A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 1, Physique, Archaeology, Domesday, Ecclesiastical Organization, the Jews, Religious Houses, Education of Working Classes To 1870, Private Education From Sixteenth Century. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1969.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
HOUSE OF CARTHUSIAN MONKS
2. THE LONDON CHARTERHOUSE
The London Charterhouse, (fn. 1) known as the House of the Salutation of the Mother of God, was founded at Smithfield, a little to the north-west of the city wall, by Sir Walter Manny and Bishop Michael Northburgh of London in 1371, but the foundation was only the final event in a prolonged series of negotiations and changes of plan. (fn. 2) The Black Death had reached England in the summer of 1348, and was at its height in London in the early months of the following year. When the capacity of the city graveyards proved inadequate, Manny, as a work of charity, rented from the Master and Brethren of St. Bartholomew's Hospital for an annual sum of twelve marks a close of some 13 acres known as Spital Croft, with the understanding that he should be granted full possession when he could provide the hospital with property of equal value in exchange. (fn. 3) The graveyard was dedicated on the feast of the Annunciation 1349 by Ralph Stratford, Bishop of London, who preached on the word 'Hail' of the angel Gabriel. This circumstance, itself possibly a consequence of Manny's devotion to this particular incident in the gospel, gave the name that the future monastery was to bear, the House of the Salutation of the Mother of God.
On the same day the foundations were laid of a chapel wherein masses were to be celebrated for those buried in the graveyard, for Manny intended to establish a college of twelve secular priests with a provost, of the type that was becoming common. This project was never executed, although papal permission for it was obtained. (fn. 4) Instead, a hermitage for two inmates was erected, in which continual prayers were to be offered for the dead. (fn. 5)
So matters stood for a number of years. The first suggestion of a Charterhouse seems to have come from Michael Northburgh, Bishop of London 1355-61, who on his journeys to and from the papal court had visited and admired the Charterhouse at Paris. He approached Manny with the suggestion that they should co-operate in the foundation of a monastery in Spital Croft. (fn. 6) The suggestion was in harmony with a recent change in the policy of the Carthusian Order. The Grande Chartreuse and all early Charterhouses had been founded of set purpose in desert places, and even the conversi or lay brethren had been accommodated in buildings at a considerable distance from those of the monks. Hitherto the English foundations at Witham and Hinton (Som.) and at Beauvale (Notts.) had conformed to this pattern. More recently, however, continental houses had been founded on urban sites, as at Paris, Bruges, Cologne, and Liège, where the strict and secluded community had served as a living contrast to the worldliness and vice of a great city. Northburgh hoped with reason for a similar result in London. Manny was agreeable to the proposal, (fn. 7) and the bishop approached the priors of Witham and Hinton. (fn. 8) The Carthusians, at least in the early centuries of their Order's existence, rarely made foundations spontaneously as a 'swarm', like the Cistercians, but responded to an invitation from a founder who was expected to provide the buildings and endowment. In this case the priors accepted the invitation; both died shortly afterwards, and it was left to a subsequent Prior of Hinton, John Luscote, to raise the matter again with Manny when on a visit to London. (fn. 9) Manny was still willing to act, and after some delay the general chapter in 1370 accepted the new foundation and appointed Luscote, relieved of his charge at Hinton, as its administrator. (fn. 10) When, however, he arrived in London with a companion, a deaconredditus (fn. 11) named John Gryseley, he found that no building had been started. Manny had offered the Hospital of St. Bartholomew the manor of Streetly (Cambs.) in exchange for their lands; the manor, however, owed service to the Bishop of Ely, who was supported by his chapter in maintaining that he could not alienate the rights of his see without papal permission. (fn. 12) This was obtained with the assistance of Simon Sudbury, Bishop of London, whose aid Luscote had solicited, and who offered the Bishop of Ely sufficient compensation for the loss of service. The requisite papal permission was given by Urban V in May 1370, when he committed to Archbishop Whittlesey the decision as to the sufficiency of Sudbury's proposed compensation, and Whittlesey's licence was duly issued in June. (fn. 13) These and other delays, caused partly by the chapter of St. Paul's and partly by an anchoress who lived alongside the graveyard chapel, had held up all building operations. Even now events moved slowly. It was not until December that the inquisition ad quod damnum returned a verdict that the king would suffer no loss by the foundation, and two more months passed before the royal licence was issued. (fn. 14) At last, on 28 March 1371, came Sir Walter Manny's foundation charter, (fn. 15) and about the feast of the Ascension (15 May) the founder and the prior made an agreement with Henry Yevele, the celebrated master mason, for building the first cell and beginning the great cloister. (fn. 16) Seven months later, on 15 January 1372, Manny died, and was buried before the high altar (fn. 17) in the chapel of the graveyard, now to be the monastic church.
Meanwhile Prior Luscote, as 'visitor' of the province, had been authorized to summon monks from each of the existing houses to become founding members of the new community: a monk and a lay brother from Hinton, two priests from Witham in addition to John Gryseley, and two from Beauvale. (fn. 18) With them he lived in makeshift buildings for many years; indeed, Prior Luscote died in 1398 before the communal rooms and the great wall of the enclosure had been completed.
