A History of the County of London: Volume 1, London Within the Bars, Westminster and Southwark. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1909.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
In this section
16. THE CROSSED FRIARS
The Friars of the Holy Cross are said to have first come to England about 1244, (fn. 1) but it was not until 1298 that they obtained a footing in London. About that date, on land in Hart (fn. 2) Street, at first rented and afterwards bought from the prior of Christchurch, Aldgate, their house was founded by Ralph Hosier and William Sabernes, who afterwards themselves joined the order. During the following twenty years they were engaged in building the monastery and church, (fn. 3) to the great dissatisfaction of the rector of St. Olave's, who found himself thus deprived of a source of income. At length a settlement (fn. 4) was made by the dean of Arches and Stephen, bishop of London, which provided that all who so chose might be buried in the conventual church and cemetery, but the rector was to have the burial dues of those who belonged to or had died in his parish; the maintenance of a lamp in the church of St. Olave, and payment of an annual sum of 2½ marks, secured the priory from all other demands of the rector, who on his side was not to hinder the dedication of the monastery, church, and cemetery.
The material progress of the priory was not rapid, the acquisition of land and rent to the yearly value of 100s., for which they had received licence in 1331, (fn. 5) taking twelve years. (fn. 6) This property lay in Tooting, (fn. 7) Tooting-Graveney, (fn. 8) and 'Legham,' (fn. 9) co. Surrey, and in the parishes of St. Olave, Hart Street, and St. Bartholomew without Bishopsgate (sic), (fn. 10) London. A chantry of two chaplains established there by Andrew de Bures (fn. 11) in 1331 was endowed with land in 'Aketons' and Waldingfield, Suffolk; another (fn. 12) for one chaplain by Dame Hewysia Gloucestre (1335) with a tenement in Seething Lane, and the house appears to have obtained one or two little pieces of land elsewhere, (fn. 13) but in 1341 (fn. 14) the revenues of the priory were still so small that the convent was released from payment of the subsidy.
It would, however, perhaps be a mistake to imagine the house extremely poor. The fact that the friars were endeavouring in 1342 to provide accommodation at Oxford for thirteen of their number to study at the university (fn. 15) doubtless proves nothing but that they took the same interest in education as the friars of other orders; but it is difficult to believe that if they had been without financial support they would have begun a costly chapel in 1350. (fn. 16)
Moreover in 1359 three of the friars carried off goods estimated to be worth £87 13s. 4d., (fn. 17) so that unless a large amount is to be deducted for the bulls and muniments stolen, the priory seems to have been fairly well furnished. This is not, by the way, the only robbery in which members of the house were concerned, since in 1391 John Bures, then prior, was pardoned for abetting a man who some years before had stolen property valued at 600 marks from the house of the bishop of Bath and Wells. (fn. 18)
Before the end of the century they had added considerably to their resources. John de Causton, alderman of London, in 1350 gave them a tenement with gardens and shops near the Tower, and a tenement called the Cardinalshat at 'Grascherche' as the endowment of the two chantries founded by him in the conventual church (fn. 19); tenements near Dowgate, and in 'Syvedenlane' were bequeathed by another London citizen, Richard Rothyng, in 1379, also for the establishment of a chantry (fn. 20); and in 1383 Sir Richard Abberbury, kt., granted to them lands and houses in Donington, (fn. 21) but these they seem afterwards to have lost, as in 1447 Richard's heir, Thomas de Abberbury, made them over to the duke of Suffolk. (fn. 22)
The priory must have been popular with the foreigners who lived round its precincts, for the Fraternity of the Holy Blood of Jesus, founded in the church in 1459, and the Brotherhood of St. Katharine, established there in 1495, were both of German origin. (fn. 23) It is evident too that the house was not viewed unfavourably by the citizens generally, since on the petition of the prior for aid in the rebuilding of the church in 1520 (fn. 24) the City accepted the patronage of the foundation, pressed its claims upon the fellowships of London, (fn. 25) and in 1522 (fn. 26) granted some common soil for its extension. It was probably to the good offices of their new patrons that the priory owed the bequest of £50 made to the new buildings in 1524 by Sir John Skevington, alderman, (fn. 27) and that of £6 13s. 4d. left in 1523 by Robert Collyns, haberdasher of London. (fn. 28).
