A History of the County of Nottingham: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1910.
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15. THE FRANCISCAN FRIARS OF NOTTINGHAM
The exact date of the settlement in Nottingham of the Franciscans or Grey Friars is not known, but it was an accomplished fact before the year 1230. This order of mendicants only reached England in 1224, so that they were not long in obtaining a foothold in this busy centre of the Midlands. The Nottingham house was one of the eight friaries in the wardenship of Oxford; it was situate in the south-west corner of Broadmarsh, not far from the castle.
The earliest known record occurs on the Close Rolls of 1230, when Henry III granted the Friars Minor of Nottingham twenty tiebeams for the construction of their chapel. (fn. 1) Two years later he made them a further grant of five trees out of the forest of Sherwood for the stalls of their chapel, (fn. 2) and yet another grant for the same purpose in 1234. (fn. 3) In 1236-7 the friars were constructing a quay on the river, and received two royal grants of timber for this purpose. (fn. 4) In 1242 the friars had a gift of ten oaks out of the hay of Willey. (fn. 5) Fifteen oaks were granted them by Henry III, in April 1247, for their buildings, and again in August of the same year six more oaks for their infirmary. (fn. 6)
A few years afterwards the friars began to build a church of stone, and the king granted them licence in 1256 to take stone from his Nottingham quarry for that purpose; (fn. 7) but they were still maintaining their other wooden buildings, and had a grant of twelve Sherwood oaks for their repair in 1258. (fn. 8) In 1261 grants were made them of twenty oaks from Bestwood for the dormitory and chapter-house; (fn. 9) and in 1272 they had a further grant of ten oaks for building purposes. (fn. 10)
Reverting to a much earlier transaction of this reign, it may be mentioned that Henry III in 1235 issued a writ of Allocate in favour of the bailiffs of Nottingham with respect to 5s. due yearly for a place in that town wherein the Friars Minor were lodged, and which the king out of charity had pardoned to the friars so long as they lodged there. (fn. 11)
The Patent Rolls of Edward I and II yield some further disconnected information as to this friary.
On 28 April 1277 the Crown licence was granted, after inquisition by the sheriff of Nottingham, to the Franciscans to stop and inclose a lane adjoining the wall of their close, to effect a slight extension of their site. (fn. 12) In 1303 licence was granted after inquisition to the same friars to make an underground conduit from their spring in Atherwell to their house within the town, and to lead the watercourse through it. (fn. 13) This licence was renewed in 1311, when Edward II sanctioned the carrying of this subterranean conduit through the king's lands and park at Nottingham. (fn. 14) This spring is probably identical with the 'Frere Watergang' mentioned in 1395. (fn. 15)
Commission was issued by Archbishop Romayne in May 1286 to the Franciscan Friars, in highly laudatory terms, authorizing them to absolve those who had been excommunicated for laying violent hands on clerks—cases which by right or privilege were reserved to the diocesan, but which were by his letters patent permitted to these friars, but not in any way to exceed canonical letters. These powers were to be held by special friars of the different houses in the diocese, including the one at Nottingham, but were revocable at pleasure. (fn. 16)
In January 1292-3 the same archbishop licensed the warden of the Friars Minor of Nottingham to absolve excommunicate persons who had been guilty of violence against clerks as above. A like licence was again issued to the warden in October 1294. (fn. 17)
The new stone church of the Friars Minor was finished early in the 14th century. On 24 September 1303 Archbishop Corbridge issued his commission for the dedication of this church and churchyard. (fn. 18) Further progress was then made with side aisles or chapels, for another commission was granted in 1310 to any Catholic bishop to dedicate the altars of these friars. (fn. 19)
Mention is made in a deed of 1359 of the cross (exterior) of the Friars Minor in Nottingham. (fn. 20) This cross, which stood on the Marsh in Greyfriars Gate, is again referred to in a document of 1365. (fn. 21)
The first entry relative to these Franciscans among the town records is a bequest of 40d. made to them in 1382 by John de Wolaton. (fn. 22)
In 1393 one John Leveret of Pinchbeck fled to the church of the Friars Minor for sanctuary—the offence he had committed is not stated, but he broke sanctuary and was seized at Coddington, near Newark, and committed to the king's gaol at Nottingham. (fn. 23)
The Franciscan rule, like that of the other mendicant orders, did not permit of the accepting of any grant of land save that of the site of their house and of adjoining plots used for the purpose of extension; but the acceptance of small testamentary bequests of money for masses was not forbidden. Among such bequests to the Nottingham Franciscans may be mentioned: Simon de Staunton, rector of Staunton, 40s. in 1346; Richard Collin, 20s. in 1368; Robert de Morton, 5 marks in 1396; John Taunesley, 5 marks in 1413; John Pool, 3s. 4d. in 1479; Sir Henry Pierrepont, 40s. in 1489; Sir Gervase Clifton, 22s. in 1508; Robert Batemanson, 10s. in 1512; Sir R. Basset, 6s. 8d. in 1522; Thomas Willoughby, alderman of Nottingham, 10s. in 1524; and John Rose, alderman of Nottingham, £5 in 1528. (fn. 24)
Among the presentments at the Nottingham sessions of July 1500 is that of Friar William Bell, warden of the Friars Minor, who was accused of being an accomplice in a charge of incontinence against another man. (fn. 25)
In January 1521-2 'the Warden oth Grayfres' was presented for 'baudre.' (fn. 26)
The surrender of this friary was made to the king's commissioner, Dr. London, on 5 February 1539, being the same day as that of the White Friars of this town. It was signed by Thomas Basford, warden, and seven other friars, namely Thomas Ryppon, Francis Bryce, Robert Hampton, Robert Alyne, John Chester, Robert Morton, and Roger Stanley. (fn. 27)
After remaining in the hands of the Crown for nine years, the house and site of the Grey Friars was granted in 1548 to Thomas Heneage. (fn. 28)
There is a cast of the 15th-century seal of this friary at the British Museum. (fn. 29) It bears St. Francis, three-quarter length, praying beneath a rich canopied niche; the inner border is engrailed. Legend:—
SIGILLU · CONVENTUS · FRATRUM · MINOR · NOTINGHAMIE ·
There is also at the Museum an imperfect impression of the seal of Thomas the warden, attached to a charter of 1520. (fn. 30) The Virgin and Child are shown in a canopied niche, with tabernacled sides. There is a smaller niche above with an imperfect subject. The legend is broken away excepting the four first letters of SIGILLUM.