In contrast to the slow progress with the buildings, the nucleus of property owned by the Charterhouse was complete within twenty years. (fn. 19) Spital Croft or, as it was re-named, New Church Haw, was conveyed to Manny and others by St. Bartholomew's Hospital in 1370, and at the same time the Hospital conveyed to them about 3 acres of land north of the main block; (fn. 20) the Hospitallers of St. John in Clerkenwell had conveyed another piece of 3 acres northwest of the Pardon churchyard to Manny, (fn. 21) but for some reason it did not pass to the monks either by Manny's foundation charter or at his death. It was therefore bought on behalf of the monks and subsequently released, along with all the other properties, to King Edward III and by him granted to the Charterhouse in 1376. (fn. 22) Shortly afterwards, in 1377, the builders were faced with a problem. The great cloister was planned on the ample scale of 300 by 340 feet; as projected its eastern alley and cells would lie outside the parish boundary, which was also the eastern boundary of New Church Haw, and the construction was in consequence halted. The land, however, belonged to St. Bartholomew's, who once more came to the rescue and made over 4 acres to the monks. (fn. 23) This transfer completed the site of the monastery with its offices, gardens, and orchards, today bounded on the east by Goswell Road, on the north by Clerkenwell Road, and on the west by the gardens at the rear of houses in St. John's Street. Two more grants of land, the one by the Hospitallers of St. John in 1384, the other by Westminster Abbey in 1391, gave the Charterhouse fields to the north and north-west of their existing property. (fn. 24) All these parcels of land combined to give the monks a compact area of some 30 acres, forming a parallelogram almost 300 by 600 yards in extent, and giving space not only for an orchard surrounding three sides of the cloister, but also for a vegetable garden, hayfield, and wilderness to the north-the last-named harbouring at least the smaller species of game. (fn. 25) This area remained without addition or diminution until the suppression of the house.
The original endowment of the Charterhouse consisted of £2,000 from Michael Northburgh, together with some articles of plate, and the manors of Ockholt in Romney Marsh (Kent) and Knebworth (Herts.) from Sir Walter Manny, together with a claim to debts and arrears amounting to £4,000, due to Manny from the king and the Black Prince. (fn. 26) In the event the monks had little profit from Manny's legacies, as Ockholt was partially submerged by the tides, Knebworth taken from them unjustly, and the royal debts permanently dishonoured. (fn. 27) As a consequence the Charterhouse depended for the major part of its income on the gifts, large and small, in cash and in real estate, occasional or substantial, from personal friends and humbler donors, mainly Londoners. The founders of cells are enumerated below; in addition, the 'Register' and the evidence of wills show a constant stream of gifts and legacies of property, money, and valuables from the foundation to the early 16th century. As might be expected, the greater part of the property so devised lay in or near London, and consisted of tenements in the City and suburbs, and pastures and gardens on the outskirts, but there were a few manors and some house property at a distance, and the rectories of at least five churches. The monks seem to have found difficulty with distant property, no doubt because it was impossible for one of their own body to visit or supervise it; some of the original property was very soon lost, and there is also mention of two manors in Kent, Plumstead and Hintingford, and a church in Somerset, Norton Veal (now Norton St. Philip), (fn. 28) lost, so it was alleged, through the sharp practice of enemies. The house was in financial difficulties as early as 1393, and early in the reign of Henry IV the monks were reduced to such straits by losses and obligations that they were forced to appeal to the king, who in 1403 took the Charterhouse into his hands for a time and administered its affairs. (fn. 29) Forty years later Henry VI acknowledged further losses by a licence to acquire in mortmain property of £40 annual rent, and added a second tun of wine yearly to that given by Edward III. (fn. 30) The only major benefaction of land in the later 15th century was the gift by Edward IV, 'through the persuasion and advice of Thomas Colt', of the alien priory of Ogbourne (Wilts.), with a manor and other property in Great Ogbourne (Ogbourne St. George) and Little Ogbourne (Ogbourne St. Andrew). (fn. 31) Hitherto King's College, Cambridge, had had a title to Ogbourne, and it was some years before the Charterhouse was able to realize the gift. They were helped by Bishops Alcock of Ely (1486-1500) and Russell of Lincoln (1480-94) and the final arrangement was in force from about 1500. By that time the College was in possession, farming the property, and paying a yearly rent of £33 6s. 8d., about half of the rent they received, to the Charterhouse. (fn. 32)
The bulk of the land at a distance was, so far as can be seen, farmed out for a lump annual sum, but the monks appear to have kept in hand the demesne at Bloomsbury, where they employed a bailiff, to provide dairy produce for the house. Their own gardens and orchards adjoining the monastery would have sufficed for vegetables and fresh fruit. So far as can be seen from the procurator's accounts over a run of nine years (1492-1500) (fn. 33) receipts of all kinds fluctuated greatly according as gifts and legacies were forthcoming or not, or as house property fell into disrepair or was lost for one reason or another. Moreover, a well-connected and energetic procurator, such as Philip Underwood, with wealthy relatives in the City, could manage, by calling in debts, soliciting gifts, and making the most of rents, to swell the annual receipts considerably. Underwood's predecessor in 1492-3 could only realize £589 in receipts; Underwood raised this to £1,067 in his first year, and in his last account of 1500 this had risen to £2,012. There is some evidence that Underwood cared more for administration and money-winning than for the Carthusian life; he was removed from office after eight years and in 1514 by special dispensation transferred himself from the Charterhouse to the Knights of St. John at the nearby Clerkenwell Priory. (fn. 34) Thirty years after Underwood had ceased to be procurator his successor of the day returned to the commissioners of the tenth in 1536 a gross income of £736. (fn. 35)
