A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1948.
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19. FRANCISCANS, CAMBRIDGE
The first Franciscans landed in England at Dover on 10 September 1224. (fn. 1) Of this small band of nine persons a young English friar, William de Esseby, was appointed first Warden at Oxford, although still in his novitiate, in 1225, (fn. 2) and some years later he was sent to found a convent at Cambridge. (fn. 3) As the friars in these early years would receive 'nothing as of their own', the burgesses made them a loan of an old synagogue adjoining the house of Benjamin the Jew, which had been converted into a jail. (fn. 4) It was presumably on the site of the synagogue that the friars erected 'a chapel so exceedingly humble that a carpenter in one day made and in one day set up the 14 pairs of rafters' (fn. 5) which formed the frame of the roof. Here on St. Laurence's Day William de Esseby and his two comrades, friar Hugh de Bugeton, and a lame novice named Elias, solemnly sang mass. (fn. 6) But the site was cramped and there was only one entrance for friars and jailers alike; so in June 1238 King Henry granted to the friars for the enlargement of their site the house of Master Benjamin and authorized the burgesses of Cambridge to build a new jail and acquire land which would discharge the rent of 1 mark due to him from the Jew's house. (fn. 7) The only subsequent additions to the site seems to have been in 1328, when the friars were licensed to enclose a lane 20 perches in length adjoining their site, paying a yearly rent of 6d. to the commonalty of the town; (fn. 8) and in 1353, when William de Horewode and John de Barneye were allowed to alienate to them 2 messuages for the enlargement of their dwelling-place. (fn. 9)
The Cambridge convent was head of a Custody. It is not known exactly when the custodies were formed, but Richard of Ingworth was the first head of the Cambridge Custody (fn. 10) before he was sent to Ireland in 1231-2; (fn. 11) and Eccleston, referring to the coming of Albert of Pisa to England in 1237, says that the Cambridge friars were so zealous for holy poverty that, until this visit 'the brethren of that Custody wore no mantles'. (fn. 12)
In 1239, the year in which Elias, the Master General, was deposed at a General Chapter held in Rome and Albert of Pisa, the English Provincial, succeeded him, there was a second large migration of scholars from Oxford to Cambridge. (fn. 13) In July 1240 the Provincial Chapter of the Friars Minor assembled in Cambridge for one of its most important meetings, and the king made a grant of 10 marks towards its expenses. (fn. 14) For the chapter held here in 1246 the king ordered the sheriff to provide food for the friars for three days. (fn. 15) Other chapters are known to have been held at Cambridge in 1279, (fn. 16) 1285, (fn. 17) 1292, (fn. 18) and 1304 (or possibly 1334). (fn. 19)
It was probably the educational side of the friars' work that brought them an important royal bounty. In 1304 Edward I gave 25 marks to the Grey Friars of Cambridge, (fn. 20) and this gift became a regular annual alms until the Dissolution, confirmed, early in his reign, by every king down to Henry VIII. (fn. 21) Only three Franciscan houses in the kingdom received such a regular grant, but the circumstances of a studium generale were probably considered exceptional. (fn. 22) In addition to this regular pension gifts pro pitancia are found among the royal alms from 1289 to 1338, made to 39 out of the 58 Franciscan houses in England, Cambridge being one. The Hundred Years' War seems to have brought this particular charity to an end. While they lasted these pittances, being at the rate of a groat a head, indicate the number of friars in the house. At Cambridge the numbers seem to have fluctuated remarkably little; alms given indicate 58 friars in 1277, 59 in 1297, 55 in 1326, and 61 in 1328; in 1289 there were apparently 75, (fn. 23) but this grant of 50s. was probably not on the exact basis of a groat a head, as the same sum was granted to the Friars Preachers (q.v.).
