Richard III Society

Yorkshire Branch

Religious Foundations

Monastries and Priories

In the medieval period Yorkshire housed more than its fair share of Abbey's, Priory's, Nunnery's, Friaries and other Religious Houses. This section contains only a very few of their number.


Allerton Mauleverer Priory (Benedictine)

The Priory at Allerton Mauleverer was founded by Richard Mauleverer around 1109 as a cell of Marmoutier Abbey, Tours France. The foundation was confirmed by Henry II. It seems to have fallen into a state of disrepair and disarray by 1378 when an inquisition found the expenses of the house far outstripped the revenue. Allerton Mauleverer was given to King's College Cambridge by Henry IV. The parish church St Martin's, was possibly the church of the priory and contains the tombs of many of the Mauleverer family, including that of Thomas Mauleverer who fought for Richard III at the battle of Bosworth.


Arthington Priory (Cluniac)

Arthington could more realistically be called a Nunnery. It was established by Peter de Arthington as a Cluniac house one of only two in England. His son Serlo confirmed his father’s gift and added to it. In turn his son Peter added an acre of land in Tebcroft. Another gift was nearby Maltby Church given by Archbishop Alexander Neville of York in 1378. Despite its regular gifts the Priory remained a small house.

In 1307 four of the nuns were called to account for various crimes. Two were forbidden to set foot outside the Priory. Two others however were accused of claiming animals and goods were actually theirs. One of the two Agnes de Screvyn had been Prioress until 1303. They were found guilty and ordered to resign within three days. In 1311 there was further unrest. The prioress Isabella de Berghby and her sub prioress seem to have had a disagreement. The sub prioress was ordered to render obedience to her superior, but later an inquiry was set in hand when it appeared the prioress and another nun had left the priory. The prioress, Isabella de Bergeby seems to have resented sharing her authority with her officers and abandoned the priory. Eighteen months later she was replaced with a new prioress Maud de Bathely. Just four days later the prodigal Isabella returned to the then Archbishop for forgiveness. He accepted her repentance and ordered the new prioress to receive her back, but with the position of lowest of the nuns and never to be allowed outside the priory.

The priory appears at best to have been a very small establishment. By the time of the dissolution its income was £11-8-4 and its lands worth just £5-8-4. It was dissolved in 1540 when the Prioress Elizabeth Hall surrendered the house to the Kings Commissioners.


Beauchief Abbey (Premonstratensian)

The Abbey was founded before 1183 by Sir Robert FitzRandolf and given the name the Abbey of the Blessed Virgin and St Thomas the Martyr. It was thought by some that Robert was one of the murders of Thomas Becket, but since the murderers were named as Tracy, FitzUrse, Morville and Brito, this is thought to be erroneous.

The founder, Robert, was for many years Sheriff of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. At that time the Abbey came just within the boundary of Derbyshire and Yorkshire. Time and spread of Sheffield has now brought it firmly into Yorkshire. FitzRandolf endowed his Abbey with 700 acres of land and the revenues of four churches. On its foundation it was inhabited by five canons of the Premonstratensian order from Welbeck Abbey.

Patronage of the Abbey was continued during the time of the FitzRandolfs. Robert’s son William further enriched the foundation with lands at Norton and Alfreton, as did his brother Randolph. The male line of Robert FitzRandolf died out in 1269. The heiress Alice married Sir William Chaworth. Their son Thomas was another considerable benefactor.

Like most of its kind the Abbey was not solely a place of worship. The monks, whose number grew to fifteen, and lay brothers worked in farming, smelting, mineral mining and in their mill. The Abbey was suppressed in 1537. Most of the land is now a golf course, but in places it is still possible to trace foundations, and the monk’s fish pond is still in evidence. The church still serves the community as it always did.


Beverley Minster

Somewhere around 700ad St John of Beverley founded a monastery where the Minster now stands. His body still lies buried under a plaque in the nave. John’s simple foundation grew in time until in 1188 it was ravaged by fire. A new Abbey church was begun but in 1213 the central tower collapsed causing considerable damage. Work on the present minster began in 1220. Over the next 200 years under a succession of Abbots the building continued.

The Minster today is a Parish church, albeit a very large one. It has several features of interest. From the outside it very much resembles another great Abbey church Westminster. It now has a central tower which is an 18th century replacement for the original Lantern Tower. This tower still contains the largest treadmill crane in the country. The most distinctive of the Minsters windows is the beautiful Rose window. Particularly worth noticing are the Misericords which are very fine. The East window contains medieval glass.

The Minster contains the Purbeck marble tomb of Lady Eleanor Percy. There were many Eleanor’s married to Henry Percy’s in the medieval period. From the dating of the tomb, 1340, this appears to be Eleanor FitzAlan Percy wife of Henry Percy ist Lord of Alnwick. The Minster contains one further Percy tomb, the plain tomb chest of Henry 4th Earl. This was the arch fence sitter who failed to support Richard III at the battle of Bosworth. He was murdered at Topcliffe north Yorkshire in 1489 while collecting taxes for Henry VII most likely in reprisal for his betrayal of his former King.


