1500s-1600s AD - The Post Medieval period

  • An elaborately carved date. It says ANODMI, short for anno domini, which means ‘In the year of our Lord’) M CCCC XXX IIII. (1534) It is inside Crowcombe church

This was a time of great change in all of Europe. It was an exciting time to be living. People throughout Europe began to think for themselves and challenge the old ways of doing things. In England it was the time of the Tudors and Stuarts.

What changed in the 1500s and 1600s?

There were big changes in religion. This was called the reformation. Henry VIII made himself head of the church in England, instead of the Pope. The church was never again as powerful as it had been in Medieval times. Most of the monasteries were closed down, and many monks and nuns lost their homes. Local families who helped organise this were rewarded with church land and buildings.

Peoples’ ideas changed. Books could be printed cheaply, in English, instead of being hand-copied and only in Latin. More and more people learned to read, so new ideas and information spread quickly. So did stories, songs and plays.

  • A Bible on a lectern in Holford church.  This is a copy of the ‘Authorised King James’ translation, first printed in 1611.

Peoples’ view of the world changed when America was discovered. The world was bigger than they thought. Now there were exciting new places to explore, move to and trade with.

Some peoples’ lifestyles changed, as they grew more wealthy and wanted to improve their houses and their land.

Peoples’ picture of the past changed. They became interested in the Romans and the Greeks and copied their styles of art and building.

The countryside changed as the population grew and more food had to be grown. More land was enclosed, to grow crops. In some places landowners wanted to keep sheep instead of growing crops because they could get good money for wool. There was less common land. Sometimes this left poorer peasants with no land at all. Hungry, homeless and jobless. they had to travel around and try to find different things to do.

Some changes were for the worse. Whoever was king or queen made rules about what people should believe. Priests who didn’t agree were turned out of their churches, or worse. Ordinary people were punished or even killed for having the wrong beliefs. Many Puritan Christians sailed all the way to America to escape persecution and start a new life.

One thing that didn’t change was fighting and quarrelling for power. In the 1580s, the main threat to England came from the Spanish Armada. In the 1640s, everyone took sides, for or against the king, in the Civil War.

What was in like on the Quantocks in the 1500s and 1600s?

The Quantocks did not change as much as other places in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Hills was still a mixture of fields, heath, parks and woods. There was still a lot of common land.

  • A well-known traveller called John Leland visited the Quantocks in about 1550 for a book he was writing.  He saw beans and wheat growing, and cattle and sheep, enclosed fields and lots of hedges.  Perhaps he saw a view like this.

John Trevelyan of Nettlecombe wrote accounts of his farm in the 1580s. He had ‘87 wethers, 82 ewes, 61 hogs and rams, 28 fatting wethers, bullocks, heifers, yearlings, steers, colts, geldings, orchards with 10 varieties of apples, pears and a fig tree.

There were changes to the common. Landowners started to mark out the edges of the commons so that villagers knew exactly where they were, and weren’t, allowed to graze animals and collect fuel. They also made new fields on the heath to grow rye, for grain and thatch-straw. They only used these fields when they needed to, and now they have almost disappeared again.

  • Look carefully – This is a view of the heath, but you can see the ghosts of old field edges and the ridges left by ploughing hundreds of years ago.

This was a prosperous time. Many families made money through trade. Some bought estates. Some were given land as payment for serving the king or queen. They rebuilt the old medieval manor houses and improved the estates.

The Stawell family’s new manor house at was very modern when it was built. They changed the grounds, too, laying out terraces, gardens, a bowling green and a special building for elaborate banquets. They might grow hops or vines, artichokes, asparagus, gooseberries and cherries.

  • Cothelstone Manor looked nothing like the old medieval buildings that people were used to seeing. This gatehouse is full of new features: it is symmetrical, has a crenellated tower, windows with unusual carved stone mullions, shell-shaped spaces for statues, and a classical stone archway. Some of these ideas came from old Roman buildings.

Life could be very pleasant, especially in times of peace, if you had enough money and servants to run things.

The wealthy families also improved the churches and often had special chapels, memorials and tombstones

  • A prosperous Tudor knight and his wife. Sir John Stawell died in 1603, and his memorial is in Cothelstone church.
  • Cherubs, drapes and palms decorate this grand classical style 17th century chest tomb, but sadly we can no longer read the name of the person it was for! Don’t worry, the body was buried in the ground in the normal way.

Go to ‘Building types’ and find out whether any buildings from the 1500s and 1600s have survived on the Quantocks.

What jobs did people do?

The big houses provided work for local people. They needed domestic servants, cooks, gardeners and grooms to keep the household running, as well as builders, craftsmen and suppliers.

Most people carried on as they had done for centuries, working on the land, in the woods or off the coast.

  • In 1596 there were George Luttrell owned 17 stone fishweirs(channels to help catch fish) off the coast at East Quantoxhead.

On the Quantocks, a lot of people worked in the cloth industry. Demand for cloth was increasing. This was good news for the Quantocks where people had made their living from making woollen cloth for generations. Water-powered fulling mills and big dye-houses were made to speed up the process. There were special types of cloth called called dunsters, tauntons and bridgwaters, after the Somerset towns where they were made.

Go to ‘How did sheep change the Quantocks’ to find out more about how the cloth industry worked.

War and rebellion

The old landowning families, like the Luttrells, were still very important, even though they couldn’t have their own private armies any more. They were responsible for keeping law and organising soldiers, weapons and supplies if there was a war. When the Spanish Armada threatened in the 1580s, Somerset was prepared, with guns, beacons and lists of men ready to fight. The Quantock hills were an ideal place for Beacons to send signals if the Armada approached.

  • An archaeologists records a Bronze Age platform cairn , which was also used as a site for beacons. Hence its name, Beacon Hill.

The Civil Wars affected everywhere in England, even the Quantocks. Most Somerset families supported Cromwell, but Sir John Stawell of Cothelstone, Sir Francis Dodington and the Luttrells of Dunster supported the king. There were battles and sieges in Somerset, and soldiers everywhere.

The local people had to provide food and lodgings for the soldiers. The George Inn at Nether Stowey had room for at least 20 men and Bishops Lydeard had 60 beds and stabling for 48 horses. People complained about the extra expense and the damage that all these soldiers did to the countryside.

Somerset people were angry when a Catholic, James II, became king in 1685. They wanted the Protestant Duke of Monmouth to be king instead, so they rebelled. The rebellion failed. The rebels were punished cruelly by Judge Jeffrey: many were sent as slaves to the West Indies. Others were hanged, and their remains put on display as a terrible warning.

  • Two of the rebels were hanged from the gateway at Cothelstone. It would have been a terrible sight. Judge Jeffrey ordered local sheriffs to ‘erect a gallows in a public place, provide halters to hang them with, faggots to burn their bowels, furnace and cauldron and salt to boil their heads and quarters, tar to tar them, pears and poles to fix and place their heads and quarters, and an axe and cleaver for quartering the rebels and to gather 50 men to watch the execution.’