Pace Place, diplomacy, and poison

Back to blogging: the Christmas bug is finally behind me and my ailing computer has been given a new lease of life, so let’s get straight into it with the musical Pace Place in Tower Hamlets, near Commercial Road. (Incidentally, Commercial Road, a busy, prosperous street in the early 19th century, was what it sounds like: it was opened by the dock companies so that goods could be taken into the City.)

Pace Place, for pure euphony, cannot be considered on its own: two other comrades-in-sound are Strutt Street and Tay Way. Alas, the second two are not in London; they are, respectively, in Belper in Derbyshire and Romford in Essex.

In London, Pace Place was named for Richard Pace, “an amiable and accomplished man”, diplomatist and dean of St Paul’s, as well as chief personal secretary to Henry VIII. He is perhaps best known for giving a sermon at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in Calais (then English and now French), the site of a meeting between Henry VIII and Francis I of France.

Before that, one of Pace’s first jobs as a diplomatist was being sent to Switzerland, in 1515, on the difficult and somewhat dangerous mission of bribing and persuading the Swiss to help England by attacking France. He was imprisoned more than once during the course of his negotiations and, upon his return in 1516, was appointed secretary of state.

Pace held several church appointments, including one of his earliest as secretary to Bishop Bainbridge, who died in Italy, having been poisoned by one of his own chaplains. It was Pace’s loyalty to the bishop and his attempts to discover the identity of the murderer which first brought him to the attention of the king and Cardinal Wolsey (whose admiration later turned to resentment). His health and success in diplomacy failed him in later life – among his less successful efforts were trips back and forth to Italy in order to argue the case for Wolsey’s papacy every time a pope died.

Another of his clerical appointments was as vicar of St Dunstan’s in Stepney: he was appointed on 12 May 1519 and resigned the post in 1527. Pace eventually retired to Stepney; there were false rumours of his death in 1532 but he remained alive for another four years and was buried in the chancel of St Dunstan’s parish church.