Walter Manny, the founder of the London Charterhouse, arrived in England aged 17 in the retinue of Philippa, daughter of the Count of Hainault.
Philippa was on her way to marry the young king Edward III, and Walter would go on to feature in some of the defining events of the Hundred Years War as a knight in the king’s service. He fought against the Scots at Halidon Hill and Berwick, defeated the French at the great sea battle of Sluys, and triumphed in the climactic Battle of Poitiers in 1356.
Much of our knowledge of Walter Manny’s martial exploits comes down to us from Jean le Bel, a writer and court poet. Le Bel narrates an episode in which Walter arrives to relieve the Countess of Brittany from attack by the French, who are bombarding her stronghold with siege engines. Walter leads the counter-attack with 300 of his men, crying ‘may I never be embraced by my dear love if I return to the fortress without unhorsing one of these attackers.’ This is history straight from the chivalric tradition of the High Middle Ages, complete with a knight’s vow to a lady in distress.
Image: Edward III fights at Calais under the banner of Walter Manny. Toulouse Bibliothèque Municipale ms. 511
The chronicler Jean Froissart was a personal acquaintance of Walter Manny and featured him extensively in a colourful history of the Anglo-French wars. Famously, we hear from Froissart that Walter advised the enraged Edward III to give mercy to the brave Burghers of Calais, the six leading citizens who surrendered themselves so that the wrathful king might spare the people of the city. The King relented when Queen Philippa added her pleas to Walter’s counsel.
Given the notoriously embellished historical writing of the time, we cannot know for certain how much of a role Walter played in these events, but it seems that he was concerned with how he would be remembered. Walter knew both le Bel and Froissart, and he was likely the direct source of many of the stories we know today. These are not just tall tales of knightly adventure: in 1359 Walter Manny joined the ranks of the Company of the Garter, Edward III’s highest order of chivalry, marking him out as one of the most eminent men of his day. This upwardly mobile fourth son of a minor continental nobleman had confirmed his place in the highest ranks of English society.
Sir Walter Manny’s most notable legacy was his part in the foundation of the London Charterhouse, a process which began during the terrible Black Death winter of 1348-9. The cemeteries in London were unable to cope with tens of thousands of dead, and Sir Walter leased a parcel of land from St Bartholomew’s Hospital just outside the City that became London’s largest plague burial ground. Today, the burial ground is the site of Charterhouse Square.
In 1371 an adjoining portion of land was used for the establishment of a Carthusian monastery, with Sir Walter Manny its principal founder. This was to be a final act of piety: he died the next year and left the instruction in his will that ‘my body is to be buried in the Charterhouse…which house I founded.’ Sir Walter Manny’s tomb was rediscovered in front of the high altar of his monastic chapel during restoration work by the architects Seely and Paget in 1947, and a memorial now stands by the entrance to the newly-opened museum.
To learn more about the founding of the Charterhouse and the rediscovery of Sir Walter Manny’s tomb, visit our museum and book a tour.
Further reading on the career of Sir Walter Manny:
- Richard Barber – Edward III and the Triumph of England
- Jonathan Sumption – The Hundred Years War (Vols 1 and 2)
- Jean Froissart – Chronicles, Penguin Classics