The friaries: Carlisle, Penrith and Appleby

A History of the County of Cumberland: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1905.

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'The friaries: Carlisle, Penrith and Appleby', A History of the County of Cumberland: Volume 2, (London, 1905), pp. 194-199. British History Online [accessed 15 June 2024].

. "The friaries: Carlisle, Penrith and Appleby", in A History of the County of Cumberland: Volume 2, (London, 1905) 194-199. British History Online, accessed June 15, 2024,

. "The friaries: Carlisle, Penrith and Appleby", A History of the County of Cumberland: Volume 2, (London, 1905). 194-199. British History Online. Web. 15 June 2024,

In this section






The four orders of mendicant friars had obtained settlements in the diocese of Carlisle before the close of the thirteenth century. The same year witnessed the coming of the friars preachers, black friars or Dominicans, and the friars minors, minorites, grey friars, or Franciscans, to Carlisle while Walter was bishop of the diocese. In 1233, says the Chronicle of Lanercost, (fn. 1) the order of friars minors came to the city of Carlisle about the Feast of the Assumption, 15 August, and received a house (mansionem) within the walls of the city; and the order of friars preachers about the feast of St. Michael, 29 September, without the walls. It is said that the friars of St. Mary of Mount Carmel, Carmelites, or white friars, were established in Appleby by the Lords Vesey, Percy and Clifford in 1281, (fn. 2) and it is known as a certainty that the friars eremites of the order of St. Augustine, Augustinians, or Austin friars, were carrying on their mission in Penrith before 1300. (fn. 3) These religious communities occupied a prominent ecclesiastical position in the district, and though the black friars and grey friars exercised the greater influence, they were all usually associated in the minds of the people as the four orders of friars.

The friars minors, having obtained a settlement on the south-east side of the city of Carlisle, were not long in starting to erect their chapel and buildings. In July 1235 Thomas de Multon, keeper of the forest of Carlisle, was instructed to supply them with twenty oaks as the king's gift for the construction of their church, and in the following November the king made them another present of twenty pieces of timber (fuste) for the building of their houses. (fn. 4)

The friars preachers met with greater obstacles to a final settlement when they chose an habitation without the walls. There can be no doubt that the statement of the Chronicle of Lanercost is correct upon this point. Soon after their arrival, viz. on 12 March 1233-4, it was stated that the friars preachers of Carlisle had petitioned the king for a place (placia) in the public highway (strata publica) which lay between their chapel on the one side and their land on the other, and as the king had learned by inquisition that it would be no injury to the city or loss of any one if he should grant their request, the sheriff of Cumberland was ordered to give them seisin of the said 'place' for the enlargement of their houses and buildings. (fn. 5) But in June 1237 they were obliged to remove the house they had erected in the public highway without the city (extra civitatem) on the ground that it was a nuisance. (fn. 6) At this time they must have gained a footing within the walls, for in 1237, both before and after the injunction to pull down the house outside, they obtained leave to perforate the city wall, (fn. 7) or make an excavation beneath it for the purpose of carrying the water conduit of their chambers extra civitatem. (fn. 8) Their church was not completed for several years after this date, for in 1239 and 1244 they had gifts of timber in Inglewood Forest for the purpose of its construction. (fn. 9)

After the establishment of the houses we have only occasional notices of their existence for a long time, except as the recipients of alms from public sources or of gifts of land for the enlargement of their premises. In 1278 the king, hearing that Bishop Robert de Chause before his death left a deposit in the custody of the friars minors within the city of Carlisle, ordered Thomas de Normanville, his steward, to repair thither in person, and take it to the king's use in satisfaction of the late bishop's debts to him. Two years afterwards King Edward gave to the same friars six oaks fit for timber out of his forest. (fn. 10) The Augustinians of Penrith were active in enlarging their borders early in the fourteenth century. In 1318 John de Penrith granted them a piece of land for the extension of their habitation, (fn. 11) and in 1331 and 1333 John de Crumbewell made them gifts of tenements and land for a similar purpose. (fn. 12) In like manner it was found by inquisition taken at Carlisle on 4 February 1333-4 that Thomas le Spencer, chaplain, might alienate to the friars preachers there a piece of land 240 feet in length and 7 feet in breadth to form a road straight from the street to their dwellingplace. The land was held in chief by housegavel, and was worth 40d. a year in all issues. (fn. 13) No licence for the transfer has been recorded on the patent rolls.

