THE KING’S HENCHMAN: The Commoner and the Royal who saved the Monarchy from Cromwell
Published by Gibson Square Books.
Revised and edited paperback, 3 April 2014, price £9.99, ISBN 978-1908096654
(first published in hardback, 8 November 2012, as The King’s Henchman: Henry Jermyn, Stuart Spymaster and Architect of the British Empire, price £20, ISBN 9781908096302)
‘A rich and heady brew that gallops along at a cracking pace’ – Dan Cruickshank.
‘Energetic and original’ – The Literary Review.
‘A well-written book about an interesting subject” – Times Literary Supplement.
One of the Daily Express‘s TOP NON-FICTION CHRISTMAS READS (7 December 2012)
‘Twenty years of research underpin Adolph’s accomplished and fascinating life of this intriguing character’, Your Family Tree, March 2013.
To see the book’s Amazon page, please click here.
I started researching this book in 1990, when I found a published statement saying that rumours of Henry Jermyn marrying Queen Henrietta Maria, widow of Charles I, could not possibly be true. I was curious to learn why not. Twenty two years later, the results of the vast amount of research and writing which ensued from that innocent question have been published by Gibson Square, whose other authors include such luminaries as Richard Dawkins, Brian Sewell, Alan Greenspan and A.N. Wilson.
Henry Jermyn (1605-1684) was a young Stuart courtier who, largely due to his skill in speaking French, became the confidant and life-long friend of Henrietta Maria de Bourbon, the beautiful wife of Charles I. Their closeness is widely attested by writers of the time, and some went so far as to assert he was the real father of Charles II. There is some evidence to suggest they may have been right. Below, you will see two pictures, one of Jermyn as a young man, painted by Van Dyck, and the other of Charles II at about the same age. The similarity is certainly worthy of note. But regardless of whether Jermyn actually was the King’s father, the fact that he could have been had a significant effect on the way Charles II and the rest of the royal family treated him.
Through the Queen’s influence, Jermyn rose to prominence and power in Charles I’s court. Yet as his status increased, the foundations on which royal power lay were shaken by the King’s conflict with Parliament. As the crisis mushroomed in 1640-1, and without holding any significant office, Jermyn became the most powerful man at court. Yet his plot to bring military force to bear on Parliament backfired, and he fled into exile in France.
The Civil War began and Henrietta Maria (pictured below) joined him abroad. Together, they raised a great army, and, risking near death in a terrible storm, they sailed back to England to wage a moderately successful campaign against Parliamentary forces. In 1644, when the Queen became pregnant again, they returned to France, setting up their home, and hence the unofficial power-centre of the English court, at the Louvre in Paris.
During the rule of Cromwell, Jermyn worked ceaselessly to restore Charles II to the throne and was the driving force behind the ‘Second Civil War’. As life on the Continent became ever harder for the exiled Royalists, however, factions developed and Jermyn’s Louvre circle eventually lost power to the Chancellor, Edward Hyde.
After the Restoration of 1660, Jermyn made a final bid to oust Hyde from power in 1663. Being unsuccessful, he focussed on his life-long plan of creating a lasting peace between England and France. Parts of Jermyn’s plans were sucessful, including the marriage of Charles II to Catherine of Braganza, daughter of France’s ally the King of Portugal – a marriage that brought England Bombay, and thus laid the foundations for Britain’s empire in India. The Secret Treaty of Dover (1670) created the Anglo-French Grand Design, a temporary fulfilment of his aims, and a massive political achievement for Jermyn. His efforts to preserve this great alliance, however, in the face of enormous Francophobia at Court, would dominate the rest of his life, though ultimately Charles II was to end his days in a firm alliance with his cousin Louis XIV for which Jermyn could take full credit.
Jermyn’s story takes place on a stage of glittering splendour, in the courts of Whitehall, St James’s, the Louvre and Versailles. His story is also a personal one, of struggle, failure and triumph. It is dominated by his utter devotion to one woman, Queen Henrietta Maria, making this book not just a book about the nature of political power and influence, but also an extraordinary love story.
