The manor of Leighton was granted by Henry II to the abbess and convent of Fontevraud in 1164; and it is probable that a house was built there for a cell of the order, not very long after. A prior is first mentioned in 1195–6, and is then called the prior of Leighton; the name of La Grave or Grava does not appear till late in the reign of Henry III. The dedication of the church is unknown. The prior of Leighton had a good deal of trouble with his tenants on the subject of feudal services during the thirteenth century, which involved him in suits before the Curia Regis from 1213 to 1290. William de Lyencourt, who was prior of La Grave during the latter part of the century, was a person of some importance; he was proctor general or the abbess of Fontevraud in England, and had some journeys to take in this capacity, for which he had to seek safe conducts from the king.
Both the mother house at Fontevraud and the priory of Almesbury in England, where the king's mother and daughter had made their profession, were in great poverty at this time, but there is no mention made of poverty at La Grave. Its history in the fourteenth century is a little difficult to trace; in 1316 the manor was stated to be the property of the abbess of Fontevraud, but 'now in the hand of the Princess Mary,' and in 1349 the pope wrote a letter to Edward III, asking him to allow the abbess and convent to regain possession of the house of La Grave, of which they had been despoiled. It seems however to have returned to its original position as a cell of Fontevraud, for it was reckoned in the next century among the alien priories, and granted in 1438 to Eton College; and a few years later, in 1481, its property was transferred to the dean and canons of St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle.
The original endowment of the house was simply the royal manor of Leighton, with land belonging to Walter Pullan, worth 32s. Some smaller gifts of land in Edlesborough and Stewkley, Buckinghamshire and in Studham were added later. The value of the manor in Leighton in 1291 was £32 6s. 8d.; and other temporalities of the priory in the deanery of Dunstable amounted to £2 2s. 2d. In 1302 the abbess of Fontevraud held one Knight's fee in Stewkley; in 1316 the manor of Leighton, and half a fee in Studham; in 1346 only half a fee in Stewkley.
The names of only two priors remain:
- Nicholas, occurs 1258 and 1263;
- William de Lyencourt, occurs 1283, 1287, 1297
The site of Grovebury Priory, more correctly 'La Grava', was comprehensively excavated by the Bedfordshire County Archaeology Service between 1973 and 1985, in advance of destruction by a 60-ft deep sand quarry. An account of that project and its discoveries, largely dependent upon the unemployment training schemes provided by the Manpower Services Commission in the 1970s and 1980s, has been published in 2011 as a chapter (14 'The Manpower Services Commission and La Grava' by Evelyn Baker) in 'Great Excavations - Shaping the Archaeological Profession' edited by John Schofield (Oxbow). The full excavation report was published by the Council for British Archaeology in October 2013 as Research Report 167, an English Heritage supported monograph, entitled 'La Grava, the Archaeology and History of a Royal Manor and Alien Priory of Fontevrault' by Evelyn Baker with contributors.
- Page, William; Doubleday, Herbert Arthur The Victoria History of the County of Bedford: Volume 1, 1904, pp.403-404
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: The Priory of La Grave or Grovebury, in The Victoria History of the County of Bedford: Volume 1, 1904