Newmarket’s Royal Heritage
“The visitors who flock to Newmarket year by year are often surprised to learn about the town’s Royal connections and its unique history and heritage. The town is surprisingly modest although it could well boast more Royal connections, and over a much longer period, than most places in England.
The first recorded local connection to Royalty goes back about 2000 years. During the Iron Age the Iceni tribe ruled these lands and had a major settlement near Exning.
Recent archaeological excavations have found evidence of occupation from ancient times, including the early iron Age. Their most famous Queen, Boudicca or Boadicea, organised a major rebellion against the Romans in 61 AD and almost succeeded in driving them out of Britain.
King Anna, ruler of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of East Anglia (died 654 AD), probably instigated the building of the huge Dyke which runs for 9 miles through Newmarket Heath. Archaeology has linked it to that period and in those troubled times it was a defensive measure to plug a gap between the fen edge at Reach and the forest at Woodditton.
Anna’s most famous daughter was Queen Etheldreda (or Saint Etheldreda) who was born at his palace in Exning, said to have stood where St Martin’s Church stands today. Etheldreda was responsible for the first abbey at Ely, later to become the Cathedral.
A Royal Charter instigated Newmarket’s twice weekly market circa 1200 AD, making it one of the oldest Medieval markets in Suffolk. The weekly markets and later annual fairs made this a bustling farming community.
Tournaments were held on Newmarket Heath during the Middle Ages. The Plantagenet King Edward II was fearful of plots and rebellion against him in large gatherings and issued an order banning such tournaments in 1313.
After that Newmarket had to wait until February 1604 for the next major Royal event – the arrival of King James I. It was he who was responsible for the first two Royal Palaces here and James and his son Charles (later Charles I) began to travel from London to use the town as a sort of holiday resort.
Horse racing, in the form of private matches, took place at this time and Charles is reputed to have built the first grandstand on the Heath for his own use. However, races, cockfighting and the many other sports and games which the Stuarts loved, were curtailed by the Civil War. Sadly, King Charles I was kept prisoner in his Newmarket palace on the way to his execution – perhaps the least happy of Newmarket’s Royal connections.
King James’ Palace was in a poor state by the time of his grandson’s, King Charles II’s, Restoration in 1660.
Charles must have had happy memories of his times in Newmarket with his father and grandfather. Certainly, he soon returned to the town and took the decision to build a new, grander palace further along the High Street. So began the time most people associate with horseracing on Newmarket Heath.
In the centuries that followed a succession of Royal visitors made their way to Newmarket’s Palace and the races.
Other attractions might have been the town’s numerous cock pits, gambling dens and inns. The histories that were woven into Newmarket’s fabric, turning the little village into a town, are too long to tell here. King William III & Queen Mary II, Queen Anne, The Prince Regent, King Edward VII, King George V and of course Queen Elizabeth and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother have all appreciated this unique town and its racecourses – set in the largest expanse of cultivated heath land in the world.
Of course, there have also been many members of Royal families from other countries who have visited or made their home in Newmarket and happily, that tradition continues in the town today.”
Copyright © Sandra Easom 2013
Monarchs Associated with Newmarket’s Racing History
King James I. Reigned 1603 – 1625, also King of Scotland 1567 – 1625.
He married Anne, Daughter of Frederick II of Denmark and Norway in 1589 when he was 23 years old. After the death of Elizabeth I in 1603 he was invited to become King of England.
James was ambitious to build on the personal union of the Crowns of Scotland and England to establish a single country under one monarch – one parliament and one law. Despite opposition in both countries in October 1604 he assumed the title “King of Great Britain” by proclamation rather than statute, as this did not become law until the Act of Union more than a hundred year later.
James I arrived in Newmarket in February 1604, as recorded in Fordham Parish register. Although he is credited with being the originator of horseracing at Newmarket, he never rode in races himself as his grandson (Charles II) did. His affection for the town lay in his passion for hunting the hare and deer and hawking for partridge. The broad heathlands provided the conditions for both.
It can be seen that the horse was valued for its pace at hunting, and this led to unofficial races and wagers. This is how horseracing at Newmarket seems to have been born. . .
The roads from London were terrible in those days and highwaymen were a constant threat. James bought property in the town so that his stays could be extended. After several attempts at converting inns to houses in 1622 he created something more appropriate to Royal Palaces in the High Street. The King’s sporting interests also extended to cockfighting, for which Newmarket gave ample opportunity.
