House of Carmelite friars: Marlborough

Pages 333-334

A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1956.

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The White Friars, or Carmelites, did not come into Wiltshire until early in the 14th century. The exact date of their arrival is not known, but a group of them must have been in Marlborough in 1315, for on 1 January 1316 a mortmain licence was granted to William de Rammeshulle for the alienation of a messuage to the Carmelite Friars there to build a house for themselves, and to John Godhyne to grant a garden with 2 acres of land adjoining. This property was to be held in chief subject to a rent granted for life by Edward I to his wife Queen Margaret. (fn. 1) Five years later, on 1 January 1321, these two men gave more property: John Godhyne adding a messuage and a plot of meadow, and William de Rammeshulle a toft, both adjoining the land already held by the friars. (fn. 2) A curious sidelight is thrown on this endowment by a letter from the Pope to the Bishop of Salisbury in 1320. In this the bishop was ordered not to molest the Carmelites to whom the late Queen Margaret, according to her son Edmund, had given land in Marlborough, on which they had built a chapel and a house. (fn. 3) This does not agree with the evidence of the Patent Rolls. Was the queen's son trying to gain undeserved glory for his mother? Even if she gave up her rent, she could not be said to have given the land.

In 1328 Adam le Long' of Burbage gave the friars a messuage in Marlborough to find a light for their church at the time of divine service. (fn. 4) The Carmelites of Marlborough came too late it seems for the many royal gifts from the forests, but in 1447 Henry VI gave to the friars 'in relief of their poverty, as much fuel of boughwode and shrobbes' from Savernake as 'a horse can carry thence weekly for three days going and returning'. This was a continuation of a grant made by Edward, late Duke of York, for the duration of his life. (fn. 5)

Except for a note on the Patent Rolls when the friars' latrine was used as a landmark, (fn. 6) and a reference to a friar who had raped a child, (fn. 7) the White Friars of Marlborough have no history except as recipients of charity. In 1415 William Honestan of Salisbury left 1s. to each priest amongst the Marlborough friars. (fn. 8) In 1432 Ralph Hunt of Bath left them £1. (fn. 9) In 1433 Thomas Polton, Bishop of Worcester (1426-33), a Wiltshireman by birth, left one noble to the prior, a trental fee to each of the friars, and £1 to the house itself for the celebration of 100 masses. (fn. 10)

The friars were, however, at all times very poor. Richard Ingworth, Bishop of Dover, the visitor sent by Thomas Cromwell, was a Dominican, but even he was horrified by the poverty and dilapidation of the house. He received its submission in Marlborough in July 1538. He and two men lent by the mayor then made an inventory. The total value of the house was £9 6s. 3d.; the house owed £4 7s. 7d., so only £4 18s. 8d. remained for the king. (fn. 11) The visitor reported that there was no lead and only a little steeple. (fn. 12) Shortly after the dissolution of the house the friars' property was said to comprise a prior's lodging, orchards, a dovecot, ponds called 'Fish Garthe', some cottages and gardens in Marlborough, and a tenement in 'le Bayllie'. (fn. 13) In April 1545 the site was granted to John Pollard, the king's servant, and to William Byrte. (fn. 14) It was described by Leland as lying south of the town, (fn. 15) but the house is said to have been destroyed by fire in 1820. In Waylen's history of Marlborough the house is described as situated in the middle of the town between the main road and the river. The same writer states that some of the material from the friars' house was used in the house called the Priory which was erected on the site after the fire of 1820. (fn. 16)


  • 1. Cal. Pat. 1313–17, 378.
  • 2. Ibid. 1317–21, 551.
  • 3. Cal. Papal Registers, ii, 202.
  • 4. Cal. Pat. 1327–30, 333.
  • 5. Ibid. 1446–52, 108.
  • 6. Ibid. 1358–61, 292.
  • 7. L. & P. Hen. VIII, xiii (1), p. 548.
  • 8. Reg. Chichele (Cant. & York Soc.), ii, 30.
  • 9. Ibid. 462–5.
  • 10. Ibid. 485.
  • 11. L. & P. Hen. VIII, xiii (1), p. 538.
  • 12. Ibid.
  • 13. SC 6/Hen. VIII/7407, m. 3.
  • 14. L. & P. Hen. VIII, xx (1), p. 299.
  • 15. W.A.M. i, 179.
  • 16. J. Waylen, A History . . . of Marlborough, 82.