Friaries: The Dominican friars of Canterbury

Pages 177-180

A History of the County of Kent: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1926.

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In 1221 a band of thirteen Dominican friars arrived in England, in the train of Peter des Roches bishop of Winchester, and passed through Canterbury on their way to London, which they reached on 10 August. At Canterbury they presented themselves to Archbishop Stephen Langton, who ordered their prior, Gilbert de Fresnoy, to preach before him, and was so much impressed with his sermon that he became henceforth a warm friend of the order. (fn. 2) It was, however, under Archbishop Edmund Rich that the Friars Preachers first made a permanent settlement in Canterbury. (fn. 3) It is probable that they came by the invitation of the archbishop, who made them a regular allowance of fuel from his woods, (fn. 4) with the consent of the monks of Christchurch, (fn. 5) but their chief founder and benefactor was the king.

On 10 March, 1236-7, Henry III granted them an island in the Stour, between the land late of Master Richard de Meopham and the land late of Eleanor daughter of Iodwin on the east, and the land late of William de Bury and the stone house late of John Slupe on the west, (fn. 6) and during the next twenty-three years the friars received of the royal bounty sums of money amounting in all to nearly £500. (fn. 7) Among the gifts were 30 marks for the fabric of the church from Queen Eleanor (17 June, 1237); (fn. 8) in 1242, £20 for their works, 20 marks and 30 marks for their church; in 1243, £20 for completing the church; in 1244, £10 for making two spiral staircases in the church; (fn. 9) in 1246, 20 marks for the fabric of the church; in 1253, 40 marks to pay debts; in 1256, 100s. for the glass windows in the church; in 1259, £20 for building the kitchen and the wall next it. The stonework of the church was probably finished in 1243; (fn. 10) and it seems to have been dedicated in honour of the king's patron saint, Edward the Confessor. (fn. 11) Henry on several occasions gave the friars timber from the royal forests, (fn. 12) the last grant being one of ten oaks for some repairs to their buildings in 1271; (fn. 13) and he continued Archbishop Edmund's gifts of fuel after his withdrawal from the country in 1237. (fn. 14) Further, the king permitted the friars to stop up a street leading to the mill of the abbot of St. Augustine in 1247, 'so that they made another road beyond a certain plot which the king had caused Stephen parson of Hadlinges to purchase with the royal money.' (fn. 15)

Another early benefactor of the Friars Preachers was John of Stockwell, citizen, who gave them a plot to enlarge their area. This plot was subject to a yearly rent of 4d. to the monastery of St. Augustine; Henry III requested the monks to remit this rent, but on 25 June, 1253, he ordered the sheriff of Kent, in case the monks refused, to find an equal rent for them in another part of the city, so that the friars might be quit of the charge. (fn. 16) To requite their benefactor the friars obtained from the king in 1256 that-John of Stockwell should be free from all tallage of the city for three years. (fn. 17)

When the inquisitions were taken under the great commission of inquiry appointed by Edward I in 1274, it was found (1275) that these friars had enlarged their island and made a ' purpresture' on the bank, to the injury of and hindrance to the king's mills, blocked up and changed the common way by which people were accustomed to go to the water, and inclosed some land on the river bank 10 perches long and nearly six feet broad. (fn. 18) No proceedings were taken against the friars, who probably had legal justification for their actions.

On his return from Gascony in 1289 Edward I granted the Friars Preachers of Canterbury 50s. for three days' food; (fn. 19) in 1293, during the vacancy of the see, he supplied them with fuel from the archiepiscopal woods, and with twelve oaks for piles in order to make a quay. (fn. 20) Between 1297 and 1302 the king gave them several money grants for food, from which it would appear that the number of friars residing in the house at this time was about thirty. (fn. 21)

In 1294 Nicholas de Honyngton proposed to confer on these friars a messuage in Canterbury, held immediately of the heirs of Letitia, daughter of James de Porta, by an annual service of 8s. 9d. and two hens, and valued at 13s. 4d. a year. (fn. 22) An inquiry was held and a favourable return made, but no licence for the grant is on record.