The King was a learned scholar, a great reader and a writer of poetry. He commanded the translation of the Authorized Version of the Bible, published in 1611, also known as the King James Bible.
He appears to have been somewhat eccentric in his habits, particularly his slovenly manners and personal hygiene, neither was he impartial in his choice of friends, often favouring his Scottish subjects.
James had enemies and in 1605 Guy Fawkes and other Catholic plotters attempted to blow up the King and the whole of the British Parliament in what came to be known as ‘The Gunpowder Plot’, which failed when the plotters were discovered.
However, he was the King and the King’s word was law so there were few who challenged him
Perhaps this is where his autocratic son, Charles I acquired his belief in the divine right of the monarchy, but he was to suffer a different fate. James died in 1625 and was buried at Westminster.
King Charles I. Reigned 1625 – 1649
During the times when Charles I was not engaged in his attempts to dominate parliament and fighting and losing wars against his own subjects, he was a visitor to Newmarket where he engaged in his father’s favourite sports of hunting and cockfighting, in so much that he neglected affairs of state to the concern of his courtiers.
It was a good time for those who enjoyed the King’s favour at Newmarket and he would entertain lavishly at the Palace at the expense of the state. It was a different story for the common man who had to suffer repressive draconian decrees forbidding commoners from many of the sports, such as the pursuit of game that might he looked upon as the King’s royal prerogative.
Charles loved horseracing and was himself a fine horseman who enjoyed the traditional pursuits of Kings at Newmarket. Although himself a devout Anglican, he had married Henrietta a little French catholic, which did not please Parliament, He had engaged in three civil wars, one against the Scots and two against the English and was ruling over a deeply divided country.
The King’s spendthrift ways, his arrogance and belief in himself as the God given ruler finally proved too much and he lost battles with the Cromwell army at Marston Moor and Naseby (1644 and 1645) and finally at Preston (1648), The King spent his final days at Newmarket where he enjoyed a quiet life, still worshipped by his royalist supporters but guarded against escape by ‘two regiments of horse’.
This happy state was not to continue as the Parliamentarians could see that while the King was alive there was always the threat of a counter-uprising by royalist supporters. He was tried and found guilty of high treason ‘against the realm of England’.
On the 30th of January 1539 Charles was beheaded on a scaffold outside the Banqueting House in Whitehall, London.
The Interregnum 1639 – 1660
There then entered a period of puritanical rule by Oliver Cromwell, the General who had challenged the King’s arrogant rule, and won. For Newmarket it was a time of decline, although Cromwell was not totally opposed to sport.
At first, he banned racing altogether but later allowed it to continue, probably as he could see the value of horses for his army, but all the fun had gone out of Newmarket. With the Palace falling into decay and the sport no longer attracting the wealthy gamblers and sportsmen, Newmarket was a shadow of its former gaiety until Cromwell’s death in 1658 and the subsequent restoration of the monarchy.
King Charles II. Reigned 1660 – 1685
Although Charles II was appointed King of England by the Scots, this was not recognized by the English parliament. Cromwell defeated Charles II in battle, and he was exiled to France until Cromwell’s death in 1658, following this event Parliament invited Charles back as King.
It often turns out that succeeding generations have a very different personality from their parents, and so it was with Charles II who acquired the title of ‘The Merry Monarch’.
Charles believed that life was to be enjoyed to the full and for him this was sport, high living and the pleasures of the flesh.
This is not to say that he was a bad King, he was not aloof like his father, was far more tolerant and enjoyed mixing with his people, except of course the die-hard supporters of Cromwell’s puritan regime.
For Newmarket a new round of the high life ensued. The old Palace at Kingston Place was abandoned, and a much-enlarged Palace complex created on the All Saints side of the High Street with a row of buildings roughly opposite Market Street, connected to the main residence (Palace House) and the Royal Stables at the rear (see links to maps at the foot of this page). The latter are of course very much in evidence today.
Nearby on Rutland Hill in the “Cockpit” (the cellar of the old Town Hall now Wildwood restaurant) Charles enjoyed his favourite sport of cockfighting or ‘cocking’ as it was then known.
Charles was a good horseman and was the only monarch to ride in races. He improved the Newmarket breeding line by importing bloodstock from the best sources. Charles’s favourite hack was named Old Rowley, a nickname also given to the King himself. Hence the Rowley Mile Racecourse was born.
