A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1911.
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23. THE FRANCISCANS AT BRIDGWATER
The Minorites were established here soon after 1230 through the generosity of William Briwere, the son of that William who had founded in the town the hospital of St. John the Baptist. Leland in his Itinerary 1540 (fn. 1) gives the tradition concerning the foundation as it was preserved in Bridgwater in the time of Henry VIII. 'A goodly howse wher sumtyme a college was of Gray Freres. Wylliam Bruer, sunne of Wylliam Bruer the first, buildid this house. One of the Lordes Botreaux and his wife were especial benefactors to this house. Thereupon his hert and hys wife's body were buryed there.'
As early as 1246 (fn. 2) Henry III ratified the gift by the burghers of Bridgwater of a place in their town where the Friars Minor might build for themselves a church and necessary buildings.
For the rest of the century the work of building seems to have been going on, for on 28 December 1284 (fn. 3) Edward I sent an order to Richard de Plescy the keeper of the king's forest to allow the friars six oaks fit for timber, and they had already received a similar gift from the Petherton Forest in 1278. (fn. 4)
Under the constitution Super Cathedram Bishop Drokensford licensed six Minorites on 4 May 1318 (fn. 5) to preach in the diocese and to hear confessions, and on 23 June of the same year he issued an official list of the Minorites he had thus licensed. (fn. 6) They were of course in priest's orders and they came to work at such times and in such places as might suit the parish priests, and he strictly forbade them to interfere with the parish priest and prohibited any not so licensed doing such work.
On 24 February 1332 (fn. 7) Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury licensed Maurice de la More, a Franciscan of Bridgwater, as Diocesan Penitentiary, and on 8 October 1333 (fn. 8) he gave a similar licence to William de Anne the warden of the Franciscan house at Bridgwater, and in March 1353 (fn. 9) he gave a similar authority to another Bridgwater Franciscan, Richard Aunger.
In the 14th century certainly the labours of the Minorites were under episcopal sanction and regulation. Bishop Drokensford (fn. 10) ordered that his list of names should be everywhere published in the Consistories and in all the chapters of the clergy and in the parish churches. During the 15th century their increasing influence is shown by the increasing stream of legacies which they received. (fn. 11) The old restraints concerning property had been put aside and the Franciscans, whose spiritual work was doubtless very much valued, were trusted and enriched by the laity. The right to be buried in their chapel and to have the benefit of their prayers was prized and purchased by the noble families in the neighbourhood.
Among the Minorites of Bridgwater three (fn. 12) appear to have attained some fame. Leland records of Brother Henry Cross that he was famous in his age not only for erudition but also for piety. He wrote several books which testify his good affection towards sacred literature. He was made doctor of divinity at Oxford and was the thirteenth reader in the house of the Friars Minor there. He died at Bridgwater and was there buried among the brethren of his order.
Another was Brother John Sumner (fn. 13) of whom Leland says there was scarce his equal at that time in England, but none exceeded him. As a mathematician his works on astronomy were highly commended, and about 1390 his works on Canons of the Stars and Corrections of the Calendar had made him very noted. The third, William Auger, (fn. 14) was from Oxford, but he went and settled in Bridgwater as the warden of the house. He took most delight in reading and meditating on the Holy Gospels and wrote a commentary on St. Luke's Gospel. He died in Bridgwater 1404.
William de Worcestre (fn. 15) who lived in the middle of the 15th century (1415–90) gives us in his Itinerary some notes of the chapel of the Minorites at Bridgwater. ' Longitudo ecclesiae Fratrum minorum de Bruggewater est 120 steppys et ejus latitudo 30 steppys et latitudo navis ecclesiae 14 steppys. Guardianus ecclesiae monasterii Bruggewater vocatur frater Blackborow et frater Pollard est legista fratrum, Stevyn Byrkcombe discipulus fratris Johannis.' William also says that in the martyrology of the Friary he saw that prayers were asked for the soul of 'domini Willelmi de Cantelupe fundatoris hujus ecclesiae ordinis Sancti Francisci.' This last statement however was certainly incorrect.
The house was surrendered to the commissioners of Henry VIII on 13 September 1538 by John Herys the warden, and his six brethren. (fn. 16)