Tuesday, 12 August 2014


Harrold Priory was founded sometime between 1136 and 1138.  There is no exact date available, and in any case it could often take years between a foundation being pledged and the community being give licence by the church and crown to open.

However, there were two key men involved in the foundation: Samson le Fort and Abbot Gervase.  Both of these men appear to be Norman French, part of the new ruling class in England in the 12th century.

We know little about Samson le Fort, although the likelihood is that he was a descendant of one of William I's retinue of knights who provided troops and support for his conquest of England in 1066.  He and his wife (Harrold's Albreda de Blosseville) were what historians such as Bruce Venarde would call 'minor nobility'. There is evidence of a le Fort family in Turvey at around this time - Turvey is just two villages away from Harrold, and connected by the old Roman road and the river Great Ouse.  Despite his 'minor' status, Samson le Fort appeared to be connected to Malcolm, king of Scotland, possibly via the Earl of Huntingdon, and Samson's grants were confirmed by these more powerful overlords.  There was a complex system of land holding at the time, and Malcolm's name crops up in the history of nearby Elstow Priory later in the middle ages.  Samson granted to the new monastic house the 'living' of St Peter's in Harrold and the living of the church at Brayfield, two villages upstream on the river Great Ouse.

The expectation at the time was that the people of a parish such as Harrold would donate 10% of their income to support the church - which could amount to a tidy sum.  In the case of a prosperous parish like St Peters this would grow and grow.  However, Brayfield never seemed to get past the early middle ages.

St Peter's church, Harrold
The other key figure in the foundation of Harrold was Abbot Gervase of Arouaise.  There is still some debate as to where Arouasise was: the consensus seems to be somewhere in northern France, in an area which was in the front lines during the Great War of 1914-18.  Gervase seems to have been a charismatic man, and traveled widely both in Normandy and England, founding religious houses under the Arouasian rule. Gervase seems to have persuaded Samson le Fort to finance Harrold Priory, as a 'daughter' house of Arouasie.  Gervase seems to have been able to put forward a relative, Guy de Arromanches, as the first prior.

In this way the priory was established in Harrold, linked spiritually and financially to the parish church of St Peter, a beautiful medieval church which remains to this day.


  • Venarde, Bruce L. (1997), Women's monasticism and medieval society: nunneries in France and England, 890-1215, Ithaca: Cornell University Press
  • Thompson, Sally (1991), Women religioius: The founding of English Nunneries after the Norman conquest, Oxford: Clarendon Press

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