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EW monastic ruins are equally interesting with that of Netley Abbey; yet
we know of no monastery of the same importance of which the history is so imperfectly known. Its position in a secluded spot, where the ground it occupies might be spared from other purposes, and accidental circumstances of different kinds, have so far preserved its walls from destruction, that we may here still trace with accuracy the arrangement and internal economy of
those great religious establishments which, in former ages, were to be seen in every part of our island.
The modern name of Netley appears itself to be only a corruption of the more ancient one of Letley, Lettely, or Latelie, under which the place is mentioned in Domesday Book, as being held by Richard Pungiant. We learn from the same important document, that previously to the Norman Conquest it had been held of King Edward by Alward, “who could go where he would.” * It was probably from the circumstance of its having been a manor belonging to Edward the Confessor, that it afterwards took the name of "the Place of St. Edward,” or Edwardestowe. The derivation of the name Letley is very uncertain; it was probably the remarkable taste for punning on proper names, so characteristic of the writers and scholars of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, which led them to call it in Latin De Laeto Loco, or “the joyful place.”
The Abbey of Netley, or Letley, can boast of no great antiquity. It appears certain that it was founded by King Henry III. in the year 1239; although it has been supposed, on very weak grounds, that a religious house of some kind had previously occupied its site. Henry's original charter is not preserved; but in a subsequent brief charter of confirmation—dated
March 7, 1251—he speaks of it as the church which he had founded—“ ecclesia quam nos fundavimus”—and gives or confirms to it the lands of Lettelege, Hune, Welewe, Totinton, Gumelculne, Nordleg, Deverell-Kingston, Waddon, Ayheleg, and Lacton, with all their appurtenances, with the rents of Charleton, Southampton, and Suthwerk, and a hundred acres of land in the manor of Schire, as well as the advowson of the church of that manor. The lands in Schire appear to have been given, or sold, to the Abbey in 1243: we have the confirmation of the grant, by John de Warren, Earl of Surrey, dated on the day of the Epiphany, 1252, but his original charter is also lost. The Seals of Netley Abbey, of which three are known, describe it as the Abbey of St. Mary of Edwardestowe. An impression of the
seal of the abbot, attached to a deed of the beginning of the reign of Edward III., represents a figure of an abbot,
* Ricardus Pungiant tenet Latelie. Aluuardus tenuit de Rege Eadwardo, et potuit ire quo voluit.
SEALS OF NETLEY ABBEY.
surrounded by the inscription, S. ABBIS Loci S’cı EDWARDI. A seal of the abbey, of the same date, but much mutilated, has the following fragments of an inscription : ...... COMMUNE. ABB. ...... EDWARDI . DE . LETTE... At the latter end of the last century, the matrix of a seal of this house was discovered in the possession of a dealer in curiosities in London :* the seal was very small, not much larger than a modern shilling; on it was represented a person kneeling before the Virgin and Child, and surrounded by the inscription, S. BEATE. MARIE. DE. STOWIE. S'ci. EDWARD'. Mr. Brand imagined that the kneeling figure was intended to represent King Edward the Confessor.
The king placed in his foundation a small party of Cistercian monks, then the most powerful and encroaching of all the religious orders. This monastic colony was brought from the Abbey of Beaulieu, in the New Forest. Antiquaries have succeeded, after much labour, in discovering the names of eight Abbots of Netley; but as these stretch over a space of three centuries, there can be no doubt that the list is incomplete. The list of benefactors is equally imperfect: in addition to those already mentioned, we only know with certainty the names of Edmund, Earl of Cornwall, the second son of the founder, Robert de Vere, and Walter de Burgh. The latter is stated to have given property in the county of Lincoln, which he held of the king in capite by the service of presenting to him a hat, lined with sindon, a kind of fine linen, and a pair of gilt spurs.f It has been supposed that Richard Foxe, Bishop of Winchester from 1502 to 1528, was one of the latest benefactors.
