Kirklees Priory

From International Robin Hood Bibliography
Coordinate 53.695124, -1.737226
Adm. div. West Riding of Yorkshire
Vicinity Brighouse
Type Church/monastery
Interest Literary locale
Status Extant
First Record c. 1500
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Kirklees Priory.

By Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2013-07-05. Revised by Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2021-01-28.

Kirklees Priory was a small Cistercian priory, founded in the early 12th century[1] or during the reign of Henry II (1154-89), certainly in existence by 1211.[2] The only surviving part of the buildings is the Gatehouse, rebuilt in the Elizabethan period and situated on the outskirts of Kirklees Park, c. 650 m. NE of Robin Hood's Grave. According to the Gest (see Evidence below) and later sources, it was at Kirklees that Robin Hood was killed through the treachery of his cousin the prioress. Kirklees is in the township of Hartshead-cum-Clifton and in the ancient parish of Dewsbury. It occurs in the records from 1202 on as "Kirkeley", "Kyrkeleis", "Kyrkesley" and through metathesis as "Crickeleys". The strange form "Kuthelaga" has also been recorded. The etymology of the name, a compound of ON kirkja and OE lēah, is "church clearing(s)",[3] but the element "kirk", which in ME could be used of any religious building, here refers to the priory, not to a church.[4]

The late 15th century Gest of Robyn Hode is the first source to mention Robin Hood's death at Kirklees. In an ending that is typical of medieval "biographical" and outlaw romances it spends just a few words on the later life of its hero and goes straight to the matter of his death, which is also, again characteristically, dealt with in a few stanzas. Robin goes to Kirklees to have a blood letting by his relative the prioress, who together with her lover Sir Roger of Doncaster betrays him to his death. This brief account may well have been inspired by the existence of an actual grave with a slab bearing the name Robert Hood (or similar) at Kirklees in the late 15th century, but if so it is still far from certain if the Robin Hood buried there was ever an outlaw or a criminal.

It is from the upper floor of the Gatehouse that Robin Hood is supposed to have shot his famous last arrow. Robin Hood traditions relating to Kirklees focus on the Gatehouse and the Grave.

A jingle recorded by Roger Dodsworth (1585-1654) in the first half of the 17th century, and cited below, suggest that Kirklees was a much frequented place. Perhaps its author was thinking of the priory's Robin Hood associations. Neither the now lost village of Kirklees, nor the small priory itself can have attracted many visitors in their own right, but then perhaps the rhyme was more important than the sense.

Kirklees Priory was dissolved on 24 November 1539.[5]


1540 - Leland, John - Collectanea

Kirkley monasterium Monialium, ubi Ro: Hood nobilis ille exlex sepultus.

[IRHB translation:]
Kirkley Nunnery, where that noble outlaw, Ro. Hood, is buried.[6]

