The Dent Transcripts of Nonsuch Palace Documents

Sources for Epsom and Ewell History
Sources for Epsom
and Ewell History

The Nonsuch picture from Speed's Surrey map of 1610
The Nonsuch picture from Speed's Surrey map of 1610
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

'Until the summer of 1959 the royal palace of Nonsuch was almost a myth', wrote John Dent, looking back on the ambitious excavations that year. These had revealed the foundations of courts, gateways and towers in all their splendour, but they lacked the vital interpretation derived from contemporary sources. That was furnished by a team of local historians who set out to research every known document with some bearing on the life of the palace.

It was all done with impressive speed. On 'a cold windy day' in January 1958, Dent was still scrabbling over the site of the palace; by the end of the year, he had marshalled transcripts from over a hundred documentary and published sources. He drew on the skills of several experienced historians including Philip Shearman and Charles Titford, with others - 'many more people than I could hope to acknowledge' - working as the Nonsuch Palace Excavation Committee. By June 1959, when Martin Biddle was ready to begin digging, the most critical documents for interpretation were available, including the building accounts and the 1650 survey. Next year came a final translation by Colin Ball and Albert Carr of the erudite description by Anthony Watson.

Dent continued gathering material until 1962 when he published his study The Quest for Nonsuch. Following his interests in the long-term history of the site, records began with the earliest history of the village of Cuddington and continued to cover events up to the final demolition of the palace in 1687. These transcripts were eventually bound into five volumes in black binders and stored on the local history shelves at Bourne Hall Library, where they still are today. We have begun digitising these. The contents of the first volume are:

Cuddington in Domesday BookVCH Surrey 1 p3041086
Inventory of Simon de CodyntonDocument owned by Dr. B. Lawn1374
Vewe and Survey of the Manor of CodyntonTNA E351/414c.1537
Survey of the Manor of NonsuchSHC 2238/10/1571538
Surrender of the Rectory of NonsuchTNA C66/6851539
Lease to Sir Ralph SadlierSHC LM/345/1091541
Estimate for 7 weeks' work at Hampton Court and Oatlands, 5 weeks at NonsuchBL MS Royal Appendix 891541
Accounts and receipts for Sir Ralph SadlerSHC LM/8381542
Nicholas Modena at NonsuchSHC LM/8371542-4
Grant of Keepership of Nonsuch to Sir Thomas CawardenSHC LM/345/1501544
Henry's letter of complaint about Giles GeringeTNA SP1/201/7841545
Water supply at Nonsuch. Stephen de Hashenpergk to Henry VIIITNA SP1/205/37(2)1545
Wages paid to tailors, carpenters, etc.SHC LM/11545-6
Cawarden's allowance for coatsSHC LM/261544
Inventory of NonsuchSHC LM/840/21547
Inventory of Wardrobe of Henry VIIIBL MS Harleian 1419A1547
The Wardrobe at NonsuchFolger MS L.b. 172 c.1547
Warrants to Keeper of Wardrobe etcSHC LM/8411547-54
Furnishings remaining at NonsuchSHC LM/8421555
Mats for NonsuchTNA C66/8301550
Cawarden's Keepership accountsFolger MS L.b. 492-51554-59
Furnishings transferred from NonsuchSHC LM/8431556
Arundel acquires NonsuchCalendar of Patent Rolls1556
Arundel acquires NonsuchTNA C66/9081556
Arundel acquires NonsuchTNA C66/908 (extract)1556
Cawarden's dealings with ArundelSHC LM/8451557
Survey of Nonsuch Great ParkSHC LM/844c.1558
Receipts for furnishings from Wardrobe at NonsuchSHC LM/8431558
Bill for entertaining Elizabeth I at NonsuchTNA SP12/6 No 71559
Grant of Great Park to ArundelTNA C66/9601560
Anthony Watson's DescriptionTrinity College Camb. MS R.7.22c.1590
Elizabeth acquires NonsuchBL MS Lansdowne 103c.1591
Topham MemorandumBL MS Lansdowne 66c.1591
Elizabeth acquires Nonsuch, Final ConcordTNA CP25/2/2271592
Extraordinary charges at Elizabeth's houses in December and JanuaryTNA E407/591602-3
Grant of Nonsuch to Anne of DenmarkBL MS Add. 66931603
Act for repairing Highway, Nonsuch to KingstonTNA C65/182 no.191605-6
Lands to be enclosed in Great ParkTNA SP14/24 nos. 47-491606
Survey for enlargement of the Great ParkTNA E178/46041606
Certificate for cost of enlarging Great ParkTNA SP15/37 no. 64 1605
Certificate for cost of enlarging Great ParkTNA SP15/39 no. 31607
Exchequer Order for Lumley's Nonsuch AllowanceTNA E403/27281609
Valuation of all the King's HousesTNA SP14/461609
Grant of Nonsuch to Henrietta MariaTNA SP 38/141627
Grant of Nonsuch to Henrietta MariaTNA SP 39/19 1627
Grant of Nonsuch to Henrietta MariaTNA C66/23761627
Inventory of goods etc at Royal Palaces including NonsuchBL MS Harley 48981649-52
A survey of Nonsuch Park and HouseTNA E317/Surrey/411650
A survey of the Great Park of NonsuchTNA E317/Surrey/391650
Extract from the Particular of Sale of Mansion House and Little ParkTNA E320/R81650