In point of revenue, Netley Abbey was one of the smaller monasteries. At the time of its dissolution in 1538, the community consisted of an abbot and twelve monks; and their possessions produced, according to Dugdale, £100 18. 8d., or, according to Speed, £160 28. 9fd. The site was granted to Sir William Paulet, subsequently created Marquis of Winchester, and one of the most remarkable statesmen of his time. It was he who built the magnificent house at Basing, celebrated for the obstinate siege which it sustained in the civil wars of the seventeenth century. This nobleman died in 1572, at the great age of ninety-seven years; and is said to have seen, before his death,
• This matrix was exhibited before the Society of Antiquaries of London, by the Rev. John Brand, Jan. 26, 1797. An account of it, and the other seals, will be found in thirteenth volume of the Archæologia.
+ This grant is mentioned in the Placit. de Quo Warranto, of the 9th Edw. I. ; but in the original document the name is Nottele (not, as quoted in the common books, Notele), and it is probable that the grant has no reference to Netley in Hampshire.
a hundred and three persons descended from him. He probably sold Netley to the Earl of Hertford, in whose possession we find it in the beginning of the reign of Elizabeth. There is a tradition, that this nobleman turned the ruined abbey into a dwelling-house: and it is said that a part of the church was converted into a kitchen. There are, however, at present, no traces about the buildings to support this story. We might be led to suppose that the house inhabited occasionally by the Earl of Hertford, and then known by the name of Netley Castle, was rather the old fort below the abbey, of which the ruins still remain. In 1560, the Earl of Hertford was here honoured by a visit from his sovereign, Queen Elizabeth. According to the register of St. Michael's parish, Southampton, “ the queen's majesty's grace came from the Castle of Netley to Southampton, on the thirteenth day of August.” It is not improbable that, at this time, many parts of the abbey were in a sufficient state of repair to be fitted up for the reception of the queen's attendants.
If, at a later period, the abbey was really used as a dwelling-house for the Hertford family, they probably occupied the buildings, of which the ruins are still considerable, on the west and south sides of the great court. It is pretended that the church was then used as the family chapel: and Cage Keate, the poet, informs us that he had seen, in an interleaved almanack of the year 1665, which had belonged to a lady of the same family, an entry stating, that the lady of Francis, Lord Seymour-a younger branch of the Hertford family-lay in there of Charles, Lord Seymour, second Baron of Troubridge, who was baptized in the chapel. This part of the history of Netley Abbey is, however, very obscure. It is said to have passed in the latter part of the seventeenth century to the Earl of Huntingdon, who also resided there (according to the tradition). In 1700 it belonged to Sir Bartlet Lucy, who sold the materials of the church to a Mr. Taylor of Southampton; and from that period it appears that we are to date the commencement of the destruction of this once noble edifice.
The general style of this Church is that of the reign of Henry III., and the present building is doubtlessly coeval with that monarch's foundation. It formed the northern side of the abbey, and was, as usual, cruciform, having north and south transepts. The walls of the south transept remain nearly perfect to the roof; the south wall of the church also remains in nearly its whole elevation; but the north wall, which contained the larger windows, is in a less perfect condition, and the site of the north transept is only marked by a confused heap of rubbish, overgrown with trees and brambles. The east and west ends of the church are also standing. The north wall is supported externally by low buttresses; and some traces of buildings, with the heaps of rubbish on the ground, lead us to suppose that
there was one or more smaller external buildings, perhaps chapels, attached. The West Window, as well as the great eastern window, appears to have been, when perfect and filled with stained glass, extremely handsome and striking. The springings which supported the arches of the groined roof are still visible; and until a comparatively recent period, part of the roof itself remained standing, and among the ruins
various arms and devices were to be traced.” Its ruins, mixed with those of the columns which separated the aisles from the nave, still encumber the floor in a picturesque manner, partly covered with shrubs and plants, and held firmly together by the roots of lofty trees which have grown upon them. The old lady who has taken her station at the entrance of the abbey, to act as a guide to the interior, regards these shapeless heaps with peculiar attachment: and she fails not to tell the visitor, in accents of sorrowful indignation, of the recent depredations of a barbarian workman who was sent to gather up the “loose stones," and who did not hesitate to lay his sacrilegious hands on portions of that which was not loose. Vulgar tradition points out the largest of these masses as a monument of divine retribution on the wretch whose avarice led him to spoil the pious work of his forefathers; and it is believed that he lies buried beneath the rubbish which his own hand had dragged down.
“Here too (belief could old tradition claim),