Beaulieu Abbey

Nestled in the picturesque New Forest National Park, the ruins of Beaulieu Abbey represent what remains of an early 13th century monastic complex partially destroyed in the reign of Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Beaulieu Abbey history

Beaulieu Abbey was founded by King John in the early 13th century, and was given the name Bellus Locus Regis, meaning ‘Beautiful Place of the King’.

Legend tells that the king founded the Abbey and gave it to the Cistercian Order following a violent nightmare in which he was viciously beaten by a group of monks – yet whether this was true or not, being in the good books of the religious orders of medieval England certainly had its merits. First and foremost, your name would appear in their prayers all across the country!

Over the next 300 years Beaulieu thrived through their production of wool and other farmed goods, which were duly sold to merchants all across Europe. A haven for Cistercian monks visiting from the Continent, Beaulieu also became a centre of skilled herbalists, with its monks growing an assortment of healing plants in their garden.

As with many Abbeys across England however, Beaulieu was eventually ruined in the 16th century during Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries. The Abbey Church, Cloister, and Chapter House were destroyed, and the estate was sold in 1538 to the Earl of Southampton. The Refectory, Domus, and two gatehouses were allowed to survive however, so long as they were converted for secular use.

Beaulieu Abbey today

Today, visitors can explore the atmospheric remains of Beaulieu Abbey and its surrounding grounds, which provide a fascinating look into medieval religious life in England.

The Cloister’s imposing structure remains largely intact, while the herb garden used for many years by the monks of Beaulieu allows visitors to experience both the sights and smells of the time. In the Domus, the Monastic Life exhibition details the everyday life of the Cistercian monks, while upstairs an exquisite collection of tapestries depicts the Abbey’s history, designed by Belinda, Lady Montagu.

At the site also sits the medieval Beaulieu Palace House and gardens, which once formed part of the Abbey complex before being bought by the Earl of Southampton and turned into a mansion house. Now home of the Montagu family who have resided there since 1538, the house features many Victorian additions added during later periods of renovation.

Getting to Beaulieu Abbey

Beaulieu Abbey is located in the New Forest in Hampshire, and can be accessed by taking Junction 2 of the M27 and following the brown and white tourist signs. Free parking is available at the site.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the more bus service stops at the Museum entrance or in Beaulieu village, around a 7-minute walk away. The nearest train station is 7 miles away at Brockenhurst, from which a 15-minute taxi may be taken to the site or alternatively a route through the New Forest may be cycled.

Beaulieu history - an introduction

Beaulieu's recorded history starts with the creation of Beaulieu Abbey, for it was around the Abbey that the village clustered. Founded in 1204 on land given by King John, Beaulieu Abbey was built for Cistercian monks whose order originated in France in 1098.

But for the monks, Beaulieu Abbey life was to come to an abrupt end in 1538 when Henry VIII brought major religious houses into private ownership.

The inner Great Gatehouse, however, was converted, extended and rebuilt to become Palace House, whilst the Choir Monks' Refectory became Beaulieu's parish church that is still in use to this day.

About Us

Beaulieu is an award winning family visitor attraction at the heart of the New Forest National Park operated by Beaulieu Enterprises Ltd.

There are over 800 years of heritage to be seen on the Beaulieu Estate, which has been in the ownership of the Montagu family for over four centuries.

The history of the Estate

The land on which Beaulieu now stands was once a royal hunting lodge and the property of the Crown. In 1204, King John gifted the land to monks of the Cistercian order. The Abbey flourished, growing in size and status until the 1530s when Henry VIII launched the dissolution of the monasteries as part of his schism with the Roman Church.

Beaulieu Abbey, with a value of £326, 12s 2d, was surrendered to the Crown on 2 April 1538. Like many other confiscated church lands, the Beaulieu Estate was sold to one of Henry’s friends and supporters and the government issued instructions that the religious buildings should be destroyed beyond the possibility of restoration.

Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton, took ownership of the 8,000 acre estate in 1538, paying King £1,340 6s 8d. A direct ancestor of the current owners, he converted the former Great Gatehouse into a modest manor house. Whilst rarely a primary residence for its owners, the estate was developed by successive owners – including John, 2 nd Duke of Montagu, who in the 1720s founded the shipbuilding village of Buckler’s Hard on the estate.

In 1867 Beaulieu received its first resident owner when Lord Henry Scott was given the estate by his father, the 5 th Duke of Buccleuch, as a wedding present. Lord Henry, the present Lord Montagu’s great grandfather, was behind the transformation of Palace House into the family home that can be seen today.

The Attraction

Visitors have been exploring the ruins of Beaulieu Abbey since 1912. In 1952, Edward, Lord Montagu opened Palace House and Gardens to the public for the first time – making Beaulieu among the first 'stately homes' to admit visitors. For the grand opening, he displayed five Veteran cars in the entrance hall of the house as a tribute to his late father, John Douglas-Scott-Montagu, who was a motoring advocate and pioneer at the turn of the last century.

From these humble beginnings, encouraged by a new public interest in motoring heritage, the Montagu Motor Museum would develop. Supported by the British motor industry and enthusiasts, the museum continued its expansion, becoming the National Motor Museum in 1972.

Since 1972, the National Motor Museum has been governed by The National Motor Museum Trust, an independent charity. It boasts a world famous collection of vehicles and associated motoring archives.

Today, Beaulieu is one of the leading visitor attractions in the UK, a member of Visit England, Tourism South East, Hampshire Top Attractions, Treasure Houses of England and the Historic Houses Association.

Beaulieu Enterprises Ltd is also the operational custodian of Beaulieu’s sister attraction Buckler’s Hard. The Beaulieu River on which Buckler’s Hard sits, is now a natural and sheltered yacht haven offering permanent and short term berths and moorings in its marina.

“I have always believed that Britain’s great houses and gardens, originally created for the pleasure of a few, should now be enjoyed by the many. I am also dedicated to ensuring that the story of Britain’s motoring heritage should be appreciated by the widest possible audience.”


