Season 07

  • The Fisher King in Midsomer County

    (Caution: Contains spoilers for Episodes: 03×03: Judgement Day & 07×03: The Fisher King)


    Near to the village Midsomer Priors, on the site of today’s Midsomer Barrow, in Celtic times, during the Iron Age, 3000 years ago, there was a local chieftain: the Fisher King. He was a wealthy man and died of the dolorous stroke, a symbolic death: he was stabbed in the thigh with a spear. (Note: Paul Heartley-Reade calls it the dolorous blow, but in the context of Arthurian legend it’s called a stroke).

    Geoff Dallimor: Burial mound 2 at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk, UK. The photo was taken close to sunset on 21 June 2006 (day of the Summer Solstice). This mound has been reconstructed to its supposed original height. CC-BY SA 3.0
    Geoff Dallimor: Burial mound 2 at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk, UK. The photo was taken close to sunset on 21 June 2006 (day of the Summer Solstice). This mound has been reconstructed to its supposed original height. CC-BY SA 3.0

    The backstory is, as is typical of Midsomer, somewhat convoluted and intertwined: In 1974, Paul Heartley-Reade obtained permission from the landowner, Roger Heldman, to excavate a burial mound on his estate. The excavation team included Dr Lavery, Paul Heartley-Reade and Roger Heldman himself. During the excavation, the three discovered that it was the tomb of the legendary Fisher King and found a chalice and a spear inside. However, a tragic incident occurred during the excavation: While they were still documenting, the entrance to the mound collapsed, killing Roger – or so the story goes. However, the post-mortem revealed that Roger Heldman was murdered – just like the Celtic Fisher King of Midsomer. A second alleged case occurred shortly afterwards: Paul Heartley-Reade is said to have died in a car crash. In reality, he is on the run, having murdered Roger Heldman out of jealousy: his wife had been raped by him. Roger Heldman is David’s father. (One of four paternities in Midsomer Barrow, and all by rape. What a bastard).


    The Revenge

    Paul fakes his own death and takes another name before returning to Midsomer Priors and Midsomer Barrow, Per Hansen, but we stay with his real name.

    The dolorous stroke against the Fisher King, Pelles
    The dolorous stroke against the Fisher King, Pelles, in this version by Sir Balin. Steel engraver unknown. 1912. Public domain.

    First, Paul murdered Roger’s son Gareth Heldman by using exactly the same way that the Iron Age Midsomer Fisher King died: by a stab to the thigh, which severed his femoral artery and led to a reaction between the primitive iron and the blood in his body, causing his death – so George Bullard. Shortly thereafter, Paul Heartley-Reade is deeply disappointed and feels as betrayed by his supposed son David as he did by his real father Roger: David passes off Paul’s scientific findings as his own. It is Miriam Heartley-Reade, of all people, who approaches Paul after his guided tour along Midsomer Barrow and hands him David’s book, “The Hidden Celtic Way”. We see it in the local bookshop, and a year later Elizabeth Keys from Fletcher’s Cross is holding it in her hands at the reopening of the station, talking to Tom Barnaby. At sunrise after the shortest night of the year, with a well-aimed arrow in the back. David wanted to perform a Celtic ritual to save his marriage to Miriam: Just as he shoots a flaming arrow towards the rising sun on the horizon from the top of the burial mound, another arrow hits him from behind and pierces him fatally. When he rolls down, he is already dead. (Incorrectly performed on 21 June, Summer Solstice. In fact, this ritual was celebrated back then by the Celts on Beltane, the 1st of May. The same day as the stag night.)


    The Iron Age Arthurian Fisher King

    We learn about the legend of the Fisher King on the aforementioned guided tour by Paul Heartley-Reade, in which Joyce Barnaby also takes part. The legend of the Fisher King was incorporated into the Arthurian legend a few centuries later. He was the owner of the Holy Grail, but he was not worthy of it and his land became a wasteland. But there is also a link from the Fisher King legend to Midsomer Barrow. Paul Heartley-Reade does not elaborate on this in this scene, but he does a little later, during the interrogation by DCI Tom Barnaby: The Fisher King did not live in Anglo-Saxon times (like King Arthur), but in Celtic times. His grave was probably found 30 years ago on Roger Heldman’s estate. He died of the same injury that wounded the Fisher King in Arthurian legend. The dolorous stroke, the thrust into the thigh with a spear or lance.


