Henry VIII,the Reign
Reading Abbey to Ewelme
Monday 12 Jul 1535
On the morning of 12 July after leaving Reading the train crossed Chazey Heath bound for Ewelme Palace, a journey of fifteen miles. Driving on towards Wallingford, before turning right off to the right at the Horsepond Road junction then crossing the Icknield Way (the way of the British Iceni) the advance section would have arrived at Ewelme by mid - afternoon.
The property, at that time, a royal retreat, had been seized by Henry VII upon the downfall of Edmund de la Pole and later Henry VIII granted it to his sister Mary, wife of the Duke of Suffolk Charles Brandon. Mary had died in 1533 and almost at once Brandon remarried Catherine Willoughby who in later life was one of the foremost voices of the reformation. She hailed from Lincolnshire and in 1535 in an exchange of properties Ewelme reverted to the king.
Before that however, through his marriage to Matilda Burghersh, in about 1395, Thomas Chaucer, son of poet Geoffrey came into the possession of Ewelme. Thomas’s mother, Philippa was the sister of John of Gaunt’s wife Katherine Swynford.
Gaunt and Chaucer were allied with John Wycliffe and Geoffrey Chaucer associated himself with the so-called Lollard Knights.
14th century John Wycliffe, often heralded as the ‘Morning star of the Reformation’ was a proponent of radical change in the church along the same lines as Cromwell and his party in the16th century – but not reform as advocated by Anne Boleyn.
At Ewelme she would have been reminded that Geoffrey Chaucer was a leading advocate of the development of the English language over her preferred French and he became known as the Father of English literature. He was also intimate with Richards II’s queen, Anne of Bohemia to who much of the spread of Wycliffe’s doctrine to Europe can be attributed, manifesting its self in the advent of Lutheranism.
Chaucer was Deputy Forester of the Royal Forest of North Petherton in Somerset, the heart of pre-Roman Christianity, and he is reputed to have written part of The Canterbury Tales while staying at Maunsel House there.
Jane Seymour’s Somerset roots now began to darken Anne Boleyn’s days.
All this was scene setting, by Cromwell’s party, for the events ahead. The king’s commissioners, led by Richard Layton, Thomas Leigh, John ap Rice and John London had also set out towards the West Country on their task to visit and value church property, the Valor Ecclesiasticus, which would bring about the destruction of the monastic buildings that Anne so desperately wanted to save.
There was however, some relief, Henry Norris was at Ewelme, he was bailiff, a friendly face, but within a year he and Anne would be dead, accused of adultery, convicted of treason and executed.