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Tudor Athelhampton

Athelhampton’s Great Hall, its hammer-beam roof towering eight metres above visitors, was built by Sir William Martyn soon after Henry VII defeated Richard at Bosworth to end the Wars of the Roses and start the Tudor era; the elegantly angled West Wing and the superb kitchen were added as the last Tudor monarch, Elizabeth 1st, came to power.  Both structures survive to this day, largely unaltered from their Tudor glory, the division of the Martyn fortune at the end of the Elizabethan era leaving sufficient wealth to sustain the fabric but not enough for the destructive modernisation seen elsewhere.


The first section below tells how the Martyn family developed Athelhampton even as they tried to follow their Catholic faith at a time of growing religious repression. The second section gives glimpses of everyday Tudor life upstairs and downstairs that can still be seen at Athelhampton, whether in the kitchen or the chapel and describes some of the regularly-staged re-enactments. The third section identifies buildings linked to the Martyns that they could have reached in a day’s horse-ride of Athelhampton, and which can still be seen today, while the fourth section includes a number of relevant documents from the era and suggestions for further reading.

an overview
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The history of Athelhampton and the Martyn family in the Tudor era

Though living deep in rural Dorsetshire, the story of the Martyns who built Athelhampton is intimately connected to the great events of the time, including Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, the Babington plot to put Mary Queen of Scots on the throne, and Elizabeth’s struggle with Spain.

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Sir William Martyn: creation of the Great Hall and the early Tudor period

Sir William Martyn, who obtained permission from the newly-crowned Henry VII to crenelate his new Great Hall at Athelhampton and enclose it with 160 hundred acres of parkland, was head of the Dorsetshire branch of a family that came to England four centuries earlier with William the Conqueror – first and more distant cousins were spread far across the southern counties. We can assume that his wealth reflected the income from extensive land holdings, augmented through a series of canny marriage allowances. He himself maintained this tradition, marrying Isobel Farringdon, heiress to the many acres that her father owned around the village that still bears their family name some 45 miles north-west. To celebrate their union, the couple placed the Martyn family symbol – the Ape – and the Farringdon symbol – the Unicorn – in the stone statues on either side of the main entrance and chasing one another across the stonework above the fireplace in their bedroom – the Marriage Chamber. The origins of the Ape as the Martyn symbol are uncertain but seem likely to lie in the character Martin the Ape in the Reynard the Fox fables, the earliest known written version being the medieval Latin poem Ysengrimus, written around 1148–1153 by Nivardus.

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Sir William and Lady Isobel built a Great Hall twelve metres long and two-thirds as high, with a Minstrels’ Gallery and windows of expensive stained glass – one of the largest secular buildings in the county. Fashion was already shifting to favour smaller rooms, more intimate and easier to heat, so they seem to have been aiming to display wealth as much as to create a practical living space. They themselves could have the best of both worlds, using the Great Hall for grand gatherings and then leaving others to sleep there while they retreated to the warm privacy of their own room in the East Wing. Sadly, Lady Isobel had only a few years to enjoy this before she died in her 50s; Sir William outlived her long enough to remarry shortly before his own death in 1504, just three years before Henry VIII assumed the throne as the second Tudor monarch; the single Lancastrian rose he had placed on the door to the Great Hall underlined his commitment to the new dynasty.

Athelhampton passed to their son, Christopher Martyn, who owned it for two decades until his death in 1525, when it passed to their grandson, Robert Martyn, who married Elizabeth Kelway, another heiress to a local family fortune. Robert died in 1548, while still only in his late 30s, and the estate was inherited by their son, Nicholas Martyn. 

Nicholas Martyn takes over, 1548

Nicholas faced not only the challenge of taking over at an age when he had barely reached his majority; the political climate was also increasingly uncertain. Henry VIII had died the previous year and his son Edward had assumed the throne as a child-king, aged just 9. Not only did England pursue an ultimately disastrous war with Scotland at this time; but more relevant for the Martyns, who were a staunchly Catholic family, was that the Church of England was rapidly evolving away from the religious practices they followed.