Bolton Abbey (Austin Canons)

The ruins of Bolton abbey lie near the River Wharfe on land given by Lady Alice de Romille in 1154. It is known that a church was on the site in 1170. The area was raided by the Scots early in the 14th century leading to a temporary abandonment of the Abbey. Building continued on the site until the dissolution.

The ruins now form part of the estate of the 12th Duke of Devonshire. He and his wife lived on the estate for many years until the 11th Dukes death in 2004 and their move to Chatsworth.

The Abbey still has a half built tower which was begun in 1520 and unfinished at the dissolution, and the east end remains. The church now on the site is mostly Victorian Gothic with windows by August Pugin.


Bridlington, St Mary's Priory (Austin Canons)

The Augustinian Priory at Bridlington was founded in 1113 by Walter de Gant. It was one of the few houses to have an adjoining convent. There had formerly bee a Saxon foundation of church and nunnery on the site, but foundation was confirmed by new charters in the reign of Henry I.

Henry was only the first to patronise the Priory gift, of lands were given by many nobles during the next few years and in time the canons established a further Priory at Newburgh.. King Stephen granted the Priory the rights to the property of felons and fugitives from the town and the proceeds from the harbour. However the conflict of Stephens reign also saw the Earl of Albemarle, William le Gros expel the canons for a time in his private feud with a neighbour. He later gave the Priory six parcels of land in reparation. King John granted the right to hold a yearly fair in 1200. Henry IV granted the rectory of Scarborough to the Priory, a grant ratified in their reigns by Henry V Henry VI and Edward IV. Richard II granted permission to crenellate the walls and the four gates, Kirk Gate, New Gate, Nun Gate and Bayle Gate. The Abbey church itself boasted a church 400ft in length by 75ft wide. The transept was 150ft in length.

The priory was dissolved in 1538. The Chapter house, Treasury, Cloister, Priors Lodging, Infirmary Gates and Dormitories were all destroyed, leaving only the nave and Bayle Gate standing. The remaining part of the church was restored in the 19th century with Sir George Gilbert Scott supervising.


Byland, St Mary’s Abbey (Cistercian)

The Byland community was founded in 1134 as a Savignac community from Furness Abbey sent to Calder in Cumbria under the patronage of Ranulf Meschin. They remained in Calder only four years, un til the site was devastated by a Scots raid forced their return to Furness. Since the Abbot of the Calder group appears to have been obdurate in his refusal to become subservient to the Abbot of Furness, as may be expected the party were refused refuge. On their way to York to enlist the help of Archbishop Thurstan, the party were taken in by Gundreda dAubigny. Gundreda persuaded her son, Roger de Mowbray, to act as their patron and grant the party land to settle at Hood. This solution was by no means ideal since the site was already occupied by locals, and too near Rievaulx. In 1147 the community was on the move again and due to the Savignac order being absorbed into the Cistercian order became Cistercians.

This new move, to Stocking, was never meant to be permanent but lasted thirty years until 1177. The community then made their final move, to the almost completed site at New Byland. This site was to prove the communities permanent home. The church, which was completed in 1190, was at the time the largest in the country. The abbey continued under the patronage of roger de Mowbray, and acquired other patrons, including one of the most powerful men in the north William Percy.

Like so many others Byland suffered greatly during the period of the Black Death. In 1230 there was a community of 80 monks and 160 lay brothers at Byland, at the height of the Black Death the community numbered 11 monks and 3 lay brothers. The numbers never seem to have recovered and by the time of the Dissolution in December 1535 the numbers were still low.

A good deal of the great Abbey church still remains on the site, along with parts of the dormitory stairs, kitchen and other parts. The site is now in the care of English Heritage.


Coverham Abbey (Premonstratensian)

Very little now remains of Coverham Abbey, and the remains are on private land. The Abbey was founded in 1215 by Ranulphus FitzRobert. His mother Helewise was the daughter of Ranulph Glanville, Lord Chief justice under Henry III.

The first monks at Coverham were of the Premonstratensien order transferred from the Abbey at Swainby, founded by Helewise. Helewise had been buried at Swainby, but after the foundation of Coverham, her body was removed to Coverham for burial in the Chapter House.

The Abbey was gifted the church of Coverham and other properties. Later Geoffrey le Scrope of Bolton gifted the church of Sedburgh and three oxgangs of land. A later Lord Scrope gave the church of Downholme, and further benefactors gave the church at Kettlewell and the Rectory of Seaham to add to the Abbeys land and properties. By the time of the Dissolution the Abbey had an income of £207-14-8 annually. Coverham was dissolved in 1536, and the land was leased to Ralph Croft.

The remains include the Gatehouse, which is fully intact, and two of the nave arches. The outline of the church is still traceable but all else has long since vanished into the farm buildings. The Abbots lodgings have been converted into cottages. During the early part of the twentieth century two effigies were found, said to be two of the early Lords of Middleham.

Coverham was the nearest religious foundation to Middleham and one of the few places known to have been visited by the young Edward of Middleham. Richard was a regular visitor. It is possible that the young Prince was buried here rather than Sheriff Hutton. If so his burial place is long gone.