In a 14th-century list of the Regent Masters of the Franciscan convents at Oxford and Cambridge (fn. 24) Vincent of Coventry is given as the first Master at Cambridge, and presumably before he was appointed Lecturer to the London Grey Friars by Albert of Pisa in 1236-7 he had been the first Lecturer to those at Cambridge. (fn. 25) There is nothing to show that there was any Faculty of Theology at Cambridge at the time of his appointment, but it certainly existed soon after 1250 and the connexion of the Cambridge friars, Franciscan as well as Dominican, with its foundation was close. It was a common practice to study at both Oxford and Cambridge (fn. 26) and several Cambridge Masters did so, among them Eustace de Normanville; Thomas of York; Thomas Bungay; and Roger de Merston. (fn. 27) Eccleston seems to imply that the first Cambridge lector who held the office of Master in the same sense as Adam Marsh, first Regent at Oxford, was John de Weston. (fn. 28) About 1250 Adam Marsh (who had applied to the head of the Cambridge Custody for a supply of vellum (fn. 29) while he was Warden at Oxford) informed Robert de Thornham, then Custodian, that Eustace de Normanville, Weston's immediate predecessor in the list of Cambridge Masters, had declined the post of lecturer at Norwich, in his Custody of Cambridge; (fn. 30) the reference to a lecturer at Norwich suggests that the Franciscan educational system later codified by Benedict XII was already taking shape. By the Constitutions of 1336 no Franciscan was to be chosen to lecture on the Sentences at Paris, Oxford, or Cambridge unless he had already done so at another studium generale or at one of twenty-one selected convents. (fn. 31) In England one of these convents was appointed for each custody, and that for the Custody of Cambridge was at Norwich. (fn. 32) There seems to have been a tendency for Cambridge to retain promising scholars after the completion of their course, for in 1414 the Warden of Norwich petitioned that he might have precedence over all other houses in the custody in choosing friars born within the limites of Norwich, or having taken habit there, to live in his convent. The Minister General obtained his request for him during the Council of Constance, and it was laid down that the Cambridge Warden, on receiving from Norwich the names of the brethren chosen, must show them the letter or send them forthwith to Norwich, on pain of losing his office: if he delayed, the Warden of Norwich might recall them by letter directed to them without reference to the Warden of Cambridge, and they were bound on their obedience to return; moreover only the Minister General was to have power to remove a 'native' brother from Norwich, without the consent of the Warden, except in case of proved scandal. (fn. 33)
The Custodian appears to have been permanent Visitor within his custody; he also admitted novices to profession, and from an early date the custody formed an educational unit. The Provincial Chapter probably chose the English candidates for the degree of B.D. at Oxford or Cambridge as far as possible from each custody in turn. (fn. 34) Chapters for the custodies were never established, and after 1240 the convents elected their own wardens, hitherto appointed by the head of the custody.
The feeling against the Mendicants in the Universities, which was so strong at the beginning of the 14th century, was the outcome of a natural professional jealousy. In the case of the Dominicans it probably existed from their arrival; in that of the Franciscans from their first incursion into learning. In the University the Arts course, which contained no religious teaching, was essential for all scholars, clerical or lay, before proceeding to a higher faculty, and theology was the highest faculty of all. The friar was forbidden by his profession to study Arts, and claimed to proceed straight to theology, so that the presence of the friars was a continual anomaly and their preponderance in the faculty of theology, which others could only reach after long years of study, an irritant. The question was first raised at Oxford, so far as is known, when the Franciscans petitioned that Thomas of York, later their 4th Master, should be allowed to incept in theology, not having previously taken a degree in Arts. Eventually he was allowed to incept and became lecturer in theology at Oxford, and afterwards the 6th of the Franciscan Masters at Cambridge, but a statute was made at Oxford 9 