The Charterhouse celebrates four hundred years

The Charterhouse is celebrating its quatercentenary along with the King James Bible as well as the bicentenary of English novelist William Makepeace Thackeray, author of Vanity Fair, who was educated there. Two new memorials have recently been unveiled to mark the occasion.

Charterhouse is a former Carthusian monastery in London, England, to the north of what is now Charterhouse Square. The building was formally known as Sutton’s Hospital in Charterhouse and is a registered charity. Since the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century the house has served as private mansion, a boys’ school and an almshouse, which it remains to this day.

The site upon which Sutton’s Hospital in Charterhouse stood was acquired in the middle of the 14th century as a burial ground for the victims of the Black Death. As not all the space was used, a Carthusian Monastery was established there in 1371 by Sir Walter de Mauny (Manny), one of Edward III’s senior advisers. A prior and twenty-four monks were accommodated in two-storey houses arranged round a characteristically large cloister, and the church, built alongside the burial ground, became the priory church. Thomas More, “A man for all seasons”, friend of Erasmus and later Henry VIII’s Chancellor, frequently visited Charterhouse as a young student, as it was an important centre of ecclesiastical learning.

In 1535, the monks refused to conform to Henry VIII’s Act of Supremacy and some were brutally executed at Tyburn. The monastery was suppressed and passed to the Crown. Subsequently it was granted to Lord North, who constructed a fine Tudor mansion which was later sold to the fourth Duke of Norfolk, who further embellished it. On 23 November 1558, Elizabeth I arrived at Charterhouse from Hatfield on the fifth day of her reign and stayed for five days before proceeding to the Tower of London on the way to her coronation in Westminster Abbey. In later years she would return to Charterhouse on at least two other occasions. Upon succeeding to the throne in 1603, James I came to Charterhouse from Edinburgh and held his first council in what is now the Great Chamber.

In 1611 Norfolk’s son, Thomas Howard, first Earl of Suffolk, sold the mansion to Thomas Sutton, who was said to be the wealthiest commoner in England. His involvement in the coal trade, advantageous property dealings, and money lending had enabled him to amass a considerable fortune. He used much of his wealth to endow a charitable foundation to educate boys and care for elderly men, known as “Brothers”. John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, was a pupil at the school in Charterhouse as was William Makepeace Thackeray, in the early 19th century. The school was moved to Godalming, Surrey, in 1872, when Robert Baden-Powell was a pupil.

On 22 June 2011 the Foundation of Charterhouse was celebrated and a Quatercentenary Monument inaugurated and on 18 July 2011 a plaque in memory of Thackeray (left) was unveiled in the Chapel Cloister to replace the one destroyed during World War II.

During the Victorian era, Thackeray was ranked second only to Charles Dickens, but he is now known almost exclusively for Vanity Fair, with its deft skewering of human foibles and its roguish heroine Becky Sharpe. His large novels from a later period now mostly unread were once memorably described by Henry James as “loose baggy monsters”. Meanwhile, the Charterhouse is rightly celebrating its own place in the history of London and English society.


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