The houses of friars in Carlisle had a share in all the vicissitudes which go to make up the chequered history of that city. From their situation close to the walls, the preachers on the west and the minorites on the southeast, their buildings occupied dangerous positions in times of siege and assault. In the great fire of 1292, when the whole city including the abbey and the houses of the friars minors were reduced to ashes, the preachers alone, says the historian, were saved with the greatest difficulty. (fn. 14) Another chronicler, lamenting in verse over the unspeakable calamity, has told us that amid all the ruins of 'the renowned vill' only the Jacobins, the French name for the friars preachers, survived the catastrophe. (fn. 15) During the panic occasioned by the fire two thieves escaped out of prison, one of whom took sanctuary in the cathedral church and the other in the church of the friars minors. In consequence the citizens were amerced in a fine of £16 to the Exchequer, but the king pardoned them on condition that they should recognize that they were bound to the safe custody of felons flying for sanctuary to churches within their city. (fn. 16)

During the progresses of the king or members of the royal family through the country, the religious houses on the route, at which they called or stayed, were the recipients of royal bounties in consideration of the outlay made by the religious men on their behalf, or as gifts in alms to meet their immediate wants. When the kings were in the north on their various military expeditions against Scotland, the local houses were often called upon to provide accommodation for them in person or for members of the court. In 1300 Edward I. stayed occasionally with the friars preachers and friars minors in Carlisle, and made complimentary gifts to them by way of acknowledgment of their hospitality. Sometimes he gave them alms for their food, or for the performance of some religious act like the celebration of mass for the soul of the Count of Holland or the Earl of Cornwall. Similar oblations were offered to the friars of St. Augustine of Penrith and the friars of Mount Carmel of Appleby, with the former of whom he stopped two days and with the latter one day on his journey south. The wardrobe accounts of the first three Edwards contain many items of gifts and offerings made to the four houses of friars in the diocese of Carlisle by these kings or by members of their households on their journeys through the district. (fn. 17) In other ways also the kings were benevolent in dealing with these institutions. In 1334 the friars minors of Carlisle purchased victuals to the value of £8 from Robert de Barton, the king's receiver, for their maintenance, but the king ordered the debt to be discharged and the brethren acquitted in the following year as an act of grace. (fn. 18) Edward III. must have had pleasant memories of the happy Christmas he spent with the minorites of Carlisle in 1332, when the commonalty of the city and neighbourhood displayed in a marked degree evidences of loyalty and affection. (fn. 19)

