Hampshire was the heart of King Alfred’s Wessex and would later become known as the birthplace of both cricket and Jane Austen, as well as the launching place of the Mary Rose, the American Pilgrims, the Titanic, and the D-Day invasion. Yet it may be Gilbert White’s Natural History of Selborne and Keats' 'To Autumn' – inspired by an evening walk along the River Itchen – that best convey the character of the county. Hampshire is among the largest English counties by area and today is one of the most populous, due to the London commuter belt encroaching into the county’s northeast corner and development expanding along the south coast between Portsmouth and Southampton. Even so, much of the county is still considered rural. In the medieval and early modern periods Hampshire was thinly populated and relatively poor. Winchester with its royal associations and Southampton with its port dominated the county from the time of the Domesday Survey until Portsmouth began to gain in population and importance in the seventeenth century. Winchester and Southampton dominate the county’s history of dramatic activity as well, but several towns and rural parishes contribute to that history, as do some of the county’s aristocratic families.
Hampshire formed a significant part of the Saxon kingdom of Wessex from the seventh century until the Norman Conquest, and Winchester effectively became the kingdom’s capital after Alfred defeated the Danes in 878. After the Conquest the Normans quickly established a castle and a royal treasury at Winchester, symbolically taking over the Saxon royal city. They reinforced the Roman and Saxon fort at Portchester and constructed other castles at Christchurch and Bishops Waltham, at Carisbrooke on the Isle of Wight, and at Southampton, the last especially to protect the sea link between England and Normandy. The Norman and Angevin kings came frequently to the county, not only for the Easter court at Winchester instituted by William I but also to Portchester and to the hunting lodges at Warnford and Romsey. King William Rufus was famously killed in 1087 while hunting in New Forest and was buried at Winchester Cathedral.
This close relationship between Winchester and the Crown had already waned by the beginning of the twelfth century, but the city continued to have a royal connection, as well as being the seat of the bishops of Winchester, many of whom played a significant part in national politics, from Henry of Blois in the twelfth century to Henry Beaufort in the fifteenth and Stephen Gardiner in the sixteenth. The annual St Giles’ Fair at the beginning of September was one of the most important fairs in England in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, bringing traders from the Continent as well as from all over England. Southampton was the major port for overseas trade, for Wessex in the Saxon period and then for London and the rest of southern England after the Conquest. The Norman kings travelled back and forth between England and Normandy through Southampton. Wool and other needs of the cloth industry moved from Hampshire and the surrounding counties across the channel, traded for imports from Italy, Spain, and Flanders: wine, dyestuffs, spices, and luxury goods went by cart from Southampton to London, and as far north as Gloucester, Coventry, and Leicester. In the mid-fifteenth century an estimated 1,600 carts passed through Southampton’s gates each year.
Three kinds of topography dominate the Hampshire landscape: chalk downlands, low-lying river basins, and the sea coast. On the east side of the county the South Downs rise just north of Portsmouth and continue north to the area around Alton, where they angle northwest along the Berkshire border. On the west side of the county lower hills separate the Test watershed from that of the Salisbury Avon in Wiltshire. In the southwestern corner of the county the hills disappear and the low-lying New Forest blends into the lower part of the Avon watershed. In between, the Hampshire Basin spreads south of the downlands in the centre of the county, created by the rivers that drain the downs – the Test, Itchen, Meon, and their tributaries. The coast provides excellent harbours at Portsmouth and Southampton, where the inlets of Portsmouth Harbour and Southampton Water are further protected from the worst weather by the Isle of Wight. The Isle itself mirrors the topography of the Hampshire mainland, as the northern part is low-lying clay and gravel soil while the southern part is hilly and more fertile. The fertile, well-drained areas of the county – along the Test, Itchen, and Meon rivers, and the hilly southern part of the Isle of Wight – were much more populous and prosperous than areas with unfavourable conditions – the acid soil of the New Forest, the higher chalk downlands, and the northern part of the Isle of Wight.
Careful farming used the thin soil of the chalk downlands on the land along the stream beds. Sheep were pastured on the hills during the day, then brought down to folds near the streams at night. Their manure fertilized the fields, creating arable land that produced wheat, barley, oats, and peas. Villages in the downs tended to be compact, along the streams, with manors long and narrow reaching up from the stream beds to the high downlands. The sandy heathlands of the river basins were better for pasturing cattle than for agriculture. The county’s woodlands offered abundant timber and game while the rivers provided the excellent fishing celebrated by Izaak Walton. The New Forest provided timber and deer but also land for mixed farming.
The great estates owned by the bishop of Winchester and by the county’s monasteries led to a great expansion in farming to meet the needs of a population that increased steadily from the Conquest through the thirteenth century. Woodlands, marsh, and waste land were cleared to bring more land under cultivation and new urban centres sprang up with new markets and fairs. The Domesday boroughs of Winchester, Southampton, and Portchester were joined by a number of places that had markets and some elements of borough organization, including Alresford, Alton, Andover, Basingstoke, Christchurch, Fareham, Lymington, Overton, Petersfield, Portsmouth, Ringwood, Romsey, Stockbridge, and Whitchurch, and on the Isle of Wight, Newport and Yarmouth. A number of these towns were new towns founded in this period, six of them by the bishops of Winchester. The twenty-three markets in the county before 1200 had doubled by 1349, so that Hampshire’s average of 3.06 markets per 100 square miles was just slightly below the national average, though the county was thinly populated and ranked only twenty-sixth in wealth out of England’s thirty-eight counties in the 1334 lay subsidy. Increased trade between these centres led to improvements in communication: new roads, bridges, and ports. Weyhill developed a major fair and St Giles' Fair at Winchester continued to attract travellers from all over England and from the Continent as well.
The period of expansion came to an end even before the Black Death. Although the woollen industry flourished and some individuals amassed considerable wealth, in general the fourteenth century was a period of economic decline. The population had grown to the point where the land could sustain those living on it only in favourable years and poor harvests had a devastating effect. Bad weather and poor harvests in 1315–17 led to wheat prices tripling, followed by plagues among the sheep and cattle. The Black Death arrived in 1348 and 1349 and Hampshire suffered as badly as any county in England. Almost half of the clergy of Winchester diocese died from plague. On the manor of Bishops Waltham 264 tenants died in 1348–9 out of a total of 404 and another fifty-three died when the plague struck again in 1361. Titchfield Abbey’s estates saw 305 of 515 tenants die in 1348–9 and another ninety-two in 1361.
As elsewhere, the heavy mortality led to the end of customary labour by tenants and a rise in labour costs as individuals sold their labour. Individuals could rise from bondmen in the fourteenth century to yeomen by the sixteenth. At the same time, the much reduced population needed less grain and the combination substantially reduced profits from arable farming. Higher prices for wool led to a substantial increase in sheep farming and the shifting of much land from arable to sheep pasture until wool prices fell in the late 1370s. Jack Cade’s 1450 rebellion spread to Hampshire, especially among cloth workers suffering from a steep decline in English exports of cloth at the time. Many villages became partially deserted, some declining to single farms. Still, by the sixteenth century Leland found Hampshire rich in grain fields and the depopulation did not appear as substantial as in some other parts of England. In fact, by the time of the 1524 lay subsidy Hampshire’s wealth had risen to twentieth among English counties from the twenty-sixth place it had occupied in 1334.
Cloth production, which had been centred in Winchester before the fourteenth century, spread to rural areas where water-powered fulling mills could be built along fast-flowing streams. By the sixteenth century cloth-making had become important in Alton, Alresford, Andover, Basingstoke, Fordingbridge, Petersfield, Romsey, and Whitchurch, as well as Winchester, and even Southampton became involved in cloth-making to compensate for the decline of its port. Andover, Basingstoke, and Ringwood became regional market centres, especially for trade in cattle and sheep, cheese, and grain. Alton developed a weekly cattle market and Alresford a sheep market. By the seventeenth century the clear streams also came to be used to provide both water and power to produce paper; the process could also utilize remnants of the county’s sea trade, such as sail cloth and rope, mixed into the wood pulp. On the other hand, new approaches to agriculture that were improving farming in other counties in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries did not catch on in Hampshire until after the Civil War. Hampshire remained a thinly populated county: its population density was thirty-five per cent lower than Norfolk's and Suffolk's in 1603, with the total number of communicants in the county estimated at only a little over 50,000. Winchester and Southampton remained the largest towns, the only ones in the county with populations over 2,000. Romsey, Christchurch, Ringwood, Newport (Isle of Wight), and Basingstoke had between 1,500 and 2,000 inhabitants, while Kingsclere, Andover, Fordingbridge, Titchfield, and Alton had between 1,000 and 1,500.
