Hatfield House

The a-mazing Hatfield House and Gardens. Visit the official website.

Secrets of Hatfield House page 1 (with a Renaissance theater), page 2,
hidden Marcus Gheeraerts murals
and Queen Elizabeth's Ermine Portrait.
Secrets of the gardens and the most difficult maze on earth.

About the Hatfield estate.

The 7th Marquess of Salisbury has been doing a very commendable job protecting this treasure yet at the same time has done a remarkable thing by sharing it with people in order to enrich their lives. He is one of the richest people in the UK. He is worth more than the queen (well almost as much) so he really doesn't need the money and certainly doesn't need the headaches. In fact since Hatfield is his family's home and where they actually live I am very surprised that they put up with it.

How would you like to go into your living room at night and find that one of the 500 tourists, who seem to be mainly loud and pushy Americans, had left chewing gum on the floor and now your shoe is stuck to it? Or you find a baby bottle under a desk but only after two weeks and after it has caused the whole room to smell to high heavens of rancid milk which has permeated all the fabric in the room? Or that someone has taken a shortcut through a flower bed and destroyed your favorite tulips?

These are the types of things that the 7th Marquess of Salisbury's family must endure continuously. They have no real reason to do so other than to be humanitarians.


I have very extensive memories of the Hatfield House Estate which is about 24 miles north of London. I was the wife of Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury who built Hatfield House. My bio under the alias of Elizabeth Brook, countess of Salisbury says that I died either in 1596 or 1597. That uncertainty about the date of my demise should be a tip off that my death had been faked. Previously I had been known as Anne Vavasour but I changed it to Elizabeth Brook because of Spanish kidnapping and assassination attempts. Since I was Queen Elizabeth's personal secretary and knew almost every state secret the Spanish wanted me either dead or captured. When Spanish spies found out that I had changed my name I had to fake my death in order to stay alive.

After that I stopped allowing others to know that I was Robert Cecil's wife and started to pretend to be his sister Anne (as well as others including Elizabeth) as I had earlier when I was actually married to the Earl of Oxford. Detail of my various aliases are listed in detail on this page of my bio.

It was all over when Queen Elizabeth died. I went from being a mover and shaker for 25 years to having nothing to do. So I focused all my ambition mainly on building Hatfield House and raising my children.


Wikipedia also says this:

The present Jacobean house was built in 1611 by Robert Cecil..

Wrong again. It was not a Jacobean house, it was the Jacobean house. It was the first house made in that style and 'Jacobe' (King James) had nothing to do with designing it. My husband and I designed it and then built the first of the style which everyone then strived to copy.  It was really a joint effort and neither of us designed any single part of it alone. Everything we did was as a team and as a team we were about eight times as effective as either one of us ever could have been if we had done things separately. This is something that most people never understood about Robert and I.

Even detractors 400 years ago said 'half of the elements already existed in this building or in that one'. That meant we developed the other half and time has given me a new reply from a modern angle.  'There were gliders and working gasoline engine's before either Orville or Wilbur Wright had been born and like that team the two of us Cecil's were the first to put it all together and make the new style of architecture fly. Many people insist that no better example of a Jacobean house has ever been built. 

A 'first' that remains the 'best' after 400 years is an accomplishment that is almost unheard of in any field. For an accomplishment whose merits are still being debated after 400 years it is as rare as someone saying that 'the Wright brothers built the first and the best airplane that has ever flown'. I doubt that has been said since the second airplane was built.

[This statement is horrible and I need to polish it more before it can be taken seriously but you can see where I am going with it, can't you?]

Much of the interior, especially the furnishings, were patterned after my 'aunt Bess' of Hardwick's home which is now called Hardwick Hall. I grew up visiting that house and grew to love it's furnishings. It was a fantasy land with the most incredible tapestries which told the most fantastic stories. (My father was the Earl of Derby so we were virtually her neighbors.
So in spite of the fact that Hardwick was 150 miles from Hatfield you can easily see the relationship between the two homes. In fact possibly one fourth of Hatfield's interior and some of it's exterior are patterned after Hardwick. Bess was one of Queen Elizabeth's chamberladies and it was through her efforts that I also became a lady of the chamber.) She pretty much trained a generation of women including yours truely and Queen Elizabeth to become 'feminists' and that it was OK be what is now called a 'feminist'. 

