Friaries: Bristol

Pages 109-111

A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.

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The house of the Black Friars of Bristol was founded in the parish of the priory of St. James in 1227 or 1228, by Maurice de Gaunt, greatgrandson of Robert Fitzharding, and Matthew de Gurnay. (fn. 1) In 1230, at the request of the friars, William of Blois, bishop of Worcester, came to dedicate their altar and burial-ground. (fn. 2) In 1232 Henry III granted a licence to the friars to enlarge their burial-ground, (fn. 3) and many of the Bristol citizens in the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries willed their bodies to be buried in the cemetery of the Black Friars. (fn. 4) Henry III was a most generous benefactor of the friars. The church and priory were over forty years in building, and the timber came from the Forest of Dean, as the gift of the king, (fn. 5) and John de Plessetis earl of Warwick. (fn. 6) In 1232 Henry III allowed the friars to make a conduit to their house. (fn. 7) On several occasions he granted oaks for fuel. (fn. 8) In 1251, to enable them to pay their debts, he granted them 21 marks out of the exchequer. (fn. 9) He also granted them in perpetuity a moiety of the prisage of fresh fish which came into the port of Bristol. Gifts to friars are a regular feature of the bounty of later kings; in 1293 Edward I gave six oaks for fuel, (fn. 10) and when the provincial chapter met at Bristol on the Feast of the Assumption in 1302 he gave ten oaks for fuel. (fn. 11) On the next occasion, in 1323, Edward II gave £15 for the food of the fathers, (fn. 12) and in 1343 Edward III also gave £15 for the same object. (fn. 13) The evidence of the wills which are now extant shows that it was usual to remember the friars. (fn. 14) As late as 1532 Thomas V of Berkeley left £10 towards repairing the cloister of the Black Friars in Bristol. (fn. 15)

In 1532 or 1533 Hugh Latimer preached against purgatory and other hitherto accepted doctrines in the church of the Black Friars, (fn. 16) and the prior, John Hilsey, preached in reply. In 1534 Hilsey became provincial of the order in England, and was appointed by Henry VIII together with George Brown, prior of a house of Augustinians, to visit the houses of the orders of friars throughout England. (fn. 17) The object was to force the acceptance of the royal supremacy upon them, and to compel them to preach it to the people. On 9 June Hilsey secured the submission of the Black Friars at Bristol. (fn. 18) The greater part of them abandoned the convent and fled from England, leaving only the prior, William Oliver, and four brethren. (fn. 19) William Oliver's preaching got him into trouble in 1537, (fn. 20) and though he escaped condemnation he lost his office and probably fled (fn. 21) to the continent.

The houses of the friars were not included under the Act of 1536 for the suppression of the lesser monasteries. However, in 1537 the dissolution of the friaries was clearly contemplated. (fn. 22) On 9 December Richard Ingworth, formerly prior of the Dominican house of King's Langley, was consecrated suffragan bishop of Dover, and soon afterwards he received two commissions to visit the friars. (fn. 23) He was ordered to depose or suspend heads of houses against whom any charge was brought and to appoint others, and also to visit the convents, take possession of the keys, sequestrate goods, and make indentures and inventories. The friars were very largely dependent on private charity, which diminished as the result of the suppression of the lesser monasteries. (fn. 24) Accordingly they were reduced to great poverty which forced them to surrender their houses. (fn. 25) On 28 August, 1538, Richard Ingworth wrote to Cromwell that the Black Friars of Bristol were ready to give up their house. (fn. 26) He took the surrender, which was signed by the prior and four others on 10 September. (fn. 27)

The seal represents St. Paul, a tall, bearded figure with nimbus, and loosely robed, in his right hand a sword, in his left a scroll. (fn. 28) The legend is:—



The house of the Grey Friars of Bristol in Lewensmead was founded before 1234. (fn. 29) In 1538 the mayor stated that the house was of the foundation and purchasing of the town, and was built by ancient burgesses at their own cost. (fn. 30) In 1236 Henry III gave fifteen oaks from the wood of Furches, (fn. 31) and afterwards he granted in perpetuity a moiety of the prisage of fresh fish which came into the port of Bristol. (fn. 32) The Franciscans were popular with the citizens of Bristol, and were often remembered in their wills. (fn. 33)

