Wednesday 2 December 2015

Blog Tour: Claire Ridgway

I am delighted to welcome Claire Ridgway to the blog as part of her tour for her new book, Tudor Places of Great Britain. Claire Ridgway is the author of the best-selling books George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier and Diplomat (co-written with Clare Cherry); On This Day in Tudor History; The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Countdown; Sweating Sickness: In a Nutshell and both instalments in The Anne Boleyn Collection. Claire was also involved in the English translation and editing of Edmond Bapst's 19th century French biography of George Boleyn and Henry Howard, now available as Two Gentleman Poets at the Court of Henry VIII. 

Claire worked in education and freelance writing before creating The Anne Boleyn Files history website and becoming a full-time history researcher, blogger and author. The Anne Boleyn Files is known for its historical accuracy and Claire's mission to get to the truth behind Anne Boleyn's story. Her writing is easy-to-read and conversational, and readers often comment on how reading Claire's books is like having a coffee with her and chatting about history. Claire is also the founder of The Tudor Society.

In her latest book, Tudor Places of Great Britain, Claire guides the reader through properties linked to Tudor monarchs and prominent people of the time, from impressive palaces like Hampton Court Palace, through romantic monastic ruins and merchant houses, to unspoilt villages like Lavenham and Weobley. With over 175 listings, which include descriptions and highlights, full address and website details, Tudor Places of Great Britain is a comprehensive guide to British Tudor places. Claire has very kindly contributed a piece on the monastic ruins for this blog, which I'm so happy to share and hope readers enjoy as much as I did.

My favourite monastic ruins

Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries had a major impact on the English landscape, as well as on the English people. Beautiful buildings which had stood for centuries were either turned into luxury abodes by favoured courtiers or ransacked, then left to fall into ruin. Although some disappeared from the landscape entirely, thankfully a fair few have been saved and protected by organisations like English Heritage so that they can be enjoyed by us and by future generations.
Three of the most beautiful monastic ruins, favourites of mine, can be found in the county of Yorkshire in the north of England. These are the abbeys of Fountains, Jervaulx and Rievaulx. Here are some extracts from Tudor Places of Great Britain to whet your appetite for these fantastic historic sights.

Jervaulx Abbey

These haunting ruins, situated in 126 acres of parkland at the entrance to Wensleydale, were once a great Cistercian Monastery. The monastery was founded in 1146 at Fors near Aysgarth but moved just a few years later due to the terrain at Fors being unsuitable. It stood for nearly 400 years, until it was pillaged after its dissolution in 1547.

© Copyright Mike and Kirsty Grundy and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. 
In the early 19th century, Thomas Brudenell Bruce, Earl of Ailesbury, discovered the ruins and set about exploring them. Discoveries at this time included the abbey church and choir, high altar, tombs and chapter house. In 1984, restoration work and conservation work began on the site, with care being taken to protect the 200+ species of flora and fauna that had made the abbey their home.
Visitors today can enjoy the beautiful and tranquil ruins and surroundings, followed by a drink and cake in the Jervaulx Abbey Tea Rooms.

© Copyright Mike Searle and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. 

Rievaulx Abbey

This Cistercian abbey was founded in 1132 and became one of the most influential abbeys in the north of England, housing a community of 650 people in the 1160s.

It was dissolved in 1538 and pillaged for its lead, but its ironworks, which included a prototype blast furnace, continued to be used well into the 17th century. After that, it became a haunt for poets, painters, and scholars who appreciated its romantic ruins and setting.

Rievaulx is said to be the most complete and impressive abbey in the whole of the UK, and its location on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors is just stunning. Visitors can listen to an audio tour, follow in the footsteps of medieval pilgrims by doing the one-hour Helmsley Castle to Rievaulx Abbey walk, or simply enjoy the beautiful scenery.

© Copyright David P Howard and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Fountains Abbey

The World Heritage Site of Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal is the setting of the best preserved Cistercian monastery in the country. The ruins tell the story of 408 years of monasticism, of years of riches, ruin and revival, brought to a close by the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII. The site also encompasses Fountains Hall, Fountains Mill and the Georgian water gardens of Studley Royal.

The long history of Fountains Abbey began in 1132 when a group of thirteen disaffected monks from St Mary’s Abbey in York came to this valley to found a reformed house. After early struggles, the abbey began to thrive, prospering from farming and the wool trade, and building the abbey to the glory of God. The later middle ages brought huge challenges: much of Yorkshire was laid to waste by the Scottish raids following the Battle of Bannockburn, and the Black Death further devastated the population. The population of monks at Fountains decreased dramatically and the abbey’s granges, previously farmed by members of the monastic community, were tenanted.

