• Richard Prosser

Sunday 1st September

Yesteday was the Oneth of Autumn. Princess of seasons, and my favourite. It was also the oneth of Spring, of course, back home in the old country. This is slightly confusing, because of course here I am, in the Old Country. Except that this isn't the old country for me, it's the new one.

Spring isn't my favourite season. In fact I think it's ghastly. Too wet to be any use, and not cold enough to be any fun. Spring should be abolished, and its allocated months redistributed amongst the other seasons.

But I digress. This is Fawlsey Hall, near Badbury, about 15 minutes from here.

The current building mostly dates from the early 1400s, but the first Royal Manor existed there as far back as the seventh century. At the end of the 8th century a hunting lodge was established as well, which may in fact have been the first actual building. "Royal Manor" status referred to the land itself, that being a grant by the King or Queen of 1,000 acres or more to a loyal subject, in return for a pledge of Knight Service - in other words, making oneself available to go and fight the Monarch's battles on request, or chop off his enemies heads (or other appropriate limbs and extremities) as directed.

The grant included feudal authority over the serfs and peasants and other lowly types who actually did the work, and the ability to 'hold Court' - which would probably have been tricky in an outdoor location. Royalty from the nearby Anglo Saxon palace at Weedon did hunt in the woods on, and adjoining, the estate.

Today it's a Spa and Hotel, which is a shame in some ways, but a good thing in others. Financial reality is that buildings like these are a bottomless money pit, and having a paying business is probably the only realistic way that the history contained within their stones and mortar can be preserved for posterity. This one has at least been done very tastefully. And the Guiness is rather good.

In 1416 Richard Knightley, of the line of the Knightleys who accompanied William the Conqueror on his conquering, was made Lord of the Manor, presumably because his ancestors had helped William do conquery-type stuff.

Richard was a lawyer as well as an Assistant Conqueror by Descent, and got himself a couple of nice little quangos on the side as well, including King's Sergeant and Teller of the Exchequer, helping to look after the King's money. By the end of the 15th century he had turfed the peasants off his land and turned the whole place into a very large and successful sheep farm.

The sheep are still there; as proof, here is some genuine British sheep shit. Remarkably similar to the NZ variety, I have to say.

History does not record whether or not the above pictured sheepies ever find their way onto the menu at the hotel. But the restaurant does have a very nice herb garden.

Richard's son, also Richard, and his son, also also Richard, continued the family traditions of taking over the Manor, being knighted, and helping the King make money.

In 1542 the first Sir Edmund was Sirred; he started out alright, helping the King to suppress Monasteries and confiscate their lands, taking a commission on the deal, but then upset Henry VIII by suggesting the latter not do something that upset his religious views, and Henry banged him up in the Fleet Prison for his "impudence."

The Knightleys went back to naming their boys Richard after that, but the split with the Monarchy remained; despite Elizabeth I being a fairly frequent visitor, during the Civil War they were very much Parliamentarians. The family has a long tradition of producing MPs for the region.

Next door, as seen in the pic with the sheep, is the Church of St Mary the Virgin;

It's a wee bit tatty on the outside, which given that it dates to the early 13th century is probably understandable.

In 2015 the copper roof got nicked. The Parish is a wee bit skint, and relies on whatever grants it can get, to help with saving up for a new one. These are dependent on visitor numbers, so it's always open, with signs, and handy chains and bits of string, allowing people to wander in and out so long as they secure the gates so the sheep can't get in.

Inside it's every bit as marvelous as any of these old churches, and contains the tombs of a number of the Knightley family.

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