In July of the same year the friars settled some disputes with the monks of Christchurch with regard to the rents due to the latter. (fn. 23) They were still paying an annual rent of 6s. 8d. to Christchurch in 1535. (fn. 24)

In 1300 Archbishop Winchelsey licensed six Friars Preachers to hear confessions in the diocese of Canterbury, namely, Edmund de Amory, John de Swanton, Walter de Cruce, Richard de Overlonde, Richard de Maydestan, Walter de Moningsham. (fn. 25)

Isabel of France, queen of Edward II, made an offering of a cloth of gold at the high altar of this church on 23 February, 1313-14. (fn. 26) Edward II, When at Canterbury on 5 March, 1319-20, gave 16s. to the friars for one day's food, (fn. 27) and made a similar grant on 29 May, 1320. (fn. 28) The number of friars at this time was probably thirty.

When in 1328 a subsidy was demanded of the city of Canterbury for the Scottish war, the convent of Christchurch was called upon to pay its share, and upon a refusal being given, William of Chilham, the bailiff, called a meeting of the citizens in the Black Friars' churchyard and organized a furious riot against the monks. (fn. 29)

In his journeys made between 23 February, 1334-5 and 26 March following, Edward III gave alms to many communities of friars for food, and amongst them 16s. 4d. to the Friars Preachers of Canterbury. On 18 June, 1336-7, he gave a groat to each of the thirty-four friars of this house. (fn. 30)

The friars continued to add to their area. In 1299 Thomas, parson of Chartham, gave them a plot of land 150 ft. by 120 ft., valued at I2d. a year, for the enlargement of their churchyard. (fn. 31) On 1 January, 1318-19, they obtained two small plots adjacent to their dwelling-place, one from Edward II, the other from Simon Bertelot of Canterbury; the former plot according to the jurors was never of any value; the latter brought in 1d. a year to the crown. (fn. 32) In 1338 a messuage held of the archbishop at a rent of 15s. a year and worth 6s. 8d. over and above the rent, was given them by William le Frenshe and John atte Brome of Canterbury. (fn. 33) Shortly after this they acquired from Isabel widow of Thomas Poldre and the heirs of Simon de Bertelot a plot of land, built on, containing 1 acre, 1 pole, for the enlargement of their dwelling-place, without the royal licence. In 1355, however, Edward III made them a free grant of it, on condition that the friars should be the more strongly bound to pray for the souls of his progenitors and himself. (fn. 34)

In 1356 the Black Friars by deed handed over to the hospital of Eastbridge a place, shops and garden, lying between ' our, new gate and the entrance to our church,' i.e. between Friars' Way and ' Brekyepotes Lane.' (fn. 35) The new gate stood at the end of Friars' Way in St. Peter's Street; it was beautifully built of squared flint, ornamented with carved stone works, and over the middle was a niche, in which stood the image of their patron saint.

It was pulled down in 1787. (fn. 36)

Some time in the latter half of the fourteenth century these friars complained of injuries done to their houses, walls, and gardens by the abbot of St. Augustine's, who had raised his mill-pond, ' by which their herbage is destroyed and they deprived of their disports and other profits'; the friars petitioned the king for redress, (fn. 37)

Friar Richard Bourne of this convent had concession from the master general of the order, 5 June, 1392, that he should not be removed hence, except in the case of crime or grave scandal, and that he should be relieved of the common services of the community; and every concession made to him by his convent was ratified. (fn. 38)

On Saturday, 15 August, 1394, and the following days, the provincial chapter was held at Canterbury. The friars went in procession to the abbey of St. Augustine, then to the cathedral, where a sermon was preached in the vulgar tongue. Mass was celebrated according to custom by the prior of Christchurch at the Black Friars, and on three successive days banquets were held in tents, torn and tattered by the rains and the fury of the winds. On the first day the archbishop, who was not present, furnished the feast; on the second, the abbot of St. Augustine's and the prior of Christchurch acted as hosts, the expenses of the abbot being, £ 10; on the third the friars enjoyed the hospitality, of the lords of the county. In return for these great benefits and honours the friars granted spiritual blessings to the two churches, undertaking that every priest of the order in England should say six masses of every monk of both the churches. (fn. 39)