Few things betoken the popularity of the friars among the laity of every grade more than their success with 'the dead hand' in the matter of testamentary bequests. There was no attempt to gain possession of real property in lands or houses, like the monks and nuns, beyond what was necessary for their habitations and chapels or immediate convenience, their vows of poverty forbidding them to hold such possessions. But gifts of money or in kind kept flowing in at their solicitation. It is a striking feature of medieval wills that the four orders of friars as a class or one of the orders in particular usually figured as a beneficiary in testamentary dispositions. It would be difficult to decide whether the Dominicans or Franciscans were most popular with the dying man. The churchyards in Carlisle seem to have been often used as places of burial by people in the neighbourhood. When it is remembered that the secular priest of the parish in which the testator lived invariably claimed the mortuary due to him wherever the body of his parishioner was laid, it will be seen that burial in the churchyards of the mendicant orders involved a double burden to the deceased man's estate. But financial considerations did not prove a barrier to the persuasion of the friars. In 1356 Matthew de Redman, dating his will at Carlisle, bequeathed his body to be buried in the churchyard of the friars preachers of Carlisle with his best beast as a mortuary to his parish church; to the friars preachers he left 20s.; and a like sum to the friars minors; also 6s. 8d. to Brother Robert Deyncourt. A great local dignitary like Sir Robert Tilliol of Scaleby desired his body to be laid among the friars preachers of Carlisle in 1367, as Robert del Shelde, a humble citizen, had done ten years before among the friars minors. Secular priests often came under the same spell. In the same year, 1362, two incumbents in distant parts of the diocese disposed of their bodies in this fashion: John de Seburgham, vicar of Walton, desiring to be buried in the church of the friars minors, and Richard de Ulnesby, rector of Ulnesby or Ousby, in the church of the friars preachers; John de Dundrawe of Carlisle, in bequeathing his body to be laid among the friars minors in 1380, made arrangements for the payment of 15 marks to two chaplains for one year, or to one chaplain for two years, to celebrate for his soul at Our Lady's altar in their church, adding a jug and a mazer bowl as a personal gift. (fn. 20) These benefactions were not confined to testators in the immediate vicinity of Carlisle. The friars had a wider field of missionary enterprise which knew no frontier of county or diocese. Sir Brian de Stapilton was not forgetful of the friars of Carlisle in 1394, and Sir Richard le Scrop, lord of Bolton, bequeathed 20s. in 1400 to every house of friars in Carlisle, Penrith and Appleby. (fn. 21) whereas John Knublow, rector of Lamplugh, in the archdeaconry of Richmond, singled out the friars preachers and friars minors of Carlisle as the objects of his generosity when he was making his will in 1469. (fn. 22) The friars were not backward in looking after their own interests, in cases where executors neglected to pay the amounts left to them by will. A curious case arose in the diocesan court of Carlisle in 1340, in which the Dominican prior was complainant and Agnes widow of William Hare of Derham was the defendant. After much litigation the bishop decided that the friars were entitled to the benefaction of five marks sterling bequeathed by the deceased, and ordered Agnes the executrix to pay that sum within six days together with 20s. 1d. as costs. (fn. 23)

The relationship of the friars to the corporate life of the church should not be misunderstood. It was the bishop who conferred holy orders on the inmates of their houses, and it was under his licence that they exercised their vocation in his diocese. In the ordination lists on record in the diocesan registers, the names of friars admitted to successive degrees will be found. To William de Eyncourt, a friar preacher, Bishop Ross committed in 1330 the faculty to preach throughout his whole diocese, to hear the confessions of all who were willing to confess to him, to give absolution, and to enjoin salutary penance except in cases reserved by the canons to the bishop himself. (fn. 24) The same licence was given to Brother Thomas de Skirwyth in 1356 on the recommendation of Robert de Deyncourt, a friar preacher of Carlisle. (fn. 25) On 24 February 1354-5, Brother William de Croft of the order of the Blessed Mary of Mount Carmel in Appleby, having been presented by the prior provincial iuxta capitulum super cathedram, was admitted by Bishop Welton to the office of preaching and the hearing of confessions in the place of John de Haytefeld of the same order. (fn. 26) In the licences, the cases reserved to the bishop were often set out by name. When William de Dacre, lector of the convent of friars minors in Carlisle, in whose integrity of conscience the bishop of the diocese was fully confident, was admitted to exercise his office in foro penitencie, (fn. 27) cases of the violators of nuns, perjurers in assizes or indictments, matrimonial causes, divorces and crimes involving the loss of life or limb were specially excepted. In the faculty which Thomas de Thornton of the Augustinian Order in Penrith received in 1365 for one year, Bishop Appleby added to the reservations the practice of usury and breaking and entering his parks of Rose or Beaulieu to take anything away. (fn. 28) It is evident that the Bishops of Carlisle exercised an effective jurisdiction over the acts of the mendicant orders within the diocese.