The fabric of the London Charterhouse was constructed over a long period of years. The two founders had provided land and a sum of money, but both they and the monks seem to have relied on private benefactors to come forward and finance the building. Thus the great cloister was constructed cell by cell as funds permitted, and since the names of the donors have been preserved, it is possible to date the progress within fairly narrow limits. The London monastery was from the first intended to be a 'double' house, that is, one for twenty-four monks and a prior. The cells were built round the cloister in a clockwise direction beginning at the south-western angle, where the doorway led to the outer world, and they were distinguished by the letters of the alphabet which, with one letter doing duty for I and J, V representing also U and W, and three bearing the letter S, gave a total of twenty-five cells. The donors (fn. 36) and the approximate date of the cells were as follows:
This list of donors of cells shows very clearly how wide was the appeal of the Charterhouse. We can divide the twenty-odd benefactors into at least five distinct classes-the nobility, the hierarchy, the soldiers of fortune, the office-holding, administrative class, and the prosperous citizens and their wives. It may be noted that the last two cells on the south side near the church (Z and S) may well have been completed before those in the east alley of the cloister, as also the sacrist's cell, below the treasury near the church. Altogether the completion of the full tale of cells took some sixty years. We are told that in 1412 nineteen had been completed. (fn. 37)
The other buildings were even longer in achieving completion. The chapel, originally built for the graveyard by Manny, was used as the conventual church. The Carthusians, differing from every other order of monks and canons in this, gave no architectural prominence to their churches. The only one to remain in a fair state of preservation, that of Mount Grace (Yorks. N.R.), is even smaller and meaner in exterior appearance than that of the London Charterhouse must have been. The original building was a simple rectangle of 94 by 38 feet, divided internally into presbytery, choir, and a small (25 by 35 ft.) 'body of the church' at the western end, divided from the choir by a wooden screen with two altars against its western face. Into this space the public, including even women, asserted their right of entry, and it was only in 1405 that an extension to the west, 30 feet in length, was provided in response to urgent commands of Visitors to exclude women from the monastic church. (fn. 38) This ante-chapel was separated from the original church by a second screen, and called the chapel of St. Anne. In the year of its consecration, however, the two regular visiting superiors from abroad forbade women to visit the church at all. Nevertheless, the original 'body of the church', augmented now by the 'chapel' of St. Anne, remained accessible to men, and benefactors continued to found chapels and to erect tombs. Some of these chapels are specifically mentioned in the records of the monastery, (fn. 39) others have been identified after excavation, and yet others are only known to have existed through mention in a post-Dissolution survey. Those whose sites are known with certainty were as follows: (fn. 40) due south of the high altar the small (12 by 15 ft.), almost square chapel of St. John the Evangelist was built out of a legacy by Robert Boteler, and consecrated in 1437. South of the original 'body of the church' was a somewhat larger chapel (19 by 22 ft.) dedicated to St. Michael and St. John the Baptist, and adjoining this to the east a smaller one (12 by 16 ft.) of St. Jerome and St. Bernard. Both were built and endowed by Sir John Popham (d. 1463-4), whose tomb was in the larger of the two, and were consecrated in 1453. On the north side lay two chapels: that to the west, corresponding to Popham's chapel of St. Michael, was the chapel (18 by 20 ft.) of Sir Robert Rede (d. 1519), dedicated to St. Catherine; adjoining it to the east was that of St. Agnes, founded by William Freeman and consecrated in 1453. The exact position and dimensions of this last chapel are unknown, as its site is covered by existing buildings. Adjoining the presbytery to the north, beneath the existing 'tower', was the vestibule to the chapter-house, and in it were two altars dedicated to St. John the Baptist and St. Hugh of Lincoln. Finally, there is documentary record of two small chapels to the east of the high altar, but it is not clear whether they were on ground level or were on the first floor and connected with the prior's 'new cell' which lay behind the church. (fn. 41) The chapter-house, an essential requirement for the regular life, had not been begun at the death of Prior Luscote, and the altar in the room, dedicated to St. Michael, was not consecrated until 1414. (fn. 42)
A Carthusian church, by primitive tradition and decrees of general chapter, was simple, austere, and without elaborate ornament, but here, as in some other respects, the monks of London had to pay a price for the support and endowment they received from the city at their gate. Rich well-wishers not only gave them ornaments and built and furnished chapels, but demanded that their bodies should rest in the church under tombs of their own specification. (fn. 43) From the instructions of testators (fn. 44) and the inventory of the commissioners of suppression (fn. 45) we can gain an impression of the appointments of these chapels, with their screens and retables. Woodwork, alabaster carvings, paintings, and silverwork were set off by the damask and brocades of the curtains, frontals, and vestments.
In a Charterhouse, in contrast to other monastic houses, the community rooms were very small and few in number. Dormitory and warming-house, infirmary, noviciate, and abbot's lodging formed no part of the complex, and the refectory or frater was used only on Sundays and feast-days, and had to accommodate only a small community. At the London Charterhouse the frater lay between cell A (the prior's) and cell B, and was presumably built in conjunction with those cells about 1371. Accommodation for the lay-brothers, stores, and guests lay outside the great cloister to the south-west of the south-west angle, where the exit lay to the outside world. Here there were ultimately two courts. One, immediately to the west of the church, formed the so-called Little Cloister (41 by 35½ ft.), the Master's Court of the modern establishment. It was constructed in 1436 (fn. 46) and its western range of buildings held the guest rooms, needed in any case for visiting monks, and occupied also in London in the early 16th century by a few privileged laymen. Beyond this again to the west lay the slightly larger court (the modern Wash-House Court) round the three outer sides of which lay the quarters of the laybrothers, kitchens, brewhouse, and cellars. The laundry apparently lay outside the cloister east of the chapter-house. Of these buildings, the Little Cloister was constructed in 1436 from a legacy of John Clyderhow. For the lay-brothers' quarters no documentary evidence is available, but the existing buildings are clearly of the early Tudor period (1490-1535), and it is possible that the letters I.H., which are picked out in darker brick on an external wall of the court, are those of Prior Houghton. Finally in the last decades of the House's existence, a new cell was built for the prior and three little cells to accommodate the influx of postulants under Tynbygh or Houghton. These were situated at the south-east corner of the precinct, east of the church, and approached from the cloister by a door or passage west of cell Z. (fn. 47)
