L’Erber – London Home to Warwick the Kingmaker and George Duke of Clarence

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London before the Great Fire and much as Richard Neville ‘The Kingmaker’ and his family would have known it…  L’Erber stood  slightly to the north west of Coldharbour which is the large house seen here in middle of the picture  facing the Thames.  No depiction of L’Erber has come down to us. Part of the The Visscher Panorama of London, 1616. Image Peter Harrington Rare Books.  

L’Erber numbered amongst the most important houses in Medieval London.  It gets regularly confused, even by one well known  historian,  with that other great house,  Coldharbour,  which confusingly was known for a while as Le Toure.  If searching old maps for these once magnificent houses it might be helpful to remember that L’Erber stood on the east side of Dowgate Hill which was situated to the north of Thames Street, while Coldharbour was to the south of Thames street  and fronted onto the River Thames.

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The oblong area within the red lines was the site of L’Erber.  Entrance was via the main gate which  was approached from Dowgate Hill.  Bordered to the south by Carter Lane later known as Chequers Yard/Lane and from  the east by Bush Lane where there was a back entrance.  Immediately to the north of  L’Erber was the church of St Mary Bothawe.  This church was destroyed in the Great fire and rebuilt.  Chequers Lane now gone but Bush Lane has survived the centuries. The area is now covered by Cannon Street Station.  From Strype’s edition of Stow’s Survey c.1720.

Both these houses have been covered in depth by C L Kingsford’s article ‘On Some London Houses of the Early Tudor Period’ (1)  This excellent article which gives the best and most accurate description of L’Erber available to us is now very difficult to get hold of but I was kindly sent a copy by someone from the Richard III Society.  Frustratingly no depictions  were ever made of L’Erber but we know exactly where it stood.    Basically it was massive covering just  slightly under three quarters of an acre.  Along with the house itself were two gardens, a large garden known as the Great garden and a smaller one known as the ‘Lytell’ garden.  There were also tenements, which were rented out, and a brew house known as the ‘Cheker’ (remembered in the name Checkers Yard),   stables and also an area for carts.   Situated immediately south of the church of St Mary Bothawe it was an irregular quadrilateral, having street frontages on three sides opening up on Dowgate, Carter Lane, later known as Chequer Lane/Checkers Yard,  and Bush Lane and having two large gates referred to in the houses accounts as simply the fore gate and back gate.  Built in the 14th century as a merchants house it would develop into one of the finest noblemans houses of London.

L’Erber’s most interesting period was during the Wars of the Roses when it was owned by Richard Neville, later known as Warwick the Kingmaker,  and later through his daughter, Isobel, passed into the possession of her husband,  George Duke of Clarence.  Stow tells us of Warwick’s largesse and that at his other house situated down nearby Warwick Lane   ‘were oftentimes six oxen eaten at a breakfast and every tavern was full of his meat; for he that had any acquaintance in that house might have there so much of sodden and roast meat as he could prick and carry upon a long dagger’  (2).   Perhaps the same generosity could be found at L’Erber.  In 1457 Richard the Earl of Salisbury , Warwick’s father, was housed at L’Erber along with 500 of his men while Warwick stayed at his house in Warwick Lane with his equally large entourage.   

Interesting shenanigans  took place at L’Erber – and oh,  to have been a fly on the wall -during the period following the Battle of Tewkesbury in May 1471 because it seems safe to surmise that  Clarence would have found it prudent to stay in his London house to  be at the epicentre of the robust arguments then taking place at Westminster Palace between the three royal brothers, Edward IV,  Clarence and Richard Duke of Gloucester regarding the inheritances of the Neville sisters, Isobel,  Clarence’s  wife and her sister Anne.  Following on from that it’s also safe to further surmise that it was probably from  L’Erber,  while Anne was in the care of her brother-in-law and sister,  that the young Duke of Gloucester sought her with marriage in mind.  I’ll let Croyland take up the story ‘This proposal did not suit the views of his brother, the Duke of Clarence, who had previously married the eldest daughter of the said earl.  Such being the case he caused the damsel to be concealed in order that it might not be known by his brother where she was, as he was afraid of a division of the earl’s property which he wished to come to himself alone in right of his wife and not to be obliged to share it with anyone other person.  Still however the craftiness of the Duke of Gloucester so far prevailed  that he discovered the young lady in the city of London disguised in the habit of a cook maid upon which he had her removed to the sanctuary of St Martin’s.   This charming story is so extraordinary and out of the common that I tend to believe it in the main although I am more inclined to think that it was probably Anne who took her fate into her own hands and slipped away into hiding rather than a dastardly George disguised and hid her in an attempt to thwart Richard’s marriage plans.   It’s quite easy to imagine an abundance of raised voices, door slamming and tears going on at L’Erber around that time.   In a very happy ending Richard found Anne and took her to the nearby sanctuary of St Martin le Grand until the arguments regarding the inheritance were concluded and resolved by King Edward himself. It was also likely that it was L’Erber where Clarence spent his last days of freedom before, having been summoned to appear before brother Edward at Westminster he was sent to the Tower and execution.

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George, Duke of Clarence.  Rous Roll.

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Possible portrait of George’s wife, Isobel Neville. Luton Gild Book.

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Possible portrait of Anne NevilleEton Wall portraits.