It would appear that in 1203 King John granted to the house of St. Mary of Citeaux, as the head of the Cistercian order, the manor of Faringdon in Berkshire, where some monks of this order had established themselves, upon the condition that a monastery should be built there. (fn. 1) In the following year the king founded in the New Forest the monastery of St. Mary of Beaulieu of the same order with provision in it for thirty monks. (fn. 2) The foundation charter is dated 25 January, 1204-5. (fn. 3) By this charter the bounds of the precincts are accurately defined, and the monks were endowed with the manors of Great and Little Faringdon, Great and Little Coxwell, Shilton and Inglesham, and the churches of Shilton and Inglesham and the chapel of Coxwell, and all that the king had in Langford. Beaulieu being thus founded the monks of Faringdon were transferred to it, and Faringdon was made a cell to Beaulieu.

The small chartulary of 179 folios, in the Cotton collection, (fn. 4) opens with a transcript of the charter of King John, dated 2 November, 1203. This is followed by three charters of Henry III. and an elaborate confirmation charter of Edward III., dated 23 February, 1328. The particulars with regard to the different vicarages, and more especially as to the customs of the numerous manors (Shilton, Great and Little Faringdon, Great and Little Coxwell, Langford, Inglesham and Westbrook), which are given in great detail, are of considerable interest but pertain to the history of Berkshire.

Among the Harley MSS. is a transcript of a register or chartulary of Beaulieu, copied from one in the possession of the Duke of Portland, in 1739, and collated with the original in 1836 by Sir F. Madden. (fn. 5) It opens with the long foundation charter by John, relative to the important cell at Faringdon. This is followed by the charter of Henry III., regarding the New Forest, and confirming the grants of Bishop Peter and William Briwer. The third charter is that of the same king confirming 239 acres of land in the New Forest, granted at the dedication of the church, when the king and Queen Eleanor and Prince Edward were present. The charters referring to the possessions of the abbey in Berkshire are numerous there are also many pertaining to Soberton, Bucks Blacheford, Hants the town of Southampton, and the church of St. Keverne, Cornwall.

In 1204 John gave the monks a hundred marks towards the construction of the abbey, a gold chalice, and a hundred cows and ten bulls for their dairy in 1205 they obtained the royal gifts of twenty additional cows and two bulls, further money, and a large grant of corn in 1206 came the first gift of a tun of wine for the use of the church from the officers of the king's prisage at Southampton and in 1207 further large grants of oxen and corn. (fn. 6) On 16 August, 1205, the king sent letters to all the Cistercian abbots entreating their assistance in the building of the new abbey. (fn. 7)

In March, 1208, came the famous interdict of Innocent III. over all England which lasted until the king's submission in May, 1213, at which time Hugh, the first abbot of Beaulieu, acted as an intermediary between the king and the pope. On 4 April, 1208, the abbot obtained the royal passport for the conveyance of himself and servants and five horses across the Channel at Dover, evidently on a mission to Rome touching this business. (fn. 8) In the following month the pope issued a monition to King John to fulfil his promise to the abbot of Beaulieu to receive the cardinal Archbishop of Canterbury and to make due restitution, and again in the following August he instructed the Bishops of London, Ely and Worcester to warn and induce the king to carry out at once his various promises made to the abbot of Beaulieu. (fn. 9) Meanwhile the king, whilst staying at Waverley, the earliest of the English Cistercian foundations, on the immediate confines of the county, issued an order by which he restored to the monks all the lands which had been seized by occasion of the interdict. Abbot Hugh returned to England in November, and received from the king 30 marks for himself, 30 marks for fees and vails, and 40s. to buy himself a palfrey.

When the trouble of the interdict was over the building at Beaulieu was immediately resumed. In 1213 orders were made by the king for 400 marks towards the building at Michaelmas, and 500 marks at Michaelmas of the next year, and in 1214 an additional £200. (fn. 10) In 1214 a prior was elected, Anastasius by name to him the second donation of £100 of that year was addressed, when the abbot was probably absent. (fn. 11) On 9 April, 1215, John made his last donation, 50 marks, to the monks of Beaulieu. (fn. 12)

The abbot of Beaulieu was the fourth of the envoys sent by John to Pope Innocent in September, 1215 and in that capacity, as one of the king's proctors, he exhibited articles against the Archbishop of Canterbury at the fourth Lateran Council. (fn. 13)

On 24 February, 1219, Abbot Hugh was consecrated Bishop of Carlisle in York Minster. (fn. 14) He died in 1223. His successor, Azo of Gisors, was a good deal engaged in diplomacy, and was dispatched by the king to France in the year of his appointment.

Henry III. carried on his father's work at Beaulieu with vigour. On 15 March, 1217, he instructed the keeper of his herd of horses in the New Forest to hand over all the profits to the monks of Beaulieu until November, 1220. (fn. 15) In 1220 the king gave 50 marks, in 1221, 17½ marks, and in 1222, £100 to the building. (fn. 16)

The annals of Waverley, which can scarcely in such a matter be wrong, describe the monks of Beaulieu as entering with great joy into their new church on the vigil of the Assumption, 1227. (fn. 17) This entry has been supposed to clash with the definite statement of the same annals and of Matthew Paris twenty years later. The term ecclesia however is sometimes used to apply to the whole of a religious house, and the explanation seems to be that the great conventual church was opened in 1227, but that the cloister and conventual buildings as a whole were not ready for occupation until 1246.