March 1253 requiring that an inceptor in theology should always have ruled in Arts. (fn. 35) It seems to have been the custom, at least in theory, that one Master should rule in each convent in the University each year. (fn. 36) The date and place in the list held by the 15th Master, 'Friar Bungay', the famous 'wizard', seems to imply this, and such evidence as exists bears out the implication. In 1359 it was enacted at Cambridge that no two friars of the same convent might incept in one year, and that no two, whether Doctors or Bachelors, should 'concur' in their lectures, on the Sentences or on the Bible; but while one might lecture in his own convent, the other must lecture in the common schools of the University. (fn. 37)
The Franciscan, like other students, had to deposit a pledge or 'caution' on entering upon a course of study, as surety that he would complete it; there are many records of the deposit of such pledges by Cambridge Grey Friars. (fn. 38) There are indications that, in the case of the Mendicants, charitable persons would provide money for the book or piece of plate required, or give it to the convent to be used for this purpose. In the higher faculties the inceptor's fee took the form of feasting the Regents, or paying a fine, fixed at 10 marks for 'possessioner' monks and 8 marks for friars: (fn. 39) the Friars Minor appear always to have paid the fine. In 1458 these fines were allotted to the completion of the south side of the Schools quadrangle, and the £5 6s. 8d. each paid by John Croxton and two other friars in 1468 was paid over for that purpose by the proctors. (fn. 40)
How far the Cambridge, or any other, Grey Friars depended upon actual day by day begging is difficult to estimate. Cases both of 'perpetual alms' and of landed endowment are known, but not at Cambridge, and there is evidence that at their suppression they owned no more than their site there. Something is known of the number and names of the Cambridge 'limitors' begging in the diocese of Ely under licence from the bishop, but to form any adequate idea of the income of any one house a continuous series of the accounts demanded by the Franciscan Constitutions would be needed. It so happens that the sole fragment of such an account which is known to survive belongs to Cambridge. (fn. 41) The compotus should have been presented fortnightly in every house by the Warden and Proctor, or head of the begging department; the Cambridge fragment consists of two leaves, one apparently belonging to 1363, the other dated 1366, and it appears that 9 such accounts were presented every year at the Cambridge convent, each covering a period of from 3 to 6 or 7 weeks. The first of these fragments seems to cover the three weeks from Saturday 5 August to 25 August: three friars take part in collecting a total of £3 2s. 6d. pro pitancia, or for the good estate of the donors, or for the souls of their friends. The individual donations vary from 2s. 6d. to a mark. In another compotus the burgesses of Lynn are shown as giving 40d. The only alms in kind which are recorded are gifts of pigs, herrings, and figs from two other Franciscan houses: once Brother John Marbilthorp (or Mablethorp), who was Warden of the London Grey Friars and Queen Philippa's confessor at this time, sent a number of herrings and some baskets of figs, and several times one pig was received from the Lady Abbess of Denney. It is probable that these accounts relate to one only of several districts within the Cambridge limites. The foundation of a small house of their own Order at Ware in 1350 (fn. 42) caused some encroachment on the limits of the Cambridge convent, and in 1395 they petitioned the Pope against this, setting out that they 'had been wont from old time, on account of the University at Cambridge, to receive a very great number of brethren of the Order of various regions and provinces and to supply them with food and other necessaries out of the procurations of alms from the limits of their house': the convent at Ware, in the diocese of London, had been founded near these limits, and its friars extended their limits of procuration so far towards Cambridge that the multitude of Franciscans there incurred great loss. The friars of Ware were forbidden to extend their limites for begging or preaching more than 5 miles from their house towards any place which, before their foundation, was within the Cambridge limits, except to the town of Puckeridge in the diocese of London. (fn. 43)
