The King’s Houses


Victoria County History



Alan Crossley, C R Elrington (Editors), Eleanor Chance, Christina Colvin, Janet Cooper, C J Day, T G Hassall, Mary Jessup, Nesta Selwyn

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'The King’s Houses', A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 4: The City of Oxford (1979), pp. 304-305. URL: Date accessed: 21 October 2014.


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The king's houses, later called Beaumont Palace, were built by Henry I outside the town's North Gate, on a site at the western end of the later Beaumont Street. (fn. 1) Henry I spent Easter at his new hall in Oxford in 1132; (fn. 2) Richard I was born there in 1157 and John in 1167. (fn. 3) Work and repairs on the king's houses were carried out regularly, and by the mid 13th century, at the height of their use as a royal palace, they comprised the king's hall and great chamber, two chapels, a cloister, many rooms, including chambers for the queen, the king's son, and the royal chaplains, besides kitchens and other domestic offices; the site, defended by a wall, was entered through a 'great gate'. (fn. 4)

The houses were already sizeable by the later 12th century, for in 1171 40,000 oak shingles and 20 pairs of beams were supplied for building work there. (fn. 5) The king's chapel and cloister were first mentioned in the 1190s; (fn. 6) the chapel appears to have been dedicated to St. Nicholas, and along with the queen's chapel was served by chaplains appointed by the sheriff. (fn. 7) The great chamber was decorated with paintings before 1231-2. (fn. 8) The hall, apparently a large, aisled building, was partly wainscoted and glazed in the 1240s. (fn. 9)

The king's houses were the sheriff's responsibility, (fn. 10) except when entrusted to keepers, or, as on one occasion in 1239, when the mayor and bailiffs were put in charge of repairs. (fn. 11) The first known keeper was Ellis of Oxford, described variously as mason, carpenter, and engineer, who was paid for work on the houses in 1187 and was keeper from 1188 until succeeded in 1200 by Walter Buistard. (fn. 12) In 1215 the office was confirmed or regranted to Buistard, who remained keeper in 1219. (fn. 13) In 1231 Gilbert Cook, servant of Godfrey of Chacombe, was appointed keeper for life, and was confirmed in the office in 1237 despite an intervening grant to another keeper. (fn. 14) Keepers appointed in 1252 and 1254 appear to have been displaced quickly in favour of the sheriff. (fn. 15) In 1262 and 1267 king's chaplains were granted the keepership. (fn. 16)

In the later 13th century the houses ceased to be used as a royal palace. Edward I spent some time there in the summer of 1275, but later that year granted them, as 'the manor of Oxford', to Francesco Accorso, his wife and household, to live in; (fn. 17) Accorso was a doctor of laws from Bologna who served the king on several diplomatic missions, and may have been lecturing in Oxford at that time. (fn. 18) In 1276 the king granted the houses to Edmund Mortimer, who was in minor orders and perhaps studying at the university, (fn. 19) and in 1294 to Edward of St. John, described as the king's kinsman. (fn. 20)

The last recorded repairs at the king's expense were in 1289, and in 1308 the sheriff was permitted to take stones and timber from the houses to repair the castle. (fn. 21) In 1318 Edward II granted the buildings to the Carmelite friars. (fn. 22)


1 A plaque on the north side of the street marks the site. For plans etc. see Bodl. MS. Top. Oxon. b 81; c 194, pp. 330-61.
2 Hen. of Huntingdon, Hist. Anglorum (Rolls Ser.), 253.
3 Mat. Paris, Chron. Majora (Rolls Ser.), ii, 214; R. W. Eyton, Itin. Hen. II, 103.
4 Brown, Colvin, and Taylor, Hist. of King's Works, ii. 986-7; and e.g. Pipe R. 1187 (P.R.S. xxxvii), 45; 1188 (P.R.S. xxxviii), 150; 1191 & 92 (P.R.S. N.S. ii), 268; 1196 (P.R.S. N.S. vii), 70; Cal. Lib. 1226-40, 190, 288, 336, 431; 1240-5, 216, 304; 1245-51, 119, 182; 1251-60, 193, 395; 1267-72, 56, 141; Close R. 1237-42, 248.
5 Pipe R. 1171 (P.R.S. xvi), 92.
6 Ibid. 1191 & 92 (P.R.S. N.S. ii), 268; 1196 (P.R.S. N.S. vii), 70.
7 Cal. Lib. 1226-40, 221; 1245-51, 9, 323. St. Nicholas's chapel was not said specifically to be in the king's houses, but its chaplain in 1236 was probably identical with one appointed for life in 1232 to serve the king's chapel in his hall at Oxford: cf. ibid. 1226-40, 247; Pat. R. 1225-32, 475.
8 King's Works, ii. 987.
9 Ibid.; Cal. Lib. 1240-5, 216, 304; 1245-51, 8, 291.
10 e.g. Rot. Litt. Claus. (Rec. Com.), i. 381; Cal. Lib. 1226-40, 336; 1251-60, 395; Close R. 1253-4, 77; Cal. Close, 1288-96, 7.
11 Close R. 1237-42, 151.
12 Pipe R. 1187 (P.R.S. xxxvii), 45, and successive years to 1199 (P.R.S. N.S. x), 219; Rot. Chart. (Rec. Com.), 54.
13 Rot. Litt. Claus. (Rec. Com.), i. 216, 408.
14 Pat. R. 1225-32, 439; Close R. 1234-7, 483.
15 Close R. 1251-3, 147; 1253-4, 58; Cal. Pat. 1247-58, 198, 392.
16 Cal. Pat. 1258-66, 224; Close R. 1264-8, 326.
17 Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), iv. 264; Cal. Pat. 1272-81, 127.
18 Emden, O.U. Reg. to 1500, i. 9-10.
19 Ibid. ii. 1316; Cal. Close, 1271-9, 312.
20 Cal. Close, 1288-96, 358.
21 Ibid. 7; 1307-13, 31.
22 V.C.H. Oxon. ii. 139. For later building history see below, Sites and Remains of Religious Houses (Carmelite friary).