CASTLE ACRE PRIORY
This was founded by William de Warenne, the first Earl of Surrey, to whom William the Conqueror gave the Lordship of this town, along with some 141 other lordships inNorfolk. It was a cell of the St Cluniac monastery ofLewes,Sussex, which was also founded by Earl Warenne. Castle Acre Priory was dedicated to God, St Mary, and the Apostles St Peter andSt Paul, and was richly endowed by Earl Warenne, his descendants, and by many others. It was eventually surrendered, with the manor, to Henry VIII in November 1533, and it was granted to Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk in c.1548. Some 12 years later it passed to Thomas Gresham, who had earlier bought the Earl’s manor of Castle Acre from Henry Earl of Arundel.
Greshamconveyed both lordships to Thomas Cecil, later the Earl of Exeter; and his son sold them to Sir Edward Coke, whose descendant, Thomas Coke, Earl of Leicester, held these, the lordship of Fox’s Manor, and the patronage of the vicarage.
On the large, free-standing Tudor gatehouse, which was erected about 1500 by Prior Winchelsea, there are five carved stone panels of arms, four in an upper row, and one below. Centrally, WARENNE, dexter, HENRY V, and FITZALAN/WARENNE, sinister, MALTRAVERS; below, the arms of the PRIORY OF CASTLE ACRE.
INSIDE CASTLE ACRE PRIORY
Within the ruins, up a narrow winding staircase to the Priors’ Chapel, there are two coats of arms on corbels with traces of colouring on both, possibly original. The corbel on the right appears to disrupt the lower column and the decorated arch of a sedilia; perhaps the part-roof was added later.
On the right is Chequy (Or and Azure). – WARENNE. This shield is finely
diapered, or decorated with incised patterns. Traces of colour, almost certainly original, are to be seen on the darker squares, probably Azure which has darkened with age.
Supporting the other end of the roof beam is Quarterly: 1 and 4, (Azure) semé of Fleur-de-lis Or – FRANCE ANCIENT; 2 and 3, Gules three Lions passant (Or) – ENGLAND; with a label of five points Ermine; for JOHN OF GAUNT. The second point of the label from the left has a definite decoration. The dark blue, almost black, lines suggesting a fretty charge in the fourth quarter indicate the field; the interstices show definite fleurs-de-lis in between. This is an unusual way of depicting a field semé of fleur-de-lis.
Henry IV reduced the number of fleurs-de-lis from semé to three by 1406. John of Gaunt, fourth son of Edward III, KG and Duke of Lancaster, King of Castile and Leon, bore a label of three points (sometimes five) ermine with three spots of ermine on each point in pale; they derive from the ermine canton borne by John de Dreux, Count of Brittany and Earl of Richmond, on whose death in 1342 the Earldom of Richmond was conferred by Edward III on his son Prince John. John died in 1399, suggesting that these shields date from before that date. Gaunt was a considerable landowner inNorfolkat the time.