Easby, St Agatha's Abbey (Premonstratensian)

The Abbey of St Agatha, Easby stands almost in the shadow of Richmond castle. It was founded in 1152 as a house for thirteen canons of the Premonstratensian order by Roald, the Constable of the castle. Like many other Abbeys of the White monks, (canons) the Abbey was built in a valley near the River Swale. It has an unusual layout due to the site. The Abbey was entered through the south east corner of the cloister, and the infirmary buildings, instead of occupying its normal position, was situated to the north. The canons dormitory was situated not at the upper floor of the east cloister, but at the west side. The Abbey had a hospital for twenty two men. At its peak the Abbey had a total of thirty canons and numerous lay brothers, but by the Dissolution in 1537 only one canon was in residence. There are still extensive remains. The largest of these is the Refractory with its fine large windows and readers pulpit, and the Gatehouse.

Next to the Abbey ruins stands the picturesque church with its tunnel like porch. This church was never part of the Abbey but a lay church. The     interior contains a copy of the Easby Cross. The original cross is now housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum. The original has been dated as 800AD, and shows saints attending Christ and decorated with scrolls and fauna. The other item of interest is the murals which date from the 13th century. The subjects for these are taken from the Old Testament on the north side, and the New on the south side.


Ecclesfield Priory

A papal bull of 1142 issued by Pope Innocent II confirms the right of ownership to the Abbey of St Wandrilles in Normandy of a mill and church in the village of Ecclesfield to the north of Sheffield. Whether there were any other buildings on the site is unclear, but in 1181 there was an agreement recorded by Richard de Lovetot, Lord of Sheffield castle, which mentions the monks of Ecclesfield. Just what buildings, apart from the church and mill existed at that point is not made clear. But in 1866 an outer wall of the Priory was uncovered at the west end of the present chapel and dated 12th century.

A priory was certainly in existence by 1273 since a Papal Bull of Clement IV confirms some of the Priory lands and possessions. The whole was a cell of St Wandrilles and probably the mother Abbeys most northern English possession. There is still no evidence of how the Priory buildings at that point.

One recorded fact in the Priory’s history concerns Prior Robert Gulliemi 1349-1369. In 1357 Gulliemi was summoned to the mother house to answer charges of embezzlement. Gulliemi’s death in 1369 appears to have given way to some bickering as to who should replace him as Prior. He was succeeded by William Fulmere 1368-71 who remained unordained as Prior. Fulmere was threatened in 1371 by John Burdett who appears to have replaced him as Prior.Burdett was imprisoned in Newgate for threatening Fulmere and was replaced by Sir Henry de Melbourne. Immediately on his release Burdett challenged de Melbourne’s appointment unsuccessfully.

The priory remained a possession of St Wandrilles until 1386 when the Hundred Years War put an end to its ownership by a French house and the Priory was given to the Priory of St Anne, Coventry. At this point no more monks were sent to Ecclesfield but vicars and chaplains appointed instead. After the Dissolution the right to appoint vicars and collect the tithes was purchased by Francis, 5th Earl of Shrewsbury. The right eventually passed to the Shirecliffe family who converted the building into Ecclesfield Hall. The Priory chapel remained unaltered. The old chapel was still in existence in 1691. In 1736 the Hall was extended and only the old chapel still now remains at the south east corner of the present building.


Esholt Priory (Cistercian)

The Priory of St Mary and St Leonard Esholt was one of the smallest Cistercian houses in the north. Situated in the parish of Guisley near Leeds, it was founded between 1180-1190 by as a house for Cistercian nuns. The Priory received several grants of lands, including one confirmed by Richard II in 1379.

In 1303 the Priory suffered a scandal in which prompted the Prioress to attempt to resign, a request which the Archbishop of York refused. The scandal involved a nun who had left the Priory, become pregnant and was seeking re-admittance. The archbishop had refused to allow this. It is thought that there had been some slackness at the Priory since in the aftermath the Archbishop ordered that all secular boarders be removed, and appointed a new Prioress. By 1318 the Priory was in a great deal of debt, resulting in the Archbishop ordering that no pensions were to be granted and greater moderation was to be used in matters of expenses.

In 1445 the Priory suffered a disaster when the nearby river burst its banks and flooded the bell tower leaving it in a ruinous state. The Archbishop of York offered a 200 day indulgence to anyone who would offer donations or labour to assist in repairing the damage.

From its earliest days the Priory had had close connections with the Wade family. Over the years many of the ladies of the family had resided at the Priory, one in 1472 even becoming Prioress. The Priory was suppressed in 1538 at which time a Prioress and ten nuns remained. The remains of the Priory are now incorporated in Esholt Hall which is private property.


Fountains Abbey (Cistercian)

Fountains abbey was founded in 1132, and owes its existence to a dispute. In that year the monks of St Mary’s Abbey in York were in the throes of a violent dispute as to the conduct of life in the Abbey. On party wished to return to the strict order ordained by St Bernard in the 6th century, the remainder preferred the more relaxed rule of the present time. The result was the eviction of 13 monks wishing for the strict order. The party appealed to Thurstan, the archbishop of York, who provided them with a site some miles away on the banks of the River Skell. The site was ideal, providing the water, stone and timber needed to begin a new Abbey. Building began in 1132, and within the space of three years the founding monks had adopted the rules of the Cistercian order in preference to the more relaxed Benedictine. The Abbeys main source of income came from the wool taken from the large flocks of sheep tended by the Abbey’s lay brothers.

