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Cheyneygates, Elizabeth Woodville’s bolt-hole, er, sanctuary . . .

-even larger smaller 

-  slightly  - College Hall, Westminster abbey, showing screen.

The Deanery, College Hall on left, with college boys queueing to go in.

From the Jerusalem Chamber south, showing College Hall

Jersalem Chamber before shop was added - the wall on right was probably not there in 15th century 

Top: Looking through from Dean’s Close to Deanery.

Second row:  College Hall showing the screen.

Third row: The Deanery, with the College Hall on the left.

Fourth row: From Jerusalem Chamber south, showing the west wall of College Hall.

Bottom: Jerusalem Chamber before addition of abbey shop.


Before I begin, I must tell you that this article is all due to the efforts of my friend, Eileen Bates, and so to her must go the kudos of perceiving such interesting facts, finding information and illustrations, and putting it all  together.  I merely record what she has found.

We all know that when Edward IV died suddenly in April 1483, his queen, Elizabeth Woodville, attempted to take control of her eldest son, the new king, Edward V, in order to maintain her hold on power, and be sure her family had all the top jobs. She endeavoured, unsuccessfully, to outmanoeuvre Richard, Duke of Gloucester, her husband’s only remaining brother, who had been named as Lord Protector. The Woodvilles would not fare well under Richard, so I imagine her aim was to be rid of him entirely. But he confounded her, took Edward V under his wing, and Elizabeth panicked. She dashed off to sanctuary at Westminster Abbey, taking her remaining children with her. In her scramble to take as much with her as she could, she had to have a hole knocked in the abbey wall to accommodate all the treasure and other loot she’d grabbed. Not very dignified, but then dignity was not uppermost in her mind at that point

There she remained, refusing all Richard’s attempts to persuade her that she and her children would come to no harm at his hands. She was still there when history unfolded further, and Richard—rightfully—became king in the stead of her (illegitimate, as it turned out) son. But, she eventually accepted Richard’s reassurances, and her daughters at least came to their uncle’s glittering court. Elizabeth herself may have done as well, but it is not so certain.

So, where, exactly, was she ensconced in Westminster Abbey, and where might the infamous hole in the wall have been made? Well, this was not the first time Elizabeth had taken refuge there, because it happened before, when her Yorkist husband had been temporarily ousted by the Lancastrians.

I quote from

“Edward IV was forced to flee the country and left Elizabeth and their three daughters at the Tower of London. She left there secretly by night with her family and her mother and claimed Sanctuary on 1 October 1470 at the Abbey. The Abbey was a chartered sanctuary which gave immunity from justice to traitors, felons and debtors and important policital figures within its walls and in designated houses nearby, under certain strict conditions. The Abbot of Westminster, Thomas Millyng, took care of the royal family and Edward V was born and baptised while in Sanctuary. It is thought that she occupied rooms in Cheyneygates, within the Abbot’s house complex, on this occasion. She left on 11 April 1471 when her husband once again gained the throne.”

This part of the abbey is now known as the Deanery. So Cheyneygates, the Abbot’s House and the Deanery all appear to be names for the same place, which is today part of Westminster School. Where did the name Cheyneygates come from? And how is it pronounced?

In 1483, to quote the same source: “. . .she came from the Palace of Westminster on 31 April 1483 with her family and her brother Lionel, bishop of Salisbury. Her servants broke down the Abbey walls in order to get her furniture, chests and other items through. John Esteney was then Abbot and it is thought that she used College Hall, the abbot’s dining hall, when she stayed this time.” The College Hall is so called because it is now the dining room of Westminster School. The hall providently escaped the Blitz of World War II, while much of Cheyneygates seems to have perished. The hall isn’t open to the public, but it is among the illustrations above. Many other pictures of it may be found online.

The incumbent abbot appears to have still been in residence on both occasions, so any belief that Elizabeth swanned regally around the entire place can be discarded. One can only imagine how she felt on the day of Richard and Anne’s coronation, for she must have heard the bells and celebrations. The phrase ‘spitting feathers’ springs to mind.

Now to the matter of where That Hole might have been made in the abbey wall. If the part of Cheyneygates occupied by Elizabeth was the College Hall, then the western outer wall is adjacent to the Jerusalem Chamber, abbey shop and so on. There does not seem to have been any building there in the 15th century, so it has to be wondered if the deed was done somewhere along that wall, which is now greatly covered by the shop? Maybe it has been rebuilt/altered in that area since 1483. If it has, the information is not to hand. But if no alterations have been made, dare we wonder if a proper examination might locate the very spot? A change in the construction—a subtly newer cement, different stonemasons, and so on—might well be detectable. But that is conjecture, of course.

If you go to
and search ‘Elizabeth’ or go to ‘III. Subsequent Developments’ you will find out much more about Cheyneygates/The Abbot’s House/the Deanery and Elizabeth’s sojourns there.

