Rowland Lenthall, who originally built Hampton Court 600 years ago, was an upwardly mobile gentleman at a turbulent time in English history. He started out as a landowner in north Herefordshire but rose swiftly through his friendship with King Henry IV and a fortunate marriage. His title at Henry’s court was Yeoman of the Robes. The Tudor historian John Leland gives a romantic touch to the marriage.

Being a gallant fellow either a daughter or a near kinswoman of the king fell in love with him and in continuance was wedded unto him.

Leland, writing more than a hundred years after the marriage, didn’t get it quite right. The lady he married was a cousin of the king, Margaret FitzAlan, granddaughter of the Earl of Arundel. But she was a rich lady and the king was so pleased with the marriage that he gave Lenthall the estate at Hampton Court and other land to the value of £1,000 a year.


A tun of wine

He was also entitled to a tun of wine – nearly a thousand litres – from the royal cellars. It was a generous gift but there was probably a good reason for it. Henry IV – who had been Henry Bolingbroke, Earl of Hereford – had seized the throne from Richard II and wanted to know where his friends were. Also he would have been worried about possible invasion from Wales and Hampton Court was at a strategic place. Only ten years or so before Rowland married Margaret FitzAlan, the great Welsh leader, Owain Glendower, had seized Leominster and set up camp on Ivington Hill, just three miles away from Hampton Court.


The Battle of Agincourt

A long tradition is that Rowland received his knighthood for bravery at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. He certainly did fight at Agincourt. In the early summer of 1415 his estate would have been full of bustle and preparations for travel as he prepared to depart for France under the new king, Henry V, taking with him eight ‘Lances’ – the term for mounted men at arms – and 33 archers, some those longbow men who were so critical in winning the battle. But in the muster rolls he is already Sir Rouland Lenthall, so his knighthood was probably conferred on him by his old friend, Henry IV.

There’s another echo of Agincourt in the question of when exactly Hampton Court was built. According to one account – Leland’s again – it was directly related to Agincourt.

This Lenthall was at Agincourt and took many prisoners there, by which prey he began the new building at Hampton Court.

Well, perhaps.


Licence to crenellate

Ransom money might have been useful. But Lenthall did not receive a licence to crenellate Hampton Court until 1434, in the reign of Henry VI. Licence to crenellate was a kind of medieval planning permission, allowing a gentleman to build defences onto his castle or manor house. But it may have been retrospective permission or simply leave to put battlements on a building that already existed. All that can be said with certainty is that the beginning of building took place between 1415 and 1434, depending on whether you believe Leland or not.

One thing sure is that Lenthall wanted a building in keeping with his status. The great north facing tower and the chapel to the east of the north front that still stand today are part of his work. Visitors would come in through the great oak doors in the tower, cross the courtyard and go through the porch to the great hall on the south side. The porch is still there but the great hall itself has gone, a victim of nineteenth century rebuilding. In Lenthall’s day it would have been the centre of his hospitality. He and his family and guests would be a served and supported by a population of servants the size of a small village: bakers, brewers, gardeners, herbalists, dairymaids, blacksmiths, grooms, shepherds, hunters, kennel staff and cattle men.


A Lenthall Dynasty?

Rowland Lenthall might have hoped that he was founding a dynasty that would stay at Hampton Court for centuries, but his family owned it for less than a hundred years. His first wife, Margaret, died eight years after Agincourt. He married again, to Lucy Grey, and their son Roland inherited Hampton Court on his father’s death. But he and his wife had no children so the house passed through the marriage of his sister Elizabeth into the Cornewall family, who sold it in 1510 to the Coningsbys. They stayed there for 300 years.

More of them in later blogs.

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