Fountains grew in prosperity and by the 13th century was one of the richest in England. As well as its wool it had an interest in Iron, quarrying, lead mining and horses. However by the next century the situation had changed. Raids by the Scots, the Black Death and financial mismanagement had taken their toll. To offset this the Abbey turned to dairy farming. By the time of the Dissolution the Abbey was once again financially secure.

The Abbey site stood empty for several years after the Dissolution. In 1598 the site was owned by Sir Stephen Procter who began to build his manor house at some distance from the abbey ruins. His architect was Robert Smythson who also designed Hardwick Hall for Bess of Hardwick, and Burton Agnes Hall for Sir Henry Griffiths.

The abbey remains include the church, open to the sky and the cloisters, which now have a room restored and open to the public. The jewel however is the Cellaruium still intact complete with its vaulted roof. This is now home to at least eight species of bats. The whole site is owned by the National Trust and managed by English Heritage.


Gisborough Priory (Austin Canons)

Founded in 1119 by Robert the Bruce’s ancestor, Robert Lord of Annandale, who richly endowed it, the Priory lies near Guisborough in Redcar and Cleveland, Gisborough was an Augustinian foundation. During the wars with the Scots the Priory was a welcome refuge for canons of other Priory’s affected by raids across the border including those of Hexham and Jedburgh. There have been at least three possibly four churches on the site. The first is believed to have been wood replaced before 1180 by the first stone church. The second church was greatly damaged by fire and replaced in the 14th century. Gisborough was the burial place of one of the prominent figures of the early years of the Wars of the Roses, William Neville, Lord Fauconburg, Earl of Kent. William, who died in 1464, was the uncle of Edward IV, Richard III, the Earl of Warwick and Marquis Montagu and played a major role in the battles of Ferrybridge and Towton in 1461.

The Priory was dissolved in 1540, and the estate was bought by the Chaloner family. The family still own the site but English Heritage Archaeological excavations have been conducting excavations. Recently the remains of the cloisters have been excavated. Other discoveries have included a stone lined grave complete with skeleton under the floor of the church. The east gable still rises high above the remains of the church. Stones from the site were used to build nearby St Nicholas Anglican church and other buildings in the town after the Reformation.


Haltemprice Priory (Austin Canons)

Now situated two miles from Cottingham Haltemprice was an Augustinian foundation begun in 1320 with the full name of St Mary the Virgin and Holy Cross. In that year the Pope, John XXII, licensed Thomas Wake of Liddell in Cumbria to found the monastery. It may possibly be that a Priory already existed on another site and the Pope was clearing up legal complications that could have arisen. Be that as it may the licence granted by both the Pope and the King Edward II, allowed the Priory to be moved or established at Newton, a now deserted medieval village. Wake endowed the Priory with the manors of Newton, Willerby and Wolferton along with the rents and services of the tenents and serfs. He also gave half the toll of the fairs and markets of Cottingham along with the advowson of four churches, Wharram Percy, Belton, Cottingham and Kirk Ella. Despite his personal problems, his castle was at one time taken by David of Scotland, Thomas Wake continued to patronise his foundation. He died in 1349.

Building on the site was still incomplete on Thomas’s death and the years following saw a downturn in the Priory’s fortunes. For this there were several causes. The Priory was caught up in litigation and incompetence and the Priory fell into a state of disrepair. In1411 a gale blew down the bell tower and damaged the church. To add to the woes a fire had destroyed the gateway and adjoining buildings. To assist in these troubles the Priory was made exempt from royal taxation. 1515 saw a three way dispute as to who held legal authority over Willerby and Wolfreton. Dissolution in 1536 put an end to Haltemprice’s chequered career. The site now houses a farmhouse.


Howden Minster

Originally owned by Peterborough Abbey, Howden was gifted to William of Calais, Bishop of Durham in 1080. The rebuilding of the Minster began in 1228. In 1267 it was created a Collegiate church. One of its early canons was St John of Howden. He was responsible for the rebuilding of the choir of the church before his death in 1275. He was buried in a shrine in the choir which was still extant in the 16th century. The dissolution of the monasteries hardly affected the Minster, but in 1548 its status of Collegiate church was removed by the dissolution of Collegiate Colleges and Chantries Act. The choir was therefore allowed to fall into ruin. The roof collapsed in 1696, followed by the chapter house roof in 1750. The nave continued to be used for services.


Jervaulx, St Mary’s Abbey (Cistercian)

Jervaulx was founded in 1145 a Cistercian foundation. Originally it was planned that the new foundation, a daughter house of Byland, would be situated at Flors. However, according to legend, the new Abbot and twelve monks became lost travelling from Byland. Before them appeared a vision of the Virgin and child who guided them to safety, leaving them with the words “Ye are late of Byland, now of Yoredale”. The monks took this as a sign that here was the spot for their new Abbey.

Over the years Jervaulx grew in size and prosperity. By 1536 it owned half the Yore valley and had an income of £234-18-5d. It was noted for its cheese and its horses. Jervaulx bred the finest stallions and destriers in the Dales and probably supplied Middleham castle. Legend says Richard III’s famous destrier White Surrey was bred at Jervaulx.