The king's generosity to the Cistercians of Beaulieu continued year by year it would be tedious to reiterate the specific benefactions. At last the whole of the great fabric was finished, the monks quitted their temporary building (doubtless of wood), and on 17 June, 1246, the conventual buildings were dedicated by the Bishop of Winchester in the presence of the king and queen, the Earl of Cornwall, and a great concourse of prelates and magnates of the realm. At the feast of the dedication the abbot made an offering of 500 marks. The young Prince Edward was also present at the dedication, but was seized with illness, and the queen stayed at the abbey three weeks to nurse him, in contradiction, as the annalist says, of the Cistercian rule. As a proof of the strict observance of their rule, it is recorded that at the next visitation both prior and cellarer were deposed from their offices, because they had supplied seculars with meat on the occasion of the dedication festival. (fn. 18)

Pope Gregory IX., in 1231, granted a licence, at the request of Henry III., to the abbey of Beaulieu to appropriate the churches of Shilton and Inglesham, with the chapel of Coxwell, in the dioceses of Salisbury and Lincoln. (fn. 19) The same pope, in 1235, licensed, at the request of the king and his brother, the Earl of Cornwall, the appropriation by the abbey of the church of St. Keverne, Cornwall, the patronage of which, together with ten marks rent in Helston, the earl had already granted for the health of his soul and that of his father King John, due provision being made for a vicar. (fn. 20) This appropriation led in 1236 to a dispute between the rector and the convent as to the right of presentation. The convent sent a proctor to Rome, asserting that the Earl of Cornwall had given them the patronage, and alleging that they needed money for hospitality but they concealed the fact that they had a £1,000 of yearly rents, and being in a desert place had little or no hospitality to exercise. It was stated on behalf of the rector that the convent of Beaulieu revelled in their goods, which could support many more monks, and that they had turned the church of St. Keverne into a grange, and admitted scarcely a single guest. (fn. 21)

In the first instance Gregory seems to have been willing to listen to any attack on the monks of Beaulieu, and in his original mandate to the legate Otho (given in full in the chartulary) he denounces them, writing of them as debachantes in their monastery. Naturally the abbot as well as the Earl of Cornwall protested. The result announced in the pope's name by Otho in February, 1237, was that Beaulieu retained the appropriation, and that the rector was to receive from the monks a pension of 20 marks until he obtained a competent benefice. (fn. 22)

Isabel of Gloucester, the wife of Richard, Earl of Cornwall, died on 17 January, 1239 and was buried before the high altar of the new church of Beaulieu, her heart being sent to Tewkesbury. (fn. 23) The Earl of Cornwall, among his various deeds of piety, founded the monastery of Hales, for the establishment of which in 1246 twenty monks and thirty lay brothers were sent from Beaulieu. (fn. 24) About the same time another party of monks left Beaulieu to colonize the newly founded monastery of Newenham in Devonshire. The monastery of Netley had already been colonized from Beaulieu in 1239. (fn. 25)

At the end of the chartulary proper, already referred to, (fn. 26) come certain memoranda, among which is one to the effect that in 1274, at the general Council of Lyons, when a subsidy for a crusade for six years was enjoined, the pope granted to the Cistercians that the abbot of Citeaux should be responsible for the contributions of their whole order. The abbot, with the advice of the chapter-general, taxed each individual house of the order, according to his will, for the six years. Beaulieu, with its three daughters of Netley, Hales and Newenham, for the first and second year were to pay £26 namely Beaulieu, £13 Hales, £5 6s. Netley, £4 14s. and Newenham, £3. In 1276, when the English Cistercian houses paid £1,000 to Edward I., twothirds of which were due from Canterbury province, Beaulieu's share came to £23 6s. 8d. Netley, £12 Hales, £14 13s. and Newenham, £5. Beaulieu's share was higher than any other of the forty-nine Cistercian houses of the province the next on the list was Warden, rated at £22 13s. 4d.

In January, 1275, the takers of the king's wines at Southampton were ordered to serve the abbot with three tuns of wine at a cost of 60s. for use in his church, for the first three years of the king's reign, in accordance with claim made under a charter of Henry III, Order was issued yearly for this tun of wine until 1279, when a mandate was served on Matthew de Columbariis, the king's wine-taker at Southampton, and his successors to deliver the tun yearly without having to obtain a special letter or other mandate. (fn. 27) In February, 1275, the abbey received a further or second tun of wine from Southampton, in lieu of the tun that the king's steward received from the warden at Beaulieu for the use of the royal household on the occasion of the king's last visit. (fn. 28)

Edward I. frequently sojourned at Beaulieu he was there in 1275 and 1276, and again in 1285. It seems somewhat inconsistent with subsequent royal visits to find that in July, 1276, protection was granted by letters patent for the abbey of Beaulieu, in accordance with the ordinances passed in the first parliament of Edward I., when it was ordained that no one should be lodged in a house of religion, or take victuals or carriage therein, or in any of its manors. (fn. 29)

About this period the abbots of Beaulieu were frequently abroad on the business of their house and order. In March, 1274, the abbot (probably Dennis), who held the king's licence to cross the seas, appointed two of his brother monks to act as his attorneys until the following feast of All Saints. In May, 1276, he appointed two other monks as his attorneys, for a like reason, until Christmas, unless he returned in the interval, and in April, 1279, a like arrangement was made. (fn. 30) The abbot also obtained leave to cross the seas from 8 September to Midsummer in 1282 from 7 September to Christmas in 1285 and from April to All Saints in 1286. (fn. 31) These absences would be mainly to attend the general chapter which was held at Citeaux every year, opening on 14 September. Every abbot was bound to attend, under pain of a severe penance, unless there was a legitimate excuse, in which case he was to acquaint some neighbouring abbot and to send letters. From this duty of yearly attendance, exemptions were made from time to time on the score of the poverty of the house or its distance, notably at the general chapters of 1260, 1263 and 1270. (fn. 32)

Some light is thrown upon the history of the monastery as a trading community by the grant of a protection and safe conduct to the abbey in 1281 for taking a ship laden with corn and other goods from time to time to Gascony and other places within the king's power, and bringing thence wine and other goods. (fn. 33)

From the taxation roll of 1291 we find that the temporalities of Beaulieu in the archdeaconry were then valued at producing an annual income of £100, of which the immediate environs of the abbey supplied £66 13s. 4d. The temporalities in the archdeaconry of Berks produced an income of £91 1s. 8d. those of the archdeaconry of Oxford £32 1s. 10d. There was also £11 11s. 8d. from St. Keverne in Cornwall, and £6 13s. 4d. from houses and fisheries in Little Yarmouth. In spiritualities there was the rectory of Shilton with an income of £7 6s. 8d., and Inglesham with an income of £4 6s. 8d.