    The Fisher King in the Arthurian legend

    There are different versions of the legend, but what they all have in common is that Pelles (other sources call him Parlan or Pellam) was the guardian of the Holy Grail and the Spear of Longinus – the spear with which Jesus was pierced in the side and the chalice with which his blood was collected. And Pelles screwed up – what exactly is different. In any case, it was either a knight from King Arthur’s court or God himself who inflicts the dolorous stroke that seriously injured Pelles. He didn’t died, but he was doomed to vegetate. In some versions the spear was driven into his thigh (as in the Midsomer Fisher King and Gareth Heldman), in others into his genitals. He became sterile, as does his land which turned into a wasteland. Pelles had to now wait for some twenty years, badly injured, until the Knights of the Round Table set out in search of the Holy Grail and found it in Pelles’ palace. By taking the Grail and the spear, that Knight of the Round Table – be it Percival or Galahad – automatically healed the Fisher King and his land. The parallel between this knight and Jesus Christ is not accidental. But the Midsomer’s Fisher King was not Pelles, but lived some 1500 years earlier – if the Arthurian Fisher King existed at all.

    Perceval arrives at the Grail Castle, to be greeted by the Fisher King. From a 1330 manuscript of Perceval ou Le Conte du Graal by Chrétien de Troyes, BnF Français 12577, fol. 18v. Artist: unknown. Year: 1330. Public domain.
    Perceval arrives at the Grail Castle, to be greeted by the Fisher King. From a 1330 manuscript of Perceval ou Le Conte du Graal by Chrétien de Troyes, BnF Français 12577, fol. 18v. Artist: unknown. Year: 1330. Public domain.


    Anglo-Saxon burial grounds

    In this episode we see a burial mound as they became popular in the Anglo-Saxon area at the end of the sixth century and declined in the eighth century: A mound of earth and stones built over a grave. These mounds were also called tumuli or barrows. The latter gave Midsomer Barrow its name. This type of burial mound existed in central Europe and it is very likely that it came to the British Isles as part of a cultural transfer. In the 6th century there were close political links between the south-eastern Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Kent and the Merovingian kings (in what is now eastern France and south-western Germany).

    For a burial, a circular area is first removed from the topsoil to provide enough space for a body. A trench was dug around this circular area. The inner area was then dug out as a grave and sealed with clay if necessary. The body was then placed in the grave. Usually the head faced west, but sometimes it faced sideways. The position of the body varied greatly: lying on its back, or stomach, or side, and with its legs stretched out, or crossed, or slightly bent or in a fetal position.

    Finally, if necessary, the burial gifts were added, possibly separated from the body with wood as a single chamber. There was a funeral ceremony with certain rituals and a meal at the grave, which ended with the body being covered with cloth or wooden sticks and then covered with a heap of earth and stones.


    Midsomer Mallow

    Motmit: Mapledurham House near Reading England. BB-BY SA 3.0.

    Anglo-Saxon burial grounds are mentioned in an earlier episode. However, “Judgement Day” is best known for featuring a notorious burglar and womaniser, Peter Drinkwater, played by Orlando Bloom. Bloom was an unknown actor at the time. In the summer of 2018, Jane Wymark, who played Joyce Barnaby, said in an interview that she saw Bloom playing, was thrilled and recommended him for an episode of Midsomer Murders.

    When the episode first aired on British television in January 2000, Orlando Bloom was already in New Zealand, in the middle of filming the first part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which made him world famous as the elf Legolas. This episode with Bloom is set in Midsomer Mallow, where Annabelle “Bella” Devere lives with her husband Marcus. This year the village is taking part in The Perfect Village competition.

    One of the judges is Joyce Barnaby, as the winner of a competition run by Country Matters magazine. When the four judges arrive at Midsomer Mallow, a small reception is held on the village green. Marcus Devere, as chairman of the Midsomer Manor committee, welcomes the judges and tells them that the village was probably built on an Anglo-Saxon burial ground. This means that it must have been between the 5th and 7th centuries, otherwise it would have been many individual barrows or a Christian cemetery. It’s actually the village green of Crocker End, near Nettlebed in Oxfordshire, where the reception for the judges in Midsomer Mallow took place. Midsomer Mallow is a hamlet of medieval origin, probably dating back to the 15th century, and therefore has no connection with Anglo-Saxon times.