One more feature of the monastery remains to be noted: the piped water-system. (fn. 48) Originally the monks no doubt depended upon wells, but a Carthusian monastery, with its numerous individual cells, felt the need for a distributed supply, and in 1430 we find John Ferriby and Margery his wife enfeoffing the prior and convent with a spring in their meadow called Overmede at Islington, and with a strip of land for laying the pipes of a conduit. (fn. 49) This spring was a mile north of the Charterhouse, and the monks secured permission from the owners of the intervening land, the Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem at Clerkenwell and the nuns of St. Mary's Priory, Clerkenwell, to lay lead pipes under their pastures. (fn. 50) Later both those houses drew water from the Islington springs by similar conduits. The cost of this installation was met by gifts from William Symmes and Anne Tatersale, and in the latter half of 1431 the water was brought into the great cloister. Medieval water engineers, like their modern counterparts in the public utility services, often drew plans of the piping to assist future maintenance workers. This was done at the Charterhouse, and an elaborate plan exists, (fn. 51) giving not only the location of the pipes, buildings, and taps, but showing also in elevation the church and other features of the southern range, together with the age (fn. 52) or conduit-house in the middle of the great cloister, which resembles the fountain in the Great Court at Trinity College, Cambridge. It was an elaborate erection containing the cistern into which the main discharged, and whence the water was drawn off by pipes to the cells and offices of the house. Several copies of this plan exist; the oldest and most elaborate, covered with descriptive annotations, may date from soon after the installation and is certainly earlier than about 1500, although it bears later notes dated 1512. Fifteen years after the water had been laid on, three brewers endeavoured to assert the right of those living near the Charterhouse to the regular overflow, and filed a bill in Chancery that the executors of William Symmes should be summoned to support their claim. The executors, however, gave testimony in favour of the monks; they were left by their benefactor entirely free to do what they willed with their surplus water, and judgement was given accordingly in 1451. (fn. 53) Six years later the original spring in Overmede showed signs of failing. Margery, the widow of the original donor, was still alive and was now married to Lord Berners; she and her husband therefore gave permission for the monks to use other springs in the same field. (fn. 54)
The site of the Charterhouse, alongside a public graveyard on the outskirts of the city, rendered its inmates liable to disturbances and visits of all kinds, especially in the early years before the cloister and enclosure wall were completed. The two last decades of the 14th century were a time of general unrest. The Peasants' Revolt of 1381 had met with some support in the City and the Archbishop of Canterbury had been murdered by the mob, while almost at the same time the Lollards and their supporters were responsible for anti-clerical and anti-monastic agitation. These currents of feeling may have helped to excite irresponsible citizens who already had a grudge against the nuns of Clerkenwell and the Carthusians for occupying what was claimed as a public space hitherto used by the citizens for games and recreation. On three or four occasions crowds surrounded the house, destroying buildings and moving boundary walls. (fn. 55) Less violent, but felt as a more constant burden, was the practice of citizens in regarding the church as a public one in which women as well as men could worship. Fear of violence and sense of obligation for benefactions combined to make the monks chary of enforcing their rights, (fn. 56) and privacy was not finally secured until 1405, when the regular Visitors from abroad ordained that a strong wall should be built south of the church, and that women should not be allowed within it. (fn. 57)
The London Charterhouse came into being when the Carthusian Order was about to undergo a period of stress. The hermits of the Grande Chartreuse, originally a group who had every expectation of remaining remote and alone, had gradually developed into an order with a constitution modelled in part on that of the Cistercians. The governing body was the General Chapter, meeting yearly at the Grande Chartreuse on the fourth Sunday after Easter, and consisting of the community there and the priors of all other Charterhouses, under the presidency of the Prior of the Grande Chartreuse. This chapter passed legislation, settled appeals, ratified elections, and appointed Visitors. As the Order spread it was divided into provinces for the purpose of visitation and supervision; provincial Visitors were appointed, usually from among the priors, although General Chapter could always depute Visitors from outside for a particular purpose. As the Order for a long time had only two small houses in England (Witham, 1178, and Hinton, 1227), no province had been erected and Visitors had been appointed from France, but in 1343 a third house had been founded at Beauvale (Notts.), and it may be that the experience of thirty years of war between England and France, together with the prospect of an important foundation in London, led the chapter in 1370 to institute an English province. John Luscote was appointed 'rector' of the new venture and provincial prior over the other houses. (fn. 58) Henceforth the London Charterhouse came to have a kind of unofficial precedence, and the disciplinary missives or, as they were called, 'charters', of the General Chapter to the various houses all passed through the hands of its prior.
The English province and the London Charterhouse had been in existence for less than ten years when the Great Schism began in 1378. The Carthusians, like the other international orders, were divided regionally in their allegiance. The English province followed the nation into the camp of the Roman Pope Urban VI in 1380, and in 1385 the general chapter of this section of the Order was transferred to Seitz in Austria. English priors were excused from the long and circuitous journey, but English affairs were discussed at Seitz and decisions communicated to England until the Order was reunited in 1411.
