Friaries: Carmelite friars of Hitchin

Pages 451-452

A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 4. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1971.

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The Carmelite priory of St. Mary in Hitchin was founded in 1317, apparently by Edward II, who on 8 June gave to friars of that order a messuage there which he had of the grant of Adam le Rous, that they might build a church and house. (fn. 1) In February 1351 John de Cobham received the king's permission to assign to the convent two messuages, two cottages, and 6 acres of land to enlarge their dwelling-place. (fn. 2) Cobham seems to have taken some time to complete his gift: in fact, half an acre of the land was made over to them as late as 1375, and was in consequence seized by the escheator in 1392 as acquired without the royal licence, the friars not recovering it until 1395. (fn. 3)

Beyond a few references in wills (fn. 4) nothing is heard of the house during the 15th century.

Henry VIII in September 1530 made the friars a gift of 40s. (fn. 5) The royal supremacy was acknowledged by the prior for the convent on 5 May 1534, (fn. 6) and the house lasted four years longer. Then the king, finding, so he said, that it was 'in such a state that it was neither used to the honour of God nor to the benefit of the commonwealth,' directed Sir William Coffyn and Henry Crwche to obtain its surrender from the prior, allotting him what portion of the goods they thought fit. (fn. 7) The surrender was made 17 October 1538 by the prior and four friars. (fn. 8) The plate and ornaments were sold, and the church, of which the steeple was knocked down, was stripped of its bells, lead, glass and stone, and soon fell into ruins. (fn. 9)

The property of the convent, valued in 1535 at £4 9s. 4d. a year net, (fn. 10) lay in or near Hitchin. (fn. 11)

Priors Of Hitchin Friary

John, occurs October 1395 (fn. 12)

John Butler, occurs 5 May 1534 (fn. 13) and 17 October 1538 (fn. 14)

The priory seal of the 16th century (fn. 15) shows the Virgin seated with the Child standing on her knee; in the field on each side of her is a flowering branch. Right and left are two shields, the former bearing the arms of Edward III, the latter those of Edward II, and beneath each is a kneeling friar. Legend: s' CŌITATIS FRA' CAR MALITAR' DE HVCHE.


  • 1. Cal. Pat. 1313-17, p. 662; Tanner, Notit. Mon. Chauncy says (Hist, of Herts. 390) that John Blomvill, Adam Rous and John Cobham founded the priory which was dedicated to the honour of our Saviour and Blessed Virgin Mary, and Edward II merely confirmed the grant. Adam Rous may have given the land to the king for the site of the house, and John Cobham later was a great benefactor, but as the editors of Dugdale point out (Mon. vi, 1571) the coats of arms of Edward II and Edward III on the priory seal show that the house was considered a royal foundation. With regard to the dedication, Chauncy seems to have confused this with the Gilbertine priory, for it is unlikely that both were called St. Saviour's.
  • 2. Inq. a.q.d. file 303, no. 12; Cal. Pat. 1350-4, p. 48.
  • 3. Memo. R. (Exch. L.T.R.), East. 18 Ric. II, rot. 3; Mich. 19 Ric. II, rot. 6.
  • 4. Herts. Gen. and Antiq. i, 234, 236-7; ii, 90, 190, 276; iii, 238; Add. Chart. 35245.
  • 5. L. and P. Hen. VIII, v, p. 751.
  • 6. Ibid. vii, 665 (2).
  • 7. Clutterbuck, Hist. and Antiq. of Herts. iii, 20.
  • 8. Ibid. The house was dissolved the next day (Rentals and Surv. [Gen. Ser.], portf. 8, no. 29).
  • 9. Rentals and Surv. (Gen. Ser.), portf. 8, no. 29. Report on the property in 1546.
  • 10. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iv, 276.
  • 11. Rentals and Surv. (Gen. Ser.), portf. 8, no. 29.
  • 12. Memo. R. (Exch. L.T.R.), Mich. 19 Ric. II, rot. 6.
  • 13. L. and P. Hen. VIII, vii, p. 751.
  • 14. Clutterbuck, op. cit. iii, 20. He was living in 1546 (Rentals and Surv. [Gen. Ser.], portf. 8, no. 29).
  • 15. Arch. xviii, 447.