Friar William Boscombe, S.T.M., prior of the Friars Preachers, Canterbury, on 30 December, 1395, was commissioned by the master general to hold inquiry into complaints made against John de Ping or Deping, prior of the Friars Preachers, London, for some breaches of the rule, and to remove him from office if the testimony of six trustworthy friars of the London convent went against him. John Deping was not deposed, and became bishop of Waterford and Lismore in 1397. (fn. 40)

In 1412 the friars obtained from Henry IV a confirmation of the grant of the island originally made by Henry III in 1237. (fn. 41) In 1447 the master general of the order admitted: the prior of Christchurch to the privileges of confraternity. (fn. 42)

In a list of priests living at Canterbury who were licensed to hear confessions at some time when penitents appeared in greater number than usual, probably at the jubilee of St. Thomas in 1470, are four monks of Christchurch, five Dominicans including the prior, and two Franciscans, of whom one was the warden. (fn. 43)

The mayor and commonalty made a grant, of 6s. 8d. for pavage to these friars and to the Grey Friars in 1481-2. (fn. 44)

The following persons were buried in the church or cemetery or cloisters of the Black Friars:

Sir Edmund Hawte, kt., and his wife Bennet, daughter of John Shelving, afterwards the wife of Sir William Wendall, kt., temp. Edward III; (fn. 45) Robert and Bennet Browne, esquires; (fn. 46) Johanna, daughter and heir of Henry Knowghte, 1450; (fn. 47) Agnes Baker of St. Alphege, 1464; Thomas Baker of the same, 1473; John Whittill, 1479 (buried in the cemetery); Roger Breggeland, clerk, 1479; Thomas Peny of St. Alphege, 1481 (buried in the cloisters near his son William); John Sloden, brother of the hospital of St. John Baptist, 1481; John Nash of St. Alphege, 1486; Nicholas Boys, 1487; Thomas Goldsmith of St. Mary Bredman, 1498 (buried between the images of St. James and St. Nicholas); Alice Elleryngton, 1512; John Walker of St. Andrew, 1513, desired to be buried before the image of our Lady, on the north side of the church, and left 8 marks for making his tomb, 13s. 4d. to the prior, and £4 to Friar John Rows to sing at our Lady altar for his soul. (fn. 48)

Others of their benefactors were; Richard de la Wych, bishop of Colchester in 1253, who bequeathed to these friars a copy of the book of Hosea with gloss, and 20s.; (fn. 49) Roger de Northwood, who gave them 12 marks in 1342 for the soul of his wife Elizabeth; (fn. 50) William de Clinton, earl of Huntingdon, 1354; (fn. 51) Elizabeth de Burgh, Lady Clare, third daughter of Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester, and Joan of Acres, daughter of Edward I, 1360; (fn. 52) John Tyece of Canterbury, 1361; (fn. 53) Richard atte Lease, kt., 1393; (fn. 54) Richard Fitz Alan, earl of Arundel and Surrey, 1393; (fn. 55) John Roper of St. Dunstan's Church, Canterbury, 1401; (fn. 56) Sir Stephen le Scrope of Bentiey, 1406; (fn. 57) Richard Fawkener, of Warehorn, 1442; (fn. 58) John Chamberlayn, who in 1464 left instructions that a fit chaplain of the order of Friars Preachers, Canterbury, should receive 100s. a year for seven years for celebrating divine service for his soul in the church of St. Paul without the walls of Canterbury; (fn. 59) Richard Tylle or Tilley of Selling, 1485; (fn. 60) John Halden of Fordwich, who in 1493 left £2 13s. 4d. for the reparation of the house; (fn. 61) John Bakke of Canterbury, 1500; (fn. 62) Joan Hougham, 1504; (fn. 63) Elizabeth, wife of John Hale, alderman, 1506; (fn. 64) John Roper of Eltham, 1524; (fn. 65) Henry Hatche of Faversham, 1533. (fn. 66)