    Mapledurham House

    The location of Roger Heldman’s estate at Midsomer Barrow does not suggest a possible Anglo-Saxon or even Iron Age past. First mentioned in the Domesday Book, the house belonged to William de Warrene and passed through Gerard de Gournay and a Bardolf family in the 15th century to the present owners, the Blount family (“Le Blond”).

    ThisParticularGreg: Garden of Chenies Manor House, Buckinghamshire. CC-BY SA 2.0.

    It is not surprising, then, that there is a parsonage at Mapledurham House. During the Civil War, the family offered the house as a safe haven for Catholics, but it was besieged and sacked by Parliamentarians. The family remained Catholic, however, and suffered great financial loss after the Civil War because, as Catholics, they had to pay the punitive double land tax until the law was repealed in 1821. As a result, the Blounts were forced to sell a large collection of historical armour. The house was added to the National Heritage List on 24 October 1951. The estate also includes a watermill and a family chapel. The latter has been a chapel here since the Battle of Hastings and has been rebuilt or adapted twice (first in the 14th century and finally in the late 18th century after the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1791). The watermill has also been used as a film location, as the home of Nathan Green. It is powered by the River Thames and lies a short distance behind the manor house. The estate is partly surrounded by water and it is much quieter to arrive by boat than by a narrow path where it is difficult for two cars to pass each other.


    Read more about Midsomer Murders & History

    The Chronology of Midsomer County by Year or by EpisodesDeep Dives into Midsomer & History. If you would like to honour my effort and passion, I am happy and thankful for every donation.



    • Geake, Helen: Burial Practice in Seventh- and Eighth-Century England. In Martin Carver (Ed.): The Age of Sutton Hoo. The Seventh Century in North-Western Europe. Woodbridge 1992. P. 83–94.
    • Lucy, Sam: The Anglo-Saxon way of death. Burial rites in early England. Stroud 2000.
    • McKinley, Jacqueline: The Anglo-Saxon Cemetery at Spong Hill. Part VIII: The Cremations (= East Anglican Archaeology 69). Norfolk 1994.
    • Meaney, Audrey: A Gazetteer of Early Anglo-Saxon Burial Sites. London 1964.P. 304–318.
    • NN: Mapledurham House. In: Heritage Travel.
    • Pollington, Stephen: Anglo-Saxon Burial Mounds. Princely Burials in the 6th and 7th Centuries. Swaffham 2008.
    • Spurrell, F. C. J.: Dartford antiquities. Notes on British Roman and Saxon remains there found. In: Archaeologia Cantiana 18 (1889).
    • Taylor, Alison: Burial Practice in Early England. Stroud 2001.
    • Webseite von Mapledurham Estate.
    • Wells, Calvin: A study of cremation. In: Antiquity 34 (1960). P. 29– 37.
    • Williams, Howard: Death and Memory in early medieval Britain. Cambridge 2006.
    • Wilson, David M.: Anglo-Saxon Paganism. London/New York 1992.


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    • Header Midsomer Murders History Domesday Book

      Domesday in Midsomer

      (Caution: Contains spoilers for Episode: 07×02: Bad Tidings)


      Sergeant Daniel Scott has just arrived at his new police station in Causton and is assigned to investigate a murder in Midsomer Mallow. Tom Barnaby and his new sergeant are walking across a meadow where a woman’s body has been found. Daniel Scott is struggling to walk on the uneven ground and in the tall grass. Meanwhile, Tom tells him that this place is called Chainey’s Field and has been common land for centuries – even in the Domesday Book.

      In the background of the scene you can see a mansion, possibly the Spearmans’ house, which was filmed at Tyringham Hall in Cuddingham, Buckinghamshire. I’m not sure here, however, whether the large meadow referred to in the episode as Chainey’s Field is part of the Tyringham Hall estate. But a majority of the episode was filmed in various locations in Cuddingham and here, according to the Domesday Book, although there was no common field called Chainey’s field, the settlement of Cuddingham already existed. This included not one but two manors named after Tyringham: One was owned by Wiliam FitzAnsculf at the time of the records, the other belonged to the Bishop of Coutances. The present Tyringham Hall, built in 1792, has been on the National Heritage List since 30 August 1987.