1568 - Grafton, Richard - Chronicle at large

  This yere also king Richard was assoyled, [sic] of the rebellion that he vsed against his father. In recompence whereof (sayth Guydo) he voluntarily tooke vpon him and promised to warre vpon Christes enemies, but to speake truly, it was at the request of the Pope.
  And this yere, as sayth Fabian, king Richard gaue ouer the Castelles of Barwike, and Rokesborough to the Scottishe king, for the summe of ten thousand pound, for the exployte of his voyage to Jerusalem.
  And about this tyme, as sayth John Maior, in his Chronicle of Scotland, there were many robbers and outlawes in England, among the which number, he specially noteth Robert Hood, whom we now call Robyn Hood, and little John, who were famous theues, they continued in woodes, mountaynes, and forestes, spoilyng and robbing, namely such as were riche. Murders commonly they did none, except it were by the prouocation of such as resisted them in their rifelynges and spoyles. And the sayde Maior sayth, that the aforesaid Robyn Hood had at his rule and commaundement an hundreth tall yomen, which were mightie men and exceedyng good archers, and they were mainteyned by suche spoyles as came to their handes: And he sayth moreouer, that those hundreth were such picked men, and of such force, that foure hundreth men who soeuer they were, durst neuer set vpon them. And one thing was much commended in him, that he would suffer no woman to be oppressed, violated or other wise abused. The poorer sort of people he favoured, and would in no wise suffer their goodes to be touched or spoyled, but relieued and ayded them with suche goodes as hee gate from the riche, which he spared not, namely the riche priestes, fat Abbotes, and the houses of riche Carles. And although his theft and rapyne was to be contemned, yet the aforesayd Aucthour prayseth him and sayth, that among the number of [p. 85:] theeues, he was worthie the name of the most gentle theefe.
  But in an olde an auncient Pamphlet I finde this written of the sayd Robert Hood. This man (sayth he) discended of a noble parentage: or rather beyng of a base stocke and linage, was for his manhoode and chiualry aduanced to the noble dignitie of an Erle, excellyng principally in archery, or shootyng, his manly courage agreeying therevnto: But afterwardes he so prodigally exceeded in charges and expences, that he fell into great debt, by reason whereof, so many actions and sutes were commenced against him, wherevnto he aunswered not, that by order of lawe he was outlawed, and then for a lewde shift, as his last refuge, gathered together a companye of Roysters and Cutters, and practised robberyes and spoylyng of the kinges subiects, and occupied and frequented the Forestes or wilde Countries. The which beyng certefyed to the King, and he beyng greatly offended therewith, caused his proclamation to be made that whosoeuer would bryng him quicke or dead, the king would geue him a great summe of money, as by the recordes in the Exchequer is to be seene: But of this promise, no man enioyed and benefite. For the sayd Robert Hood, beyng afterwardes troubled with sicknesse, came to a certein Nonry in Yorkshire called Bircklies, where desiryng to be let blood, he was betrayed & bled to death. After whose death the Prioresse of the same place caused him to be buried by the high way side, wher he had vsed to rob and spoyle those that passed that way. And vpon his graue the sayde Prioresse did lay a very fayre stone, wherein the names of Robert Hood, William of Goldesborough, and others were grauen. And the cause why she buryed him there, was, for that the common passengers and trauailers knowyng and seeyng him there buryed, might more safely and without feare take their iorneys that way, which they durst not do in the life of the sayd outlawes. And at eyther ende of the sayde Tombe was erected a crosse of stone, which is to be seene there at this present.
  Gerardus Marcator in his Cosmographie and discription of England, sayth that in a towne or village called little Morauie in Scotland, there are kept the bones of a great and mightie man, which was called little John, among the which bones, the huckle bone or hip bone was of such a largenesse, as witnesseth Boethus, that he thrust his arme through the whole thereof, and the same bone being conferred to the other partes of his body, did declare the man to be .xiii. foote long.
  But before the king tooke his iourney [to Jerusalem], great preparation was made for money.[7]

1712 - Hearne, Thomas - Remarks and Collections

22 jan. 1712-13
Robin Hood the famous Out-law was buried in the Nunnery Church of Kirkley in ye County of York. Leland. ibid. p. 53.[8]

1730 - Gent, Thomas - History of York (1)

Kirkleys Nunnery, towards Wakefield, now in the Possession of Sir John Armitage. A very learned Writer seems to be mistaken, in calling it Birkleys where (says he) Robin Hood was bled to Death in the Time of King Richard the first. But if we believe Mr. Camden, it must be Kirkleys aforesaid, which he confirms, by declaring, that in the same Nunnery that genteel Robber had a Tomb over him; tho' others write, it was where his Arrow fell, in the Highway-side. This Story has been told me, That his Tomb Stone, having his Effigy thereon, was order'd, not many Years ago, by a certain Knight to be placed as a Harth Stone in his great Hall. When it was laid over the Night, the next Morning it was surprizing removed one Side; and so three times it was laid, and as successively turned aside. The Knight thinking he had done wrong to have it brought thither, order'd it should be drawn back again; which was perform'd by a pair of Oxen and four Horses, when twice the Number could scarce do it before. But as this is a Story only, it is left to the Reader, to judge at pleasure.[9]

1831 - Lewis, Samuel - Topographical Dictionary of England (06)

 KIRK-LEES, a hamlet in that part of the parish of Dewsbury which is in the wapentake of Morley, West riding of the county of York, 5 miles (N. N. E.) from Huddersfield. The population is returned with the parish. Here was a Cistercian nunnery, erected in the reign of Henry II., by Reynerus Flandrensis, and dedicated to the Virgin and St. James, the revenue of which, at the suppression, was valued at £20. 7. 8.: the celebrated Robin Hood was buried here, where his tomb is yet to be seen.[10]

1836 - Crabtree, John - Concise History of Halifax (2)

We have no evidence to shew what might be the state of the population in all the out-townships, at an early period of our history, [p. 311:] but some inference may be drawn even as far back as the olden time when "Robert, earl of Huntingdon," ranged the forest of Sowerbyshire.