Decisions of General Chapter from time to time directly affected the London Charterhouse. Thus in 1405 the chapter at Seitz sent two Visitors from Holland who made rigorous decrees on enclosure; (fn. 59) in 1490 the chapter allowed the Bishop of Lincoln, John Russell, at the time 'conservator' of the rights and privileges of the Carthusians, to build a house within the precincts. (fn. 60) Shortly after this, a more important question arose. One of the Visitors, Prior John Ingleby of Sheen, took exception to the frequent acceptance of gifts and benefactions made to individual religious. The community of London took this ill, and in 1494 brought up at General Chapter a series of questions on the subject. Might a prior allow a donor to give a sum of money to be spent for the benefit of a particular monk? Might small objects such as books be given to individuals for life? Might a gift, made without conditions to an individual, be kept by the prior for that individual's use? Might the sick and aged be allowed to retain a few pence for medicine? Might lands or rents be accepted on condition that the income should be divided between the monks or priests for their use? All these questions reflected common problems in the London Charterhouse. Those who had received advice or edification, or who wished to secure prayers, naturally wished to show their gratitude or gain their end by means of gifts to an individual. Every one of the above questions had been answered implicitly in the affirmative by the contemporary black monks, and it is therefore significant that the chapter returned a firm negative to all. This produced division in the London convent, since certain legacies had been accepted, one of which allotted a yearly half-mark to the prior and procurator, in return for prayers, and the other an annual 20s. to be divided among all the priests celebrating an anniversary. Prior Ingleby, the Visitor, was called in as arbitrator, and used his powers to suspend several of the capitular decisions, but the stricter party appealed to the General Chapter of 1496, and the fathers there upheld the firm answers of their predecessors. (fn. 61)
Few details of the lives of individual monks have been preserved. The elderly monk who compiled the 'Register', apparently between 1488 and 1500, had, when a young monk, known three elders, John Nevyll, Thomas Gorwey, and William Hatherley, sometime Prior of Hinton, who had themselves known John Homersley, who had entered the house in 1393. Gorwey in particular, one of Homersley's novices, had often told the chronicler of his way of life. 'Homersley', he recorded, 'was a man of great simplicity and gentleness, who walked without blame in the way of the commandments of God and the observances of the Carthusian Order. He loved his cell and its solitude, and he shut his mouth against evil, lest he should transgress in his speech. He spoke rarely and in few words of things of good repute, but he justified the word of God by his works.' He never ceased from copying books for the church, frater, and cells, and when written he took them to the prior's cell; 'he took no steps to see that they were given to anyone in particular, or put in any special place, but leaving them with the prior he went back in silence to his cell'. If he was ever pressed to receive gifts or money from a benefactor, 'he took it straightway to the prior's cell and left it with him. If he failed to find the prior there he left the money on the ground by his door, laying a tile on it if it was windy, and thought no more about it'. The chronicler goes on to relate various visions and trials of Homersley, who died shortly after 1440. (fn. 62)
After the account of Homersley in the 'Register', and the notes of various gifts, we have no personal details of individuals before the priorate of William Tynbygh, which began in 1500. Thenceforward until the end, the principal authority for the domestic life of the house is the 'history' of Maurice Chauncy, who was a young monk there in the last half-dozen years of its existence. The son of John Chauncy, a landowner of Sawbridgeworth (Herts.), he was born in 1509 and became in due course a student of the law at Gray's Inn. He took the habit at the Charterhouse at about the time of Prior Houghton's election. Although, as we shall see, he failed to stand firm to the end in opposition to the Royal Supremacy, he retained his sense of vocation, crossed to Flanders in 1546, and became a professed monk of the Charterhouse of Bruges, whence he returned in 1555 as leader of the group that refounded Sheen in Mary's reign. His chronicle of the last days of the London priory, Historia aliquot Martyrum, has a complicated literary history, still to be fully elucidated, and exists in at least five versions. The work is in aim a piece of hagiography or propaganda; Chauncy was neither a critical historian nor a writer of genius; he was frankly a panegyrist, and had a love of the marvellous which impairs his credit even when he is writing of what he knows well. He often digresses from his narrative and expatiates in scriptural quotations and parallels. Nevertheless, his basic sincerity and trustworthiness are unquestionable, and he was an eyewitness of much of what he describes. (fn. 63)
He begins with a short notice of Prior Tynbygh. Here he was writing, long after the event, of what he had only hearsay information. He tells us that Tynbygh, a native of Ireland, although not necessarily an Irishman by race, joined the community in 1470 after a conversion of which the details give every sign of being mythical. William Tynbygh was indeed almost certainly the son of Nicholas Tynbygh, gentleman, a member of a well-known Dublin family whose fortunes can be traced in the records of the city of Dublin from 1332 onwards. (fn. 64) He became in turn sacristan and vicar (or second-incommand), and was elected prior in 1500, remaining in office for nearly thirty years; he resigned in 1529 and died less than two years later. Whatever discount we allow for Chauncy's enthusiasm, there can be no question of Prior Tynbygh's holiness of life, and he duly received from the General Chapter of 1531 the single word of the traditional laconic panegyric: 'qui sexaginta annis laudabiliter vixit in ordine'. (fn. 65) To him, more than to any other, must be attributed the high standard of discipline and observance that distinguished the House of the Salutation even among its sister houses in the reign of Henry VIII. (fn. 66) He is recorded as having solemnly warned his brethren that their strength and security lay in unity; in later years these words were taken as evidence of a spirit of prophecy. It was he who received to the habit John Houghton, Sebastian Newdigate, and others who were to show themselves true Carthusians in the hour of trial.
Tynbygh was succeeded by John Batmanson, around whose name some confusion has occurred. (fn. 67) There were in fact two men of that name. The elder, a civilian and judge of some eminence, who appears in the records shortly before and after 1500, disappears from sight about 1516, and the opinion has become current that he joined the Carthusians and became prior. Recently, however, it has been shown that the Carthusian Batmanson was ordained deacon in 1510; this clearly distinguishes him from his namesake, and other evidence makes it possible, if not probable, that the two were father and son. The younger Batmanson became in due course Prior of Hinton 1523-9 and was called thence tc hold office at London. He was a scholar of some note, although without university training, and wrote against Luther. He was even considered sufficiently qualified to be asked by Edward Lee, later Archbishop of York, to criticize Erasmus's New Testament when it appeared in 1516. This drew upon him not only some caustic comments from the sensitive humanist, but a long letter from Sir Thomas More in which More, who had known the Carthusian when he was a student of the law, attacked Erasmus's opponent with considerable asperity. (fn. 68) Although by no means an old man when he was elected prior, Batmanson died after two years in office, and was succeeded by John Houghton.