Sir John Milbourne, who had been mayor in 1521, purchased some land of the friars in 1534 for his almshouses, (fn. 29) and had his obit celebrated in the conventual church. (fn. 30)
Such assistance as was procured was not, however, sufficient to rescue the house from its embarrassments. A woman named Margaret Johnson complained to Cromwell about 1534 that she and her husband had lent the convent large sums in 1512 and other amounts since, but had not for ten years received the annuity promised in return. (fn. 31) The priory in 1525 had borrowed money on security of a silver-gilt cross and some vestments, and in 1535 had not discharged the debt; (fn. 32) in 1527 it borrowed £27 10s. from George Tadlow, haberdasher of London; (fn. 33) and in 1538 it owed £40 to William Fernley, a mercer, and £100 to the executors of a certain Walter Marsshe. (fn. 34)
After 1530 monetary difficulties were not the only ones with which the convent had to contend. The religious changes did not meet with the approval of John Dryver, prior of the house in 1532, and of course spies were not lacking to report the imprudent expression of his opinions. He had said that if it were true that the king was determined to put down certain religious houses he should be called 'Destructor Fidei,' and in speaking of a fall the king's jester had had from his horse had remarked that 'the fool should say . . . that the king should have a fall shortly.' (fn. 35) It is unlikely that he would have been allowed to remain prior after this, and it was Edmund Stretam who as head of the house acknowledged the royal supremacy on 17 April, 1534. (fn. 36)
Robert Ball, the friar who was one of the witnesses against Dryver, was prior in 1535, (fn. 37) and was the subject of the well-known letter of John Bartelot to Cromwell. (fn. 38) Bartelot's story was that he and some others, having caught the prior in an act of gross immorality, had been bribed not to tell by a sum down and a promise of more. The prior not paying the second amount was arrested, but found a friend in the chancellor, who declared that it was a heinous robbery on Bartelot's part. As far as one can judge it appears to have been an attempt at intimidation and blackmail based on the fact that the court policy was known to have but the half-hearted adherence of the convent. It is not without significance that when the provincial of the Austin Friars in 1535 refused to let the Spaniards celebrate the emperor's victory in Africa in that church until he knew the king's pleasure, they went to the Crossed Friars for their service. (fn. 39) A priest there was reported to have tried to confirm a penitent in the old doctrines in February, 1535, (fn. 40) and in March, 1536, (fn. 41) a doctor and three or four others of the Crossed Friars were prohibited by Hilsey from hearing confessions. It is possible to see the reflection of these proceedings in the small number of names (fn. 42) appended to the deed of surrender, 12 November, 1538; for in December, 1350, before the priory had had time to recover from the ravages of the Great Pestilence, there had been eleven besides the prior and sub-prior, (fn. 43) but the convent at the Dissolution had dwindled to six. Raphael or Ralph Turner, (fn. 44) who heads the list, and was granted an annual pension of five marks for the term of his life, (fn. 45) was not the prior, so that the house appears to have been without a head at this time.
The possessions of the priory, valued at £52 13s. 4d. (fn. 46) per annum, included the chapel of 'Chockesmythes' with a messuage and garden adjoining and lands and wood in 'Wellutham' Magna, 'Wellutham' (fn. 47) Parva, and Bradfield Combusta, co. Suffolk, (fn. 48) the site of the late priory of Barham, (fn. 49) co. Camb., and tenements in St. Olave's Hart Street, (fn. 50) St. Dunstan's in the East, (fn. 51) Allhallows Dowgate, Allhallows Barking, and St. Botolph's without Aldgate. (fn. 52)
The plate of the house, forty-one ounces in parcel gilt, (fn. 53) seems a very small quantity, but that stolen (fn. 54) a few years before may never have been recovered, and some had certainly been pawned (fn. 55) or sold during the last period of the priory's existence.
Priors of the Crossed Friars
Adam, (fn. 56) occurs 1298 and 1319 (fn. 57)
William de Charryngworth, occurs 1350 (fn. 58)
John Bures, occurs 1379 (fn. 59) and 1391 (fn. 60)
John Lynoth, occurs 1384 (fn. 61)
William Bowry, occurs 1512 (fn. 62) and 1527 (fn. 63)
John Dryver, occurs 1532 (fn. 64)
Edmund Stretam, occurs 1534 (fn. 65)
Robert Ball, occurs 1535 (fn. 66)
A seal of 1350 (fn. 67) bears a cross pattée between two crescents and two stars of six points within a carved gothic quatrefoil. Legend:—
SIGILL COMVNE . DOMVS STE CRUCIS LONDON.
A seal of the sixteenth century (fn. 68) represents Our Lord on the Cross; surrounded by the eleven disciples who kneel in adoration; in the field the sun, moon, and stars. Legend:—
S. FRATERNIT . FRM . CRVCIFEROR . LONDN . ANNO XVCXXVI