Mount Grace Priory

Mount Grace Priory

Location: North Yorkshire   Map

Constructed: 1398 by Thomas de Holand, Earl of Kent and Duke of Surrey
Dissolved: 1539
Tel. 01609 883494
Open: Apr- Sep: Thu- Mon
Oct- Mar: Thu- Sun


Description of Mount Grace Priory

Mount Grace Priory is a ruined priory and manor house in the village of East Harlsey in the North York Moors National Park, North Yorkshire, England. Today it is the best preserved of the ten medieval Carthusian houses in England. The Priory was founded in 1398 by Thomas Holland, 1st Duke of Surrey, son of King Richard II's half-brother Thomas Holland, 2nd Earl of Kent, in the midst of sparse woodland. It was the last monastery established in Yorkshire, and one of the very few founded anywhere in Britain between the Black Death period (1349-1350) and the Reformation. It was a rather small monastery with room for a prior and 23 monks.

Mount Grace Priory consisted of a church and two monastic buildings. The northern of the two had 16 cells, the southern only five, a house for the brother and the prior, and a chapter house. West of it stood the apartments of the lay brothers and the guest house.

Following the abdication of King Richard, on New Year's Day 1400, Holland and other supporters of the king attempted to assassinate his recently crowned successor, Henry IV, but were captured and executed. Holland's body was later recovered and reburied in 1412 in the chapter house he founded himself. The orphaned priory, bereft of its founder and the income granted by Holland and King Richard, depended on royal generosity for income for over a decade.


Carthusian Priory

At the founding of the priory, Thomas Holland required that the monks pray for the king, queen and other members of the royal family, as well as for himself and his heirs, John and Eleanor Ingelby and many others. The prior of Grande Chartreuse allowed him to nominate Robert Tredwye as first rector and to consecrate the priory "to the Blessed Virgin and Saint Nicholas". The second part of the name was dropped and the priory was named "House of the Assumption of the most Blessed Virgin in Mount Grace". Nicholas Love, Prior of Mount Grace, succeeded in forging a link between the Priory and the House of Lancaster, in part by offering his "Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ," Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury and Chancellor Henry IV ., supporting the archbishop's campaign against Wyclifism and offering Arundel fraternity in the spiritual estates of Mount Grace in exchange for the grant of material goods. In 1410 the house was formally incorporated into the order and Love was appointed fourth rector and first prior.

The House received a number of assignments and charters:
In March 1399, Richard II granted the monks a charter of liberty in general matters, e.g. B. the right to mine lead.
In May 1399, at the request of the Duke of Surrey, he gave them the distant priories of Hinckley in Leicestershire, Carisbrooke on the Isle of Wight and Wareham in Dorset. They also received lands from the priory of Sainte Marie de Lire in Evreux in Normandy for the duration of the war between England and France.
When the Priory of Wareham was lost, soon after Henry IV's accession, the King granted the monks an appanage of £100 a year from the state coffers until they found lands of equal value (£1000) and a cask of "better red wine from the Gascogne” in Hull every Martin's Day.
In 1412 Henry V confirmed the gift of Hinckley for five monks to pray for him and Thomas Beaufort, Earl of Dorset.
In 1421 he gave the monks four more distant priories, Long Bennington, Minting and Hagh (Hough-on-the-Hill) in Lincolnshire and Field Dalling in Norfolk, which brought in an annual income of £100.

In 1439 the priory asked Parliament to confirm its title to the land - the number claiming the property meant they dared not build - and Henry VI. confirmed him in 1440. Thereafter gifts and income continued:
In 1456 Sir James and Lady Elizabeth Strangways of Harlsey Castle granted the priory patronage of the church at Beighton in Derbyshire.
In 1462 the King gave them the manorial dominion of Atherstone in Warwickshire (part of the distant Great Ogbourne Priory in Wiltshire) for the benefit of the poor.
In 1471 the King gave them manorial lordship of the distant Begare Priory in Yorkshire for three Masses a day for the King and his family souls, but in 1472 he reassigned them to Eton College, to which they had previously belonged .
In 1508 the Prior of Mount Grace leased the East Harlsey chapel and Bordelby manor to the Prior of Guisborough for fifty years at an annual rent of £8.
In 1512 Sir Thomas Strangways' last will mentions a Lady Chapel at Mount Grace and gives instructions to the priests who should sing the masses there.



