A History of the County of London: Volume 1, London Within the Bars, Westminster and Southwark. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1909.
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12. THE GREY FRIARS
Of the nine Franciscans who landed at Dover, September, 1224, (fn. 1) four—Richard Ingworth, a priest, and Richard of Devon, an acolyte, both Englishmen, Henry Detrenizo (or de Trevizo), a Lombard, and Monacatus, (fn. 2) the last two lay brothers—proceeded to London, where they stayed with the Friars Preachers at Holborn for fifteen days. They then hired a house in Cornhill of John Travers, sheriff of London, and made in it little cells. (fn. 3) Here they remained, with others who joined them, until the following summer, when, their number being too large for their quarters, John Iwyn, (fn. 4) citizen and mercer of London, made over to their use, as by their rule they could possess nothing, some land and houses close to Newgate, (fn. 5) in the parish of St. Nicholas in the Shambles. The spot accorded well with their profession, for it must have been one of the most unpleasant in the unsavoury mediaeval city: it bordered on and soon included part of a lane so filthy from the blood of slaughtered animals that it was called Stinking Lane. (fn. 6) Once established, they gradually added to their space, (fn. 7) an urgent necessity considering that in 1243 there were eighty friars in the convent. (fn. 8)
The close adherence of the friars to the rule of their order in the first years of their settlement in London—for they lived on the poorest of food (fn. 9) and in buildings (fn. 10) of the simplest description— explains the enthusiasm (fn. 11) they excited in that city, which is shown by the large proportion of London citizens among their early benefactors. William Joyner, (fn. 12) who built them a chapel at a cost of £200, was probably the mayor of 1239; Henry le Galeys, mayor 1274, built the nave of their first church; Walter Potter, alderman of London, and sheriff in 1269 and 1272, gave the chapter-house and all the brass vessels for the kitchen and infirmary; Gregory de Rokesley, mayor 1274–80, built the dormitory and furnished it; while the Basings and the Frowyks, (fn. 13) who bore so much of the expense of the water supply of the friary, were members of well-known London families. Salomon, one of the first novices and the second warden of the house there, became general confessor of the citizens. It was from Salomon, (fn. 14) while warden, that Roger bishop of London demanded canonical obedience, but owing to his admiration for the order consented to an indefinite delay, and future demands were of course stopped by the entire exemption of the friars from episcopal jurisdiction.
The necessity for intellectual training was very soon grasped by the Franciscans in England, and in this respect the London convent was early provided for by Albert of Pisa (minister of England, 1239), who established a reader there. (fn. 15) Its schools may account in some measure for the influential position it held in the next century.
The rebuilding of the church in the fourteenth century gives perhaps a better idea of the extraordinary position to which the friars had attained than could be gathered in any other way. It seems indeed to mark a new era in their history, for the principal contributors are of a different class from the early benefactors, queens and nobles now playing the part formerly taken by London citizens. (fn. 16) The foundation stone was laid in 1306 by Sir William Walden in the name of Queen-Margaret, the second wife of Edward I, (fn. 17) who not only bought the land necessary (fn. 18) for the extension, (fn. 19) but gave 2,000 marks during her lifetime and bequeathed 100 marks to the building. (fn. 20) She died before the church was finished, and was buried in front of the high altar. John de Bretagne, earl of Richmond, gave £300, a gold chalice, vestments, and carpets; Mary, countess of Pembroke, £70 and many other goods; Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester, twenty great beams from his forest of Tunbridge worth £20, and as much more in money; his sister Margaret, countess of Gloucester, £26 13s. 4d. for the construction of an altar, and another sister, Eleanor le Spencer, £15 for a similar purpose; while a third, Lady Elizabeth de Burgh, gave £15, partly in wood, partly in money; (fn. 21) Robert, Lord Lisle, who afterwards became a friar in the convent, contributed more than £300. Queen Isabella expended over £700 on the completion of the church, and Queen Philippa gave £48 13s. 4d. to the church and £13 6s. 8d. to the expense of roofing it. (fn. 22) The church appears to have been both large and handsome, for it measured 