      England’s first land register

      Domesday Book
      The Great Domesday Book. Photo by Mark Cartwright for the National Archives. CC-BY SA 4.0.

      19 years after the Battle of Hastings, King William I ordered at Christmas 1085 – which was then the beginning of the year 1086 – in concern about a possible invasion from Denmark and Norway, to compile the own and annually taxable property of his subjects as well as accurate information about the military and other resources at his disposal.

      This also included the annual value of every piece of landed property to its lord, and the resources in land, manpower, and livestock from which the value derived.

      The Domesday Book is England’s first land register and consisted of money assessment lists. Indirectly, it was also the country’s first census. It is kept at The National Archives in Kew (London).


      Completed in 1087

      Collected were (1) lands, (2) their owners, and (3) the number of male inhabitants in most regions of England and parts of Wales. in order to fix in writing the taxes and dues. Further, the services due to the king, and the extent and value of the estates of the king’s direct liegemen.

      The entries on the counties in the Domesday Book are mostly structured in the same way: A description of the royal boroughs and the royal sources of revenue at the time of the Battle of Hastings is followed by a list of the feudatories and a description of the demesne with its belongings. The terra regis, which was directly subject to the king, is described first, then the other fiefs in turn.

      The result of the survey was that numerous sub-vassals held very large estates. William I demanded the oath of fealty from them, no matter whose liegeman they were.

      The first survey was completed in 1087, but the book was not finished until after William I’s death in 1090. We now know that the survey was far less organised and systematically collected and compiled than previously thought. The methods used to collect the data have not been definitively clarified.


      An big step for England

      The compilation was an important step on the way to centralising power from local nobles to the royal court because before 1066 common law applied in Anglo-Saxon Britain: peasants and nobles owned land and rights that were not documented.

      If Midsomer County existed, Chainey’s Field would already have been recorded as common land in this compilation. In reality, the Domesday Book recorded a total of 268,984 male heads of households in 13,418 places, from which the full population figure can be calculated: an estimated 1.2 and 1.6 million people lived in the area covered by the Norman Land Register. It can also be seen that land use was fairly evenly divided with a slight majority at 35% arable land.

      Basically all land belonged to the king according to the fief pyramid, but only 17% was in direct access as 54% belonged to the eleven tenant-in-chiefs of William I, almost all of whom were blood relatives of him: Odo of Bayeux, Robert of Mortain, William FitzOsbern, Roger de Montgomerie, William de Warenne, Hugh d’Avranches, Count Erstach III of Boulogne, Alain the Red Earl of Richmond, Richard FitzGilbert, Geoffroy de Monbray, Geoffrey de Mandeville. We have already met the Richards and Williams in the chapter on the Battle of Hastings. These eleven men were subject to over 100 manors. The remaining 26% were owned by Norman bishops and abbots.


      English Counties Domesday

      Eternal validity

      The undertaking was contemporary without parallel. Originally, the compilation was called “Liber de Wintonia”, i.e. “Book of Winchester” The name Domesday Book only came into being a century after its completion, because the results of the nationwide investigation were to be valid until the end, i.e. until Judgement Day. The Old English term “doom” meant nothing other than law or judgement.

      Nevertheless, it stands to reason that Richard FitzNeal had the end of the world in mind. Within the first thousand years after Christ’s birth, there had been repeated signs and calculations of the end of the world. And just in the year 1179, in which FitzNeal made the “Domesday Book” out of “Liber de Wintonia”, the astronomer John of Toledo predicted the end of the world for 1186: all planets would be in the constellation Libra from 23 September 1186 – that was a sure sign of the end of the world. What might make us smile today triggered a European mass panic at the time. The Byzantine emperor, for example, had all the windows of his palace bricked up.


      Additional information

      About the Domesday survey: In addition, the “little Domesday” Book was added for Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex. Not included were the later Westmorland, Cumberland, Northumberland, and County Durham because they did not pay the national land tax called the geld. Extra space was left for London and Winchester, but not filled.

      About the eternal validity: Richard FitzNeal in the Dialogus de Scaccario (1179): „unalterable“, „its sentence could not be quashed“, cf. Johnson, C. (Ed).: Dialogus de Scaccario, the Course of the Exchequer, and Constitutio Domus Regis (= The Establishment of the Royal Household, Oxford Medieval Tests). London 1950. P. 64. In fact, there were no further such surveys in England until 1873. Cf. Hoskins, W. G.: A New Survey of England: Devon. London 1954. p. 87. The “Return of Owners of Land” of 1873 was also called “Modern Domesday”.



