During the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381, when the Tower of London was breached by the rebels and some of those sheltering inside were dragged out and executed, another person of note who was there was widowed Joan of Kent, Princess of Wales, mother of 14-year-old King Richard II. Well, the future Henry IV was hiding there too, but we won’t talk about him, because I’m only concerned with what happened to Joan. When the Revolt first began, she was on pilgrimage to Canterbury, but on hearing what was happening her only thought was to return to London, to the Tower, to be with her son, who was lodging there at the time. On the way she was jostled and frightened by a band of peasants. Well, when Richard made his memorable journey to Mile End, and confronted the rebels in that famous episode from history, Joan rode part of the way with him and then returned to the Tower. She was there when the rebels broke in….or rather were allowed in when the guards opened gates and made no attempt to stop them.
Joan’s bedroom was invaded, and her bed broken. Scoundrelly men demanded kisses from her, and in the awful dread of the moment she collapsed. It seems she was then conveyed out of the Tower to a waiting boat on the river and conveyed upstream to safety. I believe the rebels saw to this, for they meant her no harm, they were after the young king’s hated advisers, Archbishop Sudbury et al.
This is where my dilemma begins, for in general her destination is referred to as simply “the Wardrobe”, a royal residence. OK, that’s fair enough, but which one? The King’s Wardrobe was in Carter Lane near Baynard’s Castle, Blackfriars, but it was to the residence known as the Queen’s Wardrobe—which was away from the river, uphill from Vintry Ward at the very top of a street called Royal Street, or La Riole—that Joan went.
Now, you will have to forgive me if the street names are confusing, because they are confusing, but the situation of the Queen’s Wardrobe is clear on the illustration above, from the Agas Map. It was originally known as La Reale. There are various spellings, and the name is also a reference to the area, not just the residence. On the Agas map above you’ll see the street itself is called Toure Rouial. Incidentally, the “Royal” isn’t to do with royalty, but stems from the fact that wine merchants from La Réole in Bordeaux settled there. Then matters were complicated because that first name changed to Tower Royal. On top of that, when Edward III gave it to his queen, Philippa of Hainault, it was changed again to become the Queen’s Wardrobe.
It subsequently became a favoured place for Joan of Kent. She was there more than once. So it was in La Reale/Tower Royal/Queen’s Wardrobe that young Richard II found his mother and was able to reassure himself that she was safe and well. And vice versa, of course. Richard too would use the premises as a residence.
Of particular interest to followers of Murrey & Blue is that a century later Richard III granted it to John Howard, Duke of Norfolk.
If you go to this digitised book you’ll find a transcript of William Besant’s London City. Search “Tower Royal” and the following turns up:-
“….Just beyond its eastern end, across the present College Hill, stood the Tower Royal. The wine merchants of La Reole, near Bordeaux, settled in and round the present College Hill during or before the reign of Edward I. The hill and the immediate neighbourhood became termed “the Reole”: the word “Royal” is a corrupted form, and has nothing to do with kings. The tower, tenement, or inn situated in “the Reole” stood on the north of Cloak Lane, at College Hill corner; it extended eastwards nearly to the Walbrook, northwards perhaps to Budge Row. It had a south gate, and probably also a courtyard opening into the lane; and a west gate standing on the hill. Perhaps Henry I. was the founder: Stow wishes us to believe that Stephen lodged here, “as in the heart of the City for his more safety,” which is very likely true….
“….The theory that the tower, or main building, was reserved to the King finds support in 1331, when Edward III. granted “La Real” to Queen Phillippa for life, to serve as her wardrobe. A few years later Phillippa repaired, perhaps rebuilt, it; particulars of the work done still survive (Cottonian MS.). In 1369, a few months after Phillippa’s death, the King gave this “inn (hospitum) with its appurtenances, called le Reole” to the canons of his college of St. Stephen’s, Westminster, the annual value being then £20. By some means the place still continued at the royal disposal, both to dwell in and to grant away. When the Wat Tyler rebellion in 1381 drove Johanna, the King’s mother, from the Tower of London, she took refuge here, the place being then called the Queen’s Wardrobe: thither came Richard II. when he returned from Smithfield, after the death of Tyler. Richard was still here in 1386, “lying in the Royal,” as Stow has it, when he granted a charter of £1000 per annum to the refugee Leon VI., King of Armenia. The place was granted by Richard III. to John Howard, Duke of Norfolk. In later times the Tower became neglected, and converted into stabling for the King’s horses. 224When Stow wrote (1598), it was divided into tenements let out to divers persons. All perished in the Great Fire; but at the rebuilding the south entrance and courtyard in Cloak Lane were plainly marked by Balding’s Yard; the west gateway by Tower Royal Court in what was then Tower Royal Street, but is now the upper end of College Hill. Neither survived; but a small lane called Tower Royal, in Cordwainer Ward, marks the western boundary….”