Jermyn was also the patron of two of the greatest poets of his era, William D’Avenant and Abraham Cowley. Both their poems, especially the former’s mini-epic Madagascar, add unexpected shades to our understanding of Jermyn’s already beguiling personality. His great passion, however, was not books, but architecture. As a protégé of Inigo Jones, and future mentor of Christopher Wren, Jermyn was one of the most influential men in the popularisation of Classical architecture in Britain. The restoration of old Somerset House and the creation of modern Greenwich Palace and Greenwich Park both owe a great deal to him. His great work was St James’s Square and the surrounding streets, including Jermyn Street, in London’s Westminster. It was the first truly unified, residential square built on Classical lines in London, and it caused the growth of the West End of London, to the extent that Jermyn has justly been hailed as ‘the Founder of the West End’.
Jermyn’s passion for architecture associated him heavily with the Freemasons. Little is known of this shadowy organisation in the 17th century, but surviving sources are clear on one point: between 1660 and 1666, Jermyn was Freemasonry’s Grand Master. It is likely, in fact, that his Freemasonic links were of great importance to his pre-1660 anti-Parliamentarian plots, and there is no doubt, through his reforms, that he helped lay the foundations for the great success of Freemasonry in the 18th century.
Very few biographies can legitimately probe into their subjects’s lives after their death. An elegy written for Jermyn’s death, however, affords a rare opportunity to follow the journey of Jermyn’s soul on the next stage of its journey, in poetic terms at least, and to reflect upon the extraordinary nature of his life.
Jermyn’s enormous contribution to 17th century politics in Britain and abroad, and to the spread of Classical architecture, have largely been ignored. This is mainly because he left behind no archive of correspondence – it was far too sensitive to be preserved – and no self-congratulatory memoir. I spent a substantial chunk of the 1990s drawing together evidence about him from letters, official records, biographies and memoirs of his contemporaries in Britain and France. The précis for my biography of Henry Jermyn was short-listed in the Biographer’s Club Prize in 2002. A decade later, it finally appeared in print.
Praise for The King’s Henchman
The Mail on Sunday gave the book four out of five stars (16 December 2012).
Leading TV historian Dan Cruickshank wrote ‘The King’s Henchman is a good old-fashioned romp through history rather than a dry, academic study… a rich and heady brew that gallops along at a cracking pace’ (“Royal aide, or secret lover?”, The Mail on Sunday, 16 December 2012, p. 10).
Dan Cruickshank is one of the greatest living authorities on London’s architectural past, so his seal of approval meant a great deal. Dan’s summary of the story of St James’s is worth reproducing in full: ‘Inspired by the pioneering classical architecture of Madrid and Paris, Jermyn, with Henrietta Maria, resolved to create a similarly impressive area in London, and in 1640 started to survey the fields north of St James’s Palace. But it all came to nothing, for within two years England was gripped by a civil war that ended in death for Charles I and exile for Henrietta Maria and Jermyn. The couple spent more than a decade together in France, both returning to England in 1660, and less than two years later, Jermyn resurrected their cherished project and launched the development of St James’s Square. When Henrietta Maria left England for good in 1665, Jermyn pushed the project to completion: perhaps he saw it as a memorial to the woman he certainly loved and to whom – whether or not she was also his lover – he had dedicated much of his life’.
“Genealogist reveals royal scandal”, Canterbury Times, 8 November 2012.
“Cuckolding spy fathered 2 monarchs”, Sunday Express, 11 November 2012, half-page article, p. 34. To read it click here.
Talk, 14 November 2012, 7.30-10.30, “The King’s Henchman and genealogy”, The Phoenix Tavern, Faversham, Kent (hosted by David Selves, Deputy Chairman of the London Press Club: previous speakers included Martin Bell and Nigel Farage). See here.
“A cavalier attitude to monarchy”, review by Blair Worden in The Spectator, 17 November 2012. Prof. Worden wrote ‘Adolph does have a visual feel for the age and a rare gift for conveying it, virtues which prosper in his depiction of his hero’s imaginative sponsorship of the building of Jermyn Street and St James’s Square on scruffy London fields’.
Professor Worden pronounced himself unconvinced by my overall argument that Jermyn was an immensely influential figure in seventeenth century politics who had been overlooked by most historians (including Professor Blair Worden) so The Spectator published a letter from me setting the situation straight:
“Cavalier treatment“, letter from Anthony Adolph, The Spectator, 1 December 2012.
