As noted in the introduction, access to firm historical fact is limited. We only know of events at Charing if the king or archbishop had reason to write a letter or seal a deed here. It will require extensive research of royal patent rolls and the archbishops’ registers and account books to establish more and this research will form part of the Charing Palace Project as we seek to discover and reveal more of the Palace’s rich story.
First mention of the monarch having visited Charing comes in the late 13th century. Edward I visited Charing twice in both June 1297 and 1299, when the palace was the domain of Archbishop Winchelsea.
The earliest surviving structures date from this time and Edward must have been impressed since in 1298, in what is unlikely to be mere coincidence, he granted the charter approving the movement of the main London-Ashford road further to the south to permit the archbishop to enlarge the Palace courtyard and construct the southern lodging range and gatehouse.
Charing was also visited by one of England’s most contentious kings, Edward’s son, Edward II. Edward came via Charing in May 1326 when he was on his way to meet with two papal envoys in an attempt to save his crown by saving his marriage to Isabella.
Isabella had taken refuge in the French court along with their son, the Prince of Wales, and was refusing to return until Edward broke his ties with the Despenser family. The attempted reconciliation failed, Isabella and the exiled Marcher Lord Mortimer invaded England with a small army and quickly gathered more to her cause, and Edward was deposed and dead within the year.
Little is as yet known of further royal connections with Charing for the next 170 years. Henry IV granted a charter to Charing to hold two fairs annually around St Luke’s Day and St George’s Day in 1444, but there is no record of a king having visited again until 1498 when Henry VIII made the first of his visits.
The return of the royals to Charing coincides with the improvements to the buildings made by Archbishop Morton, who added the third brick story to the eastern half of the apartments seen today.
Coincidence or not, Henry VII stayed in the Palace’s upgraded accommodation seven times during his reign – on three of those occasions over multiple nights. Henry’s interest in Charing was shared by his successor Henry VIII.
Whether Henry VIII’s interest in Charing stemmed from having visited here with his father is unknown but it was pivotal in determining Charing’s future. Like his father, Henry VIII is recorded as having stayed at Charing seven times.
In 1513 Henry stayed for two weeks between 5th and 19th March, whilst preparing for his military campaigns in France that summer, which suggests that the accommodation and hospitality offered at Charing really was on a scale ‘fit for a king’.
Famously, on 24th May 1520, Henry returned with Catherine of Aragon, Cardinal Wolsey and a combined entourage of 5,800, stopping at Charing on route to his meeting with Francis I of France at the Field of the Cloth of Gold – making Charing on that Monday a ‘city’ twice the size of the then Canterbury.
Perversely, Henry’s interest in Charing Archbishop’s Palace was to hasten its end as a grand residence. After the Reformation Henry took it into the crown estate, swapping it for two inferior Kent properties with Archbishop Cranmer. So ended the Church’s 750-year association with Charing Palace.
Henry wasn’t to visit his prize again in his lifetime. Royal interest in the fate of the Palace was short lived. No further evidence has, as yet, emerged of a monarch having visited Charing since. The Palace lands were first leased out and then ultimately sold into private hands by Charles I by 1630.
The Palace’s 85 years in royal hands were not kind to it. The condition of the Palace structures was already giving cause for concern in the 1560s, just 20 years after its acquisition, and by the time of its sale 65 years later Charing Archbishop’s Palace’s status as a grand residence was at an end.
For more on Charing Archbishop’s Palace’s royal connections see: CHARING TALES – CHARING GREETS THE ROYALS.