Winchester’s economic decline had begun with the Crown’s withdrawal in the twelfth century although the bishopric and the monasteries continued to draw trade and visitors to the city. As much of the county’s wealth and population in the late Middle Ages was located in other parts of the county like the upper Test valley, the city did not function as the natural market centre of a wealthy rural area. By the sixteenth century Winchester had become a cathedral city of only regional significance. Southampton’s economy flourished much longer, though it suffered for a time from the war with France in the fourteenth century and from the Black Death. The peace that followed Henry V’s victories in the early fifteenth century brought back trade with France as well as increasing numbers of Italian merchants who traded through and even lived in Southampton. Wars in Italy cut into Southampton’s Mediterranean trade in the sixteenth century but the mortal blow came from improvements to navigation on the Thames that allowed London merchants to bring ships right into the capital. Southampton lost its status as London’s principal gateway to the Continent and dwindled into a port of only regional importance.
Little is known about the beginnings of Christianity in Hampshire, at least at the parish level. The Saxons of the region converted in the mid-seventh century and a community of secular canons was formed at Winchester’s Old Minster in 643. In 676 Winchester became the seat of a bishopric that included the whole of Hampshire and Isle of Wight as well as Surrey (and Sussex until 711). According to the Venerable Bede, St Wilfred came from Northumbria to convert the South Saxons in the late seventh century, establishing churches in the Meon Valley and on the Isle of Wight. At about the same time Winfrith, who is remembered as St Boniface, taught in the abbey school at the Benedictine monastery at Nursling (‘Nhutscelle’), where he composed his Latin grammar before becoming a missionary to Frisia. The ecclesiastical reform and monastic revival of the tenth and eleventh centuries took especially strong hold in the Wessex region, with new orders and foundations and a good deal of new construction occurring in this period. The miracles ascribed to Swithun, bishop from 852 to 862, made Winchester a pilgrimage site and when Bishop Aethelwold rebuilt the cathedral in the late tenth century it was rededicated to St Swithun and the secular canons were replaced by a priory for Benedictine monks. The tenth century also saw convents of Benedictine nuns appear at Nunnaminster (c 900) in Winchester and at Romsey (c 907), and Wherwell (c 986). Augustinian houses spread throughout Hampshire in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, at St Denys' (north of Southampton, c 1124), Portchester (later Southwick, 1133), Christchurch (c 1150), Breamore (c 1135), Mottisfont (c 1200), Selborne (1233), and Barton Oratory on the Isle of Wight (1275). The Isle of Wight also had Cistercian monks at Quarr Abbey near Fishbourne from 1131, while on the mainland the Cistercians had Beaulieu Abbey, founded by King John in 1204, and a daughter house at Netley (1239). The county’s single community of Premonstratensian canons located at Titchfield in 1222 and friaries would appear in both Winchester and Southampton in the thirteenth century.
Monasticism’s popularity waned to some degree in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries with few new houses founded after the Black Death, though the existing houses did continue to dominate the county with their large estates. Late medieval popular piety tended to turn from supporting the monasteries to enlarging and decorating parish churches with funds raised by parishioners themselves, especially through church ales. This period also saw founding of many chantries and charitable institutions such as hospitals, almshouses, and schools. Lollardy appears to have had little impact in most of Hampshire, except in the northeastern corner that is within the Thames Valley. In 1441 an inquiry found that twenty-three people from Crondall, Odiham, and the nearby villages held extreme heretical views and another group in the same area was detected for possessing gospels in English in 1514. Bishop Langton, who had been a great hunter of heretics as bishop of Salisbury, continued his efforts after being translated to Winchester in 1493 but found few to prosecute in his new diocese.
The Reformation also developed slowly in Hampshire. Although Protestant influence was strong at Southampton, the rest of the county was held in check by power of the conservative bishop Stephen Gardiner, who restricted Protestant preaching in his diocese from the beginnings of the Reformation into the rule of Mary. Some elements of the old religion waned, such as the number of endowed prayers for the dead, but resistance to the imposition of the Book of Common Prayer led to riots in the county in 1549, and when the reforming polemicist John Bale arrived in 1552 to take up the living at Bishopstoke, he found Hampshire a place where Protestant ministers were particularly under attack.
At Elizabeth’s accession Dean Steward of Winchester Cathedral and the incumbents of twenty-four parishes were deprived of their livings for refusing to take the oath of supremacy. Robert Horne was made bishop in 1561 and set about trying to bring Hampshire, and Winchester in particular, in line with Protestant doctrine and practice. Horne complained to William Cecil in 1562 that the citizens of Winchester were ‘very stubborne, whose reformation wolde helpe the greatest part of the shere.' Only three people were accused of recusancy in Hampshire between 1561 and 1565, but in the next three years fifteen were charged in 1566, then eight in 1567, and thirteen in 1568. By 1570, 116 recusants were charged in the second half of the year alone and a 1572 list of Hampshire nobles, gentlemen, franklins, and yeomen identified 143 out of 245 as having Catholic leanings.
Efforts to root out the last vestiges of the old religion continued with Bishop Thomas Cooper in the 1580s. He appealed to his parishes to desist from popish practices like church ales and May games and in 1586 he petitioned the privy council to take several measures against Hampshire recusants, including sending ‘an hundred or two’ ‘into Flaunders as Pioners and labourers’ to deter others from resisting the Reformation. Religious conflict then began to decline in the county as the populace accepted the new religion and more moderate bishops succeeded Cooper. Thomas Bilson (1597–1616) and Lancelot Andrewes (1618–26) took the middle way between Roman Catholicism and Puritanism, while Richard Neile (1627–32) and Walter Curle (1632–46) were allies of Archbishop Laud, who leaned rather more toward Rome. In the Civil War Winchester, with its conservative bishop and ancient relationship with the Crown, became a Royalist stronghold. Southampton supported parliament because it was much more strongly Protestant and because, like Portsmouth, it aligned itself with the Royal Navy, which supported the parliamentary side.
Of Hampshire’s many monastic houses and other religious institutions, only the five that have produced records of relevant dramatic, musical, or ceremonial activity are discussed in detail here.
St Swithun was a bishop of Winchester who died in 862 and was buried in the churchyard of the Old Minster. Bishop Aethelwold rebuilt the cathedral in 971 and had the saint’s body moved inside the church, where it was housed in a gold and silver shrine given by King Edgar and placed behind the high altar. The Benedictine monks provided hospitality for many types of travellers: those coming to saint’s shrine and cathedral, those visiting Winchester because it was a royal city, and those taking the road to the port of Southampton. The number of visitors decreased from the thirteenth century on as the court visited less frequently and the road to Southampton took another route several miles east. Like other large Benedictine houses, St Swithun’s was intended to house seventy monks but rarely managed so many. In 1325 there were sixty-four but after the Black Death the numbers dropped, never again topping forty-six, and in 1495–6 they had dwindled to only twenty-nine. The priory possessed numerous manors across the county, though its holdings did not approach the huge estates of the bishops of Winchester. The Valor Ecclesiasticus estimated the priory’s net income in 1535 at £1,507, much the largest among Hampshire religious houses. At the Dissolution the monks of St Swithun’s were transformed into secular canons and the prior, William Kingsmill, was made dean of the cathedral.
St Cross Hospital is famous today for the Wayfarers’ Dole of bread and ale, provided to any visitor who asks, and for being the model for the almshouse in Trollope’s The Warden. Located a mile south of the centre of Winchester, St Cross was founded in 1136 by Bishop Henry of Blois and is the oldest and largest almshouse in England. The original foundation was to provide food and living quarters for thirteen poor men and also food for a hundred poor people who would come at dinner time. A second group of almsmen was endowed in 1446 by Cardinal Beaufort, increasing the number to twenty-five, and the structures were enlarged at the same time. The endowment also provided for a master, a steward, four chaplains, and choristers. The buildings include the church and a quadrangle of living quarters, great hall, kitchen, and infirmary.
The Augustinian priory of St Denys was founded by Henry I around 1124. It was located two miles north of Southampton’s north gate in Portswood on the approximate site of St Denys' rail station (which is now well within the bounds of the city of Southampton). St Denys' was given all the chapels within the town, with the exception of St John’s, and the priory also acquired other churches and estates in the region. In 1535 the house had a prior and nine canons, but the numbers may have been greater in the fifteenth century, as the staff that served the canons was only five in 1536 but had been eight in 1426. The Valor Ecclesiasticus put the annual value of the priory’s lands at only £32 15s, making it one of the poorer religious houses that were dissolved in 1536. The royal commissioners recorded that the church and other buildings were in very poor repair.
