Charles II and Newmarket

9th February 2018

Palace House is steeped in royal history, this blog looks at how why Charles II and Newmarket are so closely linked. Why did he chose to settle on Newmarket to build his sporting palace and stables - and how he altered horseracing history!

6th September 1651 Charles and Colonel Carlis a royalist officer, hide amongst the branches of an Oak tree at Boscobel House. Fear made their hearts beat furiously. They could hear and see the Roundhead soldiers searching the wood for them. Every now and then a shout would echo through the trees and the soldiers like a wave would move towards it and Charles and Colonel Carlis hearts would beat faster fearing capture.

Charles was exhausted.  At some point exhaustion overtook fear and he went to sleep.......

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For a week in the middle of May 1660 storms battered the Dutch coast but around the 22nd they subsided allowing the Naseby, renamed Royal Charles, to sail from Holland to England.  Charles in nervous anticipation paced about the deck. By the 25th he was nearing Dover – he could see the crowds lining the cliffs - he could hear them - cheering and shouting.

Finally Charles had returned home – a home he had left in tragic circumstances many years earlier.  He remembered the escape from Newmarket with his father and their ride to York, execution of his father, hiding in an Oak Tree at Boscobel House, the years of exile in Europe.  Now it had finally come to an end and he would be King.

March 1666 – Charles returned to Newmarket for the Spring Meeting a visit which lasted at least eight days. Although he may have attended the first running of the Twelve Stone Plate (which became the Town Plate) in the autumn 1665.  Several members of Parliament were his guests at the 1666 Spring Meeting at a cost for their lodging of £189.

It is not clear where Charles stayed during this visit – more than likely it was at Audley End which some years later he tried to buy from the Earl of Suffolk.  His temporary residence in Newmarket was The Earl of Thomond’s house on the high street – a residence William Samwell would persuade him to buy three years later.

This visit must have stirred up some good and bad memories for him especially when he saw the dilapidated and desolate state of the ‘Palace’ he had once visited with his parents every Spring and Autumn before the Civil War.

As for the races, in March 1666 Sir Paul Neile wrote to Henry Slingsby with details of the horses and individuals who took part eg…'My Lord Townley’s horse Herring ran with Lord Suffolk’s horse Whitefoot and won.  The King was nobly entertained by Lord Suffolk and I think he will buy his house’.  Altogether he records 7 matches or races during the Spring Meeting. (History of Newmarket and Annals of the Turf J P Hore p254)

By 1670 Charles had purchased Earl Thomond’s ‘old timber framed house’ for

Remaining elements of Palace House Remaining elements of Palace House

£2000 as well as the Greyhound Inn next door for £170.10s.  He commissioned William Samuel to construct a house in which he could live and entertain. Once finished, the house was described as a small courtyard surrounded by unpretentious but comfortable suite of rooms for Charles and immediate family - even this small courtyard had 124 rooms. The Lord Chamberlain’s Office was next door on the high street.

John Evelyn, the 17th century diarist, who visited in 1670 was unimpressed with the house especially with the ‘awkward angles’,’ poky rooms’ and ‘low ceilings’ and especially its location,

‘…placed in a dirty street, without any court or avenue like a common burgers whereas it might or ought to have been built at either end of the town upon the very carpet where the sports are celebrated’.

Evelyn though was far more impressed with the stables,

‘Many fine horses kept at vast expense, with all the art and tenderness imaginable.’

Racing, like sailing, became Charles’ passion –  For racing Charles employed for ‘boy riders’ jockeys – expanded the stables and set up a stud.  He also improved the racecourse by adding a round course and introduced the idea of silk colours - he gave ‘purses’ and ‘trophies’ to the winners. When he visited Newmarket he would be on the gallops early in the mornings to watch his horses and others train.

As a lover of racing he would cheer on the winner past the post and ride in races himself most notably when winning the 1671 Newmarket  Town Plate.

This passionate love affair with racing and Newmarket sadly came to end in 1683. A fire on the evening of 22nd March on the North side of the high street led to the races being cancelled.  As a result Charles and his brother James returned to London earlier than anticipated and a plot to assassinate Charles and James at Rye House was thwarted.

Charles was furious to discover the assassination plot and therefore decided to move his racing interests from Newmarket to Winchester.  He even went so far as to engage an architect to build a ‘Palace’ to live and entertain.

Charles died in 1685 before his plan came to fruition.  Newmarket grew as a centre of horseracing and the breeding of racehorses and justifies its name as the ‘Historical Home of Horseracing’.

Blog by Jenny Barley, Visitor Services Team