In 1312 licence for alienation in mortmain, in favour of Beaulieu, was obtained for messuages and lands in Upton and Holebury, on payment of a fine of 30s. (fn. 34) In 1316 the abbey obtained a valuable grant of a messuage, mill, 60 acres of land, 10 acres of meadow, and 6 acres of wood at Hipley, (fn. 35) and in March of the following year confirmation was given to six small grants to the abbey. (fn. 36)

The advowson of the church of Ringwood was granted to the abbey in February, 1329, by Edward III. in fulfilment of a wish of the late king and on condition that four monks should be maintained beyond the thirty-two then at Beaulieu, to celebrate mass daily for the souls of himself, his mother and his heirs. (fn. 37) In 1332 this grant of Ringwood made by the procurement of Roger de Mortimer was revoked. (fn. 38) By the return of knights' fees of 1346 we find that the abbot of Beaulieu held one fee in Over Burgate in perpetual alms. (fn. 39) In the return for Berkshire for the feudal aid of 1316 he held the hundred and vill of Faringdon with Coxwell, Inglesham, and Little Faringdon, and he and others held Langford, Shilton and 'Bernynton.' (fn. 40)

The abbot of Beaulieu, whose predecessors had sat in Parliament since 1260, by fine of ten marks, obtained in 1341 the king's sanction to be freed, for himself and his successors, from attendance at Parliament, inasmuch as all the abbey lands were held in free alms, and not by barony or otherwise of the king in chief. (fn. 41)

Abbot Herring presided for twenty years, and on his death the custody of the abbey was assigned, on 6 January, 1392, to Thomas, Earl of Kent, and Tideman de Winchecombe, one of the monks. (fn. 42) After some delay Tideman de Winchecombe was elected abbot, but he only ruled for a very brief period for in August, 1393, he was elected Bishop of Llandaff, at the instigation of the pope.

A grant of Edward III. in 1468 gave the monks of Beaulieu a weekly Thursday market within the precincts, and confirmed their rights of pasturage in the forests of Bere and Porchester, with other former privileges. (fn. 43)

On 15 December, 1483, the abbot of Beaulieu was summoned, together with two of his community, by Richard III. to appear at Westminster, and bring with him all muniments and writings by which he claimed special sanctuary rights, within six days after the receipt of the mandate. (fn. 44) It has been conjectured, with much probability, that this summons arose from the abbey having given shelter to the enemies of the Yorkist faction. Every church and churchyard had certain temporary sanctuary rights pertaining to them but in a few instances, of which Beaulieu was the most celebrated English example in the south, these rights were extended for an indefinite period and over a far wider area than the actual consecrated site. At Beaulieu Innocent III. had granted these special sanctuary rights to the whole of the original grant of land to the monks made by John, the bounds of which were clearly defined in the charter. Among those of note who availed themselves of this sanctuary may be mentioned Perkin Warbeck, Lady Warwick, after the field of Barnet in 1471, and according to some writers, Margaret of Anjou.

Abbot Thomas Skevington was consecrated Bishop of Bangor at Lambeth on 17 June, 1509, but he continued to hold the abbey in commendam until his death in 1533.

The abbey's share towards the ' king's personal expenses in France to recover the Crown,' in 1522, was the large sum of £66 13s. 4d. (fn. 45)

In a butlerage account of customs paid on wine out of various ships at Southampton and Portsmouth, in 1526, which yielded a sum of £15 10s. on 155 tuns, it is stated that the total prisage of wine was fifteen tuns, whereof five tuns (one tun each) were delivered to the monasteries of Beaulieu, Tichfield, Netley, Waverley and St. Denis. (fn. 46)

The abbot of Beaulieu was summoned to Convocation in 1529, but he was not present. (fn. 47)

In a list of ' fines made with divers persons by the king's commandment' of 1531 occurs the name of ' the Bishop of Bangor otherwise called the abbot of Beaulieu,' for the heavy sum of £333 6s. 8d., for his offences against the statutes of provisions and præmunire. (fn. 48) In the following year however we find the abbot-bishop was put on the commission of the peace for Hampshire. (fn. 49)

On 17 August, 1533, Abbot Skevington died, and on the following day Harry Huttoft wrote to Cromwell begging that the post might be given ' to one of the same religion, a good man, the abbot of Waverley,' adding, ' he will do his duty every way, and if you knew of his manner of living you would be his assured good master.' On 20 August, Sir William Fitzwilliam wrote from Windsor to Cromwell concerning the abbot's death, and stating that he was in the king's displeasure for offences against the royal game. 'I chanced, in communication with the king, to mention one who a virtuous man and a good husband(man), and had ever been good to his game though the forests of Wolmer and Windsor and other places are about his house, and I thought he would make a good abbot of Beauley. On his asking who he was, I replied, the abbot of Waverley. He said it was truth, and willed me to write to you to put him in remembrance, on his coming to London, that he might take order for the same. I assure you the suggestion came from myself alone, and not from any solicitation of the abbot.'

On the same day Lord Audeley wrote to the Duke of Suffolk as to the vacancy at Beaulieu, for which much suit was being made. He did not make any specific suggestion, but urged that whoever was appointed abbot should be ' a man of great gravity and circumspect, and not base of stomach or faint of heart when need shall require, the place standeth so wildly and it is a great sanctuary, and boundeth upon a great forest and upon the sea coast, where sanctuary men may do much displeasure if they be not very well and substantially looked upon.' (fn. 50) In accordance with the king's wish John Browning, abbot of Waverley, the preserver of the king's game, was speedily made abbot of Beaulieu. In September Huttoft wrote a grateful letter as to the appointment to Cromwell.

