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Buried in time -and honey – Shakespeare’s patron

As reported two weeks ago, Royal Blood is up and running.  It will find its way into many corners of Hampshire and one of the most topical locations, given that the world is celebrating – on the 400th anniversary of his death – William Shakespeare’s remarkable achievements, is Titchfield.
titchfield abbey gatehouse

Titchfield Abbey – the commanding gatehouse of 1542 straddles the abbey church.

Titchfield Abbey was a Premonstratensian foundation which enjoyed a number of royal visits during its lifetime (1232 – 1537).  Henry V called in on his way to Agincourt and thirty years later his son, Henry VI, was married to Margaret of France, probably in the abbey church.  The monastery was praised for its good administration, but on 18 December, 1537, surrendered to Henry VIII’s Commissioners, as part of the dissolution of religious houses.  Waiting in the wings was Thomas Wriothesley.  He took the church, ‘most naked and barren, being of such antiquity’ and turned it into ‘a right stately house’.

Grand designs – Tudor and later brickwork turned the church into a family home!

Wriothesley, a capable but cold-hearted collaborator of Thomas Cromwell, was promised the abbey and manor for his part in the whole asset-stripping process.  By 1542, at a cost of £200, he had turned it into a fine private dwelling – Place House. He moved in the right circles, becoming Lord Chancellor; he was one of Henry VIII’s executors, and was subsequently created Earl of Southampton.
Henry Wriothesley, his son and heir, a fervent Catholic, spent several years of Elizabeth’s Protestant reign in prison for his pains, but his son, also Henry, was a patron of Shakespeare.  The poems ‘Venus and Adonis’ in 1593, and ‘Tarquin and Lucrece’ in the following year, were dedicated in his name.

The Wriothesleys at rest. A detail from the family tomb in Titchfield Church.

Henry was a beautiful young man – with a fiery temper.  He challenged the Earl of Norfolk to a duel, and had a hair-pulling scrap with one of the Queen’s bodyguard.  His part in the Essex Rebellion (1601) earned him a death sentence and imprisonment in the Tower, but he was pardoned by James I.  In 1624, he and his son were sent to the Low Countries to fight the Spanish.  Both soon succumbed to a fever.  They are buried, with other members of the family, in Titchfield Church, apparently embalmed in honey.
The family name was originally Writh or Wrythe and was changed to Wriothesley in the early 16th century.  No-one is quite sure of the proper pronunciation, but ‘Risley’ is a good bet.
Royal Blood is at Westbury Manor Museum, Fareham, from 14 May to 17 July.
Series by: Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone

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