Godstall Lane derives its origins from the layout of Roman Chester where it formed the eastern boundary of the legionary commanders residence - the praetorium. The term Praetorian derived from the tent of the commanding general or "Praetor" of a Roman army in the field — the praetorium. These were an elite recruitment of Roman citizens and Latins - a private force of soldiers to act as guards of the tent or the person. They consisted of both infantry and cavalry. In time, this cohort came to be known as the "cohors praetoria". In Roman Chester, which generally followed the layout of a Roman camp, the "cohors praetoria" are located next to the praetorium.
It is one of the four surviving medieval "lanes" in Chester, they being Godstall Lane, Feathers Lane, Pierpoint Lane and Leen Lane. However as noted below at times it appears not to have been there continuously.
Emperor and Hermit
The name meaning "God's Place" is reputed to be from a tradition that a hermit lived thereabouts in the 12th Century. The hermit (see Hermitage) was identified by Gerald of Wales (Chapter XI), writing about 1200, as the Holy Roman Emperor Henry V, although it is extremely unlikely that this was in fact the case as Henry's death in Utrecht is well documented.
Gerald (who often records "dubious local tales") writes as follows:
- "Chester boasts of being the burial-place of Henry, a Roman Emperor, who after having imprisioned his carnal and spiritual father, pope Paschal, gave himself up to penitence; and, becoming a voluntary exile in this country, ended his days in solitary retirement.. .. the truth of circumstances was declared (and not known before) by dying confession."
Pope Paschal II was consecrated pope in succession to Pope Urban II (1088–99) on 19 August 1099. His reign of almost twenty years was exceptionally long for a Pope of the Middle Ages. In the long struggle with the Holy Roman Emperors over investiture, he zealously carried on the policy in favor of papal privilege, but with only partial success. In effect he was claiming that only the Pope could agree to the nomination and installation of bishops. Emperor Henry V marched on Rome with an army and imprisoned this pope in order to get himself crowned in St. Peter's on 13 April 1111 (Henry was excommunicated as soon as he had left Rome).
There is another connection between Chester and Paschal II: during the Investiture Crisis, Bishop Robert de Limesey (who translated his see from St Johns at Chester to Coventry in 1102) was one of the bishops, along with Gerard, Archbishop of York and Herbert de Losinga bishop of Norwich, who returned from Rome (in 1102) and informed Henry I that Paschal II had confirmed Henry could personally invest bishops, provided they were good men. The pope later denied what had been said and excommunicated all three bishops.
The "Holy Roman Emperor" story, as given in "The County Palatine Of Chester" (T. Cadell And W. Davies, 1810, page 538) is:
- Camden in noticing this tradition speaks of Henry IV as the emperor of whom it was told but all the circumstances mentioned by Giraldus who only calls him Imperatorem Romanum Henricum apply to Henry V. There has been a tradition of very old standing that this emperor led a retired life under the borrowed name of Godescallus or Godstallus and a lane near the cathedral called Godstall lane is said to have obtained that appellation from him. In an ancient Chronicle called the Red Book of the abbey of Chester was the following passage which seems to give some countenance to these traditions: "Anno 1110: Rex Henricus dedit filiam suam Godescallo imperatori Alemannþa qui nunc Cestriaz jacet". Notwithstanding the authority of this passage and that the time when Giraldus Cambrensis found the tradition current at Chester was but about sixty years after the death of Henry V Emperor of Germany yet it seems evident from the authority of the best historians that it was wholly void of foundation since we are told that the Emperor Henry V died at Utrecht.
Hanshall informs us:
- Voltaire says that in the letter which Henry IV sent to his son he entreats him to allow the Bishop of Leige to grant him an asylum. Allow me says Henry to continue at Liege if not an Emperor at least a refugee. Let it not be said to my shame or rather to yours that I am forced to beg lodgings in Easter time. If you grant me what I ask I shall be greatly obliged to you if you refuse me I will go and rather live as a poor Cottager in a foreign land than wander thus from one disgrace to another in an empire which was once my own if This may be considered by some as an allusion to his voluntary exile the circumstance also of a lane called Godstall lane.
A footnote in Hanshall reads:
- This lane is described in a survey of the streets from "the dais of King Henrie the third" in these terms: On the south side of the said streete is a lane that goeth out of the said streete by the house side of William Tanner and so into the Church yarde of St Oswalde's called Lean Lane and beneath it upon the same side nearer the Eastgate is a called St Goddellstall and so gocth out of the said streete ioto the said Cburch yard: this Goddellstall lieth within the Abbey Church in Chester and he was an Bmperour and a virtuouse disposed man in bis liveing and lane lietli betweeno the house sometime of Robert Cbamberlaine and the bouse late in tho holding of William Humphrey. And upon tbe same side nearer the Eastgate there a lane called St Warburge's lane and goeth into the aforesaid Church yard &c It is probable therefore that Godstall lane was upon the site of the passage leading from East gate street to tbe Cathedral now called the London entry.
The lane is marked on some early maps of Victorian Chester as "Booth's Court", which appears to have been a relatively impoverished area. Adjacent St Werburgh Street being described as a "narrow and incommodious" street, "occupied principally by deformed masses of unseemly buildings". Hanshall can be read as stating that Godstall Lane did not exist as such in his (late Georgian) time.
A possible reason for this story to be made up lies with Henry V's wife, none other than the Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I on England and one of the protagonists in the Civil War during the time of Earl of Chester Ranulph De Gernon. After the death of Holy Roman Emperor Henry V (in 1125), Matilda married Geoffrey of Anjou and, on the 5th March 1133, gave birth to the future Henry II of England. Obviously, if Emperor Henry was still alive and a hermit in Chester when Henry II was born, then Henry II was illegitimate and some doubt would be cast on the rightfulness of the Angevin succession. In fact Hugh de Kevelioc, the next Earl of Chester, would have a reasonable claim via Henry I's eldest illegitimate son Robert of Gloucester.