“Of Alley”

Here’s an odd one.

The Villiers boys were great … err … mates of the Stuarts. Read into that as you will.

VilliersGeorge Villiers was such a handsome youth that James VI and I made him the royal cup-bearer. Gift followed gift. Honour followed honour:

  • 1615 Georgie was a Gentleman of the Bedchamber. Ahem! And knighted.
  • 1616 Sir George was Master of the King’s Horse. And Baron Whaddon. And, soon after, Viscount Villiers. And a Knight of the Garter.
  • 1617 Baron Villiers advanced to an Earldom, with the King’s personal accolade:

You may be sure that I love the Earl of Buckingham more than anyone else, and more than you who are here assembled. I wish to speak in my own behalf and not to have it thought to be a defect, for Jesus Christ did the same, and therefore I cannot be blamed. Christ had John, and I have George.

  • 1619 He was George, Marquess of Buckingham.
  • The Marquess of Buckingham was made Admiral of the Fleet.
  • 1623 The Dukedom of Buckingham was revived, and conferred on our lad.

Pretty (a good word in this connection) well every subsequent revelation has suggested the relationship between James and Villiers was warm, juicy, even sticky.

In 1622 James presented Villiers with York House, the former palace of the Archbishops of York, in the Strand. Buckingham intended to rebuild in a grandiose manner, but only the Watergate (look for Watergate Walk on the map below) had been completed before John Felton knifed Buckingham in the Greyhound boozer (but generally called “the Spotted Dog”, and now deceased — but look for the plaque on Buckingham House) in High Street, Old Portsmouth. Felton, a former army officer, had been wounded in one of Buckingham’s foreign excursions. Briefly, before he was hanged, Felton became something of a minor celeb.

Come the Restoration

2ndDukeOfBuckinghamWe have Charles II, who also has a Villiers acolyte — George’s son, and another George (that’s him, above). Just as Dad had accumulated, so the son dissipated.

John Dryden nailed him as “Zimri“:

Some of their chiefs were princes of the land:
In the first rank of these did Zimri stand,
A man so various, that he seemed to be
Not one, but all mankind’s epitome:
Stiff in opinions, always in the wrong,
Was everything by starts, and nothing long,
But, in the course of one revolving moon,
Was chemist, fiddler, statesman, and buffoon,
Then all for women, painting, rhyming, drinking,
Besides ten thousand freaks that died in thinking…
In squandering wealth was his peculiar art;
Nothing went unrewarded but desert.
Beggared by fools, whom still he found too late,
He had his jest and …

You are awaiting the rhymed punch-line there … they had his estate. Dryden’s chuckle that George Villiers, the second Duke of Buckingham, had to sell York House to pay his creditors.

In 1674 the site was laid out as streets. Some wiseacre had the new lay-out named after their former owner:

  • George Court;
  • Villiers Street;
  • Duke Street;
  • Of Alley;
  • Buckingham Street.


Sadly, a decent snurffle (and it has to be) has been spoiled by subsequent evolutions:

  • Duke Street is now part of John Adam Street; and
  • Of Alley is now renamed York Place.

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Filed under History, Literature, London

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