300 ft. in length and 89 ft. in breadth, and the columns and pavement were of marble. (fn. 23) Between the aisled nave and the choir stood the altars of St. Mary, of Holy Cross, and of Jesus and the common altar, and on each side of the choir were two chapels, those of St. Mary and All Hallows on the north, and those of St. Francis and the Apostles on the south. (fn. 24) The church was finished in 1327, (fn. 25) but a storm in 1341 did great damage, (fn. 26) and work was still going on in 1345, when the cloister was being built (fn. 27) and the houses repaired. It is possible that additions were made throughout the century: the glazing of the windows was done at the cost of various people who were not all contemporaries, (fn. 28) and the choir stalls were the gift of Margaret Segrave, countess of Norfolk, about 1380. (fn. 29) The convent buildings were enlarged a little after 1360, an alteration made necessary by the numbers that joined the order. (fn. 30) In 1315 and 1325 there were seventy-two inmates of the friary, (fn. 31) and in 1346 the king had to check the influx of foreign friars into the London house, (fn. 32) ostensibly in the interests of the English brothers, but possibly in the fear of spies. There is also proof that about a hundred friars died at the time of the Black Death, for recent excavations on the site of the old burialground led to the discovery of a pit evidently made at the time of an epidemic, and about a hundred bodies in this had upon them the leaden crosses used by the Franciscans, but in this case not inscribed with the formula of absolution, and showing other signs of hasty construction. (fn. 33)
It would perhaps be difficult to overrate the influence of the Grey Friars, particularly in the fourteenth century. Queen Isabella chose as her confessor one of this convent, Roger Lamborne, a man of good family, (fn. 34) and as the gifts of Gilbert de Clare to the church are said to have been made at the prompting of his confessor, Geoffrey de Aylesham, (fn. 35) so the generosity of Margaret, countess of Norfolk, may have been partly due to Friar William de Woodford. (fn. 36) Roger Conway of the convent of Worcester received a papal licence in 1355 to reside in London, for the spiritual recreation of himself and of the many English nobles coming to the friary. (fn. 37) He is interesting not only as a spiritual adviser of the fashionable world, but as having answered the tract of the archbishop of Armagh against the mendicant orders. (fn. 38) The regard in which the house was held is also testified by the persons of high rank (fn. 39) and the prominent citizens (fn. 40) who chose the church as a place of burial.
The popularity of the Grey Friars with the rich and powerful was doubtless one of the reasons for the vehement attacks made on them, although the attitude towards them can be sufficiently accounted for when one remembers that they continued the practice of begging while they had given up a life of poverty, and any doubt on this last point vanishes after seeing the list of property stolen from John Welle, (fn. 41) a Minorite dwelling in London, 1378. Their shortcoming in this respect was the immediate cause of Wycliffe's hatred. No definite part in this controversy can be ascribed to the London house, for it was only after 1390 that Friar Woodford, Wycliffe's opponent, lived there. (fn. 42)
During the reign of Henry IV the part played in political affairs by some of the English Franciscans (fn. 43) must have caused all of the order to be looked at askance by the court. Hence perhaps the reason why it was not to noble patrons such as those who built their church, but to a London citizen, the celebrated Richard Whittington, (fn. 44) that they owed the new library, begun in 1421 and completely finished in about four years. In like manner it was to the efforts of two inmates of the convent, William Russell (fn. 45) the warden and Thomas Winchelsey, that they were indebted for most of the improvements in the convent buildings.
The names of these two friars occur again in another very different connexion. On 15 May, 1425, Russell (fn. 46) appeared before the archbishop of Canterbury, presiding in his provincial council at St. Paul's, on a charge of preaching that personal tithes need not be paid to the parish priest, but might be devoted instead to charitable purposes. The opinion of the archbishop was against him, and Russell professed himself willing to submit, but as he did not appear (fn. 47) to make the public renunciation of this doctrine at St. Paul's Cross in accordance with the archbishop's order, he was declared excommunicate. He thereupon betook himself to Rome, where he was imprisoned by the pope for his erroneous opinions.