A happy opportunity arose to address this difficult political situation. In 1549, just a year after Nicholas’ father had died, his widowed mother, Elizabeth, married Sir John Tregonwell, from Cornwall, on an early Summer’s day in the parish church at Puddletown, ten minutes walk from Athelhampton. Sir John was a powerful figure at the Tudor Court and seems to have kept in royal favour through the twisting fortunes of his time there. As a lawyer, he assisted Henry VIII with the divorce of Catherine of Aragon which paved the way for King’s marriage to Anne Boleyn, but he does not seem to have suffered when that union ended in Anne’s execution. He worked closely with Thomas Cromwell in the Dissolution of the Monasteries during the 1530s and amassed a fortune, but he avoided the extremes of power and wealth that led to Cromwell’s downfall and execution in 1540 and remained at Court during the remainder of Henry’s reign and throughout Edward’s. In short, he was a powerful and wealthy ally who could help the family at this time of great upheaval. 


Moreover, the support that this alliance offered could work in both directions. Four years after the marriage, King Edward fell ill and died, and after the failure of his deathbed attempt to pass the succession to Lady Jane Grey, his half-sister Mary came to the throne, and with her came the restoration of Catholicism and retribution to those who had sought to crush it. Now, Sir John could point to his wife’s family as deeply committed Catholics, and he was able to remain a Court lawyer under Mary.

Adding the West Wing

With the risks of religious politics kept at bay, Nicholas had the opportunity to start planning to spend the money brought into the Martyn family by his mother’s marriage and by his own union with Margaret Wadham, a co-heiress to the great wealth that was in part to found the eponymous Oxford College. He designed a large and handsome new West Wing at Athelhampton, set at an oblique angle to his great-grandfather’s Great Hall that both gives a striking, unusual elegance to the house to this very day, and also allows the rooms inside to be flooded with sunlight from early morning till late afternoon. The largest room was a great chamber that he would use not only to resolve disputes among the farmers on his own now extensive lands, but also to pass judgement on other cases in the role as Sheriff of Dorsetshire that he was to hold on two occasions in the coming years. Evidence of the funding from Sir John is provided by the repeated appearance of his family animals, three choughs (Cornish birds) in the stained glass of its windows.

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Mary’s half-sister, Elizabeth, was still alive, and with her the possibility that the religious pendulum could swing back. Perhaps reflecting this, Sir Nicholas, as he now was, incorporated a hidden priest hole in the design for the new West Wing. Indeed, the exact dates when the building was started and completed are not certain, and it is perfectly possible that it was still in planning or construction at the time when Mary fell ill and died in 1558, bringing Elizabeth to power. Sir John successfully continued his career at Court under the new Queen, but Sir Nicholas must have known that he was getting old and could not be relied on for support indefinitely (he eventually died in 1566), underlining the need for an effective hiding place for a priest. Taking advantage of being able to design it into a new building, rather than squeeze it into an existing one as happened in many other places, there was provision for a reasonable-sized room that could be entered both from Sir Nicholas’ chamber and via a hidden stair from the floor above, with a further exit to the outside.

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The new Kitchen

In addition to the West Wing, a superb new kitchen was also built around this time. Of course, we cannot know what discussions took place between Sir Nicholas and his wife Lady Margaret; but it is perfectly credible that she may have told him that since he was to have such a fine new room for his court cases, she should be allowed a proper kitchen where her cooks could prepare fine meals. Whatever the exact discussion, a large new kitchen, replacing a smaller one in the East Wing, was built at the back of the house, slightly separated from it to reduce smells and fire risks. Though not on the scale of the great royal kitchens at Hampton Court Palace, its design does bear a striking resemblance, which may reflect Sir John having been familiar with them. A two storey Gatehouse was also built around this time, forming a large courtyard in front of the house – this is the one major part of the Tudor structures that has not survived, having fallen into disrepair and been demolished in the nineteenth century.

New uncertainties as the Elizabethan era unfolds

After Sir John died in 1566, the threat of religious persecution increased as a succession of laws penalised those attending Mass and made it illegal to keep a priest. Not only had the Martyns now lost the protection of a powerful family member at Court; that marriage alliance now turned against them in a strange way. Sir John had bequeathed his property, including a great Tithe barn at Milton, to his young grandson, confusingly also called Sir John Tregonwell, but only after the death of his widow Elizabeth, grandma of the Martyn sisters. This triggered a bitter feud. Rather than waiting for his inheritance, the young Sir John claimed immediate possession of the barn. When he was denied it, he tried to seize it by force, which led to a fierce legal battle in the courts. Failing in this, he accused the old lady first of witchcraft and subsequently of hiding a priest – the latter was a correct assertion, but Sir Nicholas had sufficient influence locally to ensure that the fine was modest.

