Henry the Seventh resolved to rebuild it as a hospital for the poor, and he must have done so almost entirely, leaving very little of the former palace of Duke John.

Perhaps the riverfront may have been altered only slightly. It had been placed differently from most of the other houses and inns of the nobility, for it was close down to the water's edge.

There was no pleasant garden sloping to the river, which at high tide washed the walls. Henry's pious intentions, however, were eventually set on one side; his grandson gave all the bed and bedding and a good portion of its revenues to Christ's Hospital and Bridewell, and the rest of its endowment was further reduced by embezzlement.

It was finally dissolved in 1702, and what was left of its revenues was put in charge of the Court of Exchequer for the use of the Duchy of Lancaster. One portion of the old building survives-the Hospital Chapel.

When Somerset destroyed the church of Our Lady in the Strand, he promised the parishioners he would build them another on a different site, but at this period many exalted people "lost their heads," things got forgotten, and the then Master of the Savoy offered this hospital church for the use of the parish.

Although it was dedicated to St. John the Baptist, the old name of St. Mary was given to it, which it still retains. A new church of St. Mary was afterwards built in the Strand, but the Savoy chapel and its services are still maintained by the Duchy.

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