Clare Priory was founded by the Austin Friars or Augustinians in 1248, on land granted to them by Richard de Clare (2nd Earl of Pembroke, aka ‘Strongbow’) in the same year as his father died. They were not the first monks in Clare; there had been Benedictines but they were moved to Stoke-by-Clare as the castle was developed.
The Priory stood across the Stour from the Castle. By the 14C, the river had been diverted to make the ‘New Cut’, a millstream serving a mill owned by the friars. The Stour proper now meanders south of the Priory, as the boundary between Suffolk and Essex.
Joan of Acre, daughter of Edward I, married Gilbert de Clare the “Red Earl” and was buried within the Chapel of St Vincent in 1307, when her brother Edward II attended the funeral. Her youngest son was buried near her in 1339. It was her third daughter, Elizabeth de Burgh who took over the castle and founded Clare College, self-styled as the Lady of Clare. Allegedly, in 1357 Elizabeth claimed to have “inspected her mother’s body and found the corpse to be intact”, which in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church was an indication of sanctity. Miracles were attributed to her.
In 1377 the heart & bones of Lionel Duke of Clarence, son of Edward III were buried here. He had died in Italy in 1369. His wife was buried elsewhere. Together they were the ancestors of the House of York, through their daughter Philippa, Countess of March, hence the plaque installed by the Richard III Society in the old church.
In 1538, it was suppressed by Henry VIII and given to his trumpeter Richard Frende. The Priory’s debts of £33 2/6d may then have exceeded its assets. From 1597 the Barnardistones of Kedington possessed the property; they, and a collateral family, the Barkers continued ownership until the 20C. In 1953 the Augustinins returned – it was the generosity of the May Barker family who allowed the Order to purchase the house for only a fraction of its true value.
The present day priory community is made up of friars and lay people living a common life of prayer, work and friendship, open to those who wish to join them for a few days, or longer. Visitors are welcome to walk through the grounds, entering the church and the shrine, viewing the ruins.
The Priory itself is closed to visitors except on the days of the Craft Fair which takes place on the second full week-end in July every year.
Location: Ashen Road, Clare CO10 8NX
Links: Historic England – the priory listed I, uninhabited portions; a Lovejoy location
Book: Suffolk: West, The Buildings of England, Bettley & Pevsner, Yale 2015. ISBN 978 0 300 19655 9, pp190-192
2016 © Clare Town Council