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The Four Martyn Sisters

For a while, Sir Nicholas and Lady Margaret may have been more focussed on domestic events than on these outside issues; in the 1550s and 1560s they had eleven babies. Sadly all four of the boys and three of the daughters died, leaving four girls who grew to adulthood. A wonderful brass in the Martyn chapel in the parish church at Puddletown commemorating this is still in place, with Sir Nicholas kneeling to the left with the sons behind him, and Lady Margaret to the right with the daughters; there is a reproduction in the visitor centre at Athelhampton. Sir Nicholas took the decision to settle his estates, including Athelhampton, equally on the four daughters, rather than allowing it to pass to a distant male relatives, as sometimes happened when there was no son. The four Martyn Sisters were now highly desirable heiresses; they were courted and began to be married. Elizabeth, the eldest, married Henry Brune sometime around 1570; Frances, the third, married Tom White in 1577; and Jane, the second, married Chidiock Tichborne, probably in the early 1580s.

The Martyns' involvement in the Babington Plot.

All these husbands were Catholics, but Chidiock went beyond simply practising his faith, taking extreme actions to promote it. He became involved with the plot organised by Anthony Babington to assassinate Queen Elizabeth and put her Catholic cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, on the throne. The group of plotters had been infiltrated by Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster, Francis Walsingham, and they were caught and executed. Henry Brune was also arrested and held in the Tower, but was released two months after the executions; it is unclear whether he was involved. 

Chidiock wrote a famous poem to his wife just before he died, My Prime of Youth is But a Frost of Cares Confusingly, it is addressed to “Agnes”, but this name in Tudor times was pronounced in a way that rhymed with Jane and was sometimes used as an endearment for religious women. This suggests it is not inconsistent with the overwhelming evidence for Chidiock’s marriage to Jane Martyn, in particular the records in the official Court Papers of the interrogation by Walsingham’s men of Chidiock’s servant. These describe in great detail the movements of Chidiock and Jane in the two years before the plot, including the times they spent with Sir Nicholas and Jane’s sister Frances.


With two sons-in-law having been implicated in the plot, and his mother convicted of hiding a priest, Sir Nicholas was clearly anxious to demonstrate his loyalty to the Crown, and he provided horses as part of the preparations to resist the Spanish Armada in 1588 – the great natural harbour at Weymouth, just 15 miles from Athelhampton, being seen as a high risk location for the invading force to land. In the event, though a significant naval engagement took place off the coast there, the Armada passed by without landing.

The Timeline

Ownership split at the end of the Tudor era

After Chidiock’s execution, Jane remarried, to Tristram Dillington from the Isle of White; he sadly died young and she married for a third time. Meanwhile the youngest Martyn sister, Anne, married in the 1590s, to Anthony Floyer, from a Catholic family that had been based in Exeter. Sir Nicholas was now in his mid-60s, and in 1596 he died. The estate passed to the four sisters, while the Lady Margaret lived on for 15 more years. 


As the Tudor era drew to a close, with Queen Elizabeth dying in 1603,. ownership of the house was divided four ways; the shares of the descendents of the three older sisters were gradually amalgamated in the early Jacobean period and then sold as one unit, while the share of Anne, the youngest, remained in her descendent’s hands for a quarter of a millennium, until the mid-1800s. Partly reflecting this split ownership, the house was often not lived in by its owners, and was at times used by tenant farmers; the fabric was maintained but there was no money or incentive to modernise it, allowing the Tudor structure to survive into the modern era largely unaltered.


