The Abbey of the Minoresses of St Clare without Aldgate and the Ladies of the Minories
Anne Montgomery nee Darcy. One of the much respected Ladies of the Minories from the window of Holy Trinity Church, Long Melford, Suffolk.
Shakespeare said ‘all the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players’. Following on from that if we may be allowed to say that the Wars of the Roses were a stage then surely some of the saddest players on it were the ladies of the Minories – the widows, mothers, sisters and daughters of some of the main players of that tragic and violent period who survived their menfolk but in what must have been difficult and sometimes straightened circumstances. I have here leaned heavily on W E Hampton’s excellent article, the Ladies of the Minories (1)
The Abbey of the Minoresses of St Clare without Aldgate was founded by Edmund Crouchback Duke of Lancaster and his wife, Blanche of Navarre, in 1293 for the nuns that Blanche had brought to England with her. Surviving until 1539 the abbey, which was very large, was surrendered by the last abbess, Dame Elizabeth Savage, to Henry Vlll. The abbey had already suffered what must have been a catastrophic loss in 1515 when 27 nuns and other lay people i.e. servants died of the plague (2)
Edmund Crouchback, illustrations of his tomb in Westminster Abbey by Stothard from Monumental Effigies of Great Britain 1832
According to Edward Tomlinson who wrote A History of the Minories there is an old manuscript in British Museum ‘which appers to have escaped the notice of any historian’ which states that Edmund’s ‘hart ys buryed at the North end of the high Awter in the mynorysse And his body ys buryed at Westminster in the Abbey’. This manuscript which is probably a transcript from a register kept in the Abbey contains ‘the names of all p sones beyng of Nobull Blode whiche be buryed wthin the Monastorye of the mynnorysse’. The names of these illustrious burials are too numerous to name here but a few..
Dame Elizabeth Countess of Clare
Dame Isabel daughter of Tomas of Woodstock Duke of Gloucester
Margaret Countess of Shrewsbury daughter of Humphgrey Duke of Buckingham
Agnes Countess of Pembroke
Eleanor Scrope wife to Lord Scrope and Daughter of Raufe/Ralph Neville
Edmunde De La Pole and Margaret his wife
Elizabeth de la Pole, Edmund’s daughter (3).
Among those burials I am focusing here on those from the turbulent period of the Wars of Roses and the fall of the House of York..
I shall start with one of the leading ladies of this little band, Elizabeth Mowbray nee Talbot, Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. Elizabeth was the daughter of John Talbot lst Earl of Shrewsbury and sister to another lady of great importance from the period, Eleanor Butler. Mother to the tragic Anne Mowbray child bride to Richard of Shrewsbury, Edward IV’s youngest son. Elizabeth lived in the Great House within the Close for which she paid a rent of 10 pounds. Elizabeth it will be remembered, on the sudden unexpected death of her husband was forced soon after to take a diminished dower in order to augment the revenue of her young son-in-law. Frustratingly Elizabeth’s thoughts on this were, as far as is known, never recorded. The marriage of her daughter Anne to the youngest son of Edward IV and Elizabeth Wydeville, whose own marriage had ruined her sister, Eleanor, ensured that the vast Mowbray estates would pass to Richard if it should come to pass that her daughter died, which as it transpired is exactly what happened. Anne died shortly before her 9th birthday at Greenwich one of her mother-in-law’s favorite homes. Anne was buried in Westminster Abbey but her body was removed from there in 1502 when the chapel she was buried in was demolished to make way for Henry Tudor’s grandiose new chapel. Anne was returned to her mother at the Minories and buried there – ‘Dame Anne Duches of yorke doughter to lord moumbray Duke of Norfolke ys buried yn the sayed Quere’ (4)
Elizabeth Mowbray, nee Talbot, Duchess of Norfolk as depicted in the window of Holy Trinity Church, Long Melford, Suffolk.
Although the glory days must have been over for Elizabeth with the demise of her husband – her retirement to the Minories would have been a serious case of downsizing – a look at her will tells us that she had not lost absolutely everything as did her daughter’s mother in law, Elizabeth Wydville, whose pitiful will tells us that she was left more or less destitute. Ah well Karma is a bitch as they say.
Jane Talbot, sister-in-law to the above, having married Sir Humphrey Talbot. Humphrey was the son of John Talbot by his second wife Margaret who was a daughter of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick. Jane’s interesting will which left numerous bequests especially to her servants also requested that ‘I Dame Jane Talbott, wedowe late the Wif of sir Humfrey Talbott knyght… my body to be buried within the inner choer of the churche of the Mynores withoute Algate of London nygh the place and sepulture where the body of Maistres Anne Mongomery late the wif of John Mongomery Squyer restity and ys buried within the same quere’.