During his time at Newmarket a great tragedy occurred in 1683, when fire swept the wooden buildings on the north-west (Suffolk) side of the High Street. Being on the Cambridgeshire side the Palace buildings were not seriously affected except by the smoke but the fire did have a lucky consequence for the King. He decided to return to London earlier than planned and thus foiled a plot to assassinate him on his journey, the infamous ‘Rye House plot’.
The King had several mistresses, the most famous being the beautiful and witty Nell Gwynn, who conveniently had a house in Palace Street. Charles’s wife, Catherine of Braganza, bore no live children, but Charles’ various mistresses produced at least twelve bastard children who were rewarded with titles of their own.
As they were excluded from the succession, he was succeeded by his brother James. Some of his dying words are recorded on a plaque on the wall of the Palace Street cottage. ‘And let not poor Nelly starve”. James honoured his brother’s wish and Nell was provided with a pension until her death in 1687 at age 37.
King James II of England, James VII of Scotland. Reigned 1685 – 1688
Hardly worth including in the monarchs who favoured Newmarket, nevertheless as the young Duke of York James had shown enthusiasm for the sport and accompanied his father Charles I and brother, Charles II to important race meetings.
James had later been banished to Scotland and to France by his brother until he accepted the established Church, but Charles later relented, and James was invited to a Newmarket race meeting in 1682 where he was welcomed by the crowds.
He seemed to have accepted a degree of religious tolerance but as King this was not to last. He attempted the restoration of the Catholic faith and succeeded in repelling two attempts to overthrow him by Protestant forces from Holland.
During his short reign he was preoccupied with affairs of state, particularly with upholding the Catholic faith, and seemed to have little time for sport. Newmarket again entered a period of decline.
He was a far more diligent ruler than his brother had been, but more dismissive of his subjects. This did not endear him to the people or to Parliament. His first wife, Anne of Hyde, died in 1671, and he married Mary Modena, a fifteen-year-old Italian princess and a catholic.
When in 1688 she produced a son James – a catholic heir, alarm spread that this would continue the catholic dynasty. James II was finally deposed as King when the influential church leaders and nobles had him replaced with his protestant elder daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange.
James II was the last Roman Catholic monarch to rule over the Kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland.
Co-rulers Queen Mary II Reigned 1689 – 1694
& King William III (William of Orange), Reigned 1689 – 1702
Mary, the successor to the disgraced and exiled James II had married the Dutch William of Orange a grandson of Charles I, a political union arranged by her uncle Charles II and supported by his brother James.
When Parliament became apprehensive about James II’s catholic leanings and his friendship with the French they invited William, a stout protestant, to share the throne with his wife.
He invaded with a force welcomed by the English parliament and James was forced to flee to France.
William made his first visit to Newmarket in 1689, thereafter he enjoyed the traditional pursuits of racing, hunting. cockfighting and gambling. At the latter he was said to have been a bad loser.
His visits helped to restore the life and gaiety to the town that had gone badly into decline under James II’s harsh rule. Mary died of smallpox in 1694 but William continued to rule until his death following a riding accident in 1702.
Queen Anne. Reigned 1702 – 1714
Queen Anne, together with her consort Prince George of Denmark, were lovers of racing and they kept fine stables at Newmarket. When the Prince died in 1708, the Queen ran horses in her own name, or in the name of her trainer Tregonwell Frampton, ‘The keeper of the Running Horses’ (see Personality No 1).
In her youth Anne was an enthusiastic hunter but in later life she became obese and suffered ill health and had to be content with her other sporting interests, including gambling and cockfighting. She was a popular ruler who related well to her subjects.
An event of considerable historical importance took place during her reign when in 1707 the English and Scottish Parliaments finally agreed to merge and form the Parliament of Great Britain by the Act of Union.
The Queen’s early influence on the town of Newmarket was to rebuild the Royal Palace buildings which had fallen into disrepair. Her charitable acts and gifts to the town included one of £1,000, enabling the streets to be paved for the first time, making it a far more pleasant place to take a walk.
Another racing legacy of Queen Anne is that she was influential in the founding of Royal Ascot.
The Hanoverian Georges; George I Reigned 1714 – 1727. George II Reigned 11727 – 1760, George III Reigned 1760 – 1820, George IV Reigned 1820 – 1830.
As far as Newmarket is concerned three of the four Hanoverian Georges had little impact on the town as their German upbringing had not given them a love for the sport.
