The former Palace of the Archbishop of York stands next door to the Minster, adjoining the present official residence of the Bishop of Southwell. The Palace as we see it today dates from the 14th Century and was wrecked during the Civil War. The ruined part can be admired up-close from the Palace Gardens. The surviving built part of the Palace – the Great Hall – was restored in the Edwardian era. The Hall retains its original proportions and the beams of the magnificent vaulted ceiling of the State Chamber are mostly medieval originals.
Originally built in the 15-century as a palace for the Archbishop of York, this historic castle was damaged extensively by Parliamentarians after the English Civil War. In the Georgian period, the remaining habitable parts of the Palace was home to a “respectable seminary for young ladies” as well as being used as the local magistrate’s court. In the late 19th century parts of the Palace were restored as an episcopal residency when the nearby Minster obtained cathedral status. Today, the restored part of the building is often filled with the sound of singing from the Song School, an integral part of Southwell Minster since the 13th century.
This part of the building is not open to the public but visitors are free to go to the first-floor stateroom, said to be the place where Cardinal Wolseley made his last desperate efforts to obtain the annulment of the first marriage of Henry VIII. In the 17th century, the palace was the first place of captivity of Charles I, who was captured by the Scottish Allies of Oliver Cromwell towards the end of the English Civil War.
If the matter were still undecided, a very recent discovery would enable us to pronounce that Southwell had, at least, been the residence of Romans, by whatever appellation it might be celebrated, or by whatever size and magnificence it might be distinguished, in their time; for, in breaking up a piece of ground under the eastern side of of the archbishop’s palace, in the year 1793, to make a garden for one of the gentlemen of this church, a tessalated Roman floor was discovered of considerable extent, accompanied by several fragments of urns.
“Antiquities historical, architectural, chorographical and itinerary, in Nottinghamshire and the adjacent counties”, William Dickinson, 1801
We cannot avoid briefly noticing here the ruins of the ancient Palace of the Archbishops of York, which stand on the south side of the Church, and which cannot fail to excite admiration by their picturesque appearance, as well as the numerous and interesting historical associations with which they are connected, as well as the variety of tenants who have occupied it. It was the favourite residence of the great Cardinal Wolsey, who frequently retired hither for a time to forget the cares of government amidst its secluded and religious retreats. He passed here the greater part of the last year of his life, (1530), when his proud grandeur was fast fading away; and at the close of which year he was hurled from his lofty pinnacle of glory, to lay down his weary head in obscurity on the cold pillow of death.
Archbishop Sandys spent nearly the whole of his time here, after his translation to the See of York ; he was the last Archbishop that resided here. During the civil wars, the Commissioners of Scotland resided here, and held their consultations ; after which, it afforded a brief asylum to the unfortunate monarch Charles I. and his queen. It was occupied by the Parliamentary generals, and afterwards by Cromwell himself ; and General Monk, when he was returning from Scotland to restore the exiled king, slept under its roof. It was during these wars that it fell to ruin, all the contending parties of that period contributed to complete its destruction.
The rooms of state were on the east, the lodging apartments to the south, the offices on the west, and the north was occupied by the great hall and chapel, the former of which is now alone remaining. The large Gothic window on the south-east corner is said to have lighted an immense library. On the wall at the east end is an angel bearing the arms of Cardinal Kempe, Archbishop of York, in the reign of Henry VI. These are said to have been three corn sheaves in allusion to his origin, which was that of a husbandman’s son, in Sussex.
“The history and antiquities of the collegiate church of Southwell : illustrated by views of the interior and exterior, plans, sections, etc. of the edifice, William Bennett Killpack, 1839