      Read more about Midsomer Murders & History

      The Chronology of Midsomer County by Year or by EpisodesDeep Dives into Midsomer & History.

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      • Darby, Henry Clifford: Domesday England. Cambridge 1986.
      • Harvey, Sally: Domesday. Book of Judgement. Oxford 2014.
      • Hoskins, W. G.: A New Survey of England: Devon. London 1954.
      • Johnson, C. (Ed.).: Dialogus de Scaccario, the Course of the Exchequer, and Constitutio Domus Regis (= The Establishment of the Royal Household, Oxford Medieval Tests). London 1950.
      • NN: Life in the 11th Century. In: The Domesday Book Online.
      • Stenton, Frank Merry: Anglo-Saxon England. Oxford 1971.



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      • The Dissolution of the Monasteries in Midsomer Murders

        (Caution: Contains spoilers for Episode: 04×01: Garden of Death, 07×06: The Straw Woman, and 11×07: Talking to the Dead. With a little bit of 20×01: The Ghost of Causton Abbey, 08×03: Orchid Fatalis, and 14×07: A Sacred Trust.)

        Tom Barnaby and Ben Jones are in Monks Barton with the Reverend Wallace Stone in his drawing room. The clergyman is standing in front of a mirror in a cassock, getting ready for the next service, while he tells the two detectives what he thinks of the legend of Monks Barton Wood: It’s about the monks of Monks Barton Abbey, slaughtered in the nearby forest by mounted men in the name of Cromwell and his Dissolution of the Monasteries. A horrific event and their screams and moans of their ghosts can still be heard in the woods, the locals say.

        A legend or a true story? For the clergyman, the matter is clear and he detests the many ghost hunters and others, whom he calls fanatics and freaks. The Dissolution of the Monasteries was a cunning move by Thomas Cromwell to fill the bankrupt royal coffers richly.


        A cunning move for the Royal Treasure Chests

        Henry VIII
        King Henry VIII. Painted by Hans Holbein the Younger, after 1537 and during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Public Domain.

        Cromwell’s idea was by no means new, only unparalleled in its scale. During the Hundred Years’ War, Henry V had already ordered the closure of all monasteries with French mother monasteries and thus filled the state coffers in order to be able to continue financing the war against France. Even shortly before the dissolution, Cardinal Wolsey received royal permission to close 40 small monasteries in order to raise enough funds to open Christ Church College in Oxford.

        Now, in the mid-1530s, King Henry VIII had declared himself head of the Anglican Church and renounced the Pope. Furthermore, he had enacted the Act of Restraint of Appeals, which allowed the Catholic clergy to appeal to foreign tribunals (means: Rome). Any resistance was treated as treason and church property confiscated. But King Henry feared war coming from Catholic continental Europe: He was completely bankrupt and on the other side were the richest in the land, namely the monasteries. Through this cunning move, Cromwell was able to ensure that the royal coffers were filled at the expense of the richest: Through a large-scale secularisation of the monasteries, which always had a reputation of partiality against the English king anyway.

        In 1535 the visitations began, the results of which were compiled in the Valor Ecclesiasticus – a kind of modern Domesday Book, which contained all the goods, other possessions, but also misdemeanours of the monasteries. Very thoroughly the three royal visitators recorded the physical, moral and financial status of the monasteries and it is not surprising that among the hundreds of monasteries there were some failures: For example, the lack of chastity, obedience, charity, monastic discipline, but also money-making with false relics.


        Dissolution of the Monasteries in Midsomer County

        Thomas Cromwell
        Thomas Cromwell. Painted by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1532-1533. Public Domain.

        The plan of Thomas Cromwell – now appointed “viceregent of the King in all his ecclesiastical jurisdiction” – was not initially to close all monasteries, but only those with an annual income of 200 pounds or less (roughly equivalent to the purchasing power of about 170,000 pounds or about 148,000 euros (reference value: 2019 ). The Suppression of Religious Houses Act affected a total of 376 monasteries.

        Lewes Priory became a precedent in 1537: the monks were offered pensions but not the option to move to another monastery. This increased the pressure on the monastic superior to agree to the dissolution.

