III.—HISTORY OF THE FOUNDATION
The history of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, as a national institution,
needs the preface of a few remarks upon the circumstances which led to
its foundation. In the Middle Ages the care of maimed and disabled
soldiers fell to the great "Hospitals," or guest houses of the poor, with
which the country was so amply furnished by the charity of wealthy citizens,
either directly or through the means of monastic houses. At the time of
the Reformation, however, not only were those great vehicles of charity, the
monasteries, dissolved, but chantries and many hospitals, the endowments
of which were religious in character, were destroyed, and in the reign of
Elizabeth complaint was made of the absence of relief for the aged and
impotent poor, of the "disfurnishinge the Realme of places to retire maymed
souldiers unto," and of "enfeeblinge of their hartes when they knowe not
how to be provided if they be maymed," all "arisinge upon Dissolution
and givinge away of Hospitall landes and Revenewes." (fn. 1) The parish
books of all our churches are filled with petty disbursements in relief of
old and wounded soldiers who seem to have wandered about the country,
sometimes with a licence from a magistrate or a letter of credentials, with
which they appealed to the benevolence of all and sundry whom they met.
In 1592–3 an attempt was made by Parliament in "An Acte for reliefe of
Souldiours" to regularise this haphazard system, and every parish was
directed to levy weekly rates, the funds being disbursed by persons appointed
in each county. The Act did not work, but some better success attended
the subsequent practice of a direct commendation by the Council of the
individual soldier to the Justices of Peace of the county in which he was
born. It is in these official "Council Warrants" that we find a reference
to a proposed yearly pension. (fn. 2)
In 1598 a licence is recorded "to erect a hospital in Buckingham
for 36 maimed unmarried soldiers dwelling in the town or three hundreds
of Co. Bucks and to purchase lands for their maintenance not exceeding
£200 a year." Private benefactors continued the medieval practice and
made special provision for soldiers in certain towns. Robert Dudley, Earl
of Leicester, founded his hospital in Warwick in 1571 for soldiers born in
the counties of Warwick or Gloucester. At Hereford in 1614 Sir Thomas
Coningsby built a Hospital for "eleven poor old soldiers or mariners of
three years' service at least in the wars," and set them under a "commander."
No public scheme was, however, attempted, beyond the county system of
relief, until the time of the Civil War, when Parliament began to vote sums
of money from the sequestration funds at its disposal. In 1651 the idea
of a national institution seems to have been suggested, when "the House
of Commons gave instructions to the Council of State to take care that
maimed soldiers be relieved and to 'consider of a healthful place' for their
residence." (fn. 3)
The problem, however, remained unsolved, in spite of the labours
of a committee of the House of Commons which enquired into the soldiers'
grievous wrongs, at the Restoration. The formation, early in Charles II's
reign, of the beginning of a regular army at length forced the issue, and the
foundation of the Royal Hospital was the direct result.
There has been some controversy on the question to whom is
entitled the credit for suggesting an enterprise which in its fruition has become
so justly renowned. The tradition that Nell Gwyn prompted the King is
mentioned by Peter Cunningham in his Story of Nell Gwyn (1852), (fn. 4) but there
is no evidence to support the tale, which would seem to be discredited by
the silence of contemporary records. On the other hand, the ascription of
the scheme to Sir Stephen Fox by Canon Richard Eyre in his funeral sermon
(published 1716) is also without direct confirmation, as Mr. Robert
Pierpoint argues in his defence of the Nell Gwyn tradition. (fn. 5) It has been
shown above that the subject had already been canvassed in Parliament in
the time of the Commonwealth, and it is reasonable to suppose that the
obvious necessity of quarters for invalided soldiers was not hidden from
the King and his advisers, nor did it require a more forcible advocate than
the pressure of circumstances.
John Evelyn's account of the proposals is worth giving textually.
He was himself acquainted with the site not only as a member of the Royal
Society, but also because he had been responsible for the prisoners-of-war
who were accommodated in the College. The following are the extracts
from his diary:—
"1681. 14th September. Dined with Sir Stephen Fox, who proposed
to me the purchasing of Chelsea College, which his Majesty had sometime
since given to our Society, and would now purchase it again to build an
hospital, or infirmary for soldiers there, in which he desired my assistance
as one of the Council of the Royal Society.
"1682. 27th January. This evening, Sir Stephen Fox acquainted
me again with his Majesty's resolution of proceeding in the erection of a
Royal Hospital for emerited soldiers on that spot of ground which the
Royal Society had sold to his Majesty for £1300, and that he would settle
£5000 per annum on it, and build to the value of £20,000 for the relief
and reception of four companies, namely, 400 men, to be as in a college or
monastery. I was therefore desired by Sir Stephen (who had not only the
whole managing of this but was, as I perceived, himself to be a grand
benefactor, as well it became him who had gotten so vast an estate by the
soldiers) to assist him, and consult what method to cast it in, as to the
government. So, in his study we arranged the governor, chaplain, steward
housekeeper, chirurgeon, cook, butler, gardener, porter, and other officers,
with their several salaries and entertainments. I would needs have a library,
and mentioned several books, since some soldiers might possibly be studious,
when they were at leisure to recollect. Thus we made the first calculations,
and set down our thoughts to be considered and digested better, to show
his Majesty and the Archbishop. He also engaged me to consider of what
laws and orders were fit for the government, which was to be in every respect
as strict as in any religious convent.
