A History of the County of Kent: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1926.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
30. THE FRANCISCAN FRIARS OF CANTERBURY
On 10 September, 1224, nine Franciscan friars, with Agnellus of Pisa as the provincial minister of the new province of England at their head, landed at Dover, and proceeding to Canterbury stayed two days at the priory of the Holy Trinity, i.e. at Christchurch. Four of them then set out for London, while the remaining five lodged at the hospital of Poor Priests in Stour Street. Soon a small room was. granted to them in the schoolhouse: here they remained shut up in the daytime, but in the evening, after the scholars had gone home, they used to sit in the schoolroom and make a fire; and sometimes they would put on the fire a little pot in which Were the dregs of beer, often diluted with water, and dip a cup in the pot and pass it round, each, as his turn came, saying some word of edification. (fn. 1) The friars won the favour of Archbishop Stephen Langtdn, who when promoting the first novice in England to the Order of Acolytes called him ' Brother Solomon of the Order of the Apostles.' (fn. 2) Alexander the master of the hospital of Poor Priests gave them a plot of ground and built them a chapel: as the friars could own no property, this was made over to the commonalty of the city, and the brethren had the use of it at the will of the citizens. Their other chief benefactors in these early years were Simon Langton, archdeacon of Canterbury and brother of the archbishop, Henry of Sandwich, and Loretta, countess of Leicester, the lady ankeress of Hackington who cared for them in all things as a mother cares for her sons and obtained for them in wonderful manner the favour of princes and prelates by her wisdom. (fn. 3)
Henry III, who lavished gifts on the Black Friars of Canterbury, seems to have done little for the Grey Friars. Fifteen cart-loads of fuel in 1241, 50s. to buy wood in 1246, and six beech trees in 1272 seem to be the only grants by this king recorded in the Public Records. (fn. 6)
In or about 1268 John Dygg or Diggs, alderman and afterwards bailiff of Canterbury, bought the island called Binnewiht, situated between two branches of the Stour and 'the place of the gate on Stour Street,' for the use of the Friars Minors, and in time transferred them thither. (fn. 7)
Licence to inclose a road which formed the western boundary of their land was granted them in 1279. (fn. 8)
From an agreement dated 24 June, 1294, between these friars and the monks of Ghristchurch it appears that the former had inclosed in their precincts several tenements belonging to the fee of the prior and convent of Christchurch; namely, the tenement once held by Samuel the Dyer (from which was due 7¾d. a year), that once held by Berengar in With (12d.), that once held by Seron de Bocton (6d.), the rent of Wilbert formerly prior of Christchurch  near Ottewel (12d.), and the tenement of Stephen son of Lewen Samuel (18d.). The monks agreed to remit all arrears due to them ' for charity,' on condition that the friars should pay them a yearly rent of 3s. in lieu of all services. (fn. 9)
Gregory de Rokesley, mayor of London, left the residue of his estate in the dioceses and cities of London, Canterbury, and Rochester, to the poor in 1291, and instructed his executors to consult the warden of the Friars Minors in London and the warden of the Friars Minors in Canterbury about the disposal of his property. (fn. 10)
About this time, while Peckham was archbishop, the monks of Christchurch were employing a Franciscan as lecturer to their convent. In 1285 the prior wrote to the provincial chapter of the Friars Minors assembled at Cambridge, asking that Friar Ralph de Wydeheye, who had already for long been their lector, might be confirmed in his office; and every year a similar letter was addressed to the provincial chapter till 1298. (fn. 11) Ralph was succeeded by Friar Robert de Fulham, who continued to lecture till 1314, when the monks wrote that his teaching has so sweet an odour in the city of Canterbury and has so fructified many of our congregation, his sedulous hearers, with the waters of Holy Scripture, that we regard them as fit to undertake the office of lector in our schools. (fn. 12)
Edward I granted these friars firewood in 1278, (fn. 13) and in 1293 fuel from the archbishop's woods during the vacancy of the see. (fn. 14) In 1289 he gave them 60s. for three days' food, in 1297 39s. for three days' food, and in February 12991300, 34s. for three days' food, and 40s. for four days' food. (fn. 15) The number of friars was probably about thirty-five.