Henry III founded Netley Abbey in 1239 as a ‘daughter house’ of the Cistercian abbey at Beaulieu. The abbey of twelve monks had a relatively quiet life until its dissolution in 1536 and is distinguished mainly by the fact that it is one of the better-preserved ruins of a monastic house in southern England. The Valor Ecclesiasticus put Netley’s income at £100 12s 8d. The commissioners found that it had only seven monks, though there were thirty-two lay officials and servants also in residence. The king granted the land and buildings to Sir William Paulet, then comptroller of the king’s household, but soon to become lord treasurer and eventually marquess of Winchester.
Henry I founded a priory of Augustinian canons at Portchester in 1133 but within the next two decades the priory moved two miles north over Portsdown Hill to Southwick. Southwick became a pilgrimage site, as John Husee wrote to Lord Lisle in 1538 (just before the priory was dissolved) that 'Pilgrimage saints goeth down apace as Our Lady of Southwick, the Blood of Hales, St. Saviour’s and others.' The Valor Ecclesiasticus put Southwick’s annual value at £257 4s 4d, greater than any of the houses mentioned here except St Swithun’s, no doubt because of generous gifts from pilgrims. The priory was suppressed in 1538 and possession granted to John White, a servant of Thomas Wriothesley, who pulled down the church and turned the prior’s residence and adjacent buildings into a manor house for himself.
Winchester and Southampton dominated both the county’s economy and its cultural life from before the Conquest to the seventeenth century. Moreover, both towns have well-preserved archives of civic records that do not exist to document life in the smaller towns and villages. For those reasons it is perhaps unsurprising that some relatively important medieval towns get very little mention in this collection, among them Basingstoke, Christchurch, Fordingbridge, Ringwood, and Romsey. Of these only Basingstoke lay on a major road likely to be used by itinerant performers, which may partially explain the lack of dramatic records, but the vagaries of manuscript survival are no doubt responsible for the fact that we know little about those towns yet a good deal about entertainment activity at Andover and even at rather obscure villages like Bramley and Wootton St Lawrence.
The earliest dramatic records from Winchester date from the fourteenth century, after the city’s glory years under King Alfred and the early Norman monarchs, but the late medieval and early modern city inherited much from its earlier history, in particular its physical layout. Winchester lies on the west bank of the River Itchen where an ancient east-west route crossed the river. The river valley is narrow at Winchester, the Hampshire chalk downs rising on either side. The eastern half of the city, from the Itchen to west of the cathedral, lies on relatively flat river bottom. The land then slopes up significantly to the castle and West Gate. On the east bank of the Itchen the ground rises rapidly to the crest of St Giles' Hill. The city walls define a roughly rectangular space approximately twice as wide east to west as north to south and the streets follow the characteristic Roman grid pattern. The High Street follows the line of the old east-west route, the other main streets crossing it at right angles. Through the East Gate ran a road that eventually turned northeast through Alresford and Alton to reach London, while the road out the West Gate led to Salisbury and Exeter. A road north linked Winchester with the Midlands, running through Newbury and Oxford at least as far as Northampton. The road from the South Gate led to Southampton, providing the main means of moving goods to the port rather than on the shallow Itchen.
Iron Age hill forts have been excavated in the Winchester area, at St Catherine’s Hill and Worthy Down, and at Oram’s Arbour just west of the modern rail station. In the late first century CE the Romans made Winchester a regional garrison and constructed the walls that gave the medieval city its basic rectangular shape. The walls survived to protect the royal and episcopal community of the Saxon period and in the 880s King Alfred substantially rebuilt the city as one of his 'burhs' that provided defenses against the Danes. The community of secular canons established at Old Minster in 643 was replaced by a priory of Benedictine monks dedicated to St Swithun and the minster enlarged. The Roman walls were refurbished and new streets laid out, with only the central High Street and the gateways remaining, while the rest was newly divided and almost nine kilometres of new road created, using eight thousand tons of cobbles. The royal palace was originally located in the centre of the city just west of Old Minster. Shortly after 900 New Minster was built just to the north of Old Minster and Nunnaminster (later St Mary’s Abbey) built for nuns to its east. In the second half of the tenth century building works added considerably to the physical extent of the monasteries and the shrine of St Swithun brought pilgrims to the city.
At the time of the Conquest Winchester ranked fourth among English towns, behind London, York, and probably Norwich, and was similar to Lincoln in size and wealth, these five towns standing out above the rest of the country. William made the city the seat of the early Norman kings, where he annually wore the crown at Easter and where he established the royal treasury. Within a few months of the Conquest an extensive construction program began throughout the city. The royal palace in the middle of the city was doubled in size and a new castle built in the southwestern corner of the walls. The bishop’s palace at Wolvesey was rebuilt and enlarged, as was Nunnaminster, which was renamed St Mary’s Abbey. A new, much larger Norman Cathedral was started just north of Old Minster and the New Minster community moved to Hyde Abbey, built just outside the North Gate. Henry I greatly enlarged the new castle near the West Gate, preferring it to the old royal palace in the centre of the city, which was burned and then demolished in the 1140s. The ten or eleven parish churches that had existed in Winchester before the Conquest grew to fifty-seven by the mid-twelfth century.
All this growth in wealth and population was short-lived, however. The relationship between Winchester and the monarchy weakened under Henry I, who ended the custom of Easter crown-wearing at Winchester. The civil war between Stephen and Matilda further strained the relationship, especially after the siege of Winchester in 1141 that resulted in the burning of the royal palace. The royal treasury remained at Winchester for a few more decades but most royal administration left Winchester for London. Richard I would return to Winchester to be re-crowned on his return from Crusades but the king had become less important in Winchester, while the bishop became dominant. Stephen’s brother, Bishop Henry of Blois, continued some of the building, founding St Cross Hospital and serving as patron to the artistic explosion at Winchester in the second half of the twelfth century that included creation of the Winchester Bible. When the king was absent from Winchester the bishop took charge, so the ecclesiastical community continued to exert considerable influence over the secular part of the city, even after the entire southeastern quadrant of the city, enclosing the three minsters and the bishop’s palace, had been walled off as a religious precinct. Influential bishops like Henry of Blois and later Henry, Cardinal Beaufort, and Stephen Gardiner kept Winchester from entirely losing significance on the national stage.
The bishops usually resided in Southwark but their episcopal administrative staff remained in Winchester. Being the seat of the bishop meant that the church courts brought visitors to the town, and others came to the city on business concerning the estates of the bishop, the dean and chapter, and Winchester College. Moreover, as the county town, Winchester could count on large groups of visitors coming to the county assizes and quarter sessions several times annually. The many lawyers required for all this legal business combined with the cathedral clergy and the fellows of the college to make a substantial group of residents who were both educated and reasonably well off. The bishops as well as the abbots of the monasteries also owned considerable property. The bishops became the principal landowners of the growing suburban area known as the liberty of the Soke. The Soke was located just beyond the city walls, occupying the land between the River Itchen and St Giles’ Hill on the east and wrapping around the walls on both the north and south sides of the city. The mayor and other civic officials had no jurisdiction there as the bishop held all legal authority in the Soke. After 1231 the bishop appointed a steward or bailiff to administer this area, an official at times called the ‘mayor of the Soke’ in the records.
Surveys taken by Henry I and Bishop Henry of Blois in the early twelfth century show the king to have been the largest landowner in Winchester at that time. Moreover, all land not occupied by buildings – meaning especially all the streets in the city – belonged to the king, so that even someone setting up a stall in the street was required to pay a fee to the king. In Saxon and early Norman times the king ruled the city through his reeves. The mayor and guild merchant appeared only at the beginning of the thirteenth century, once the Crown had withdrawn from Winchester. The charters Winchester received from Henry III in 1227 and Edward III a century later incrementally increased the city’s authority to govern itself. Yet even in the fourteenth century the city had not become independent of the king, as the mayor’s oath swears the mayor to keeping the city safe for the profit of the king and doing nothing to impair the king’s interests. Winchester thus had to develop its civic government through a series of efforts to satisfy the king’s interests through its own officers and organization rather than through officers imposed by the Crown.
The later thirteenth century saw the emergence of the twenty-four and also of the commonalty or community (freemen of the city not members of the twenty-four), who participated in the election of the mayor and bailiffs. The twenty-four had an advisory function only, with no direct power to legislate or administrate, instead wielding influence by working closely with the mayor. Legislation was done at the Burghmote, which met at Michaelmas and Easter (and at least one other time) each year to elect the mayor and bailiffs and to enact other business, including (from the late thirteenth century) electing members of parliament. The Burghmote or ‘Common Convocation’ was held in the hall of St John’s Hospital and theoretically comprised all the freemen of the city, though the numbers could be as small as thirteen. Winchester’s Merchants' guild was made up mainly of those who had finished their apprenticeship and possessed £4 worth of property. Membership of the guild allowed one to buy raw materials and sell products. Unlike some other towns – notably Andover, where the Merchants' guild and city government were one and the same ¬– in Winchester the guild was quite separate from city government; its officers had no role beyond the regulation of trade among guild members and did not act as civic magistrates. The civic magistracy tended to come from among the wealthiest wool merchants, goldsmiths, and to a lesser extent, tailors. The typical career of a successful Winchester man began with becoming a member of the fraternity of St John and of the guild merchant, then rising through the ranks of the guild, and culminated in moving through the three most important offices in the city: bailiff of the commons, bailiff of the twenty-four, and finally mayor.