Hatfield vs Hardwick
Hatfield House exterior Exterior   Hardwick Hall Exterior
Hatfield House Long Gallery Long Gallery Hardwick Long Gallery
Hatfield House was the cat's meow in the 1600's. Over 50 architects visited shortly after it was finished and they were sent by firms from as far away as Germany just to see it. A lot of the early homes made in this style had plans that often credited and referenced Hatfield House. They probably still exist and can be found in archives. Look right on the first page of the plans for something to the effect that it is a 'Hatfield style house' or 'based on the Hatfield House design'. However, they probably refer to it as something like the 'Cecil Estate', not Hatfield House.

Much later, probably after my death, they named the style 

The estate was really the equivalent of half Camp David and half Disney World.

The King of France who was my real nephew snuck over at least twice a year. Then there was the ruler of Sweden and a slew of Habsbergs starting at the top with head of the Holy Roman Empire and going right on down until you had those who were of such dubious quality that you wanted to count the silverware after they left.

The house was built for Tarzan, Batman and a Laura Croft. I was the Laura Croft and a visiting King Louis XIII of France was the young manic Tarzan. My being Laura Croft is easily understood in light of these pages.
The movie industry finds that people still feel the same about the house as we did.

The Broadwater
The Broadwater

I recall my husband, Robert Cecil, doing extensive draining of marshes in about 1606. We called them fens, as in the 'unwholesome fens' in 
the play the Tempest and they were along the River Lea mainly where 'The Broadwater' now is and extending out from there and also where Stanborough Park now is which is about another half mile north.  

This kind of confirms it: '
This was the Innings Park and includes the warren, which is separated from it by the River Lea, in this part artificially widened. On either side of the water is a vineyard, which was planted by the first earl,' Here

HatfieldThe warren, vineyards and the Broadwater (the 'this part artificially widened') located in the upper right part of the ordnance survey map replaced the first set of marshes mentioned. Interestingly, they tell what we replaced the marshes with yet they say nothing about the marshes or the need for eliminating them which was the point of the project.

Robert drained the marshes in an effort to eliminate the bad air which we thought caused a strain of malaria (mal+air=malaria) which killed many of the local population.
(This may be in the records at Hatfield.) Though today people laugh at how we thought bad air caused disease it was not far from the truth. Smelly swamps were also a breeding ground for the mosquitoes which spread the disease which has caused more deaths than all the wars of man combined.

Malaria was a very big problem in England during the little Ice Age as the CDC states here. It increased as a problem from before the 1500's until at least the 1600's.

The marsh was five to ten times the width of what 'The Broadwater' is now. The Broadwater is near the middle of where the marsh was located. In order to drain the marsh we dredged the channel for the Broadwater and deposited the dirt on each side of it. We made the Broadwater about 12 feet deep. The dirt from it allowed us to build up the area on each side of it to several feet and create the Vineyards and the Warren. That eliminated the 'bad air' and the mosquitoes that were the real cause of Malaria.

Snow PlowWe used teams of slow draft horses pulling 'scrapers' to move the dirt around. They looked somewhat similar to the horse drawn snow plow at the right only they were larger, the sides of the plows/scrapers were higher and they used either two or four horses. Even the children got involved. They enjoyed commanding the large draft horses and by standing on the sleds they were able to have '4 mph chariot races'.
Roman Helmet They upped the ante by invading the stage material which we had at home and finding stage swords as well as a trumpet and Roman helmets which were as big as the children were. They would ride the sleds and amidst the trumpet blare attempt to charge each other while flailing each other with the swords (but the draft horses knew better and retreated at the first opportunity).