William de Gerberg, kt., indicted of procuring some persons to commit a murder in Norfolk, took sanctuary in the Minorites' church of Canterbury, and remained there full half a year (1305). (fn. 16)
In 1309 they acquired from James or John de Bowme a roadway Jeading from the. highway to the water of the Stour, and obtained royal licence to build a bridge across the Stour extending from the said roadway to their dwelling-house, for the benefit of persons wishing to attend service in their church: the bridge was to be so built as to allow a clear passage for boats underneath it; (fn. 17)
Their new church and cemetery were consecrated by Archbishop Reynolds in 1325. (fn. 18) From royal grants it appears there were thirty-five friars in this house in 1320, (fn. 19) and thirty-seven in 1336. (fn. 20) Friar Simon de Husshebourne, O.M., when visiting his convent at Canterbury in 1328, had 10 marks of the king's gift for his expenses. (fn. 21)
The friars at Canterbury seem to have had the usual troubles with the parish priests. In a letter to the archdeacon of Canterbury, dated 2 December, 1287, Peckham maintained their right to hear confessions against the assertions of some rectors and vicars, and claimed that they were more learned and holy than the secular priests. (fn. 22) Archbishop Winchelsey licensed eight Friars Minors to hear confessions in his diocese in 1300. (fn. 23) Archbishop Reynolds licensed Robert of St. Albans, the warden, Nicholas de Clive and Alan de Bourne and William Venable in 1323, in place of four other friars who had been transferred elsewhere, and this brought up the number of Friars Minors thus licensed living at Canterbury to twelve. (fn. 24)
Two friars of this house, John atte Noke of Newington and John of Bromesdon, received the royal pardon in 1338 for rescuing two felons adjudged to death at Canterbury, while on their way to execution. (fn. 25)
A further addition to their precinct was made in 1336, when they acquired from Master John of Romney, Hugh le Woder and William, parson of St. Mildred's, Canterbury, a messuage and garden io perches square. (fn. 26)
The friars neglected to pay the rent due to Christchurch, and the monks in consequence withdrew the annual grant which they were accustomed to make to the friars; the queen dowager, Isabella, begged them to renew the alms in 1343, but the prior refused to comply. (fn. 27)
In 1358 Archbishop Islip, perhaps in consequence of the ravages of the Black Death, authorized five Franciscans of the convent of Oxford and three of that of Cambridge to preach in the diocese of Canterbury. (fn. 28)
The Grey Friars received numerous bequests, and their church was the burial-place of many people of rank and many citizens of Canterbury. Among those buried here were William Balliol le Scot, sixth son of John Balliol and Devorguila, 1313; (fn. 29) Bartholomew lord Badlesmere, who was hanged at Canterbury in April, 1322; (fn. 30) Sir Giles Badlesmere, kt., his son, 1337; (fn. 31) Elizabeth, lady of Chilham; (fn. 32) Sir William Manston, kt., and Sir Roger Manston, kt., his brother; (fn. 33) Sir John Brockhill, kt., 1382, and several others of this family; (fn. 34) Sir Falcon Payfarer, kt.; Sir Thomas Dayner, kt.; Lady Alice of Maryms; Lady Candlin; ' Sir Alan Pennington of . . . in Lancashire, kt., who coming from the wars beyond seas died in this city '; Lady Ladrie of Valence; Sir William Trussell, kt.; Sir Bartholomew Ashburnham, kt.; Sir John Montenden, kt., a friar of this house; (fn. 35) Thomas Barton of Northgate, Canterbury, 1476; (fn. 36) Margaret Cherche of St. Alphege, 1486; (fn. 37) John Forde of the parish of St. George, who desired to be buried ' in the north part of the church near the altar of St. Clement,' 1487; (fn. 38) Milo Denne of Canterbury, barber, 1490-1; (fn. 39) Hamon Beale, twice mayor of Canterbury, 1492, and Isabel his wife; (fn. 40) Richard Martin, suffragan to the archbishop and sometime warden of the house, 1502, who bequeathed to the friars his chrismatory of silver and parcel gilt with its case, and mentions in his will the chapel of St. Saviour in this church; (fn. 41) Elizabeth Master, 1522; (fn. 42) Alexander Elyothe, (fn. 43) priest, 1524; Anne Culpeper, widow of Harry Agar, esq., 1532. (fn. 44)