        Henceforth, the clergy of dissolved monasteries were only offered a pension, while former employees and alms recipients did not receive anything at all. But even the royal pension was far too little to survive on and caused unemployment, which was already high at the time, to rise to a striking level. This fuelled the people’s anger against the regime. Revolts broke out in several places in the kingdom, some of which Cromwell was only able to quell with great difficulty.

        King Henry VIII was furious with the revolts and eventually had all the monasteries in the kingdom secularised. First, in 1538, all monasteries that had taken part in one of the revolts, and between 1538 and 1540, all others – some with unrelenting severity. It argues that Monks Barton Priory was forcibly dissolved in these last years of the decade. Perhaps the heinous harshness also stemmed from the fact that the monks had joined a rebellion?

        In 1540, only the abbey churches of the cathedrals remained. Any further monastic property now belonged to King Henry VIII, who gifted his favourites with the former monastic property or kept it for himself.


        Inkpen’s Manor – a royal gift?

        Manor House Long Crendon
        Inkpen’s Manor also known as Long Crendon Manor, Buckinghamshire. – Rob Farrow: The Manor, Long Crendon. CC-BY SA 2.0.

        Well, it is not explicitly stated in the Garden of Death episode that the Inkpen family in Midsomer Deverell got their estate as such a gift – they also could have been granted the manor otherwise as Henry VIII’s favourites. But it is relatively likely that it was through secularised church property and certain that they were favourites of Henry VIII.

        On Open Day 2000, Joyce and Tom Barnaby visit the garden of Inkpen’s Manor, with its famous and much-loved Memorial Garden. The manor and the Memorial Garden are so popular that they cause traffic chaos on the local road, and the Barnabys are caught up in it. While Joyce is already looking around and reading the brochure, Tom is still grumbling about the parking situation. (But this is the only reference to the dissolution of the monasteries. Instead, the episode focuses on the much more recent Memorial Garden.)


        In the chapel of love

        There is also a brief mention of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in Midsomer Parva: here the chapel of Parva Manor probably previously belonged to an abbey and then came to the Clifford family through dissolution. Unfortunately, however, there are no longer any records of this transaction in the 16th century, and this provides fuel for debate.

        On one side are the Reverend Jim Hale and Alex Deakin, the curator of the church parish. On the other side is the non-religious nightclub owner and pornographer, Alan Clifford.

        Tom Barnaby and Dan Scott are going to interview him after the death of Alex Deakin, curate of the local parish. The murdered man had visited Alan Clifford only the day before and it was not a friendly conversation. The two detectives are interested in what the argument was about: The church’s ownership of Clifford’s estate, of course. Alan Clifford wants to make it a chapel of love. The clergy are disgusted and insist that the church belongs to them. Clifford cannot prove that the estate was given to him during the Dissolution of the Monasteries because the records have not survived.

        But now Alex Deakin has been murdered. Agnes Waterhouse replies to Tom Barnaby with a certain snappiness in her voice that the manor was dissolved at the time of Henry VIII and therefore before the first church records were created. Unfortunately, it is not clarified whether this is true.


        The consequences of the Dissolution of the Monasteries

        By 1540, most of the former monasteries had been sold or burnt, about 12,000 people were without work and alms and a good 8,000 religious were without a home or a task. About 100 former monastery churches became parish churches or cathedrals. In a few areas where there was no great need for building material, they fell into disrepair over the centuries and are now a tourist attraction as ruins.

        Cromwell’s plan worked: The dissolution brought £1.5 million into the state coffers during Henry VIII’s lifetime. But his family also came into great prosperity. And among other things, he gave his nephew Richard seven abbeys with an income of 2,500 pounds. This was the origin of the fortune of Thomas Cromwell’s great-grandson Oliver, who a good hundred years later was one of the leading forces in the Civil War and eventually appointed himself Lord Protector. A phase of English history that also left a great many traces in Midsomer.


        The filming locations: Two manors…

        In Midsomer, Waverley Abbey was used as a filming location for St Frideswide’s former abbey and it is this very ruin that is used for the exterior shots of Monks Barton Abbey. But Monks Barton Priory (with the Iron Lady in the entrance, whose door Tom Barnaby slammed so carelessly), on the other hand, was filmed at Nether Winchendon House. It was also used as a location in Garden of Death, but not for Inkpen’s Manor.

