Elsyng Palace

Since 2004, the EAS has been carrying out annual research excavations in Forty Hall, Enfield, on the site of Elsyng Palace; a sixteenth century courtier's and later royal palace.

Elsyng Palace hypothetical gatehouse reconstruction, c.1500

Elsyng is believed to have medieval origins, but came to prominence under the ownership of Sir Thomas Lovell, Chancellor of the Exchequer and leading minister to Henry VII.

Lovell is generally credited with establishing Elsyng as a courtier's palace, functioning both as his headquarters and as a place to entertain the royal court, which visited several times during Henry VII's reign, attracted in part to its prime location next to the hunting forest of the Royal Chase.

Following Lovell's death in 1524, the palace passed into the hands of the Earl of Rutland, but was eventually acquired by Henry VIII in late 1539, who quickly set about upgrading it to a fully fledged royal residence.

Subsequent monarchs had difficulty mantaining the large portfolio of properties Henry had built up during his lifetime, and despite periodic efforts at rennovation Elsyng fell into disrepair and disuse and was ultimately sold off by Charles I in the lead up to the English Civil War in 1641.

What remained of the palace was held by the Earl of Pembroke up until his death in 1650 and at some point soon after the estate was purchased by Nicholas Rainton, whose adjacent house, Forty Hall, had been built by his great uncle (also Nicholas) in 1629.

Archaeological evidence points to a brief attempt at farming the site before it was eventually cleared and landscaped, ending with the creation of the pleasure grounds including raised walks and the lime tree avenue that can be seen today.

The site lay largely forgotten in the grounds of Forty Hall, until it was bought by Enfield Council in 1953 and subsequently opened as a public park.

The EAS led a series of excavations between 1963 and 1966 which reestablished the palace's location, and revealed its exceptional archaeological preservation below ground level. Recognising the site's historical significance and unique archaeological status, the government designated the site a Scheduled Ancient Monument in 1967 and there followed a 37-year moratorium on excavation.

Despite the Society's work in the 1960s and extensive desktop and non-invasive studies in the following years, the site was poory understood and many questions remained about its layout and preservation, and so in 2004 the EAS began a new programme of research in cooperation with Historic England (then English Heritage) and Enfield Council.

We now understand much more about the site and its development and although many more questions remain to be answered, we are now working to publish the results of our recent work together with a detailed history of the palace.

Although much has been written about Elsyng in both published and unpublished sources, most have drawn on second hand and incomplete references to original documents. We are therefore now working to assemble all the primary sources on the palace we can find, which will hopefully result in the clearest picture of the site's history to date.

Where possible we aim to publish transcriptions of relevant documents below.

The Will of Sir Thomas Lovell, K.G.

The Inventory of Sir Thomas Lovell, K.G.

Expenses of James Nedham, Surveyor of the King's Works, 1540