It is not to be expected that the friars, established in the three different centres of the diocese, would be popular with the parochial clergy if we have regard to the nature of their vocation and method of life. At every turn they were apt to intrude on the office and tread on the toes of the secular priest. They had a roving commission to enter parishes, to preach, hear confessions, solicit alms, and to perform various ecclesiastical functions which in many instances must have brought them into conflict with the country clergy. As a matter of fact, much unpleasantness had arisen and complaints were numerous about the intrusion of the friars. The privileges of the parochial clergy were violated to such an extent that they appealed to the pope for redress in 1300. The bull of Boniface VIII. contra Fratres is on record. (fn. 29) It was not by any means entirely in favour of the secular clergy, though regulations were laid down to restrain the friars in their aggressions on the parochial office. The pope prescribed the cases in which they might preach and hear confessions, and at the same time recommended the parish priests to receive them kindly for the sake of the apostolic see. In 1352 the clergy of Carlisle moved Bishop Welton for relief. It was represented to him that the mendicant orders, not content with their own bounds, were in the habit of betaking themselves frequently to divers churches and chapels, not for the sake of preaching the word of God, but in the same churches and chapels on Sundays and Festivals during the solemnity of mass, when a great multitude of people were present, to the impediment of divine culture and the stirring up of tumult, with vain and heedless displays of excessive indulgences and plenary remission, sought quest of money and not gain of souls with open books in their hands like questors, contrary to canonical sanctions and the rules of their orders and the customs anciently observed, for which reason uproars among the people and injurious reports were almost of daily occurrence. The bishop, wishing to remedy these abuses, sent his mandate to all deans, rectors, vicars and parish chaplains, forbidding them under pain of the greater excommunication to permit any friar of the mendicant orders, even when licensed by him in the form of the constitution, to exercise a quest of any sort in their churches or chapels, and specially in time of divine service, unless on production of special letters. (fn. 30)

The Augustinians of Penrith had recourse to various devices for the maintenance of the house. It appears that the voluntary alms of the people of that district were not sufficient. Bishop Welton assisted them in some measure by appointing the prior in 1360 during pleasure to the church of Newton Reigny, which had been vacant for some time, and allowing him to discharge the cure of souls by some fit brother of the community. (fn. 31) The same consideration was shown by Bishop Appleby in 1365, when R. the sacrist of the house was appointed to the same charge for four years. (fn. 32) The brothers contrived a new expedient in 1360, from which they expected a substantial addition to their encumbered finances. In that year they started and intended to continue a light at mass in the conventual church at Penrith in honour of the Nativity of the Saviour and the blessed Mary, so that when the divine office was sung the light should burn on the feast of the Nativity every year. But they were unable to continue this without the alms of the faithful. In order to promote such a praiseworthy devotion, the bishop issued a firm indulgence for forty days to all in his diocese who went to the conventual church in a contrite and penitent spirit for the purpose of hearing mass on that day or who contributed of their goods for the keeping up of the said light. (fn. 33)

It may be regarded as a testimony of the estimation in which the prior of the friars preachers was held that he was sometimes employed in important and delicate negotiations or he was present at great functions. The prior of the Carlisle preachers was a witness to the award made in 1289 for the settlement of a dispute between the Augustinian priory of Pontefract and the Cluniac house of Monk Bretton. (fn. 34) In 1329 he was appointed in a commission with the abbot of Holmcultram and the archdeacon of Carlisle by Pope John XXII. to hear a cause between the Bishop of Durham and the Archbishop of York, but they refused to undertake the task owing to the scarcity of lawyers in the district and their distance from York. (fn. 35) Dr. Saunderson was one of the last wardens of the grey friars in Carlisle, having been in possession of that dignity in 1523. (fn. 36) When the end of the religious houses was drawing nigh, the king made what use he could of the preaching capacities of the friars in upholding the authority of a general council (fn. 37) and belittling the power of the pope, but no allegiance to the national policy could avert their fall. In 1534 was begun the royal visitation with a view to their extinction. George Browne, prior of the Augustinian hermits in London, was appointed by the Crown to the office of provincial prior to the whole order of friars hermits in England, and John Hilsey received a similar commission over the whole order of friars preachers for the purpose of visiting the houses of all friars of whatever order throughout the kingdom, viz. the friars minors of the order of St. Francis, the friars preachers of the order of St. Dominic, the friars hermits of the order of St. Augustine, the Carmelite friars of the order of St. Mary, and the crossed friars, and making inquiry concerning their lives, morals and fealty to the king. If needful, they were authorized to instruct them how to conduct themselves with safety, to reduce them to uniformity, calling in the aid of the secular arm as occasion required. (fn. 38) This visitation was the precursor of their destruction.