"1682. 25th May. I was desired by Sir Stephen Fox and Sir
Christopher Wren to accompany them to Lambeth, with the plot and
design of the College to be built at Chelsea, to have the Archbishop's
approbation. It was a quadrangle of 200 feet square, after the dimensions
of the larger quadrangle at Christ Church, Oxford, for the accommodation
of 440 persons, with Governor and officers. This was agreed on."
Launched by such able men as Sir Stephen Fox, John Evelyn and
Sir Christopher Wren, the Royal Hospital was bound to be well and wisely
devised, both as regards its buildings, which will be described later, and its
functions, which are now to be considered. The initial difficulty, however,
was to find the means to meet the cost of the structure and of the establishment. A detailed history of the measures taken is given in the official
account of The Origin and Early History of the Royal Hospital, and can only
be summarised here. Public appeals were made, but very few persons
responded; indeed, they can be set down in a few lines: Sir Stephen Fox.
£1300; (fn. 6) Sir Leoline Jenkins Kt. £100; Tobias Rustat. £1000; Thomas
Tufton, Earl of Thanet. £500; William Earl Craven. £20; William
Blaithwait. £241.10.0; the Archbishop of Canterbury £1000; the executors
of the Bishop of Winchester. £500 the executors of Walter Mortimer.
£200. These gifts were reinforced by a balance of secret service money
remaining in the King's hands, but it was soon evident that some surer
means of raising funds must be found.
A defect in the arrangements for the payment of the army, curiously
enough, provided the solution. To prevent the inconvenience of delayed
pay, Sir Stephen Fox, paymaster to the Forces, had advanced money to the
men, deducting a discount of 12d in the pound. The King in 1679, under
royal warrant, directed that payment should be punctually made, and the
customary poundage deducted. In 1683 one-third of this poundage (as from
1st January, 1680–1) was allowed to the Royal Hospital, and this proportion
was increased later until the whole was absorbed. (fn. 7) A levy on money paid
for commissions, and also on salaries of officers on half pay still further
augmented the available resources, and in this way it may be said that the
army has in the main paid for the Hospital with its own money. An important
additional source of revenue since 1792 has been found in unclaimed prizemoney at sea, and there have been many other acquisitions of funds through
benefactors, sale of lands, etc. The above methods of raising money continued in varying degree until 1847, since which year the Hospital has been
maintained by funds directly voted from Parliament.
From the Hospital accounts it has been computed that the cost of
the building and furnishing during the years 1681–1702 was a little over
£152,000, to which must be added £4860, the cost of the site. A payment
of £10 appears in the accounts for 1687–92 to Mr. "Hawsemore" for
drawing designs for the Hospital, and in 1692–9 £1000 to "Sir C. Wren
for his great care and pains in directing etc. the building of ye Hospitall,
and settling workmen's bills for ten yeares past."
The first stone of the Royal Hospital was laid by the King with due
ceremony on 17th February, 1681–2, (fn. 8) and the buildings were furnished
for the reception of inmates on 28th March, 1689, when 476 non-commissioned officers and men were installed. (fn. 9) The Chapel and the Burial
Ground were both consecrated by Henry Compton, Bishop of London, on
30th August, 1691. (fn. 10)
Jones, Earl of Ranelagh
It was intended at first to constitute the Board of the Royal Hospital a
Corporation, thus following the medieval practice when hospitals often had
a corporate constitution and common seal. This intention was not, however,
carried out. The first Board of Commissioners (supported by warrant dated
March 3rd, 1691–2) was composed of three members: Richard Earl of
Ranelagh, Paymaster-General of the Forces; Sir Stephen Fox, one of the
Commissioners of the Treasury; and Sir Christopher Wren, SurveyorGeneral of the Works. By letters patent dated 6th February, 1702–3, an
independent Board of Commissioners was created, the members being five,
namely, John Howe (Paymaster-General), Sir Christopher Wren, Chas. Fox
(Paymaster of the Forces in the Low Countries), and the Governor and Lieut.Governor of the Hospital. "On the Board thus created was imposed the
entire management of the pension system, of which Chelsea Hospital was
the centre, with that of the invalid companies employed as garrisons in
various parts of the kingdom." (fn. 11) The system of out-pensions came inevitably
to absorb the main activities of the Board, but as we are concerned here
solely with the Hospital we cannot pursue this development. The Paymaster-General is the controlling force in the governing body, and the
presence of the Governor and Deputy Governor is only for the purpose of
debating the internal affairs of the Hospital. The number of the Commissioners and their powers have varied from time to time, but it has remained
a civil authority controlling the official system of relief to invalid and
The establishment of officers, under-officers and servants of the
Hospital for January 1st, 1691–2 included the following:—
Major, to act as Lieut.-Governor.
Secretary (and a Temporary
Deputy Treasurer and Under
Clerk of the Works.
Deputy Clerk of Works.
Wardkeeper and Comptroller of the
3 Under Cooks.
Master Butler and Baker (in one).
3 Under Butlers.
3 Under Bakers.
Usher of the Hall.