The children also enjoyed being allowed, for the first time, to play in mud (which in places went up past their knees).
muddy childThe children often got so muddy that I could not tell which ones were mine. The children were paid for the work they did so their mothers did not mind washing them and their clothes.

Within days the ranks of the children had swollen past the number of men that we hired which varied from 20 to 110. The norm was about 30 men though it went up to 110 (and about 15 horses) when we were digging and pulling stumps.

Archimedes screwWe had to bring in at least four huge pumps and dredging machines. One I clearly remember was a two man operated pump based on an Archimedes screw (left) but I can't remember what the other three machines were. (It's been over 400 years so please give me a break.) I recall that there was one machine that was hard to get ahold of. We had to send correspondence (and probably negotiations) back and forth to probably Oxford several times before we got a hold of it. (The letters may be in the Hatfield library records.) The supervisor we signed up was the only person experienced with such equipment but before he came he got another job offer and broke the contract with us. We decided that we could manage without him. Big mistake.

The water did not want to divert down the nice new river bed we had made for it. No matter what we tried the water ended up back in the trench we were making for the Broadwater. Also we could only dig about 5 feet down before it flooded from an underground spring. We had the equipment to deal with these problems but not the expertise. This was long before the industrial revolution and most people knew nothing about machinery.

Finally the word got out that I had been in charge of the cannons at the Tower of London (even though I was actually in charge of all of England's defense works under Queen Elizabeth) so they thought I was eminently qualified  and tried to put me in charge of the machines. I had no idea about machines. I got out of it when it rained. I was saved because it rained for over a week until the river swelled up right over it's embankment and again right back into the Broadwater trench. 
I announced that this was solid proof that the rain gods (and angels) did not approve of me being in charge of the machines.

For a short while we put the gardener in charge simply because he had maintained an irrigation ditch once and because he worked outside a lot.

The whole operation became the theater of the absurd and worthy of a play by the bard. We finally had to bring in some professionals. Actually I think it was a government surveying team with two engineers. They were normally used to find locations for government buildings and roadways. To know what they were doing they had been trained on the construction of earthworks of all kinds and then they became surveyors. They had finished one job and it was six weeks before their next job so to get back on schedule and finish before the annual Malaria outbreak commenced Robert contracted the whole team from the government. (That contract may still be in around somewhere.)

[What I find amazing is that nearly everything is right where I left it almost 400 years ago. Do you know what man made structure is still standing in the U.S. and in use after 400 years? Nothing, not a single thing. I thought the Spanish fort, Castillo de San Marcos
, in St. Augustine Florida was that old but it's was made of wood before 1695. You have to go to the pyramids in Mexico to locate something man made which is 400 years old but they have not been used since the Spanish conquered the natives. Around Hatfield many things and many people have been added but almost everything that we (Robert Cecil and I) created 400 years ago is still there. Amazing. We must have done something right.]

main marsh at HatfieldThe second set of marshes we drained were located a half mile north and west of these marshes. It is in the upper left part of the map (at right) where the two lakes are located and along the river just south of there.

The strain of Malaria we had was not a very virulent strain since we got bitten hundreds or thousands of times without becoming ill but when a person got ill then it often killed them right away. They usually died within three years. The attacks lasted about two weeks but the disease never really went away. The attacks just partly subsided until they came back worse...until you died. Death was almost always because of kidney failure due to 'blackwater fever' but never because of cerebral malaria which causes most Malaria deaths these days. Here is what happened. While the liver expanded beyond belief the blood got thicker and thicker as it broke down until it stopped flowing. I don't recall how many lived. I have not located records from the time which show how many survived. This was before quinine entered the scene and that did cut down on the deaths significantly. (Excuse me but I am a biochemist and my scientific nature may make my descriptions seem a little gory and protracted. Also, malaria was a problem that I worried and wondered about for over 40 years so I want to thoroughly understand it.)

