Friaries: Dominican Friars of Guildford

Pages 114-116

A History of the County of Surrey: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1967.

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Queen Eleanor of Provence, the widow of Henry III., founded a house of Dominican friars at Guildford, on the east bank of the river, a little to the north of the High Street, on the site where the militia barracks formerly stood, at the end of Friary Street, opposite to the royal park across the river; but the exact date of the foundation is not known. The late Father Palmer in his essay on this house (fn. 1) has made it manifest that the Dominicans were not established at Guildford at the time of the death of the young prince Henry, which took place at Guildford on 20 October 1274. Further he has offered fairly satisfactory proof that this house was founded by Eleanor of Provence, in affectionate remembrance of her grandson, and that the foundress listened to the desire of the young prince's mother in the choice of the order, for Eleanor of Castile was the nursing mother of the friar-preachers. The heart of the boy prince was deposited in the church of this priory, and was solemnly exposed as the anniversary of his death came round. On 17 May 1306 the Princes Thomas and Edmund, sons of Edward I. by his second wife, Margaret of France, were present in this church at a mass for the soul of their half-brother, and made an offering of 21d.

On 6 March 1275 Edward I. granted to the friars a road leading from Guildford to the royal park, to be enclosed for enlarging their area. (fn. 2)

Various benefactors were forthcoming to assist the friars in the erection of their church and house. John de Westpurle gave the timber for the dorter and £100 in money to the building fund. Sir Hugh Fitz Otho built the quire, and Lady Clarisan gave the stalls. (fn. 3) The king granted them four oaks fit for timber out of Guildford Park in 1294 as well as two leafless oaks fit for fuel. (fn. 4) In 1298 Edward I. granted them six more leafless trees from the same place for a like purpose. (fn. 5) The king was at Guildford in May 1302, when he gave 4s. to the friars for a day's food on three separate occasions. On 18 May he was present at the mass in their church celebrated for the soul of Sir Arnold Gavaston, and made an oblation of 5s. 4d. Edward II. on coming to Guildford in 1324 gave 8s. to the twenty-four friars for a day's food. Edward III. at visits paid to Guildford in 1331, 1334, 1336 and 1337 made like gifts for a day's food at 4d. a head, according to the number then in residence, which varied from 24 to 17. (fn. 6)

Henry IV. was at Guildford on 12 February 1403. The king and royal family lodged at the friary, and before leaving a gift of 40s. was made to cover the damage done to the house vessels and gardens in entertaining the royal guests. (fn. 7) By letters patent of 4 November 1504, Henry VII. granted to Prior Venables and the convent 40 cartloads for firewood every year out of the royal park at Henley and the common of Worfesdon; in return for this, two masses were to be celebrated every week by two friars at the Lady Altar for the good estate of the king, of Margaret his mother, of Henry, Prince of Wales, and his other children, and for their souls after death. (fn. 8)

In the University Library, Cambridge, is an obituary calendar of Guildford Friary, which gives the names and dates of the death of the priors and other persons connected with the house. (fn. 9)

In the year 1318 Edward II., desirous of carrying out the intentions of his mother to found a monastery of Dominican sisters, formed the economical design of refounding this house and appropriating it to Dominican sisters instead of friars. To further his project he wrote divers letters to Pope John XXII. in 1318-9, and eventually despatched two Dominican friars, Richard de Burton and Andrew de Aslakeby, to Rome to plead in person. (fn. 10) It was proposed to endow this nunnery, intended to support seven Dominican sisters, with the appropriation of the Hampshire rectory of Kingsclere. The Bishop of Winchester was persuaded to support the scheme, and he also wrote to the pope soliciting permission to appropriate Kingsclere to the contemplated nunnery. But the various applications failed, and the friars continued to hold the house according to the original foundation. (fn. 11)

On 20 June 1321 Bishop Asserio licenced Richard de Erberfelde, Thomas de Leddrede, Richard de Guildford, William de Newport, John de Dene, Geoffrey de Godalming and William Mandeville, friars of Guildford, to hear confessions and to preach. (fn. 12)

