A Plashy Place
We’ve all heard this one. Queen Elizabeth’s pacing up and down, waiting for news of the war. The Spanish have landed in Ireland, taken Smerwick Fort and are now inciting the Irish to evil Popish ways. Things are looking very dodgy indeed. The poor queen can take the pressure no longer, and she takes herself off for a nice bracing walk, losing herself in the scent of woodland flowers in Greenwich Park.
Back at the palace the clatter of hooves announces the arrival of a messenger. Square-jawed and handsome, nearly a head taller than the officer of the guard, the swaggering swain’s black beard, blue eyes and gallant bearing have the soldiers staring - and the ladies swooning.
Young Walter Raleigh has the good news Her Majesty has been waiting for – the crisis is over, Smerwick Fort is retaken, the Spanish have surrendered unconditionally. He knows this because - and the ladies sigh once more – he himself led the final attack. And now he has come to Greenwich to inform the queen of his derring-do.
Her Majesty, arriving back from her walk, hears a commotion, but knows she must cross the public road to get back to the palace - a narrow, fetid little lane, ‘foul as the Slough of Despond.’ She reels back in horror at the ‘plashy place’ but suddenly, from among the crowd of admiring subjects, Our Handsome Hero steps forward, flings his cloak from his shoulders, and kneels as Her Majesty tramples it into the mud.
And so the story goes. Raleigh’s first introduction to the Queen (who was remarkably fond of handsome young men performing madcap acts of chivalry), the dry-cleaning bill easily made up for with a knighthood and being made Captain of the Guard.
Now. There are miserable sods who will tell you this incident never happened. To which I say ‘phooey.’ Of course it did. Sir Geoffrey Callender says it did and that’s good enough for me. I blow a giant raspberry to trivialibrarydotcom et al who claim it is fiction just because there is no actual proof it happened. I say to these gloom-mongers and naysayers - prove it didn’t happen. Why else would he include a cloak in his coat of arms? Hah! I rest my case.
Raleigh became a firm favourite – and he set his sights quite high - even having a gentle pop at wooing the queen at one point, scratching the speculative “Fair would I climb, yet fear to fall” in a window with a diamond. Frankly, flowers and chocolates would have done just as well, and maybe got a better response. Elizabeth, never one for entertaining men who couldn’t be direct, completed the verse with her own diamond the next day “If thy heart fails thee, climb not at all.”
I could go on about Raleigh’s life, and how it all ended in tears, but I really want to concentrate on the plashy place today. I mean – if the incident happened – and of course it did, where exactly was this plashy place, then?
Well, according to Sir Geoffrey Callender, whose Short History of the Queen’s House is still something of a triumph, it’s pretty much where the Queen’s House is now. The simple gatehouse where Raleigh met Elizabeth, “with its overhanging eaves, the haunt of Gloriana’s ladies with their starched ruffs and silken farthingales” inspired James I so much with its romantic story that he demolished it.
He announced a new palace, fit for a queen, that would straddle the road, enabling its occupants to move between garden and park without getting their shoes wet. Effectively, the new Queen’s House was to be the architectural equivalent of Raleighs’ cloak.
Inigo Jones, of course, rose triumphantly to the challenge, though I can’t help thinking it must have been very noisy to live over a busy, muddy road. So – the plashy place? Hard to tell, really, but I reckon it was around about here:
Another picture, by Stephen, that shows some rather splendid arches over the road:
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