Houghton, who was born in 1485-6, came of gentle family in Essex. (fn. 69) He had taken a degree in laws at Cambridge from God's House, later Christ's College, and had then studied in private for the priesthood and lived at his father's home as a secular priest before taking the monastic habit in 1515. Seven years later he became sacrist and after five more years procurator. In 1530-1 he was elected Prior of Beauvale, but in six months' time the unanimous vote of the London community recalled him to be prior of the house of his profession. Under his rule the good observance was raised to a still higher level by the personality and example of a prior who combined holiness of life with a genius for leadership and inspiring guidance. Maurice Chauncy's glowing pages describing the Charterhouse as he knew it in the years 1531-5 may reflect both the youthful hero-worship and the later sorrowful nostalgia of the writer, but in their main lines they carry conviction, and we may well believe his statement that Houghton would have deserved canonization as a monk, even had he not died as a martyr.
The reputation of the Charterhouse had stood very high for at least fifty years. At the end of the previous century the young Thomas More had spent four years as an inmate of the house in his early days at the law, attending the offices and following much of the monastic routine before deciding that his call lay elsewhere. Twenty years later Chauncy, also a law student, was familiar with the remark that those who wished to hear the divine service worthily performed should go to the Charterhouse. (fn. 70) In Houghton's day we are told that Sir John Gage, vice-chamberlain of the court, thought of becoming a monk there when he could no longer serve the king. Not only the quality, but the number also of recruits was remarkable, and it is probable that here, as at contemporary Mount Grace, (fn. 71) there was a 'waiting-list' of postulants, and that it was this that made necessary the addition of a group of 'little' cells at one corner of the cloister.
There were in Prior Houghton's day thirty choir monks and eighteen lay brethren, and of the monks some twenty were under the age of thirty-eight when he took office. (fn. 72) Of several of these we have information from Chauncy or elsewhere. After the prior, the two personalities most clearly visible are those of William Exmew and Sebastian Newdigate. (fn. 73) Exmew, born c. 1506, was of good family and had received a humanist's education at Christ's College, Cambridge; his knowledge of Greek in particular is noted. Under Prior Houghton he served first as vicar and then as procurator, a very common sequence of offices. Newdigate came of a landowning family of Harefield (Mdx.), later of Arbury (Warws.). He had many connexions with families in other counties: his mother was a Nevill of Lincolnshire and two of his sisters were to become ancestresses of the Dormers and Stonors, two well-known recusant families of the Elizabethan age. Two other sisters were nuns, of Haliwell and Syon, and two brothers, knights of Malta. He himself had been a page at court and later a gentleman of the privy chamber; he had left the royal service for the Charterhouse when the matter of the divorce was mooted. Other members of the community were Humphrey Middlemore, another man of good family (fn. 74) and procurator in 1535; Richard Bere, nephew of the great Abbot of Glastonbury, John Rochester, brother of Sir John Rochester, comptroller of the household under Mary; and James Walworth, perhaps a son of the City family that had been among the first benefactors of the house. Of the others, Everard Digby, Oliver Batmanson, and John Boleyn bore well-known names. Equally well-known to history, although for other reasons, was Andrew Boorde or Bord, (fn. 75) a medical student of some note. Boorde had always been something of a misfit, and in 1535 had already received some kind of dispensation from the full observance. (fn. 76) He was later, after the first executions, but before the end of the house, to depart altogether for the career of a secular priest. Boorde was not the only difficult character with whom Houghton had to deal. There were George Norton, who fell into melancholy, threatened suicide, and was dispensed, later becoming a canon in the West Country; Nicholas Rawlings, sometime secular priest, who had been professed when ill before his full noviciate was up, and had ever since cherished a grievance; John Darley, who left during the troubles to take a 'service' as a secular priest at Salisbury; and Thomas Salter, who spoke ill of his brethren and superiors to their enemies. (fn. 77)
The Carthusians, along with all other subjects of the king, were required in the spring of 1534 to swear to the first Act of Succession, and thus to accept the annulment of Henry's first marriage by Cranmer and the legitimacy of Anne Boleyn's offspring. (fn. 78) Their sympathies had unquestionably lain with Queen Katherine, whose marriage they considered valid, and they had shown interest in Elizabeth Barton, although they were not so far committed with her as their brethren at Sheen. When the commissioners arrived on 4 May to tender the oath Houghton replied in the name of all that Carthusians did not meddle with the king's affairs; they asked only to be left in peace. He added that he could not see how a marriage of such long standing could be declared invalid. He was therefore conveyed to the Tower along with his procurator, Humphrey Middlemore. After deliberation there they agreed to take the oath, so far as was lawful, and were sent home, where they found the community still unwilling to swear. The commissioners, Bishop Roland Lee and Thomas Bedyll, were unsuccessful at their first visit, and at their second, on 29 May, they obtained the adhesion only of Houghton, Middlemore, and six others. Finally, Lee and Sir Thomas Kytson, one of the sheriffs of London, who brought a band of men-at-arms, were successful in extracting an oath from all. (fn. 79) So far as can be seen from Chauncy's narrative, the opposition of the monks was based on a disapproval of the Boleyn marriage rather than on a realization, such as influenced More and Fisher, that papal supremacy was at stake, for when in June 1534 commissioners endeavoured to extract an acceptance of the royal supremacy, at least nine of the community refused to take the oath, when such a refusal was not as yet criminal. (fn. 80)