The Valor of 1535, taken when Browning was abbot, gave the gross annual value of Beaulieu as £428 6s. 8¼d., and the net value £326 13s. 2¾d.

Under the Act of 1536, dissolving the lesser monasteries, more than two-thirds of the Cistercian abbeys were suppressed. Their inmates were, as a rule, transferred to the larger houses of the order. In March, 1536, Abbot Browning died, and Thomas Stevens or Stephens, abbot of Netley, was appointed his successor. In the following February Netley was suppressed, and the whole of the monks went to their mother house at Beaulieu. (fn. 51)

Lord Lisle was most anxious to obtain the fine spoils of Beaulieu, and wrote both in February and June of 1536 to servants of Cromwell to endeavour to secure them. On the first occasion he was told that there was no likelihood that Beaulieu would be suppressed and on the second application he was assured that it would be lost time to sue for it, and recommended to try for St. Mary's, Winchester, or for ' Waverley, which is a pretty thing.' (fn. 52)

Shortly after Stevens' appointment as abbot, we find him eager to curry favour with Wriothesley. Hearing through a servant that he wanted a horse—' My Lord of Beaulieu said he had nothing but should be at your commandment, and sent his men to take up for you his own riding horse, which you will receive herewith. His only fault is that he is too little for you, though the biggest in all his park.' (fn. 53)

With regard to the ancient right of sanctuary at Beaulieu, it is not surprising to find that neither Cromwell nor his royal master had any scruple as to its violation. In September, 1537, the abbot received a letter from Cromwell demanding the delivery to the bearers of the body of James Manzy, a Florentine. He replied that he would have done so, but that Manzy had left sanctuary on the previous Sunday when he was absent from home. On hearing further from the Lord Privy Seal, the abbot wrote to say that in conjunction with Master Huttoft he had gathered together all the conveyers of James Manzy, and had so used them that he thought they would ' love the worse hereafter to steal sanctuary men from Beaulieu.' Manzy hid day and night in woods, bushes and old barns, and the abbot indignantly repudiated the suggestion that he had connived at his escape. At the same time Huttoft wrote to like effect to Cromwell. 'I have made search with my lord of Beaulieu these two days, both aboard ship and in all the forest, and have this night (28 September) found the said James in a hay loft on a farm besides Hampton. He was hidden half the mow deep, and when discovered seemed more dead than alive. After a while he fell to weeping, saying his abuse was only for fear of your lordship, and that his keepers menaced him to be carried up like a prisoner. I beg you will have pity on him for he has been severely handled. The bearer Parpoynt has spoken many words more than needeth. My Lord of Beaulieu has used very good diligence in this matter, and is also much discouraged by the reports made of him.' (fn. 54)

On 2 April, 1538, the subservient abbot signed the surrender of this great monastery of royal foundation to the notorious commissioners Layton, Petre and Freeman, and induced twenty of the monks to do the like. (fn. 55) The site was immediately granted to Thomas Wriothesley (afterwards Earl of Southampton). Crayford, one of the sub-commissioners for suppression of monasteries, wrote to him on 17 April, saying that Abbot Stevens, immediately before his surrender, let out the mill, parsonage, etc., of Beaulieu, and the lodge at St. Leonard's grange to his sister. (fn. 56) On 26 April, the ex-abbot wrote to Wriothesley, protesting against the detraction of his ' lewd monks, which now, I thank God, I am rid of.' (fn. 57)

At the time of the dissolution the monastery held in Hampshire the manors of Colbury, Hilton, Upton, 'Ippeley,' Holbury, and the manor of Frerencourte in Fordingbridge, the rectories of Beaulieu, and lands, rents, etc., in Southampton, Lymington, ' Esthamlode' in the Isle of Wight,' Gooreley,' ' Blayshford, Bremmer' and Avon, and Newchurch in the Isle of Wight in Berkshire the manors of Great Faringdon, Little Faringdon, Inglesham, Shilton and Wyke, and rents in Westbroke and Langford in Cornwall the manor of St. Kirian, a mill at Tregonon, and rent in Helston and a messuage in Southwark in Surrey. (fn. 58)

Stevens obtained a pension of 100 marks, but in February, 1540, was instituted to the rectory of Bentworth near Alton. In 1548 he was collated to the treasurership of Salisbury Cathedral, and died in 1550 seized of both these preferments. Seventeen of the monks also obtained small pensions.

With the suppression came the end of the historic sanctuary rights throughout what was termed ' the Great Close of Beaulieu.' On the day of the surrender the commissioners wrote to Cromwell stating that there were thirty-two sanctuary men there for debt, felony and murder, who had their houses and grounds where they lived with their wives and children. They declared that if sent to other sanctuaries they would be undone, and desired to remain there for their lives, provided no more were admitted. The commissioners wished to know the king's pleasure. The ex-abbot also wrote to Wriothesley, begging him to be a good master to the Beaulieu sanctuary men who were there for debt. He said they had been very honest while he was their governor, and it would be no profit to the town if they were to leave, for the houses would yield no rent. Crayford also wrote to Wriothesley about the same time, asking for the king's protection for the ' miserable debtors,' stating that all the inhabitants of Beaulieu were sanctuary men, and urging the immediate departure of the murderers and felons as ' hopeless men.' In the end the debtors were allowed to tarry for their lives, under protection, at Beaulieu and one, Thomas Jeynes, who had slain a man at Christchurch, was granted a pardon. (fn. 59)

The circular elaborate fifteenth century seal, of which an illustration is given, represents the crowned Virgin seated in a canopied niche with the Holy Child on left knee on each side, in canopied niches, are five kneeling monks. In base is a crown enfiled with a crozier. Legend : Sigillum : Commune : Monasterii : Belli : Loci : Regis.

