Imagine, if you can, that the government suddenly nationalised all the supermarkets in Britain. Imagine that people had been moaning about them for years and years, saying that they were far too wealthy and were involved in corrupt practises, and that the government acted very swiftly, sending soldiers in to make sure that no goods or monies were squirreled away - and then took over absolutely all their assets for the Exchequer without any compensation. Oh yes, and they demolished most of the buildings or sold them off (and kept the proceeds) and, just to make a point, executed any supermarket managers who tried to resist them.
It's a mad thought, isn't it? But when Henry VIII suppressed the monasteries from 1536 onwards, the amount of wealth that passed directly into the English Treasury was, as a percentage of the total wealth of the country, much the same of that of all the UK's supermarkets today.
People tend to think that Henry acted on a whim, fuelled by his desire to marry Anne Boleyn, but the notion of the reformation had been in the wind for a couple of decades. The enthusiasm for endowing monasteries peaked in the Twelfth century, many years before, and although the various orders did good works (they provided the country's only hospitals), they were massively wealthy and worldly and deeply resented. So it would have been that armed men, sent by Good King Harry's ‘chief fixer' Thomas Cromwell would have arrived at Combermere Abbey and ordered the monks to disband their religious order. If they went quietly they would have received pensions; if not - well, blood could well have been spilt. Any physical signs of Catholicism on the building would have been violently destroyed.
Local magnates saw a great opportunity though. At Combermere a grandee of the Marches, Sir George Cotton, who was head of the household of The Duke of Richmond (Henry VIII's illegitimate son) did a deal with Cromwell, and on July 27 1539 the Abbott, one John Massy, surrendered the Abbey, its lands and its treasure to heavily armed men wearing Sir George's livery, and rode away - and disappeared from history. What a truly astonishing scene that must have been. Huge power and influence changed hands at that point, as well as enormous wealth.
Combermere Abbey has seen much history since it was founded in 1133, but that day must have been one of the most momentous - until the visit of The Duke of Wellington in 1820, at least! Walk in the ancient deciduous oaks in the Abbey parkland, stroll along the 140+ acres lake, and you'll get a sense of that history.
There are very special offers available at the moment for the Abbey's five-star, self-catering cottages - converted from the stables (built in the year that the teenaged Queen Victoria came to the throne); click here to see those offers and to check availability. And during your stay try and imagine that July day 473 years ago. It'll send tingles down your spine.