The Spectator also commissioned a piece by me for their journalists’ blog:
“Henry Jermyn – the hidden power behind Charles II’s throne“, Anthony Adolph, The Spectator blog, 4 December 2012.
The Daily Express‘s TOP NON-FICTION CHRISTMAS READS, chosen by Christopher Silvester (7 December 2012, p. 51) included the book (see Make a present of cracking tales from our past), saying ”Genealogist Anthony Adolph has chosen a fascinating, shadowy figure in Henry Jermyn as the subject of his first biography, The King’s Henchman: Stuart Spymaster And Architect Of The British Empire (Gibson Square Books, £20). Adolph has been studying Jermyn for 20 years and is convinced that he was the lover of Charles I’s French Catholic queen, Henrietta Maria, as well as one of the saviours of the British monarchy, through his negotiations with Parliament to restore Charles II to the throne, and a saviour of the nation through his diplomacy that averted a war with France. He was certainly well connected for a commoner and had his finger in many pies, deserving Adolph’s accolade as founder of London’s West End…”.
‘I am enjoying The King’s Henchman very much. Your narrative style is so clear, it makes the story both comprehensible and entertaining at the same time’ – Paul Bartlett PhD, founder of the Coverdale DNA project, January 2013.
Noticed under “The bastard kings?” in Your Family Tree, February 2013, p. 10 and reviewed in the magazine’s March edition, p. 85 as follows (and my sincere thanks go to the anonymous author): ‘Anthony Adolph is well-known to YFT readers for his monthly guides to surnames and quite possibly for his excellent series of genealogy textbooks published by Collins. In recent years he has also taken to writing biographies… This new work now explores Jermyn’s life in much more detail and is the first full biography. Why should Jermyn be given such treatment? He has certainly been neglected, but clearly unjustly. It has been speculated that he was actually the father of Charles II and James II, and in this book Adolph explores that claim and also asserts that Jermyn was the architect of the British Empire and even the father of modern town planning. Jermyn represents a worthy subject of such study: a commoner from Suffolk who rose to the highest levels of connection, he was a soldier and spymaster who was friends with many key figures of the age, from the famous diarist Samuel Pepys to Cardinal Richelieu. Twenty years of research underpin Adolph’s accomplished and fascinating life of this intriguing character. Read it for: A story of a major, but neglected figure, who rose through the heights of society’.
The book was noticed in St George’s College Reunite magazine, Winter 2012, p. 47.
Described as ‘something meaty’ in The Belgravia Residents’ Journal, March 2013, issue 10.
‘energetic and original…. a rich sense of place… Jermyn’s contribution to what John Evelyn called “a renaissance in English classical architecture, and his championing of symmetry and Sir Christopher Wren, are justifiably emphasised. Adolph switches to the first person to tell us about the commemorative plaque that he mounted on the wall of Chatham House, a gesture of thanks to the man who has given him so much fascinating material to research. Few biographers of the long-dead feel quite so strong a connection with the people they write about. Anthony Adolph could hardly have done him more justice’ – John Cooper, author of The Queen’s Agent, in his review of my book entitled ‘Power Player’, The Literary Review, March 2013, p. 29.
The book was included in a number of radio and TV interviews at the time of the birth of H.R.H. Prince George of Cambridge in July 2013.
The book was reviewed by Michael Braddick (Professor of History, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at Sheffield University) in the Times Literary Supplement (“Scrapes and rumours”, 2 August 2013, p. 23). “Henry Jermyn is clearly an enticing subject for a biography… Anthony Adolph is well placed to write the biography, having produced the judicious and learned entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography… a well-written book about an interesting subject”.
The Adventures of Henry Jermyn
Jermynology: how genealogy can change history: The Ancestors Lecture, Ancestors Afternoon at the National Archives, Thursday 22 February 2007. If you would like to listen to this talk as a podcast, click here: Jermynology Podcast (you may need to allow a short time for it to load. The second last button from the right is the volume control. The pictures mentioned in the talk are shown above).
Henry Jermyn and the Jermyns of Rushbrook.
