Castle Acre Priory 2009
Castle Acre Priory, in Castle Acre, Norfolk, is thought to have been founded as a Cluniac House in 1089 by William de Warenne the son of the 1st Earl of Surrey who had already founded England's first Cluniac priory at Lewes in 1077. The order originated from Burgundy.
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Originally the priory was sited within the walls of nearby Castle Acre Castle but this proved too inconvenient for the monks, so the priory was relocated to its present site about 1090 by William's son, William II. Building work was slow and the priory church itself was not consecrated until some time between 1146 and 1148. William III gave the Priory more land and also reinforced the castle and improved its defences as well as re-planning the town and adding a town wall. in 1265 there were 32 brethren at the priory who were rebuked for riding around the area, eating and drinking in the homes of laymen and secular people. Later there were disputes about who had the right to appoint the prior. One prior even went missing in 1351 and was last heard to be living as a 'vagabond' with a warrant out for his arrest.
While the Warenne family were the main benefactors of the priory, others also gave generously, for example Scolland, steward of Alan Earl of Richmond, who is buried here. Like other Cluniac houses, Castle Acre was directly subject to the authority of the Abbot of Cluny. For practical reasons, however, the Prior of Lewes was instructed to act for the abbot when any problems arose at Castle Acre. However, this obedience to a 'foreign' abbot caused difficulties when the kings of England were at odds with France and/or Burgundy. The monks came under some suspicion. In the mid 14th century the English Cluniacs settled this difficulty by buying a special legal recognition from the king as a 'native' religious houses. The priory was then home to between 20 and 30 monks.
The nave of the church is one of the oldest parts of the ruin, however subsequent additions continued to be added up until the priory was dissolved in 1537 under Henry VIII. When the King gave the dissolved priory to the Duke of Norfolk complete with its estates, the remaining monks were turned out. The estate eventually passed to Sir Edward Coke, whose descendant, the Earl of Leicester now owns the ruins and Castle Acre Castle.
The ruins today are impressive and extensive, the great west front of the building is almost complete, and the prior's lodging is in even better condition. The priory is now in the care of English Heritage, along with the nearby Castle Acre Bailey Gate and Castle Acre Castle. The opening scenes of the classic horror movie The Tomb of Ligeia (1964, directed by Roger Corman and starring Vincent Price) were shot at Castle Acre Priory.