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Little Malvern Priory

(The Church of St Giles at Little Malvern Priory)








Little Malvern Priory is in a very beautiful setting, with a wooded hill as a backdrop and looking out over the the rolling fields of the Severn River Valley.



Little Malvern Priory dates from the early 1100s, when it was established as a daughter house of Worcester.  Today it is in a fairly uninhabited setting, and in those days it overlooked a completely uninhabited royal hunting reserve.  The priory was not well endowed and by the 1400s the nave was already in ruins.  The buildings that have survived are the chancel of the priory church and parts of the tower.   


The decline was arrested by Bishop Alcock, then (1480) Bishop of Worcester.  John Alcock (1430 - 1500 (70)) was a classic senior churchman of his times.  Dean of Westminster, bishop of Rochester, then Worcester, then Ely.  Also a lawyer, diplomat, member of the Council and holder of high offices of state.  He served Edward IV, was tutor to Edward Prince of Wales, served Richard III after the "Prince in the Tower" Edward V mysteriously disappeared and, as Lord Chancellor, he opened King Henry VII's first Parliament on 7 November 1485 and remained a close royal advisor.  Luckily for him he did not have to deal with Henry VIII, who became king in 1509.  On the way, Alcock founded many things, the most notable of which was Jesus College, Cambridge.  He was also an architect, and after firing the Prior and monks of Little Malvern in 1480, he set about rescuing and improving what was left of the little church.  In particular he built the great east window (see below). 


The new lot of monks only lasted till 31 August 1534, when they were in the vanguard of the closure of all English Monasteries engineered by Thomas Cromwell for his boss Henry VIII.   Five of the six bells departed for recycling, but one, made in Gloucester in 1350, is still there.   The transepts, chapels and monastic buildings followed, but the church, by now just the chancel / choir and tower of the original priory, got a reprieve by being classified as a parish church.







The remains of Bishop Alcock's Great East Window dates from his time as Bishop of Worcester in the 1440s.  Before the destructive forces of Cromwells Thomas (c1485-1540 (55)) and Oliver (1599-1658 (59)) got to work, the window included portraits of Alcock hisself (of course), Edward IV, the teenagers Edward, Prince of Wales, and his younger brother the Duke of York, and Queen Elizabeth (Woodville) with her rather plain daughters Cecily, Ann and Catherine. 


Kings and Queens of England


Considering the obsessive violence meted out to window images, it is extraordinary that two of the original five portraits have survived.  One is the only existing image of Edward Prince of Wales (briefly Edward V) (1470-1483-1483 (13)) - "the Prince in the Tower".  The other is the portrait of Elizabeth Woodville and her daughters.  These are detailed below.


Stained glass images of Edward IV and Queen Elizabeth (Woodville) in Canterbury Cathedral.


On the right is Bishop John Alcock's Coat of Arms - a mitre and cocks' heads (looking a bit like tadpoles).  His statue is in Worcester Cathedral and he has a dedicated Chantry chapel in Ely.





Link to Little Malvern Priory Web Site


History of the Priory buildings


Photos of the Priory Church in the snow




Coat of Arms of Bishop John Alcock






Edward, Prince of Wales (briefly Edward V) (1470-1483-1483 (13))




Queen Elizabeth (Woodville), said to be the most beautiful woman in Britain,  with daughters Cecily, Ann and Catherine.  Elizabeth had 7 daughters by Edward IV, the oldest of whom, Elizabeth, became Queen Consort to Henry VII, founder of the Tudors after he beat Edward IV's brother, Richard III, at the Battle of Bosworth.













A King spiritual looks down from a window in the north nave wall.




Cromwell's men were also unforgiving to the furnishings of the little priory - all the misericords were destroyed, though a few bench ends survived.  On the other (south) side one of the bench ends is a carving of two pigs with their heads in a trough which we missed - that's a good enough reason to return!!


Behind the monk's seats is a squint which enabled non-monks to see and hear services (which only monks were entitled to be present at).  The same device was also used for lepers in some churches (Selby for example), and in York the church of All Saints (North Street) built a squint in the back nave for the benefit of the anchorite who lived sealed up in a little cottage built against the back wall. 






Instruments of the Passion - cross, ladder, nails, dice, crown of thorns, spear, scourge.



In the middle ages there was a large tile-works attached to nearby Great Malvern Priory.  Their decorated tiles were used in many of the abbeys and churches in the region and even further afield.  Just a few remain in the floor of Little Malvern Priory, and there are a large number left on a tiled wall in Great Malvern Priory itself. 






Chained swan (badge of the Bohun family)





Propped up on a ledge is the remains of a painted side panel from a medieval tomb, with "weepers".  There are not many of these around in England any more (try Joan de Vere's tomb in Chichester Cathedral for a complete ensemble).  Spain is the home of several spectacular tombs with hoards of weepers paying homage.





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