The History of Bisham Abbey
Bisham Abbey is a spectacular manor house located in the town of Bisham, Buckinghamshire, England. Today it is home to one of the National Sports Centres managed on behalf of Sport England; but this has not always been the case, below is a short history of the Abbey and its residents, some of whom are rumoured to still live there to this day.
The Manor House
Bisham Abbey is a Grade I listed manor house in Bisham. The name is taken from the monastery which once stood alongside the manor house. The Abbey church previously known as Bisham Priory was the traditional resting place over the years of many of the Earls of Salisbury who inhabited the manor house.
The manor house was built around 1260 for the Knights Templar; a very powerful order of knights in the Middle Ages. The Templar knights could be recognized by their white mantles with a red cross and were famed for fighting in the Crusades in the Holy Land. When the Templars were suppressed in 1307, King Edward II took over the manorial rights of the Abbey and granted them to various relatives.
In 1310 the building was used as a place of confinement for Queen Elizabeth of Scots, her husband Robert the Bruce, her stepdaughter Princess Marjorie and her sister in law, Lady Christine Carrick; following their capture on the Isle of Rathlin during the wars of the Scottish succession.
In 1335 the manor was bought by William Montacute, 1st Earl of Salisbury. In 1337 he founded Bisham Priory and was later buried there.
In 1540 Henry VIII left the manor house to his fourth wife of only 6 months, Anne of Cleves as part of her divorce settlement which also included Richmond Palace and Hever Castle. Anne later swapped the house with Sir Philip Hoby for Westhorpe in Suffolk and the Hoby family went on to live there until 1768 being regularly visited by Elizabeth I.
Lady Elizabeth Hoby was an English noblewoman and highly influential member of the court of Queen Elizabeth I, renowned for her poetry and musical talent. Elizabeth's first marriage was on 27 June 1558, to Thomas Hoby of Bisham Abbey. In March 1566 the couple moved to Paris where Thomas died in July of the same year. The couple had four children, a boy of unknown name, two girls, and another boy born after Thomas' death whom she named Thomas after her late husband. She also built a memorial chapel to her deceased husband in Bisham parish church.
Lady Hoby re-married in 1574 and had a further two daughters and a son. Legend has it that she mistreated her second son because of his slowness at lessons and he later died. The ghost of Lady Hoby is rumoured to still haunt the Great Hall where her portrait hangs to this day. Legend says she wishes to repent the death of her second son whose death she is believed to have caused.
The Priory’s foundation stone was laid in 1337 by King Edward II as the home for an order of Canons. Austin Canons take three vows, one of which is to live together in one community. Pope, Adrian IV (the only English Pope) was the most famous Canon from this order. The brass plaque once affixed to the Priory can still be seen at Denchworth in Oxfordshire and the Priory went on to hold the relics of Saints Cosmas and Damian for many years.
Bisham Priory was dissolved in July 1537, but was refounded six months later as a Benedictine Abbey, though this was not to last and was also dissolved six months later. In June 1538 all the monastic buildings were demolished. In dry weather, a rectangular and a round building used to be able to be seen beneath the grass; these are now the tennis courts! These may have once been part of the abbot’s house, which was once kept as a Royal lodging.
Residents Buried at Bisham Priory
The following is a list of former residents of Bisham Abbey buried at Bisham Priory:
- William Montacute, 1st Earl of Salisbury & 3rd Baron Montacute, d.1344 along with Catherine, his wife.
- William Montacute. 2nd Earl of Salisbury, d.1397
- William, d.1379/83, son of William Montacute, 2nd Earl of Salisbury
- John Montacute. 3rd Earl of Salisbury, d.1400 along with Maud his wife
- Thomas Montacute. 4th Earl of Salisbury, d.1428 and his two wives. He and his three-tier monument (as described in his will) can be seen depicted in the east window of Bisham Church.
- Richard Neville. 5th Earl of Salisbury, d.1460.
- Sir Thomas, d.1460, son of Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury
- John Neville, d.1471, Marquis of Montague and Earl of Northumberland
- Richard Neville "Warwick the Kingmaker", d.1471, 6th Earl of Salisbury and 16th Earl of Warwick
- Prince Edward, 8th Earl of Salisbury & 18th Earl of Warwick, d.1499, son of Prince George, Duke of Clarence
- Arthur Pole, son of Richard Pole & Margaret, Countess of Salisbury, 1539
The Curse of Bisham Priory
The Abbot of Bisham, John Cordery, is said to have cursed the building thus: "As God is my witness, this property shall ne’er be inherited by two direct successors, for its sons will be hounded by misfortune", as he was dragged from it. Today, nothing remains of the abbey church or its associated buildings.
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