Abbots of Beaulieu

Hugh, (fn. 60) about 1208-19
Azo of Gisors, 1238
Dennis, (fn. 61) about 1274-80
William de Gisors, cellarer, (fn. 62) 1281
Robert de Boclonde, died in 1302
Peter de Chichester (fn. 63)
William de Hameldon (fn. 64)
John Peres
Walter Herring, (fn. 65) 1372-92
Tideman de Winchecombe, about 1392-3
Richard de Middleton, (fn. 66) 1394-7
John Gloucester, (fn. 67) 1397-1400
Richard de Middleton, (fn. 68) 1400
Richard Bartelmelo, (fn. 69) 1415
William Salbury, (fn. 70) 1425-9
William Woburn, 1429
Humphrey, 1490
Thomas Skevington, (fn. 71) 1509, 1533
John Browning, abbot of Waverley, 1533-6
Thomas Stevens, abbot of Netley, 1536-8


The monastery at Beaulieu was founded in 1204 by King John, and its Abbey Church dedicated to St. Mary in 1246. Most of the Abbey fell into ruins after the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII, but domus, cloisters and refectory remain.

The refectory of the original abbey became the parish church of Beaulieu, and so it has remained ever since. Once inside the church, especially if the sun is shining, you may realise that the church is not oriented - that is, it does not run west to east. Instead, because of its position on the south side of the original abbey cloisters, the church lies north to south and the altar is at the south end.

Since 1538 several changes have been made: formation of a chancel and sanctuary, construction of a gallery chapel and vestries, importation of oak pews, and installation of a Walker pipe organ which is a delight to play.

One of the most interesting architectural features is the prominent stone lectern, from which one chosen monk would read improving books to the other monks as they sat silently eating their meals. The lectern is now used as a pulpit, from which the preacher gives his sermon, or address, during services. The pulpit is approached by a stone stairway cut into the width of the west wall, an unusual feature found only here and in Chester Cathedral.

The gallery at the North end of the church has been used down the centuries for varying purposes. Old prints of the church show that in the 18th century a wall across the nave separated the gallery from the rest of the building, and for a time it served as the village school. In 1965 a new staircase was built, and the Chapel was restored and refurbished. It was consecrated on the Eve of All Saints, 1965, by the Bishop of Winchester, and dedicated in honour of St. John the Evangelist.

Near the pulpit is the Tubby Clayton Memorial, a finely carved slate roundel in memory of the co-founder of Toc H, who lived in Beaulieu as a boy and returned regularly to preach throughout his lifetime. The plaque, with the Toc H lamp and cross in gold at the top, was dedicated by his Grace Dr Robert Runcie Lord Archbishop of Canterbury in June 1984. Toc H members from all over the world attended the special service and today many especially ask to be shown this memorial.

The Standard of 84 Squadron RAF is laid up in the Abbey Church to commemorate the founding of the Squadron as part of the Royal Flying Corps on Beaulieu Airfield during the First World War in 1917, since when they have never been based in the British Isles.

Either a 'Parish Communion (Common Worship)' or an 'All Age Family Service' are normally held in the Abbey Church on Sundays, starting at 9.30 am. On a few Sundays throughout the year, the 9.30 service is held elsewhere in the Benefice. Everyone is most welcome. [Click 'Services' to be transferred to the Church Services part of the Benefice Calendar]

2 A free translation of ‘Cedimus… filiae nostrae Emenanae quam Deo ad sanctimonialium habitum tradimus pro tremore et amore Dei ut animae quae militant Christo per nostram intermissionem remedium queant recipere peccatorum suorum… Facta cessio ista in mense novembrio anno x regnante Ludovico domno nostro serenissimo Augusto’. (The phrase per nostrum intermissionem is unexpected, but the entire sentence is rather obscure in its meaning): Cartulaire de l’abbaye de Beaulieu (en Limousin), ed. M. Deloche (Paris, 1859) (hereafter Beaulieu) no CLXXXV. The MS cartulary—only used by Deloche at a late stage of his edition—is now Paris, BN, MS. 493: problems of daring and of variant readings will be discussed elsewhere, in the study already mentioned.

3 Gennep , A Van , Les rites du passage, étude systématique des rites ( Paris , 1909 ), pp. 13 ’ 15 Google Scholar and, for brief references to the differing significance attached by earlier anthropologists to ceremonies of’veiling’, pp. 237–41 cf., M. Gluckman, ‘Les rites du passage’, in Gluckman, ed., Essays on the Ritual of Social Relations (Manchester, 1962), pp. 11-14,19. For ceremonies of veiling in early Christian times, R. Metz, ‘Les vierges chrétiennes en Gaule au IVe siècle’, in Saint Martin et son temps, Mémorial du XVIe centenaire des débuts du monachisme en Gaule, 361-1961 (Rome, 1961), pp. 118–19 Wemple , S. , Women in Frankish Society, Marriage and the Cloister, 100 to 900 ( Philadelphia , 1981 ), pp. 166 ’ 7 Google Scholar . The dress to be worn by sanctimoniales is also discussed by E. Magnou-Nortier, ‘Formes féminines de vie consacrée dans les pays du Midi jusqu’au début du Xlle siècle’, in La femme dans la vie religieuse du Languedoc (XJII-XIVe s.), CAF, 23, (1988), p. 201, nn. 29-34.

4 In general, Lawrence , C. H. , Medieval Monasticism , 2nd edn. ( London , 1989 ), pp. 216 ’ 17 Google Scholar Magnou-Nortier, ‘Formes féminines’, pp. 203-5 (citing the case of this Immena) and Lasociété laïque et l’Église dans la province ecclésiastique de Narbonne (zone cispyrénéenne), de la fin du Ville à la fin du Xle siècle (Toulouse, 1974), pp. 411-13 (citing later examples). All aristocratic activity and attitudes were influenced by ‘structures familiales’ according to R. Hennebicque, ‘Structures familiales et politiques au IXe siècle: en groupe familial de l’aristocratie franque’, RH, 265 (1981), pp. 289-333 of. J. Wollasch, ‘Eine adlige Familie des früheren Mittelalters, Ihre Selbstverständnis und ihre Wirklichkeit’, AKuG, 39 (1957), pp. 150-1.

