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The history of Mottisfont

The vaulted ceiling, columns and brick floor of the 13th-century Cellarium at Mottisfont, Hampshire.
The vaulted ceiling, columns and brick floor of the 13th-century Cellarium at Mottisfont, Hampshire. | © National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Discover the eight centuries of history buried within Mottisfont’s walls. An Augustinian priory was founded here in 1201, laying the foundations for the 18th-century structure that’s now visible. Today, hints of Mottisfont’s medieval past live alongside the stylish redevelopment that took place in the early 20th century.

The priory at Mottisfont

In 1201, William Briwere, right-hand man to four Plantagenet kings, founded the Priory of the Holy Trinity here. Mottisfont held the forefinger of St John the Baptist as a sacred relic, and eager pilgrims came to be blessed by the Augustinian canons.

Discovery through a rental book

The 14th-century management of Mottisfont’s lands is revealed by a rental book compiled from 1340–5. It lists the spring that fed two watermills, two gardens, two courtyards, an apple yard and pasture, a meadow, a tannery and two dove houses. There was a rabbit warren to the north of the priory and a number of walnut trees.

The priory’s buildings spread on to the current south lawn, and included a dormitory for the monks to sleep in, as well as kitchens and a dining room. There was also a Chapter House to allow Priory business to be conducted. This allowed members of the priory to live, work and eat together. They were also buried together, with archaeological excavations discovering graves in the former church building.

The dissolution of the monasteries

When Henry VII became king, it seemed that happier times lay ahead. Mottisfont became a subsidiary of Westminster Abbey and it gained a new patron in Henry Huttofy, a Southampton merchant who probably built the arched pulpitum (still in evidence between the old kitchen and the scullery) which divided the choir from the nave.

However, in 1536, the dissolution of the monasteries saw Mottisfont Priory and its estate gifted to Henry VIII’s Lord Chamberlain, Lord Sandys.

A timeline of Mottisfont

16th century

A Tudor palace

When Lord Sandys was gifted Mottisfont, he set about transforming the priory into a grand house. During the 1500s and 1600s the Sandys divided their time between Mottisfont and their family seat, The Vyne.

To create his new home, Sandys used the surviving monastic buildings. This included converting the priory church into his main living accommodation, while retaining the outer courts on the south lawn.

Sandys had spent a lot of time in Europe, and he imported new building materials from the continent for his refurbishment. His changes created a modern, contemporary home, and the roof timbers to his Great Chamber can still be seen in the house, as well as other features such as fireplaces.

Sandys new house was sufficiently grand to host royal visits, with King Edward VI visiting for three days in 1552, with visits from Queen Elizabeth I in 1569 and 1574.  

In 1684, the eighth and last Baron Sandys died childless, and Mottisfont was left to his nephew Sir John Mill.

Visitors in the walled rose garden at Mottisfont, Hampshire

Discover more at Mottisfont

Find out when Mottisfont is open, how to get here, the things to see and do and more.

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From activity trails in the garden to playing pooh sticks on the bridge, there's something for every young explorer to do at Mottisfont.

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Mottisfont's collections 

Explore the objects and works of art we care for at Mottisfont on the National Trust Collections website.