It was not the kind of malaria we now have in the tropics which can be caught with the first mosquito bite and which is less fatal but returns time and again. When a person now dies of malaria it is more often due to cerebral malaria than blackwater fever which is all they died of 200 years ago. Less than 1% of those people who are now infected with Malaria die each year so it is not nearly as fatal as the strain we had to deal with in England.
I can verify the following statement by the CDC:

The question may never be resolved because the strains involved are now extinct. Here

Draining the swamps dramatically reduced the new cases of malaria the next year from over 50
(~2% of the areas population) to less than ten and everyone in the area was overjoyed. Then the next year there was not a single new case nor were there any for years afterwards. Robert had wiped out malaria from the area. He even spoke about it in Parliament and several counties acted immediately on his information by also draining swamps. Massive draining operations were made. Tens of thousands of acres were drained. Kent county comes to mind. Tens of thousands were saved.

Another thing that occurred was that the deer became robust and stopped giving birth to stillborn fawns. The deer may have been the carrier or common host of this strain of malaria. Mosquitoes may have bitten an infected deer and then given it to a human when it bit them. The deer population of Europe declined over the next 350 years and that may have been what really wiped out that strain of malaria in Europe. Maybe it was because of the advent of cheap wire fences which eliminated deer populations from the bottomland which was favored for farming and were where mosquitoes were. This in turn would have eliminated malaria from England and throughout Europe. I can hypothesise forever but it is all really a guess. I don't know why malaria disappeared from the U.K. but you should be glad that it did!

I had a vague uneasiness until we drained the marshes and then it went away as abruptly as if we had left the area.

After that, as far as the local Hatfield residents were concerned, we could do nothing wrong.  However, what it did for the entire community was even greater. It was truely a community project that everyone involved was justly proud of (and that was just about everyone within five miles of Hatfield).

Princess Elizabeth was sent to Hatfield by her sister, Queen 'Bloody' Mary, supposedly as a reprieve from being a prisoner in the Tower of London.
Everyone loved Elizabeth so Mary had been told before she would be allowed to order her sisters' execution she herself would be murdered. Hence Elizabeth felt being sent to Hatfield was actually a death sentence. If Malaria did not kill her then she felt that her sister would have her poisoned and then would tell everyone that Malaria had caused her death. In fact there was one poisoning attempt but Elizabeth was warned. The dog who ate her dinner died in agony within 15 minutes. When Elizabeth found out Mary had died 90% of what she felt was a relief from that fear of death by poison. She told me that becoming queen was not what she wanted and it was only a slightly better fate than dying by poison. She saw what power had done to others and felt the corruption that it caused was in fact a poisoning of the soul.


The effect malaria had in the Hatfield area was to dramatically limit the population both by killing most of the people (1/4 to 1/2 of the population every 12 years) and by preventing people from wanting to live in the area. People were often afraid to even visit the area. Woodcutters from London refused to go into the Hatfield area. They preferred to travel over 60 miles to cut fire wood rather than travel 20 miles to Hatfield. (Although land and animals could be considered private property or property of the crown trees were usually considered just like fish in the ocean were. Trees were thought to be free for the taking even on private property and on Crown property when they could get away with it.)

Thus Hatfield had very limited deforestation and the area was never denuded of oaks. Almost all the other forest land within 100 miles of London was stripped of wood in the late middle ages. This is why there are still magnificent forests with medieval oaks around Hatfield House. Even 400 years ago you would have been hard pressed to find medieval oaks closer to London than near Sheffield, about 150 miles from London, at what they now call Sherwood Forest. The oaks at Hatfield may actually be the oldest in Europe. Since pollarding limits an oak's size some of them may be 1000 years old. 

So, If you want to hug an old tree then Hatfield is the place to go! 


I can describe the old palace which is largely now in ruins, the dining room and the long table* in the 'new' Hatfield house as well as my favourite vestibule for reading in the fall sunlight.