As this decision indicates, the limitor was appointed by his Warden to preach as well as to beg; the licence to act as confessors in the parishes of the diocese, or in particular cases, was given by the bishop. In 1338 Richard de Kellowe, Warden of the Cambridge convent, had such a licence, (fn. 44) and in April 1341, when he was acting as commissary for the Chancellor of the University, Bishop Simon Montacute licensed him to reconcile any scholar who had laid violent hands on a clerk, so long as the Chancellor should be absent: (fn. 45) a general licence to act as penitentiaries was given to John de Alby, Custos of the Cambridge Custody, and to Adam de Folsham, Warden of the convent, in 1347: (fn. 46) other Friars Minor were presented to the Bishops of Ely for licence to hear confessions throughout the diocese by the Provincial ministers, and others again were appointed by the bishops to do so within their own limites. In 1348 Bishop Lisle appointed the Warden of Cambridge one of the six Vicars General who administered the diocese during the Black Death, apparently ex officio. (fn. 47)
The fragmentary accounts of 1363 and 1366 have been incorporated into the binding of the Codex Leicestrensis of the New Testament which, about the beginning of the 16th century, belonged to Richard Brinkley, a Cambridge Franciscan and Provincial Minister in 1524, (fn. 48) who must have been among the last representatives of a tradition of Franciscan scholarship going back to Roger Bacon. Transliterations of Greek and Hebrew in Latin characters are found in English 13thcentury manuscripts of Franciscan provenance, and among 14th-century Friars Minor who had a considerable knowledge of both languages was Henry de Cossey, 46th Master at Cambridge about 1330 and one of the leaders of the English friars in their revolt against Pope John XXII. (fn. 49) The Cambridge Grey Friars led the opposition of the University to the Pope, and were particularly active in the dogmatic dispute which aroused it. In August 1329 John XXII wrote to the young King of England and to the Queen requesting support for his nuncio, Master Itherius de Concoreto, in the case of Peter de Saxlingham and John de Hequinton, Friars Minor, accused of heresy, arrested at their convent at Cambridge, and in custody there; the accused were to be sent to the papal court for trial. (fn. 50) A letter was also sent to the Provincial, William of Nottingham, ordering the extradition of the friars in safe custody, and adding the names of Henry de Cossey and Thomas de Helmedon, whom the nuncio had handed over to Thomas de Caminges, a Friar Minor, and Richard de Fakenham, the ViceWarden at Cambridge. (fn. 51) At the same time duplicate letters omitting the names of Henry de Cossey and Thomas de Helmedon were also sent to Itherius de Concoreto with instructions to use his discretion as to which form of citation he produced, as it appeared that these two were less guilty than the others. (fn. 52)
At least eight friars of the Cambridge convent are known to have become Provincial Ministers of England. (fn. 53) Thomas Bungay and Richard Conyngton, who occurs as Provincial 1310-13, were Doctors of Oxford who became Cambridge Masters; (fn. 54) Roger de Denemede, the 36th, and William de Tychemersch, the 60th Master, held office later; John Zouch was Provincial Minister in 1402, deposed 1405, reinstated 1406, again deposed about 1408, when he became Bishop of Llandaff, and died in 1422; (fn. 55) John David was Provincial in March 1425; (fn. 56) Richard Brinkley was Provincial in June 1524 and died probably in the next year. William Call, who took his D.D. in 1509-10, was made Provincial under Cromwell's influence from 1531 to 1538. (fn. 57)
The humble chapel of the first Franciscans at Cambridge must soon have been outgrown and have been rebuilt by 1330, when Richard Conyngton, Provincial Minister, was buried there. (fn. 58) Further enlargement may have taken place about this time, as on 30 January 1350 Bishop Lisle's Vicar General licensed the Warden to have the conventual church, with its altars and the adjacent cloister and cemetery, dedicated by any Catholic bishop, and to present candidates to him for admission to Minor Orders on the day of the dedication. (fn. 59) This church, because of its convenient size, came to be used by the University for the ceremonies of Commencement. Dr. Caius, writing in 1574, (fn. 60) describes these functions 'held to-day in the University