A History of the County of York: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1974.

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'RELIGIOUS HOUSES: Introduction', in A History of the County of York: Volume 3, (London, 1974) pp. 89-91. British History Online [accessed 1 March 2024]

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The county of York was remarkable for the number and importance of its religious foundations. Of the Benedictine Order there were only four houses for men, but of these St. Mary's, York, Selby and Whitby, were all of the first rank, and Monk Bretton is interesting as having been originally a Cluniac house. Of the ten Benedictine nunneries none were of importance. The striking feature of Yorkshire religious life, however, was the predominance of the Cistercian Order; Byland, Fountains, Jervaulx, Kirkstall, Meaux, Rievaulx, Roche and Sawley, forming a group of Cistercian monasteries that cannot be paralleled elsewhere in England, and there were twelve houses for women of the same order, though most of these were quite small. It is noteworthy that in the case of the nunneries of Swine and Wykeham the early records speak of certain canons being attached to the convents. (fn. 1) The Cluniac Order, after the secession of Monk Bretton in 1279, was represented by the monastery of St. John's, Pontefract, and the nunnery of Arthington. The two Carthusian houses of Hull and Mount Grace were comparatively late foundations, and there was at Grosmont a small priory of the Grandimontine Order.

Ten houses of Austin Canons were founded before the middle of the 12th century, and of these Bolton, Bridlington, Guisborough, Newburgh and Nostell, were of considerable importance. Another house of this order, that of Haltemprice, was founded as late as 1320. The only convent of Austin Nuns, that established at Moxby about 1165, originally formed part of the priory of Marton, founded about 1135, as a double house for nuns and canons. The Gilbertine Order, in which the double community was the rule, had three houses in the county, and the Premonstratensian Canons also had three abbeys. But the most remarkable house of Canons Regular was the priory of North Ferriby of Austin Canons of the Order of the Temple; they are sometimes erroneously said to have been affiliated to the Knights Templars, but were in reality a cell of the abbey of the Temple of the Lord at Jerusalem and in no way connected with the Knights of the Temple of Solomon; at a later date these canons seem to have been considered as ordinary Austin Canons.

Both military orders, of the Temple and of the Hospital, had extensive possessions in Yorkshire and each appointed a chief preceptor or master for the county. The Knights Templars had eight preceptories, but after the dissolution of the order in 1310, although most of these estates passed to the Hospitallers, Ribston was the only house which maintained a separate existence as a commandery.

The different orders of friars were well represented in the county. In York itself there were houses of Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites, Austins, and of the short-lived Order of the Sack. In 1257 Walter de Kirkham, Bishop of Durham, granted 4 acres of land at Osmotherley for the establishment of a priory of Crutched Friars, (fn. 2) and in 1347 Thomas Lord Wake of Liddell had royal licence to grant a toft and 10 acres in Blakehowe Moor in Farndale for the foundation of a house of the same order, (fn. 3) but in neither case does the design seem to have been carried out. In the same way Master William de Alverton's proposed foundation of Austin Friars at Northallerton in 1340, (fn. 4) and the house of Minoresses which Sir William de la Pole began to found at Hull in 1365, (fn. 5) came to nothing. At Knaresborough there was an important establishment of Trinitarian Friars.

The list of hospitals which follows is lengthy, but it is probably not complete; so many small hospitals are known to us only from single references that it is almost certain that others must have escaped notice altogether. At the head of the list is St. Peter's, or St. Leonard's, of York, the largest and wealthiest of all the early English hospitals. The identification of the smaller, and for the most part unendowed, hospitals in the city is no simple matter, many of them being known by more than one name.

Of collegiate churches the most important were the Minster at York (associated with which were the Bedern, St. Mary and the Holy Angels and St. William's College), Ripon and Beverley, all three being of pre-Conquest origin. Sir Richard le Scrope in 1393 had licence to found a chantry of six chaplains, one of whom was to be warden, in his castle of Bolton, and at the same time to give to the abbey of Easby lands for the support of six canons and twenty-two poor men. (fn. 6) In 1399 he obtained a fresh licence to transfer the proposed endowment from Easby to the church of Holy Trinity, Wensley, making this church collegiate and attaching a hospital to it, (fn. 7) but although this licence was confirmed by Henry IV (fn. 8) it does not appear that either of the proposed colleges at Bolton or Wensley was actually constituted. Another abortive college was begun by Richard III, who proposed to found a college of a hundred priests in connexion with York Minster. (fn. 9) Several altars were actually erected (fn. 10) and the collegiate house begun, if not completed, (fn. 11) before Richard's defeat and death put an end to the scheme. A quasi-collegiate chantry of twelve priests was established in Kirkleatham church in 1353, (fn. 12) but was dissolved when the rectory was appropriated to the college of Staindrop (county Durham) in 1408. (fn. 13) A similar chantry of six priests was formed at Harewood in 1353, (fn. 14) and a semi-collegiate chapel was founded at Wilton-inCleveland by Sir William Bulmer in 1528, (fn. 15) but neither these nor Osmotherley, which church was held by three portionaries, sometimes called canons or prebendaries, were true colleges. The alien priories were few and, with the exception of Holy Trinity, York, unimportant.

Selby Abbey is said to have owed its existence to the settlement of a hermit at that place, and instances of hermits occur in Yorkshire records with some frequency. In 1315 King Edward II sent Lambert le Flemyng of Ypres with four other hermits to reside at Knaresborough, (fn. 16) and three years later he gave 76s. 6d. to the six hermits of ' Haywra' in Knaresborough Forest, of whom Brother Lambert was the proctor. (fn. 17) This hermitage was probably of early date, as in 1267 John Floterdasse killed ' a certain hermit dwelling in le Wra.' (fn. 18) At Knaresborough also was the hermitage of St. Robert, which continued to be occupied until at least the middle of the 14th century. (fn. 19) Mention may also be made of Matthew Danthorpe, hermit, who in 1399 tactfully built a chapel at Ravenspur to commemorate the landing of Henry IV. (fn. 20) Instances of the more strictly secluded class of anchorites are to be met with in the archiepiscopal registers and elsewhere. (fn. 21)


  • 1. Cf. Godstow, V.C.H. Oxon, ii, 73; and Nuneaton, V.C.H. Warw. ii, 66.
  • 2. Pat. 41 Hen. III, no. 1.
  • 3. Pat. 21 Edw. III, pt. ii, no. 6; Dugdale, Baronage, i, 541.
  • 4. Pat. 14 Edw. III, pt. ii, no. 5.
  • 5. Cal. Papal Letters, iv, 91.
  • 6. Cal. Pat. 1391-6, p. 224.
  • 7. Ibid. 1396-9, p. 489.
  • 8. Ibid. 1399-1401, p. 344.
  • 9. York Archiepis. Reg. Rotherham, pt. i, fol. 100.
  • 10. Fabric R. (Suit. Soc.), 87.
  • 11. Test. Ebor. (Surt. Soc.), iv, 79.
  • 12. Torre's MS. fol. 59.
  • 13. Mon. Angl. vi, 1401.
  • 14. Cal. Close, 1349-54, pp. 520-2.
  • 15. Test. Ebor. (Surt. Soc.), v, 319.
  • 16. Exch. Acts. 376, no. 7.
  • 17. Lib. R. Chan. 11 Edw. II, m. 13.
  • 18. Assize R. 1051, m. 11.
  • 19. See account of the Friary of Knaresborough below.
  • 20. Cal. Pat. 1399-1401, p. 209.
  • 21. e.g. Giffard's Reg. (Surt. Soc.), 108.