After a visit to Bristol in 1538 Richard Ingworth wrote, on 27 August, to tell Cromwell that the warden of the Grey Friars was 'stiff'; he was also warden of Richmond, 'yet for all his great port,' added Ingworth, 'I think him twenty marks in debt, and not able to pay it.' (fn. 34) There were clamorous creditors, but as the warden was absent they could not get payment. (fn. 35) On 10 September six friars surrendered the house to Ingworth. (fn. 36)


The house of the Augustinian Friars of Bristol was founded in 1313 by Simon de Montacute, who gave them a piece of land 100 ft. square hard by the Temple Gate of the town. (fn. 37) In 1317 William de Montacute gave them an adjacent plot for the enlargement of their dwelling-place. (fn. 38) The church was being built in 1329 when Ralph of Shrewsbury, bishop of Bath and Wells, granted an indulgence of forty days to all who should contribute to the fabric. (fn. 39) In 1344 Thomas of Berkeley gave four acres for the enlargement of the site. (fn. 40)

In 1538, when Richard Ingworth visited Bristol, he reported that the Austin Friars were 'stiff,' and would not give up their house. (fn. 41) On 27 August he told Cromwell that the prior had sold the plate and the timber that grew about the house for over 100 marks within the last three years, and that almost all was gone. (fn. 42) On 10 September the prior and seven friars surrendered the house to Ingworth.


The house of the Carmelite Friars of Bristol, on the right bank of the Frome near the quay, is said to have been founded by Edward, prince of Wales, about 1267. (fn. 43) In 1358 the friars received a grant of land for the enlargement of their dwelling-place, (fn. 44) and until shortly before the dissolution the White Friars prospered; indeed, Leland wrote that the priory of the Carmelites was the fairest of all the houses of the friars in Bristol. (fn. 45) On 25 July, 1538, Richard Ingworth reported to Cromwell that the house was ready at the king's pleasure; the prior and sexton had fled since his last visit, but he had made sure of all the substance that was left. (fn. 46) Three days later he went with the four friars before the mayor, and they stated that divers priors had sold and plundered all the jewels and substance of the house, they were in debt, the charity of the people was very small, and they could not continue. (fn. 47) Accordingly they gave their house into the hands of the visitor, (fn. 48) and the sale of the goods satisfied the creditors. (fn. 49) Ingworth begged Cromwell that the four friars might have their capacities, for they had no money wherewith to purchase them. They had 'a goodly house, meet for a great man,' but their only source of income was the garden. (fn. 50)

A seal of the fifteenth century represents an angel kneeling before the Virgin standing at a lectern, on which is an open book, a star of six points over her head. (fn. 51) Above the whole is a trefoiled canopy, with traceried tabernacle work, and at the sides panelled buttresses. In base, under a trefoiled canopy, is the demifigure of a friar holding up his hands in supplication with his hood thrown back.


The Friars of the Sack were established in Bristol in or before 1266, when Henry III granted them six oaks from Selwood Forest for building. (fn. 52) The order was suppressed by the Council of Lyons in 1274, but some of the English settlements continued until the Dissolution. (fn. 53) The church of the Friars of the Sack in Bristol is mentioned in 1322, (fn. 54) but as yet no later reference has come to light. It is certain that they had no house in Bristol in 1538. (fn. 55)


