Lyndhurst occupies a strategic position and for centuries has been the point at the heart of the New Forest where all routes converge. Nowadays this causes severe traffic problems but in days of old it made it a convenient location for Kings and Queens of England to base themselves on their frequent hunting expeditions. The following information regarding the village’s royal connections has been obtained in the most part from “A History of the County of Hampshire” published in 1911 and serves to illustrate the royal importance of the village over many centuries.
Records of Lyndhurst go back as far as the Saxon Kings of Wessex and their Queens and the village name is believed to be of Saxon origin meaning Lime Wood. In the reign of Edward the Elder (899-924), son of Alfred the Great, records indicate that there was a church located there which was referred to as ‘the chapel attached to our lodgings at Lyndhurst’. At that point in time, nearby Winchester was the capital of England. The first indication of Lyndhurst being a royal manor was in 980 when it was granted to the Abbey of Amesbury in Wiltshire. Queen Elfrida (wife of Edgar the Peaceful) founded the abbey in 979 and her motive was believed to be contrition for her part in the murder of Edward the Martyr (aged 16) at Corfe Castle in neighbouring Dorset.
The surrounding area had been a royal hunting ground since the reign of King Cnut (1016-1035) but perhaps the most significant point in the history of Lyndhurst came in 1079 when King William I (William the Conqueror) declared the area stretching from the Solent Water in the east to the River Avon in the west as his Nova Foresta (New Forest) – an area set aside for a royal hunting forest and subject to severe Forest Laws. Lyndhurst was at its heart.
By time of Great Survey (Domesday Book) in 1086, Herbert the Forester held one virgate of land (30 acres) at Lyndhurst outside of and surrounded by the royal forest. By 1165 Herbert Lyndhurst (possibly a descendent of Herbert the Forester) was recorded as responsible for the bailiwick (area of jurisdiction) of Lyndhurst. He was succeeded by William Lyndhurst (possibly his son) and then passed to Richard Lyndhurst who forfeited in 1251 for misconduct (details unknown) when the bailiwick and the manor were granted by royal charter to his son, William Lyndhurst.
William subsequently granted both to Alan de Plunkenet, in exchange for the manor of Rotherfield in Sussex but a few years later in 1270 Alan surrendered it to King Henry III in exchange for manors in Somerset and Oxford. Henry III then granted the manor together with the wardenship of the New Forest, to Eleanor of Castile, wife of Prince Edward, later to become King Edward I (Longshanks). It would be held by four successive Queen Consorts of England.
It is reported in various publications that King Edward and Eleanor spent much time in Lyndhurst between 1278 and 1289 and many documents of his reign are dated from Lyndhurst. It is said that Eleanor made her home in Lyndhurst when her husband was away in his wars against the Welsh. In 1290 Eleanor died aged 49 after giving birth to 16 children! Two years later King Edward I granted the custody of the manor to John FitzThomas, who appears to have held it till 1299, when it was given as a dower to Margaret of France on her marriage to Edward I. The new Queen Consort held it until her death in 1318 when it passed to Isabel of France (wife of King Edward II).
In 1331 King Edward III granted the manor of Lyndhurst to his Queen Philippa, who two years later leased it to Sir Thomas West of Hempston Cantilupe, thus ending the succession of the four Queens who had held the manor. Sir Thomas was also the appointed Keeper of both Christchurch and Southampton Castles and had taken an active part in the arrest of Roger de Mortimer, the alleged murderer of Edward II. He died in 1343, when Philippa granted the manor to John de Beauchamp (brother of the Earl of Warwick), who took a prominent part in the French wars for his King, and this grant was confirmed by Edward III in the following year.
By 1362 Edward III had taken the manor back and granted it to Sir Richard Pembridge, and he apparently held it till 1375, when a grant of it was made to John de Foxle for life. However, his tenancy was short lived as he died shortly afterwards, and King Richard II on his accession granted it to his half-brother Thomas Holland Earl of Kent. On his death in 1397 it remained within the royal family and passed to Edward Duke of York (Richard II’s cousin) who held it until his death in 1415.