During the Pilgrimage of Grace the last Abbot, Adam Sedbar was forced to flee his Abbey for refuge at Bolton castle. It is unknown whether he voluntarily took part in the Pilgrimage or not, but either way he was executed.

After the Dissolution the property was granted to one Lancelot Harrison, who six years later passed the lease to the Earl of Lennox, father of Lord Darnley, Mary Queen of Scots ill fated second husband. Since that time it has been owned in turn by the Bruce, Brundell and Christie families. It is still in the private ownership of the Burdon family who kindly allow the public access to the remains.


Kirklees Priory (Cistercian)

Kirklees Priory was founded in the reign of Henry II as a Cistercian Nunnery by Renier le Fleming, Lord of Wath on Dearne. His grant was confirmed twice, in 1236 by Henry III, and by William Earl Warrenne in 1240.

Kirklees will always be associated with the legend of Robin Hood. The only remaining part of the Priory is the gatehouse now a ruin. Robin is said to have come to Kirklees for a bloodletting, a custom of the time. The Prioress was his cousin and for some reason seems to have had a grudge against Robin. She allowed him to bleed to death during the treatment. Legend tells that Robin fired an arrow from the upper window of the gatehouse, ordering the faithful Little John to bury him where it fell. Robins supposed grave is still to be seen on private land around 650 yards away.

Kirklees was dissolved in 1539 at which time there were eight nuns in residence and the estate was valued at £29-18-9d. Near the gatehouse is the Three Nuns Pub. This was supposedly begun by three of the nuns after the Dissolution.


Kirkstall, St Mary’s Abbey (Cistercian)

Kirkstall Abbey was founded in 1152. The monks who arrived at Kirkstall to begin the Abbey were originally from Barnoldswick near Skipton. The Abbey there had been founded in 1147 on land given by Henry de Lacy in gratitude for his recovery from a grave illness and begun by a party of Cistercian monks from Fountains Abbey. However the monks had made themselves thoroughly unpopular at Barnoldswick and the venture was unsuccessful. Six years after their arrival the monks moved to a new site at Kirkstall.

The new site was on the banks of the River Aire giving a good means of transport for stone and wood. At the outset of the building Henry de Lacy is said to have laid some of the foundations himself. Building continued without a break from 1152 to 1182. When complete the site comprised the Abbey church to the north, kitchens, warming room to the south, lay brothers quarters and cellarium to the west and dormitories to the east. This layout underwent alteration when the refectory was rebuilt. As with most Abbey’s the lands were scattered and the granges under Abbey control included Headingly, Clivenger Oldfield, Thorpe, Hooton Pagnell and Bessacar, along with the original site at Barnoldswick.

Despite this the Abbey drifted into a parlous state of finance by the late 12th century. Abbot Hugh Grinston appealed to the King, Edward I. Edward responded with an arrangement that the Abbey gave lands and rents to the Earl of Lincoln in return for an annual income. The plan was a resounding success for all parties. By the end of the 13th century the Abbey was becoming wealthy from the sale of wool. There was also an income from iron ore, a forge and lands in East Ardesley, and the mineral rights at Seacroft. Unfortunately the Abbeys interest in iron ore brought them into conflict with Fountains and Rievaulx during which the three Abbeys lay brothers came to blows. By the Middle Ages the Abbey’s main income had changed again and most of its wealth now came from rents from the farms.

At the time of the Dissolution the Abbot was awarded a pension and allowed to live in the inner gatehouse. The remaining monks also did well each receiving pensions.

Kirkstall now passed into secular hands. The first owner was Thomas Pagenham, the second Robert Savile. In the late 1600’s the site passed to the Earl of Cardigan by marriage. By now the buildings were stripped of their roofs and were being used as farm buildings. A road passed through the nave and some of the stone was used as repair material for Leeds Bridge. The whole site was now a ruin and as such a paradise for artists such as J M W Turner, George Cuitt, Thomas Girtin, Joseph Rhodes and John Sell Cotman.

In 1888 the death of Lord Cardigan of charge of the Light Brigade fame, whose family still owned the site. His widow decided to sell the land and for a time Leeds Corporation struggled to find the funds needed to purchase the site. They were saved by the generosity of Colonel J T North one of the towns wealthy industrialists, who purchased the site for £10,000 and presented it to the City in 1889. The site ever since has been one of Leeds most popular parks.


Malton Priory (Gilbertine)

The priory church at Malton remains today as a Parish church. Founded by Eustace FitzJohn in 1150 for the Gilbertine order, Malton suffered greatly after the dissolution. What now remains is the church. The upper level of this has been removed along with the celestory and the roof was lowed in the 1730’s. The west front seems at first sight to be unaltered, but closer inspetion shows the upper portion has been blocked off. All other buildings on the site have long vanished.


Marrick Priory (Gilbertine)

In contrast with monasteries nunneries were far from wealthy. One of the richest in Yorkshire with an income of £64-18-9d at the Dissolution was Marrick Priory 7 miles west of Richmond. Roger de Aske founded Marrick in 1154 for a community of Benedictine nuns during the reign of Henry II. Roger endowed Marrick with the church of at Andrew’s and a carucate of land. His grandson Roger confirmed the grant of land given by his grandfather and his father Conan. The Aske family were not the sole benefactors of the Priory. Other donations included the hospital at Stainsmoor.

