Friaries: The Dominicans of Dunstable

A History of the County of Bedford: Volume 1. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1904.

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'Friaries: The Dominicans of Dunstable', in A History of the County of Bedford: Volume 1( London, 1904), British History Online [accessed 23 July 2024].

'Friaries: The Dominicans of Dunstable', in A History of the County of Bedford: Volume 1( London, 1904), British History Online, accessed July 23, 2024,

"Friaries: The Dominicans of Dunstable". A History of the County of Bedford: Volume 1. (London, 1904), , British History Online. Web. 23 July 2024.


The Black Friars arrived in Dunstable in 1259 (fn. 1) at the invitation of the king and queen and the magnates of the neighbourhood, and began at once with the help of alms to build their church. They were very unwelcome to the canons of that place, and not without reason; for the novelty of the friars' coming, and of their manner of life, drew many people away from their parish church, and diminished the customary offerings there at a time when they were sorely needed. (fn. 2) But the prioress of Markyate, though her own house was not a wealthy one, was more generous, and helped the friars with a dole of loaves until their church should be finished; a kindness illrepaid, for they insisted on the continuance of the gift after the immediate necessity was passed, and when the nuns were almost as poor as themselves. (fn. 3)

The jealousy between the canons and the friars lasted for some time, but there seems never to have been any open quarrel; on the contrary, one of the friars was admitted to the priory in 1265 for nine years, returning to his own house in 1274 (fn. 4); and in 1278 the prior of Dunstable, William le Breton, visited and ate with the Dominicans. (fn. 5) In 1282, (fn. 6) at the funeral of a female parishioner of Dunstable, who had desired to be buried in the church of the friars, the offerings were shared quite amicably by the two churches; but in 1287 (fn. 7) the porter of Dunstable was made to buy a house near the area of the Friars Preachers, so that they might not be able to enlarge their boundaries without the permission of the canons. Again in 1298 (fn. 8) the bishop sent a mandate to the official of the archdeacon of Bedford to enjoin the canons of Dunstable to desist from forbidding and impeding the Friars Preachers from hearing the confessions of the people of that place; but in 1311 (fn. 9) it was the bishop who found that friars who presented themselves to be licensed as confessors were becoming too numerous. Ten were offered to him on this occasion from Dunstable; this number is scarcely likely to include all the friars in the house, as some had probably received licences before.

John Coton, the prior of the Friars Preachers at Dunstable, subscribed the acknowledgment of the royal supremacy on 14 May 1534. (fn. 10) Nothing is known of the order of the house at this time, but it is somewhat discredited by some scandal that had taken place there in connection with the provincial of the order, who was also prior of (King's) Langley; but Bishop Longland's letter, in which the affair is mentioned, is so allusive and obscure that it is difficult to understand what the scandal was, or whether any others than the provincial were involved in it. (fn. 11)

The house was surrendered some time before 8 May 1539, when it was granted to one of the yeomen of the guard (fn. 12); but as the deed of surrender has been lost, the exact date is unknown. The income of the house in 1535 was £4 18s. 8d. (fn. 13)


  • 1. Ann. Mon. (Rolls Series), iii. 213; Dugdale, Mon. vi. 1485.
  • 2. See Dunstable Priory.
  • 3. See Markyate Priory. Adam of Biscot, the second vicar of Luton, became a Dominican friar (probably in this house) about this time (Rev. H. Cobbe, Luton Church, 122).
  • 4. Ann. Mon. (Rolls Series), iii. 261.
  • 5. Ibid. 278.
  • 6. Ibid. 289. The body was first carried to Dunstable church, where the canons sang the requiem mass, and had the oblations, including eight candles, four of which they kept and gave the other four to the Dominicans. The chronicler of Dunstable explains here that two candles were given to the brothers, and two to the sisters; this looks as if there were Dominican nuns there at the time, but no other trace of their existence has been found.
  • 7. Ibid. 338.
  • 8. Linc. Epis. Reg., Memo. Sutton, 217d.
  • 9. Ibid. Memo. Dalderby, 19d.
  • 10. L. and P. Hen. VIII. vii. 665.
  • 11. Bishop Longland's letter says that he encloses 'the detections of the most honest people of Dunstable' regarding the prior of Langley, who was also provincial of the order. It is therefore natural to conclude that the house of the Friars Preachers at Dunstable had been the scene of some particular scandal during some visit of the provincial, though it was not Dunstable but Langley that was 'in utter decay' (L. and P. Hen. VIII. iv. 4315 [dated 1 June 1528]).
  • 12. Ibid. xv. 1032.
  • 13. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iv. 210.