Winchelsey, who was considered the most famous doctor of the order, had also been summoned before the same convocation (fn. 48) on an apparently groundless charge of heresy. When Russell however managed to escape to England in January, 1426, he was sheltered for a night at his friary, when it is said that Winchelsey came from Shene expressly to see him. In consequence of this Winchelsey was accused and condemned by convocation in April following for favouring heresy. He submitted to the court, and on behalf of himself, the London convent and the whole order, read a declaration at St. Paul's Cross repudiating Russell's opinions. Russell probably surrendered himself, (fn. 49) as he was not kept long in prison by the bishop of London after he had recanted at St. Paul's Cross in March, 1427.
The Grey Friars may have thought that they had re-established their reputation for orthodoxy by the part their provincial played against Pecocke, (fn. 50) bishop of Chichester. The remembrance of their former check did not at any rate deter them from joining the Carmelites in their attack on the beneficed clergy in 1465, (fn. 51) and their representative in the disputation at Whitefriars went so far that he was cited to appear before the archbishop at Lambeth for heresy. He pleaded exemption from all episcopal jurisdiction, but the privilege was judged not to hold in this case. Whether he withdrew or explained away everything obnoxious to the authorities or not does not appear, but it would seem he was acquitted, and he alone ventured to answer Dr. Ive (fn. 52) when he lectured at St. Paul's Schools on the opposite side.
The return of the Grey Friars in 1502 to their whitish-grey habits, which they had for some reason temporarily abandoned, (fn. 53) looked at in the light of subsequent events, appears a ludicrous attempt at outward profession when the spirit had completely departed: for the rest of their history may be summed up as a firm determination to stand well with the king at whatever cost of principle. Their relations with the court are shown in the next collision with the ecclesiastical authorities. Dr. Henry Standish, then resident in the London house, provincial (fn. 54) of the Grey Friars, and a popular court preacher, was accused of heresy (fn. 55) in the convocation of 1515. He may have thought with some reason that the real charge against him was the opinion he had expressed in favour of the Act of 4 Henry VIII, by which the benefit of clergy was curtailed. At all events the king took this view, and the members of Convocation (fn. 56) found themselves in their turn accused of an attack on the secular power, and had enough to do to excuse themselves without pursuing the case against Standish.
The close connexion of the Grey Friars and the City was illustrated more than once about this time: on the petition of the warden and friars it was decided in 1514 (fn. 57) that the mayor and aldermen as founders should go in procession to the house every year on St. Francis' Day; and when the nave of the church was to be paved with marble London citizens contributed the money; and a further outlay being necessary in 1518 the provincial and the warden applied to the City, and at the request of the Court of Common Council the sum required, £16 16s. 8d., was raised by the companies. (fn. 58)
The feeling that as Friars Minors of London they must sympathize with the London poor undoubtedly caused John Lincoln's attempt (fn. 59) to use their influence to persuade the City authorities to take measures against the foreigners with whom the populace was so enraged. But Dr. Standish was not the man to run any risk, and saying that it was not a fit subject to touch on in a sermon, escaped any ill consequences of the evil May Day of 1517.
