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Kirklees Priory

Coordinate 53.695124, -1.737226
Adm. div. West Riding of Yorkshire
Vicinity Brighouse
Type Monument
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, 2019-04-05.

Kirklees Priory was a small Cistercian priory from the reign of Henry II (1154-89) of which the only surviving part 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)",[1] but the element "kirk", which in ME could be used of any religious building, here refers to the priory, not to a church.[2]

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 lower 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 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.[3]


1540 - Leland, John - Collectanea

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

[IRHB translation:
Kirkley Nunnery, where that noble outlaw, R. Hood, is buried.][4]

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.[5]

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.[6]

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.[7]

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.[8]

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.[9]

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.[10]


[Gest; c. 1500:]
yet he was begyled i wys
through a wycked woman
the pryoresse of Kyrkesly
that nye was of hys kynne[11]

than bespake good Robyn
in place where as he stode
to-morow I muste to Kyrkesly
craftely to be leten blode[12]

17th cent. or earlier:]
Clifton standes on Calder bancke
and Harteshead on a hill
Kirkeleyes standes within the dale
and many comes ther till[13]




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.[14] The drawing is found in volume 16 of his MS Diary among his papers in the Bodleian Library.[15]

Brief mention

Also see


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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; see p. 176.
  4. Leland, John; Hearne, Thomas, ed. J. Lelandi antiquarii de rebus Britannicis Collectanea (London, 1774), vol. I, p. 54.
  5. [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.
  6. 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.
  7. Gent, Thomas. The Antient and Modern History of the Famous City of York (York and London, 1730), p. 234.
  8. 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.
  9. Crabtree, John. A Concise History of the Parish and Vicarage of Halifax, in the County of York (Halifax: London, 1836);see pp. 310-11.
  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. Seventh Edition (London, 1848), vol. II, p. 700, s.n. Kirklees.
  11. Gest, st. 451.
  12. Gest, st. 454.
  13. Armytage (1881); see p. 79.
  14. 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.
  15. For access etc., see Bodleian Library: Collection Level Description: Papers of William Stukeley.

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