5 Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne, present Département de la Corrèze. See DHGE, 7, cols 154-5 for a brief—but not entirely accurate—notice on the abbey of Beaulieu. An important analysis of property transactions in this region does not include the documents of this house, Herlihy , D. , ‘ Land, Family and Women in Continental Europe, 701-1200 ’, in The Social History of Italy and Western Europe ( London , 1978 ), pp. 114 ’ 20 Google Scholar [first published, Traditio, 18(1962)].

6 Hennebicque, ‘Structures familiales’, p. 293:’Il faut se garder des généralisations abstraites…’.

Beaulieu Abbey - History

TBC - Please check before visiting

TBC - Please check before visiting

eaulieu is a Cistercian Abbey found in tne New Forest near Southampton on the south coast of England. The abbey was founded by King John in 1203 or 1204 and became an important mother house sending monks to found daughter abbeys at Hailes, Newenham and Netley. It was itself populated with monks from Citeaux. The building work took until 1249 in the reign of John's son Henry III, who continued to support the monks with donations and grants of land. At the dissolution, ordered by King Henry VIII, parts of the abbey were destroyed and the remains were granted to the Earl of Southampton. Later, in the reign of William III, the abbey became the property of the Lord and Duke of Montague. Much of the original building remains but has been converted for different uses. The monks referctory or dining room, for instance, has been converted into the Beaulieu parish church. The abbey was the home of Anne Beauchamp, the wfe of Richard Neville, the Kingmaker, After Richard's death in 1471 at the Battle of Barnet. Anne fled to the abbey for safety. Another person who sought safety at the abbey was Perkin Warbeck who tried to claim the English throne saying he was one of the Princes in the Tower who mysteriously disappeared.

Palace House: one of the first public historic houses

Palace House is well known as one of the most charming historic houses in Hampshire. But fewer people know that it was one of the first stately homes to open to visitors and that Edward, Lord Montagu played an important role in opening up historic houses for the public to enjoy and appreciate.

The New Forest and surrounding areas are rich in history and home to a number of country houses and gardens open to the public. Visitors to the area are spoilt for choice when it comes to looking for a historic day out, but no visit would be complete without a trip to see the historic home of the Montagu family, whose owner played a pivotal role in the preservation of England’s historic houses.

The Beginning: From Abbey Gatehouse to Country House

Overlooking the picturesque Beaulieu River mill pond, Palace House was once the gatehouse of the medieval Beaulieu Abbey. When Thomas Wriothesley, a direct descendent of the current owners, bought the estate in 1538, he converted the gatehouse into a modest manor house. In the early days, the house was rarely used as a primary residence, but successive owners developed it and a significant remodel and extension process in the 1800s transformed it into the Victorian country house it is today.

The west side of Palace House before the alterations of the 1870s.

“A White Elephant”: Inheriting a Stately Home

When Edward, Lord Montagu inherited the Beaulieu Estate in 1951, it rapidly became clear that the costs of running the historic property, with its substantial maintenance and heating bills, would be prohibitive.

“to any sensible, rational being the house was a white elephant. The wise solution was to get rid of it. For me, however – neither sensible nor rational - that was unthinkable. Beaulieu was my ancestral family home and I therefore not only loved it but felt a sense of trust, duty and obligation towards it.”

He considered turning the house into a school or old clergymen’s home, but a more innovative solution became increasingly attractive – that of opening the house up to the paying public.

Opening Your Historic House to the Public

Displaying your stately home to the public was not a new idea at this time and curious visitors had already been peering into England’s grand houses for a couple of centuries. But the idea of creating a professional business venture was unheard of until 1949 when the Marquess of Bath opened Longleat.

Edward, Lord Montagu with visitors on the Beaulieu Abbey steps in 1951.

The Beaulieu Abbey ruins had already been open to the public since the 1890s, so the Montagu family had some experience of catering to tourists, but opening their home to strangers would be a far more significant step. As Edward, Lord Montagu said, ‘sacrificing one’s privacy was the price I was prepared to pay to keep a roof on the house’.

In preparation for the opening, Lord Montagu assembled portraits of his ancestors, created exhibitions of coronation robes, and gathered together family heirlooms. But he readily admitted that Palace House was not as large and grand as other stately homes such as Longleat. What he needed was an extra ingredient…

And so it was that in 1952 when Palace House and gardens were opened to the public for the first time, visitors were greeted by five veteran cars in the entrance hall. Installed as a tribute to his late father, who was a motoring advocate and pioneer, this simple beginning proved to be a great success and would later develop into the National Motor Museum, which has since grown beyond the entrance hall and is now based in its own purpose-built building in the Palace House grounds.

Veteran cars in the entrance hall of Palace House.

. and the National Motor Museum today.

Edward, Lord Montagu & The Historic Houses Association

Thanks to the innovative character of Edward, Lord Montagu, Palace House was one of the first historic houses to open, providing the public with a fascinating insight into local history and a beautiful house and gardens to visit. But his influence on the preservation and promotion of historic houses didn’t stop there…

Even before Palace House opened in 1952, he organised a small gathering of historic house owners to discuss the possibility of a ‘union’ to champion their cause to the government, share knowledge and run a joint advertising scheme. Some of the old guard opposed the idea, particularly when a membership fee was suggested, but fifty owners went on to join the British Travel Association and eventually formed a sub-committee, the BTA’s ‘Historic Houses Committee’, to champion the contribution of historic houses to the UK tourism industry.

In later years, he argued strongly for the creation of a completely independent association, and on 5 December 1973 the Historic Houses Association was born with Edward Montagu as its first chairman.