The struggle between the Martyns and the young Sir John is re-told in Anne of Athelhampton and the Riddle of the Apes, while the family’s involvement in the Babington plot features in Anne of Athelhampton and the Queen of England’s Pearls, both novels written by Giles Keating and published by Athelhampton Press

Upstairs, Downstairs: Everyday Tudor life at Athelhampton

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Finely woven Damask on the Four Poster Bed

Sir Nicholas Martyn and Lady Margaret would have woken up every morning in a fine Tester bed in the Marriage Chamber, curtains of fine Damask drawn around its four posts to make a room-within-a-room that kept in the heat on cold nights as the warmth from the last logs on the fire under the stone apes and unicorns on the mantelpiece finally died away. Today, you can see a finely-carved Tudor bed from the 1530s in the Marriage Chamber; the elegant red damask that makes up its curtains and bedspread have been woven by using traditional methods by Humphries, one of the last specialist weavers in the UK, to a 16th-century pattern – the Athelhampton Weave. You can still see the holes along the sides of the lower bed timbers that would have held ropes to support the fresh straw mattress that the family would have used.


There is no privy, and the Martyns would have used a commode (ceramic bowl inside a wooden box) like the one you can see at the other end of the house in the King’s Room, with a servant having the regular morning duty to empty it. However, there is an ensuite chapel, which would have been especially important for the Lady Margaret and her ancestors during the month-long confinement prior to the due date for giving birth – she would have had an experienced midwife and plenty of hot water and clean cloths, but little else to help with birthing apart from the regular prayers that she would have offered in the little chapel. Once the baby had been born, it would be tightly swaddled in a long linen strip wound round and round its body and limbs, and placed in a wooden cot like the one you can see today, and gently rocked to sleep.

Getting Dressed

When the Lady Margaret was ready to rise, she would have put on layers of fine linens, culminating in an attractive dress known as a kirtle, while her husband might have worn fine velvets with lace collars and cuffs – you can see the Tudor re-enactors at Athelhampton dressed this way in the picture here. 


Tudor Cooking in Athelhampton

Meanwhile across the rear courtyard, the maidservants in their cheap woollen kirtles (picture) would be working in the laundry, while in the spacious kitchen next to it the men servants prepared the midday meal, directed by the Head Cook. Under the great brick arch of the kitchen range, which is still there today, a suckling pig might be turning on the iron spit made by a local blacksmith – the one there now is modern, made by Giles Stuart in his 17th century forge to the traditional design. Alongside pork, another speciality that probably featured regularly on the Tudor menu at Athelhampton was roast dove, since the ancient Dovecote on the West Lawn (which predates the rest of the house) would have provided copious birds. 


On the opposite side of the kitchen, soup and vegetables, grown on the surrounding farms, would be simmering on the pot boilers – the Tudor equivalent of today’s hob, at more or less standard worktop height off the floor. They have small fires near ground level, the heat from which rises through a series of holes to warm the pots standing above them on iron trivets fashioned by Giles.

Like other Tudor kitchens, the one at Athelhampton was laid out to provide a smooth workflow that ensured the right dishes reach the right people. You can still see the key components of this system: a hatch for the empty plates to be passed “in” to the kitchen, linked to the “out” hatch by a long narrow table on which the cooks arranged the food elegantly on the plates – known as a “dresser” in Tudor times. The servants would stand on the courtyard side of the “out” hatch, picking up the loaded plates as they came through and carrying them over to the main house and into the Great Hall to be served to Sir Nicholas, Lady Margaret, their guests and family. It was the responsibility of the steward, a key figure in the household, to ensure that this all ran smoothly – and that neither food nor the pewter on which it was served went missing.

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The stained glass in the Great Hall

During the meal, the youngest of the sisters, Anne, still unmarried, might glance up at the stained glass in the beautiful Oriel window, where in successive panes the Martyn arms of silver and red (argent, bars gules) shared the shield with (impaled) those of the families that had formed marriage alliances in the past. The panels to the left stretched back into long-ago history but to the right were the arms of her grandmothers’ families: the Kelways (argent, four pears vert between four grozing irons saltire); and the Wadhams (gules, a chevron between three roses argent). She would have known that a hundred years earlier, some of these shields had been left incomplete so that new marriage partners could be added, but now they were all full. Might she have wondered if that was somehow a portent that the line of male Martyns at Athelhampton was coming to an end? 

Dispensing Justice in the West Wing

She might have seen her father finish his meal, stand up and slip through the narrow door beside those stained glass windows, and she would have known that he was going to his new great chamber in the West Wing. There he would hear petitions and, in his years as Sheriff, pass judgement on miscreants. You can still sit on the long bench in the antechamber just outside his chamber, waiting as his petitioners would have done, in winter grateful for the good-sized fireplace. When you went in to stand before him, you might not be aware that hidden behind the panelling to your right was a secret room where the family priest could hide – it is still there today. After Sir Nicholas had ruled on the day’s cases, he might take a ride round his estates, and if Anne had finshed tending to her sister’s hair, she might have joined him, perhaps riding side-saddle. Their horses would have been kept in the stables that now form one wing of the thatched cafe at the side of the gardens.

Music and Plays in the Great Hall

In the evening, the four sisters might come together in the Great Hall to play viol and sing, perhaps choosing the religious music of William Byrd, or a traditional ballad if there was to be dancing. Maybe occasionally a group of traveling players would come to Athelhampton – playwrights such as Anthony Munday were already tapping into the Elizabethan public’s enthusiasm for entertainment before Shakespeare and Marlowe.  And, the Hall most likely echoed to the songs of the shepherds and farmers at the harvest suppers in Autumn


Buildings within a day's horse-ride that the Martyns would have known

Like a modern family, Sir Nicholas and Lady Margaret would probably have travelled to the nearby houses of their married daughters. Modern travellers can go inside one of these houses and view the church next door to one of the others.

Houses of the Martyn sisters:

Elizabeth, the eldest daughter married Henry Brune in 1573. Shortly after their marriage, Nicholas made a new will and agreement with Henry setting out that his daughters would inherit Athelhampton, rather than a male cousin. This was unusual for the time. Nicholas and Margaret's four sons had died before this time.


Elizabeth and Henry had nine children, and lived for the majority of their time at Athelhampton, and to a lesser amount at their family home in the village of Plumber, near Lydlinch in Dorset.  When Nicholas Martyn died in 1595 only four daughters were alive, but in another twist of fate just weeks before Nicholas' death in 1595, Henry Brune died aged 39, leaving Elizabeth the eldest daughter as a widow. Without a new will, Elizabeth's son Charles Brune would inherit the share of Athelhampton, which would become home to multiple generations of the family.


Charles would spend his time at Athelhampton and near Lydlinch as his parents did. Their home in the village of Plumber, was rebuilt by Charles, in the 1600s when his mother re-married, and centuries later Plumber Manor is now a hotel and restaurant owned by his descendants.

Jane, second of the four sisters, married Chidiock Tichborne in the early 1580s and initially lived with him in his Hampshire house: Longwood at Owselbury near Winchester, a long way from Athelhampton by horse. In December 1584, they came to stay with Frances at Fiddleford, and then in April 1585 they moved into a new Tudor manor at Almer, just ten miles from Athelhampton. This house is visible from the main A35 road, just opposite the high walls of the Drax estate. While it is private property and cannot be visited, it is possible to wander round the adjoining eleventh century church of St Mary and its graveyard, which Jane would have been familiar with when she lived next door.

Chidiock and Jane rented the Almer house from Christopher Anketill, who was employed by one of Queen Elizabeth’s favourite courtiers, Sir Christopher Hatton (whose name was later applied to London’s Hatton Garden, the onetime location of a palace that the Queen had taken from a bishop to give to him). A year after arriving at Almer, Chidiock obtained a post in Hatton’s Yeomanry in London, bringing him close to the other plotters who were to lead him to his downfall. At some time in the five or six years after Chidiock’s execution, Jane took a new husband, Tristram Dillington, and most likely went to live at Knighton Gorges Manor on the Isle of Wight, which fell into disrepair and was demolished in 1820. After Tristram Dillington's death, Jane would marry for a third time to Edward Richards, she died in 1623, leaving her husband and 3 children.

Frances, the third daughter, exchanged vows with lawyer Tom White at Puddletown Church in September 1577  and went to live with him and their children at Fiddleford Manor, an easy ride 17 miles north of Athelhampton. Her house was some two hundred years old when she moved in; it had been acquired from the original owners by her husband’s grandfather. Though smaller and older than Athelhampton, it is beside the river Stour and would have been a pleasant place to live. A magnificent hall and solar, comprising about a third of the house as it would have been in Frances’ day, are open to the public (no charge): Frances’ new home brought her to within just four miles of her eldest sister, Elizabeth's when she was staying near Lydlinch with her first husband Henry Brune and their children.

Anne, the youngest sister, did not marry until the 1590s. She went to live with her husband, Anthony Floyer, whose family had lived at the ancient manor of Floyer Hayes, Exeter for half a millennium, but had recently moved to a newly built manor house at Stanton St Gabriel, twenty-seven miles from Athelhampton on the far side of Bridport. A few remnants of the manor remain, incorporated into a farmhouse, but it is private property. Anne's inheritance, a quarter share of Athelhampton was rarely occupied by the Floyer family. After Anthony’s death in 1608, Anne went to live in Monmouthshire, while her son purchased a new property in Dorset. The Floyer family would sell their share of Athelhampton two centuries later.

Milton Abbey - Grandma's home:

Lady Elizabeth, paternal grandma of the four Martyn sisters (and mother of Sir Nicholas) was widowed at a relatively early age, and re-married. Her second husband was Sir John Tregonwell who, as one of his rewards from Henry VIII for working on the Dissolution of the Monasteries, was allowed to purchase Milton Abbey. (The price was high, at £1,000, but he was probably able to finance it from other funds obtained during the Dissolution.) He moved into the former Abbot’s House with his new bride, and we can imagine her son and grand-daughters riding the 8 or so miles from Athelhampton to visit her. The estate passed down through his descendants until 1752 when it was sold to the Damer family, who demolished all buildings except part of the church to make way for a new house and created a lake where Milton town had been, moving the residents into new dwellings. The church is in a beautiful valley and is open to the public.

Park Pale - the Cozin's house:

When Nicholas inherited Athelhampton in 1548, his younger brother Thomas was also provided for by their father. At the eastern end of their great-great-grandfathers 160 acre deer park the Martyn family owned the ancient manors of Tolpuddle and Southover. Within the manor of Tolpuddle stood the farmhouse at Park Pale, named after the type of fence known as a 'pale' at the end of the park. The farmhouse would become home to Thomas and his descendants for the next century. When Nicholas prepeared his agreement with his son in law, Henry Brune, for his wife Elizabeth and her sisters to inherit Athelhampton, further land was granted to Thomas so that he and his dedcendants would not claim to be the lawful male heir. The building no longer stands, a few remnants are likely in a later farmhouse, however a footpath still marks the boundary of the deer park and the route that Elizabeth, Jane, Francis and Anne would take to visit their cousins.

Tyneham - another plot, modern vandalism:

Tyneham House was a fine Elizabethan manor house situated in a valley near the sea some 18 miles south-west of Athelhampton. In the 1580s, it was home to John Williams, a kinsman to the Martyns by marriage – his spouse was sister to Henry Brune. There is some evidence that he was involved in a plot instigated by Queen Elizabeth’s enemies on the continent the year before Babington’s, though it is not conclusive. Centuries later, the house was sequestered by the Army during the Second World War as part of a firing range. Promises to restore it and the nearby village to their owners were reneged on despite a vigorous campaign. It was demolished in 1968 and the remains cannot be seen by the public, but the Army eventually granted access to the ghost village and the farm beside it when no exercises are taking place, making it a popular local destination. Panelling from one of its rooms was placed in the Dorset Museum, and the connection with Athelhampton was revived in the 1960s when the rescued stones framing its front door were placed at the end of the rectangular pond in the gardens, where they can be seen today.

Old Wardour Castle - divided loyalties

LDuring the Twelve Days of Yuletide at the end of 1584, Sir Nicholas Martyn was guest of Sir Matthew Arundell at Wardour Castle, 30 miles north of Athelhampton. With him were Jane and Chidiock, and most likely the Lady Margaret and the other Martyn daughters and their spouses. The Arundells were a Catholic family, some of whom maintained loyalty to Queen Elizabeth, while others moved to France and actively plotted against her. The Castle was built in the fourteenth century and today is a dramatic ruin on a spectacular site, open to the public.

Documents and suggested further reading


1. General, including the Martyn link to the Babington plot:


Rachel Lloyd’s “Dorset Elizabethans at Home and Abroad”, John Murray, London, 1967 (especially Chapter II pp 62-125). This is an excellent book on many aspects of Dorset in the Tudor era, and includes good primary references, in particular to the relevant Court Papers.


2. The Martyn family symbol: the Ape


The ape appears repeatedly at Athelhampton, both in the stonework and in the stained glass, where it forms part of the Martyn family arms. One possible way to understand this is to look at the character Martyn the Ape in the ancient Reynard the Fox fables. These tales are believed to originate in oral tradition, with the earliest known written version being the medieval Latin poem Ysengrimus, written around 1148–1153 by Nivardus; another early version in Latin was collected by Odo of Cheriton.  Over the next two centuries, versions in early French, German and Dutch appeared, with some examples of pages of beautiful illuminated manuscripts shown on this British Library blog entry, which also has a link to a digitised 260 page extract:


In 1481, an English translation was produced by William Caxton. The following quotes show that the character of Mertyne the Ape is a clerical figure full of wisdom and good advice. Reynard The Fox, the villainous anti-hero of the fables, says: “And then it happened that Mertyne, mine Eme [uncle], the Ape, met with me, which is wiser in clergy than some priest. He hath ben advocate for the Bishop of Cameryk nine year during.” Mertyne replies: “I know the way to Rome well. I understand me on this work. I am called there Mertyne the bishop’s clerk, and am well beknowen there. I shall do cite the Archdeacon and take a plea against him, and shall bring with me for you an absolution against his will, for I know there all that is for to be done or left. There dwelleth Simon, mine Eme, which is great and mighty there. Who that may give aught, he helpeth him anon. There is Prentout, Wayte, Scathe, and other of my friends and allies…..”


These quotes are taken from “The History of Reynard the Fox”, page 63, as translated by William Caxton in 1481 from the Middle Dutch version “Van den vos Reynaerde”, and reprinted in 1889 by George Routledge, London, Edited by Henry Morley. The full PDF in English is available online here: While Mertyne the Ape is associated with Wisdom in the Reynard the Fox tales, some authors such as Will Drew associate apes with less pleasant traits; Elizabeth Chadwick cites some medieval sources for them being associated with sin, malice, cunning and lust:



3. Sir John Tregonwell (abt. 1498-1566) and his grandson of the same name Parliamentary biographers refers to him studying at London College, Oxford. This was a college, founded “when the Jews were expelled” and then later re-named London College in the time of Henry IV, after the Bishop of London was educated there.  Then in 1525, it was pulled down, to be replaced by Cardinal’s College (for Cardinal Wolsey), which also used lands of St Frideswide Priory, which was dissolved. The King closed it in 1531, refounded it the next year as Henry VIII college, then again in 1546 as Christ Church College. Details: .. this also says London College was “a place for the study of Civil Law”Page 317

Greig, John (1810). A History of the Colleges, Halls, and Public Buildings, Attached to the University of Oxford: Including the Lives of the Founders. Printed by Collingwood and co. pp. 330Sir John was Principal of Vine Hall/Peckwater Inn in 1530, which were later given to Christ Church by Henry VIII in 1547, and today Peckwater Quad still carries the name.  

Accusations of witchcraft by Young Sir John Tregonwell against the Lady Elizabeth (nee Kelway) Tregonwell. These accusations are described in: Star Chamber proceedings, 20/99, Tregonwell v Martin. The Plaintiff is John Tregonweall (not yet knighted at the time of the case): Plaintiff [John Tregonwell of Mylton, Esq.] is stated to have treated Dame Elizabeth discourteously and … and also had maintained against Dame Elizabeth “an evill dyspozed woman comenlie taken, reputed and named in that countrey to be a witche.”


The Battle for the Tithe Barn: The battle itself is described in Star Chamber proceedings, 20/99, Tregonwell v Martin. Reproduced here in full: John Tregonwell of Mylton, Esq., states that Sir John Tregonwell, knt., (deceased) was, besides other lands, seized in fee of a great barne and 600 acres of arable in Mylton alias Mydleton which plaintiff as “cozen” and heir–at–law of Sir John, being son and heir of Thomas Tregonwell, Esq., decd., who was son and heir of Sir John, claimed by right of descent. But on the 11th day of December in the 16th year of Queen Elizabeth, James Martyn of Mylton, gent., George Bingham of Mylton, gent, John Wytterage of Mylton, yeoman, Christopher Devoll of Mylton, yeoman, John Chesman of Southover, husbandman, Rychard Moryshe of Mylton, husbandman, Humphrie Squibb of Mellcombe, yeoman, John Melemouth of Mylton, husbandman, Henry Haley, William Hix of Melcombe, husbandman, John Chapman of Mylton, James Drew of Athelhampton, husbandman, Jollefe Maypowder of Mylton, labourer, riotously assembled to disseise plaintiff of the barn and land, and a great quantity of corn in the barn valued at 550 marks.