The next holder of the manor was Edward Courtenay (eldest son of Edward, 3rd Earl of Devon – a descendant of Edward I), who died without children in 1418, when Thomas Montagu Earl of Salisbury received the manor in reward for having taken a prominent part in the battle of Agincourt alongside King Henry V. In 1428, it was granted to Humphrey Plantagenet Duke of Gloucester (youngest son of King Henry IV and brother to King Henry V), who died in 1447 when it reverted to King Henry VI, who kept it in his own hands for the remainder of his reign which ended in 1461.
When King Edward IV ascended to the throne in 1461 he made a grant of it for life to William Fiennes Lord Saye and Sele. This grant was revoked in 1467 in favour of William FitzAlan, 16th Earl of Arundel, who was a staunch Yorkist during the Wars of the Roses. As a reward for his services Edward IV made him a Knight of the Garter in 1471. The manor of Lyndhurst remained in his family for next 114 years.
Upon the Earl’s death it passed to his son Thomas, to whom in 1490 the King confirmed the office of custodian and guardian of the New Forest in the manor of Lyndhurst. Thomas died in 1524, leaving a son William, to succeed him but his son, Henry Earl of Arundel, died without male issue in 1581, when the manor returned to the Crown during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and it remained so until 1600.
By this time the New Forest had fallen from prominence as a Royal hunting ground and following the accession of James I in 1603 it passed to a succession of various members of the aristocracy before Charles II granted it to Charles, Lord St. John of Basing in 1667. He was subsequently created Duke of Bolton in 1689 as reward for supporting the claim of William and Mary to the English throne, when his grant of the manor of Lyndhurst was renewed by the new monarchs. He was also a local MP, Privy Councilor, Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire and Lord Warden of the New Forest. The village’s most prominent landmark is named after him – the mound known as Bolton’s Bench which is topped by a large Yew tree which is several hundred years old. Upon his death in 1699 he was succeeded by his son and grandson.
By 1746 John 4th Duke of Bedford, a prominent British statesman, held the manor of Lyndhurst. A very active politician he was a Knight of the Garter and a Privy Councilor who at various times also held the offices of First Lord of the Admiralty and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Upon his death in 1771 the manor and title, Lord Warden of the New Forest, was granted to William Henry Duke of Gloucester, brother of King George III.
The Duke of Gloucester died in 1805, and the manor was then passed to Frederick Duke of York (second son of King George III). He enjoyed an extravagant and sometimes scandalous lifestyle but is perhaps best known as a result of the poem, “The Grand Old Duke of York“. Appointed somewhat prematurely by his father to the rank of Commander in Chief of the British Army at the age of 32 he suffered several setbacks in his early campaigns which gave rise to the sarcastic nature of the poem. However, no doubt chastened by these experiences he successfully set about reforming the Army into a professional fighting force. After his death in 1827 it appears that the manor reverted to the Crown where it remained and did not pass to subsequent Lord Wardens of the New Forest.
The last royal link with the village was Prince Adolphus Frederick, 1st Duke of Cambridge (another son of King George III) who held the post of Lord Warden from 1845 until his death in 1850. During the time that his sons were Lord Wardens of the New Forest, King George III was a regular visitor to Lyndhurst and the surrounding district.
No further Lord Wardens were appointed after Prince Adolphus and his death broke the formal royal links with the village that dated back to the Saxon Kings almost a thousand years previously. It is doubtful whether any other English village can claim such a wealth of links to the Crown.
While it is known that there were various royal hunting lodges throughout the Forest, the present Queen’s House in Lyndhurst is recorded as being the site of a manor house and royal residence where monarchs stayed during their visits to Lyndhurst, dating back to the reign of King Edward I. The old house dating from that period was restored and enlarged by King Henry VIII. Later in 1634 King Charles I ordered further significant structural works including the building of a stable block but this work was not completed until after the Commonwealth period of Oliver Cromwell. The main structure of the house is now regarded as being the only surviving building of the Charles I period anywhere in Hampshire. Since the second half of the nineteenth century the house has been the district HQ for the Forestry Commission and its predecessors.
One final note of interest and amusement – an internet search for the Manor of Lyndhurst reveals that the ancient feudal title of Lord of the Manor of Lyndhurst rests with US citizen Dr. Sir Richard Lewis Shively, KStE (Knight of the Order of St. Edward the Confessor!!), of Indiana, U.S.A. Don’t forget to doff your caps if he’s ever seen in Lyndhurst!