Some of the early houses to be members of the HHA included Longleat, Knebworth and Woburn Abbey, all opened to the public for the first time in the 1950s and 60s. Since these beginnings, the Historic Houses Association have developed a portfolio of over 1,600 significant historic houses and gardens, open to be explored and discovered. The organisation ensures these country houses stay alive and accessible for generations to come, a vision shared by Edward, Lord Montagu.

Beaulieu & The Treasure Houses of England

In the 1960s, before the HHA was formed, there were plenty of stories in the press about the rivalry between the different historic houses and their owners. But whilst there was plenty of healthy competition going on, Edward, Lord Montagu was keen to work together with his ‘competitors’ for the benefit of the historic house industry as a whole.

To the surprise of the press, Edward, Lord Montagu, the Duke of Bedford and the Marquess of Bath announced that they would give out vouchers for discounted entry to each other’s houses (Beaulieu, Woburn and Longleat respectively). The idea proved popular and the number of historic houses involved soon grew from three to seven, with the suitably catchy name “The Magnificent Seven”.

Eventually, the collective expanded to a group of ten historic houses, with the entry requirement that each house much attract at least 100,000 visitors. This group still exists today and has since been renamed the ‘Treasure Houses of England’. It has become known as a unique collection of the finest historic houses, palaces and English castles.

The Magnificent Seven! Marquess of Tavistock (Woburn), George Howard (Castle Howard), Marquess of Bath (Longleat), Duke of Marlborough (Blenheim), Earl of Harewood (Harewood) Lord Montagu (Beaulieu) and Lord Brooke (Warwick Castle).

Each house has its own unique charm, with stunning architecture surrounded by beautiful parklands and open gardens. Most historic houses are still homes to the great families who have owned them for generations and many keep their heritage alive by recreating scenes and events that have shaped the history of England.

Together the houses display some of the most important art collections in the world, showcasing exquisite examples of fine furniture, porcelain, china and portraiture. To explore the other stately homes please visit the Treasure Houses of England website.

Edward, Lord Montagu & English Heritage

In 1983, in recognition of his innovative approach and commercial success, the government invited Edward, Lord Montagu to chair its new Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission, which he soon renamed English Heritage.

Edward, Lord Montagu

At this time, there were still those who feared that making historic sites more accessible to the public would result in over-commercialisation and historical vandalism. Lord Montagu proved them wrong, but did encourage the sites to become more visitor-friendly, with improved interpretation and facilities. When the government decided to abolish the Greater London Council, the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was said to have endorsed the transfer of its historic buildings to English Heritage because “Edward Montagu will know what to do with them.”

The Importance of Education: Keeping Heritage Alive

Edward, Lord Montagu was a strong supporter of the preservation of historic houses and soon after the opening of Palace House, he embarked on a lecture tour of America to publicise both his stately home and Britain’s other historic houses. As part of the British Tourism Association he also ran a series of Historic Property Management courses at Beaulieu to help other owners run their houses effectively and attract visitors.

In 1970 he took his pioneering education one step further and began offering knowledge to the public as well as other house owners. He introduced a pilot scheme which produced educational packs for schools, which was successful enough that Beaulieu became the first historic house to appoint a full-time education officer.

Beaulieu’s award-winning educational programme is still running today, informing and inspiring the next generation and keeping heritage accessible for all.

Children are invited to dress in Victorian clothing for educational visits in Palace House.

Visiting Palace House Today

Today Palace House is thriving and continues to welcome visitors from around the world. As they step through the front door, they are greeted by guides in Victorian costume, keen to share their knowledge of this unique and historically significant house.

In addition to the visitor-facing staff, many people ‘behind the scenes’ ensure that the house and its contents are properly preserved for the benefit of future generations. You can find out how they care for the items in their collection in the Palace House Blog.

As well as Palace House and gardens, visitors to the Beaulieu visitor attraction can visit the National Motor Museum and explore the Beaulieu Abbey ruins. Plus, they can also discover Beaulieu’s connection with the Special Operations Executive in the Secret Army Exhibition and see iconic cars from memorable TV challenges in World of Top Gear.

“I have always believed that Britain’s great houses and gardens, originally created for the pleasure of a few, should now be enjoyed by the many. Sharing my home and welcoming visitors to Beaulieu since has been a source of great pleasure to me. Doing so has ensured that Palace House, Beaulieu Abbey and the other historic buildings in my care are in a better state of repair now than they have been for decades. I hope that they will survive for many years to come, for future generations to enjoy. ’’ - EDWARD, LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU (1926 -2015)

Beaulieu Abbey - History

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Ruin and Renovation

The abbey’s problems continued into the 15th century. On 16 December 1402, thieves broke into the church and stole riches worth 1,000 marks (over £660) from the shrine of the Holy Blood. The abbey was also being poorly administered. In 1397, Henry Alcestre was elected as abbot but seems to have been rapidly deposed. In 1412 he was blamed for letting the buildings of the abbey fall to ruin and running up debts of over £600. The income of the abbey had been reduced to just £100 per year, insufficient to support the 22 monks.

In view of the abbey’s difficulties, the anti-pope John XXIII (whose claim to the papacy was recognised by the English crown) gave special spiritual privilege to pilgrims who visited Hailes and made gifts to the abbey.

Further privileges were obtained in 1431 when pilgrims visiting the Holy Blood and contributing to the upkeep of the church were granted generous remission from penances. Indulgences benefiting pilgrims to the monastery were also issued by Pope Callistus III in 1458 and a decade later by Pope Paul II. These explicitly state that the gifts from pilgrims were to fund building work at the abbey, including the repair of the church and its bell tower.

Work also started on the renovation of the cloister, and the former accommodation of the lay brothers (who had ceased to be part of the community in the 14th century) was converted into a house for the abbot. Complete with halls, chambers and a private chapel, it projected the religious and secular importance of the abbots of Hailes, who were important patrons in their own right.