Talk on 13 May 2007 at Moyse’s Hall Museum, Bury St Edmunds, during the Bury St Edmunds Festival. The talk was a marvelous opportunity to take Jermyn back to where his family originated, for the Jermyn family seat of Rushbrook is only three miles south-east of the market town of Bury St Edmunds, and his first title, granted by Charles I at Henrietta Maria’s behest, was Baron Jermyn of St Edmundsbury.
Amongst the enthusiastic local audience was a lady who grew up in the gatehouse of Ruhsbrook and remembers watching through the curtains as a six year-old girl as the old mansion, where Jermyn grew up, burned down in 1960.
The world’s oldest identifiable wine bottle?
In June 2007, Paul Gaskell, was on holiday in Jersey and noticed a piece in the Jersey Evening Post(30 May 2007) that mentioned Henry Jermyn. Since the 1920s, Mont Orgueil castle’s museum has on display a wine bottle that had been stamped (whilst it was being made) with the Jermyn family’s seal, thought to date from the 1640s. They had thought no more of it, until recently they were contacted by Professor Martin Biddle of Oxford University, who told them ‘if it belongs to Henry Jermyn’s first governorship (1644-9), it would be the earliest datable wine bottle’. There are of course other wine bottles that must be considerably older than this one, but as they are uninscribed they cannot be dated accurately. The fact that this one has Jermyn’s arms on it, and the Jermyn family’s tenures as governors of Jersey are very well chronicled, makes this an extraordinary find. I was delighted to see Jermyn’s name in the press, and on 18 July the paper published the following communication from me, under the title “1645… A Governor who liked his wine”:
I have just been sent your piece about the early wine bottle found at Mont Orgueil, which may be ‘the earliest known datable wine bottle’. I must say, I almost fell off my chair when I read it, because I have just written and published the first ever biography of its possible owner, Henry Jermyn, Earl of St Albans (1605-1684).
The bottle may or may not have been Henry Jermyn’s, because it is identifiable only by his family’s coat of arms, and as you know several members of his family held the office of Governor of Jersey. The first was actually his father, Sir Thomas Jermyn (1573-1645), who became governor on 22 December 1631, with special dispensation to avoid the tedious necessity of having to live there. His son Henry was a very close friend of Charles I’s queen, Henrietta Maria, and may actually have had an affair with her. After this Henry had an affair with one of the Queen’s maids of honour, for which he was exiled briefly to Jersey in 1634. He inherited the Governorship himself when his father died in 1645 and paid a very grand return visit there in 1646, to escort the young Prince of Wales, the future Charles II – who may actually have been his son – back to Paris.
The wine bottle could therefore date back to 1631: if it is thought unlikely that an armorial wine bottle would have been there in the absence of a Jermyn in person, then I can certainly give you 1634 as a possibility. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me at all if the bottle was Henry Jermyn’s. The title I have given my book, Full of Soup and Gold, is from a contemporary poem alluding to his inordinate love of the high life – wine, female company and food – which marked him out even by the sozzled standards of Charles II’s day.
Henry Jermyn was one of the great movers and shakers of his day. London’s St James’s Square was his idea too, kick-starting the growth of the West End as we know it today. The Restoration owed a great deal to his behind-the-scenes diplomacy, as did the marriage of Charles to Catherine of Braganza, that brought Bombay as a dowry, thus laying the foundations for the British Empire in India.
But I never suspected that he was responsible for the earliest datable wine bottle. Icing on the cake? I’d raise a glass to that!
The appearance of this article led to an interview on BBC Radio Jersey on 25 July 2007. Initially planned at 10 minutes, it lasted for a full 25 minutes as presenter Sarah Palmer (who was born in Bury St Edmunds and lived in St Albans before moving to Jersey – three Jermyn connections in all) enthusiastically asked all about Jermyn’s connections with the island, his involvement as a Freemason and of course the love of soup and gold that led to Jermyn owning the world’s oldest wine bottle.
My work on Jermyn received a considerable boost from Dr Maureen E. Mulvihill, a respected scholar, author, and rare book collector with the Princeton Research Forum, Princeton, New Jersey. She has written extensively on the subject of Mary (Villiers), Duchess of Richmond (“very probably” the long-contested ‘Ephelia’ poetess), who was a member of Jermyn’s circle. Her assessment of my Jermyn delvings appeared in the journal Seventeenth-Century News (65, 3 & 4, 2007) and was accompanied by a full-page captioned photo of Lely’s 1670 Garter portrait of Jermyn.