A 1437 ordinance in The Black Book of Winchester lists the city’s crafts and fraternities: carpenters, tilers, smiths, cooks, butchers, cobblers, tanners, and skinners; the fraternity of St John the Baptist (probably including the tailors); as well as barbers, tapeners, weavers, and mercers; a later amendment adds plumbers, glovers, chandlers, and brewers. The individual crafts had little formal organization compared to those of York or Chester, the merchant guild being the significant organization in civic life. Those in the victualling trades – bakers, butchers, brewers, grocers, and others – were the most numerous in Winchester, providing for the royal and ecclesiastical institutions as well as for the general populace. The next largest group was those involved in making and selling woollen cloth. Leather and iron workers, as well as goldsmiths, made luxury goods for the city’s royal and ecclesiastical residents and visitors. Clerical and legal workers inhabited the city in substantial numbers, as it remained the county town and diocesan administrative centre even after the departure of the Crown in the twelfth century and the Dissolution of the monasteries in the sixteenth.
Derek Keene sums up Winchester’s experience in the later Middle Ages: 'In the eleventh and twelfth centuries Winchester was both a royal city and a major centre of wealth and population; by the sixteenth century it had declined to the minor regional centre and cathedral city which it has been ever since.' The records of entertainment that first appear in the 1370s thus reflect the diminution of the city’s wealth due to the Crown’s withdrawal (largely complete by 1300) as well as the impact of the Black Death. The episcopal administration and monasteries that remained were relatively self-sufficient and so brought less wealth to the city’s merchants and tradesmen than had the visits of the royal court. Having ranked fourth among English towns at the time of the Conquest and still in the top ten in the twelfth century, Winchester had slipped to fifteenth by the time of the 1334 assessment. Keene and Rumble put the population at 11,625 around 1300, but it had shrunk to 7,750, even including the suburbs, by 1400.
Winchester became a major collecting point for the wool trade in southwestern England with wool being traded at St Giles’ Fair and then exported through Southampton. St Giles’ Fair, held in September, was established by a grant from King William Rufus. He set fair time as the three days surrounding the saint’s feast day on the first of September but the fair soon grew to six and then sixteen days or longer in the twelfth century. During the fair all trading was suspended within the city and the mayor led a great procession out the East Gate to St Giles’ Hill, with the civic minstrels carrying the 'tron of wools,' the scale used for weighing imports into the city (so that tariffs could be assessed). In the twelfth and early thirteenth century it was one of the two or three most important fairs in England, attended by merchants from London, York, Lincoln, and other prominent English towns, as well as traders from Spain, France, and the Low Countries. By the mid-thirteenth century the fair had hit its high point and its decline accelerated in the fourteenth century as Winchester lost its national importance in the clothing industry to London, though the city and its fair continued to be the principal cloth market in Hampshire.
The city’s decline continued through the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, as computations based on the 1524–7 subsidy show the population had decreased to between three and five thousand while in wealth Winchester had fallen to thirty-eighth place in the country. It did remain the most populous town in Hampshire but Southampton had surged ahead in assessed wealth at £101 to Winchester’s £85. The cathedral city had a very different economy and distribution of wealth from the port. Southampton had a few wealthy merchants and a large number of people who served the port’s trade as carters, labourers, and the like, and who were too poor to be taxed. Winchester, on the other hand, had a more diverse economy, with only a few citizens in the higher ranges of taxation but a large number of craftsmen whose goods and services made enough to be taxable, if at the lowest level. A similar difference in the distribution of wealth separated Winchester from other more prosperous towns elsewhere in England. At Exeter and Norwich, for example, three per cent of the population owned goods worth over £100 in 1524, while no one did at Winchester, and only two per cent were assessed at more than £40, while at Exeter it was seven per cent and at Norwich six per cent. At the other end of the economic scale, fully sixty per cent of Winchester’s population was assessed at £4 or less, while only twenty-six per cent had so little at Exeter.
Winchester’s decline was further intensified in the early sixteenth century by Southampton’s loss of overseas trade to London, and by the dissolution of Winchester’s three great monasteries and four friaries, which had brought pilgrims to the town and required supporting trade from the inhabitants. Only the survival of the cathedral, the college, and the hospitals of St Cross and St Mary Magdalen helped, and the city benefited from gaining possession of St John’s Hospital and its properties, the rents of which provided a substantial portion of the city’s income for the remainder of the century. One measure the civic leaders took to try to improve the situation was to engage Sir Francis Walsingham as Winchester’s first high steward in 1582, and he helped the city obtain a charter of incorporation from Queen Elizabeth in 1588. (Later high stewards included Thomas Sackville, who would become earl of Dorset and lord treasurer, and Charles Blount, earl of Devonshire.) The charter may have been a reassuring sign of royal favor but in fact it merely reaffirmed existing rights and privileges without providing any new means to achieve an economic recovery. An appeal to parliament for funds to dredge the Itchen to enable waterborne trade between Winchester and Southampton was ignored.
A further blow came from the loss of much of the cloth-finishing industry that had sustained Winchester after the departure of the Crown. By 1581 only eleven of the 100 most highly assessed taxpayers were involved in manufacturing or selling cloth (compared to sixteen gentlemen or professional men, fifteen victuallers, twelve general retailers, nine each in leather-working and metal working). In 1565 roughly 22,000 kersey cloths were exported from Hampshire through London and Southampton; by 1619 the number was under 7,000. Interest in kersey cloth had declined nationally and places like Devon and Norfolk successfully made the transition to serges and other new draperies. So did Southampton, which benefited from the arrival of Protestant Walloon refugees from the Netherlands in the 1560s who brought new techniques with them, but Hampshire in general and Winchester in particular did not make the shift rapidly enough. In the early seventeenth century Winchester was processing less than a third as much wool as Southampton was and in the 1630s the city’s cloth trade collapsed altogether.
Like other towns Winchester experienced a great deal of immigration from the countryside in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. By 1600 natives of Winchester made up only a third of the population of the city and the Soke. Overcrowding was not a problem at first, since the decline in population since the early Norman heyday had left open spaces in the city and a series of plagues kept the overall population growth in check. Indeed, John Taylor, the water poet, thought the city all but empty when he visited in 1623:
On Thursday the 21st of August, I took Winchester in my way homewards, where I saw an ancient city, like a body without a soul; and I know not the reason of it, but for ought which I perceived, there were almost as many parishes as people. I lodged at the sign of the Cock, being recommended to the host of the house by a token from Salisbury; but mine host died the night before I came, and I being weary had more mind to go to bed than to follow him so long a journey, to do my message or deliver any commendations. But the whole city seemed almost as dead as mine host, and it may be they were all at harvest work. But I am sure I walked from one end of it to the other, and saw not thirty people of all sorts. So that I think if a man should go to Winchester for a goose, he might lose his labour, for a trader cannot live there by vending such commodities.
Eventually, though, the growing population of urban poor strained the ancient charities and experiments in poor relief could not keep up with the growth of poverty.
The early seventeenth century brought Winchester’s economic nadir yet the city was not quite so ‘dead’ as Taylor suggested. Attempts to resuscitate the cloth industry and other elements of Winchester’s earlier success were largely failures but the city economy improved somewhat in the half-century before the Civil War as it developed itself into a retail marketing and distribution centre for the region. Although St Giles’ Fair had lost its international and then its national importance and nearly faded away by the early modern period, the new Magdalen Hill Fair, held 14–22 July, came to flourish as a regional fair. Winchester also had success in encouraging the Hampshire gentry to see the city as a social and entertainment centre. A 1630 court case brought by a dancing master against a defaulting instrument maker attests to the metropolitan ideas, leisure pursuits, and social refinements the gentry brought with them. Winchester began to invite country gentlemen to become freemen of the city and also promoted the aristocratic sport of horseracing, which brought even nobles like the marquess of Winchester and the earl of Southampton to the city.
