The Manor of the More

Manor of the More Michael Athanson
Manor of the More Michael Athanson
A depiction of the Manor of the More by Dr Michael Athanson, based on the research work of Professor Martin Biddle. Copyright: Merchant Taylors Prep School, shown with the permission of the Head Teacher.

Moor Park and the Manor of the More

Writing in 1870 the Rickmansworth clergyman Robert Bayne suggested of the Manor of the More and of Moor Park that ‘Owing to … the numerous hands through which [Moor Park] has passed, and the high position of most of its proprietors, it has become associated with a large portion of the political and social history of England.’ Who were these proprietors, and in what did their various tenures result?

The More was near Rickmansworth, close to what is now Moor Lane on the site of what's now Merchant Taylors Prep School. In the eighth century the manor of the More was among the sites in south-west Hertfordshire given by King Offa to the Abbey of St Albans. At one time it was ranked amongst the most impressive of the later medieval houses of noblemen and high churchmen, and was comparable in its prime with Hampton Court Palace (although smaller). In the fifteenth century a moated house was built, and extended in the sixteenth century: in the early 1950s an archaeological dig was done by a group of Merchant Taylors' boys, one of whom is now the eminent archaeologist Professor Martin Biddle CBE, and their report is available here. Later work, particularly by Dr Heather Falvey, has updated our knowledge, but it remains a very interesting and important source document, and the chronology below is drawn from it as well as from Dr Falvey’s work.

The More is first mentioned in about 1182, when it was leased into the Aignel family who retained it until 1416. A solid fourteenth century manor house was replaced after 1426, when permission was given to the wealthy London mercer William Flete, supported by prominent men including the Bishops of both Winchester (Henry, Cardinal Beaufort) and Durham, to build an impressive-sounding fortified house and enclose a park of 600 acres on land in both Rickmansworth and Watford;[1] by 1456 the manor had passed, at a trivial rent, to Sir Ralph Boteler or Butler. It's possible that the house was in fact built not by Flete but by Butler, in about 1458: in any event it was bought by the end of 1462, and occupied with enormous opulence, by George Neville, Archbishop of York and Lord Chancellor of England, the brother of the Earl of Warwick ('Warwick the Kingmaker'), who was very deeply engaged in the Wars of the Roses. As an aside, in April 1467 the Rickmansworth mercer Roger Adam left in his will the money (unstated) owed to him by the Archbishop,[2] so it looks likely that at least some of that wealth was being spent locally.

On the fall of the Nevilles in 1472 the manor reverted to the Crown, and was occupied by a number of people including, after the accession of Henry VII, the Earl of Oxford (one of his supporters) and the Bishop of Durham, reverting to the ownership of St Albans abbey in 1515 and occupied by the Abbot before 1520. In late 1522 Cardinal Wolsey, who had by now become Abbot of St Albans, took over the More, and enlarged it in a particularly splendid way, so that it rivalled Hampton Court, although it was certainly smaller: the Treaty of the More – a peace treaty between England and France – was signed there in 1525.

The Manor of the More also featured in the events surrounding the dissolution of the monasteries and the Reformation.

As Henry’s Lord Chancellor and chief advisor Wolsey was responsible for making the King’s wishes a reality. He had already organised much of the Field of the Cloth of Gold, a grandiose meeting in 1520 between Francis I of France and Henry VIII, accompanied by 5,000 followers, which opened the door to peaceful negotiations with France. His finest achievement is said to have been the Treaty of London, signed in 1518 by the major European nations as an agreement not to attack one another and to come to the aid of any that were under attack. Wolsey met his downfall nonetheless, when he failed to procure an annulment of the marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. The marriage had provided no sons that survived beyond infancy: they had a daughter, Mary, but she was not considered capable of ruling the country - at this time England had never accepted a queen regnant. Henry required a male heir, and took the line that the marriage must be annulled so that he could legally marry again.

Aside from his desperation for a son, Henry’s desire for one of his wife’s ladies-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn, contributed to his lobbying for an annulment. Queen Catherine defiantly refused to retire to a nunnery, and the annulment became a matter of international diplomacy. Catherine had powerful friends on her side, including her nephew, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who pressured Pope Clement VII not to annul his aunt’s marriage. The Pope initially left the decision to two papal legates, one of whom was Cardinal Wolsey, the occupant (as Abbot of St Albans) of the Manor of the More. Wolsey nonetheless failed to secure the annulment, which led to his downfall and arrest: he was stripped of his government office and property (whereupon the Pope took the decision on the annulment back into his own hands), and later in 1530 died of an illness on his way to London to answer a charge of high treason.

Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, declared Henry and Catherine’s marriage unlawful, allowing it to be set aside in defiance of the Pope, and Henry married Anne Boleyn in a secret ceremony. The annulment had far-reaching consequences and led to the break with Rome and the establishment of the Church of England. Henry and Catherine’s only surviving child, Mary, became the first queen regnant of England in 1553.

Catherine of Aragon was sent to live at the Manor of the More for a short time around the annulment of her marriage. Further development of the house was nonetheless done during this time, and two deer barns were built in the grounds with two grandstands to watch the hunting. The King had already taken it as one of his own residences (it was formally ceded to him by the Abbey in 1531), installing as his Steward Sir John Russell, about to be created Earl of Bedford, already engaged in developing Woburn Abbey and probably actually living when at The More in another house in the Batchworth area. Henry continued to fund extensive further works, especially on the grounds, and the Privy Council met there several times in 1542 with the plague in London, but no more work seems to have been done after about 1552. The Countess of Bedford had already moved out after the death of her husband in 1556 when a survey found the house 'very much decayed': 'the statlie house will not long continue without great reparations'. Another survey of 1568 found the situation even worse, probably because the wet land near the river Colne could not support the foundations of this great house: the estimated costs of repair were enormous.[3] So it was probably demolished, at least in part, in 1574, with some of the materials going to the new Cassiobury Park mansion of Charles Morrison. In any case, in 1576 the estate was leased properly to the second Earl of Bedford, but there is little more about the house until in 1598 it was referred to as 'the auncent ruynes of Morhouse' (the house itself having by then been demolished): it was mentioned in deeds of 1641 and 1655, but with no detail.

It seems that in about 1617 the Bedfords built a New House near the old. This appears not to have lasted long: Sir Richard Franklyn, having bought the manor in 1655, was reported in 1663 to have started work on a new New House nearby, known as More House and shown (belonging to Timothy Earle) on the Dury and Andrews map of 1766.

And so the magnificent fifteenth century manor house of the ancient Manor of the More, so much embellished by Archbishop Neville, Cardinal Wolsey and King Henry VIII, disappeared from view 450 years ago after only a little more than 100 years. Its materials may well have been used in building both the first New House nearby and Cassiobury Park, but the fine moats and gardens were finally filled in by the excavations of what is now Moor Park estate, and nothing remains above ground. The site is now a playing field for Merchant Taylors’ Preparatory School.

The museum has the last vestige of the Manor of the More, in the form of a carved lions's head, much worn but still hinting at the magnificence of this remarkable building. You can hear a short recording about the Manor here.

[1] Heather Falvey, ‘The More: Archbishop George Neville’s Palace in Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire’, The Ricardian Vol 9 no 118 (Sept 1992), pp. 290-302.

[2] Heather Falvey (ed), Pre-Reformation Wills from Rickmansworth Parish 1409-1539 (Rickmansworth, 2021), p.47.

[3] Falvey, ‘The More Revisited’, The Ricardian Vol 18 (June 2008), pp.92-99.

You can hear a short explanation of the Lion's Head, the last piece of the Manor that we're aware of, here.