Netley Abbey is a ruined late medieval monastery in the village of Netley near Southampton in Hampshire, England. The abbey was founded in 1239 as a house for monks of the austere Cistercian order. Despite royal patronage, Netley was never rich, produced no influential scholars nor churchmen, and its nearly 300-year history was quiet. The monks were best known to their neighbours for the generous hospitality they offered to travellers on land and sea. In 1536, Netley Abbey was seized by Henry VIII of England during the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the buildings granted to William Paulet, a wealthy Tudor politician, who converted them into a mansion. The abbey was used as a country house until the beginning of the eighteenth century, after which it was abandoned and partially demolished for building materials.
Sir William Paulet’s mansion was occupied until 1704, when the owner sold it for building materials. The abbey was only saved when a demolition worker was killed, causing work to cease. When this house was abandoned, however, and the neglected site became overgrown with trees and ivy, it came to be celebrated as a romantic ruin. As the ‘Romantic Movement’ grew in strength, many authors and artists visited the abbey to find inspiration. Set among the wild, wooded slopes above Southampton Water, overgrown Netley appeared to be the perfect medieval ruin. John Constable came to paint here, and writers such as Thomas Gray enthused about the abbey.