Civic documents provide remarkably little evidence of religious conflict during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The civic leadership had learned long before the Reformation that their interests were best served by following the bishop’s lead in religious matters and avoiding conflict with ecclesiastical and royal authority. In the first two decades of the Reformation Winchester’s leaders paralleled the doctrinally conservative Bishop Gardiner in leaning toward Rome yet acceding to the reformed religion; they cooperated with the royal commissioners in the disposition of the dissolved monasteries within the city. When Robert Horne was made bishop in 1560, he found the clergy resistant to Protestantism: only six of the prebendaries of the cathedral were willing to take the oath of supremacy; six others, as well as the dean and the headmaster and second master of the college, all refused and lost their positions. The city’s reputation for recusancy continued, for when Bishop Bilson came to Winchester in 1599 he complained in a letter to Robert Cecil that the keeper of gaol at Winchester was especially sympathetic to recusants, treating a recusant priest as an honoured guest and letting him escape the day of his trial.
Puritanism was rare in the city. An ecclesiastical census of 1603 counted twice as many recusants as nonconformists in Winchester and the Soke. The only Sunday lecture was provided by the dean and chapter rather than by the urban businessmen, who themselves tended to have relatives and allies among the cathedral administration. A Star Chamber case of 1617 involving the arrest of ten people attempting to put on a stage play in a church on a Sunday afternoon seems to have had less to do with sabbatarianism amongst the civic leadership than with a private feud between the mayor and a citizen with competing business interests.
Like other cathedral cities (Salisbury and Wells, for example), Winchester supported the king in his struggle with parliament during the Civil War. Though it had suffered from the policies of Charles I, Winchester retained its ancient relationship with the Crown and in the Civil War became a royalist stronghold on the vague borderline between the royalist southwest and strong parliamentary support in the southeast. Waller took the city for parliament in December 1642, his troops doing a good deal of damage to shops and the cathedral. Sir William Ogle re-took Winchester for the royalists in October 1643, doing further damage, and 5,000 troops were stationed in the immediate area, taking a further toll on the civic economy. In 1645 Cromwell besieged Ogle, who had taken refuge in the castle, and when the castle fell the parliamentary troops broke down many of its walls, leaving a garrison to prevent Winchester from becoming again a rallying point for royalist forces. After the Restoration, however, the city returned to its royalist sympathies, Charles II becoming a devotee of Winchester races.
Southampton has always owed its importance to topography, its sheltered port on a tongue of land between the mouths of the Test and Itchen rivers, near the northern end of the bay or inlet known as Southampton Water. The Isle of Wight guards the entrance to Southampton Water, further protecting the port from the winds and currents of the North Atlantic. Until the sixteenth century sailing through the English Channel and up the Thames presented greater risks than using Southampton’s port and then transporting goods overland to London. The Romans built their port settlement, Clausentum, at what is now Bitterne, on the eastern side of the Itchen, starting arround 70 CE. The Saxons instead chose a site on the west side of the Itchen to build Hamwic around 700 and the great expansion of international trade in the eighth century made Hamwic an important English port (along with Ipswich, York, and London). Danish raids in the ninth and tenth centuries led much of the population to abandon Hamwic for the more easily defended land to the west that rose up from the River Test. The smaller Saxon settlement of Hamtun, originally located slightly north of what would become the town walls, grew and moved south a few hundred yards to become the core of the medieval town.
Southampton’s basic plan existed by the middle of the thirteenth century and would change little through the late medieval and early modern periods. The town had a basically rectangular shape, roughly 300 metres wide from west to east and 600 metres long from north to south, bounded on the west and south by the River Test where it becomes Southampton Water. Outside the walls to the north and east lay fields, with considerable suburbs just outside the Bargate to the north and at the old site of Hamwic around St Mary’s Church to the east. The castle occupied much of the northwest quadrant of the town, defending the town from attack by sea. The West Gate and Quay lay to the south of the castle. At the southeast corner of the walls stood the tower of God’s House Hospital, just east of the Watergate. English Street (now High Street) formed the backbone of the town, running from the Bargate at its north end to the Watergate on the south, with the shops and residences of many of the prominent merchants arranged along it.
Despite Danish attacks in the tenth and early eleventh centuries, Southampton had few fortifications at the time of the Conquest. The castle was started in the twelfth century but it took war with France in the fourteenth century to motivate the town to complete the keep and fully surround itself with stone walls. The Bargate, which defined the northern limit of the town and separated the densely built-up area from the suburbs, was first built around 1200 and considerably enlarged later. Most eleventh- and twelfth-century buildings were constructed of timber, but in the thirteenth century prosperous burgesses began to build in stone imported from Normandy, the Isle of Wight, and Dorset – only to have their impressive stone buildings destroyed in the French raid of 1338. Rebuilding came only after peace with France in the early fifteenth century. A new quay at the Watergate and the great warehouse known as the Wool House, just inside that gate, were projects of Thomas Middleton, mayor from 1401 to 1404. A new conduit and waterhouse were built around the same time and improvements were made to the city’s defences. Most of the new tenements were once again made of timber, some thrown up hastily on top of surviving stone vaults, but others built in the fourteenth and early fifteenth century led John Leland to write appreciatively of Southampton around 1540, describing English Street as 'one of the fairest streates that ys yn any town of al England, and is welle buildid for timbre building.' The best preserved example, now known as the Tudor House Museum, was the fine half-timbered house on St Michael’s Square built by Sir John Dawtrey around 1490.
Although it could not compete with Winchester and Salisbury as a market centre and had no major industry of its own, Southampton flourished because of its excellent harbour. In the Saxon period Hamwic served as Wessex’s port for overseas trade and after the Conquest Southampton became the principal port through which England conducted trade with the Continent. The wool trade was especially successful from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries; in 1287–8, for example, custom paid on the wool exported through Southampton came to nearly £700, which at half a mark (6s 8d) per sack works out to almost 2,400 sacks, the wool from over half a million sheep. When the trade in raw wool declined in the fourteenth century it was replaced by an increase in the trade in finished cloth. Exported wool and cloth were traded for imports from France, Italy, Spain, and Flanders – particularly wine, dyestuffs, spices, and luxury goods, as well as building materials including lead, slate, and limestone.
The demand for wine came mainly from the royalty and aristocracy, making the wine trade particularly subject to the vicissitudes of war and foreign relations. The first Norman monarchs had gotten most of their wine from northern France but after the English kings lost Normandy and Anjou early in the thirteenth century, Southampton turned to southwestern France, specifically Bordeaux, as its main trading partner. The king levied a tariff in kind on wine, taking for himself one tun of wine from every shipload of ten to twenty tuns and two tuns for every shipload over twenty tuns. Much of the construction at the castle, just north of the West Quay, was therefore not defensive but rather to provide storehouses for the king’s wine, ready to be shipped to him at London, Winchester, or Clarendon, or distributed to religious houses in southern England as a gesture of royal favour.
Italians tended to dominate the exporting of wool in the thirteenth century, as merchants from Lucca and Florence held royal licences to export wool alongside English exporters from Winchester, Salisbury, Newport, Andover, Newbury, and Bristol. Many of the foreign merchants actually took up residence in Southampton, often marrying into burgess families. Much of the town’s economy was thus based on serving outsiders, including resident foreigners, mariners, and traders who visited the port, and soldiers who gathered in war time to garrison the town’s defences or ship overseas.
Southampton suffered recession in the fourteenth century due to war with France, exacerbated in mid-century by the Black Death. The French raiders who attacked in 1338 not only started a fire that destroyed many buildings but also carried away much of the town’s stored wool and wine. Many traders, especially the foreign merchants, deserted the town, and plague, the weakened economy, and frequent attack warnings kept them away over the following half-century. The mustering of troops at Southampton in 1415 for the Agincourt campaign gave the port’s economy a jump-start and it continued to improve after peace with France in the 1420s following Henry V’s successful French campaigns. The return of the Italian traders brought a return to prosperity that lasted until wars in Italy in the early sixteenth century greatly diminished the number of ships coming from Florence, Genoa, and Venice. The sixteenth century also brought improvements to navigation on the Thames and when London-based merchants stopped shipping through Southampton, London replaced Southampton as the dominant port for trade with the Continent.
By the reign of Elizabeth Southampton had become merely a regional port that connected Hampshire, Sussex, and Dorset with continental ports from the Low Countries to Spain. The town’s efforts to reverse this decline consisted mainly of trying to convince the national government to grant Southampton monopolies on specific commodities. The town succeeded in gaining protection for the sweet wine trade but such limited remedies could not arrest the general shift of commerce elsewhere. In 1565, of Hampshire kersey cloths exported, only 2,794 went through Southampton, while 19,432 were exported through London. By 1588 Southampton’s port had declined to the point that the town could not afford to provide a single ship to participate in the defence against the Spanish Armada. A brief burst of prosperity came in the 1590s, as Southampton served as a base for the privateering encouraged by the war with Spain. By 1600, however, Southampton had slipped to eighth in the list of ports according to the amount of customs revenue generated from each, behind London, Hull, Exeter, Bristol, Newcastle, Plymouth, and even Lyme Regis.
