The Current State of Usk Priory in Wales
|Founder(s)||Richard de Clare, 3rd Baron of Clare|
|Location||Lordship of Striguil, Wales|
Usk Priory was founded by Richard de Clare, 3rd Baron of Clare (1094-1136) in the early twelfth century who also held the Welsch Manorial Lordship of Usk. The de Clare family Coat of Arms appears in some of the floor tiles recovered from the chancel. His son, Gilbert de Clare, 1st Earl of Hertford (1115–1152), continued the development of the establishment. The earliest part of the church predates the foundation and the church is mentioned in the foundation charter. The nuns thus took over an existing church and it is possible (by analogy with better-documented communities in England) that there may have been an informal community at Usk before the formal endowment of the priory. The community was founded by 5 nuns and grew to the usual 13.
According to Bruce Venarde, the community was founded by Richard de Clare and his son, Gilbert, according to a document confirming the properties in 1236. Nothing is known of the first century of the nunnery's history; the first documentary mention of the community appears in 1246 when there was an inter-regnum and the community received licence to elect a new prioress. In the following year, 1247, the prioress obtained letters of protection. The priory of St Mary's, Usk, was famed for its shrine of St Radegund and became a popular pilgrim site. The original community comprised five nuns but numbers later rose to thirteen. At the turn of the fifteenth century Adam of Usk maintained that only maidens of noble birth were received at the priory; several of his relatives had taken the veil there. Richard de Clare settled Benedictine nuns at Usk before 1135. Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke (1130-1176) granted an important charter to the priory and Elizabeth de Clare, 11th Lady of Clare (1295–1360) confirmed an important charter granted to the house by Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke. Lady de Clare left the nuns £6 13s 4d and two cloths of gold. On the eve of the Dissolution the net income of the house, according to the Valor Ecclesiasticus, was £55
Remnants of Usk Priory
Following the dissolution of the priory the nave and north aisle of the church were retained to serve as the parish church; nothing survives of the apsidal presbytery and transept chapels. Most of the fabric dates from the fourteenth century although the rood screen at the east end and the two rib-vaulted porches, one at the west end and the other at the northern entrance, are fifteenth century. The chancel of the present church was the original crossing, beneath the medieval tower. It was probably paved with stone slabs and occasional decorative tiles; four of these have been recovered. One depicts a white rosette, another a fleur-de-lys, and the other two the arms of the Mortimer family (a shield within a shield) and the de Clare family respectively. Nothing remains of the conventual buildings other than the gatehouse. The gateway has a side door and round-headed arches; the upper two levels have pointed gables and mullioned windows which seemingly date from the early sixteenth century. Sixteenth-century stone mullion windows survive in the central range of Priory house at Usk which was reconstructed in the nineteenth century when wings were added to the south and east. This may originally have been part of the nuns’ south claustral range. Edmund Mortimer, 5th earl of March, Hugh le Despenser, 1st Baron Despenser and Elizabeth de Clare, 11th Lady of Clare were all Patrons of Usk Priory.
The following people are buried in the Priory cemetery:
- Adam of Usk (1352–1430); was an Oxford educated Welsh priest, canonist, and late medieval historian and chronicler.
- Power, E. (2010). Medieval English nunneries: c. 1275 to 1535. Cambridge University Press.
- Wakeman, T. (1854). On the Town, Castle, and Priory of Usk. Journal of the British Archaeological Association, 10(3), 257-265.