Friaries: The Franciscan friars of Stafford

Pages 270-271

A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1970.

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The Friars Minor were settled in Stafford by 1274 when the bishop granted 20 days' indulgence to all who visited the friars' church on certain days and said there the Lord's Prayer and the Hail Mary for the king, the kingdom, and the faithful departed. (fn. 1) The founder of the house may have been one of the Staffords of Sandon. (fn. 2) The friars secured the friendship of Edmund, Baron of Stafford (d. 1308): a Franciscan became his confessor, and he chose the Stafford friary as his place of burial instead of the Augustinian priory at Stone where members of his family were usually buried. (fn. 3) Archbishop Pecham celebrated orders in the friars' church in 1280, being unable to do so in St. Mary's which was under an episcopal interdict. (fn. 4) At first the friars were hindered in buying their daily victuals by regrators who would even 'snatch what they have bought out of their hands', but in 1282 they secured a licence from the Crown for one year to 'buy without molestation of the king's ministers'. (fn. 5) In 1306 a certain Henry Grucok was proposing to grant the warden and friars a piece of his land in Foregate on the north side of Stafford borough, worth 4s. a year and 200 × 100 feet in area, where they could make a courtyard (curtilagium). (fn. 6)

When an official list of Franciscan provinces, custodies, and houses was prepared for a general chapter of the order held at Perpignan in 1331, the Stafford house appeared with eight others in the custody of Worcester, and thus it remained throughout its existence. (fn. 7) It may be confidently surmised that its numbers were never large, and no striking incidents or outstanding personalities connected with it have come to light. During the episcopate of Robert Stretton (1360-85) about 14 of its members were ordained subdeacon or deacon, without mention of any further advance, while 6 proceeded to the priesthood. (fn. 8) The names show that the community was recruited not only from English counties in the diocese but from Wales also. (fn. 9) In 1405 a Franciscan of Stafford named David Sant received a licence to hear confessions, and this was renewed in 1406 and 1407. (fn. 10) Stafford was one of the mendicant houses in the area to which Isabel de Sutton (d. 1397) and the justice Roger Horton by will of 1422 each left 6s. 8d. (fn. 11) A number of letters of confraternity survive, issued by Brother John, the warden, in 1479. (fn. 12)

The community's existence came to an end on 9 August 1538 when Richard Ingworth, Bishop of Dover, came to the house and read the injunctions which he had framed. Rather than accept these the community, 'with one assent, without any counsel or coaction', surrendered the house into his hands for the king's use. Inventories were made 'of the houses and implements' and each friar was given 'a letter to visit his friends'. Income from rents at this time amounted to only £1 6s. 8d.; debts totalled £4. Ingworth removed a chalice and six spoons; the rest of the property was delivered to the two bailiffs of Stafford. (fn. 13)

On 27 September a sale took place of the buildings and the goods in the church, hall, kitchen, buttery, and brewhouse. (fn. 14) The total receipts from this sale were £34 3s. 10d. All the buildings within the precinct, with their materials except for the lead, were sold to James Leveson of Wolverhampton for £29 1s. 8d. The friars' wall 'next unto the town' was bought by the town for 3s. 4d. Two bells, one of them a sanctus bell, were excluded from the sale but remained in Leveson's keeping; the bailiffs of the borough were entrusted with the custody of the lead upon the choir and a chapel — possibly that of St. Francis, mentioned elsewhere in the inventory. The friars' warden bought two brass pots and six plates, while the buyers of items from among the furniture and ornaments of the church included a friar named Wood who bought for 6d. 'a vestment of blue fustian and one of white diaper' and another friar, unnamed, who paid 4d. for 'a cope of linen cloth stained'. A statue of St. Catherine stood in the church which also contained an old pair of portable organs and four tables of alabaster. (fn. 15) 'Old books' were found in the library and the vestry. A noteworthy statement in the inventory was that the friars 'have in the field 6 londs yearly worth 16d.', which shows that the Stafford friary must be reckoned among the number, probably small, engaged in husbandry outside the precinct; 'the field' was presumably Foregate Field, which was one of the common fields of the town and adjoined the friary. (fn. 16) Other sales included the lead (£45), the bells (£10), and 16 oz. of plate. (fn. 17)

