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Craswall Priory – historical outline

This, the second of the English ‘cells’, was founded by Walter de Lacy, a great lord of the area. He almost certainly visited Grandmont in person for he was part of King John’s expedition to Poitou in 1214. The King himself certainly spent a couple of nights at the monastery in the spring of that year. It was around the year 1225 that Walter de Lacy presented the brethren of Grandmont with this site in a valley close to the Black Mountains and near his own castle of Ewyas Lacy. The original charter is lost but the confirmation charter given by Henry III is preserved at Christ’s College, Cambridge and is dated 1231.

The two hundred years or so of monastic occupation at Craswall are not particularly inspiring. The ‘cell’ was maintained for the benefit of the Mother House and although reasonably well endowed both by the de Lacy family and other great Norman lords, it remained poor and the architecture retained its original austere character. At the General Chapter held at Grandmont in 1295,the number of brethren permitted to inhabit the various ‘cells’ was reduced, Craswall being limited to nine; the original foundation had allowed for three clerks and ten lay brethren.

Some irregularities inevitably occurred at the priory. In 1303 the patron informed the Prior of Grandmont by letter that he had expelled the ‘corrector’ and all save one of the brethren and that neither they nor any others of the Order would be permitted to return unless they proved to be religious of wisdom and discretion who would revive the good name of the cell which had fallen into disrepute. In 1357 Edward III ordered an enquiry into the conduct of Prior John Cublington who was charged with numerous misdemeanours including the alienation of priory property, the sale of vestments and other possessions without leave and, quite incidentally, killing a woman. He was deposed by Adémar Crespi, Abbot of Grandmont. Further troubles ensued at both Craswall and Alberbury, but, by 1370, the Mother House must have been wholly immersed in its own problems as one of the major theatres of the Hundred Years’ War. Soon after, both of the southern English priories were confiscated by the Crown. Grosmont, the Yorkshire foundation, was spared mainly because there was not much of it left to seize, having recently suffered a major fire. The brothers at Craswall were permitted to stay and were afforded the bare necessities of life by royal decree. The revenues of the house were paid to Joan, Queen Consort to Henry IV and, following her death, to Henry, Duke of Gloucester, until the final closure in 1441.

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