House of Carthusian monks: Priory of Sheen

A History of the County of Surrey: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1967.

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'House of Carthusian monks: Priory of Sheen', in A History of the County of Surrey: Volume 2, ed. H E Malden( London, 1967), British History Online [accessed 15 July 2024].

'House of Carthusian monks: Priory of Sheen', in A History of the County of Surrey: Volume 2. Edited by H E Malden( London, 1967), British History Online, accessed July 15, 2024,

"House of Carthusian monks: Priory of Sheen". A History of the County of Surrey: Volume 2. Ed. H E Malden(London, 1967), , British History Online. Web. 15 July 2024.

In this section



In the year 1414 Henry V. founded at Sheen, Richmond, a priory, known as the House of Jesus of Bethlehem, for forty monks of the Carthusian order. This was the last of the religious foundations of Surrey. The foundation charter (fn. 1) describes the site with much nicety. It was built on the north side of the royal manor house, on a piece of land 3,125 feet long by 1,305 feet 8 inches broad, extending from 'Hakelok' by 'Diverbussh' on the south to the cross called 'Crosasshe' on the north. The buildings were on a fine scale, but as there were only thirty sets of chambers round the great court or cloister, it would appear that the original design of a house for forty monks was reduced to that number. (fn. 2) According to the Carthusian rule each monk lived and fed apart, they only met in common in quire and chapter. (fn. 3)

The considerable property assigned to this royal foundation largely consisted of the possessions of the suppressed alien priories. The endowments included the alien priories of Ware, Hertfordshire; of Hayling in Hampshire; of Carisbrooke, in the Isle of Wight; of Lewisham in Kent, including the manors of East Greenwich and East Combe; all the estates of the abbey of Lyre in England and Wales, or 700 marks out of the royal revenue if these should ever be recovered; the weir of Petersham, with fishery rights; and the manor of East Hendred, Berks. The spiritualities were very considerable, and included the advowsons and appropriations of the churches of Ware in Hertfordshire; Belgrave, in Leicestershire; Byfield, Marston St. Lawrence, and Middleton Cheney, Northamptonshire; Lewisham and Marden, in Kent; Hayling, Upper Clatford, and St. John's Southampton, in Hampshire; Carisbrooke, Arreton, Freshwater, Godshill, Whippingham, Newchurch, and Newtown, in the Isle of Wight; Winterbourne Stoke, in Wiltshire; Basildon, Easthampstead, and Sunningfield, in Berkshire; the four churches of Wareham, in Dorset; Linton, Bridstow, Westeord, Much Marcle, Fownhope, Lene, and Areland with tithes of various other lordships, in Herefordshire; 'Tuddenham,' Lydney, and Chedworth, with tithes of other lordships, in Gloucestershire; Eastham-cum-Hanley, Feckenham, Tenbury, and tithes of the forest of Malvern, in Worcestershire; Elmdon, in Essex; Hellingly, in Sussex; and Padbury, in Buckinghamshire. Another royal gift of the founder was that of four pipes of red wine annually at Candlemas.

This wholesale bestowal of the property of alien priories on the new foundation, though authorized by the parliament of Leicester, did not pass without strong protest. The abbot and convent of the Benedictine abbey of St. Evroul, Normandy, wrote an earnest appeal to the Carthusians of Sheen, in the year 1416, to restore the property with which Henry V. had endowed them and which had belonged to them for centuries. In their case, as they stated in this letter, their English possessions had been their chief source of income, and at one time had supplied them with £2,000 a year. Owing to frequent wars between France and England they had of late obtained nothing from this source, and had in consequence been obliged to reduce their quire monks from forty to less than twenty. They appealed to justice and ecclesiastical traditions, stating that no state policy or fear of foreign wars could justify the Carthusians in retaining property thus obtained. Eleven years were consumed by the monks of St. Evroul in a vain endeavour to regain their English property. In 1427 they carried their case to Rome, but failed. (fn. 4)