However, as the Tudor period brought stability to the country, Fountains Abbey saw a period of revival. Abbot Darnton (1479-1495) carried out a programme of repair and remodelling in the church, including the addition of the vast east window. Abbot Huby (1495-1526) built the huge new tower to demonstrate the status of both abbey and abbot. This period saw a softening of the ideas of the community – there is evidence that they began to eat meat and to move from the austere cloister to more comfortable accommodation in the infirmary. There is no evidence, however, of the more colourful rule breaking that Cromwell’s visitation report “revealed”.

The general visitation of the monasteries was carried out in Yorkshire by Drs Leyton and Leigh and they arrived at Fountains in January 1536. They reported that Abbot Thirsk (1526-36), “a very foul and miserable idiot”, was stealing and selling jewels from the abbey, and that he kept six whores. Thirsk was persuaded to resign, went on to join the Pilgrimage of Grace and was executed at Tyburn.
Following the Pilgrimage of Grace, the dissolution of the larger monasteries began and on 26th November 1539, it was Fountains’ turn. In October 1540 the estate was sold to Richard Gresham, who dismantled the abbey according to the conditions of the sale. The lead from windows, roofs and pipes was removed and melted down on fires made from doors, stalls and screens. The dormitories and church were made unusable and we can still see the marks where the marble was levered off the columns in the Chapel of the Nine Altars.

In 1597, the estate was sold to Stephen Procter, who built Fountains Hall, just upriver of the abbey, from designs by the Elizabethan architect Robert Smythson and using some of the stone from the abbey.

Today’s visitor can still see much of the abbey, the great Elizabethan Fountains Hall, and the medieval mill, which saw continuous use until the 1930s.

Of course, they're not the only dissolved monastic properties to be featured in my book, I also cover  Bayham Old Abbey, Syon House, Waltham, Whitby Abbey, Furness Abbey, Lilleshall Abbey, Wroxall Abbey and Neath Abbey.


Thank you so much to Claire for that piece. More information on the blog tour is provided in the image below and Tudor Places of Great Britain is available now from Amazon. To win a copy of Tudor Places of Great Britain, please leave a comment sharing your thoughts either on monastic ruins or on Claire's piece. The winner's name will be selected by a random computer generator, after I enter them all, and we'll announce next week.


  1. Really interesting. Here in my country we have also got some old ruins, but they date mostly from the 19th century. I advise you to visit San Pedro de Arlanza, in Burgos, a weary, beautiful monastery. Anyway, I'm longing for visiting those old ruins you talk about. England is so interesting!

  2. What an amazing read . I dream to visit UK one day and will plan a trip around this book.

  3. Claire's work on The Anne Boleyn Files was my first real introduction to Tudor history. I continue to learn a great deal from her work, and yours, Gareth. Thank you!

  4. It is a shame, that these abbeys are in ruins. They must have been imposing sites for their times. Rievaulx looks massive.

  5. Lovely article, Claire. I love visiting ruins of our monastries, but it is a pity that we cannot rebuild them. These buildings should never have been allowed to be used as sites to be raided for building materials by the locals, their led and roof tiles sold off; they should never have been allowed to beovergrown and had it not been for the Victorians thinking of them as romantic ruins they would not have been preserved as they are today. The Victorians used to have walks and picnics in their grounds. They became the backdrops for artists and plays and poems and because of this interest in them as places of historical culture arose. Thankfully today people who preserve ancient monuments; English heritage look after these monastic buildings and grounds, they are well cared for and have become an important part of our national heritage. The gardens are well laid out, the tiles have in many cases been restored and mosaics recovered and relaid; their churches tower over country houses or the fields of orchards and of rural areas; some have become incorporated into new sites; with libraries and cafes in their midst; their stones can tell us a million haunted tales; their history can transport our imagination. In some cases museums lovingly recreate the monastic lifestyle and in others the chaple or church has been preserved. Some are magestic against the countryside; others are small but tell us that once men and women passed through these stone walls and dedicated their lives to God and to the local community. I love the ruins, but I love their stories more. In some cases you can feel their tragic ends and in places like Whalley and Sawley you can still feel the spirit of those monks hung from their walls by their Tudor repressors. Furness and Cartmel may have been given pensions and a peaceful handover; Sawley was at the centre of Catholic resistance; her monks slaughtered and hung from their own cloisters. We must not merely see them as romantic ruins but a testament to a better time; a testament to something deeper that the Tudors stole from our land.

  6. I enjoyed this article! It's a shame that those old monasteries/building do not exist today. But we can still learn from their ruins!


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