Hartwell House near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire lies just over 12 miles (20km) from Berkhamsted. It is a beautiful 17th century English country house built in the Jacobean style, and is particularly noted for its period as a temporary residence of French royalty. It also has an unexpected connection with Berkhamsted and one of the burials in Rectory Lane Cemetery.
The 1790s were a turbulent time in Europe. Revolution brought down the French monarchy and Louis XVI (Louis-Auguste), King of France, was mercilessly executed on the guillotine in 1793. After the death of his 10-year-old son, Louis XVII, the title passed to Louis-Auguste’s younger brother, Louis Stanislas Xavier.
Revolutionary France was not a welcoming place for monarchs, and the aspiring King Louis XVIII was forced to live in exile with his Queen, Marie Joséphine. Fearing for their safety, the Bourbons moved around the royal palaces of Europe in secrecy, living at the Łazienki Palace in Warsaw (then in the German province of South Prussia), Jelgava Palace in Latvia, and Stockholm in Sweden. The Bourbons’ safety could not be guaranteed and in 1808 Louis brought his Queen to England. After a brief stay at Gosfield Hall in Essex, Louis rented Hartwell House in Buckinghamshire from Sir George Lee, and set up a royal household in exile there, with support from the British Prince Regent (the future King George IV).
Louis must have made frequent trips to London, and the coaching route from Hartwell to the city passed through Berkhamsted, a prosperous town that offered facilities for passing coach traffic – rest, refreshment and stables. The innkeeper of the King’s Arms public house, John Page, liked to attract a higher class of clientele, and Louis stopped here for refreshment and to change his horses. The publican had three daughters and it was the charm of one of them – Mary Page (nicknamed Polly) – that probably ensured his return visits. Louis interest in Polly was undoubtedly romantic, and it gave rise to much local gossip, even attracting commentary in The Times, which described Polly as “the sprightly, chatting entertainer of King Louis XVIII”. John Page doubtless encouraged this since these royal visits were good for trade of a superior nature.
Louis lived at Hartwell until 1814, when Napoleon was defeated and the Bourbon Monarchy was restored to power (Napoleon’s brief attempt to regain power was brought to an end at the Battle of Waterloo). Louis was proclaimed King Louis XVIII and took up residence in the Tuileries Palace in Paris.
Louis never forgot his time in England, or the charms of Polly Page. According to the 19th century Berkhamsted historian Henry Nash (himself buried in Rectory Lane Cemetery), Louis invited Polly to visit him in France and had prepared for her apartments at the Royal Palace of Versailles. Polly apparently did visit, which delighted the Page family and gave rise to some local gossip. However, Polly returned to Berkhamsted and continued to run the King’s Arms after her father’s death in 1840.
Louis XVIII ruled as king from 1814 to 1824; after slightly less than a decade on the throne, the obese king died of gout and gangrene. Polly Page died in 1865 aged 77 and is buried in Rectory Lane Cemetery and a simple grave marks her resting place.
Hartwell House is today a Grade I listed building on account of its beaufitul Jacobean and Georgian architecture and exquisite Rococo interiors. It has been used as an exclusive luxury hotel since the 1980s and periodically hosts international summits due to its proximity to Chequers. In 2008 the National Trust acquired a long lease on the Hartwell House, although it is not open as a visitor attraction and continues to operate as a hotel.
Discover the memorials in Rectory Lane Cemetery with historical links to Hartwell House
1 burial is found — click on a burial below to find out more: