September 2016

Ken Groves: William Shakespeare’s Erudition and the Trio: Wriothesley, Florio and Titchfield
September 2016

During the talk, entitled, “Wriothesley, Florio and Titchfield”, given to the Lymington and District Historical Society by Ken Groves, the speaker gave an outline of the history of Titchfield.

He said Titchfield was a significant village in pre-Norman times and Domesday records there were 16 villeins; 13 borders with 9 ploughs; 4 serfs and a mill worth 20 shillings. The market and and toll were worth 40 shillings. In addition Titchfield was a small but significant port on the eastern side of Southampton Water.

TAdding more importance to the village was the founding of Titchfield Abbey in 1231 by the Bishop of Winchester, Peter des Roches. The Abbey was the home of Premonstratensian canons: they lived a communal life under monastic vows, but were also involved in serving the wider community by preaching and teaching. Of the 14 or 15 canons, 2 served as vicars at nearby churches. In 1415, Henry V rested at the Abbey whilst his army was being assembled at Southampton prior to sailing to Honfleur, soon to fight the French at Agincourt. Thirty years later, Henry VI was married at Titchfield Abbey to Margaret of Anjou. Like so many abbeys, Titchfield was virtually destroyed by Henry VIII during the dissolution of the monasteries. This upheaval was a real watershed for Titchfield. In the village itself, little now remains visible from the middle ages and its importance has slowly declined over the years.

The abbey and much of its lands belonging not only to Titchfield but also to the Cistercian abbey at Beaulieu were granted to Thomas Wriothesley, Lord Chancellor of England and an important supporter of King Henry VIII. In 1544 he was created Baron Wriothesley of Titchfield and in 1547, as instructed by the King in his will, Earl of Southampton. Following the dissolution, Titchfield was never the same again.

Utilising the church building and with stone from the abbey, a handsome mansion, Place House, was built by the first Earl which became the country home of the Earls until the mid 17th century when the house had passed out of their hands It was finally abandoned in 1781 and remains to this day as a significant ruin.

The third Earl made changes to the village. In 1611 he closed off the mouth of the River Meon with a shingle bank which overnight ruined the village as a port. In its place he constructed a canal to carry goods between the village mill and the coast.

The speaker then introduced an intriguing theme into his talk, recording that the Earl was a patron of the arts and entertained lavishly at Place House. The Earl developed friendships including John Florio who was born in London in 1553. He became a distinguished poet, linguist, lexicographer and a language tutor at the court of James I. It is said that for many years Florio lived at the home of the third Earl and he is one of the many individuals who, at various times, have been (improbably) proposed as the real author of the works of William Shakespeare! There is probably little doubt of Florio’s friendship with Shakespeare as the bard also became a friend of the third Earl and it is extremely likely they met not infrequently. It is further suggested that Shakespeare may have even written some of his works at Titchfield. There has long been much speculation of how Shakespeare spent his time whilst visiting the Earl of Southampton but what is known is that he dedicated two long narrative poems to the Earl, Venus and Adonis (1593) and The Rape of Lucrece (1594). Intriguing indeed!

The imposing and important village church of St. Peter, with the lower parts of the tower dating to Saxon times, demonstrates somewhere within its structure, virtually all periods of architecture. Inside are magnificent memorials to the Earls of Southampton and their family, a reminder of their impact on the village.

The next meeting of the Society is to be held on 28th October, and will be preceded by a short AGM. The title of the talk, to be given by Ruscombe Foster, is entitled “Florence Nightingale – a Hampshire Life and Death”. Visitors are warmly welcome.