The Priory was reached through woods up to an ancient stone stepped path. The site contained the Church, refractory, dormitories, prioress ‘lodgings, other buildings and stew ponds. A sizeable foundation for a nunnery.

Marrick has a particular interest for Ricardians. The connection lies in one of its nuns. In 1496, or thereabouts, Agnes Scrope Boynton Radcliffe entered Marrick. Agnes was the daughter of Henry, 4th Lord Scrope, sister of John 5th Lord, friend and advisor to Richard III. With her first husband Christopher Boynton, Agnes had two sons, Henry and John. After Christopher’s death Agnes married secondly Sir Richard Radcliffe. Richard Radcliffe like John Scrope, was a close friend and advisor of Richard of Gloucester, later Richard III. Radcliffe died fighting for Richard III at the battle of Bosworth. In 1486 Henry VII issued fifty pardons. Only one was to a woman, Agnes Scrope Boynton Radcliffe. On her death Agnes left to the Priory a gift of a book that had been a present from her father Pilgrimage of the Soul. This book now resides in the New York City Library.

For some reason Marrick was not dissolved until November 1540. At the time the community numbered a Prioress and sixteen nuns. The church today looks to be complete, but the only parts remain from the original is the tower which is 13th century. Ruins of the chancel with its window tracery also remain. The records of the Priory are in the possession of the Stapleton family. The site now houses a Diocesian youth Centre.


Monk Bretton Priory, St Mary Magdalene of Lind

Monk Bretton was founded as the Priory of St Mary Magdalene of Lind by Alan Fitswane in 1154. Lund where it is sited means sacred woodland grove.

The priory was a daughter house of St John’s Priory Pontefract, something which often led to disputes until Monk Bretton became independent. The Priory existed on agriculture and natural resources between Wakefield and Rotherham, and its market charter greatly added to the prosperity of the area.

There are substantial ruins and it is possible to see the whole ground plan of the Priory. The west range is still complete as is the 15th century gatehouse. The Priory is now under the care of English Heritage.


Mount Grace Priory (Carthusian)

Mount Grace Priory was founded in 1398 by Thomas Holland, Earl of Kent and Duke of Surrey. Thomas obtained a licence to found his Priory from his uncle Richard II. The charter is still in existence today and states that a payment of £1,000 was made to the King by the founder. The Priory was to house members of the Carthusian order whose members lead a hermit like existence. Each monk had his own cell of three rooms, one for study, meditation and prayer, one for sleep and one for work such as weaving. The cell was backed by a garden growing herbs and medicinal plants. One such cell has now been restored to its former state giving an idea of the monks life.

One year after Thomas obtained his licence Richard II was dethroned and replaced by Henry IV. Thomas was one of those who rebelled against Henry in favour of Richard. He was executed at Cirencester in 1400.

Patronage of Mount Grace passed to Thomas’ brother Edmund. In 1412 and with only nine monks the community was forced to petition Henry V to confirm their rights to certain lands. Not until a second petition some years later were their rights confirmed. A new patron of the Priory was Thomas Beaufort Duke of Exeter, who intended Mount Grace to be his burial place. Throughout the next century Mont Grace prospered and continued to amass land, with the result that by the Dissolution in 1536 the income was £323. The Priory was dissolved in 1540, its deed of surrender signed by the remaining Prior, sixteen monks, three novices and one oblate.

The Priory was sold to John Cheney who resold it to Sir James Strangways. In 1653 it passed to Thomas Lascelles. He converted the dilapidated guest house into a manor house. In 1744 the estate again changed hands by sale to the Mauleverer family from whom it eventually descended to one William Brown. It was William Brown who transcribed the history of the site and invited the archaeologist Sir William St John Hope to excavate the site. It is thanks to them we see Mount Grace in its present state. The site is owned by the National Trust and managed by English Heritage. It is open to the public.

Pontefract, St John’s Priory (Cluniac)

The priory of St John Pontefract was founded in 1090 by Robert de Lacy for monks of the Cluniac order. The endowment included several churches, and was enjoined to pray for the “good estate” of William I, the founder (Robert), his parents and his ancestors and heirs. The house was to be under the jurisdiction of a mother house, La Charite sur Loire in France, which held the right to appoint the Prior. This arrangement came to an end during the teign of Edward III at the start of the Hundred Years War.

The Priory was demolished during the civil war between Stephen and Matilda in the mid 1100’s. It was rebuilt by the man responsible, Gilbert de Gaunt. In 1156 the new Priory at Monk Bretton was founded as a subordinate of Pontefract. This arrangement was far from amicable and culminated in Monk Bretton renouncing the Cluniac order and becoming a Benedictine house.

In 1227 the Prior and some of his monks were accused of murdering three of their number. An enquiry informed the King, Henry III, that the Prior had been maliciously accused.