George III owned racehorses but did not visit the town. The future George IV while Prince of Wales did enjoy racing and gambling but will be chiefly remembered for his part in ‘The great Escape scandal’ of 1792. His horse ‘Escape’, ridden by Sam Chiffney, was favourite to win, but came last.
Accordingly, it was give odds of 5-1 in a race the following day, which it won. There were cries of foul and race rigging and the Prince’s name was inevitably drawn into the affair. Chiffney was censured by the Jockey Club but was defended by the Prince, who left Newmarket never to return. However, as King he continued to own racehorses trained in the town.
King William IV, reigned 1830 – 1837,and Queen Victoria, reigned 1837 – 1901.
Neither William nor Victoria had much interest in racing and therefore hardly qualify for inclusion in this article. William, who was 62 when he became King, maintained his brother George IV’s stable at Newmarket after the latter’s death.
William’s real interest was in sailing and there is an amusing story which sums up his opinion of racing, related in the NLHS History of Newmarket. The trainer enquired which horses he should send to an Ascot meeting, “Why,” the King replied, “the whole squad, first raters and gun-boats. Some of them I suppose must win.” The whole of the royal stud was sold off after the King’s death.
It should perhaps be mentioned that Frederick, Duke of York (George III’s second son), was a lover of the Turf and according to Siltzer lived for a time in the town in what was left of the Old Palace. When he died in 1827 Newmarket had entered a period without Royal patronage until Edward Prince of Wales was old enough to take an interest in the latter half of the 19th century.
King Edward VII. Reigned 1901 – 1910
When Queen Victoria died The Prince of Wales was already 60 years of age. Despite a rakish youth and being the despair of his austere parents Albert and Victoria, he eventually turned out to be quite a successful King and a good diplomat. He recognized the growing threat from his cousin The Kaiser and made the wise decision to build up the strength of The Royal Navy.
As Prince of Wales and later as King he made numerous visits to Newmarket, at first by use of the railway and then as the motor car began to replace the horse and carriage in the early 20th century he took to the new form of travel with enthusiasm, often urging his driver to greater speed.
From the late 1890s he owned horses and had them trained by Richard Marsh of Egerton House. His love of sport and pursuit of pleasure is well known particularly his amorous attentions to ladies who took his fancy. Perhaps his most public conquest was the beautiful actress Lillie Langtry who had a house, Regal Lodge, at Kentford and became the King’s mistress, His dutiful wife Queen Alexandra, seemed to accept her husband’s extra-marital affairs without complaint.
In Newmarket the King had influential and wealthy friends, among them Leopold de Rothchild, Sir Edward Cassel and the Duke of Hamilton. While in Newmarket he preferred to stay in rooms in The Jockey Club and had his own entrance from The Avenue. Edward died in 1910 and was succeeded by his second son George V.
The Monarchy and racing at Newmarket during the 20th century and to date
From the early 20th century, the British Royal Family have had an enduring love of horses and have participated in horseracing and have maintained stables of thoroughbreds. George V and Queen Mary were visitors to Newmarket and had at their disposal a de Havilland Rapide aircraft of the King’s flight that used to land on the Newmarket racecourse in the 1930s.
The much-vaunted Capt.Cecil Boyd-Rochfort trained horses for King George VI also for Queen Elizabeth II at the Freemason Lodge Stables Newmarket, until he retired in 1968. George VI and Queen Elizabeth were curtailed in their sporting activities by the exigencies of World War II but their racing stable was maintained.
Our present Queen Elizabeth II is a well-known lover of horses and takes a personal interest in the breeding of thoroughbred stock at her Sandringham Estate and enthusiastically attends important race meetings, particularly when her own horses are running.
The NLHS Two Volumes “The History of Newmarket and its Surrounding Areas” has been a valuable source of information and anyone wishing to read more details about Royal Newmarket can confidently be referred to the work. The editor, Sandra Easom, also wrote the introduction to this website feature. Sandra is the current Chair of Newmarket Local History Society
Frank Siltzer’s book ‘Newmarket’ published in 1923 is full of facts and anecdotes written in a chatty style.
NLHS member David Rippington has clearly located the sites of James I and Charles I’s Palace, also Charles II’s Palace complex. The links to David’s site are below
James I and Charles I Palace
Charles II’s Palace complex
The internet is a ready source of historical information about the monarchy, although not often specifically referring to Newmarket.