Theobalds Palace

Cheshunt's royal palace

By Nicholas Blatchley

Theobalds Palace, residence of King James I and Charles I
Hertfordshire Archive & Local Studies
William Cecil, Lord Burleigh
Hertfordshire Archive & Local Studies
Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury
Hertfordshire Archive & Local Studies
Theobalds
Hertfordshire Archive & Local Studies

Theobalds, a manor lying on the borders between Cheshunt and Waltham Cross, has a long and illustrious history.  Also known as Tibbolds and Thebaudes, it was first mentioned in 1441, when the manor was granted to John Carpenter, John Somerset and John Carpenter the Younger.

The Cecils at Theobalds

Sir William Cecil, the Lord High Treasurer of England, acquired the manor in 1564 and had a house built, which soon after received a visit from Queen Elizabeth.  She was so impressed by the house and its surroundings that Cecil (later Lord Burleigh, perhaps the greatest statesman of his age) replaced the modest building with a palatial house.  Elizabeth visited after its completion in 1571, and thereafter was a frequent visitor, including a four-day stay in 1583, accompanied by a huge retinue.  During a stay in 1592, she knighted Burleigh’s second son, Robert Cecil, who was later to become the First Earl of Salisbury.

After Lord Burleigh’s death in 1598, Theobalds passed to Sir Robert Cecil, while his elder son inherited the title and Burghley House (using an alternative spelling of the name).  Cecil inherited his father’s position of Lord High Treasurer under both Elizabeth and James I, whom he entertained lavishly on his way south to accept the crown in 1603.  It was at Theobalds that James received the homage of the Privy Council.

A royal palace

James Stuart was as taken with Theobalds as Elizabeth had been, and went one step further.  In 1607, he persuaded Cecil to exchange the property for Hatfield House, the family’s seat ever since.  Although Hatfield was a larger and more valuable property, both men regarded Theobalds as the greater prize.

Theobalds became one of James’s favourite residences, and he spent much time there.  One of his most memorable stays was when, in 1614, he entertained the King of Denmark there; the visit lasted a fortnight, amid continual feasting and revelries.  He also set up a menagerie in the grounds, which included elephants and camels.  However, the King’s residence wasn’t universally popular locally, since he enclosed a good deal of local common land.  In 1620, he built a wall around his estate, parts of which survived well in the 20th century.

Civil War

James died at Theobalds in 1625, and his son was proclaimed Charles I at the palace’s gates.  Charles maintained Theobalds as a royal palace, although he paid it less attention than his father had.  Nevertheless, in 1642, after his catastrophic attempt to arrest the Five Members in Parliament, Charles withdrew to Theobalds to plan his next move.  After a short stay, he set off northwards to raise his standard at Nottingham, setting off the Civil War that would end, seven years later, with the King’s execution and the setting up of the Commonwealth, under Oliver Cromwell.  Ironically, Cromwell’s son and successor Richard, briefly Lord Protector of England, later retired to live quietly in Cheshunt, less than a mile from the palace of his father’s adversary.

Later history

A 1650 parliamentary survey of the estate, which estimated its size as over 2,500 acres, was followed by the palace’s demolition the following year.  Three smaller but substantial houses were subsequently built on the estate: Old Palace House, Grove House and the Cedars, utilising some masonry from the palace.  All three are now demolished, but Old Palace House was, in the early 18th century, the home of Dr Isaac Watts for some years.

In 1763, George Prescott built Theobalds House, which still stands.  In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it was owned by Sir Henry and Lady Meux who, in fine Theobalds tradition, entertained Edward VII there, along with many other distinguished guests.  Since the death of its last occupant, Sir Hedworth Meux, the house has been a hotel, a school and an adult education centre, among other uses, and is now once more a hotel and conference centre.

A final irony

The manor of Theobalds descended separately from ownership of the house.  In a final irony, the manor passed in the late 18th century to one Oliver Cromwell, great-grandson of his more famous namesake.

This page was added on 25/02/2011.

Add your comment about this page

Your email address will not be published.

  • I seem to remember that Temple Bar a former gate to the city of London was in the grounds of Theobald’s. I think it was close to the relief road. We used to run along the New River to there on cross country from school

    By Carol Farrington nee Weston (10/02/2024)
  • Hi Sue. Many thanks for all the extra information. I was familiar with Theobalds Road, but I never realised there was a direct link to the Palace.

    I don’t know if there was a tradition in Cheshunt of pronouncing it Tibbalds. I don’t remember anyone pronouncing it like that when I was growing up there (50s and 60s) but then again, as I lived at the opposite end of Cheshunt, I can’t remember if I ever heard older Cheshunt residents mentioning it.

