We just returned from a trip to the U.K. where we had the opportunity to stay in a 14th century medieval inn, the Shaven Crown, for a couple of nights. Overlooking the village green, the Shaven Crown Inn is located in a quaint little village called “Shipton-under-Wychwood” * in the picturesque Cotswold district of England.
When you approach the Shaven Crown Inn you are immediately transported back in time … to 14th century Medieval England with flashes of Excalibur, jousting knights and coats of armor. The architecture is solid, heavy, grey … made of timber, adobe, stone and slate. And as you step through the arch into the inner cobbled courtyard with its massive double wooden doors, original hand-forged hinges and bolts, you know this building has tales to tell. The Great Hall is a magnificent beam-laden Tudor room with an impressive staircase leading off to the bedrooms on either side. I’m certain the large central fireplace provided the only heating source for this great room at one time, and was also the cooking center where heavy, cast-iron cauldrons were hung with soups, where bread was baked, and game was roasted.
Intrigued by the uniqueness of this building, of course, I had to do a little research. Little did we know that the Shaven Crown was one of the ten oldest inns in all of Great Britain, and has been documented as having been built by Bruern monks in 1384, specifically for what it is now, an Inn. No Inn could be complete without, of course, its resident ghost; and this one is no exception. From its monastic days, Brother Sebastian is said to be the ghost that haunts this venerable old hostelry.
Originally called ‘the Church of St. Mary’, Bruern Abbey was founded in 1147 by the Monks of Waverly in a remote, bucolic area just outside of Wychwood Forest. The name, Bruern, comes from a French and Latin word meaning ‘heath’, a large, uncultivated track of land. The monks, who then became known as the Bruern monks, built a small monastery to live and worship, to farm the land and raise sheep. Over the next hundred and more years the monastery grew and flourished, providing employment for hundreds of lay workers. After the monastery, came a grand Abbey, then a chapel for the lay people. A school was built, as well as a manor house, a convent for women, a mill, a tannery and many out buildings. The farm provided not only for the monks, but for the surrounding villages.
Then in 1384 the monks of Bruern Abbey constructed their last building, the Shaven Crown Inn, specifically as an Inn to house poor pilgrims and travelers. During these Medieval times, monasteries were not only part of the religious, economic and social fabric for the villages, they provided important centers for the poor and the needy, as well as resting places for travelers.
The Church of England, at that time, was very rich and very powerful. Enter King Henry VIII. (I’ve written about him before … see “From the Wine Trail to the Whisky Trail“.) Henry was a man of many appetites, not only food, but women as well. Henry was first married to Catherine of Aragon, Princess of Wales and a powerful woman in her own right. Their marriage produced one child, a girl, named Mary. Henry was desperate to have a son who would be heir to the throne. He became infatuated with Catherine’s hand-maiden, Anne Boleyn (perhaps you’ve heard of her), and they began an affair, from which she became pregnant.
Hoping for a son, Henry appealed to the most powerful ruler of all Europe, the Pope, to get an annulment from his marriage to Catherine in order to wed Anne**. He was refused. Despite the Pope’s rulings, Henry and Anne wed in a secret ceremony and the Pope retaliated by excommunicating them both. This angered Henry so much he decided to break England away from the church completely … and in 1538 King Henry VIII began what was to become the “Dissolution of the Monasteries”.
Now with a vendetta against the church, King Henry VIII began his strategy to break that powerful relationship between Rome and England. The Church held large, valuable tracts of land and buildings, paying little or no taxes to the landholders or the government. Henry started slowly so as not to cause an uproar among the local townspeople and began crossing the country, confiscating the property and buildings of the smaller, less powerful monasteries. Then he began taking larger, more important houses and holdings, systematically closing, selling or dismantling monastery after monastery.
This was devastating to the villagers and to the travelers and pilgrims who depended upon these community centers. Not only was there the great loss of the monastery as the center of the social and economic life of the village, monasteries housed great libraries with invaluable collections of manuscripts and paintings. Henry didn’t care. He may have begun this destruction as a way to control the Church and its holdings, but now greed took over and he wasn’t about to stop.
It took over four years, but during that time more than 800 monasteries were destroyed, home to more than 10,000 monks, nuns and friars, and their lands and treasures taken for the crown. King Henry VIII, now the self-declared Head of the Church of England, took control and sold the monastic lands for such bargain prices that if you could afford it, you found a way to buy it. Not everyone was against this. The wealthy were able to grow their own estates by purchasing large tracks of land. The middle class merchants, eager to become wealthy landowners, purchased the smaller tracks of land.
Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, in October 1536, Bruern Abbey and its buildings were destroyed. Today there are no visible remains of the original Abbey. The Shaven Crown, however, was not destroyed and remained under ownership of the Crown. In 1580 Queen Elizabeth I (King Henry VIII’s daughter by Anne Boleyn) used it as a royal hunting lodge, but then decided to give it back to the village, with the condition that it be turned back to an inn; the proceeds being used to help the poor.
Over the years, the Inn fell into disrepair, but in the early part of the 20th century the Inn was sold into private ownership. The new owners purchased the Inn just two years ago and have returned it to its original grandeur. The Bruern monks would be very proud of the Shaven Crown Inn if they could see it today. Bold, gracious and grand, the Inn remains to welcome all for many more centuries to come.
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* With a population of 1244
**Anne gave birth to a little girl, the future Queen of England, Elizabeth I. But, Henry got tired of Anne as well, and with trumped up charges of adultery against her, he had her publicly beheaded at the Tower of London.
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References: Shipton-under-Wychwood, Abbeys of England, Britain Express, Victoria County History, The Shaven Crown Inn, Wikipedia