Pope Benedict XII. in 1336 issued a mandate to the Bishop of Winchester, the abbot of Netley and the prior of St. Denis to carry out ordinances and concessions touching those who left religious orders, having special reference to Arnold Lym, of the order of Friars Preachers, who had left the convent of that order at Guildford, and desired to be reconciled. (fn. 13)

Richard Fitz Alan, Earl of Arundel and Surrey, by will dated 4 March 1393, ordered that the houses of friars should be looked after by his executors, especially those of Arundel and Guildford, as they were bound to pray for the souls of his father, mother, wife and himself. Sir Reginald Bray, knight, was also a benefactor. By his will, proved 28 November 1503, he bequeathed to every house of friars in England 40s. to pray for his soul for two years, and to the friars of the house where his mother lay buried the large sum of £200, at the rate of £10 a year, to say mass for the souls of Dame Katherine his wife, Richard his father and Jane his mother.

Henry VIII. built himself a hunting lodge within the precincts, and professed great love and affection for the friary. Among the privy purse expenses of Henry VIII. in July 1530 is a 'reward' of £5 to the friars of Guildford, and also the large sum (evidently for some special service) of £12 10s., through the Duke of Norfolk, to a friar called Anserois at Guildford. The gift of £5 to the friars was renewed in July 1531. (fn. 14) It has been conjectured that these gifts were in return for the labours of some of the community, who were known to be skilled in horticulture, in laying out the royal gardens and grounds at Guildford as mentioned hereafter.

The treaty with Scotland was ratified by Henry VIII. at the house of the Blackfriars, Guildford, on 2 August 1534, in the presence of Robert, abbot of Kinlos, ambassador of Scotland, the Bishop of Winchester, the Duke of Norfolk, the Earl of Northumberland, Thomas Cromwell and others. (fn. 15)

John Hilsey, Bishop of Rochester, wrote to Cromwell on 10 August 1536, in favour of the friars of Guildford, begging that the king would grant them a perpetual alms for the relief of their poverty. (fn. 16) This was followed by a petition to the Crown direct from the Friars Preachers. They stated that their house, which was now of Queen Jane's foundation and whose first foundress was Queen Eleanor, the wife of Henry III., together with the place of honour that the king had built within their precincts, were now decaying; that they had no property, but lived on alms which had of late much fallen off, so that they often wanted even food, and were unable to serve the king 'in setting out trimming and fashioning ground and gardens about the king's place,' and that they begged the 'grant of some "benefice" prebend, free chapel, corrody, commandry or order and governing over any house of alms and prayers.' (fn. 17)

Sir William, the treasurer of the household, writing to Cromwell on 1 August 1537 from Guildford, which Henry VIII. was about to visit, recommended him to lodge at the parsonage of St. Nicholas 'as the Freres is but a little house and will be sore pestered at the King's being there.' (fn. 18) In October of that year the king, after his sojourn at this friary, granted William Cobden, the prior, and the house of the Black Friars, Guildford, an annuity of 20 marks in pure alms. (fn. 19) The friars had however no enjoyment of this annuity, for the house was 'surrendered' by Prior Cobden and six other friars to the 'lord visitor' on 10 October 1538. (fn. 20)

By 'the lord visitor' is meant Richard Ingworth, the renegade friar, then suffraganbishop of Dover. The visitor sold certain goods to pay the debt of the house, and drew up the following inventory:—

'The Black Freers of Gilforde.'

This Indenture makith mencyon off all the staple remayning in the house of the Blacke Freerys of Gilforde recevyed by the lorde visitor under the lorde prevey seale and delyvored to John Dabarne meyor and to Daniel Mugge to see and order to the kingis use with the howse and all appertenances till the kingis plesure be futher knowen.

The Quere. It. at the hey altar a feyer tabill of alabaster. It. at the endis of the altar tabillys peyntid with ymagery. It. a tabernakill over the altar with an ymage of our lady. It before the aulter a clothe hanging of clothe of badkin with a frontlyt motley velvit. It. an aulter clothe on the altar. It. a canopy over the sacrament, At eche (end) of the altar a frame for an altar. It. ii gret candelstickis of laten. It. a feyer egill for a lecturne laten. It. feyer stallys well sileid (ceiled) with an orgeyne lofte. It. a peyer of orgaynys. It. ii pore lecternys tymber. It. a tumbe with a marbill stone on the north side of the quere. It under the stepill a feyer lofte, under that a stall. It. in the stepill ii bellys a gret and a small.

