Friaries: Carmelite friars of Coventry

Pages 104-105

A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1908.

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The house of the Carmelite or White Friars of Coventry is said to have been founded at the unusually late date of 1342, about a century after their first introduction into England. Their house stood in the south-east part of the city; it was erected for them by Sir John Poultney. (fn. 1) The founder was a native of Poultney, a hamlet of Misterton, Leicestershire. He became a wealthy citizen of London, and was five times lord mayor, namely in 1312, 1330, 1331, 1333, and 1335. He was knighted by the Black Prince in 1338, died in 1349 of the plague, and was buried in a chapel of his own erection in the cathedral church of St. Paul.

It is just possible, however, that the friars may have been settled in Coventry many years earlier and that they were removed to a new site in 1342, for in 1287 Archbishop Peckham wrote to the archdeacon of Derby saying that he heard that the friars of Mount Carmel purposed to settle in Coventry within the prescribed distance of 140 rods (cannae) of the Friars Minors, to the injury of the latter. (fn. 2) The archdeacon was to order them to desist and abandon the proposed site, but it does not necessarily follow that they gave up their intention of settling somewhere within the city. However that may be, there is no trace of any Carmelite convent at Coventry until on 24 February 1342, licence was granted to William de Ingleton and Nicholas de Sproton, chaplains, to alienate in mortmain to the prior provincial of the Carmelite friars a messuage and ten acres of land in Coventry, to build a church in honour of the Virgin Mary with houses for a habitation for a prior and some friars of that order. (fn. 3)

Two years later Edward III personally granted to the prior and brothers ordinis de Monte Carmell de Coventre a toft with its appurtenances adjoining their site for the extension of their house, (fn. 4) and in 1352 letters patent were granted for acquiring a further small addition to the site for the purpose of enlarging their house. (fn. 5)

Bequests to this house, as was the case with other friaries, were commonly made for small amounts, as for instance in the case of William Botener, who bequeathed his furred gown of crimson velvet to the church of the White Friars to make thereof a vestment; but in 1384 Lord Basset of Drayton bequeathed to the Carmelites of Coventry the handsome legacy of £300, for the enlargement of their church. (fn. 6) In 1506 Thomas Bonde of Coventry bequeathed 20 marks to the cloister of the Carmelite house which was then being rebuilt.

In 1413 licence was granted to William Botener of Withybrook to give them a piece of ground 141 ft. by 45 ft. for the enlargement of their habitation; in consideration whereof they were to celebrate the anniversary of John Percy and Alice his wife. (fn. 7)

The annals of the city record under the year 1431—'then was the firste chapiter of the White Friers.' (fn. 8) This entry obviously refers to the provincial chapter of the order being held for the first time at Coventry. The city annals contain another reference to these friars, for in 1471 'One Gryffyth, a serjeant of Coventrie, arrested a man in the church of the White Friars on All Hallows eve and the Freres rescued the party and took the serjeant's mall from him.'

Sir Thomas Poultney, of Misterton, lineal descendant of the founder, by his will dated 3 April, 1507, bequeathed his body to be buried in the chancel of the Carmelite church of Coventry and appointed that at his funeral twenty-four torches each having his arms upon it should be borne by the same number of poor men, every one having a gown with the 'libberd's' head behind and before.

The gilds of both the carpenters and smiths of the city were in the habit of holding their annual feasts in the hall of the White Friars throughout the fifteenth century and down to the Dissolution.

The Valor of 1535 gave the clear annual value of the Carmelite house of Coventry, when Richard Wodcok was warden, as £7 13s. 8d. Rents of certain tenements standing on the site allotted to them for their church and buildings yielded 66s. 8d., whilst the offerings in their Lady Chapel, where there was a special image of the Virgin, averaged £5 18s. a year. Out of this they paid 20s. a year to the warden of Merton's chantry in the church of St. Michael; 2s. to the heirs of Robert Norwood for the ground on which their church stood; 3s. to the pittance of Coventry Priory; 4s. for murage to the city of Coventry, and 2s. to a bailiff for collecting the rents of their tenements. (fn. 9)

On 1 October, 1538, Hugh Burnby, the prior, and thirteen of the White Friars signed a surrender of their house to Dr. London for the king's use; John Yett and Thomas Gyfte, laymen, were appointed attorneys to receive and deliver the same. (fn. 10) No pension was granted to any of them.

It was reported at the end of the month that the soil of the church, churchyard, and quire of the White Friars was only worth yearly, after the buildings were defaced, and the ground made clean, 6s. 8d. a year. (fn. 11) The church and churchyard were granted to George Pollard, one of the king's household, and Andrew Flamnock of Kenilworth. In 1543 Pollard and Flamnock made over their interest to the corporation of Coventry, the former receiving £20 and the latter £10. (fn. 12)

William Lubbenham, of Coventry, was provincial master of the English Carmelites for the year 1353; he was warden of this house and on his death in 1361 was buried in the chapter-house. Friar William was D.D. of Oxford, and much distinguished both for piety and learning. He was often termed William Coventry. (fn. 13) John Bird, a native of Coventry, and at one time warden of this house, was also provincial from 1516 to 1518, and then again from 1522 until the dissolution of the order in 1538. (fn. 14)


William Lubbenham, occurs 1353; died 1361

John Bird

Richard Wodcok, occurs 1535

Hugh Burnby, surrendered 1538


  • 1. Leland, Itin. iv, 124.
  • 2. Reg. Epist. Peckham (Rolls Ser.), iii, 946.
  • 3. Pat. 16 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 32.
  • 4. Pat. 18 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 35.
  • 5. Pat. 26 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 8.
  • 6. Dugdale, Warw. i, 186.
  • 7. Pat. I Hen. V, pt. iii, m. 44.
  • 8. 'Memorials of the White Friars, Coventry,' Midland Inst. Proc. (1873), 65.
  • 9. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iii, 57.
  • 10. Rymer, Foedera, xiv, 612.
  • 11. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiii (2), 731.
  • 12. Ibid.
  • 13. Stevens, Continuation of Mon. ii, 165.
  • 14. 'Memorials of the White Friars, Coventry,' Midland Inst. Proc. 67.