Buckden Palace sits directly alongside the Great North Road between St Neots and Peterborough. In medieval times it straddled the road with the Bishop’s Palace and Little Park to the east and the Great Park to the west. Until Buckden was by-passed in the 1960s it was a prominent landmark for all those travelling this route.
If you are hurtling along the A1 through Cambridgeshire it remains an ideal spot for 30 minutes rest and reflection. The gardens are open, free of charge.
The Great North Road (looking north) with the outer wall of Buckden Palace to the right
There was a manor at Buckden belonging to the Bishop of Lincoln as long ago as the 11th century. Bishop Hugh of Avalon often stayed at Buckden and after his death in November 1200 his body lay “with great mourning” in the adjacent church as it was conveyed from London to Lincoln.
Soon after signing the Magna Carta in 1215, King John granted Bishop Hugh de Wells permission (and funds) to rebuild his residence at Buckden, create a deer park and replace the Saxon church.
The tall brick tower, outer bailey and moat which are visible today date from the late 15th century.
The medieval diocese of Lincoln stretched from the Thames to the Humber making Buckden a convenient base for successive bishops (after Channian and Paul Woodfield)
As well as the influential medieval bishops of Lincoln, Buckden Palace was visited by royalty in 1248 (Henry III) and 1291 (Edward I). During the Tudor period and beyond there were regular high-profile visitors whose journeys must have taken them along at least parts of what we know as the Great North Road.
Lady Margaret Beaufort, 1501
The mother of Henry VII wrote to Oxford university from the Episcopal Palace at Buckden, where she was staying for the summer, saying she was ‘credybly enformed’ that one Richard Wotton was ‘a right hable and convenient person’ for the office of ‘gentilman bedell in Diuinite within your uniuersite’.
Thomas Wolsey, 1514
Wolsey was briefly bishop of Lincoln before being elected as Archbishop of York and, in the following year, appointed as a Cardinal. On 6th March he officiated at the ordination of a number of clergymen
Katherine of Aragon, 1533-34
Between July 1533 and May 1534 immediately following Cranmer’s ruling that Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn’s marriage was valid. Katherine was later transferred to nearby Kimbolton Castle where she died in 1536 and was then buried at Peterborough Cathedral.
Henry VIII & Catherine Howard, 1541
They stayed at Buckden Palace during a summer tour before Catherine’s coronation. She was later accused of committing adultery with Thomas Culpeper during this tour, resulting in her execution the following year
James I, 1619
On 19th [October], we find the King at Sir Oliver Cromwell’s at Hinchinbrook. At about the same time, Dr George Mountaigne, Bishop of Lincoln, “entertained the King nobly at his house at Bugden”. (Nichols,1828)
The Prince Regent (George IV), 1814
He was driven from Burleigh on the Hill, near Oakham, past Norman Cross Prison to visit the Bishop of Lincoln at his seat in Buckden on 10 January.
The 48 year old Katherine was brought to Buckden in the summer of 1533 from Ampthill, Henry VIII having taken Anne Boleyn as his bride and queen. In December the king sent commissioners to enforce the new title of “Princess Dowager” upon Katherine.
“She protested with open voice that she was your Queen, and would rather be hewn in pieces than depart from this assertion. She refuses the name of Princess Dowager, and resists her removal to Somersham because of her health”.
Katherine remained at Buckden, albeit with a much-reduced household. Many of her servants refused to swear an oath to refrain from calling her “queen” as they considered to do so would amount to perjury. As a result, a significant number were “driven away with great harshness”, others were imprisoned. According to Nicolas Harpsfield she “spent her solitary life much in prayer, great alms and abstinence.” In May 1534 she was moved to Kimbolton Castle where, after a period of illness she died two years later.