The attitude of the friars in the affair of the prisoner who escaped from Newgate and took refuge in their church may have offended the City, (fn. 60) but in 1529 the usual procession was not to take place 'in consequence of the unkindness and ingratitude of the friars.' (fn. 61) Standish seems to have been taken as an example by the wardens during the period of religious change. Cudner, on behalf of his convent, acknowledged the king as supreme head of the Church in 1534, (fn. 62) and it is unlikely that Friar Forest and others of the Observants would have been sent to this house if the king had not been certain of the opinions entertained there. Chapuys said that the Observants, while they refused to take the oath, were treated by the Conventuals worse than they would have been in ordinary prisons, (fn. 63) and the hostility shown to them by Thomas Chapman, the warden, when Forest again fell under suspicion is sufficient indication of the treatment meted out to them in London. In a letter to Cromwell Chapman says (fn. 64) that he has not forgotten the command to search out Forest's friends, but the time assigned had been too short. He has now learned more, and sends the names of those who had given Forest a small sum of money, adding: 'I will be true to my Prince, and so will all my Brethren. I dare depose for them that were no Observants.' One friar was so eager to show his loyalty that he laid information against one of his fellow brethren, misrepresenting a conversation of which he had only heard part. (fn. 65) The accused managed to clear himself, (fn. 66) but such spying must have made life unendurable, and gone far to justify the warden in declaring that 'all the house would willingly change their coats provided they have a living,' and that 'they all longed to change their coats.' (fn. 67)
The house was surrendered on 12 November 1538, by Thomas Chapman, S.T.D., the warden, and 26 friars. (fn. 68) Chapman was granted a life pension of £13 6s. 8d., (fn. 69) and payments, but apparently not pensions, (fn. 70) were made to twenty of the friars. The fixed income of the house derived from lands and houses in the immediate neighbourhood of the church and monastery (fn. 71) was only £32 19s., (fn. 72) so that the friars must still have depended on alms for the greater part of their revenues. (fn. 73) The importance of the house may be gauged by the amount of plate in the church at the time of the Dissolution—1,520 oz. of gilt, 600 oz. of parcel gilt, and 770 oz. of white plate. (fn. 74)
Wardens of the Grey Friars
Henry de Treviso, the first warden, 1224 (fn. 75)
Salamon, (fn. 76) occurs c. 1230
Peter of Tewkesbury, occurs 1234 (fn. 77)
John de Kethene, before 1239 (fn. 78)
A., occurs c. 1252–8 (fn. 79)
J., occurs 1282 (fn. 80)
Salomon de Ingeham, occurs 1292 or 1293 (fn. 81)
Nicholas, occurs 1294 (fn. 82) and 1295 (fn. 83)
Henry de Sutton, occurs 1302 (fn. 84)
Thomas de Whapelad, occurs 1303 (fn. 85)
William de Querle, occurs 1324 (fn. 86) and 1330 (fn. 87)
John Malberthorpe, occurs 1369 (fn. 88)
Robert, occurs 1391 (fn. 89) and 1393 (fn. 90)
John Bruyle, occurs 1398 (fn. 91)
William Russell, occurs 1425 (fn. 92)
John Alen, S.T.P. (fn. 93)
John Kyrie, occurs 1440 (fn. 94) and 1458, (fn. 95) died 1474 (fn. 96)
William Goddard, the younger, died 1485 (fn. 97)
James Walle, died 1494 (fn. 98)
Andrew, occurs 1498 (fn. 99)
Walter Goodfield, c. 1511(?) (fn. 100)
Henry Standish, D.D. (fn. 101)
James Cutler, S.T.P., (fn. 102) occurs 1514, 1515, and 1518 (fn. 103)
Thomas Cudner, occurs 1526 (fn. 104) and 1534 (fn. 105)
Thomas Chapman, S.T.D., surrendered the house 1539 (fn. 106)
There is a seal of this friary of the fourteenth century. (fn. 107) It is a pointed oval in shape, and bears a representation of a carved corbel on which stand two saints, a tree with several birds being between them. They hold up a shrine with trefoiled canopy and three spires, each topped with a cross. In the shrine is a saint seated on a throne and holding in the right hand a sword, in the left a book. The background is diapered lozengy with a small star in each space. Legend:
SIGI . . VS . FRATRVM . MIN . V LONDONIAR
Only a fragment remains of the large red seal used by the receiver in 1498. (fn. 108) It represents a shield of arms of the city of London. The legend is wanting.