church, but formerly, within our own memory, in the church of the Franciscans, twenty years before it was pulled down'. A 'theatre' of joiners' work, arranged in steps, was set up within it on Ash Wednesday for the admission to B.A., and about St. Peter's Day for the Congregation at which the M.A. and degrees in the higher faculties were conferred; the doctors disputed, seated on the 'degrees', and the rest of the University sat silent in the midst, as in an arena. The earliest account for erecting this staging occurs in 1507-8 when carpenters were employed to carry the materials from the schools to the friars' church, set them up, and carry them back again. The work seems to have involved some structural interference with the church, for 40s. was paid to Bruno Cornelius for mending the windows and 3s. 8d. to a smith for iron bars, (fn. 61) and similar payments were made in later years. In 1516 and 1517-18 the ceremony was held in the schools, but the mass with which it began was sung in the church of the Franciscans, who were given 4d. for the accommodation. (fn. 62) In 1518-19 the theatre was again set up in their church, and the University made a gift of 40s. to the Warden for necessary repairs. (fn. 63) In 1524 it was decided to give the Grey Friars a regular 10s. a year 'for kepyng safelye ye frame of our Commensment as long as it xal please ye Universite', (fn. 64) in addition to a smaller sum from time to time 'for taking down the windows' and payment to workmen for carrying the planks backwards and forwards, (fn. 65) and this was paid to the Warden until 1536-7. (fn. 66) Early in 1539 the friars had left their dissolved house, but the staging was erected in the church, and perhaps left standing, for in 1540 the payments are for scrubbing 'ly formes in templo franciscanorum', for cleaning the 'temple' itself three times, and for washing the whole theatre and providing herbs, and finally, after some renewed carrying of the boards between St. Mary's and the Friars, for their removal to the schools. (fn. 67)
During these years the University made repeated efforts to acquire the church for its own continued use. The vice-chancellor was directed by Grace to intercede with the king, and with Cromwell, as Chancellor, that it might be spared, (fn. 68) and Roger Ascham wrote to Thomas Thirlby, consecrated Bishop of Westminster in 1540, asking for his interest to obtain the house of the Franciscans for the University, as it would be both an ornament and a convenience for the holding of congregations and other business. (fn. 69)
In 1517-18 two Franciscans entered for opposition who had studied Arts for 6 years and theology for 7, (fn. 70) but it is more probable that they became friars after having taken Arts as secular scholars than that the ban on secular studies was breaking down. Franciscans of the Oxford convent still came to continue their studies at Cambridge or sought incorporation after taking their degree, and in all well over twenty Friars Minor were admitted to degrees in theology, generally after 10 to 15 years' study, between 1500 and 1538. (fn. 71) Notable among these 16th-century Franciscans were John Underwood, Bishop of Chalcedon and Suffragan to the Bishop of Norwich, who was admitted B.D. in 1500 (fn. 72) and D.D. in 1501; (fn. 73) and Bartholomew Treherne or Treheron, B.D. 1532-3, who subsequently became a strong supporter of the Reformation and was Keeper of the King's Books under Edward VI and for a short time Dean of Chichester. (fn. 74) In 1527-8 Dr. Swynborn, the Warden, was permitted 'to rule or not rule at pleasure' on paying 1 mark to the University. (fn. 75) Among these Bachelors and Doctors of Divinity only the two Doctors (representing the earlier 'lectors' or 'Masters' lecturing in the house), and the Vice-warden, appear among the twenty-four friars who signed the surrender of the friary. Dr. Robert White incepted in 1521-2 after what seems to have been an unusually short course at both Universities; Dr. Thomas Disse, had been Warden when he was admitted to read the Sentences in 1532-3 and to incept in 1535. On the 1st Sunday in Lent 1534, (fn. 76) not long before the acceptance of the King's supremacy by the University, Disse was to preach the University sermon, but 'after the prayers he was so abashed and astonied that he could neither say it by heart nor read it from his paper, and so he was fain to come down from the pulpit' protesting 'that he was never in that taking before, but