A visitation of the Priory carried out by the Abbot of Cluny in 1279 found the house to have a community of Prior and twenty six monks, to be in good repair, and with the monks to be living good pious lives. By 1291 the Priory was in a good financial position and three years later was granted royal protection when it gave a tenth of its income for the Holy Land.

The troubled reign of Edward II saw the Priory receive its first royal burial. After his execution in the town Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, son of Edward I’s brother Edmund, was buried in the Priory. His resting place was later claimed to be a spot of miracles. In 1460 during the early days of the Wars of the Roses, the Priory was again the resting place of victims of civil discord. Richard Duke of York, his son Edmund Earl of Rutland, Richard Earl of Salisbury and his son Sir Thomas Neville, were all buried within the Priory. Their stay was far shorter than that of Earl Thomas. Salisbury and Thomas were reburied at Bisham abbey in 1463, and the Duke of York and Edmund were re-interred at Fotheringhay in 1476.

The Priory was dissolved in 1539 at which point it housed a Prior and twelve monks. The site was excavated in the 1950/60s.


Rievaulx Abbey (Cistercian)

Rievaulx was the first Cistercian foundation in the north founded in 1132 by Walter dEspec. It was begun by a community of monks from Clairvaulx sent by St Bernard. Among its later benefactors was Henry II and King David of Scotland. Between them Rievaulx, Byland and Fountains the principle Cistercian Abbeys in the north became known as the three shining lights of the north. Like other Cistercian Abbeys it relied heavily on its income from wool. Along with Fountains and Byland In its heyday Rievaulx was the largest Abbey in the north. It suffered greatly at the time of the Black Death when the numbers of lay brothers plummeted to three. Rievaulx has the distinction of numbering three saints among its Abbot’s William, the founding Abbot, Aelfred and Waldef.

The Abbey ruins include the church, now open to the sky, the cloisters, warming room and refractory. It is in the care of English Heritage.


Roche Abbey (Cistercian)

Roche Abbey was yet another Cistercian Abbey in Yorkshire. The Abbey was begun in 1147 and like most Cistercian houses is built in a valley beside a stream. It was founded by Roger de Busli and Richard FitzTurgis. It took twenty five years for the great church to be finished and at this time the foundation was vested in the de Vesci family, Lords of Rotherham.

At that time the Abbey was at the north end of Sherwood Forest which covered a far greater area than it does in the present day. It is even claimed Robin Hood attended Mass there.

The de Vesci family had given control of the Abbey to the FitzTurgis family, and eventually control passed through the FitzTurgis’ granddaughter Constantia, to the de Livet’s under whose control it remained until 1377. At this point John Levit sold his rights of control to Richard Barry a London merchant. At the time of the Dissolution the Abbey was under the control of Henry Clifford, 2nd Earl of Cumberland.

Sadly the records of the Abbey were destroyed bat the Dissolution and much of the fabric was misappropriated by the community round about. However the north and south transepts are mostly intact. The despoliation of the Abbey and the carrying off of the fabric was recorded for history by Michael Sherbrook, rector of Wickersley.

The land passed through several families until in the 19th century it was owned by the Earl of Scarborough whose home Sandbeck Park adjoined the Abbey. Scarborough employed Capability Brown to landscape the site. Not until the 1920’s was the ground restored to its original beauty. A rare case of Brown’s talent spoiling rather than enhancing a landscape. The site is well worth a visit. It is now in the care of English Heritage.


Rosedale Abbey (Cistercian)

Rosedale situated between Castleton and Pickering in north Yorkshire stands in an area of rolling hills and spectacular scenery. The Cistercian Abbey on the site was founded in 1158 for a small community of nuns. Its claim to fame lies in it been the first to farm sheep on a commercial basis. The only remnants today are a sun dial, staircase and pillar. The church was rebuiltin the 19th century on the site and the picturesque village now also boasts a tea room, art gallery, glass studio, cottages a village green and a number of pubs.


Selby, St Mary and St Germain’s Abbey (Cistercian)

In its heyday Selby was a rich Abbey. Its site comprised, apart from the Abbey church, cloisters, brew house, bake house, workshops, dormitories, infirmary, kitchens, stables, barns and cellars. Work on the Abbey began shortly after the Norman Conquest. As the story goes a monk of Auxerre named Benedict had a vision from St Germaine telling him to go to England and build an Abbey. The place chosen was Selby at the time a small village surrounded by moors, marshes and forest on the banks of the River Ouse.Benedict set up his cross beneath a great oak known as Strithlac where, so it was said, it was seen by the Sheriff of Yorkshire who reported the fact to William I at that time resident in York. Fresh from his victory over the Northumbrians William was pleased to grant a charter to found an Abbey with Benedict as its first abbot. In 1068 William’s Queen Matilda of Flanders, was in Selby when she gave birth to her youngest son, the future Henry I.

The first years of the Abbey were hard and discipline deteriorated. Eventually two of the monks absconded with a good deal of the Abbeys wealth. Benedict had them followed brought back and punished by castration. This was considered barbaric and led to his forced resignation. Hardship continued until during the reign of Henry I the monks considered leaving Selby. However Henry ordered them to remain. The new Abbot Hugh, decided a new start should be made and moved the site of the Abbey to Church Hill to build a new Abbey church in stone. The building continued for a further 130 years.

