Beauvale Priory, a few miles north-west of Nottingham, is important both to Roman Catholics and also to non-conformist Protestants. However, although the Catholics are very aware of their heritage here including holding regular pilgrimages, the Protestants definitely aren’t! What you will also find are several links to D H Lawrence, whose home country this is also.
The Carthusian priory here was founded in 1343. It has been suggested that the Cloud of Unknowing was written by a monk of Beauvale. The dialect of Middle English used in Cloud suggests origins in the north-east Midlands. Other spiritual works are also likely to have come from Beauvale, such as Speculum Vitae Humanae in about 1390.
In 1535 the prior, Robert Lawrence, and three others went to see Thomas Cromwell to argue against dissolution. Having refused to take the Oath of Supremacy and thereby having denied the authority of the King, they were executed 4 May 1535 at Tyburn. Also executed was John Houghton, the previous prior of Beauvale, although he only held that post for around six months, and Augustine Webster of Axholme. Tradition relates that when Houghton was about to be quartered, and as the executioner tore open his chest to remove his heart, he prayed, ‘O Jesu, what wouldst thou do with my heart?’ A painting by Francisco Zurbarán depicts Lawrence with his heart in his hand and a noose around his neck. Lawrence was beatified in 1886 and canonised in 1970; Webster and Houghton were also made saints.
William Trafford of Beauvale was sent to London in 1535 for refusing to accept the supremacy of the King and arrived a few days after Lawrence’s execution. Having eventually ‘conformed’, he was made prior of the London Charterhouse in Houghton’s place. By the time commissioners arrived to close Beauvale, the prior was all packed up and ready to leave. One of the last monks, the Sacrist Dugmer, claimed to have had a vision of Mary and the infant Jesus playing in the garden at Beauvale. This is how an acquaintance reported it:
“Our god Father Dugmer told me that when he was young and Sacrist, and one day had washed the Church Corporals, and had laid them in the garden upon the lavender borders to dry, in the midst of his dinner he went into his garden to see the cloths, and he saw our Blessed Lady sitting beside the Corporals tending them, and our Blessed Lord in the likeness of a little child, pulling the lavender knops and, as little children will do, casting them upon the Corporals. ‘Then’, thought the good Sacrist, ‘I may well go to my dinner again, for the cloths are well kept.’”
John Lassells, a martyr himself in 1546, was one of those who was considered for the Priory lands but they were awarded to Sir William Hussey, a Lincolnshire landowner. Hussey’s daughter Neile married Richard Disney, of Norton Disney Lincolnshire, by which the Disneys came to hold Beauvale. Disney’s second wife was Jane Askew, sister of the famous Protestant martyr Anne, from a family who held lands both at Stallingborough in Lincolnshire and near to Beauvale at Nuthall; Anne was burnt at the same stake as Lassells.
This established Beauvale and its parish church at Greasley as a Protestant enclave, which reached its peak when the White family from Sturton le Steeple arrived there, perhaps to manage the estates; Bridget White married John Robinson, the famous Puritan leader who also came from Sturton, at Greasley in 1603/4. The mother of the Whites knew one of the Disney family, which may explain their move, and Charles White seems to have been involved in coalmining. Later Bridget, two sisters and a brother went to the Netherlands where one – Katherine – married as her second husband John Carver and sailed on the Mayflower. This makes Beauvale a key feature in the ‘Mayflower’ story, and also a romantic one!