        Confused? Nether Winchendon House and Long Crendon Manor are only four miles apart, so they share common history. This commonality, however, does not concern the Dissolution period, but rather the Norman period. Both locations were given by King William I to Sir Walter Giffard, Lord of Longueville, new Earl of Buckingham, and William’s right-hand man, immediately after the Battle of Hastings. As such, both buildings are also listed in the Domesday Book.

        Walter Giffard’s grandson of the same name endowed the Augustinian Canons’ Abbey of Notley in 1162 and a few years later gave the abbey two very nearby manors, Nether Winchendon Manor and Long Crendon Manor. They remained in their possession until the Dissolution in 1538 . All three buildings were inscribed on the National Heritage List on 25 October 1951. While Nether Winchendon House is open for visiting a few days a year, Long Crendon Manor is a B&B and the only surviving remnant of Notley Abbey – the abbot’s lodging converted to a farmhouse – is a wedding venue. From 1945 until their divorce in 1960, the farmhouse belonged to film stars Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh.


        … and two abbeys

        Waverley Abbey
        Waverley Abbey in June 2023, by Petra Tabarelli. Public Domain.

        The Dissolution of the Monasteries in Waverley and Notley proceeded differently. While Waverley was dissolved in 1536 because its annual income of 174 pounds (1535) fell below the threshold, Notley was dissolved in December 1538. Notley’s holdings were much higher, with £318 of ecclesiastical estates and £177 of temporal estates, and her influence considerable. She was already subject to the King from 1535 anyway, after the murder of her patron, the Duke of Buckingham.

        While Notley Abbey was transferred to Sir John Williams, Waverley Abbey came to Henry VIII’s treasurer Sir William FitzHerbert , was largely demolished. Later, it was used as a quarry, mainly for Loseley Park. This served, among other things, as the supposed inspiration for Baroness Orczy’s Scarlet Pimpernel in They Seek Him Here, as well as Morchard Manor, where the boxing match between Hennan and Sayer took place in 1860.

        As different as the dissolution of the two abbeys was, the Giffard thread runs through them. Waverley was founded in 1128 by William Giffard, son of Walter (William’s right-hand man), as the first Cistercian foundation in England.


        Abbeys in Midsomer County

        In addition to the two dissolved abbeys, Monks Barton and St Frideswide, there was also Causton Abbey. It is possible that this abbey was also dissolved in Cromwell’s time, but we do not have the sources for this. If this was the case, then it was only dissolved towards the end of the period, as we know from Brother Jozef’s death that the abbey still existed 1539.

        There are also two abbeys in Midsomer County, namely Midsomer Abbey with Brother Robert, who can translate Latin very well, and the nuns in Midsomer Priory in Midsomer Vertue.


        A little creepiness at the end

        Let’s go back to the beginning of the episode in Monks Barton. Tom Barnaby and Ben Jones have just arrived at the scene of the crime at the Goodfellows’ house, which is being investigated by George Bullard. The postman found no one at the Goodfellows’, but he did find some blood and alerted the police. George tells Tom about a previous case: Peter Thomas, the son of the missing Molly and Colin. He went missing and was found a few days later in Monks Barton Wood. Completely hypothermic, he was unable to speak properly, only making eerie noises. Soon after, he died.. The official explanation for his death is hypothermia. But is it true?

        At the end of the episode, Tom and Joyce Barnaby walk through the misty Monks Barton Wood in everyday clothes. Tom wants to show his wife that the wood is not haunted at all. Seconds later, Joyce is frightened at Cyrus LeVanu, who – scared to death – is leaning against a tree trunk. Scared to death. That’s what George Bullard later says when he has it on the table, but calls it a parasympathetic rebound. The pathologist explains: This is an automatic calming of the metabolic system in response to shock, which can work so well. However, that you calm down so much that instead of beating more slowly, your heart simply stops beating at all.

        The message of the episode is clear: Peter Thomas and Cyrus LeVanu were both frightened to death in Monks Barton Woods. Caused by hypothermia? Or something else scary? Who knows…


        Read more about Midsomer Murders & History

        The Chronology of Midsomer County by Year or by EpisodesDeep Dives into Midsomer & History.

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        Further readings

        • Clark, James G.: The Dissolution of the Monasteries. A New History. New Haven 2021.
        • Youings, Joyce: The Dissolution of the Monasteries. London 2021.


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