History of Mount Grace Priory

Mount Grace Priory is the best preserved of the nine successful Carthusian monasteries – whose monks, unlike those of other religious orders, lived as hermits – to be founded in medieval England. Founded in 1398 by Thomas de Holland, Duke of Surrey and nephew of Richard II, it was revived after his death by Thomas Beaufort, Duke of Exeter, in 1415. After uncertain beginnings Mount Grace became a substantial religious house, and was one of the last monasteries in Yorkshire to be suppressed, in December 1539. In the 17th century the ruins of its guest house were remodelled as a mansion, which was extended and restored at the turn of the 20th century in Arts and Crafts style.

The foundation charter of Mount Grace Priory with highly decorative illuminations

The foundation charter of Mount Grace Priory
© Historic England (West Yorkshire Archive Service)

Foundation and Early History

The late medieval Carthusian monasteries (known as charterhouses) in England were all founded by courtiers or soldiers who had done well out of the wars with France. The house of Mount Grace of Ingleby (or the Charterhouse of the Assumption of the Virgin and St Nicholas) was founded in or after April 1398 by Richard II’s nephew Thomas de Holland (c 1374–1400), 6th Earl of Kent and Duke of Surrey, at his manor of Bordelby, in partnership with John and Eleanor de Ingleby, his tenants there.[1]

Holland founded it on account of his ‘special devotion’[2] to the Carthusians. The order was supported by both his uncle (Richard II) and his relation by marriage Gian Galeazzo Visconti, Duke of Milan, founder of the great charterhouse of Pavia, near Milan.[3] To support the new community, an estate of confiscated ‘alien’ priories – satellite priories of French abbeys founded in England after the Conquest, and seized by the Crown during the Hundred Years War – had been bought from Richard II.[4]

The founder’s great wealth and power must have seemed to assure the priory’s future, but this security was shortlived. Richard II was deposed in 1399, and de Holland was executed in 1400 after an attempted coup against Henry IV. This left the fledgling priory without a patron. Henry IV and his successor, Henry V (r.1413–22), also began to take back the grant of alien priories, the latter to endow his own charterhouse of Sheen, near Richmond in Surrey.

Fortunately Thomas Beaufort, Duke of Exeter and half-brother of Henry IV, took an interest in Mount Grace, and in 1415 persuaded Henry V to make good the loss of the priory’s endowment in stages.[5] His intention was to turn Mount Grace into his mausoleum, with five additional monks to pray for him, and he was buried there in 1429. Essentially he was the priory’s second founder.

The foundation of the Grande Chartreuse, from a manuscript probably produced at Mount Grace in the 15th century, with red, orange, blue and green colouriing

The foundation of the Grande Chartreuse in France, the first charterhouse, depicted in a manuscript probably produced at Mount Grace in the 15th century. The buildings are likely to be a contemporary representation of Mount Grace
© British Library Board (Add MS 37049 fol 22r)

Stability and Growth

After Thomas Beaufort’s burial, the monks of Mount Grace began to accept burials of other lay people. They also performed obituary masses for those buried elsewhere, so attracting substantial local support and land grants.

Mount Grace’s heavy reliance on alien priory estates, however, which were normally granted for the duration of whatever hostilities with France were then current, and the lack of a major patron after Beaufort’s death, meant that the charterhouse always had an uncertain future.

It was in this context that Edward IV granted to Mount Grace the manor of Atherstone, Warwickshire, in 1462, for ‘the poor estate of the house’,[6] and the estates in Richmond, Yorkshire, of the French monastery of Bégard in 1471, to found a chantry for the royal House of York.[7]

In the 1520s Henry, Lord Clifford, became a major benefactor, funding land purchases and a substantial campaign to build extra monks’ cells. Another patron was Sir John Rawson, a London merchant who was a member of the military religious order of Knights Hospitaller. He built ‘le Inne’, a hostel for travellers, at Mount Grace before he fought at the siege of Rhodes in 1522.[8]

From Prior John Wilson’s letters to Clifford it is clear that there was a waiting list of would-be Carthusians in 1523.[9]

In spite of Mount Grace’s uncertain endowments, towards the end of its life it remained a reasonably wealthy house. The Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1534–5 – the survey of all church property carried out on the orders of Henry VIII – valued its estates at £323 a year.[10]

A reconstruction painting showing how the priory may have looked in the 1530s, looking south across the Great Cloister with one of the cells in cutaway to show the interior

A reconstruction drawing showing how the priory may have looked in the 1530s, looking south across the Great Cloister. In the foreground is one of the monks’ cells (shown cut away)
© Historic England (illustration by Dominic Andrews)

The Suppression

Though the Carthusians featured prominently in the early opposition to Henry VIII’s divorce from Katherine of Aragon and the consequent break with Rome, Mount Grace remained relatively untroubled during the first years of the Reformation.