As the Abbey grew, so did its prosperity. Gifts from wealthy patrons came in the form of grants of lands and property. A ferry was in operation which paid its tolls to the Abbey. Rents were paid to the Abbey from houses in the town and the wool trade flourished. All added to the Abbey’s wealth and the town’s prosperity. Unlike Fountains, Jervaulx and Rievaulx, Selby does not appear to have resisted the Dissolution and its last Abbot Robert Selby received a pension of £100 a year for life.

In the years after Selby suffered mixed fortunes. The Abbey church continued to be a place of worship for the towns citizens but by the time of the English Civil War the fabric was becoming sadly decayed. In March 1690 the upper part of the central tower, south transept and part of the choir fell to the ground. Not until 1890 was a full restoration undertaken under the direction of Sir George Gilbert Scott. This was not the end of the Abbeys troubles. In October 1906 the Abbey was swept by a catastrophic fire. At once a restoration fund was begun. Restoration work was undertaken by John Oldroyd Scott, and within three years the nave choir and the upper portion of the tower were restored. By 1935 the Abbey was restored to the extent where a Norman revisiting the site would have recognised the Abbey of his time. The Abbey church today continues to serve the town as it has for the past millennium.


Watton, St Mary’s Priory (Gilbertine)

The priory of St Mary’s Watton, was founded in 1150 by Eustace Fitz John, and confirmed by his wife Agnes. It was unusual in the fact that it was a house for both monks and nuns. Fitz John founded the Priory as a penance for fighting for the Scots at the battle of the Standard.

The Priory received several gifts of land in its early days, notably from Robert Constable of Flamborough and Alexander of Santon. Henry II also granted a gift of lands in the early days, a gift later confirmed by his son King John.

The Priory retained royal protection throughout many years. Henry III intervened in the Priory’s favour in a dispute with Agnes de Vesci in 1272. In 1305 Margery Bruce, daughter of King Robert the Bruce of Scots, was imprisoned in the priory by order of Edward I in retaliation for her father claiming the Scots throne. Unfortunately by the early 1300’s despite its many gifts and royal favour, Watton was in financial difficulties.

During the Pilgrimage of Grace there was great unrest in the Priory. The Prior protested his own non-involvement personally to Thomas Cromwell, but during his absence the canons supplied support for the rising. Watton surrendered at the Dissolution in 1539 at which time the house consisted of a Prior, seven canons, two Prioress’ and twelve nuns. Each was given a pension. According to records the Priory assets amounted to £730-6-10d.


Whitby, St Hilda's Abbey (Cistercian)

The first religious community in Whitby was recorded in 657 when St Hilda founded her Abbey for both monks and nuns on the site. Hilda was a very pious learned lady and such was her reputation that her Abbey was the setting for what became known as the Synod of Whitby, when King Oswy of Northumbria, the Abbey’s patron, called a meeting between two factions of the Christian church to decide on the dating of Easter. This was in dispute between supporters of the Roman method of dating and the Celtic method. The outcome gave victory to the roman method as used by the monks of Canterbury rather than those from Scotland. After Hilda’s death the Abbey’s second Abbess was Oswy’s widow Enfleda, and her successor was their daughter Elfleda. It is therefore no surprise that Oswy, his Queen Enfleda and his father Edwin were all buried in the Abbey.

Because of its position Whitby suffered during the Danish raids on Yorkshire and Northumbria. In 867 the Abbey was one of the Christian foundations destroyed by the non Christian invaders.

The Abbey was re-founded in 1073 by one of William the Conquerors knights turned monk, Reinfrid. He travelled from Evesham with two companions, Aldwin and Elfwig, and settled first at Jarrow, before later moving to Whitby and beginning rebuilding the Abbey for monks of the Benedictine order. When it came to a choice of Saint to whom the Abbey should be dedicated there was no shortage of choice. Whitby’s saints included Hilda, Enfleda, Elfleda, Wilfred and Bergu among others, but the decision to dedicate the Abbey to its first founder was a foregone conclusion. Building was begun by clearing away the remains of Hilda’s Abbey to build more in keeping with Norman church architecture. This in time would give way to further alterations and extensions until by the time of the Dissolution the Abbey was at least twice the size of Reinfrid’s original.

Whitby was fortunate that among its patrons was one of the north’s most prominent families. Reinfrid was succeeded by Abbot Serlo de Percy, whose brother William was the greatest landowner in the north. Serlo was in turn followed by his nephew William. Other donations followed and in time Whitby was collecting revenue from places as far apart as Middlesbrough and Scarborough. To this could be added the constant flow of pilgrim’s intent on showing their devotion to Whitby’s many Saints.

In 1220 the wealth from these sources allowed Abbot Roger to begin the Abbey layout we see today. However by 1250 his grand plans had left the Abbey deep in debt and to this was added the problems of shortage of labour due to the Black Death. There were also allegations that some of the monks were corrupt. All these were problems the King was required to solve.

By the time of the Dissolution Whitby’s problems were long solved and the Abbey was again wealthy. Its income was recorded as £437 per annum. The Abbey was one of the last to be surrendered to the King’s commissioners in 1539. It is now in the care of English Heritage and is open to the public.