Many towns in England have the word Royal or Kings in their title designating their historic connections to royalty.
Royal Wootton Bassett in Wiltshire was the first such title granted for 100 years in 2011. While only the reigning monarch can confer such a prestigious honour a town is permitted to petition for its title
Visitors who flock to Newmarket are often surprised to learn about the town’s royal connections and its unique history and heritage. The town is surprisingly modest although it could well boast more royal connections, and over a much longer period, than most places in England.
During the Iron Age the Iceni tribe led by Queen, Boudicca or Boadicea ruled these lands and had a major settlement near Exning.
King Anna, ruler of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of East Anglia (died 654 AD), probably instigated the building of the huge dyke, which runs for nine miles through Newmarket Heath.
Anna’s most famous daughter was Queen Etheldreda (or Saint Etheldreda) who was born at his palace in Exning, said to have stood where St Martin’s Church stands today.
A Royal Charter instigated Newmarket’s twice weekly market in 1200AD. The markets and later fairs made this a bustling farming community. Tournaments were held on Newmarket Heath during the Middle Ages but King Edward II, fearful of plots and rebellion against him, banned such tournaments in 1313.
After that, Newmarket had to wait until February 1604 for the next major royal event – the arrival of King James I. who was responsible for the first two royal palaces to be built here.
Horse racing, in the form of private matches, took place and Charles is reputed to have built the first grandstand on the Heath for his own use. However, races, cockfighting and the many other sports and games which the Stuarts loved, were curtailed by the Civil War.
Sadly, King Charles I was kept prisoner in his Newmarket palace on the way to his execution.
King James’ palace was in a poor state by the time of his grandson’s, King Charles II’s, Restoration in 1660. Charles must have had happy memories of his times in Newmarket with his father and grandfather and he soon returned to the town building a new, grander palace further along the High Street. So began the time most people associate with horse racing on Newmarket Heath.
In the centuries that followed, a succession of royal visitors made their way to Newmarket’s palace and the races. King William III and Queen Mary II, Queen Anne, The Prince Regent, King Edward VII, King George V and, of course, Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mother have all appreciated this unique town and its racecourses – set in the largest expanse of cultivated heath land in the world.
Newmarket can be justly proud of its many royal connections and its long history and heritage.
Perhaps it is time to say to the the world, Welcome to Royal Newmarket?