Anne Montgomery widow of John Montgomery who was executed in 1462, brother of Sir Thomas Montgomery, Sir James Tyrell was her nephew. Anne was clearly a person much revered. As well as Jane Talbot, Elizabeth Mowbray also requested to be buried close to her in her will made 6 November 1506 – ‘And my body to be buried in the Nonnes qwere of the Minorsesses without Alegate of London nyghe vnto the place Wher Anne Montgomery lyeth buried’.
Mary Tyrell. According to Hampton ‘Almost certainly one of the sisters of Sir James Tyrell – probably the youngest – and therefore a niece of Anne Montgomery (5 )
Elizabeth Brackenbury. Daughter to the loyal Sir Robert Brackenbury, Richard III’s Constable of the Tower, who died with his king at Bosworth. Hampton mentions that Elizabeth”s poverty was clear in her will of 1504 and that she found shelter under the wings of the Talbots and requested in her will that her debts to Elizabeth were to be paid – ‘I Elizabeth Brakkynbury..beyng of goode and hole mind’ – all such money ‘as my lady’s grace of Norff’ to whom I am most specially bounde’ had paid, or was charged with, for Elizabeth ‘of her charitie’ was to be repaid (6). Hampton also adds that there was some connection between Sir Robert and Sir Thomas Montgomery which could partly explain his daugher’s connection to these ladies, although it is not certainl if Brackenbury’s daughter was an inmate at the time of Anne Montgomery’s tenancy at the Minories.
Hampton wrote ‘All of these ladies, with the possible exception of Jane Talbot had suffered great loss, but it would perhaps be unwise to to think too much of them as sheltering in the Minories, where life may not have been too severe. They may as Dr Tudor-Craig suggests have gathered around the Duchess yet Anne Montgomery’s influence may have been greater spiritually’.
While some ladies had been most grieviously injured by Edward IV and his Wydeville wife – i.e. the shabby way Elizabeth Mowbray was forced to augment the revenue of her small son-in-law, the betrayal of her sister, Eleanor, the executions of William Tyrell and John Montgomery, further injury was inflicted by Henry Vll with the unjust attainder of Sir Robert Brackenbury and the execution and attainder of Sir James Tyrell.
Wynegaerde’s Panorama of London (1543) in which the Minories can be seen just above and to the left of the White Tower/Tower of London. . Note the close proximity of the scaffold on Tower Hill, shown to to the left of the Minories.
Doubtless they were great comforters of each other and it is very easy to imagine them being of a great solace to Elizabeth Mowbray when her daughter’s remains were returned to her.
The beginning of the end for the once grand Minories came when the last abbess, Dame Elizabeth Salvage surrendered the abbey to Henry Tudor Jnr in 1539. Stowe describes how in place of ‘this house of nuns is now built divers fair and large storehouses for armour and habiliments of war, with divers workhouses serving to the same purpose’ although there is ‘a small parish church for inhabitants of the close, called St Trinities’ (7) Some of the abbey walls survived until a fire in 1797. Around 1566 the parishioners came into possession of what had once been the Minories church but was now the parish church and set about ‘renovating’ it. This involved the removal and destruction of ancient monuments and the adding of a steeple. Finally around 1705 , having surived the Great Fire of 1666, begun the final destruction of the fabric of the ancient church and the rebuilding of a new one although the medieval northern wall was retained.
Diagram of the 18th century Holy Trinity church showing the north 13th Century retained. This wall managed to survive the fire and bombs until clearance of the site in 1956-58.
The remains of the abbey after the fire in 1796
Another print showing the abbey remains after the 1796 fire.
It would have been about this time that the building of new burial vaults was begun and in the process of which, the ‘greater part of the ground beneath the parish church must have been evacuated which would have not been achieved without the unfortunate removal of the remains of those, who in the past centuries, would have been buried there’ (8). Alas!
The 18th century church was finally destroyed after being bombed during the war. But that is not the end of the story of our intrepid band of Minory ladies or indeed the Minories itself, for in 1964 the remains of Elizabeth’s daughter, Anne Mowbray were discovered by an excavator driver in a vaulted burial chamber of the Minories which had somehow been, fortunately, overlooked. Anne was once again reinterred in Westminster Abbey as close to her original burial place as possible…but, that dear reader is another story.
18th century Holy Trinity Church prior to its destruction by a bomb. It was in the excavation of this area after the war that Anne Mowbray’s remains were discovered in a vault.
Holy Trinity Church looking slightly less stark in this painting,1881, artist unknown.
The area now covering where once stood the Abbey of St Clare (The Minories). Such is progress.
1. The Ladies of the Minories, W E Hampton, Richard lll Crown and People p195-201
2. A Survey of London Written in the year 1599. John Stowe pp 122.1233.
3. A History of the Minories pp68.69 Edward Murrey Tomlinson M.A
4. Ibid p 69.
5. The Ladies of the Minories W E Hampton, Richard lll Crown and People p.19
6. Ibid p.198
7. A Survey of London Written in the year 1599. John Stowe p.128.
8. A History of the Minories p 299 Edward Murrey Tomlinson