I felt such a draw to the Hatfield House that I contacted them about renting an apartment for inspiration. They put me on a waiting list for a place in Ely. I was told it was right across from the cathedral and it is also where they have the annual strawberry fair. Then I recalled the murderous Bishop of Ely which I put in the play Richard III and decided I would not take the place after all.


Wikipedia has the following information about Hatfield House misattributed.

Elizabeth's successor
James I did not like the palace much and so traded it to Elizabeth's chief minister (and his own) Robert Cecil, First Earl of Salisbury, in exchange for Theobalds which was the Cecil's' family home. Wikipedia

King James liked it just fine (or at least that is what he told us). He did like Theobalds better because it was a much nicer house. That was not the determining factor in our trade.

I could tell you that King James did not like Hatfield because of the malaria but I would be lying.
You have to admit that since he died of malaria it would be an effective argument. Too bad I am so honest. You have to admit I missed a great opportunity to make my point.

The truth of the matter is that he did not worry at all about catching diseases. He considered that to be in God's hands.

The real reason he did not want Hatfield was that it was just too dangerous for him to travel there until later when the road was improved. Even then he mainly travelled to Hatfield in a covered stage in secret and we usually kept his presence a secret. The Bye Plot which was a kidnapping plot was what inspired Robert Cecil to trade Theobalds to the King for Hatfield. I think that kidnapping or one like it would have very likely taken place on the way to Hatfield House. 

Robert never would have traded his family estate simply because the new king liked it. It was duty. Since my husband was involved in state security Robert felt it was up to him to protect the king by providing him with a safer haven than Hatfield. 

Theobalds is right off the A10 which was a Roman Road. It was highly improved and a heavily travelled road since it carried most of the commercial transport of people and goods going north towards and past Cambridge. As I recall it was very wide and even had regular coach service (public transportation). It was a very safe road for the King to travel on.

On the other hand the road from London to Hatfield was so rutted that it was not even decent to walk on in places. It too was an old Roman Road but for some reason it had not been as well maintained. (I'll write the reason here when I recall it.)

Oak ForestKing James' coach was always vulnerable to attack if his horses could not run. On that road they often had to walk. The road from London was so forested with large Oaks that even at midday much of it was dark. The main problems were the large oak branches that hung over the road in over 100 places like the oak at the left which is found on the Hatfield Estate on the Daffodil Ride. Bandits (and potential assassins) had been known to jump from branches right on top of the coaches.  Others would cut branches most of the way through and then hold them in place with ropes. Then when a wealthy person's carriage came along they would cut the ropes and the branch would drop. It would either kill or maim two of the horses and stop the carriage completely leaving those inside very vulnerable. Even if they dropped in front of the horses they could not turn around since the road was too narrow. (I'm not telling you anything new as you have seen these tactics used in just about every Robin Hood type movie that has ever been made.)

The person that wrote the above entry in Wikipedia and elsewhere can't be faulted for not knowing this was the reason we never told people the truth about why we traded the estates. If we had we would have been setting our own selves up for a highway robbery.  We just let people know that the King did not like it. It was true. He went to Hatfield to get away from London and relax but the trip made him even more stressed. Then he thought of the possibly of being attacked on his return trip to London so he did not like it.

Even after we built the new Hatfield House King James usually travelled in secret when he visited.

Actually the British Government still owes my descendants quite a bit of money. I think it's about 15,000 pounds sterling. Theobalds was a much nicer and up to date house than the old Hatfield palace was so King James added about ~20,000 pounds to sweeten the deal and he only paid part of it off. His son Charles refused to pay any of it and then I died. Too bad there was not any compounded interest added to the amount owed or the Cecil family could cash in and buy most of England. More about the trade and building Hatfield on my 'Hatfield House' page here.

How did Robert Cecil keep our family from getting kidnapped?