There is a fifteenth century chartulary of this priory among the British Museum manu scripts entitled Registrum privilegiorum et terrarum monasterii de Shene. It contains abstracts of charters and other particulars relative to the possessions of the alien priories of Ware and Hayling, and the rest of the property bestowed upon it at its foundation. (fn. 5)

Among the Lansdown MSS. (No. 1201) is a small fifteenth century manuscript on vellum described as a Formulare et Consuetudinarium Carthusianorum de Shene in com. Surr. It opens with the form of receiving postulants and novices, in English, inserted on paper. On the postulant seeking admission the prior first asked four questions, as to whether the candidate had been professed in any religious order, whether he had any impediment to taking holy orders, whether he was suffering from any incurable disease, or whether he was in debt or owed any money? If these were answered satisfactorily, the candidate retired, and the prior thus addressed the chapter:—

Venerable Fathers, you have heard his humble petition, you see with what earnest desire he solisets to be receaved to our order. Bee pleased therefore, to let me knowe your mindes wheather you judg him fit to be admitted or noe.

What thinke you father Vicar? etc.

The candidate was then recalled, if the decision of the chapter was favourable. On readmission the following was the procedure:—

Pr. Quid petis?
Postulans prostratus. Misericordiam.
Pr. Surge.
Post. Supplico, etc.

Pr. The convent hath deliberated of your humble petition. And now our Statutes doe appoint me breefly to set before your eyes the strictness and austoritie of our order, and the length and prolixitie of the divine office as well of the day office as the night office, which in the wynter is farr longer, besides the office of our Blessed Lady which you are to say daylie in your cell; morover you are to say yearly a hundred dead offices in private, likewise many Psalters (or as wee tearme them monachales) which you are yearly to say unless you performe them in masses. For your cloathing and lodging after you have received the habitt you can make no further use of lynen except handkerchers, towels and the like, but for your body you are to weare a shirte of heare and a cord aboute your loynes and a wolen shirte. You are to lie upon strawe or a bed of chaffe with a blanket betweene. For your diet it is a perpetuall abstinence from flesh insomuch that in the greatest or most dangerous sickness you can expect no dispensation theirin. Also a good parte of the yeare we abstaine from all Whitmeates, as in Advent, Lent and all the Fridayes of the yeare, besides many other fasts both of the church and of our order in which wee abstain from Whitmeat.

Likewise from the exaltation of the holie Crosse untill Easter wee fast with one meall a day except some few days of recreation before Advent and Lent. For silence and solitude it ought to be perpetuall except when our Statutes giveth license or that you aske leave. These be the generall observances of our order common to all as well as seniours as juniours. But besides these generall there are some particular ordained and appointed for novices or newly professed to exercise them in the purgative way, and for theire soner attaining of humility and solid vertue. As is the dressing up of Alters, sweeping of churches and chappels, making cleane of candelstickes, serving of others and suchlike. Which workes by how much they are more vile and contemptible in the eyes of the world, by so much they are more precious and meritorious in the sight of Almighty God, and by how much that men, wether more noble better learned or of greater talents doth willingly and affectionately perform the same for the love of God by so much soner they will obtain remission of theire sinnes, be purged from their reliques, be freed from theire former evill habitts and obtaine puritie of hart humility and other solid vertues, which are not gotten without humiliation and therefore those who doe flye or withdraw themselves from ye works of humility, doe deprive themselves of the best meanes to gaine the vertue itselfe. These according to our Statutes and the Custome of our house I have layed unto you. Putas te ista posse performare?

The postulant made reply in Latin, that with the help of God and the prayers of the brethren, he trusted to be enabled to fulfil the rules. Then he knelt before the prior, and placed his hands within those of the prior, whilst the superior stated that he admitted him to the fellowship (societatem) of the order, but that before his profession he had liberty to depart.

The following are the heads of the Latin portion of the book: De novitio induendo: De professione novitiorum: De visitatione egroti: Quomodo tractandum sit qui moritur: Quid agendum sit cum defertur nobis mortuus a foris: Quid agendum sit in trecennario at anniversario extraneorum: Forma absolvendi personas ordinis in extremis agentes: Tria responsoria que cantantur in exequiis mortuorum.

