King James at Hinchingbrooke

James I, travelling down from Scotland to take possession of his new kingdom was entertained by Sir Oliver Cromwell at Hinchingbrooke in April 1603.

[Extract from The True Narration of the Entertainment of his Majesty from his departure from Edinburgh to his receiving at London by T.M. 1603
Printed in Progresses of King James I by John Nicholls 1828 and, with
spelling modernised, by Sir John Firth in Stuart Tracts.]

"And so with many benedictions of the comforted people James passed on till he came within half a mile of Master Oliver Cromwell's where met him the Bailiff of Huntingdon, who made a long oration to his Majesty and there delivered him the sword ............
His Majesty passed in state, the Earl of Southampton bearing the sword before him ........ to Master Oliver Cromwell's house: where his Majesty and all his followers with all comers whatsoever had such entertainment as the like had not been seen in any place before, since his first setting forward out of Scotland.

There was such plenty and variety of meats: such diversity of wines - and those not riffe ruffe but ever the best of the kind: and the cellars open at any man's pleasure. And if it were so common with wine there is little question but the Butteries for beer and ale were more common: yet in neither was there difference. For whoever entered the house, which to no man was denied, tasted what they had a mind to: and after a taste found fullness: no man, like a man, being denied what he would call for.
As this bounty was held back to none within the house: so for such poor people as would not press in, there were many open beer houses erected: where there was no want of beef and bread for the confort of the poorest creatures. Neither was this provision for the little time of his Majesty's stay: but it was made ready (for) fourteen days and, after his Highness's departure, distributed to as many as had mind to it.

There attended also at Master Oliver Cromwell's, the Heads of the University of Cambridge, all clad in scarlet gowns and corner-caps: who having presence of his majesty there was made a most learned and eloquent Oration in Latin, welcoming his Majesty, as also entreating the confirmation of their charter and privileges: which his Majesty most willingly and freely granted. They also presented his Majesty with divers books published in commendation of our late gracious Queen: all which was most graciously accepted of his Highness.

Also Master Cromwell presented his Majesty with many rich and acceptable gifts: as a very great and a very fair wrought Standing Cup of gold, goodly horses, fleet and deep-mouthed hounds, divers hawks of excellent wing. And at the remove gave £50 amongst His Majesty's Officers.

Upon the 29th day (April), being Friday, after his Highness had broke his fast: he took kind and gracious leave of Master Oliver Cromwell and his virtuous lady. Thence with many regal thanks for his entertainment he departed to Royston.

The king indeed seems to have treated the place as his own: in 1614 he is found appointing a Keeper of the Wardrobe to act both at Royston (where he had his own hunting box) and Hinchingbrooke; in 1620 he gave £20 from the royal treasury and 20 timber trees to build a bridge for his own use there ; in October 1623 he issued instructions to Sir Oliver to kill as many pheasants in the outwoods as possible but none in the park, pending his arrival.

Over-generous spending was Cromwell's downfall and there was a plan for James I to buy Hinchingbrooke from him to relieve him of his debts. In a letter written early in 1623 by Cromwell, he begs payment either in money or land as his creditors are pressing him. In November 1624 Cromwell asked whether the king would accept his land at a reasonable price but the death of James I in March 1625 put an end to this and Hinchingbrooke was eventually sold to Sir Sidney Montagu on 20 June 1627.