On 19 May 2008, I was invited to give my Jermynology talk in Oxford. This was another ‘return journey’ for Jermyn, who marched into Oxford with Henrietta Maria at the head of their regiment, the Queen’s Lifeguards, on 14 July 1643. It was an occasion for great rejoicing, they for having arrived safely, and the Royalists for their money, troops, gunpowder, French officers and morale. The King was lodged in Christ Church, but they set up their own establishment over the road at Merton College (whose gateway is pictured below)and stayed there through the winter and into the spring. The tide of war was turning, however, and the pregnant queen, terrified that the approaching army of Lord Essex would capture her and her unborn child, insisted on leaving for France. She and Jermyn left in April 1644, neither to see Charles I again.
Jermynology: case studies in Royal Bastardy, a talk given at the Society of Genealogists on Saturday 21 August 2010, as part of the Society of Genealogists’ half-day course “Tracing Royal Bastards”. The other talk was a general one on the subject of royal bastardy by Peter de Vere Beauclerk-Dewar, a grandson of the late Duke of St Albans, and thus a descendant of the first duke, son of Charles II and Nell Gwyn, who was given the title of duke with the territorial designation of St Albans within days of the death of Jermyn, who had been Earl of St Albans. The Jermyn talk focussed on four questions of illicit conceptions and marriages: possible marriages between Jermyn and Henrietta Maria and Harry Jermyn and Mary of Orange; the possibility that Charles II was Jermyn’s son, and the possibility that the first Duke of Grafton was the son of Harry Jermyn, and not of Charles II.
(Left) Speaking about Jermyn at the Society of Genealogists. (Right) The Jermyn Street garden party
Exactly two weeks later, I was invited to give a talk for the press at the Cavendish Hotel, Jermyn Street, at the start of the Jermyn Street Association’s “The Art of Being British” garden party. The talk, Jermyn of Jermyn Street, focussed on Jermyn’s creation of Jermyn Street – which was visible through the window – and its environs. It was a great pleasure to give the talk there, so intead of saying “he finished Jermyn Street in 1666″, I could say “he finished this street in 1667″, and to see pictures that had one belonged to Jermyn being displayed on a projector-screen within yards of where they once hung, in his house in St James’s Square. The talk was followed by a champagne and cheese tasting at Paxton & Whitfield, who have been selling cheese in Jermyn Street since 1797, shortly after 81 Jermyn Street first became the hotel that later grew into the Cavendish. My sincere thanks to those kind denizens of modern Jermyn Street who made a very interesting and successful day possible.
Some of the Jermyn family’s interesting connections appear at this page. Created by William Allen Shade, it shows that the descendants of the Jermyns of Rushbrook include Lord Nelson, another great naval commander, Earl Howe (d. 1799, via the marriage of Susan Jermyn to Sir Lionel Tollemache, and down to the Allingtons and then the Howes) and, more surprisingly, explorer and television presenter Edward Michael ‘Bear’ Grylls (via the 4th Earl of Bristol’s daughter Mary Caroline, Lady Erbe, whose daughter Elizabeth, Lady Wharncliffe was mother of Caroline Chetwynd-Talbot: her son Edward was mother of Mrs Mary Ford, mother of Neville Montagu Ford, whose daughter Sally, Lady Grylls, was ‘Bear’ Grylls’ mother). The youngest British person ever to climb Everest, he can certainly be considered a worthy relative of Henry Jermyn.
Articles by Anthony Adolph about Jermyn
“Rushbrook’s Forgotten Hero”, Suffolk and Norfolk Life , 10 no. 109 September 1998 pp. 12-13.
“Henry Jermyn and the Creation of Greenwich”, Bygone Kent 19 no. 10 pp. 613-617.
“Weybridge, Oatlands and Byfleet: Domain of the Earl of St Alban”, Surrey County Magazine, October 1998, pp. 34-5.
“Henry Jermyn, Grand Master of the Freemasons?”, Freemasonry Today, issue 6, Autumn 1998 p. 46.
