Clare Priory was founded by the Austin Friars or Augustinians in 1248, on land granted to them by Richard de Clare (Lord of Clare and Earl of Hertford and Earl of Gloucester). There had been Benedictine monks in Clare, but they had been moved to Stoke-by-Clare in 1124.
The Priory stood across the Stour from the Castle. By the 14th century, 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 in the Priory 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 some of the bones of Lionel Duke of Clarence, son of Edward III, were buried here. He had died in Italy in 1369. His first wife, granddaughter of The Lady of Clare, was buried at Bruisyard. Together they were the ancestors of the House of York, through their daughter Philippa, Countess of March.This explains the plaque installed by the Richard III Society in the ruin of the Priory 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 Barnardistons possessed the property; they, and a collateral family, the Barkers continued ownership until the 20th century. In 1953 the Augustinians returned – it was the generosity of Lady May (née Barker) 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