Mount Grace Priory became an important site for the production and preservation of contemplative and devotional texts: among the scribes were monks such as John Norton and Richard Methley, known for his translations from Latin of The Cloud of the Ignorant and for the anonymous translation into English by Marguerite Porete "Mirrors of Simple Souls" became known. The only surviving manuscript of The Book of Margery Kempe also belonged to the chapter house at Mount Grace.



The priory was closed in 1539 during Henry VIII's general dissolution of the monasteries. Some of the monks had tried (1534) to avoid taking the oath of submission after being imprisoned. The last prior, John Wilson, handed over the keys of the priory to Henry VIII's representatives. Then the property was transferred into private hands.

Mount Grace Priory was valued at a gross value of £382 5s. 11½ d. (£323 2s. 10½d. net) including £104 6s. 8d. estimated from spiritualities in Lincolnshire, £164 from lands outside Yorkshire and the remainder from native Yorkshire lands. In December 1539 the brothers received pensions totaling £195-£60 plus the house and chapel called Mount for the prior, £7 for each of the eight priests and small sums for 18 of them.


Daily life

Unlike monks from other orders who live together, the Carthusian monks lived as hermits back then. Each had his own cell - which was more like a small house - and only met in the chapel for nightly liturgical hours and on Sundays and feast days. Each monk spent the other hours individually in his cell. Aside from singing the liturgy and talking "about serious things" during the weekly three-hour set walk, the Carthusians are silent and their diet is strictly vegetarian.

The monks at Mount Grace Priory took great care of hygiene and cleanliness. There is a latrine in the reconstructed cell and visitors can explore the ditches that were in use as a sewage system.


After the closure

After the dissolution, the ruins of the priory and guest house were incorporated into two houses of later date: a 17th-century mansion - a rare Commonwealth-period building erected by Thomas Lascelles (1624-1697) - and the larger house of 1900–1901, an important example of the Arts and Crafts Movement. The mansion in the Priory was decorated in the Arts and Crafts style under the industrialist Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell.


Today's condition

Visitors today can see the layout of the entire monastery, including a reconstructed monk's cell along with the typical small Carthusian chapel and later house. There is also a museum presenting the history of the priory.

The property is now owned by the National Trust but managed by English Heritage. English Heritage is currently letting the Prior's house as a holiday home.


Priors and Rectors of Mount Grace

The Houses of the Carthusians: The Priory of Mount Grace lists a number of priors of the house along with the years they were in office. This may not be entirely correct, since the first two entries name rectors, not priors; nor is the list exhaustive, as Carthusian records identify Nicholas Love (or Luff) as first prior and fourth rector.

Robert Tredwye or Tredewy, 1398
Edmund, in 1399
Nicholas Luff, in the years 1413, 1415, 1416 (reign ended according to other sources in 1417.)
Robert Layton, in 1421
Thomas Lockington – Prior 1421–1447 (from The typescript List of Obiits of the Carthusians of the English Houses (The Houses of Carthusian Monks... writes "Thomas, occurs 1428" and "Thomas Lockington, occurs 1436, 1437, 1439" as separate entries.))
Robert, in the years 1449 and 1454
Robert Leke, in the years 1469 and 1473
Thomas, in the years 1475 and 1476
Thomas, in 1497
Henry Eccleston, in 1501 and 1506
John, in the years 1527-1528 and 1531-1532
William (?) Fletcher, in 1532-1533
John Wilson, in the years 1537-1538