The book concludes with four pages in English' for the receiving of conversi (lay brothers) this forme to be kept as nere as we can to the order of the heddhouse, as by letters from thence to the same, and also by the booke of their customes apperithe.' The father was, in the chapter house, to lay before the candidáte the hardness of the order as in the case of the monks. If the house agreed to receive him, the lay brother was to be received with the kiss of peace both by the monks and lay brothers. When he had kissed them all the father put on him a converse cowl. At the end of high mass the prior, with the father vicar, the proctor and the sexton (sacrist) brought him up to the high altar where he made his prayer. After the Veni Creator and other prayers he was conducted to his cell. At his profession the lay brother went up to the high altar in his cowl and long cope, after the offertory had been sung, and there openly read his profession in English and received the benediction lying prostrate. (fn. 6)

By his will of 1415 Henry V. left 1,000 marks for the completion of the house of Sheen, repeating that he had endowed it for the support of forty Carthusian monks, and bidding his executors see that the number was sustained. (fn. 7)

In the year 1416 an anchorage for a recluse was founded, endowed with an annual rent of twenty marks issuing out of the manors of Lewisham and Greenwich; the first recluse or chaplain to occupy it was John Kingstone. (fn. 8)

An inspection and confirmation were granted to John Ives, the prior, and the convent of Sheen by Edward IV. in 1461 of the foundation charter and of the grant by Henry VI. in 1442 of sixty-four acres of land in Sheen, and that they might pray for the good estate of the king and Cicely his mother and for their souls after death, and the souls of the king's father Richard, late Duke of York, and his progenitors. (fn. 9)

Licence was granted in June 1466 to the prior and monks to make a subterranean conduit from a spring called 'Welwey,' alias 'Pickwelleswell,' to their house, and to repair the pipes of the conduit when necessary. Henry V. had granted them leave to make a conduit from a spring called 'Hillesdenwell,' but the supply of water was insufficient. (fn. 10)

In July 1474 licence was obtained by Prior William Wildy for the acquisition in mortmain after inquisition, of land, tenements and rents to the value of £50 yearly. (fn. 11)

Edward IV. in 1467 granted to Queen Elizabeth his consort the manor and lordship of Sheen to hold for life, and she by letters patent of 1 April 1479 granted to John Ingilby, prior, and the monks of Sheen 48 acres of land in West Sheen, parcel of the manor to hold for her life. Whereupon the king by letters patent of 25 May confirmed this estate to the monks and granted it to them in free alms for ever. (fn. 12)

In July 1480 Prior Ingilby, in conjunction with Robert Houglot, Richard Newbryge, clerk, and four others, obtained licence to found a perpetual gild or fraternity for themselves and other persons, both men and women. The brethren and sisters were to elect from themselves yearly a warden for the governance of the gild and the custody of its possessions; the fraternity was to have a common seal and to be termed the Gild of St. Mary in Bagshot. Licence was also given to acquire in mortmain lands and rents to the value of £10 yearly, to find a chaplain to celebrate in the chapel of St. Mary in Bagshot for the good estate of the king and queen and of the brethren and sisters of the gild, and for their souls after death, and to do other works of piety according to the ordinance of the founders. (fn. 13)

On 4 August 1480 the priory obtained licence for the acquisition in mortmain of lands, tenements and rents to the value of £100 yearly. (fn. 14)

It is related of one Godwin, a monk of this convent, that in the latter end of March 1502 he murdered the prior of the house in a cellar, but whether it was Prior Ingilby or some other that succeeded him, and whose name is lost, is uncertain. (fn. 15)

On Sunday, 12 January 1510, Henry VIII. was at the Sheen charter-house, and made an offering of 33s. 4d. (fn. 16)