In the spring of 1539, the task of suppressing the northern houses of friars was entrusted to the capable hands of Richard, Bishop of Dover. Writing from Lincoln on the first Sunday in Lent, he conveyed to Cromwell the sentence of their impending doom in these words: 'I trosteyd to a made an ende of the vesytacyon: but I am certefyyd that yet ther be stondeyng in the north parte above xx placeys of freyrs, as in Grantham, in Newarke, in Grymsseby, in Hull, in Beverley, in Scharborow, in Carlehyll, in Lancaster, and in dyverse placeys more, for the which howseys I well serge so that I trost to leve but fewe in Ynglond before Ester, and I thyngke yt woll be ner Ester or that I can make an ende, besecheyng yower lordschyp to be good lorde for the pore ffreyrs capacytes: they be very pore and can have lytyll serves withowtt ther capacytes. The byschoyppys and curettes be very hard to them, withowtt they have ther capacytes.' (fn. 39) Pursuing his way northward and finding nothing but 'povertye and lytyll lefte scarce to pay the dettes, so that in these houses the king's Grace shall have butt the lede,' he arrived at Grimsby, from which he intimated to the Lord Privy Seal on 'thys xxix day off February' (1 March) that he was riding 'to Hull, and so to Beverlaye and to Skarborrowe and Karlehyll, and to Lancaster, and other houses as I shall here off by the waye.' (fn. 40) Before the close of 1539, the four houses of friars were swept away and their sites leased or sold, with the exception of the buildings of the black friars in Carlisle, which were retained in the king's hand, enclosed with a paling, and converted into a council chamber, magazine and storehouse for the convenience of the garrison. Nothing now remains but the name to tell of their former occupation. Blackfriars Street on the west walls preserves the name and indicates the site of the friars preachers, as Friars Court behind Devonshire Street marks the locality of the minorites or grey friars in Carlisle. In Penrith the Augustinians are commemorated in a house called the Friary and a street known as Friars Gate. The name and the site of the Carmelites in Appleby have altogether disappeared.


