Well, I think I’ve found a new favourite place. Continuing with my Summer 2022 trips, Oxburgh Hall took my breath away and is one of the most stunning properties I’ve ever visited in England. Even better, it’s only a 45 minute drive from home! I visited solo on a very hot summer’s day back in August and felt a strong sense of peace as I sat there on a bench looking at the house, feeling the sun on my face, and taking some time out to just pause.
Oxburgh Hall is an incredible moated house in Norfolk, England. The hall was built in 1482 for Sir Edmund Bedingfeld. Amazingly, the family has lived at the hall since its construction, although ownership passed to the National Trust in 1952.
The first Edmund Bedingfield built the hall to reflect his rising star status at royal court. He was knighted and a further 100 years of royal service followed. In the 1500s, Mary I came to the throne and as devout Catholics, the Bedingfields had unprecedented power and prestige.
However, when Elizabeth I came to the throne, the family’s fortunes changed dramatically. The Act of Uniformity in 1559 outlawed Mass and it became illegal not to attend the parish church for the Anglican rite. The Bedingfelds’ refusal to change their faith after the reformation cost the family dearly, both politically and financially.
The late 16th century became a time of great danger for those that did not conform. Catholic priests were routinely tried and executed, Catholic gentry who gave shelter to priests were imprisoned, Catholic families retreated into their recusant communities and were obliged to conceal their worship by building secret chapels and ‘priest holes’. For 300 years, the family were subjected to heavy taxation, exclusion from public office and education.
The house is famous for its priest hole, where the family hid Catholic priests to save them from being murdered during the persecutions.
Under the Stuart king, Charles I, there was a brief relaxation in religious persecution, fines were less rigorously collected and priests were no longer hunted down. The Bedingfeld family began to prosper again. However, this would be short lived because their support of Charles I during the English Civil War was catastrophic.
Sir Henry Bedingfeld was captured by Parliamentary forces and imprisoned in the Tower of London, one of his sons was shot, the Hall was ransacked and the East Range gutted by fire. The property was confiscated by Parliament and later sold back to the family at an extortionate price; they were also fined a further £20,000.
The Bedingfelds’ losses were unusually severe, even for Catholics; the reason being that they were both Catholic and served in the Royalist army. Very few East Anglian Catholic families took up arms to defend the King.
After the Parliamentarian rule under Cromwell, Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, and the family hoped they would finally be compensated for their losses. However, they would be disappointed and the family fortunes remained constrained, although they did receive a Baronetcy in reward for their loyalty.
Continued refusal to conform after the Civil War meant further financial penalties and political ostracism. So the family retreated socially. They married fellow Catholics, educated their children abroad, served in foreign armies and spent increasing amounts of time on the continent as nuns and priests.
From the 1770s, the family’s fortunes stabilised, they returned to public office and royal court, although by this time 300 years of heavy taxation and repression had taken its toll. The house and its relative isolation however became a sanctuary, a retreat and a symbol of the family’s defiance. I found myself kind of liking them.
In more recent years, there have been many royal visits, made especially easy as Sandringham (one of the Queen’s residences) is only 20 minutes down the road. The Queen, Queen Mother and Princess Margaret all visited in the 1980s/1990s. Today the hall feels a beautiful place, an escape and a sanctuary.
What do you think of Oxburgh and the Bedingfields? I had a great visit and will definitely be back – plus dragging friends and family when I get the chance!
If you’re interested in making your stay in Norfolk longer then please also check out:
- 2 day North Norfolk coast itinerary
- Blickling Hall, birth place of Anne Boleyn
- Cley Windmill
Stay safe and happy travelling everyone!