  • 1. Reliquary, 1888, p. 71 (Palmer, The Black Friars of Bristol), from which most of the references are taken.
  • 2. Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), i. 78; cf. St. James's Priory, Bristol, p. 74.
  • 3. Pat. 17 Hen. III, m. 8.
  • 4. Bickley, Cal. of Bristol Deeds, No. 114, &c.; Reliquary, 77.
  • 5. Reliquary, 72-73:—Four oaks for shingles, 1233; ten oaks out of Furches wood, 1240; ten oaks for timber, 1241; ten oaks, 1242; seven oaks, 1242; six oaks for the fabric of the church, 1245; six oaks for the work of the church, 1249; four oaks for timber, 1250; thirty oaks for timber, 1252; six oaks for timber, 1255; five oaks for timber, 1256; four oaks for timber, 1259; four oaks for timber, 1269; six oaks for timber, 1263. These were felled and delivered at the king's expense.
  • 6. Ibid. 72, 73.
  • 7. Ibid. 74.
  • 8. Ibid. 75.
  • 9. Ibid. 75.
  • 10. Ibid.
  • 11. Ibid.
  • 12. Ibid. 76.
  • 13. Ibid.
  • 14. Notes on Bristol Wills (1382-1595); Reliquary, 75.
  • 15. Smyth, Lives of the Berkeleys (ed. Maclean), ii, 669.
  • 16. Reliquary, 79.
  • 17. Gasquet, Hen. VIII and the Engl. Mon. (ed. 1899), 51, 52.
  • 18. Reliquary, 1888, p. 79.
  • 19. Ibid.
  • 20. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xii, pt. i, Nos. 508, 1147.
  • 21. Reliquary, 1888, p. 79.
  • 22. Gasquet, op. cit. 313.
  • 23. Ibid.; Wilkins, Concilia, iii, 829, 835.
  • 24. Gasquet, op. cit. 317.
  • 25. Wright, Supp. of the Mon. (Camd. Soc.), 196; L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiii, pt. i, No. 1456.
  • 26. Wright, op. cit. 211.
  • 27. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiii, pt. ii, No. 320. The inventory of the property (Reliquary, 1888, p. 80-2) shows that the Black Friars of Bristol were not reduced to such extreme poverty as many other houses.
  • 28. Clifton Antiq. Club Proc. iii, 159.
  • 29. In 1234 Henry III granted wood for fuel to the Friars Minor of Bristol; Close, 19 Hen. III, m. 36.
  • 30. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiii, pt. ii, No. 322.
  • 31. Close, 20 Hen. III, m. 9.
  • 32. Bickley, Little Red Book of Bristol, i, 89.
  • 33. Weare, Collectanea relating to the Friars Minor of Bristol, 58-66.
  • 34. Wright, Suppression of the Monasteries (Camd. Soc.), 211.
  • 35. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiii, pt. ii, No. 321.
  • 36. Ibid. For the inventory of goods, cf. Weare, Collectanea, 88-90.
  • 37. Cal. of Pat. 6 Edw. II, pt. ii, m. 2.
  • 38. Ibid. II Edw. II, pt. i, m. 10.
  • 39. Tanner, Notitia Monastica (ed. 1744), p. 483.
  • 40. Cal. of Pat. 18 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 47.
  • 41. Wright, Suppression of Monasteries (Camd. Soc.), 211; L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiii, pt. i, No. 1456.
  • 42. Wright, op. cit. 211. For the inventory of goods cf. Weare, Collectanea relating to the Friars Minor of Bristol, 81, 82.
  • 43. Tanner, Notitia Monastica (ed. 1744), p. 483.
  • 44. Pat. 32 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 15.
  • 45. Leland, Itin. v, 53; vii, 74.
  • 46. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiii, pt. i, No. 1456.
  • 47. Weare, Collectanea relating to the Friars Minor of Bristol, 75.
  • 48. Ibid.
  • 49. Wright, Suppression of the Monasteries (Camd. Soc.), 198. For the inventory of goods cf. Weare, Collectanea, 76-78.
  • 50. Wright, op. cit. 198.
  • 51. Clifton Antiq. Club Proc. iii, 200.
  • 52. Close R. 51 Hen. III, m. 10. For extracts from the constitutions of the order cf. Eng. Hist. Rev. ix, 121.
  • 53. Gasquet, English Monastic Life, 242.
  • 54. Bickley, Calendar of Bristol Deeds, No. 63.
  • 55. Wright, Suppression of the Monasteries (Camd. Soc.), 196, 211.