A History of the County of Northampton: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1906.
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22. THE CARMELITE FRIARS OF NORTHAMPTON
The order of the Carmelites or White Friars, driven from Mount Carmel by the Saracens in 1238, reached England in 1240. Their friary at Northampton was founded in 1271 by Simon Montford and Thomas Chitwood. The house is mentioned in an inquisition held at Northampton in 1275 respecting certain men who arrived by night in the town and left a package in the custody of the brothers of Mount Carmel, but sought a lodging for themselves in the house of a certain Alice Baron. The town bailiffs, suspecting them to be robbers, sent to seize them at the house of the said Alice, but the strangers anticipated the authorities and escaped before day. The package deposited at the friary was opened and found to contain two coats of mail. Sir William de Lymar, knight, then appeared and claimed the harness and horses which the robbers had left, stating that they were his property of which he had been robbed. (fn. 1) In the same year the town jury of Northampton found that the brothers of Mount Carmel had for four years past defrauded the town of 28d. a year due to the ferm of the king for tenements they had obtained in free alms from Simon de Pateshill and others, to the injury of the king and his bailiffs of Northampton. (fn. 2)
The friars applied to Edward I. in 1278 for leave to enclose a portion of the town wall that adjoined their close and to block up its crenelles. A jury was impanelled to ascertain what damage, if any, would ensue if such a licence were granted. The return found that it would be to the damage and nuisance of the town of Northampton to enclose the wall and fill up the crenelles, inasmuch as the burgesses of the town, and especially the sick, often walked on the wall from one gate to another to take the air, and that in the winter time they used the same route for the sake of cleanliness, instead of the noisome and muddy way under the wall, between it and the place of the Carmelites. The proposed action of the friars would interfere with these uses. Moreover, the night watchmen going their rounds on the town walls were in the habit of using the crenelles to watch for malefactors approaching the town, and if these openings were closed, as proposed, various misdeeds and stratagems might pass undetected. (fn. 3) Licence was obtained by the Carmelite Friars in 1299 to retain in mortmain a plot of land east of their dwelling-place, acquired by them since the statute, without licence, and to enclose it with a wall for the enlargement of their close. (fn. 4) A further enlargement of their site was sanctioned in 1363. (fn. 5) In 1380, on payment of half a mark, the friars obtained a grant for a third enlargement of their close by the alienation to them of a plot of land 29 perches long by 16 broad, the gift of John Sauce and Robert Lincoln. (fn. 6)
The church of St. Mary of Mount Carmel, Northampton, must have been of considerable size, for in 1310 Bishop Dalderby granted a licence to the friars to have five fixed altars in their church; he also licensed the dedication of an altar to St. Catherine. (fn. 7) In 1363 Bishop Bokyngham granted an indulgence in connexion with the image of the Blessed Virgin in the outer chapel of the Carmelite friars of Northampton, next the entrance of their church. (fn. 8)
William Tomson in 1512 left 12d. by will 'to the blessyd ymage of or lady in the house of the Friers Carm. wtin the town of Northampton.' Agnes Haywarde left her second ring to this same image just before the dissolution. Richard Packman, in 1528, desired to be buried 'att the Whyte Freirs before saint Katerin.' (fn. 9) A commission was issued in 1400 to inquire into a report that the friars were giving shelter to evil-doers, and that William Hawk, John Carpenter, and six others lately arrested on suspicion of larceny and other felonies, and committed to gaol in the castle of Northampton, had escaped and were then in the church of the friars of the order of St. Mary of Mount Carmel in the same town. (fn. 10)
Two of the more celebrated writers among the English Carmelites were connected with this house. John Avon, who was born at Northampton, and became a Carmelite friar of that town, was a doctor of divinity and distinguished mathematician. His chief work, in addition to sermons, was 'The Philisophical Ring,' or 'a perpetual almanack to find every year for ever, the moveable feasts, the immoveable, the aspects of the heavens, the changes of the moon, and all things relating to the ordering of the divine offices according to the several solemnities throughout the year.' He died about 1350, probably of the plague, and was buried in the friary at Northampton. William Beaufeu, doctor of divinity, of the university of Oxford, and a considerable theological writer, was sometime prior of this house. He died in 1390, and was buried in the friary. (fn. 11) Of the heads of this house few names have been preserved, but Nicholas Cantelowe may be mentioned as having been prior in 1471. (fn. 12)
The dissolution of the Northampton friaries has been already described. The Carmelites surrendered their house on 20 October, 1538. The deed was signed by John Howell, prior, William Harrison, sub-prior, and seven other friars. (fn. 13) John Walklynge and Thomas Gyfte were appointed attorneys to deliver the property to Dr. London for the king's use. The report of Dr. London nine days after the surrender, to the effect that the friary was a beggarly place and all that it contained would not suffice to pay its debts, (fn. 14) is very much to the credit of this mendicant house. A memorandum of Dr. London, drawn up early in 1539, states that the chancel of the White Friars' church had a new fair roof covered with slate, and that it was meet for the king's use at Grafton Regis. (fn. 15)
The pointed oval fifteenth-century seal of this house represents a saint lifting up the right hand and holding in the left a long cross under a tree; a worshipper kneels before him; there is a bird on a branch. (fn. 16)