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Welcome to Netley Abbey, near Southampton in the south of England. Plenty of room …

The Tudor connection? Dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII.

What you see are the ruins of a gothic church built in the mid-13th century by the Cistercian order under the patronage of Henry III. Three hundred years later the church had been converted into a great hall for the use of William Paulet, who was granted title to the abbey after the first wave of state confiscations in 1536.

Marquess of Winchester

William Paulet (1483-1572)

The entire complex became a country house for one man. One. Single. Man. Paulet was an important politician – knight of the garter, earl, marquess, appointed as regent to Edward VI – and no doubt he had a large family and retinue, but the ambition was awesome.

Although Paulet altered the fabric of the abbey buildings, much of his work was stripped away in the 18-19th centuries to reveal the original architecture.

English Heritage has this mock up of the Tudor style (gothic church at the rear):

Netley Abbey Tudor style

The historian Geoffrey Elton argued that the Tudor reformation was a “top down” revolution. Social historians argue for a “bottom up” revolution. The history of Netley Abbey shows that the revolution was, in the first place, “sideways”, with a transfer of wealth from one institution to another: church to state. Paulet was a primary beneficiary – in my view, a Tudor equivalent of the modern investment bank, which receives cheap money from the central source and distributes that money at great profit. There were many like him.

The abbey was used as a country house until the 18th century, when it was partly demolished for building materials. It fell into ruin and became a tourist attraction for romantic travellers, whose daft graffiti can still be read in the weathered stones. This is what they saw:

Romantic view of Netley AbbeyThe rampant foliage is gone, replaced by a bland carpet of grass, but the abbey is well worth a visit. Quite remote, not too far. Wikipedia has an excellent article.

 

 

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