    By Nicholas Blatchley (16/04/2023)
  • Having recently been given an old copy of “The Cecils of Hatfield House” by David Cecil, I was interested to read here about their former residence at Theobalds Palace, “also known as Tibbolds and Thebaudes”. My father, who was born in 1902, always used to pronounce Theobald’s Road, London WC1 as “Tibbald’s Road” and it probably still is so called by taxi drivers. This road runs between Southampton Row and Gray’s Inn Road along the southern edge of Bloomsbury.

    According to Wikipedia, “Theobalds Road … is named after Theobalds Palace because King James I used this route when going between there and London, travelling with his court and baggage of some 200 carts.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theobalds_Road
    This would have been from 1607 when the King acquired Theobalds from Sir Robert Cecil in exchange for Hatfield House.

    Sir William Cecil’s London residence from 1560 was Cecil House on the Strand, known as Burghley House from 1571 when he was created 1st Baron of Burghley, after his family seat in Northamptonshire. This building was on the north side of the Strand where the Strand Palace Hotel now stands between Exeter Street and Burleigh Street, opposite the Savoy. In 1564 when Sir William acquired Theobalds Manor, 15 miles almost due north, he also would have made the journey there, perhaps more speedily without the 200 carts. It looks from a 1559 map as if the road itself was in existence at that time but probably not called Theobald’s Road until later.

    By Sue Castle-Henry (16/04/2023)
  • To Mike Perkins,
    I am a member of the Friends of Cedars Park and research the history of Theobalds Palace. We are lacking information about the Prescott family and would be very interested to hear your discoveries. Please contact me at jake.g@mail.com. Thank you.

    By Jake Gutteridge (27/01/2023)
  • I am related to the family of George Rendlesham Prescott,son of George William Prescott and Eliza Hilliar nee Pedder.There are previous contributors on this website whom I would be interested on contacting. I would be interested to share my discoveries.

    By Mike Perkins (22/01/2023)
  • Many thanks for the information, Duncan. Obviously, we can only rely on the information that comes with the images.

    By Nicholas Blatchley (09/12/2022)
  • I’m sorry to have to tell you that your picture of Theobalds Palace is nothing of the sort! The building shown is actually Nonsuch Palace, which was built for Henry VIII near the village of Ewell, in Surrey. There is, I am afraid, absolutely NO doubt about this at all. This engraving was taken from a C17th painting of Nonsuch. It would appear that a number of institutions have been taken in by this mistake, Wiki included. I suspect that the engraving was published in some C19th book, which put the wrong name to the wrong palace.

    You will find this painting online.

    Hope this is of help. Cheers

    Duncan

    By Duncan Mirylees (08/12/2022)
  • after reading G.J. Meyers the Tudors – I found that a possible relative Mildred Cooke, daughter of Sir Anthony Cooke married William Cecil in 1548 who owned the Theobald Estate
    My family came to the US from Bath in 1840. Our family name is Cooke

    By Ann Cooke Messina (14/10/2022)
  • Interesting. My 6th Great Grandfather was Sir George William Prescott and my 5th Great Grandfather was Sir George Beeston Prescott. My 4th Great Grandmother Elizabeth Prescott. My lineage was discovered in the form of a family tree via DNA just last year, and now I am piecing together the (fascinating) stories of my ancestors. Please keep sharing your stories and info! 😊

    By Kat (26/03/2022)
  • An ancestor of mine appears on an 1891 Census as being a boarder at the school here. However the same year he enlisted and I wondered if that was usual like Wellington College and Sandhurst (but possibly more humble?)

    By Mh Love (11/10/2021)
  • Here is some more history on Theobalds Palace: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MkNxfe29WqE

    By JAKE GUTTERIDGE (01/02/2021)
  • Very interesting! My mother’s side of the family was Prescott, and since they have all passed away I am trying to piece together all the pieces of history I have. My uncles middle name was Cromwell and there are pictures and references to Theobald’s in some of the letters I have. I’ve only just begun and feel it may take a lifetime of research!

    By Lucinda Steege (10/10/2020)
  • Phillipa Gregory novel is Earthly Joys.

    By Robert Dexter (21/04/2018)
  • What’s that title of the relevant P Gregory novel please?

    By Jane Pountney (27/01/2018)
  • Reading a Philippa Gregory novel that describes Theobald’s and the gardens so have found it very interesting to read of its fate in this article.

    By Deryn Oliver (14/01/2018)
  • Found this article so interesting as my 3rd Great Aunt Eliza Hilliar – Prescott (d.1884) married Sir George William Prescott Baronet of Theobalds Park and it had been her residence in the early part of their marriage.

    14/05/2017

    By Claire de Ritis (14/05/2017)
  • I lived in Cheshunt and grew up not knowing the wonderful and rich historic heritage surrounding so many familiar places, I knew nothing of the history of Grove House, although I was there as an infant attending Nursery School and again in the early 1950’s and attending Woodwork classes from the Secondary School in College road, also Cedars Park and Theobald’s Temple Bar which was our destination when doing a circular ‘cross country’ run at the school.

    By John King (07/02/2017)