Other benefactors were Elizabeth de Burgh, lady of Clare, 1360; (fn. 45) Sir Richard atte Lease, kt. 1393; (fn. 46) William Woodland of Holy Cross, Canterbury, who left £5 for the repair of the church and 5 marks for the repair of the dormitory, 1450; (fn. 47) Richard Tilley, 1485, John Bakke, 1500, and Elizabeth, wife of John Hales, alderman, 1506, all of Canterbury; (fn. 48) John Roper of Eltham, esq., 1523-4; (fn. 49) Sir John Rudstone, kt. and alderman of London, who bequeathed to the Observant Friars here 'one long gray woollen cloth for their habits,' price 5 marks, 1530; (fn. 50) H. Hatche, who bequeathed 15s. a year to the Observant Friars of Canterbury, and 5 marks to every house of Observant Friars in England, 1533. (fn. 51) From Lord Darcy they received 5 marks in 1526. (fn. 52) Lord Lisle in 1534 authorized the collection of money at Calais for ' the Grey Friars of Canterbury who have no lands or rents.' (fn. 53)
The friars seem to have had a valuable library. Friar Ralph of Maidstone, who was bishop of Hereford, 1234-9, gave them a New Testament with gloss, now in the British Museum. (fn. 54) Richard Wych, bishop of Chichester, bequeathed them a copy of the book of Isaiah with gloss in 1253. (fn. 55) Five other volumes now in the British Museum also belonged to them; namely a thirteenth-century copy of the Gospels of St. Mark and St. Matthew; (fn. 56) a volume also of the thirteenth century containing Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Britonum, the Historia Hierosolimitana of James of Vitry, Gesta Alexandri and Historia Romanorum, and the Chronicle of Martin of Troppau; (fn. 57) a fourteenth-century manuscript of Genesis and Exodus, (fn. 58) and another containing the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Daniel, the gift of Master Adam of Richmond, (fn. 59) and another of St. Paul's Epistles, the gift of Friar Henry of Rye. (fn. 60) A collection of treatises by Aristotle, Albertus Magnus and others on natural science, now in the Bodleian Library, belonged to John Bruyl, a friar of this house, (fn. 61) who in 1397-8 was warden of London. (fn. 62) And in the fifteenth century the convent possessed a volume entitled ' Notabilia super ecclesiasticam historiam et tripartitam cum extractionibus Willelmi Malmesburiensis,' having on the back of the binding the letters þ ι h (fn. 63)
In 1498 the house was included by Henry VII among the convents of the Observant Friars or reformed branch of the Franciscans. (fn. 64) The Act of the king was confirmed by Pope Alexander VI in 1499, and the English Observants, who had since 1484 been under the government of the commissary of the vicar-general, were formed into a province. (fn. 65) In his will Henry VII left 100 marks to the Observant Friars of Canterbury and entrusted £200 for their use to the prior of Christchurch. (fn. 66) They received £13 6s. 8d. from Henry VIII for saying daily masses for the late king in 1509. (fn. 67) They seem to have been active preachers in the neighbourhood; they are found, for instance, preaching at Romney and receiving alms from that town in 1506 and 1517-18. (fn. 68) Alexander Barclay, the translator of the Ship of Fools, appears to have been for a time a member of this community. (fn. 69) A provincial chapter, was held here in 1532, which William Peto attended. (fn. 70) Two friars of this house, Hugh Rich, warden of Richmond, and Richard Risby, warden of Canterbury, were among the chief supporters of the Holy Maid of Kent. They stood with her on the scaffold at Paul's Cross, 23 November, 1533, when Dr. Capon denounced the two friars in particular, for having 'suborned and seduced their companions to maintain the false opinion and wicked quarrel of the queen against the king.' They were then taken to Canterbury and made to do public penance, and were hanged and beheaded at Tyburn with the Maid and others 20 April, 1534. The bodies of the two Observants and the Maid were buried at the Grey Friars, London (fn. 71)