The fraternity of the gild of St. Nicholas kept by the parish clerks of Canterbury in the house of the Friars Preachers is mentioned in some wills at the end of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth centuries. (fn. 67)

Friar Robert Shroggs of this convent made a pilgrimage to Rome in 1505, and was received into the hospital of the English there in forma nobilium, or as one paying his own expenses. (fn. 68)

When in 1535 Cranmer preached in the cathedral against the authority of the pope and in favour of the royal supremacy, the prior of the Black Friars preached against him, and was summoned to appear before the archbishop. Cranmer, on 26 August, 1536, wrote to the king detailing the matter and complaining that he was ' marvellously slandered in these parts' owing to the words of the friar. Being a party to the case he did not wish to have the judgement of the cause, but insisted it would be a bad example if this man were not 'looked upon.' The prior's name and fate are unknown; he probably escaped over sea. (fn. 69)

The Black Friars surrendered on 14 or 15 December, 1538, to the bishop of Dover, who reported that though in debt they were able with their implements to pay their debts, the visitor's costs and a little more. (fn. 70)

Immediately after the suppression the houses and lands were let to tenants; the site of the priory with churchyard, gardens and orchards, to John Batehurst, or Batherst, for 40s. a year; a garden to James Thomson for 2s.; another garden to Thomas Lawrence for 2s. 8d. The friars had already demised a garden to Robert Hunt for 20s. a year; and a chamber near the river late held by Friar Richard Mede, a fuel house near the door, of the chamber, and a chamber or cell in the dormitory, to Robert Collens, LL.B. for 13s. 4d. a year; and both leases were continued. The total rent to the crown was thus 78s. (fn. 71)

Hunt's garden was demised 6 February, 1543-4, to Richard Burchard for twenty-one years at 13s. 4d., 20d. being added in 1549 for a house built in the garden wall. (fn. 72) Batehurst or Batherst secured a similar lease for what he, Thomson, and Lawrence, held at the old rents. (fn. 73) He was a clothier whom the king wished to settle in Canterbury for the erection of clothmaking, arid the Black Friars' house seems to have been used for this purpose. (fn. 74) In 1560 the whole property was purchased by John Harrington and George Burden, gentlemen, at thirty years' purchase, or £109 10s., to be held as of the manor of East Greenwich, in socage and by fealty only. (fn. 75) They soon sold it, and it passed to William Hovenden of Christchurch, Canterbury, who died in 1587. Peter de la Pierre or Peters bought it in 1658 and divided it among his five children on his death in 1668. (fn. 76)

The principal house of the Black Friars was taken down in 1800. In William Smith's plan of the city of Canterbury in 1588 the church is represented as having a tower surmounted by a high spire. (fn. 77) In the more detailed and accurate drawing by Thomas Langdon, (fn. 78) made 30 September, 1595, the church has no tower or transepts and the cloister lies on the north side of the church.


Lawrence of Sandwich, 1326 (fn. 79)
John Ryngemere, 1342 (fn. 80)
William Boscumbe, S.T.M., 1395 (fn. 81)