We travelled more securely by not letting anyone know when we travelled. We travelled in closed carriages. During most of the year one set out each day from London and another from Hatfield. They normally carried beef and other meat going in to London, which we had contracts for at the palace, and fish as well as other merchandise on the return run from London. We found it was cheaper to bring fish from the London docks to Hatfield and smoke it there and then send it back to London than to smoke it in London. Not only was labor cheaper but it was much more expensive to haul the wood to London to smoke fish than it was to take fish to where the wood was at Hatfield.
There may be records of these contracts somewhere at Hatfield House. However, the stages may have been official crown stages, essentially delivery wagons for palace food, and who knows where those records would be or even if they still exist.

We considered it part of our duty to provide pure and safe food for the crown. One dynasty in Italy had been wiped out by mercury which had been snuck into their meat over a period of months. Everyone just got sicker and sicker. Their health never returned to normal even though they finally figured out what was going on. 

When we travelled we usually travelled on one of these two stages. Since the curtains were always drawn nobody knew if anyone was even inside the carriage. So we didn't have to worry about being kidnapped. I think even King James and later King Charles often used it to sneak out and visit Hatfield. Usually his guard would later follow with an empty stage. It was Robert's idea with lots of input from King James.
shell game
In other words Robert Cecil invented the 'shell game' except he used stagecoaches instead of shells. There were also 8 large bore wheel lock rifles on racks inside the two stages (4 in each one) and the existence of those were not kept a secret. Several of these may still be at Hatfield House since they were ours and they were incredibly beautiful crafted pieces of work second only to some Swiss clock mechanisms. Wheel-lock in Royal CollectionThey were all matched, had engraved gold color mechanisms and were from the continent, I think the Archdutchy of Salzburg in modern day Austria. They were a similar style to this two shot gun in the Royal Collection (right).

It had lots of bone inlay.
They were far too beautiful to ever have been thrown away or relegated to use in the field for sport. There was a depression on at the time and since we bought eight they made the engravings about twice as detailed as what we had ordered which had been 'with the best engraving', 200 hours per gun if my memory serves me accurately after 400 years.

Wait a second, the one at the royal collection may have been one of them. They state: 'The manuscript catalogue of the Carlton House collection notes that 'on the under part of the Stock is an engraving not very moral', but this is no longer present.' Here

As I recall there was something very 'unflattering' (or rude) on the bottom of the rifles so the one in the Royal Collection may very well have been one of ours. I can't recall what was written on them! Also, something on them hurt my finger and I think it was the little button that changed barrels after you shot one of them. It was really hard to push down.*

Records of these guns including their purchase may reside at Hatfield House. I recall these very clearly because due to my boredom I stared at them for hours while riding a hundred times to and from London. 'Number two' had perfect and flawless workmanship. Also, due to boredom whenever the stage would flush birds I'd get out and shoot them with one of the guns which I kept loaded with bird shot. Hence, I put many a pheasant on our table.

No robbers ever bothered our stage. Not once.

The Hatfield Estate was a lot of work. My final thought in that life, when I lay on my death bed, was 'at least I won't have to care for this place anymore'.


*If the gun in the National Collection was one of our eight guns then although the stock was made in Dresden I think the rest of the gun, the mechanism, was made in Austria. Of course when we ordered the guns we ordered from the manufacturer in Austria and he ordered the gun stocks. The Royal collection states:

'The barrel incised 1606 and stamped twice with the maker's mark, a lion rampant facing right (Støckel, 5511); 'engraved on the stock with the mark HF (for Hans Fleischer) here

The staff at the Royal Collection assumes the manufacturer, Stockel 5511, was in Germany because the stock was known to be made in Dresden by Hans Fleischer. However that may be an improper assumption. I am not saying that it is, I am just saying that it may be. If this is one of those guns we had in our stages then it was actually manufactured in Austria.

I can think of many analogies today. If you purchase an elegant car today such as some Rolls-Royce's you can buy the chassis alone and then get a body for it from a coachworks. Before 1959 you could only purchase a chassis from Rolls-Royce and you had to get the body from another company and that coachwork company could be in another country especially Italy.


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