Still with the same source, when Henry VII came to the throne, Elizabeth obtained a lease (10th July 1486) on Cheyneygates from the Abbot. Apparently for the entire property, which is described in the lease as ‘the mansion of Cheyneygates’. Why did she want to be there, one wonders? It was a luxurious property, there’s no mistake of that, but how could it possibly have happy memories? On the other hand, the one thing it did offer was…sanctuary. Would she have felt safe there, this time from her cold new son-in-law? Probably. However, “. . . whether she entered into possession may be questioned, as she was soon afterwards sent to the abbey of Bermondsey, where she died in 1492″. It would seem that Henry didn’t give her time to sneak back into sanctuary to elude him. To Bermondsey she went, and in Bermondsey she stayed, except for being trotted out now and then. Sic transit gloria mundi.

A further search of the source, for ‘The Lease to the Widowed Queen’, will take you to a copy of the actual indenture (see below) – complete with the information that Elizabeth was responsible for the kitchen gutter! Oh, the picture that must form in minds—proud Elizabeth having to poke around in a gutter to be sure it was in full working order . . . (OK, we know she didn’t, but it’s quite a thought.)

The Lease:-

“This eindenture made bitwene John by the sufferaunce of god Abbot

of the Monastery of seint Peter of Westm’ the Priour and covent of the

same of the one partie And the most high and excellent Princesse

Elizabeth by the grace of god Quene of England late wyf to the moost

mighty Prince of famous memore Edward the iiij th late Kyng of Englond

and of Fraunce and lord of Irelond on the other partie Witnesseth

that the forsaid Abbot Priour and Covent consideryng and wele re-

membryng that the forsaid excellent and noble pryncesse in the tyme

of her said late husbond our alder liege lord was unto the said Monastery

verry especiall good lord aswele in protectyng and defendyng the libertes

& ffrauncheses of the same as in bountevous and largely departyng of

her goods to the edifying and reparacions of the ffabrice of the said

monastery by the hole assent concent & will of all the Captre have

graunted dimised and to ferme letyn unto the forsaid Quene a mansion

with in the said Abbey called Cheynegatis Apperteynyng unto the

Abbot of the said place for the tyme beyng with all the Howses

Chambers Aisiaments and other Appertenaunces therunto belongyng

To have and hold the forsaid mansion with Thappertenaunces and

other premisses to the said Quene from the fest of Ester last passed

before the date herof unto thende of the terme of xl yeres then next

folowyng and fully to be complete Yeldyng therfor yerely to the same

Abbot or his successor or theire Assignes x w of lawfull money of Englond

duryng the said terme to be paid atte festis of Mighelmas and Ester by

even porcions And the forsaid Quene at her propre costis and Charge

shall sufficiently repaire uphold and mayntene the said mansion and

voide dense repaire and make the gutter goyng from the kechen of the

same as often as shall be necessary and behovefull And atte ende of

her terme the said mansion with Thappertenaunces sufficiently repaired

mayntened and upholden yeld up unto the forsaid Abbot Priour and

Covent and theire Successours Also it is covenanted and agreed bitwne

the parties abovesaid that the said Quene shall in no wise sell lete

to ferme nor aliene her said yeres nor eny parte therof in the said

mansion with Thappertenaunces to any other person or persones duryng

the said terme And the Abbot Priour and Covent and their successours

forsaid the said mansion with thappertenaunces to the said Quene in

the manner and fourme aboverehersed shall warant ayenst all people by

these presents Provided alwayes that yf it shall happen the same

Quene to dye within the said terme of xl yeres as god defend that then

this present graunt and lees immediately after her decesse be voide and

of no strengthe And over this it is covenanted and agreed that yf it

happen the said Rent to be behynd unpaid after any terme of the termes

abovelymytted in party or in all that is to say the Rent of Mighelmasse

terme at seint Martyns day in wynter then next folowyng and the Rent

of Ester at Whitsontyde then next ensuyng that then it shalbe leefull

to the said Abbot and his Successours in the forsaid mansion with the

Appertenaunces to reentre And the said Quene therfrom to expelle

and put out this lees and dimyssyon notwithstanding In Witnesse &c

Yeven the x day of Juyll the yere of our lord god mcccclxxxvi And the

first yere of the reigne ofkyng Henry the vii th . (Register I. f. 4.)”

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6 thoughts on “Cheyneygates, Elizabeth Woodville’s bolt-hole, er, sanctuary . . .

  1. Fascinating – with brilliant detail. The actual comforts of sanctuary have been much misunderstood by some modern writers (who think that those seeking sanctuary hid in the crypt !! Thanks for a great article

    Liked by 1 person

  2. alexa on said:

    Than you for this. Am I correct in thinking that we can tour these facilities today?


  3. Lovely article. I can just imagine them knocking a hole for the Queen and her nicked treasure. Was EW completely mad, desperate or both? Or was she just a determined mother who wanted to rule for her son? Actually, her story and the Wydeville coup reminds me of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland putting Jane Grey, a descendent of EW on the throne, instead of Mary Tudor. Also, when Edward Seymour seized power of the Protectorate in order to rule via his nephew, Edward vi, in defiance of the will of Henry Viii, he too was acting so as he could control a child King, regardless of what was best for the country. Richard was quite right to challenge the Wydeville clan as he was appointed to act as Lord Protector, knew how to keep the country in order, not Elizabeth Wydeville.


  4. Pingback: More about Cheneygates, this time concerning Richard II and Henry IV…. | murreyandblue

  5. Pingback: Katherine, daughter of Edward IV…. | murreyandblue

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