According to Stowe, the body of James IV. of Scotland was buried at this monastery after the battle of Flodden Field, in 1513. 'After that the Earl of Surrey had taken order, and set the North in good quiet, he returned to the Queene with the dead body of the Scottish king, which body being inclosed in lead, as I have been informed was conveyed to Shine, a monastery in Surrey founded by King Henry the Fifth, whose it remained for a time, in what order I am not certaine, but since the dissolution of the House, to wit, in the raigne of King Edward the Sixth Henry Grey then Duke of Suffolke there keeping house, I have been shewed the same body (as was affirmed) so lapped in lead throwne into an old wast roome, amongst old timber, stone, lead, and other rubble.' (fn. 17) This statement is supported by a passage in a book called The Flower of Fame, printed in 1575. 'The dead body of the King of Scottes was found among the other carcasses in the fielde and from thence brought to London, and so through London streets on horseback. And from thence it was carried to Sheene (neere unto Brentford), whereat the Queen then lay, and there the perjured carcas lyeth unto this day unburied.' The Scots however steadily maintained that the body found and conveyed to London and thence to Sheen was not that of their king; nevertheless, Stowe's statement is apparently correct.

In 1516 licence was obtained by Thomas Pygot and Richard Broke, serjeants-at-law, and others to alienate to the House of Jesus of Bethlehem, Sheen, possessions to the annual value of £15 15s. These possessions included the manor of Portpole and lands in St. Andrew's, Holborn. (fn. 18)

Dr. John Colet, the learned dean of St. Paul's, was allowed to build himself lodgings within the precincts of the monastery of Sheen. Discovering the sweating sickness to grow upon him, he retired to Sheen, 'spending the little remainder of his days in devotion, and surrendered up at length his last breath to Him that first gave it, on the 16th of September 1519.' (fn. 19) His body was however taken back to St. Paul's for burial.

On 28 April 1528 John Jobourn, prior of Sheen, as visitor of the order, consented to the alienation by the monastery of the Carthusian house, the Salutation, near London, of a tenement in London of the gift of Sir Robert Reede, late chief justice of the Common Pleas, in exchange for other lands more profitable. (fn. 20)

Among the alms of Katharine of Arragon for the year 1529 is the sum of £7 6s. 8d. to the convent of Sheen. (fn. 21)

In March 1530 Prior Jobourn, was one of the parties to an indenture tripartite touching lands devised for finding two secular priests in the chapel of All Angels beside 'Breynford Brygg.' (fn. 22)

On 1 November 1530, Prior Jobourn granted to the king the convent's possessions in Lewisham and East Greenwich, (fn. 23) and an indenture was entered into on 5 September 1531 between him and the king for an exchange of these manors for the site and precinct of the late priory of Bradwell, Bucks, with lands in nine parishes of Buckinghamshire and two of Northamptonshire, together with seven advowsons, as held by John Ashby, the late prior; also the chantry lands of Beddington, and other lands lately belonging to Cardinal's College, Oxford. (fn. 24)

In common with other English Carthusians, the prior and convent of Sheen were very reluctant to take the oath of supremacy in favour of Henry VIII., which was generally enforced in 1534. The Carthusians were almost as zealous in opposing the royal action as were the Friars Observant. (fn. 25) On 7 May 1534, Roland, Bishop of Lichfield, and Thomas Bedyll wrote to Cromwell that they had accomplished the business at Sheen, the prior, convent, and novices having taken the oath. The prior and proctor had shown themselves honest men and faithful subjects, and exhorted the Observants of Richmond to do the same. (fn. 26) A letter to Lord Lisle, of 13 May, mentions however that the priors of the Charterhouses of London and Sheen were both in the Tower. (fn. 27)

There is also a letter extant of this year, apparently of the month of August, from one John Pyzaunt, a monk of Sheen, to Sir John Alayn, alderman of London, which though loyal to his house and order, shows that there was difference of opinion amongst the brethren. He asked for Sir John's intercession with 'Mr. Secretary,' for, though many of them were ready to conform with the king's wishes, 'others I think will rather die from a little scrupulosity of conscience, and would not give way for sorrow and despair of salvation, losing peradventure both body and soul which were greatly to be lamented.' He besought the alderman to speak some good word for the obstinate ones that they might be suffered and borne with. (fn. 28) Henry Man, proctor of the house, which was the title of the third official, was the leader of those who were apparently ready to comply with the king's wish.