The friary lay on the east side of the main road from Stafford to Stone north of what is now the junction with Browning Street; the main road is still known as Grey Friars in this area. In 1610 a house called Grey Friars stood here on an extensive walled site approached through a gatehouse. Despite its distance from the town walls it was very evidently pulled down as part of the demolition of buildings within musket shot of the walls under the order of the Parliamentary Committee in 1644 to facilitate the defence of the town. (fn. 18)


Richard Depedale, occurs 1392. (fn. 19)

John, occurs 1479. (fn. 20)

Richard Offeley, occurs 1501. (fn. 21)

The seal of the friary, (fn. 22) a pointed oval about 15/8 by 11/8 in., depicts a standing female figure, crowned and holding a raguly cross in her left hand and a book in her right. The figure may represent Our Lady or a virgin martyr. The legend, lombardic, evidently reads:



  • 1. W.S.L., S.D. Beck 1.
  • 2. Erdeswick, Staffs, 144 n., 153-5. He is wrong in favouring Sir Jas. Stafford since he was not born till c. 1300: S.H.C. 1917-18, 52.
  • 3. Dugdale, Mon. vi(1), 231; Complete Peerage, 'Stafford'.
  • 4. Reg. Epist. J. Peckham (Rolls Ser.), i. 111.
  • 5. Cal. Pat. 1281-92, 25-26.
  • 6. S.H.C. 1911, 283-4.
  • 7. A. G. Little, Studies in Eng. Franciscan Hist. App. vi.
  • 8. S.H.C. N.S. viii. 159 sqq. But see below p. 273 n. 10.
  • 9. Adam Codsale, Ric. Depedale and Rob. de Leek (S.H.C. N.S. viii. 200, 202, 306) presumably came from Staffs. and Wm. de Chesewardyn (ibid. 206, 222) from Salop.; Howell de Aber and Hugh Aber (ibid. 291, 293) were presumably Welshmen. Franciscans were freely moved about from one house to another. Thus Theobald Kyngew was at Stafford when ordained deacon in 1379 and at Worcester when priested in 1380: ibid. 344, 351; John Tyso, at Stafford when ordained subdeacon in 1364, was at Bridgnorth, Salop., when ordained deacon in 1366: ibid. 192, 195.
  • 10. Lich. Dioc. Regy., B/A/1/7, ff. 156, 158, 195. He is presumably the same as the friar of that name who when ordained was at Lichfield: S.H.C. N.S. viii. 358, 373, where he appears as priested in both 1380 and 1382.
  • 11. Lich. Dioc. Regy., B/A/1/6, f. 49; S.H.C. ix(2), 57; see above p. 269.
  • 12. S.R.O., D. 593/A/1/32/16-18; S.R.O., D.(W.) 1082 (33)/8; W.S.L. 152/40.
  • 13. L. & P. Hen. VIII, xiii(2), pp. 19-20.
  • 14. Hibbert, Dissolution, 245-8. The total value of the property exceeded that of the Austin friars of Stafford by roughly £1 7s. but fell below that of the Franciscans of Lichfield by £8 9s. 6d.
  • 15. Such tables often stood upon altars, 'apparently forming a reredos': A. R. Martin, Franciscan Architecture in Eng. (Brit. Soc. Franciscan Studies, xviii), 26. Four are mentioned in the inventory but only two in the sales list.
  • 16. Ibid. 39; L. & P. Hen. VIII, xiii(2), p. 20. The friars also had half a meadow worth 20s. a year, given for an obit by Rob. Quytgrave (Whitgreave); 'this not kept, he asks for it back': ibid.
  • 17. Hibbert, Dissolution, 185-6 (without giving source).
  • 18. See J. Speed, Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine (1614), map between pp. 69 and 70; S.H.C. 4th ser. i. 35, 72, 76, 82, 98, 105-6.
  • 19. Lich Dioc. Regy., B/A/1/6, f. 128.
  • 20. See above.
  • 21. S.R.O. 938/7902, will of John Askeby 1501.
  • 22. H. S. Kingsford in Franciscan Hist. and Legend in Eng. Medieval Art, ed. A. G. Little, 98 and plate vii. The seal there shown is 13th- or 14th-cent., but the impression of it cited is on a document of 1479. For other impressions of the same period see S.R.O., D. 593/A/1/32/16 and 17, and W.S.L. 152/40. The B.M. has a cast of an impression on a charter of 1529, acquired since the completion of the Cat. of Seals in B.M. (1887-1900): Kingsford, op. cit. 98. In all these impressions the legend is much defaced.