Thame Local History

Rycote is best known today as being the location of Rycote Chapel, a fifteenth century chapel built by Richard Quartermain and used by most of the Tudor and Stewart monarchs on their visits to the nearby Rycote Palace.

The palace has now gone, although part of its former outbuildings have been converted into a private house.

Also no longer to be seen is the former village of Rycote. The Domesday Book of 1086 records a manorial holding at Rycote, with Geoffrey de Mandeville the principal holder. The village was not large, but there were around thirty acres of meadowland.

The name Rycote is Anglo Saxon and indicates a small group of dwellings amongst fields of rye. If the village's origins were humble, following the Norman Conquest Rycote took on a more important role.

Geoffrey de Mandeville was an important ally to King William during the Norman Conquest, and was rewarded with over a hundred lordships, of which Rycote was one. His descendants were based in Essex, and became Earls of Essex.

We may speculate that Geoffrey de Mandeville, and his descendants, constructed a manor house and possibly a stronghold at Rycote. The road from Oxford to London could be controlled from Rycote.

Rycote remained in the de Mandeville family until the thirteenth century, when it passed to Fulk de Rycote, Sheriff of Oxford. In the fourteenth century, Joanna de Rycote married Nicholas Englefield.

Sybil Englefield married Richard Quartermain, who built Rycote Chapel. At this time, the chapel served the local villagers and the people at the adjacent manor house, including guests passing from Oxford to London.

The manor house in which Richard Quartermain lived was demolished to make way for the Tudor palace at Rycote constructed in the sixteenth century. It must have been a significant dwelling and may have dated back to the eleventh century.

The Tudor palace at Rycote became an important royal residence, and King Henry VIII spent part of his fifth honeymoon there. King Henry was a very keen hunter, and that fact gives us some clue to what happened to the village at Rycote.

During the sixteenth century many small communities were depopulated as their lords turned over the land to sheep or deer. Rycote had in fact developed into two communities, known as Rycote Magna and Rycote Parva, but both of them have now gone.

It may have been the aftermath of the Black Death, or the creation of Rycote Park, or some combination of the two, but by the time that Lord Williams took up residence at Rycote the villagers had gone.

Today, Rycote Chapel is owned by English Heritage, and is not always open to the public. The land on which the manor house and Tudor palace stood is now strictly private, but a public right of way, officially designated the Oxfordshire Way, runs from nearby Albury, alongside Rycote Chapel, through the woodland and over Lubbersdown Hill, now the Oxfordshire Golf Club.

This public right of way is part of the ancient road from Oxford to London, it took travellers from Wheatley Bridge to Tetsworth and would have seen the royal entourage pass along it on many occasions.
Do you live in a village near Thame?

Old maps of Thame and the villages

Richard Quartermain

Richard Quartermain's Manor House

Rycote Palace

Lord Williams

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  Local History Research Group
  Thame, Oxfordshire, England