These persons “about 12 o′clock in the dead and deepe of the night ” arrived with bows, arrows, guns, swords, bills “and great long staves wth pykes of stele in thend” and shouting and howling marched towards the barn. Two of the plaintiff′s servants were at the barn and after the rioters had broken open the door one of the plaintiff′s servants named Thomas Kexston was “deadly wounded and is not likely to recover” and the other Walter Bearde “with a sheaf of arrowes was fast nayled to the wall.” Subsequently the whole town was raysed and the constables and inhabitants dispersed the rioters.


Some defendants (whose names are missing) answer that the barn and lands were not justly the property of plaitiff till the death of Dame Elizabeth Tregonwell widow of Sir John. Plaintiff is stated to have treated Dame Elizabeth discourteously and to have “presumed to beate and wound one of the manuel servants of Dame Elizabeth within her dwelling home where complainant was very friendly enterteyned” and also had maintained against Dame Elizabeth “an evill dyspozed woman comenlie taken, reputed and named in that countrey to be a witche.”



4. Music, plays and festivals


While we have no direct record of the music that might have been played at Athelhampton in Tudor times, various sources describe what happened elsewhere. 


The Viol


An excellent short summary of the viol in Tudor England is given at As well as describing the introduction of the viol to Henry VIII’s Court and later adoption, and the adaption of choral pieces to provide most of the early music for the viol, this article notes examples of not only the sons but also the daughters in country houses receiving tuition.  An example of the work of Master William Byrd:  “Christe qui lux es et dies/


Religious music: William Byrd:Thomas Tallis and, in particular, the younger William Byrd, were two of the best-known composers of their day. There are numerous resources describing their lives, and containing a wealth of references, some recent examples include

Harley, John (2010). The World of William Byrd: Musicians, Merchants and Magnates. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate. ISBN 9781409400882.; McCarthy, Kerry (2013). Byrd. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195388756See Cantiones quae ab argumento sacrae vocantur, 1575.


The words for Non Nobis Domine can be found at (for example) while a translation into English, or other languages, can be found in any Bible as the first line of Psalm 115. The music is at The meaning of the prayer is explained at


Traditional Dorset songs


A version of “As I walked out one May morning” was published between 1689 and 1709 by W Onley of London and is available in the Bodleian Ballard Collection. A collection was made by Henry Hammond in 1905-1907 and published in 1907 by Novello & Co, London, as Folk Songs of England, Edited by Cecil J Sharp, Book 1, Folk Songs from Dorset.  Facsimiles of Hammond’s original notes, referring to almost 200 titles, are available at: While this is an early twentieth century source, it represents a writing-down of an oral tradition that had been handed down across the generations in a rural community largely untouched by the Industrial Revolution.


Playwrights and travelling players in the earlier Elizabethan era


For the play Fidele and Fortuno, full text by the original Italian author, from which Anthony Munday seems to have taken inspiration:


Anthony Munday’s authorship is supported by: Richard Hosley, 'The Authorship of "Fedele and Fortunio"', Huntington Library Quarterly, Vol. 30, No. 4 (Aug., 1967), pp. 315-330. Published by: University of California Press.  For a debate over Munday’s religious affiliation, see:


Evidence that the Kings men (who later became Shakespeare’s troupe) performed in Bridport; this article also mentions travelling troupes performing in large houses. However, there is no direct evidence of earlier travelling performers in Dorset. 


Harvest suppers


Evidence for the existence of Harvest festivals in Tudor times comes from the play by Thomas Nashe, Summer's Last Will and Testament, (first published in London in 1600 but believed from internal evidence to have been first performed in October 1592 at Croydon):


Merry, merry, merry, cheary, cheary, cheary,
Trowle the black bowl to me;
Hey derry, derry, with a poupe and a lerry,
Ile trowle it again to the:

Hooky, hooky, we have shorn,
And we have bound,
And we have brought Harvest
Home to town. 

weatherbury farm
the harvest supper
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