     "Nea arcir vir as him sa geud
     An pipl kauld him Kobin Heud;
     Sic utlauz az he, an iz men,
     Vil Inglonde nivr si agen."

At least so says his epitaph. Tradition says, his remains lies under an ancient cross at Kirklees, where he died in 1274.[11]

1845 - Palmer, Charles Ferrers - History of Tamworth (2)

 We must now turn our attention from the very general and enlarged view, in which we have been lately compelled to give the history of Tamworth, to subjects of more particular and limited interest. And this course of proceeding we adopt with the greater pleasure, as we enter into a field freer from the dry details, which have demanded our chief consideration, since the period of the conquest. The first point, which will occupy our regard, is one connected with tales and legends, heard with intense interest and gratification in the vernal days of childhood, and remembered with pleasure, when the winter of life has chilled the energy of youth, and hoary made the head. [p. 60:]

 According to the common tradition of the locality, Tamworth and the surrounding neighbourhood were the frequent resort of the famous outlaw, Robin Hood. By the name of his butts, have ever been known the Roman tumuli at Wigginton and Elford. It has been suggested that they might have received this appellation, merely from their being the common archery grounds, where the people practised the noble art, once so highly prized in this kingdom. But, had it been usual for such places to be so named, every town and village would have boasted of its Robin Hood’s butts. There is not the least improbability in his visiting this place, as he so constantly haunted localities within about thirty miles distant. The extensive royal woods around this town would doubtless form a rich field for his adventures. The tale, however, that he was able to shoot from one of these butts to the other seems to have been a modern addition, in order to account for their designation. It was in fact a total impossibility, as the distance is nearly two miles. The longest shot which Robin is recorded to have made, was when he was requested to exhibit his dexterity with the bow by Richard, abbot of Whitby, with whom he and his lieutenant, Little John, went to dine, most probably without waiting for the formality of a special invitation. From the top of the abbey, he and his companion let two arrows fly, which fell, one on either side of a lane, not far from Whitby laths. The distance was about a mile and a quarter; and it must have been very considerably increased by the elevated situation which the shooters occupied, as the abbey stood on the summit of a cliff. This feat occurred in 1188. In memory of the transaction, the abbot caused [p. 61:] two pillars to be erected, where the arrows fell, on each of which was inscribed the name of the shooter.

 We are, indeed, unwilling to lose the connection of Tamworth with the bold rover of the forests. He is the only malefactor, whose memory reflects no disgrace on those places, with which his name is associated. On the contrary, it has attached an almost sacred character to them; for the very crimes of the outlaw were rendered hallowed to succeeding generations. His constant opposition to the tyranny of the Norman lords and his principles of equality endeared him, in the strongest manner, to the Saxons, who formed the great mass of the population. For, according to the old historians, though an arch-robber, he was the gentlest thief that ever lived, and a man of unbounded charity. The opulent and noble he deprived of their wealth, to enrich the poor; and for the oppressed, he frequently obtained the redress, for which they vainly ought elsewhere. He was not destitute of the deep religious temper of those olden times, which influenced every action of life, and, however anomalous it might be thought, gave a peculiar tinge even to the commission of misdeeds themselves. The same source of all the refined feelings, which characterize Christianity, gave him, in common with the rest, that generous and noble disposition towards the tenderer sex, so universal in the days of chivalry, whence it as descended to our times. For, according to the old ballad,

Robin loved our dere Lady;
For doute of dedely synne,
Wolds he never do company harm
That any woman was ynne.

[p. 62:] There has been much dispute respecting the title which Robin Hood is said to have possessed of earl of Huntingdon. His real name is conjectured to have been Robert Fitz-ooth; and the common-people, dropping the Norman Fitz, modified it into Hood. Robin might probably have been an alteration of Roving,–a title most appropriate to him, on account of the unsettled and wandering life which he led. All the ballads concerning him present the marks of changes in orthography, at different periods. If these opinions be correct, he most certainly was connected with the family of Simon de St. Liz, earl of Huntingdon. But in the old legends, he is often styled simply a yeoman. Thus one, entitled "a lytell geste of Robyn hode and his meyne, and of the proude sheryfe of Notyngham" begins

"Lithe and lysten, gentylmen,
That be of fre-bore blode:
I shall you tell of a good yeman,
His name was Robyn hode."

