Historical fact is hard come by. What we know of Charing Archbishop’s Palace’s history is found in a few surviving deeds and legal documents, in archbishops’ ledgers and account books, and in the pipe and patent rolls detailing the day-to-day dealings of our kings.
There was no history of diary keeping through which we can understand the personalities involved and little objective fact through which to understand events, as many of the chroniclers of the times wrote years after the event or from a particular perspective.
But while information surrounding the various characters and the events involved is scant, there is much that points to the importance of the Palace and to its place in English history.
Charing Palace’s history begins when England was becoming England – in the struggle between the last Kings of Kent and the Kings of Mercia. Charing Palace’s tale is tied to the story of the Archbishopric of Canterbury and the growing presence of Canterbury Cathedral.
The Palace was the residence of more than 50 Archbishops of Canterbury – notable among them Thomas Becket, who is said to have loved his residence at Charing and who’s death and the miracles attributed to him and his shrine brought many tens, if not hundreds of thousands of pilgrims past Charing Archbishop’s Palace’s doors over the next 300 years.
Pipe rolls tell us that Charing Palace was visited by at least four of our kings. Edward I is recorded as having visited twice, in June 1297 and 1299. His son, the much-reviled Edward II visited in 1326, shortly before his overthrow.
Nothing is yet known of further royal visits until 1498 when Henry VII made the first of his seven stays. Henry must have been comfortable in Charing since on three of those occasions he stayed for multiple nights. Whether he was accompanied by his sons on any of those visits is unknown, but Henry VIII clearly shared his father’s enjoyment of Charing Palace as he, too, is recorded as staying here seven times – once, in 1513 for two full weeks and notably in 1520, with Catherine of Aragon and an entourage of more than 5,000, on his way to meeting Francis I of France at the Field of the Cloth of Gold near Calais.
Henry clearly liked the Archbishop’s Palace at Charing so much that he prised it from Archbishop Cranmer in 1545, taking it in exchange for two inferior properties elsewhere in Kent.
Henry isn’t recorded as having visited the Charing residence again before his death two years later. Nor is it known to have been visited by any other monarch before being sold from the royal estate into private hands by Charles I in around 1629.
The Palace’s decline began in this period of neglectful royal ownership. It’s private owners, the Honywoods and then the Whelers maintained the property increasingly as a farmstead, rather than a residence. The second Wheler owner, Granville, finally confirmed its farm status when he made his residence at nearby Otterden House in 1725.
Charing Palace remained in the Wheler estate until the early 1950s when it was sold to its current owner’s family.