  • 1. The Rev. C. F. R. Palmer, O.P., has given a detailed account of this friary in Arch. Cant. xiii, 81-96.
  • 2. Nic. Trivet, Ann. 209.
  • 3. Lib. R. 22 Hen. III, m. 2. Palmer erroneously states that there were twenty-two friars, having misread this entry.
  • 4. Close, 25 Hen. III, m. 10; Arch. Cant. ut supra.
  • 5. The armorial bearings of this priory were azure on a plain cross argent with the letters 1 / x in old English characters (being the arms of the priory of Christchurch) between four mitres labelled or; Hasted, Kent, iv, 448.
  • 6. Chart. R. 21 Hen. III, m. 6.
  • 7. See Lib. R. of the following years of Hen. III: 21, m. 7; 22, m. 10, 2; 23, m. 10, 14, 21; 24, m, 8, 11, 22; 26, m. 4, 5, 11; 28, m. 11, 16, 18; 30, m. 10; 31, m. 10; 32, m. 13; 33, m. 4; 35, m. 18; 37, m. 6; 40, m. 3; 42, m. 2; 43, m. 8; 44, m. 6, 10; Pat. 42. Hen. III, m. 2.
  • 8. Lib. R. 21 Hen. III, m. 7.
  • 9. Ibid. 28 Hen. III, m. 16, 'ad duas vermas faciendas.'
  • 10. Ibid. m. 18.
  • 11. Pat. 42 Hen. III, m. 2; Lib. R. 43 Hen. III, m. 8; acknowledgement and payment of a debt by the king of £32, ' which by our order they spent on buildings at Canterbury in honour of St. Edward the king our patron.'
  • 12. Lib. R. 25 Hen. III, m. 12; Close, 25 Hen. III, m. 16, 11; ibid. 28 Hen. III, m. 7.
  • 13. Close, 55 Hen. III, m. 5.
  • 14. Ibid. 25 Hen. III. m 10.
  • 15. Ibid. 31 Hen. III, m. 11.
  • 16. Lib. R. 37 Hen. III, m. 21.
  • 17. Pat. 40 Hen. III, m. 2.
  • 18. Hund. R. (Rec. Com.), i, 203.
  • 19. Exch. Accts. (P.R.O.), bdle. 352, No. 18.
  • 20. Close, 21 Edw. I, m. 5.
  • 21. B.M. Add. MS. 7965, fol. 7b; Exch. Accts. (P.R.O.), bdle. 356, No. 3, m. 12; cf. bdle. 362, No. 14; Liber Quotid. &c., 28 Edw. I (ed. Topham), 30. Other references are given by Palmer, Arch, Cant, xiii.
  • 22. Inq. a.q.d. file 22, No. 14; Palmer, Arch. Cant. xiii, 85, gives the jurors' names.
  • 23. Camb. Univ. Lib. MS. Ee v, 3, fol. 62.
  • 24. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), i, 7.
  • 25. Wilkins, Concilia, ii, 264; cf. Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), iv, 546 (the Worcester annalist speaks of eight Friars Preachers and eight Friars Minors obtaining licence to preach and hear confessions). In 1349-50 Friars Anselm de Valoyns, S.T.P., and John Valoyns were licensed to. hear confessions in the diocese. Cant. Archiepis. Reg. Islip, fol, 12, 18.
  • 26. Lib. Expens. Reg. 7 Edw. II (quoted by Palmer, Arch. Cant.).
  • 27. B.M. Add. MS. 17362, fol, 4.
  • 28. Palmer in Arch. Cant, ut supra; the entry in Exch. Accts. (P.R.O.), 381 (14), has now perished.
  • 29. Hist. MSS. Com. Rep. ix, App. pt. i, 96, 98. Palmer, following Somner, supposes this to have happened in 1277; Arch. Cant. xiii, 88-9.
  • 30. Cott. MS. Nero, C. viii, fol. 202, 205.
  • 31. Inq. a.q.d. file 28, No. 14; Pat. .27 Edw. I, m. 22.
  • 32. Inq. a.q.d. file 131, No. 4; Pat. 12 Edw. II, pt. 1, m. 15; for names of the jurors see Palmer, Arch. Cant, xiii, 86.
  • 33. Inq. a.q.d. file 247, No. 12; Pat. 12 Edw. III, pt. 1, m; 15; Palmer, Arch. Cant, xiii, 86, gives the names of the jurors.