that now he was entangled with worldly business concerning the house, and for that he gave not so great diligence as became him to do'. (fn. 77) Disse was a B.D. and his sermon may have been that for his Doctor's degree; he had a grace however, in the following year, to incept after two sermons, one at Cambridge and one at Paul's Cross, and he was then still Warden. (fn. 78) At the surrender he and Robert White, the other D.D., signed immediately after William White, who was then Warden, and before John Fakun, the Vicewarden. (fn. 79) There is no date to the surrender, but the convent, both friars and servants, had dispersed before the royal valuers came down. They returned the yearly value of the convent's lands at £4 13s. 4d., and noted that there were 104 fodders of lead on the church and buildings and three bells in the tower; the jewels, plate, and movables had been taken away by the King's visitors. (fn. 80)
When Leland, shortly before the Dissolution, visited the library of the Franciscans at Cambridge (fn. 81) the only works which he thought worth noting were: Letters of Robert Grosseteste, 127 in number; a letter or pamphlet of [the Bishop of] Lincoln (i.e. Grosseteste) to Adam Rufus; two sermons preached by him before the Pope; a letter on Obedience by Brother William of Nottingham; and 'Ambrosius Ausbert'. Probably the Greek manuscripts of the Psalter (now in Caius College Library) and of the New Testament (one in the same library and one at Leicester) (fn. 82) had already been lost; (fn. 83) and other books may have already been sent overseas for safe-keeping, or perhaps accompanied their owners into exile; for recent research has shown that among the books of English origin in the Ottoboni collection in the Vatican Library (fn. 84) several have clear indications that they belonged to the Black Friars or the Grey Friars of Cambridge, and some of these were out of England, and probably in Rome, at the beginning of 1545. They nearly all represent scholastic philosophy and theology and some of them contain numerous annotations in pencil—a frequent practice in manuscripts which belonged to the working library of students. They may therefore be taken as representative of the books provided for study in the Cambridge friaries during the greater part of their existence.
Eight, probably nine, and possibly more of these books belonged to the Grey Friars. Of these four, namely two commentaries of Hugh de S. Caro, on St. Luke and on Isaiah, Eusebius Ecclesiastical History, and Bonaventura, Quaestiones super IV Sentent., are full of pencil notes. Of the other four one containing works of St. Anselm had been bought with money given by Eleanor de Huntingford and was deposited as the 'caution' of Brother John Wynch in 1346. A Petrus Comestor was given to the convent by Brother Nicholas Ramesey; another volume which contains Isidore's Etymologiae, the Venerable Bede, de Figuris, and other matter belonged to Brother Thomas Trumpington, D.D.; (fn. 85) and an incomplete Aristotle, de Anima (with a note of the defects), also formed part of the contents 'of the book-cupboard of the Friars Minor of Cambridge'.
The book whose provenance is not quite certain is an Ockham, Quaestiones in IV Sentent.: besides these (and the manuscripts which came from the Dominican house at Cambridge) there are six manuscripts which certainly came from Cambridge friaries, but cannot be so clearly assigned to either house; some of these, too, are annotated freely in pencil, and some have been deposited as 'cautions'.
Wardens of the Franciscans
Thomas de Hispania, 1st warden (fn. 86)
Richard Kellowe, occurs 1338 (fn. 87)
Adam de Folsham, occurs 1347 (fn. 88)
John de Daventre, occurs 1348 (fn. 89)
William Pecham, occurs 1349 (fn. 90)
John, occurs 1479 (fn. 91)
Bartholomew, occurs 1486 (fn. 92)
Dr. Swinburne, occurs 1527-8 (fn. 93)
Thomas Disse, occurs 1532, 1536 (fn. 94)
William White, surrendered 1538 (fn. 95)
A pointed oval seal, (fn. 96) apparently that of the warden, in use c. 1330, bears an eagle displayed and nimbed, with a scroll below it inscribed IOHNIS; in base a half-figure in prayer. Legend: . . . . NIS: SVSPEDE: P'C . . .
A matrix of a seal (fn. 97) of a 'vicar of the custos of Cambridge', found in 1819, is presumed to refer to the Franciscan Custodia. It shows under a canopy a shield charged with the implements of the Passion; below, under an arch, the vicar kneeling to sinister. Legend: S' . VICARII: CVSTODIS: CANTABRIGGE.