Houghton knew well that further demands would come, and urged his monks to spend their time in prayer and preparation for their trial. Less than a year in fact elapsed before the Act of Supremacy (November 1534), followed by the Treasons Act, laid anyone who denied that the king was supreme head on earth of the Church of England under liability to a charge of high treason. In the spring of 1535 commissioners were appointed to secure general acknowledgement of the royal supremacy; this was usually obtained by administering an oath upon the gospels in terms of acceptance. The preparations made at the Charterhouse for the day of ordeal, and the scenes in chapter-house and church described by Chauncy, are a familiar page of Tudor history made immortal by Froude. (fn. 81) While awaiting the summons, Houghton was visited by the Priors of Beauvale and Axholme. The former, Robert Laurence, was a professed monk of London who had succeeded Houghton on the latter's recall. After a series of interviews and examinations before Cromwell, (fn. 82) the three priors were lodged in the Tower; they were tried on 28-29 April and condemned to death for refusal to accept the royal supremacy. (fn. 83) They were executed at Tyburn on 4 May. (fn. 84) When Houghton had been imprisoned Humphrey Middlemore, now vicar, was in charge, and had as his principal counsellors William Exmew, the procurator, and Sebastian Newdigate; when they resisted all persuasions to take the oath (fn. 85) they also were removed to Newgate, where they remained for a fortnight chained by neck and legs to posts. Finally, on 11 June, they were tried (fn. 86) and condemned, and on 19 June executed. After their departure the monks of the orphaned community were subjected to every kind of persuasion and petty persecution, deprived of their books, harassed by visitors, vexed by the continual presence in the cloister of Cromwell's men, (fn. 87) and urged by the Bridgettines of Syon to submit; (fn. 88) some months later (perhaps in April 1536) they were given as superior William Trafford, sometime procurator of Beauvale, who had at first made a brave show of refusing the oath to the royal supremacy, (fn. 89) but had subsequently capitulated and become entirely subservient to Cromwell. A little later a further expedient was tried. Four of the most stubborn were exiled; Chauncy and John Foxe were sent in May 1536 to Beauvale, Rochester and Walworth to Hull; (fn. 90) a little later eight more were sent to Syon, (fn. 91) and between 1535 and 1538 half-a-dozen monks from other houses were imported to London. At last in May 1537, when the Council threatened to suppress the house out of hand if the oath were refused, a division was created, some agreeing to swear in order to save their way of life; among these was the chronicler Chauncy. (fn. 92) Ten, however, still refused to swear; three priests, a deacon, and six lay brothers. (fn. 93) On 18 May these were lodged in Newgate and chained to posts, where all save one died of starvation or disease during the summer. The one survivor, William Horne, was kept a prisoner and executed at Tyburn on 4 August 1540. (fn. 94) Meanwhile the two at Hull had been executed at York by the Duke of Norfolk in May 1537, on the same charge as their brethren in London. (fn. 95) In all, eighteen Carthusians were executed, seventeen of them professed monks of the London Charterhouse. Within a few weeks of the removal of the recalcitrants in May, the rump of the community was induced to surrender the house (10 June), (fn. 96) but it was not until 15 November 1538 that the House of the Salutation was actually disbanded. (fn. 97) When that was done William Trafford and sixteen choir monks received pensions; the six surviving lay brothers received nothing. Of the seventeen pensioners eleven were among those who swore to the Act of Succession in 1534. The others must have been newcomers to London from other Carthusian houses, as it is not conceivable that recruits would have been professed during the years 1534-8. Despite the existence of several lists of names and two or three precise statements by Chauncy, it is impossible to account exactly either for the full number of those known to have been in the house shortly before 1534 or for the subsequent arrivals and departures. (fn. 98)
When the monks had been ejected, the church, cloister, and buildings were almost immediately divided up into three portions. (fn. 99) The church and perhaps the chapter-house were given into the care of a Dr. Cave; the prior's cell and the new cells were given to the owner of an adjacent house, Sir Arthur Darcy; the residue of the fabric was, until March 1539, controlled for the commissioners of suppression by a certain William Dale. In June 1542, when the commissioners had ceased to be responsible, the whole place was turned over to the king's servants, John Bridges and Thomas Hale, and used as a storehouse for tents, hunting-nets, and the like. It was thus for some years virtually derelict, save for the occupation of some of the cells by a family of Italian court musicians of the name of Bassano, and it was at this time that Maurice Chauncy seems to have revisited the place and seen the profanation of the church. Finally, on 14 April 1546, the whole place was sold to Sir Edward (later Lord) North. With its subsequent fortunes and the establishment of the school in 1614, (fn. 100) we are not concerned.
Of the monks, Maurice Chauncy, John Foxe, and the converse Hugh Taylor fled overseas in 1546-7 and joined the Charterhouse of Val de Grace at Bruges. (fn. 101) They were sent back to England in 1555, when Queen Mary was contemplating the refoundation of a Charterhouse. Foxe died before this could be accomplished, and it is noteworthy that of those who joined Chauncy at Sheen not a single monk came from the London Charterhouse. (fn. 102) The converse Hugh Taylor, however, was there, and shared Chauncy's exile in 1559; he died at the priory of Sheen Anglorum at Bruges in 1575; Maurice Chauncy, his prior, died on a journey at the Paris Charterhouse on 12 July 1581. (fn. 103)
The complex of buildings of a Carthusian monastery (fn. 104) can be considered as made up of three parts: first, the rectangular cloister of four alleys, giving access to the individual cells and gardens arranged along the cloister's external wall; next, the relatively small group of buildings serving the common need of all-church, chapter-house, prior's cell, sacristy, infirmary, (fn. 105) and refectory, grouped together at an angle (at London the south-western angle) of the cloister; and, thirdly, outside the claustral buildings, the guest-house, kitchens, offices, and lay-brothers' quarters, which at London were grouped round two courts, the 'Little Cloister' and the modern 'Washhouse Court'. Of these it may be said that at London the third group has in great part survived to the present day in use as the domestic and administrative offices of the North-Norfolk Mansion and its successor, Sutton's Hospital, while the great cloister has disappeared save for portions of the external wall incorporating the entrance of cells A and B in the western alley, and T and V on the eastern. (fn. 106) As for the conventual buildings, these were partly destroyed soon after the Suppression, and partly incorporated in the mansion which later became the Master's Lodge, Gallery, chapel, library, and diningroom of the modern Charterhouse. These buildings have been described frequently and authoritatively, in particular by Sir William St. John Hope and Sir Alfred Clapham, (fn. 107) but as all these descriptions, with their accompanying plans and illustrations, have been largely superseded by more recent discoveries, it may be well to mention these latter briefly.