Like most towns, Southampton suffered in the late sixteenth century from the combination of nationwide inflation and an increase in civic expenditure as the town government’s administrative responsibilities grew. Rising population, due to rural poor moving to the towns in search of employment and poor relief, led to social tension, especially during grain shortages: in 1608 people transporting grain out of town were assaulted. The civic leaders were under pressure both to provide for the poor and also to try to prevent more from coming into the town. Although those leaders were conscious of the town’s decline from its earlier glory, Southampton in fact managed to adjust rather well to its new circumstances as a regional trading centre. Southampton had not previously had a cloth industry, but weaving and other cloth-making work expanded rapidly after the arrival of the Walloon refugees in 1567, who brought skill in the making of serges that was new to England. By the early years of the seventeenth century Southampton was using 10,000 tods of wool per year, more than tripling the 3,000 used by Winchester.
Southampton’s population was relatively small given the port’s economic significance. The Domesday Book indicates that seventy-six heads of families resided in the town before the coming of the Normans, while another ninety-six had settled in Southampton since the Conquest, thirty-one of them English but another sixty-five from France; the total population likely numbered 650–850 at the end of the eleventh century. By the time of the 1334 lay subsidy the population had increased to 2,500, ranking Southampton eighteenth in population among English towns, just behind Winchester. Southampton’s tax quota was 1,022 shillings, against 1,030 for Winchester, 1,500 for Salisbury, ninth in the country, and 4,400 for Bristol, highest outside London. The number of Southampton’s taxpayers who were assessed in 1332 on goods worth between £10 and £40 (fourteen per cent) indicates that the few leading merchants made a great deal from trade, though the majority of the inhabitants were employed as porters, carters, and other supporting labour who did not earn enough to show up in even the lowest tax bracket.
The Black Death shrank the population by a third, as the poll tax of 1377 indicates Southampton had only about 1,600 adults. The 1454 terrier shows some recovery in population to between 1,800 and 2,000, living in some 360 houses within the walls. Southampton’s population then remained static, or even decreased slightly, while other towns grew, dropping Southampton’s rank to twenty-third in the 1523–4 lay subsidy, with a payment of £224 against Salisbury’s £852 (sixth) and Norwich’s £1,704 (first). Still Southampton had surpassed Winchester in wealth, contributing £101 to the 1524 subsidy compared to Winchester’s £85, though Winchester remained more populous with 595 taxpayers to Southampton’s 372. A small group of the wealthiest continued to hold a large fraction of the town’s total wealth, eight burgesses being assessed on wealth exceeding £60, one of those at £250.
Like most urban centres, Southampton saw a substantial increase in population in the late sixteenth century, despite demographic disasters like plague in 1583 and poor harvests in the 1590s. A head count for the 1596 muster in the burgess admission book gives a total population of 4,200, of whom 3,270 lived inside the walls, 930 outside. Seven hundred and eighty-four of these were counted as able-bodied men, 297 of them ‘aliens and their families.' The seventeenth century, however, saw a reversal: plague in 1604 killed at least fifteen per cent of the population and by the 1660s Southampton had dropped to thirty-ninth among English towns with an estimated population of only 3,000. The 1662 hearth tax showed Southampton with only 1,500 hearths taxed compared to Salisbury’ 3,498 (fourteenth in the country) and Norwich’s 7,302 (first).
For more than a century after the Conquest Southampton was effectively a royal borough but it began to gain some freedom from the control of the king and his sheriff through a charter from King John in 1199. The main governance of the town then came from the guild merchant, which provided civil protections as well as regulating trade. Self-government took a big step in the fifteenth century through a succession of royal charters, and the mayor and council replaced the guild officials as the leading administrators of the town. Henry IV extended the judicial powers of the mayor and bailiffs in 1401 and in 1445 Henry VI gave Southampton one of the first incorporation charters in the country. The independence gained from that charter was increased two years later when Southampton was made a county in its own right, distinct from Hampshire (from what had been known as the ‘county of Southampton’), thereby freeing the burgesses from interference by county officials. The civic leadership was somewhat unstable, because once a family had become wealthy through trade they tended to buy land, usually outside the town, and turn from entrepreneurs to landed proprietors. By the late sixteenth century real power was concentrated in a relatively small subset of the burgesses (approximately fifteen), led by the mayor and ex-mayors. The town’s efforts to lobby the national government to protect its trade involved seeking patronage through awarding ‘honorary burgesships’ and positions such as recorder, MP, and even mayor to influential members of the county’s landed families, including the Paulets, Lamberts, and Wallops.
A church existed at Hamwic during the Saxon period and St Mary’s on the same site became the mother church of Southampton, despite lying outside the city walls. After the Conquest dependent chapels were established within the walled town, only later becoming the five independent parishes: St John’s, St Michael’s, Holy Rood, St Lawrence’s, and All Saints. The townspeople were still going in procession to St Mary’s at the feasts of the Ascension and the Assumption in the thirteenth century. The first monastic institution in the Southampton area was St Denys', an Augustinian priory two miles northeast of town, founded by Henry I in 1127. The leper hospital of St Mary Magdalene was founded in 1173 north of the town walls, and the more important hospital of St Julian, also known as God’s House, was founded in 1185 at the southeastern corner of the town to care for the old, poor, and infirm. Many leading burgesses were benefactors of God’s House in the thirteenth century, when they also supported the Friary, established in 1233–4, providing the friars with stone buildings in the middle of the town. The fifteenth century brought a change in the religious practices of the wealthy burgesses, who began instead to direct their gifts to their own parishes and to endowing priests who would say prayers for their souls in perpetuity. In consequence, both St Denys' and God’s House had declined appreciably by the Dissolution, although God’s House survived as an almshouse.
Southampton appears to have been more receptive to Protestantism than the rest of the county, though the records tell us surprisingly little about the religious atmosphere in Southampton in the sixteenth century. A conservative burgess complained that attacks on the pope were preached almost daily in Southampton in 1534 and in 1548 Protector Somerset had to forbid a Protestant preacher named Thomas Hancock from preaching in Southampton, for fear of weakening the nation’s defences: 'My lord said unto me that Hampton was a haven town, and that if I should teach such doctrine as I taught at Sarum the town would be divided, and so should be a way or a gap for the enemy to come in.' In 1567 Southampton was chosen as one of the towns where Protestant Walloons fleeing persecution in the Netherlands could be resettled. In the Civil War, Southampton supported parliament and a parliamentary garrison was established there in 1642.
Of the other towns with surviving dramatic records perhaps the most important is Andover, situated approximately eighteen miles northwest of Winchester in the Test Valley. The river that runs through Andover is the Anton, which joins the Test a few miles south of the town. Andover’s importance came largely from its position on the main road from London through Salisbury to the west, an old Roman road that intersected at Andover with another old Roman road running from Winchester northwest to Cirencester. Andover also was a local centre for the wool trade, much of that wool distributed through the fair at nearby Weyhill. Andover thus ranked fourth in wealth among Hampshire towns in the 1334 subsidy, trailing only Winchester, Southampton, and Ringwood. By the time of the 1524 subsidy Andover still ranked fifth in number of taxpayers but had fallen to tenth in wealth. Derek Keene explains that Andover’s earlier prosperity had left it with a population its economy could no longer support. The parish, manor, and borough of Andover are all three co-extensive. The manor was a royal vill at the Conquest and in 1175 Henry II granted the town a guild merchant. King John confirmed and enlarged the borough’s freedoms in a series of charters that were reaffirmed by succeeding monarchs until Elizabeth granted a new charter in 1599. The borough’s main officials were a bailiff, steward, two chamberlains, and the twenty-four aldermen, known as ‘forwardmen’ in Andover. The burgesses held the manor from the king, with the bailiff effectively acting as lord of the manor. At the time of the Elizabethan charter the guild merchant was replaced by three companies – the Leathermen, Haberdashers, and Drapers. Cloth-making was Andover’s principal industry and members of other trades were required to belong to one of those three companies.