Other Observant Friars who died at Canterbury about this time were Judocus of Amsterdam and Lewis Wilkinson; another, Christopher Burrell, remained at Canterbury, mad. Some were sent away for safe custody, others fled abroad. (fn. 72) Only two—Father Mychelsen and Father John Gam—are mentioned as having refused to take the oath of allegiance and supremacy exacted from the friars in the spring of 1534. (fn. 73)
The king did not suppress the Grey Friars of Canterbury at this time, but forbade them to go out of their house and appointed John Arthur as warden, against the wishes of the provincial. Arthur, who had left a bad reputation behind him at Oxford, (fn. 74) treated the Observants of Canterbury with severity, imprisoning some ' because they rebelled against the king and held so stiffly to the bishop of Rome, for which he daily reproved them.' He and his opponents accused each other of theft and immoral intercourse with women. His special enemy was Friar Henry Bocher, who succeeded in turning the tables on the warden by accusing him of speaking against the king. The charge seems to have been founded on a sermon which Arthur preached in the church of Herne on Passion Sunday, 1535, in which he blamed these new books and new preachers for discouraging pilgrimages, especially to the shrine of St. Thomas: and he said, if so be that St. Thomas were a devil in hell, if the church had canonized him, we ought to worship him, for you ought to believe us prelates though we preach false.
The result was that Bocher was set free, and Arthur imprisoned at Cromwell's command. The provincial appointed an Observant, Arthur's ' mortal enemy,' as warden. Arthur, fearing starvation, succeeded in escaping to France. (fn. 75)
The bishop of Dover came to Canterbury on 13 December, 1538, to dissolve the friaries; he found them all in debt, but the Black and Grey Friars were able with their implements to pay all their debts, the visitor's costs, and a little more. (fn. 76) The documents relating to the surrender have disappeared.
Cranmer had already, 5 October, 1538, written to Cromwell that 'as the Grey Friars, Canterbury, is very commodious for my servant, Thomas Cobham, brother to Lord Cobham, I beg you will help him to the said house.' (fn. 77)
In the following February the site was let to Thomas Spilman, one of the receivers of the augmentations, for 40s. a year. (fn. 78) A clothier named John Batherst asserted that the king wished him to have the house for the erection of clothmaking, but he failed to eject Spilman, (fn. 79) who, in July, 1539, bought the premises, including the church and bell-tower, for £100, and sold them in 1544 to Thomas Rolf or Roffe. (fn. 80) The lands consisted of the site of the house and two messuages, two orchards, two gardens, 3 acres of land, 5 acres of meadow, and 4 acres of pasture in the parishes of St. Peter, St. Mildred, and St. Margaret, held in chief of the crown. (fn. 81) Rolf in 1549, with the permission of the commonalty, narrowed the principal entrance (in the High Street, opposite the Black Friars entry) to a passage. (fn. 82) William Lovelace died seised of the house in 1576, and the property remained in this family for many years. (fn. 83)
G. c. 1250 (fn. 84)
Robert of St. Albans, 1323 (fn. 85)
John, 1479 (fn. 86)
Richard Martin, c. 1490 (?) (fn. 87)
Richard Risby, 1532-3 (fn. 88)
Gabriel Pecock, 1532 (fn. 89)
John Arthur, 1533-5 (fn. 90)
Bernardine Covert, 1534 (fn. 91)
The seal (fn. 92) of this house in the fourteenth century represented Becket's martyrdom, under a carved gothic canopy. In base under a pointed arch between two half arches, a friar praying to the right. Legend:—