A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1908.
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20. THE DOMINICAN FRIARS OF WARWICK (fn. 1)
In the suburb on the west side of the town of Warwick, a house of Dominican or Black Friars was established towards the end of the reign of Henry III, but before the year 1263. Ralph Boteler, first baron of Wem, who died before the year 1277, was their chief if not sole founder. Having obtained a site the friars set to work to erect their buildings, which were in progress in 1263, for in that year Henry III gave them seven oaks for timber out of the royal forest of Fecham. Five years later their church was finished, but certain works were in progress or new buildings being erected as late as 1296.
The patent and close rolls, &c., of Henry III and Edward I contain several instances of further royal benefactions of timber, particularly from the Staffordshire forest of Kinver. On 25 August, 1267, Henry III granted them four suitable oaks for the roof of their church, and on 16 August, 1295, Edward I sent them six oaks for timber; on both these occasions the wood came from Kinver.
The church was solemnly dedicated on 9 October, the feast of St. Denis and Companions; the year is not ascertained, but most probably it was in 1268. At the request of the friars the bishop of Worcester, in 1424, transferred the anniversary festival of the dedication to 10 October, which was a vacant day after the feast of St. Luke.
It is rather remarkable that the dedication of this Warwick friary is unknown. Among the altars in the church, as is known from early wills, were those of Our Lady, St. Dominic, and St. Peter. The house at Warwick made provision for between thirty and forty religious, and ranked among the larger ones of the province.
The rule of the Dominicans permitted them to hold as much land as was directly serviceable for their household wants. In the reign of Edward II the Warwick friars bought a piece of land of one Alice de Pillerton, 160 ft. by 100 ft., to add to their site. But in 1316 they were called to account for having acquired this land without licence in mortmain. An inquisition was consequently held whether the friars could retain it without detriment to the crown or others. The jury found that the friars might retain it, as it was only of the value of 2d. a year, was held of the church of St. Mary, and had no service nor suit annexed to it. (fn. 2) In the following year the king pardoned them for their offence in taking the land without licence, and confirmed them in the possession of it. (fn. 3)
On 1 May, 1327, a writ for aid was issued to Adam de Cumberhale, appointed to arrest John de Stoke of the convent of Friars Preachers, Warwick, and bring him to the king. (fn. 4) This, no doubt, was in consequence of the part taken by many of the Friars Preachers in resisting the deposition of Edward II.
In 1344 the Dominicans of Warwick acquired 10 acres of land to extend their homestead, and a small plot of land in 1361.
Henry III granted an interesting and special favour to the Warwick friars on 4 March, 1267. He directed a mandate to all bailiffs and other officers on the route, to permit them to carry their herrings and other victuals freely from Norwich without any toll or other hindrance until the next Easter. As their staple diet during Lent was salt herrings, this exemption from toll was a real benefit to the mendicants. Warwick was one of the thirty-three houses of the Friars Preachers which received a legacy of 100s. from the estates of Queen Eleanor; the sum reached them soon after Michaelmas, 1291, through William de Hotham, the provincial of England.
There is an interesting and certain way by which the members of a large number of the houses of the four mendicant orders can be ascertained in the earlier part of the fourteenth century. It was the regular custom of Edward I and Edward II during their progresses through the country to give a groat to every friar of the places through which they passed to provide him with food for that day. The royal expense rolls always enter these alms. When, under Edward III, long and costly wars broke out with France in 1338, this and other royal almsgiving dropped into abeyance and was never renewed.
In 1301 Edward I tarried at Warwick on his way to Scotland, and sent the Dominicans 37s. for three days' food, showing that the number then in residence was thirty-seven. Edward III passed through Warwick on 1 January, 1329, and sent 10s. to the thirty friars for one day's food.
Provincial chapters are recorded as having been held at the Warwick friary in the years 1322, 1337, 1341, and 1367; on each of these occasions there were considerable royal benefactions, which were supposed to cover the cost of entertaining the members of the provincial chapter and their attendants.
In April, 1350, the cemetery of the Black Friars of Warwick was reconciled, by commission of Bishop Thoresby, for effusion of blood. (fn. 5)
The generally favourable bearing of the people towards the friars is shown, as is usual, in connexion with the Warwick house, by the large number of bequests to secure their prayers, whilst others desired burial in their church. In 1347 William Savage, prior of the house, admitted Thomas Conning and Agnes his wife into fraternity, so that after death they might have the masses and prayers usual for deceased friars. William de Clinton, earl of Huntingdon, the founder of Maxstoke Priory, bequeathed them, in 1354, 5 marks. Sir Peter de Montfort, who died in 1369, directed his body to be buried in the church of these Black Friars, bequeathing to them £10. Edmund Verney, by will of 1495, ordered his body to be buried between the altars of Our Lady and of St. Dominic, on the north side of the church, and enjoined on his executors to cause a lamp to be kept continually burning in the chancel before the Blessed Sacrament. William Harewell, of Wootton Wawen, in consideration of £10 left for the repair of the church, entered into covenant with William Latimer, D.D., prior of this house, for one of the friars to sing mass daily for himself and his wife at the altar of St. Peter of Milan, between nine and ten o'clock.
Richard Wycherly, a black friar of Warwick, was consecrated bishop of Oliva, in Morocco, in partibus infidelium, and acted as suffragan of the bishop of Worcester. He died in September, 1502, and left £6 to the friars of Warwick.
Richard Mynar, of Warwick, by his will dated 19 January, 1511, left his body to be buried before the rood loft in the Dominican church; a halfpenny loaf was to be given to every poor man, woman, and child who came to the church on the day of his burial. (fn. 6)
At the time of the Valor of 1535, when John Knight was prior, the clear annual value of the house was £4 18s. 6d. Small as this sum appears, it was large for mendicants, who usually owned only the site of their friary. In this case they had some small houses and gardens which were probably the endowments of certain mortuary foundations, or else had been irregularly built on a portion of their unoccupied site.
Thomas Norman, the prior, and seven friars, signed the surrender of their house and possessions to Dr. London for the king's use on 20 October, 1538. (fn. 7) London reported that the friars' house at Warwick was without the town, and was ruinous, with lead only in the gutters and on the steeple. Before he left the town he defaced the windows and the 'sellys' (cubicles) of the dorter. (fn. 8) Writing on 5 November to Cromwell, London suggested that the roof of the Warwick friary, 60 ft. long, with good tiling, would well serve for the kitchen that the king was building at Warwick Castle. (fn. 9)
The prior and his brethren were ejected, like the rest of the friars, without any pensions.
In 1551 the site was purchased of the crown by John, duke of Northumberland. He held it long enough to completely demolish the church and buildings, but was himself executed for high treason in 1553 and his estates forfeited.
William Savage, occurs 1347
Christopher Rouston, occurs 1478 (fn. 10)
William Latimer, D.D.
John Knyght, occurs 1535
Thomas Norman, surrendered 1538