Winchester in the Sixteenth Century

After centuries of being known as a vital city in English history Winchester had descended from being the country’s capital to being a town of virtually no importance. During the 1500’s, within the reign of the Tudor dynasty, Winchester saw a decline in interest, politics and prestige apart from a few crowning moments smattered across the century.

Due to the rise of London being the hub of trade and the royal household in the South of England, Winchesters revenue dwindled and unemployment rose due to the population boom after the scourge of the Black Death in the previous centuries. Hampshire then failed to provide jobs for the burgeoning youth of early modern Winchester; this led to discontent between those who held the work available and those who were fighting for work to survive. The authorities of Winchester attempted to increase annual fairs from one to three throughout the year to increase trade and the populace of Winchester, but even this failed to bring the city back to its former popularity. Also during this time, the council headed by the Bishop of Winchester created a house of correction teaching the unemployed new trades such as glove making and clerical work. This caused discontent between the new workers and those who worked in the guilds as it meant there was more competition for customers.

Subjected to dissolution of the monasteries that ripped through England throughout Henry VIII and Edward VI’s reign, Winchester saw the burning and attack on St Mary’s Abbey which was a prominent nunnery first established under Alfred the Great in the ninth century. Hyde Abbey and St Swithun’s priory was also a cause of agricultural and cultural loss along with the Hampshire friaries, the clerics and people of which regularly worked the fields. A lot of the materials from the destroyed buildings were taken and used elsewhere to help produce new palaces and buildings across the Southern English shires in the 1530s. One of the medieval buildings that survived Thomas Cromwell’s attack was the St John Cross alms house hospital/chapel that sat on the outskirts of Winchester. It was built under Henry de Blois, Bishop of Winchester (Grandson of William the Conqueror) and saw an upsurge in leprosy sufferers and was strained under epidemics of the Sweating Sickness and plague during the 1500’s. This hospital still stands and functions as a charity base today housing seventy men therefore causing it to be the oldest of its kind in Britain.

The most exciting event to occur in Hampshire was in 1554 when Mary I, daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, married Philip of Spain. Winchester Cathedral was chosen due to its strong Catholic links during a time that was beginning to see extremist reforms in religion including Protestantism. It was also chosen due to it being the middle ground between Mary’s base in London and where Philip landed in Southampton docks. The marriage was proclaimed just two days after their initial first meeting.

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