Charing Forks Out

by Amy Myers

Archbishop John Morton, whose property Charing Palace was from 1486 to his death in 1500, was a remarkable man: a priest of high integrity, a lord chancellor of ability who put the country’s treasury in order and the creator of Morton’s Dyke which drained a long stretch of fen country; he was also a good architect and a good diplomat.

As luck would have it, however, his popular reputation until well into the twentieth century was of a skinflint chancellor whose tax policy became known as Morton’s Fork: the aim of this was to tax you if you’re flashily wealthy because obviously you can afford it and to tax you if you’re miserly, because you must be hoarding your cash.

In addition, the archbishop had been a bitter foe of Richard III’s (rightly or wrongly, depending on whether you believe Richard guilty of murdering the Princes in the Tower). Morton, then Bishop of Ely, had been clapped in prison by Richard, managed to escape, and effectively saved the future Henry VII’s life by warning him of a plot to deliver him into Richard’s unloving arms. When Richard was defeated at Bosworth, however, the bishop’s fortunes had changed.

Thence to Charing and Canterbury a year later. In 1486 Henry VII created Morton Archbishop of Canterbury, perhaps mindful of what he owed to him. There was reasoning behind the appointment, however, for the following year he also made him Lord Chancellor. Henry was bent on giving England and Wales not only peace but a strong economy, and Morton was the man to achieve it. By the time of his death, he had done so.

In the meantime, however, it seems that the archbishop had been busy with indulging a private passion too. Charing Palace had modifications and improvements around this time and it is therefore highly probable that they were carried out by Archbishop Morton who was experienced in restoring and designing old buildings.

In 1498 and 1499 King Henry VII came to visit Charing Palace – perhaps to see the restored palace, perhaps to hold economic chinwags, or perhaps simply concerned to see his most valued supporter. Archbishop (and Lord Chancellor) Morton was then about eighty years old and by 1499 had only a year to live.

By the time of Henry VII’s next recorded visit to Charing in 1505, William Warham was archbishop, and he too was a firm ally of Henry’s. By this time Henry himself was nearly fifty and had suffered much in his personal life, losing not only his heir Arthur but his wife Elizabeth within a year of each other.

Henry died in 1509, and perhaps he had seen Charing as a refuge in these final years, for he visited Charing Palace on two occasions for three nights at a time, perhaps remembering earlier visits that had been spent with Morton establishing the stable base on which the Tudor dynasty would build.

Main image: British Library yates_thompson_mss_3-f008r, detail/© British Library Board 2017