 This circumstance has formed the foundation of one of the greatest objections, which has been urged against his having held the title. A little consideration, however, will remove the difficulty, in a very great measure. A yeoman he might have been; for he does not appear to have possessed any estates. It is probable that the family property was confiscated in his father’s time, in consequence of the rebellion of Robert de Ferrers against Henry II., in 1173. According to the collection, called "Robin Hood’s Garland," he was a native of Loxley, which belonged to the Ferrers’ family. He [p. 63:] could not have assumed the title until the death of John Scott, tenth and last earl of Huntingdon (also of Chester), in 1237. He was, at that time, an old man; and his deeds of renown were almost brought to a close. Hence the ballads relating to exploits which occurred previously to this time might rightly denominate him a yeoman.

 But even supposing that Robin Hood were Fitz-ooth, his right to the earldom of Huntingdon was of a very dubious nature. It would rather descend with the sisters and coheiresses of John Scott, than pass to him. It is not improbable that he might have assumed the title whilst it lay dormant, or it was assigned to him by the people, rather than that he properly possessed it. In fact, without regarding any other point, he was incapable as an outlaw of holding it. But here we are entering so deeply into the wide region of conjecture, that we shall draw this part of our subject to a conclusion.

 Bold Robin died when he must have attained an age of upwards of eighty years. The stone over his humble tomb, near the nunnery of Kirklees, in Yorkshire, still remains. It once bore this inscription, now effaced by time.[12]

Hear, undernead dis latil [sic] stean,
laiz robert, earl of huntingtun;
nea archir ver az hie sae geud,
an pipl kauld im Robin Heud.
sick utlawz as hi an iz men
vil England nivir si agen.
  obiit 24 kal. dekembris, 1247.

1848 - Lewis, Samuel - Topographical Dictionary of England

 KIRKLEES, a hamlet, in the chapelry of Hartshead cum Clifton, parish of Dewsbury, wapentake of Morley, W. riding of York, 5 miles (N. N. E.) from Huddersfield; containing 1779 inhabitants. This place is celebrated as the site of a Cistercian nunnery, founded in the reign of Henry II. by Reynerus Flandrensis, and dedicated to the Virgin Mary and St. James, and the revenue of which, at the Dissolution, was £20. 7. 8. The remains were granted in the reign of Elizabeth, to Robert Pilkington, and subsequently to the Armytages, whose mansion formed part of the conventual buildings, till the time of James I., when the family erected Kirklees Hall, the present seat of Sir George Armytage, Bart. Of the nunnery, which stood on the bank of a rivulet, only small portions now remain; but among the various farm-offices that have been erected, the foundations may be distinctly traced. The tomb of Elizabeth de Stainton, a prioress of the convent, and another thought to be that of a relation, serve to point out the site of the church, which appears to have been at least 150 feet in length. The Hall is a spacious stone mansion, beautifully situated on an eminence, in a well-wooded park tastefully laid out, and embracing extensive prospects, and much variety of scenery. Kirklees was the resort and occasional abode of Robin Hood, who is supposed to have been bled to death by a nun, and was buried here in a secluded spot within the limits of the park; his tomb is surrounded by an iron railing. The walk to the place, through the woods, nearly a mile in length, commands beautiful views of Elland, Brighouse, and the river Calder. At the entrance of the Hall was formerly Robin Hood's statue, rudely sculptured in stone, representing him leaning on an unbent bow, with a quiver of arrows, and a sword at his side; and smaller statues of him and his men are still preserved at Kirklees.[13]


[Gest; c. 1500:]
yet he was begyled i wys
through a wycked woman
the pryoresse of Kyrkesly
that nye was of hys kynne[14]

than bespake good Robyn
in place where as he stode
to-morow I muste to Kyrkesly
craftely to be leten blode[15]

17th cent. or earlier:]
Clifton standes on Calder bancke
and Harteshead on a hill
Kirkeleyes standes within the dale
and many comes ther till[16]




These include maps where the site of Kirklees Priory or Kirklees Park (part of former priory grounds) are indicated.