In June 1535 Robert Marshall, one of the Sheen monks, wrote to Cromwell stating that he had of late been at home in the house of Sheen, and made inquiry whether the king's commission sent by the Bishop of Winchester for the king's supremacy was declared among the brethren in their chapterhouse, and to strangers and others in church every Sunday and holy day. He asserted that this had not been done, adding that those of his brethren who were the king's friends were shocked and greatly offended with vicar and proctor. As a true subject Marshall declared that he felt he must reveal this matter to Cromwell. This was evidently written during the absence of Prior Man. (fn. 29)

Writing to Cromwell on 8 August 1536, Prior Man stated that his 'lordship' had put in the commission for the visitation of their religion that the brethren should preach within their monasteries. He understood this to mean that their priors who might ride abroad should preach also in other churches, but wanted assurance on this point. (fn. 30)

In March 1538 Prior Henry showed himself amenable to Cromwell's wishes in the matter of the advowson of Godshill. (fn. 31)

On Easter Day 1538 one Dr. Cottys, a secular priest, preached in the charter-house, Sheen, a sermon which was said to be sinister and seditious. A version of parts of it was sent to Cromwell by Robert Singleton. 'To be brief,' wrote Singleton, 'the sermon seemed to be to blaspheme against the king and you that be of his council, and to seduce the people from the Son of Man to the abomination standing in the Holy Place.' (fn. 32)

The Valor of 1535 showed that the clear annual value of this well-endowed house was £800 5s. 4½d.

The house surrendered, through the influence of Prior Man, early in 1539. The prior was assigned the great pension of £133 6s. 8d., and small sums to eighteen of the other monks. (fn. 33) The prior's complacency was further rewarded by his being made dean of Chester, and in 1546 he was promoted to be bishop of the Isle of Man, retaining his deanery in commendam.

The site of this charterhouse was granted in 1540 to Edward, Earl of Hertford, afterwards Duke of Somerset; and on his attainder in 1552 to Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk, who made the house his residence. But on 26 January 1557, Queen Mary replaced the Carthusian monks in their house of Sheen, making Maurice Chauncy their new prior, and granting them a moderate endowment. With the accession of Elizabeth however the few religious houses that Mary had refounded were again dissolved, and Sheen once more became Crown property.

Maurice Chauncy, the last prior of Sheen, was one of the few religious of the London charterhouse who purchased their lives of Henry VIII. by compliance with his wishes, and on its dissolution obtained a pension of £5. In his future penitence he deeply bewailed that he had not shared the crown of martyrdom, and spoke of himself as 'the spotted and diseased sheep of the flock.' The Carthusians, who were for a short time gathered together under Prior Maurice at Sheen during Mary's reign, were the scattered remnant of the various English charterhouses. Several died during their brief sojourn at the restored house, and the rest followed their superior into exile on Elizabeth's accession. Prior Maurice died at Paris on 12 July 1581; two years later his history of the sufferings of the Carthusians under Henry VIII. was printed, of which Mr. Froude made so much use in his graphic and sympathetic account of their treatment. (fn. 34)

Priors of Sheen

John Widrington, elected 1414

John Bokyngham, " 1431

John Ives, occurs 1461

William Wildy, occurs 1474 and 1477 (fn. 35)

John Ingilby, " 1479-80 (fn. 36)

John Jobourn, " 1504, resigned 1534

Brian, elected 1534

Henry Man, (fn. 37) occurs 1535-9

Maurice Chauncy, occurs 1557

The fifteenth century pointed oval seal (fn. 38) represents the Nativity of Our Lord, with the star of Bethlehem above, and a demiangel holding a scoll. In the base are the quartered arms of France and England. Legend: SIGILLU: COVĒ: DOMUS: IDŪ DE: BETHLEEM: IUXTA: SHEEN: ORDINIS: CARTUYS.

A smaller pointed oval seal (fn. 39) of fifteenth century has the Nativity treated after a natural and picturesque fashion, in a different way to the larger seal. The shield of France and England and the legend are the same.

