Houses of Franciscan Friars: Lewes

Pages 95-96

A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1973.

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The Grey Friars were evidently settled in Lewes some time before 1249, as the Assize Roll of that year mentions the case of a thief who sought sanctuary in the church of St. Mary at Lewes and escaped thence to the house of the Friars Minor of Lewes and remained there for ten days. (fn. 1) They occur again in 1253 as benefiting under St. Richard's will to the extent of 20s. and a book of the gospels of St. Luke and St. John. (fn. 2) A grant of 24s. for three days' food, made to the friary in 1299, when King Edward was at Lewes, shows that there were then twenty-four brethren. (fn. 3) From this time their history is a blank, broken only by occasional bequests of money from pious testators, until shortly before the dissolution.

In May, 1533, Cromwell sent one Thomas Folks down to Lewes to make inquiries about a chalice which was in the hands of 'one Robert a Smyzth of Framfield.' The warden, John Parker, (fn. 4) was away at the time 'at Winchelsea at the visitation of Dr. Quickhoppes,' and the vicewarden knew nothing of the matter, but Thomas Man, 'lister' of the house, wrote to Cromwell saying that about Easter one of their chalices disappeared, and he heard the warden say that he had lent it; it was duly returned on 27 April. (fn. 5) Four years later, when the suppression of the religious orders was proceeding, and spies and sycophants were carrying every light word of 'treason' to Cromwell, it was reported that Brother Richard and Brother Longe of the Grey Friars of Lewes had said that the king was dead, the wish being evidently assumed to be father to the thought. Brother Richard admitted that he had said so to his brethren, Brother Longe and 'Black Herry'; when asked where he had heard the news, he ' stood long amazed and at last said that a somyner who keeps an alehouse opposite the Friars' gate told him'; the latter however, denied having even heard the rumour, whence it appeared that Brother Richard himself was the originator of 'the abominable tidings.' (fn. 6) The sequel appears three weeks later, when Sir William Shelley writes to Cromwell that 'the friars have their punishment this Saturday at Lewes, and take it very penitently.' (fn. 7)

This appears to have been one of the last of the friaries to be surrendered, as on 15 December, 1538, the bishop of Dover wrote to Cromwell that if the northern houses had made their releases to the king he knew of no house to release except Lewes. (fn. 8) Shortly afterwards he writes that he has received the house to the king's use. It was not much of a haul, as the goods, including altars, bells, windows, and gravestones, would not cover the debts, which were £15 4s.; there was 77 oz. of plate but it was mostly pledged and would have to be redeemed. (fn. 9)

In 1524 John Peterson desired to be buried 'in the church of St. Frauncis of the Freres Minors of Lewes befor the chapell of saint Barbara,' (fn. 10) but the more correct title appears to have been 'church of St. Mary and St. Margaret.' (fn. 11)


  • 1. Assize R. 909, m. 32.
  • 2. Suss. Arch. Coll. i, 167.
  • 3. Ibid. ii, 146.
  • 4. He occurs as warden in 1531; Add. Ch. 29844.
  • 5. L. and P. Hen. VIII, vi, 435.
  • 6. Ibid. xii (2), 1185.
  • 7. Ibid. 1282.
  • 8. Ibid. xiii (2), 1059.
  • 9. Ibid. 1060.
  • 10. Will in P.C.C. Bodfelde, 27.
  • 11. Obit. R. (Surtees Soc.), 28.