  • A "[p]rospect of Kirkleys Abbey, taken from the footway leading to Hartshead Church", drawn by William Stukeley, is listed in a catalogue of his papers.[17] The drawing is found in volume 16 of his MS Diary among his papers in the Bodleian Library.[18]

Brief mention

Also see


  1. Clay, C. T., ed. 'Two Charters issued to Kirklees Priory', Yorkshire Archæological Journal, vol. XXXVIII, pt. 3 (1954), pp. 355-58, see p. 355.
  2. Chadwick, S. J. 'Kirklees Priory', Yorkshire Archæological Journal, vol. XVI, part 3 (1901), pp. 319-68, p. 323 n. 1.
  3. Smith, A.H. The Place-Names of the West Riding of Yorkshire (English Place-Name Society, vols. XXX-XXXVII) (Cambridge, 1961-63), pt. III, pp. 3-4, 5; pt. VII, pp. 49 n., 73.
  4. Smith, A.H. English Place-Name Elements. Reprinted (English Place-Name Society, vols. XXV-XXVI) (Cambridge, 1970), pt. II, pp. 3-4, s.n. kirkja.
  5. [Dodsworth, Roger]; Armytage, George John, ed. 'Extracts from Mr. Roger Dodsworth's Manuscripts relating to Brighouse, Clifton, Kirklees and Hartshead, in the Wapentake of Morley, in the West Riding of the County of York', Yorkshire Archæological and Topographical Journal, vol. VI (1881), pp. 73-79; see p. 75 n. 1; Armytage, George John. 'Account of Excavations at Kirklees Priory, Yorks.', Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of London, Second Series, vol. XXI (1906-1907), pp. 175-86 [+2 pp. plates]; see p. 176.
  6. Leland, John; Hearne, Thomas, ed. Joannis Lelandi antiquarii de rebus Britannicis collectanea. Editio altera (Londini, 1774), vol. I, p. 54.
  7. [Grafton, Richard]. A Chronicle at Large and Meere History of the Affayres of England and Kinges of the same, deduced from the Creation of the VVorlde, unto the First Habitation of this Ilande: and so by Contynuance vnto the First Yere of the Reigne of our Most Deere and Souereigne Lady Queene Elizabeth: collected out of Sundry Authors, whose Names are expressed in the Next Page of this Leafe (London, 1568-69), vol. II, pp. 84-85.
  8. Hearne, Thomas; Rannie, D.W., ed. Remarks and Collections of Thomas Hearne, vol. IV (Oxford Historical Society, vol. XXXIV) (Oxford, 1898); see p. 57, and p. 56 for date.
  9. Gent, Thomas. The Antient and Modern History of the Famous City of York (York and London, 1730), p. 234.
  10. Lewis, Samuel, compil. A Topographical Dictionary of England, comprising the Several Counties, Cities, Boroughs, Corporate and Market Towns, Parishes, Chapelries, and Townships, and the Islands of Guernsey, Jersey, and Man, with Historical and Statistical Descriptions (London, 1831), vol. II, p. 538, s.n. Kirk-lees.
  11. Crabtree, John. A Concise History of the Parish and Vicarage of Halifax, in the County of York (Halifax: London, 1836);see pp. 310-11.
  12. Palmer, Charles Ferrers. The History of the Town and Castle of Tamworth, in the Counties of Stafford & Warwick (Tamworth; London, 1845), pp. 59-64.
  13. Lewis, Samuel, compil. A Topographical Dictionary of England, comprising the Several Counties, Cities, Boroughs, Corporate and Market Towns, Parishes, Chapelries, and Townships, and the Islands of Guernsey, Jersey, and Man, with Historical and Statistical Descriptions. Seventh Edition (London, 1848), vol. II, p. 700, s.n. Kirklees.
  14. Gest, st. 451.
  15. Gest, st. 454.
  16. [Dodsworth, Roger]; Armytage, George John, ed. 'Extracts from Mr. Roger Dodsworth's Manuscripts relating to Brighouse, Clifton, Kirklees and Hartshead, in the Wapentake of Morley, in the West Riding of the County of York', Yorkshire Archæological and Topographical Journal, vol. VI (1881), pp. 73-79; see p. 79.
  17. Stukeley, William; [W.C. Lukis, ed.] The Family Memoirs of the Rev. William Stukeley (The Publications of the Surtees Society, vols. LXXIII, LXXVI, LXXX) (1882-87), p. 506.
  18. For access etc., see Bodleian Library: Collection Level Description: Papers of William Stukeley.