The seal of the latter foundation by Queen Mary (fn. 40) treats the Nativity after a rude fashion. Legend: JESU · BETHLEHEM · SHEENE.


  • 1. Dugdale, Mon. vi. 31-2, from the Charter Rolls 3 and 4 Hen. V. m. 8. Pat. 2 Hen. VI. pt. iv. MS. 27, 26, 25.
  • 2. Willis' Mitred Abbeys, ii. 337, where an account of the dimensions of the house is cited from a MS. copy of Florence of Worcester.
  • 3. Constitutions of the Order, Dugdale, Mon. vi. pt. 1, v.-xii.
  • 4. Gasquet's Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries, i. 60.
  • 5. Cott. MS. Otho B. xiv. The first 149 folios relate to Sheen, the remainder of the 280 folios are a chartulary of Pipewell Abbey and certain general chronicles. There are also various rentals of different manors pertaining to the priory of Sheen in the time of Henry VIII. in another of the British Museum volumes; but in neither of these are there names of priors or other details as to the monastery (Cott. MS. Jul. C. ii. ff. 279-86.)
  • 6. The interesting 'Statutes of the laye Bretherns, Shene,' are set forth at length in English in a small paper book of 126 folios among the British Museum Add. MSS. 11,303. From them we gather that the lay brothers at Sheen, as elsewhere, had their houses apart from the monks' house, in what was termed the Lower House; that they had there their own chapel, where mass was celebrated twice or thrice weekly, and where the Blessed Sacrament was reserved, and that they were not to be shorn clerkwise, or to learn grammar or to sing, or even to be suffered to ascend to the state of monks.
  • 7. Rymer's Fœdera, ix. 290.
  • 8. Winton. Epis. Reg. Waynflete, ii. f. 37.
  • 9. Pat. 1 Edw. IV. pt. vi, ms. 15-18.
  • 10. Ibid. 6 Edw. IV. pt. 1, m. 17.
  • 11. Ibid. 14 Edw. IV. pt. ii, m. 22.
  • 12. Ibid. 19 Edw. IV. m. 25.
  • 13. Ibid. 20 Edw. IV. pt. 1, m. 10.
  • 14. Ibid. m. 2.
  • 15. Manning and Bray, Hist. of Surr., i. 420
  • 16. L. and P. Hen. VIII. ii. p. 1449.
  • 17. Stowe's Annals, 494.
  • 18. L. and P. Hen. VIII. ii. 1760, 1778.
  • 19. Wood's Athenæ Oxonienses (Bliss), i. 26.
  • 20. L. and P. Hen. VIII. iv. 4221.
  • 21. Ibid. 6121.
  • 22. Ibid. 6264.
  • 23. Ibid. 6711.
  • 24. Ibid. v. 403, 627 (22).
  • 25. See the subsequent account of the friars of Richmond.
  • 26. L. and P. Hen. VIII. vii. 622.
  • 27. Ibid. 671. For the piteous story of the appalling treatment of the London Carthusians on the scaffold and in prison, see Froude's Hist. ii. ch 9; and Gasquet's Monasteries, i. 202-43.
  • 28. L. and P. Hen. VIII. vii. 1091.
  • 29. Ibid. 959.
  • 30. Ibid. xi. 244.
  • 31. Ibid. xiii. (1), 35, 422, 423.
  • 32. Ibid. 819.
  • 33. Aug. Off. Misc. Bks. ccxxxiv. f. 3b.
  • 34. Gasquet's Monasteries, i. 203; ii. 405-6.
  • 35. Pat. 14 Edw. IV. pt. i. ms. 26, 25; pt. ii. m. 23; 16 Edw. IV. pt. i. m. 26; 17 Edw. IV. pt. ii. m. 31.
  • 36. Ibid. 19 Edw. IV. m. 25; 26 Edw. IV. pt. i. ms. 10, 2.
  • 37. L. and P. Hen. VIII viii. 585.
  • 38. B. M. lxxii. 63.
  • 39. B.M. lxxii. 64.
  • 40. B.M. D.C.H. 57.