The Churche. It. a proper chapell sileid with a tabill alabaster on the altar. It. a feyer desk within the partclose. It. ii setis to knele before the altar. It. ii othere auters in the churche within the partclose with tabyllis alabaster before eche altar a feyer sete within the partclose and ii setes to knele before eche altar. It. a tumbe of marbil and a feyer candelbeme new without the partclose. It. iii tabillys allabaster on iii frameis for aulterys, ii pueis (pews) with diverse other setis.

The Vestrey. It ii feyer framys for vestimentis with allmerys and a borde to laye on vestments. It. the upper part of the sepulcre woode.

The gret Kechin. It. a gret leade in a furnas. It. ii gret chymneis with racks to rost. It. ii chopping bordis and in the cnner howse a cesterne of leade to water barly.

The entre betwixe both kechinns. It. ii setis framys to sett on.

The litill kechin. It. ii frameis of leade to water fische. It. dressing bordis.

The Pasthe. It. a gretboltinge hoche. It. a gret trowe to knede in with a borde over yt. It. ii molding bordis, an olde trowe under. It. in the ynner howse a hoche for brede. It a gret chopping borde. It. an other small borde and a plank with racks of wood to hange flesche.

In the yarde. It. a feyer well with buckitt and chenys to drawe water. There was also 105 ounces of plate, broken and whole. (fn. 21)

The king retained this priory in his own hands, converting the house into a good dwelling as an occasional royal resort.

Priors of the Dominican Friars of Guildford

William de Guildford, (fn. 22) died 1324

Bernard Hermann, died 1373

William Andrew (Bishop of Meath), died 1385

Robert Tenowes, died 1404

Richard, died 1415

Thomas Wocking, died 1425

Hugh Stonhard, died 1428

Richard Graveney, died 1469

Thomas Tydman, died 1477

Marcellinus Akorton, died 1482

Robert Trenorsat, died 1505

John Venables, died 1519

William Cobden, circa 1537-8


  • 1. Reliquary, xxvi. pp. 7, 20.
  • 2. Cant. R. 3 Edw. I. No. 19.
  • 3. Obituary Calendar, University Lib., Cambridge.
  • 4. Close, 22 Edw. I. m. 3.
  • 5. Ibid. 27 Edw. I. m. 9.
  • 6. Reliquary, xxvi. 10.
  • 7. Ibid.
  • 8. Pat. 20 Hen. VII. pt. 1, m. 27.
  • 9. Ll. ii. 9. This is a fourteenth century folio containing several tracts bound together, all of which formerly belonged to the Guildford Dominicans. It includes the constitutions of the Friars Preachers and the rule of St. Augustine; the calendar is on fl. 42-5. There is a transcript of it by Tanner in the Bodleian MS. 342. Most of this is reproduced by Father Palmer in his article in the Reliquary.
  • 10. Rymer's Fædera, iii. 702, 734, 753; Mon, vi. 1494.
  • 11. Sandale's Register (Hants Rec. Soc.), pp. 279-86.
  • 12. Bishop Asserio's Register (Hants Record Society).
  • 13. Cal. of Papal Letters, ii. 53.
  • 14. Add. MSS. 20, 30, ff. 33, 77.
  • 15. L. and P. Hen. VIII. vii. 1031, 1032.
  • 16. Ibid. xi. 260.
  • 17. Ibid. 1439.
  • 18. Ibid. xii. (2), 415.
  • 19. Ibid. 1008 (33).
  • 20. Ibid. xiii. (2), 580.
  • 21. Exch. T. R. Chap. Ho. B2/19;
  • 22. These are taken from the Obituary Calendar of this house in the University Library, Cambridge (Ll. ii. 9). The following priors are also mentioned, mostly of an earlier date, but only the days of the month of their respective obits arc given: Nicholas de Monyngton, 29 April; John de Wonersh, 23 May; William de Farnham, 24 July; John Gregory, 16 August; John de Trotterworth, D.D., 21 August; John Stook, D.D., 28 August; Walter de Huveldersham, D.D. September; John de Godalming, 17 December.