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Woking Palace: A Royal and Illustrious Legacy

// 24th September, the Duke of Gloucester visited the remnants of what once was the royal palace of Woking. However, with time, it has fallen into disrepair, and very little of the actual structure survives, just a small stone building, some brick walls, and a system of buried foundations. While hardly any of the original royal palace remains, it still is an essential part of Britain’s heritage, and it boasts an illustrious history.

The Duke of Gloucester.

The Duke of Gloucester.

Why Is Woking Palace Important?

Flanking the river Wey in the county of Surrey, Woking Palace was once a grand residence where the Tudor kings would come to hunt. From the 13th century to the late 16th century, it was home to a colourful cast of characters, amongst them a king’s favourite, an earl executed for treason, the first Princess of Wales, the brave mother of Henry VII, and three subsequent monarchs. It even was the setting of the signing of a very important treaty that created an alliance between England and Spain.

Woking Palace is designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument due to Section 1 of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act of 1979, later revised by the National Heritage Act of 1983.


The ruins of Woking Palace, near the river Wey, Surrey.


The History of Woking Palace

The first mention of the place we now know as Woking Palace was at the time of the legendary King Edward the Confessor when he set aside the land for the Crown’s use. The next mention of Woking Palace land was when Richard I, feeling generous, granted the land to Alan, Lord Bassett of Wycombe.


Isabella the Fair, Queen of England condemning Hugh le Despenser the Younger to death.

However, it wasn’t until the 13th century that a residence was erected at that site, the land then belonging to the Despenser family. Aliva, the granddaughter of Lord Alan, went on to marry Hugh le Despenser, 1st Baron le Despenser and the manor passed to her husband. Her grandson was the most infamous family member of all, as he was Hugh le Despenser the Younger, the recognised favourite of Edward II. The Despensers lost Woking Palace when both Hugh le Despenser the Elder and Hugh le Despenser the Younger were executed for treason.

The manor next passed into the hands of Edmund of Woodstock, Earl of Kent as his inheritance. Just two years later, with the execution of Edmund, it reverted to the power of the Crown. At the behest of Margaret, Countess of Kent, Edward III restored the lands and manor back into the Kent family, so that her son John would have an inheritance. Unfortunately, John died at an early age, and his lands were given by law to his sister, Joan, Countess of Kent (known by her title of “the Fair Maid of Kent.”). The manor then passed into the hands of Joan’s first husband, Thomas de Holland. It then belonged to his son, John de Holland, 1st Duke of Exeter whose lands were forfeit once again to the Crown when he was executed for treason (due to his involvement in the Epiphany Uprising against Henry IV).

Thomas de Holland, Earl of Kent (son of Joan of Kent) married Alice FitzAlan, and together, they produced a daughter, Margaret de Holland, Countess of Somerset. Margaret wed John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset and their son was John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset, who went on to marry Margaret Beauchamp of Bletsoe. With the mysterious death of John Beaufort (often considered a suicide) in 1444, Woking manor passed into the hands of his only daughter and heir, Lady Margaret Beaufort, the woman whose son would one day become Henry VII. Margaret lived in Woking manor with her third husband, Sir Henry Stafford, from 1466 until his death in 1471.

At the close of the Wars of the Roses, and when Henry Tudor triumphed over Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field, Woking Palace became a place of importance. Throughout his reign, Henry would convert Woking from a mere countryside manor house to a grand palace with a Great Hall and an array of buildings, surrounded by a double moat. In the year 1490, the Treaty of Woking was signed at the Palace, solidifying the marriage arrangement between Arthur, the Prince of Wales and the Spanish Infanta, Catherine of Aragon.

Henry VII may have been stringent with his wealth, but his heir, Henry VIII was known to be of a merry predisposition, and he enjoyed improving places such as Woking Palace. He continued with his father’s dream of building the palace, not only repairing and renovating what was old but making modifications where possible. Constantly enlarging the palace from between 1515 to 1543, it was one of his favourite royal residences. He had a new wharf and two bowling alleys built, created room partitions, and many of the workers engaged in plastering, painting, and the repairing of glass windows. The Great Hall was connected to brand-new kitchens as well as an apartment for the king and queen. All of Henry’s six wives visited Woking Palace at one point or another. It was a popular destination for hunting and Henry would take his queens out on the grounds to see the beauty of the country.

Henry VIII’s son and heir, Edward VI continued to reside at Woking Palace upon occasion but his successor, Mary I, completely ignored the place entirely. It was Elizabeth I who took up the task of continuing to improve the palace from the years of 1565 to 1594 in the classic Tudor style. With the death of Elizabeth, Woking Palace passed into the hands of the next monarch, James I of England and Scotland.

What Happened To Woking Palace?


Sir Edward Zouch who was granted Woking Palace in 1620.

Even though the new royal family, the Stuarts possessed ownership of Woking Palace, they wanted nothing to do with the old palace and its outdated Tudor style. Preferring Oatlands Palace and eager to be rid of the old place, James gave it to a courtier by the name of Sir Edward Zouch in 1620. While he had a beautiful palace on his hands, Zouch had other ideas, and he sought to create a new manor altogether known as Hoe Bridge Place

That is when Zouch began to disassemble Woking Palace, taking whatever was precious or useful, such as bricks, glass, or tiles to utilise in the creation of the new manor house. There are theories that some of the neighbouring places such as Sutton Place may also have used building supplies recycled from Woking. Once he had taken what he needed, Zouch left Woking to fall into disarray, giving up the land for the purpose of agriculture. The land that was once celebrated as prime parkland was now used for the creation of farmhouses and some of the existing buildings were converted for that same purpose.

Woking Palace Today

After the Woking Borough Council purchased Woking Palace in 1988, it has been dedicated to raising public awareness of this historic site. Over the years, the council has conducted major excavations, which have yielded some unusual finds.

In 2009, Woking Borough Council received a £ 30,700 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, which enabled council members to not only improve Woking Palace but to buy them the equipment needed for work on the site. Excavations have unearthed a late 15th century gold hatpin, an elaborately designed green-glazed plate, remnants of a toy pottery horse (likely belonging to a child), and a large amount of Valencian tiles.

According to the Woking Borough Council, the palace excavation has produced the most significant accumulation of Valencian tiles in all of Britain. With the grant money, the team of volunteers was able to install electricity in the vault building (the only standing stone building left at Woking), to acquire Tudor era-specific items for the building, and to purchase a Tudor style pavilion to evoke an historical feel as well as to interest the public.

And the royal visit to Woking today has thrown the spotlight once more on this hidden gem which has played such a big part in the Monarchy’s history through many centuries past.

Image Credit: The Duke of Gloucester via Wikipedia [Public Domain]; Woking Palace via (CC BY-SA 2.0); Isabella, Queen of England and Hugh le Despenser via Wikimedia [Public Domain];Sir Edward Zouch via Wikipedia [Public Domain].