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Page last updated: February 19th 2012
Page first published: February 19th 2012
Minster Lovell Hall
Scene of a murder mystery, tragedy, or an elaborate hoax?
A little over three miles from Witney, to the east of Minster Lovell village, stand the ruins of Minster Lovell Hall. Ruined the old hall might be, but the size and layout of what remains, and its tranquil setting beside the river Windrush tell us that the hall must have been a fine residence.

Originally the site of a priory, the first manor house was built by William Lovell in the 1440s and extended by his grandson, Francis Lovell. In the manner of the time, the house was built surrounding three sides of a square, comprising a Great Hall, a chapel, chambers for Lord Lovell and apartments for other family members. The kitchen, buttery, bakehouse and stables were set slightly to one side. Enough remains of the walls, doorways and passages that visitors can picture the manor house as it might have looked in its prime and helpful sketches are in place to facilitate one's imaginings.

Minster Lovell Hall was for a time the main residence of the Lovells, but Francis Lovell forfeited the estate in 1485, after his involvement in the Battle of Bosworth, and the manor house was given to Henry Tudor's uncle, Jasper Tudor.
By 1602, Minster Lovell Hall had passed into the possession of a lawyer, Sir Edward Coke, and remained in the Coke family until the 1740s, when it was abandoned in favour of another property at Holkham, in Norfolk. By 1747, much of the manor had been dismantled, with the stone being used in building work elsewhere, and what remains today is in the familiar, semi-demolished state of manor houses and abbeys all over England.

No one knows what ultimately became of Francis Lovell. Immediately after the Battle of Bosworth, he was listed amongst the fallen, though he was recorded as having fought at the Battle of Stoke Field two years later, from which he was seen escaping.

After this, very little is known, but in 1708, when the skeleton of a man was found in a secret chamber at Minster Lovell Hall, the legend grew up that this was Francis Lovell, who had been hidden in the chamber by a trusted servant. The story goes that he became trapped and died of starvation after the sudden death of the only servant who knew of his secret chamber. However, as the manor had already passed to Jasper Tudor at the time Lovell was last seen, this seems unlikely and so Lovell's final end remains a mystery.

However, a puzzle still remains and it would be excellent to discover answers to questions such as:
Who was the person whose skeleton was found and how did they end up being locked in a secret chamber?
Was the body mummified or was it a skeleton?
What happened to the remains?
Where was the secret chamber and what other uses did it serve other than a gruesome tomb for a nameless unfortunate?
What is the real history behind the stories?
It would be very interesting indeed to find copies of the original records referring to the supposed find in 1708.