  • 34. Pat. 29 Edw. III, pt. 2, m. 21.
  • 35. Somner, Antiq. of Cant. 56.
  • 36. Hasted, Hist: and Topog. Surv. of Kent, iv, 448; Palmer, Arch. Cant, xiii; ibid, xv, 340-1.
  • 37. Anct. Pet. (P.R.O.), 11318 (no date).
  • 38. Palmer, Arch. Cant, xiii., 'ex registro Mag. Gen. Ordinis Romae asservato.'
  • 39. Thorne, in Twysdeh, Decent Scriptores, col. 2197. His account is not without difficulties., The feast of the Assumption fell this year on a Saturday, not a Sunday, as Thorne says.
  • 40. Arch. Cant, xiii, 91-2, ex reg. Mag. Gen. Ord.
  • 41. Pat. 13 Hen. IV, pt. 2, m. 2.
  • 42. Hist. MSS. Com. Rep. ix, App. pt, i, 104.
  • 43. Ibid. 101-2 (D. and C. Mun. Reg. N. pt. ii, fly leaf).
  • 44. Cant. City Accts. (MS.).
  • 45. Weever, Fun. Monum. 238 (Weever calls these friars ' The; blacke Friers Minorites').
  • 46. Ibid.
  • 47. Nicolas, Test. Vet. 291; Test. Cant. ii, 66.
  • 48. Hasted, op. cit. iv, 448, from Wills in P.C.C. Test. Cant, ii, 66-7. These friars received a fee in 1521 for burying John Maister a surgeon, who had drowned himself in a well, Hist. MSS. Com. Rep. ix, App. pt. i, 151.
  • 49. Nicolas, Test. Vet. 761.
  • 50. Arch. Cant, ii, 17-18.
  • 51. Ibid. xiii, 90, from Plac. Coram Baron. de Scacc. Mich. 33 Edw. III, rot. 20.
  • 52. Nichols, Royal Wills, 23.
  • 53. Cant. City Arch. Wills and D. fol. 3.
  • 54. P.G.C. Rous, fol. 22.
  • 55. Nichols, Royal Wills, 135; he was beheaded 1397.
  • 56. Nicolas, Test. Vet. i, 155.
  • 57. Test. Ebor. (Surtees Soc.), iii; 39.
  • 58. Arch. Cant, xi, 370 et seq.
  • 59. Cant. City Arch. Wills and D. fols. 23-4.
  • 60. Nicolas, Test. Vet. i, 384.
  • 61. a Test. Cant, ii, 67.
  • 62. Cant. City Arch. Wills and D. fol. 18.
  • 63. a Test. Cant, ii, 67.
  • 64. Cant. City Arch. Wills and D. fol. 21.
  • 65. Arch. Cant, ii, 169.
  • 66. Nicolas, Test. Vet. 662.
  • 67. Wills of Ric. Cram of Cant. 1490 (Somner, i, 58); James Burmond, 1491; John Russhelyn, 1501 (Test. Cant, ii, 67); and John Why dock of St. Alphege, Cant, in 1503 (Hasted, Hist, and Topog. Surv. of Kent, iv, 448).
  • 68. Arch. Cant, xiii, 92; cf. Coll. Topog. et Geneal. i, 62 et seq.
  • 69. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xi, 361; xii (2), 600; Arch. Cant, xiii, 93-4; Cott. MS. Cleop. E. vi, fol. 232.
  • 70. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiii (2), 600, 1058.
  • 71. Mins. Accts. 30-1 Hen. VIII, No. 105 (Kent), m. 72b, 73.
  • 72. Ibid. 2-3 Edw. VI, No, 24.
  • 73. Enrolment of Leases; Misc. Bks. Ct. of Augment, vol. 218, fol. 161.
  • 74. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiv (1), 423.
  • 75. Partic. for Grants 1 Eliz. (Herrington grantee) Pat. 2 Eliz. pt. 14, m. 17.
  • 76. Hasted, op. cit. iv, 448-9, where the later history of the site will be found.
  • 77. Arch. Cant, xv, 346-7.
  • 78. Reproduced in Arch. Cant. xiii. Orig. in B.M. (Cat. of printed Maps, Plans and Charts, K. 16, 38 dd.)
  • 79. Lit. Cant. (Rolls Ser.), i, 183.
  • 80. Arch. Cant, ii, 17-18.
  • 81. Ibid. xiii, 91-2.