On the bank of the Thames in Richmond, a short distance from Central London is Ham House, one of the most unique and atmospheric houses in England. This rare gem is widely recognized as the most intact and “original” 17th century building in Europe. And as is the case with buildings left to their own devices for hundreds of years, some think this house has fallen under the spell of some previous inhabitants, that it is haunted. But lets not veer off into lore, let’s look at the history.
Ham House was built in 1610 by Sir Thomas Vavsour, Knight Marshal to James I. For those uninitiated, James I succeeded Elizabeth I, the last of the Tudor rulers, and star of the movie “Elizabeth”. And we also know of James I through his “King James Bible” fame.
After King James’ passing the house went to his son Charles I, who leased it to his good friend and former whipping boy, William Murray, 1st Earl of Dysart.
And what, pray tell, is a whipping boy? Because kings were understood to be appointed by God and therefore divine, no one other than the king was worthy to administer punishment to a prince. And since kings played no role in a prince’s upbringing, dealing with any wayward behavior fell to a prince’s tutor for whom it could be potentially perilous to deal out punishment.
So, the ever-practical monarchy developed a workaround. A young lad of high rank was picked to grow up with a prince, to be his playmate and confidant, and to take his punishment. Having forged a strong emotional bond with his playmate, a prince would have found it hard to endure his best friend taking his punishment, and, hopefully, would behave well in order to avoid the emotional trauma.