On the night of 10-11 May 1941, during a particularly heavy air-raid upon the City, the buildings of Charterhouse caught fire, and those that had formed the main parts of the Tudor mansion and Sutton's Hospital, partly covering the site of the conventual buildings, were entirely burnt out. When rebuilding became practicable a remarkable series of discoveries and deductions were made which made it clear that the existing chapel, hitherto considered to be identical with the choir and presbytery of the original monastic church, was in fact the monastic chapterhouse and that the original church must have occupied a site to the south of the chapter-house in Chapel Court, an hypothesis which received dramatic confirmation by the discovery of the tomb and coffin of the founder exactly in the recorded position (fn. 108) before the high altar of the original church. Consequently the south alley of the cloister was seen to lie considerably further to the south than had been supposed, which left space for the prior's cell at the south-west angle of the cloister, with the refectory adjoining it to the north as had been indicated in the waterworks plan, whereas hitherto it had been impossible to find room for it in this position.
All these discoveries were due to the research and investigations of the architects; subsequent excavations, besides confirming them, established the complete plan and disposition of the chapels in the monastic church, and also the dimensions of the Little Cloister, the exact dimensions and further details regarding the Great Cloister, and many details of the courses of the water-supply. Subsequent documentary research (fn. 109) made it clear that shortly before the suppression a 'new' prior's lodging and three 'little' cells had been constructed, and enabled the excavators to indicate their position in the monastic plan, although the site where they had lain was covered by existing buildings. As a result of all this work, it was possible to draw a plan of the medieval monastery which, unlike previous plans, could be based securely upon visible and measurable remains. (fn. 110)
No catalogue of the library of the London Charterhouse is known to exist, but there are four lists of books (fn. 111) taken on loan or by gift: (i) books carried away from London by John Spalding, when returning to Hull, probably in the early 15th century; (ii) books lent in 1500 to Roger Montgomery on his departure to Coventry Charterhouse; (iii) an inventory of goods, including some books, taken to Mount Grace in 1519; and (iv) books taken c. 1530 by John Whetham to Hinton Charterhouse. The surviving books known to have belonged to the house have been listed by Dr. N. R. Ker. (fn. 112)
There is no direct information about the spiritual doctrine on the ascetical or mystical life given to the young monks. The lists mentioned above are interesting as showing the presence, as at Mount Grace, of copies of the mystical treatises current in England in the later Middle Ages. Thus there are two copies of The Cloud of Unknowing, two of The Chastising of God's Children, two of the English writings of Rolle and one of the Incendium Amoris, one of the enigmatic Mirror of Simple Souls, two of works of St. Bridget of Sweden, two of Ludolph of Saxony, one of the revelations of St. Mechtild, and one of Gerson's De Contemptu Mundi. Of the two copies of The Cloud, we know that one was written by William Exmew for the benefit of Maurice Chauncy. (fn. 113) A letter (fn. 114) of Prior Houghton to the vicar of the Cologne Charterhouse, written 23 July 1532, is chiefly concerned with the ordering of copies of the printed editions of Denis the Carthusian, whose writings 'appeal to us above those of all other spiritual authors', and as he asks for ten copies of the complete works, twenty of a minor work, and twelve of any future work printed, he clearly has the needs of his community, and perhaps those of other houses also, in mind. The pages of Chauncy, as also those of the earlier chronicle, show clearly that members of the London Charterhouse at all periods were proficient in the ways of the spiritual life as traditionally presented by the medieval mystical theologians.
The commissioners for the tenth, early in 1536, returned the gross income of the house as £736, with obligatory rents and outgoings of £94, and a net income of £642. (fn. 115) Their list of properties tallies almost exactly with that given by the Suppression Commissioners of 1537. (fn. 116) This includes numerous tenements near the monastery and scattered about the City, pastures in Marylebone and Holborn, a 'messuage' (in the Valor Ecclesiasticus a 'manor') called 'Blumsburye', the manors of Rolleston (Leics.), Westfield (Norf.), (fn. 117) and rents from the manors of Ogbourne (Wilts.) and Cardones (Kent), (fn. 118) the rectories of Edlesborough (Bucks.), (fn. 119) Stockton Magna (Hunts.), (fn. 120) Braintree (Essex), (fn. 121) North Mimms (Herts.), and Cromer (Norf.); lands at Kingstonon-Thames (Surr.) and Higham (Kent), the 'Bull Inn' at Rochester (Kent), 'Atherley's lands' in or near the Lea valley, and a wood called 'Arnold's' in Middlesex.
Priors of the London Charterhouse (fn. 122)
John Luscote, (fn. 123) occurs 1370; died 1398
John Okendon, (fn. 124) occurs 1398; resigned 1412
John Maplested, occurs 1412-c. 1440
John Thorne, (fn. 125) occurs c. 1440; resigned c. 1448
John Walweyn, (fn. 126) occurs c. 1448; died 1449
John Seman, (fn. 127) occurs 1449-c. 1468
Edmund or Edward Storer, (fn. 128) occurs 1469; resigned 1477
John Walsingham, (fn. 129) occurs 1477-c. 1488
Richard Roche, (fn. 130) occurs c. 1488; resigned 1500
William Tynbygh (Tynbegh), (fn. 131) occurs 1500; resigned 1529
John Batmanson, (fn. 132) occurs 1529; died 1531
John Houghton, (fn. 133) occurs 1531; executed 1535
William Trafford, (fn. 134) occurs 1536-8
The common seal, as used in 1379 (fn. 135) and still in use in 1537, (fn. 136) is a pointed oval, 1¾ by 1¼ in., showing the Annunciation within a niche with a carved canopy, pinnacled and crocketed, with tabernacle work at the sides; between the two figures a scroll with the legend 'Ave Maria'. Legend, black letter:
SIGILLUM COMUNE DOMUS MATRIS DEI ORDINIS CARTUSIANORUM LONDONIARUM