The monks refused to become involved with the Pilgrimage of Grace, the popular rising that broke out in Yorkshire in the autumn of 1536 in reaction to the suppression of the lesser monasteries.

When Mount Grace was eventually suppressed in December 1539 the community were given generous pensions. The prior was granted the hermitage and chapel of The Mount in nearby Osmotherley, which belonged to the priory.[11] He, with one of his monks and two lay brothers, was to join the charterhouse of Sheen when it was refounded under Mary I in 1555.[12]

         

After the Suppression

Mount Grace was leased to John Cheney in February 1540, but that lease was bought out by Sir James Strangways of East Harlsey Castle in the following year. Strangways also bought Morton Grange, a nearby farm of Rievaulx Abbey which had been leased to Mount Grace from 1509.

On his death in 1544 Mount Grace passed to Ralph Rokeby. His granddaughter Grace married Conyers, Lord Darcy of Knayth, in 1616, and Mount Grace was a part of her marriage settlement.[13]

It was probably Lord Darcy (described in records as ‘of Mount Grace’) who substantially altered the guest range of the priory to form a residence. In 1653 Grace’s son, another Conyers Darcy, sold the ‘capital messuage’ (a term that implies the existence of a house) of Mount Grace with the site of ‘the late dissolved monastery’ to Thomas Lascelles.[14]

In 1744 the Revd Robert Lascelles sold Mount Grace, which had been tenanted since 1701, to Timothy Mauleverer of Arncliffe Hall. From him, ownership descended to the antiquary William Brown, who in 1898 sold the estate to the industrialist Sir (Isaac) Lowthian Bell.

A late 19th-century photograph of the 17th-century mansion, which incorporated the priory’s guest house range

A late 19th-century photograph of the 17th-century mansion which incorporated the priory’s guest house range. The mansion was enlarged and restored in Arts and Crafts style by Sir Lowthian Bell in 1900–01
© Historic England Archive (OP12520)

Mount Grace and the Bells

Lowthian Bell (1816–1904), who lived at nearby Rounton Grange, had been approached by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings to form a trust to acquire the Arncliffe estate, in order to protect the fragile ruins of the charterhouse and the 17th-century mansion that had succeeded it. Such was his interest, however, that he bought the estate himself. He began the repair and extension of the house and stabilisation of the ruins in 1900.

The Bells were to own Mount Grace until 1953, when it was accepted by the Treasury in lieu of death duties and given to the National Trust, which placed the priory ruins in the guardianship of the state in 1955.

            

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About the Author

Glyn Coppack is a monastic specialist who directed excavations at Mount Grace Priory between 1985 and 1992. He is the author of the English Heritage Red Guide to Mount Grace and, with Laurence Keen, of the forthcoming Mount Grace Priory: The Excavations of 1957–92.

                   

Footnotes

1. The de Inglebys’ copy of the foundation charter survives in the West Yorkshire Archives, Leeds (WYL 230/25).
2. As expressed in the preamble to the foundation charter.
3. His younger brother and heir, Edmund, was married to Lucia Visconti, Gian Galeazzo’s first cousin. She had been intended as the wife of Henry Bolingbroke, who became Henry IV.
4. EM Thompson, The Carthusian Order in England (London, 1930), 230.
5. Calendar of Patent Rolls, Henry V, 1413–16 (London, 1910), 355 (the retention of the alien priory estate of Hinckley, Leicestershire); Calendar of Patent Rolls, Henry V, 1416–22 (London, 1911), 395 (the grant of the alien priories of Long Bennington and Hough in Lincolnshire, and Field Dalling in Norfolk; accessed 10 April 2014).
6. Calendar of Patent Rolls, Edward IV, 1461–67 (London, 1897), 120 (accessed 10 April 2014).
7. G Cook, Medieval Chantries and Chantry Chapels (London, 1947), 28.
8. TC Skeat, ‘Letters from the reign of Henry VIII’, British Museum Quarterly, 21:1 (1957), 4–8 (subscription required; accessed 10 April 2014); see also British Library, Add MS 48965 fol 6.
9. Ibid, fol 7.
10. J Caley and J Hunter (eds), Valor Ecclesiasticus Tempore Henrici VIII Auctoritate Regia Institutus, vol 5 (London, 1836), 84–5.
11. D Knowles, The Religious Orders in England, vol 3: The Tudor Age (Cambridge, 1959), 239–40.
12. Ibid, 240.
13. W Brown, ‘History of Mount Grace’, Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, 7 (1882), 479–80 (accessed 10 April 2014).
14. Ibid, 480.

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