But how did the house first fall into the ownership of the great Neville family?   A lease dated 1371  with all the shops, cellars, sollars, gardens and rents was acquired by William Latimer, Lord Danby.   Latimers daughter, Elizabeth,  married John Neville, father of Ralph the first earl of Westmorland.   Westmorland was the father of  many children including Richard, Earl of Salisbury and Cicely Neville, mother to the three famous York brothers, Edward IV, Richard III and George Duke of Clarence.  It was Westmorland who ‘obtained a grant in fee from Henry IV‘  and who would leave L’Erber to his son Richard Earl of Salisbury,  who was father to the Richard Neville who would become known as  ‘The Kingmaker’.   After the Kingmaker’s death at Barnet in 1471, Edward IV would grant L’Erber to his brother Clarence, whose wife, Isobel, was the Kingmaker’s  eldest daughter. However after Clarence’s judicial murder L’Erber reverted to the crown once again and was later granted by a grateful Henry Tudor to the Earl of Oxford for life.  Following Oxford’s death in 1513 and in one of history’s funny old twists,  L’Erber was restored, in her own right,   to one of the  last of the Plantagenets, Clarence’s daughter, Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury,  by a benevolent Henry VIII.   Later Henry would revert to type and  she too was judicially murdered, basically because Henry had the raging hump with her son Reginald.

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Portrait of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury.  L’Erber was the London home of Margaret. National Portrait Gallery.  

As both her parents were dead by the time Margaret was five years old its doubtful she would have had any memories of staying at L’Erber with them.  However no doubt she felt a feeling of fulfilment as what had once been one of the  homes of her parents, and several Nevilles before them,  was returned to her.  We do know that her son, Montague, had his own room there as a receipt for repairs to a dore bytwyne my Lord of Mountagewes Chamber and the hey house‘ is still extant.  This also lets us know that Montague’s chamber would have been to the south-east corner of the house since that was near where the hay house was situated. Other repairs noted were: ‘a groundcell for my Lady’s Chamber’, ‘a somer pese under the gystes in the Lowe Chamber under the Great Chamber’, ‘bord spent in the back syde of my lady’s Great Chamber for weder bordyng and pentyses’,  ‘mendying a wall in the bak syde of my lady’s place in the Lytell Garden’,  ‘work in my lady’s Great Chamber on the great garden syde and the bak syde of the hey house’.  We can glean from this that Margaret’s Chamber i.e. bedroom,  was on the east side of the house overlooking the great garden. There was in January 1521  a payment of 7d. (7 pence)   made for cutting the Vine and in 1524 16d. was spent on four roots of vine and for cutting the vine.  On the 3rd July 1520 13s.4d. was paid to a William Kellam ‘by my Lady of Salusbury’s commaundement, the which he had for a tabernacle wherein (an image) of our Lady was enclosed, the which was paynted in the Erber’.  Also 3s.4d.  ‘which my Lady gave of her pity to the man who made the old tabernacle and gave him the old tabernacle and the said money’.  Payments were also made for the paving in the street in front of the gates, 19s.8d., plus 2s. for planks for the gutter beneath the paving (3). It’s also on record Margaret presenting St Mary Bothawe – whose priest she employed at L’Erber –  with tapers of wax which were to be ‘renued twyse a yere’.

However as is well known, the ending was tragic for the last scion of the Neville owners of L’Erber.  Margaret and other members of her family, including Montague, were arrested in November 1538 and placed in the Tower.  The rest is history which I won’t go into here. L’Erber was taken back yet again by the Crown.  It was purchased by the Drapers Company who let it to Sir Thomas Pullison, a lord mayor,  who according to Stowe ‘rebuilt’ it.  Pullison transferred the lease to none other than Sir Francis Drake who used it as his London residence until 1593.  The ending for L’Erber was in sight…

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The Great Fire of London. The devastating conflagration that consumed so much of medieval London including L’Erber.  Artist  Lieve Verschuier

This  ending for L’Erber arrived by midnight of the  first evening of the awful conflagration known as the Great Fire of London which begun in the early hours of the morning of Sunday 2nd September 1666 and which would  burn for three days.  On that evening along with L’Erber went Dowgate, Elbow Lane, Skinners Hall and St Mary Bothawe Church and much, much more.  As no illustrations have come down to us we have no way of knowing how much of the original medieval house still survived in 1666.  But I would like to think that had the shades of Warwick, his son-in-law, two daughters and granddaughter wandered through the those grand old rooms they would have been able to recognise the wonderful old house they had known so well.

  1.  On some London House of the Early Tudor Period C L Kingsford Esq 14th April 1921.  Published by the Society of Antiquaries
  2. A Survey of London Written in the year 1598 p.92.  John Stow.
  3.  On some London House of the Early Tudor Period C L Kingsford Esq 14th April 1921.  Published by the Society of Antiquaries

If you have enjoyed this post you might also like:

Margaret Pole Countess of Salisbury 1473-1541 Loyalty Lineage and Leadership by Hazel Pierce

EDWARD, EARL OF WARWICK – HIS LIFE AND DEATH.

THOMAS CROMWELL’S HOUSE IN AUSTIN FRIARS

The Sisters Neville – Isobel, Duchess of Clarence and Queen Anne Neville, Daughters to the Kingmaker.

THE ETON CHAPEL WALL PAINTINGS – A PORTRAIT OF QUEEN ANNE NEVILLE?

IS THIS THE FACE OF GEORGE OF CLARENCE’S DAUGHTER

OLD LONDON BRIDGE – A MEDIEVAL WONDER!

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