"An old, old monastery once, and now
Still older mansion, ~ of a rich and rare Mix'd Gothic."
 (Don Juan, Canto XIII)

"... Ivy usurps the laurel's place of growth...
A noble wreck in ruinous perfection...
And thou dids't shine, thou rolling moon, upon
All this, and cast a wide and tender light..."
(Manfred, Act III, Scene IV)

A Brief History of Newstead Abbey

Founded as an Augustinian priory around 1170, in what was then the royal forest of Sherwood, for nearly four hundred years the "Black Canons" of Newstead enjoyed the quiet life of a religious community. Quiet that is, until royal visitors descended upon the monastery, as Edward 1st did on no less than four occasions. One of the duties of a priory was to provide hospitality to travellers, and lying, as it did, so conveniently close to the royal hunting grounds of Sherwood, Newstead had more than its fair share, - proving quite a financial strain on the priory’s resources. Much of the fabric of the monastery has survived, incorporated within the fabric of the later house: The cloisters in which the monks studied, the refectory where they ate, and the "Stew pond" in the grounds, which provided the brothers with fish, and the octagonal kitchen where it was cooked.

By the sixteenth century, however, the English monasteries, with their lands and privileges, came under the beady eye of Henry VIII, who had Reformation, and the making of a quick buck, on his mind.

In 1539 the Canons of Newstead got their marching orders, the prior pensioned off with an allowance of £26, and custody of the house handed over to one Sir John Byron, Lieutenant of Sherwood, who bought the whole estate from King Henry at the bargain price of £810. The Byrons were an ancient family, and though the haughty claim "our ancestors came over with William the Conqueror" has been made by many English aristocrats, the Byrons could do so legitimately. Ralph de Biron (an old spelling of the family name) is mentioned in the Domesday survey.

Sir John was succeeded by a son, called - with that imaginative flair for naming common to our forebears - John, known in the history of Newstead as "Little Sir John with the Great Beard", one of several former inhabitants said still to prowl the abbey in ghostly form.

During the English Civil War the Byrons took the King’s side. In characteristic Byron style however, their enthusiasm wasn’t always matched by self-discipline. Sir John Byron of Clayton helped Charles I lose the battle of Marston Moor by charging without orders , but was nevertheless created a baron. Exiled to Paris as a traitor by the victorious Roundheads, his Newstead property was quickly confiscated. In 1644 a cousin of the Byrons, Colonel John Hutchinson, approved the plunder of the Abbey by a Parliamentarian party from Nottingham, so that Newstead’s next heir, Sir Richard, was obliged to buy back his own inheritance.

The most infamous of the Byron ancestors was undoubtedly the 5th or "Wicked Lord" known as "Devil Byron" for his manic temperament and scandalous reputation - of which more below. After his son and grandson pre-deceased him, the legacy of the Byrons fell to the best known of Newstead’s dramatis personae - the "mad, bad, dangerous to know" poet, 6th Baron of Rochdale, George Gordon Byron.