Portsmouth was founded in 1194 by Richard I as a port for royal ships and in 1256 gained the right to have a guild merchant, but the town’s growth was partially restrained by Southampton’s claim that Portsmouth lay within the port of Southampton, and the latter port made continuing efforts to hold onto its position as the major southern port and restrict Portsmouth’s development. Portsmouth thus remained relatively small until the seventeenth century. The English forces sailed from Portsmouth to France before the victory at Crecy in 1346, but Portsmouth was not a walled city and the French burned it in 1338 and successfully attacked again in 1359 and 1377–80. Henry VII directed that a dry dock be built at Portsmouth in 1495, but the town suffered from a 1563 plague and fires in the port area in 1557 and 1576. Portsmouth’s population dropped to a mere thousand in the late sixteenth century and it contributed little to resistence to the Spanish Armada in 1588. The seventeenth century saw a reversal of this decline, as a royal charter from Queen Elizabeth in 1600 gave Portsmouth corporate borough status clearly for the first time, although the charter also established that the town could not infringe on the power of the naval captain of the port. The dockyard and military base were enlarged and royal and aristocratic visitors became frequent as Portsmouth served to launch both diplomatic and military ventures in the 1620s. The population increased by over 400 per cent in the seventeenth century, so that by the Restoration Portsmouth had become the most populous town in the county.
Newport is the principal borough on the Isle of Wight, located just north of the centre point of the island at the head of the River Medina’s estuary. The town claims borough status from the twelfth century and received its most important charters from Henry VII in 1490 and James I in 1608. Now the county town of the Isle of Wight, the manor of Newport was held by the Crown but administered by the successive lords of the island, in the early seventeenth century, Sir John Oglander. The church was dedicated to St Thomas of Canterbury. The royal forest of Parkhurst lies just to the northwest of Newport.
Bramley is a village situated about five miles north of Basingstoke, close to the Berkshire border. The manor of Bramley came into the possession of the Paulet family in 1428, and continued to be owned by the lords of the manor of Basing until John Paulet, fifth marquess of Winchester, sold it to Edward Pitt in 1642. The church of St James dates mainly from the twelfth century, though the existing brick tower replaced a wooden one only in 1636. Bramley purchased the Book of Homilies shortly after its publication in 1547, one of the first parishes to do so, yet it was one of the last to exchange its Catholic chalice for an Anglican communion cup.
Weyhill is located two and half miles west of Andover, near the Wiltshire border. The parish church is dedicated to St Michael; most of the fabric is modern. The village’s main claim to fame is the Weyhill Fair, held on a hill west of the village for six days in late September or early October. Hardy claims to have used the Weyhill fair as the model for the fair at which the mayor of Casterbridge sells his wife, and in fact the fair’s literary notoriety goes all the way back to a mention in Piers Plowman. In 1554 Princess Elizabeth intervened on behalf of Weyhill when one of many efforts was made to move the fair to Andover.
The church and village of Wootton St Lawrence are located about three miles west of the centre of Basingstoke, most of the parish lying to the west of the church. The land in the parish was nearly all owned by the monks of St Swithun’s Priory, Winchester, until the Dissolution, when possession passed to the dean and chapter of Winchester Cathedral. The Wither family held the lease of the manor of Wootton, usually known as ‘Manydown,' at least as early as the fifteenth century and eventually purchased the land from the dean and chapter in 1649. The Kingsmill family of Sydmonton Court in Kingsclere parish, a few miles north of Wootton, leased Fabians manor. Another family of local importance were the Ayliffes, who leased a property called Skeyers Farm from Magdalen College. The church was entirely rebuilt in the 1860s, except for the tower, which is fourteenth century. The rector of St Lawrence in the early seventeenth century was Charles Butler (1560–1647), perhaps best known as the author of a book on bees, The Feminine Monarchie (1609), as well as works on logic, on music theory, and on the regularizing of English spelling. Butler was the master of Holy Ghost School in Basingstoke for five years before coming to Wootton St Lawrence in 1600 and served there until his death.
Winchester College, the oldest major public school in England, was founded in 1382 by William of Wykeham, bishop of Winchester from 1367 to 1404. It was the first endowment of its kind, intended as a feeder school for his earlier foundation of New College, Oxford, in 1379. At the time it was probably the largest and best endowed school in Europe. Henry VI was later to copy this pattern of integrating school and college when he founded Eton College in 1443 as a feeder school for King’s College, Cambridge. The college buildings lie just south of the cathedral precinct at the southeast corner of the city.
The original foundation of Winchester College consisted of the warden, ten fellows (who took on duties such as the sub-warden, the sacristan, and the bursar, in rotation), the headmaster, the usher (the only other master until 1650), three chaplains, three lay clerks, sixteen quiristers (choristers), and seventy scholars ('pauperes et indigentes'), whose education was free. There were to be no more than ten commoners, that is, those whose fathers paid for their education, but by the end of the sixteenth century the numbers of commoners had increased considerably and included day boys from Winchester after the demise of Winchester’s grammar school at the Reformation. Other boys who could claim direct descent from Wykeham, referred to as Founder’s Kin, swelled the intake, even though their conditions of entry were less stringent than those of the other scholars. Although there was often little substance in such claims of family ties to Wykeham and the process was much abused, the privilege was not abolished until the late nineteenth century. The provision for seventy scholars remains to the present day.
Thanks to the prescience of the draftsman of the 1400 Founder’s Statutes and scrupulous adherence to the provisions in Rubric 41: De Libris Conservandis et non Alienandis ('books to be kept and not parted with'), the records of the college are well preserved and in the case of the bursars' accounts, almost complete. These records attest to the varied dramatic and paradramatic activities enjoyed by the scholars from the college’s founding in the late fourteenth century until the Interregnum. These activities included both the visits of professional entertainers and the boys’ own performances that ranged from the ceremony of the boy bishop to plays by Plautus and Terence.
Winchester also had a grammar school attached to the cathedral, but it disappeared at the Reformation and there are no surviving records that might tell of dramatic activity there. Basingstoke’s Holy Ghost School was first mentioned in 1548 and may have been founded as early as 1524, and Andover is known to have had a school from 1569. However, the only other Hampshire school known to have engaged in drama was Southampton’s Free Grammar School. It was founded in 1553 by the mayor and council, who served as its governors, and was located in Winkle Street near the Watergate.
Sir John Oglander (1585–1655) was a member of a family that long had lived on the Isle of Wight. He was the son of Sir William Oglander of Nunwell, Isle of Wight, and Ann née Dillington of Knighton, Isle of Wight. He studied at Winchester College, Balliol College, Oxford, and Middle Temple, and succeeded to his father’s estates in 1609. Knighted in 1615, Oglander became deputy governor of Portsmouth in 1620, but gave up that position and instead was appointed deputy governor of the Isle of Wight in 1624. He represented Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, in parliament in 1625, 1626, and 1628, and was sheriff of Hampshire from 1637 to 1639. Oglander supported the king during the Civil War, particularly when Charles retreated to Carisbrooke Castle on the island. Oglander lived at Nunwell House, which still stands, near Brading at the eastern end of the island.
Oglander’s journal, commonplace book, and accounts provide a detailed picture of his own life and that around him on the Isle of Wight. His nineteenth-century editor, W.H. Long, likens Oglander to John Aubrey, remarking that Oglander 'was a lover of gossip, and recorded for the information and amusement of posterity any particulars that struck his fancy, whether trivial or important.' Still, Long says, ‘Of everything that came under his notice personally, his account is thoroughly reliable, and his details of contemporary matters and incidents maybe safely accepted as trustworthy.' His dating can be suspect, however, and 'his statements of events which occurred before his time will not always bear strict examination.'
Sir Richard Paulet was born around 1558, the grandson of another Richard Paulet, younger brother of the William Paulet who was the first marquess of Winchester and lord treasurer to three Tudor monarchs. Richard Paulet’s stature initially rested on the estates his grandfather and father had acquired through marriage. Herriard, valued at £200 per annum, came from his grandmother, Elizabeth Cowdrey. Freefolk, valued at another £180, from his mother, Catherine Andrews. His own marriage in 1587 to Anne Wallop brought no substantial new estates, but did ally him with his father-in-law, Sir Henry Wallop, long a leader of the Protestant gentry in the county. By the time of his marriage Paulet had served as sheriff of Hampshire in 1583–4, as receiver for debts in Hampshire, Wiltshire, and Gloucestershire in 1585, and as high collector for his part of Hampshire for the 1586 lay subsidy. In 1590–1 he was sheriff again and attended on the queen when her progress came to his father-in-law’s estate at Farleigh Wallop. A year later he was knighted and made a justice of the peace, and he was heavily involved in the militia for the following decade.