  • 1. Chron. de Lanercost (Maitland Club), 42.
  • 2. Dugdale, Mon. vi. 1581.
  • 3. Liber Quot. Contrar. Garderobæ (Soc. Antiq.), 40, 43.
  • 4. Close, 19 Hen. III. pt. i. m. 7; 20 Hen. III. m. 24.
  • 5. Ibid. 18 Hen. III. m. 28.
  • 6. Ibid. 21 Hen. III. m. 9.
  • 7. Ibid. 22 Hen. III. m. 14; 22 Hen. III. m. 2.
  • 8. Some rectification of the city boundaries or alteration of the walls must have taken place at this period to cause the displacement of the friars preachers. In 1232 the citizens had obtained from the Crown a licence to levy tolls on merchandize for two years to help them to inclose the city (ad villam suam claudendam) for its security and defence (Pat. 16 Hen. III. m. 4; Rymer, Fædera, i. 205). Their position within the city was not changed after 1237. In 1315, when Bruce besieged Carlisle, their buildings are mentioned with those of the Austin canons as being near the walls on the west side, as the friars minors were located on the east (Chron. de Lanercost, 231). Leland found 'withyn the walles ii howses of freres, blake and gray' (Itinerary [ed. Hearne, 1711], vii. 48).
  • 9. Close, 24 Hen. III. m. 19; Liberate R. 28 Hen. III. m. 5; Pipe R. (Cumb.), 29 Hen. III.
  • 10. Ibid. 6 Edw. I. m. 3; ibid. 8 Edw. I. m. 2.
  • 11. Inq. a.q.d. 12 Edw. II. No. 57; Pat. 12 Edw. II. pt. i. m. 19.
  • 12. Inq. p.m. 5 Edw. III. pt. ii. No. 109; 7 Edw. III. pt. ii. No. 36; Pat. 7 Edw. III. pt. ii. m. 20; Dugdale, Mon. vi. 1591.
  • 13. Inq. a.q.d. 7 Edw. III. No. 12.
  • 14. Chron. W. de Hemingburgh (Engl. Hist. Soc.), ii. 40.
  • 15. Chron. de Lanercost (Maitland Club), 147.
  • 16. Lysons, Brit. Cumb. Mag., 73, quoting Close Roll, 21 Edw. I.
  • 17. Liber Quot. Contrar. Garderobæ (Soc. Antiq.), 42-3, etc.; Trans. Cumb. and Westmld. Arch. Soc. vi. 140-2.
  • 18. Close, 8 Edw. III. m. 4d; 9 Edw. III. m. 33.
  • 19. Chron. de Lanercost, 271.
  • 20. Testamenta Karleolensia (ed. R. S. Ferguson), 10, 16, 40, 82, 135-7. William de Laton of Newbiggin bequeathed his body in 1369 to be buried in the church of the Augustinian friars of Penrith (ibid. 90).
  • 21. Testamenta Eboracensia (Surtees Soc.), i. 198, 274.
  • 22. Richmondshire Wills (Surtees Soc.), 8.
  • 23. Carl. Epis. Reg., Kirkby, f. 414.
  • 24. Ibid. Ross, f. 261. Bishop Kirkby, having formerly granted to Symon, prior of the Carmelites of Appleby, licence 'penitenciarie nostre curam gerere,' recalled the licence and revoked the prior's commission in 1341. The same bishop made J. de Levyngton, a minorite, the penitentiary of Cumberland in 1346 (ibid. Kirkby, ff. 442, 488). In 1355 Brothers Richard de Swynesheved, warden (gardianus) of the convent of friars minors of Carlisle, William de Kirkby and Adam de Waldyngfeld of the same convent were admitted to preach in place of Robert de Shirewode, Thomas Faunell and John de Dalton removed (ibid. Welton, f. 117).
  • 25. Ibid. f. 118.
  • 26. Ibid. f. 115.
  • 27. Ibid. f. 118.
  • 28. Ibid. Appleby, f. 146.
  • 29. Carl. Epis. Reg., Halton, ff. 44-5; Hist. MSS. Com. Rep. ix. (i.), 180.
  • 30. Ibid. Welton, f. 43.
  • 31. Ibid. f. 69. The church cannot have been vacant very long, for in June 1357 John de Bramwra was appointed on the resignation of Gilbert Raket (ibid. ff. 33-4).
  • 32. Ibid. Appleby, f. 146.
  • 33. Ibid. Welton, f. 73.
  • 34. Dugdale, Mon. v. 123-4. In vol. vi. 1485, the date is given as 1269 by an oversight.
  • 35. Letters from the Northern Registers (Rolls Ser.), 359-60.
  • 36. B.M. Add. MS. 24, 965, ff. 115-6.
  • 37. B.M. Cott. MS. Cleopatra E, vi. f. 312; L. and P. Hen. VIII. vi. 1487.
  • 38. Pat. 25 Hen. VIII. pt. ii. m. 6d; L. and P. Hen. VIII. vii. 587 (18).
  • 39. B.M. Cott. MS. Cleopatra E, iv. f. 212; Wright, Suppression of the Monasteries (Camden Soc.), 191-3.
  • 40. L. and P. Hen. VIII. xiv. (i.), 413; Ellis, Original Letters, ser. 3, iii. 179-81.