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without woods wherefrom to gather up a fire, or a servant to do rough work, though still out of debt, had no objection, the Commissioners found, to remove to some larger religious establishment, and so this cell, which seems to have slipped off from its connexion with Woburn priory, was now appended to Bisham, on the other side of the river, and suffered to linger on a few years longer,—till all, whether mitred abbey or rural cell, perished together.
The walls were in after-days strengthened and the place was converted into a family-dwelling—and so it remained for many generations. But near the middle of the eighteenth century, a nobleman of celebrity—" a person of flighty imagination, and who possessed a fortune that enabled him to pursue those flights, being cloyed with common pleasures," resolved to found an order of monks who should be in keeping with the character of the times. He accordingly, in imitation of one whose name must not be mentioned on this page, chose twelve companions,—not, however, from the poor and the unlearned, but from the men of rank and fashion and literary fame, who took the name of Franciscans, Francis being the Christian name of their superior. This abbey was chosen for the practice of their devotions. Workmen were brought from London to fit up the interior, and not allowed to pass the doors till their work was completed, and then they were transported back again. Only one or two servants were admitted into the house, and every care was taken to prevent them from having; any intercourse with the people of the neighbourhood. But the mystery only added to the desire to know what was hidden, and strange and startling tales soon got abroad, both of the adornings of the rooms and of the scenes that took place within them. "Fay ce que voudras" was the motto inscribed over the door, and these monks did what they pleased. It is impossible to go on: those who wish to know what were the rites may see more than enough of them described in but too much detail in the pages of ChrysaL But it may be said, in a word, that the rites were an overwrought mockery of those of the religion of the land, and the practices a formal and deliberate repetition of the worst debaucheries ever attributed to real monks, with such additions as the greater genius of their successors suggested. The account has well been called horrible: it is difficult to conceive how any human beings, however low and degraded, could have devised a scheme of such coarse cold-hearted elaborate impiety as that invented by these men of high refinement—and utterly marvellous how, having devised it, they could cherish their plan through all the slow stages of preparation, and at length carry it out into practice. And it is scarcely less wonderful how it was that the common feelings of human nature did not revolt against such an outrage on all decency, and that the perpetrators of it were not scouted out of society. The feeling of the neighbourhood did cause the suppression of the monastery. The account in Chrysal may be and probably is exaggerated, but as Scott says in his notice of Johnstone, the author of it—" But ■when all exaggeration has been deducted, enough of truth will still remain to incline the reader to congratulate himself that these scenes have passed more than half a century before his time." And it may be added, that when sober men, hoping to find the exaggeration very great, sought out the only remaining servant, they were constrained to own that it was best for all that no more should be said of the matter. Francis Dashwood, Lord le Despencer, was the founder of the order, and among the members were the Earl of Sandwich, the Hon. Bubb Doddington, Wilkes, Churchill, and Paul Whitehead. Lord le Despencer rebuilt the neighbouring church of Wycombe in order to show his liberality—and to afford a pleasing termination to his avenue; and that he might complete the farce characteristically, he had a huge ball placed on the church tower, and the inside fitted up as a room wherein to hold convivial parties; and finally he had the heart of Paul Whitehead—the" Paul the Aged," the secretary and steward of the Medmenham mysteries, deposited in the church.*
Every trace of the Franciscans was afterwards carefully removed from the walls, and now Medmenham Abbey is again a peaceful, pleasant dwelling.
Just beyond Medmenham is Danesfield, where are considerable traces of an encampment, popularly attributed, as the name tells us, to the Danes. Along this part of the river, and by the roots of the Chiltern Hills, are several of those earthworks; which are probably of Roman construction. Nearly opposite to Danesfield on the Berkshire side is Hurley, a village of old houses, several of them interesting from their structure, and all
* Lord le Despencer was not satisfied with caricaturing the rites of the Christian religion only : in the' Gentleman's Magazine,' vol. xli., may be seen a curious notice of a fete he had celebrated at Wycombe, with Bacchic processions and the like.
more or less picturesque in form. The village lies in a pleasant valley, and should be visited. In the Conqueror's time it belonged to one of his Norman knights named Geoffrey Mandeville, who founded a priory there for Benedictine monks, and dedicated it to the Virgin. Some few fragments of the building still remain. In the reign of Elizabeth, or beginning of that of James, a mansion was erected by the then owner of the estate, Sir Richard Lovelace; "a gentleman of metal," says old Fuller, "who in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, making use of letters of marque (under Sir Francis Drake), had the success to light on a large * remnant of the King of Spain's cloth of silver, I mean his West Indian fleet; wherewith he and his posterity are warmer to this day. King Charles created him Lord Lovelace, of Hurley." (' Worthies,' Berks.") The house, which he built with a portion of this wealth, was a large, rambling place, uniting considerable state with much discomfort. From being built on the site of the old monastery, it was called Lady Place. During the latter part of the reign of Charles II. and the whole of that of James II., this house was the meeting-place of the peers and leading commoners who were dissatisfied with the royal proceedings, and friends to the Prince of Orange. The meetings were held under cover of a round of splendid hospitalities, by which the noble owner of the mansion is said to have exhausted his fortune. The more secret consultations were* held in a vault under the house, which had been originally the burial-place of the monastery. It is said that it was in this vault the measures were adopted that led to the Revolution of 1688, and in a recess at the end were signed the memorials in
viting the Prince to come over. An inscription was, about a century after the event, placed in the vault, recording the circumstances, and stating that on account thereof " that Powerful Prince" visited the vault, after he had ascended the throne; and that it had also been visited by General Paoli (a less fortunate manager of revolutions), in 1780, and by George III. and his Queen in 1785. For his services, Lord Lovelace was rewarded by William with the office of Captain of the Band of Gentleman Pensioners, but he continued to live in so costly a style as to involve himself in debt, and Lady Place was sold under a decree in Chancery. The house passed through various hands, till in 1837 it was pulled down on account of its dilapidated condition. Near Lady Place are Hurley mill and weir, and a little farther we come to Temple House, neither of which need detain us. On the opposite side is Harleyford, a large house surrounded with rich grounds, and as it lies embosomed among the trees, 1 ooking far better across the river than when close at hand.
We next come upon the fine beech-groves of Bisham, and soon see, rising from among them, the old grey church tower; and presently a curve in our river brings us to a spot which shows us the abbey and the church, both standing before us on a smooth lawn beside the stream, in whose placid water they are again figured. In the reign of Stephen the manor of Bisham, then called Bustleham, was given by Robert de Ferrars to the Knights Templars, who built a preceptory there. At the dissolution of the order the manor passed into private hands, and in 1338 William Montacute, Earl of Salisbury, to whom it then belonged, founded a priory on the