“Founder of the West End? Henry Jermyn and the Development of St James’s, Westminster”. Westminster History Review, no. 2, 1999, pp. 13-18.
“Jermyns, Stuarts and Webbers: Three Tales of Bastardy”. Family History¸ 19, no. 160, n.s. 136, July 1999, pp. 337-348.
“The Earl of St Alban’s, The Marquess of Antrim and the Irish Acts of Settlement and Explanation, 1660-1684”, The Irish Genealogist, vol. 10, no. 2, 1999, pp 234-240.
“A Forgotten Cornish Courtier”, Cornwall Today, February 2000.
“Henry Jermyn, (1605-1684), Earl of St Alban, K.G., Governor of Jersey”, Société Jersiaise, Annual Bulletin for 2000, 27(4), pp. 636-652.
“Henry Jermyn: the genuine genius of Greenwich”, The Maritime Yearbook (Friends of the National Maritime Museum), no. 8, 2000/2001, p. 53.
“More Rushbrooke Jottings”, Readers’ Letters, Suffolk Roots, May 2001, pp 53-4.
“‘….and in my lady’s chamber’, Jermyns and Stuarts: illicit liaisons”, Genealogists’ Magazine, vol. 27, no. 7, September 2002, pp 300-305 (supported by a letter by Lesley Jarman in the March edition, ‘Henry Jermyn and Charles II’).
“‘Henry Jermyn , creator of the church and parish of St James’s, Westminster”, on the website of St James’s Church, Piccadilly (http://www.st-james-piccadilly.org/Jermyn-Henry.html).
‘I liked Eleanor well enough. There are plenty of other pretty girls I like well enough. But I will not settle for someone I can live with, when I have found someone I cannot live without. I am willing to remain a bachelor all my life, so that I may devote myself to your service.’ In these beautiful words, spoken to Queen Henrietta Maria, Jermyn summed up his entire life.
This quote is not from an historical source, but from a new novel, Cavalier Queen, written by Fiona Mountain and published in September 2011. Fiona Mountain explains how my work on Henry Jermyn inspired her to write her novel: “I was nearly half way through the first draft of an entirely different story about the Civil War when, during the course of my research, I came across Anthony’s wonderful work. As soon as I started reading, it sent tingles down my spine. It is the kind of story any historical novelist, who writes books based on real people and facts, dreams of discovering. I realised I was writing entirely the wrong novel, and that here was a far more exciting tale just begging to be told. It was an incredibly exciting, eureka moment! However it was with some trepidation that I approached my agent and editor and told them that I absolutely had to scrap the first book and start afresh! But they both agreed with me when I said that the story of Henrietta Maria and Henry Jermyn is pure dynamite! An incredibly moving and dramatic love story set in the midst of one of the most cataclysmic events in our history. I could not believe that it had not been fictionalised before. Henry Jermyn is a wonderful character largely forgotten by history – until Anthony and then I resurrected him – who has played such an important role in shaping both the history and architecture of England. For a novelist, such a character is the find of a lifetime. I am grateful to Anthony for finding him first!
I have already read Cavalier Queen and cannot recommend it too highly. I managed to rediscover Henry Jermyn from a collection of old documents and references, but now Fiona has made him into a real character, and rather a romantic hero – the romantic hero that he actually was in real life. For more information, see Fiona’s website, www.fionamountain.com.
The Oxford Mail reported an interview with Fiona Mountain (28 October 2011, ‘From rock chick to best-selling author’) in which she said, ‘Henrietta’s love for the Charles I is one of the most famous love stories in history. But there were contemporary rumours that she and Henry were lovers’. She was 100 pages into her book, after eight months of research, when she read Anthony Adolph’s biography of Henry Jermyn. She added: ‘It led me to abandon what I had written completely. I realised I was writing the wrong story. I needed to tell the story of Henrietta and Jermyn. I just could not believe that it had not been told before’.
‘As soon as I found [Henry Jermyn] in Anthony Adolph’s biography, it sent tingles down my spine. It is the kind of story any historical novelist, who writes books based on real people and facts, dreams of discovering’, Fiona Mountain, interviewed in Your Family Tree (December 2011, issue 110, p. 82).
