Blog 41 03/10/2016 Postcards from a Leicestershire Village: Grace Dieu Priory and a Famous Playright.
Postcards from a Leicestershire Village:
Grace Dieu Priory and a Famous Playright.
The village of Thringstone in Leicestershire sits on the edge of Charnwood Forest, a lush woodland of glorious deciduous trees carpeted with bluebells and rhododendron bushes in the spring and hedgerows filled with blackberries and rosehips in late summer. Thringstone is mentioned in the Domesday Book as “Trangesbi” and most probably gets its name from the Viking name, “Traengr” combined with the Anglo-Saxon suffix, “tun” meaning farm or village.
A watermill existed there in the 13th century of which traces still remain, but Thringstone’s main claim to fame is the Augustine nunnery known as Grace Dieu Priory founded by Lady Roesia de Verdun in 1240 and dedicated to the Honour of the Holy Trinity and St Mary. Grace Dieu is one of only two nunneries in medieval Leicestershire.
The story goes that the Lady Roesia, on the orders of Henry III, married one Theobald le Butiller but retained her maiden name, a practice not uncommon when the lady considered her status to be superior to her husbands, On his death in 1230, she made a bargain with the King, by giving him 700 marks for the privilege of not having to remarry. Roesia’s father had also died in the same year leaving her a wealthy woman and rather than subjugate herself to the King’s wishes, she founded the nunnery and took the veil herself. After her death, she was interred in the priory chapel, During the reign of Henry VIII and the Dissolution of the Abbeys and Priories, she was reburied in nearby Belton Church, In 1839, she was reburied but her final resting place remains unknown.
In relation to the other religious houses, it was like most nunneries – relatively poor, but besides being a spiritual centre, it provided work, shelter for travellers and education for girls. When the last Prioress, Agnes Litherland, surrendered Grace Dieu to King Henry VIII in 1539, John Beaumont of Thringstone took possession of it on behalf of the king and through dubious procedures, became the new owner and turned it into the family home.
Two documents, some thirteen years apart, give an insight into this process. Inventories were made in 1539 when Beaumont acquired the site and later in 1552/3 when the Crown seized it because Beaumont, who was then Master of the Rolls, had been found to be defrauding the Crown! The documents show that he had tried to turn the monastic layout into a grand Tudor mansion and the first thing to go was the church itself. It was left roofless as the lead from the roof was valuable and belonged to the King.
Within fifty years, this branch of the Beaumonts died out and the building was sold to a Mr Philips of Garendon Abbey who had no need of another mansion and so Grace Dieu quickly fell into ruins. Parts of it were retained for tenant farming until 1810 after which the remaining walls deteriorated further until all that is left today is a shell of its former self. However Grace Dieu does have another claim to fame. John Beaumont’s grandson, Francis Beaumont, the famous dramatist, was born there in 1584. The following is an excerpt about him from “Brief Lives” written by John Dubrey (1626 – 1697)
“Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher began their partnership as playrights in 1605, and during the next ten years wrote many pieces together, of which The Knight of the Burning Pestle, a satire on heroic plays, is perhaps best remembered,
Mr Francis Beaumont was the son of Judge Beaumont. There was a wonderful sameness of fancy between him and Mr John Fletcher, which caused that dearness of friendship between them. I think they were both at Queen’s College in Cambridge. I have heard Dr John Earles (since Bishop of Salisbury), who knew them, say that his main business was to correct the overflowings of Mr Fletcher’s wit. They lived together on the Bankside, not far from the playhouse, both bachelors; lay together (from Sir James Hale) etc; had one wench in the house between them, which they did so admire; the same clothes and cloak, etc, between them. He wrote (among many others) an admirable elergy on the Countess of Rutland, which is printed with verses before Sir Thomas Overbury’s Characters. John Earles, in his verses on him, speaking of them.
‘A monument that will then be lasting be,
When all her marble is more dust than she.’
* Mr John Fletcher, poet: in the great plague, 1625, a knight of Norfolk (or Suffolk) invited him to the country. He stayed but to make himself a suit of clothes, and whilst it was making, fell sick of the plague and died. This I had (1669) from his tailor, who is now a very old man and clerk of St Mary Overy’s.”
Francis Beaumont is buried in Westminster Abbey.
“The Embroiderer” is a beautifully written novel spanning the 19th and 20th centuries, set against the backdrop of the Greek War of Independence. It was published on 5th November 2014 and is available to buy in paperback and as an ebook.