A 1593 letter to Lord Burghley seeking the office of captain of Portsmouth offers clear evidence of Paulet’s ambition. Since Burghley’s granddaughter had recently married the latest marquess of Winchester, Paulet obviously hoped to trade on family connections, but Burghley disappointed him. However, this setback only temporarily slowed Paulet’s steady accretion of lands and offices that led eventually to parliament. Paulet’s estates and influence were located mainly in the northern half of the county, but he was also made a burgess of Southampton in 1600, when his cousin Thomas Lambert was mayor of the town. Lambert’s and Paulet’s mothers were sisters, both daughters of Richard Andrews of Laverstoke. Lambert too was knighted and served as an MP, and the two men engaged in several business and land ventures together. In 1601 Paulet added extensively to the scope of his estates by purchasing the wardship of Thomas Jervoise, whose inheritance included lands in Wiltshire, Shropshire, and Nottinghamshire. Jervoise was soon married to Paulet’s eldest daughter, Lucy, and as Paulet had no son he adopted his new son-in-law as his heir. In 1604 Paulet was elected to James I’s first parliament as member for Whitchurch and he served again in 1610, keeping a diary that provides many details of that parliament’s debate over the 'Great Contract' that Robert Cecil aimed to forge between parliament and the king. Paulet made his first and only speech in the House of Commons in the brief 'Addled' parliament of 1614. Paulet died shortly thereafter and was buried in St Nicholas, Freefolk, where his monument dominates the small church.
Paulet was a great reader. In December 1596 he wrote this memorandum:
‘In what sort I layde my bookes into my chest in the Closet vz On the left hand of the chest beying opening I layd and Packt all the bookes I had of Mr Puttenham, which reached halfe way the Chest
At the right hand at the verye end I layd & Packt Certeyne bookes of dyvynytie and of Controversies in religion, together with some Lawe bookes: at the hether side next the Locke i packt Certeyne englishe bookes Conteyning histories, Planting surveyghinge and suche like.
At the further side right against them & next Mr puttenhams bookes aforesaie I layde all my Lattyne bookes greeke Grammer
dixtionaryeand such like. / Most of my Lawe bokes, Statutes Chronycles and sermones bookes Concerning religion and the bookes of Martyrs and such like lye. ether in my Chamber, Buttrye of parler./ Wher god graunt me tyme and grace to peruse them.’
Religion was certainly a great interest of Paulet’s, though it is not clear which way Paulet leaned or indeed if he had a great commitment to a particular religious position. When preparing to take refuge on the Isle of Wight during an invasion scare in 1599, Paulet noted that he intended to take with him a Bible and ‘Mr Egertons book of the principles of Religion’ (‘A noat of what Armors I must carye with me to the Isle of Wight’). Egerton was a famous Puritan divine, and the book was possibly his translation of a popular French treatise by Matthieu Virel. The 1610 diary of Paulet’s time in London describes the many sermons he heard at Paul’s Cross and elsewhere with the same detached lack of comment with which he recorded the speeches in parliament. His will left money for ‘a competent yearly maintenance for a minister who also should be a sufficient preacher to instruct the people in the knowledge of gods word and administer divine service and sacraments in my church or chapel of Freefolk.’ We thus have no way of knowing whether religion was the main reason for his 1607 purchase of a play he called ‘the widow of watlingstreet’ – that is, the Thomas Middleton play usually known as The Puritan.
Thomas Jervoise was born 11 June 1587, only son of Thomas Jervoise of Britford, Wiltshire, but was orphaned at an early age after which he lived with his stepfather, George Wrottesley. In 1601 the fourteen-year-old Thomas’ wardship was purchased by Sir Richard Paulet; Jervoise then married Paulet’s daughter Lucy and was made Paulet’s heir. Jervoise inherited the Herriard and Freefolk estates at Paulet’s death in 1614 and continued to live in Hampshire, although he often visited the estates in Wiltshire, Worcestershire, and Shropshire inherited from his father, particularly Britford in Wiltshire and Chelmersh in Shropshire.
Jervoise was knighted in 1607 and first elected to parliament in 1621 from Whitchurch, the seat that had been Paulet’s. During the 1624 session he kept a journal similar to Paulet’s if somewhat narrower in scope, as it deals only with proceedings in the Commons, and of those primarily the foreign policy debates. Jervoise held the Whitchurch seat through the Civil War, in which he staunchly supported the parliamentary side, including with some £15,000 of his own money. He died on 20 October 1654 and is buried at Herriard. Thomas’ eldest son, Richard, also supported parliament as a captain of the Hampshire militia and was killed in battle in 1645. The next oldest son, Thomas, inherited the Jervoise estates and himself served in parliament in the 1680s.
The Jervoise family still own and live at Herriard Park, four and a half miles south of Basingstoke and set just to the east of the village church, St Mary’s. The current house was built in the late twentieth century, replacing a house of about 1700. Nothing is known of the earlier house used by Sir Richard Paulet and Sir Thomas Jervoise. Paulet appears to have preferred Freefolk, his manor some fifteen miles west of Herriard on the River Test, a little over a mile east of Whitchurch, which both men served in parliament. St Nicholas', Freefolk, still contains an impressive monument to Paulet, who is buried there. Jervoise also spent more time at Freefolk in the years covered by the records in this collection but settled the manor on his son Richard, and when Richard died in 1643 the Freefolk estate passed to his wife’s family and was eventually sold. Nothing remains of the manor house of the seventeenth century.
Edward Seymour, earl of Hertford (1539–1621), was the eldest son of Edward Seymour — who was duke of Somerset and lord protector during the reign of Edward VI — and his second wife, Anne Stanhope. He lost his title and lands when his father was executed in 1552. Queen Mary restored some of his inheritance, but he did not regain a title until Elizabeth created him earl of Hertford in 1559. The following year he secretly married Katherine Grey, who was required to notify the sovereign of any decision to marry because of her own strong blood claim to the throne. Both Katherine and Edward were imprisoned in the Tower until Katherine’s death in 1568, when Edward was released and allowed to appear at court. In 1582 he again made a clandestine marriage to Frances Howard that only became publically known a decade later. In 1591 he attempted to gain favour with the queen by entertaining her with elaborate pageantry at Elvetham, but in 1595 he angered her again by petitioning to have his marriage to Katherine Grey proclaimed valid and his sons legitimate. He was again committed to the Tower, but only for two months, and in 1602 he was appointed lord lieutenant of Somerset and Wiltshire. Under King James he served as ambassador to Brussels and continued as lord lieutenant. He was buried in the Seymour Chapel of Salisbury Cathedral.
Hertford’s principal residence was Tottenham Lodge, at Great Bedwyn, Wiltshire, which Hertford had built in preference to nearby Wulfhall, which he had inherited from his father. He also held the manor of Elvetham, Hampshire, which had been in the Seymour family since the mid-fifteenth century. In 1602 Hertford purchased the former Netley Abbey from William Paulet, the fourth marquess of Winchester, and was residing there at his death.
Hertford’s son, Edward Seymour (1561–1612), was born in the Tower and declared illegitimate because the queen had invalidated his parents’ clandestine marriage. Several attempts were made to restore his legitimacy and even to have him named Elizabeth’s successor, but neither Elizabeth nor James would agree. He was usually addressed as 'Lord Beauchamp,' his father’s lesser title, though he had no legal right to it, and he predeceased his father in 1612.
Thomas Wriothesley was born in 1505 in London, son of William, a herald. He was educated at St Paul’s School and then Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he was a student of Stephen Gardiner. He began to serve Thomas Cromwell in 1524 and in 1530 became joint clerk of the signet to Gardiner, who had become the king’s secretary. Cromwell and the king employed Wriothesley in a variety of matters, many of them concerning the king’s divorce from Katherine of Aragon. He was also given the job of destroying St Swithun’s shrine at Winchester Cathedral and seizing all the treasure and relics. In 1539 Thomas Wriothesley was elected to parliament as a knight of the shire for Hampshire. Wriothesley managed to survive Cromwell’s fall and became increasingly important in national affairs, eventually being named lord chancellor in 1544 and, by King Henry’s will, earl of Southampton in 1547. He was generally associated with the religious conservatives who moderated the advance of the Reformation as long as Henry VIII was alive, but after Henry’s death he came into conflict with Somerset, the Lord Protector, who feared Wriothesley might lead a Catholic coup in favour of Princess Mary. He was placed under house arrest at his London residence, Lincoln House in Holborn, became ill and died 30 July 1550.
At the Dissolution the king had recognized Wriothesley’s service by granting him Titchfield Abbey and Beaulieu Abbey, as well as Quarr Abbey on the Isle of Wight. Wriothesley converted the former Titchfield Abbey buildings into a grand residence, called Place House. The impressive gatehouse with four octagonal turrets still stands, though the rest of the house has been demolished. Wriothesley’s service to Cromwell and the king meant he himself stayed only infrequently at his new Hampshire house. It was his wife Jane (née Cheney) who celebrated Christmas with plays and masques at Titchfield in 1538. Thomas Wriothesley’s son Henry, the third earl of Southampton, and grandson Henry, the fourth earl, also kept Titchfield as their country residence, though the fourth earl, famous as Shakespeare’s patron, spent more time in London.