HENRY JERMYN’S GREEN PLAQUE
28 September 2011 saw the culmination of a five year project, to put up a plaque commemorating Henry Jermyn, in St James’s. Up to about ten years ago, there was a concrete frieze, showing a rather youthful Jermyn receiving the deeds of St James’s from Charles II, in Jermyn Street, but when the building on which it was displayed was redeveloped, the frieze disappeared, and has never been heard of since. In St James’s church, at the top of the pilasters on either side of the altar, are two depictions of his coat of arms, and of course he had the foresight to name Jermyn Street and St Albans Street after himself, but that was it – no statue, no plaque, nothing to tell the countless numbers of people who come to St James’s, and admire its undying elegance and charm, whose inspired idea the whole thing was.
Initially, as one might expect, I approached English Heritage, who operate the well-known Blue Plaque scheme. They asked if Jermyn’s house in St James’s was still standing. In fact, he had had two, but both have subsequently been rebuilt. To my dismay, English Heritage informed me that, as the actual buildings were not standing, then they were not interested. I pointed out that houses were standing on the same sites, and, more importantly, I wanted to commemorate the man who had created the whole of St James’s, which was very much “still standing” – but they remained unmoved. Luckily, I quickly found out about another scheme, the Green Plaque scheme, which had been pioneered within Westminster City Council by its deputy leader, Cllr Robert Davis – and which was not hemmed in by silly rules. As soon as I presented Jermyn’s case, they took up the project with enthusiasm. We decided that, of the two sites of Jermyn’s two houses in St James’s Square, the most appropriate, and publically visible one was his second, on the corner of the square and Duke of York Street, the house in which he lived his last years, and where he died in January 1684. After the house had been rebuilt in the 1700s, it became the residence of William Pitt, Earl of Chatham (a fact commemorated by a Blue Plaque!), and it was there, before the move to Downing Street, that the first true government “cabinet meetings” had been held. Now called Chatham House, it is the home of The Royal Institute of International Affairs, whose directors very kindly agreed to my plaque being attached to their wall.
(Left) Guests assembling in St James’s Square prior to the unveiling. (right) Myself introducing Cllr Davis (right) and Lord Bristol (left), before the latter formally unveiled the plaque.
Even with the council’s backing, the project took a long time – a fifth of the time, in fact, that it had taken Jermyn to create the whole of St James’s from scratch. The plaque had to be approved by seemingly endless numbers of internal council committees, and that was to say nothing of gaining planning permission: Chatham House being a listed building, both the council’s planning department and, ironically, English Heritage had to have their say. Architects’ drawings, showing the entire elevation of the building, were apparently necessary for the planners to envisage what the building would look like with a small green plaque attached to it, and other hoops had to be jumped through into the bargain. But finally, under the careful guidance of the Green Plaque scheme’s coordinator, Chris Stanton, the requisite permissions were obtained. Even then, it seemed impossible for everyone to agree exactly where on the building the little plaque should go, but finally, within less than a week of the unveiling, the perfect spot was identified and agreed upon.
All this time had given me plenty of time to plan the day itself. Chatham House kindly donated a sumptuous reception room, just inside from the wall on which the plaque would be fixed. The choice of who should unveil the plaque was a foregone conclusion. Jermyn left no legitimate children, so his title of Baron Jermyn passed to his nephew, Thomas Jermyn. Thomas left no surviving sons, so the bulk of his estate, including his interests in St James’s, went to his eldest daughter Maria, wife of Sir Jermyn Davers, whose son Sir Jermyn Davers left a daughter and heiress, Elizabeth, who married Frederick Hervey, Earl of Bristol, a descendant of John Hervey of Ickworth, a cousin and friend of Jermyn’s, and trustee of some his leases, whose family had a house in St James’s Square as a result. When the Herveys became Marquesses of Bristol, they were granted the additional title of Earls Jermyn of Horningsheath. The present holder of both titles is Frederick Hervey, 8th Marquess of Bristol and Earl Jermyn. I already knew of Lord Bristol’s interest in Jermyn, and was delighted when he graciously accepted the invitation to unveil the plaque. Later, because the council were keen for different people to become involved with the plaque as sponsors, Lord Bristol kindly agreed to become a co-sponsor with me as well.
