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London Charterhouse


A former Carthusian foundation formally established by Sir Walter Manny in 1370, the London charterhouse is on land near Smithfield and Aldersgate bought for a chapel and cemetery for victims of the Black Death. It is famous principally for its 18 monks who were martyred in 1535 for refusing to take the oath of supremacy, which recognized henry viii as sole and supreme head of the Church in England. The first prior was John Luscote of Hinton, and the community first numbered ten. Knights and ecclesiastics endowed cells, and by 1532 there were 29 choir monks and 13 lay brothers, 20 of whom were under 38 years of age. They were an unusually distinguished, happy, and fervent community, with a reputation for the especially devout rendering of the Divine Office. They were rich by Carthusian standards, having a fine library and splendid ornaments in the church and an income of £643; notable benefactors were buried in the enclosure. St. Thomas more as a young man had lived there for four years as a guest. In 1533 the prior John houghton accepted the Act of Succession, but soon realized that the subsequent Act of Supremacy involved a denial of the Catholic faith. He prepared his community for the alternative of death or apostasy by a triduum of prayer and penance. The death sentence was passed on him and two other Carthusian priors, April 29, 1535, and in their habits they were dragged on hurdles to the scaffold at Tyburn and hung, drawn, and quartered there on May 4. Before its suppression in 1537, 15 other London Carthusians were martyred; their deaths constitute one of the finest episodes in English monastic history. In the reign of elizabeth i, Thomas Sutton refounded the London Charterhouse as an almshouse and school. In spite of extensive war damage during World War II, much still remains of the Tudor buildings, serving as the almshouse. Charterhouse school is now near Godalming in Surrey.

Bibliography: w. h. st. john hope, History of the London Charterhouse (New York 1925). e. m. thompson, The Carthusian Order in England (New York 1930). m. chauncy, Passion and Martyrdom of the Holy English Carthusian Fathers, tr. a. f. radcliffe (New York 1936). d. knowles and w. f. grimes, Charterhouse (New York 1954). a. quick, Charterhouse: A History of the School (London 1991).

[h. farmer/eds.]

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