All these documents can be accessed here.

The first volume is preceded by a list of contents, which has been copied with the references updated. The original list included two documents which are no longer to be found in the file itself: TNA CP25/2/42 289 m.48, the 1538 feet of fines entry for the acquisition of Cuddington by Henry VIII, and TNA C65/148 m.36, the Parliamentary Roll for 32 Hy. VIII (1540) noting the annexation of Nonsuch to the manor of Hampton Court.

All the documents are still accessible in public repositories except for the Inventory of Simon de Codynton. The original list of contents refers to this as a 'document owned by Dr. B. Lawn', of Station Road, Barnes. Dent worked from a photostat of the original but neither this nor his transcription have been located; we only have the translation.

Readers who are familiar with Dent's Quest for Nonsuch will recognise several of these sources from its appendix 2, 'Selected Documents, 1374-1650'. Many others are referenced in the footnotes; probably every document and citation in his book will refer back to the bound volumes of transcripts. Dent and his team worked diligently through the material available at the National Archives (then the Public Record Office), the British Library (then the British Museum) and Surrey History Centre (then the Guildford and Kingston Muniment Rooms, including the Loseley Manuscripts). We have checked all references to documents and updated these where necessary.

With so many people working on the project, there are likely to have been variations in their procedure for copying documents. The key documents, including those transcribed by Dent himself, were evidently copied exactly, word for word. Passages in Latin were transcribed as they stood, except for the Inventory of Simon de Codynton and the Description of Nonsuch by Anthony Watson, which are given in translation only. A few minor documents were calendared or summarised rather than transcribed, and with some (such as the Inventory of the Wardrobe in the Harleian MSS) it's not entirely clear what is the actual sixteenth-century wording and what is a summary. We have done what we could to make this clear with additions in square brackets, using italics for later comments or summary. Roman text in square brackets is used only for conjectural or supplied readings.

The transcripts organised by Dent (and the versions that he printed in Quest for Nonsuch) replicated the layout of the original documents: for instance, if the original had headings added in the margin, these were typed up on the left with text in a column on the right so that words appeared in the same position on the page as in the document itself. But we have digitised the wording as uninterrupted running text, with marginalia, insertions, bracketed lines, columns and so on incorporated as far as is possible into the body of the document. Wording and spelling are unchanged except that we have standardised the abbreviations for money to £ s d (for Arabic numerals) and li s d (for Roman), and those for area to a r p. The pages, folios or membranes of the original are indicated by /p1/, /f.1r/, /m.1/. To help clarify headings and totals of figures, we have placed some text in bold, but this is for editorial convenience only and is not a feature of the original documents.

Jeremy Harte February 2018
With thanks to Jeanne Wing for her help in transcribing the documents.