(Left) Immediately, the plaque was attracting interest from passers by. (Right) The three sponsors of the plaque, Lord Bristol, Fiona Mountain and myself, with Cllr Davis.
All was on track for an unveiling sometime in 2010, when an unexpected development took place. As you can read just above here, the novelist Fiona Mountain, busily working on a novel about Queen Henrietta Maria, started realising for herself that Henry Jermyn had been a strangely unacknowledged force in the queen’s life. Then, she learned about my book. Oddly, she knew of me already: several years before, she had written two novels about a genealogist, and had come to me to check a few details. As she wrote herself, she read my book I one sitting, threw out her existing manuscript, and started writing the love story of Jermyn and Henrietta Maria. The novel, Cavalier Queen, was due out in September 2011, so we willingly held off the unveiling accordingly, and so enthusiastic was Fiona about the plaque that she became its third co-sponsor.
Finally, everything was in place. Large though the reception room at Chatham House was, numbers were still very limited, and having invited the obligatory officials, press and so on, each of the three sponsors had only a very limited number of invitations available, so many agonising decisions were made on who to ask, and who to risk offending by not asking: if you were one of the people who was not asked, please do not be offended – we were faced with an almost impossible decision and just had to do our best. On the day itself, we waited nervously until Chris Stanton arrived with the plaque itself, newly manufactured in Wales, and two workmen, and watched with baited breath and crossed fingers as it went up, without being dropped: initially, it was slightly askew, but then another hole was drilled, and in it went, perfectly. Later, the guests assembled, and at that 5.30, I had the pleasure of introducing Cllr Davis, who gave a speech of welcome, and Lord Bristol pulled the chord, to reveal the plaque, properly, inaugurating its long career of telling passers-by that everything they could see, from St James’s Square to Jermyn Street and St James’s Church, were the work and inspiration of Jermyn.
(Left) Myself, Lady Victoria Hervey, an ancestral niece of Henry Jermyn’s and Scott Crowley. (Right), The plaque.
Later, at the reception, a collection was made in aid of St James’s Church (usually called “‘St James’s Piccadilly”, but more correctly, “St James’s, Jermyn Street”) (see Jermyn and St James’s Church). All three of the sponsors gave short speeches. Fiona Mountain talked about how Jermyn’s life had inspired her book. Lord Bristol, whose father was born in the Square, described his family’s long association with the Jermyns (“we liked them so much we married into them twice”). For my own speech, I took up the story with the ceremony that took place on 13 July 1685, a year and a half after Jermyn had died. The church had finally been completed, and years of battling with church and state bureaucracy had come to fruition by the area being made into its own parish. That day, the Bishop of London came to the front door of Jermyn’s house, and Jermyn’s lawyer and nephews handed over the deeds for the new church. They all processed out, round the corner, past where the plaque is now, and up to the church, to inaugurate the new rector (whose 24th successor, Rev. Lucy Winkett, was one of our guests), and to remember Jermyn. My speech ended:
That ceremony of July 1685, a year and a half after Jermyn died in his house on this site, marked the great achievements of a great man. I would like to thank you all very much indeed for coming today, and for all the varied support and interest you have all shown in this whole project. But above all, I would like to thank the man whose memory we are all here today to commemorate: Henry Jermyn, Earl of St Albans.
Already, the plaque has attracted some favourable attention:
www.london24.com nominated Jermyn “Londoner of the Day”.
http://westminster.londoninformer.co.uk: WEST END: A green plaque will be put up today in honour of Henry Jermyn, the original builder of the St James’s area of London who was known as the ‘founder’ of the West End. He died in a house at the corner of Duke of York Street and St James’s Square in 1684. Guests expected at the unveiling ceremony include Westminster Council’s deputy leader Councillor Robert Davis, BBC TV presenter and art historian Dan Cruickshank [who was invited but could not actually make it], authors Anthony Adolph and Fiona Mountain, and Lord Bristol, the council’s green plaque scheme commemorates historic sites around the borough.
“Jermyn Street Plaque” (news item), Family Tree Magazine, December 2011, p. 7.
“Illustrious ancestry”, “family history news” in Family History Monthly, December 2011, issue 203, p. 16.
The unveiling was also covered by a full page article in the December 2011 edition of East West, the magazine of the East India Club (which is in St James’s Square).