Friaries: The white friars of Doncaster

Pages 267-270

A History of the County of York: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1974.

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The Carmelite friary—' a right goodly house in the middle of the town ' (fn. 1) —was founded in 1350 by John son of Henry Nicbrothere of Eyum with Maud his wife and Richard Euwere of Doncaster, who gave the friars a messuage and 6 acres of land. (fn. 2) The priors of the order asked permission of the Archbishop of York to have the place consecrated in 1351. (fn. 3) The earliest bequest to them recorded was made by William Nelson of Appleby, vicar of Doncaster, in 1360. (fn. 4) In 1366 Roger de Bangwell, formerly rector of Dronfield, made his will in the house of these friars, in whose church he wished to be buried; he left 8 marks to the convent, 2s. to each friar, his chalice and priest's vestment to the altar next to which he was to be buried, and other ornaments to the great altar, 20s. to John son of Asherford, 'if he is received into the Carmelites at Doncaster,' and two-thirds of his goods to the same friary. Among his executors were the prior, Friars William of Hatfield, John of Burton, and Thomas de Grene of Lancashire, then a servant of the prior and convent. (fn. 5) A provincial chapter was held at this friary in 1376. (fn. 6) The friars in 1397 received the royal pardon, on paying 20s., for acquiring without licence several small plots, worth 12s. 6d. a year, 'for the enlargement of the entrance and exit of their church. (fn. 7) Two friars of the house, John Slaydburn and John Belton, were appointed papal chaplains in 1398 and 1402. (fn. 8)

John of Gaunt was regarded as one of the founders, (fn. 9) and his son Henry of Bolingbroke on his journey from Ravenspur in July 1399 lodged at the friary, (fn. 10) where also Edward IV was entertained in 1470, Henry VII in 1486, and the Princess Margaret Tudor in 1503. (fn. 11) Edward IV in 1472 conferred the privileges of a corporation on the convent, 'which is of the foundation of the king's progenitors and of the king's patronage,' and licensed the friars to acquire lands to the yearly value of £20. (fn. 12) At the beginning of the 16th century the Earl of Northumberland claimed the title of founder of the house. (fn. 13)

Several members of the house attained some distinction as writers. Such were John Marrey, who died in 1407, (fn. 14) John Colley who flourished c. 1440, (fn. 15) John Sutton, provincial prior 1468, (fn. 16) and Henry Parker, who got into trouble by preaching on the poverty of Christ and His apostles and attacking the secular clergy at Paul's Cross in 1464; he is probably the author of the dialogue entitled Dives et Pauper which was printed both by Pynson and by Wynkyn de Worde at the end of the 15th century. (fn. 17) John Breknoke, keeper of the Dragon Inn at Doncaster, left the friars some books in 1505. (fn. 18)

Among those buried in the church were William and Ellen Leicester about 1450, Elizabeth Amyas who in 1451 desired to be buried before the image of the Virgin Mary; Sir Robert Willis, kt., who took part in Warwick's plots and was executed at Doncaster in March 1469-70, and his wife Elizabeth daughter of John Bourchier, Lord Berners, 1470; (fn. 19) and Margaret Cobham, wife of Ralph Nevill, second Earl of Westmorland, who was buried in 1484 in 'a goodly tomb of white marble,' which was afterwards removed to the parish church. (fn. 20) Many of the bequests were made to 'Our Lady of Doncaster,' a wonder-working image of the Virgin, before which the hair shirt of Earl Rivers was hung after his execution in 1483. (fn. 21) To this image Sir Hugh Hastings left a taper of wax in 1482, (fn. 22) Katherine Hastings, his widow, 'her tawny chamlett gown' in 1506, Alice West her best beads in 1520, John Hewett of Friston-super-aquam one penny in 1521, the sister of Geoffrey Proctor of Bordley a girdle and beads about 1524, while the Earl of Northumberland gave 13s. 4d. a year to keep a light burning before Our Lady. (fn. 23) On 15 July 1524 William Nicholson of Townsburgh attempted to cross the Don with an iron-bound wain in which were Robert Leche and his wife and their two children; being overwhelmed by the stream they called on our Lady of Doncaster and by her help came safely ashore; they came to the White Friars and returned thanks on St. Mary Magdalen's Day, when 'this gracious miracle was rung and sung in the presence of 300 people and more.' (fn. 24)

On the eve of the Dissolution the house was divided against itself. The famous John Bale, about 1530, being then a friar at Doncaster, and perhaps prior, taught one William Broman 'that Christ would dwell in no church made of lime and stone by man's hands, but only in heaven above and in man's heart on earth.' (fn. 25)

In the Pilgrimage of Grace, though the lords used the White Friars as their head quarters while negotiating with Robert Aske at Doncaster, (fn. 26) the prior, Lawrence Coke, supported the rebellion. He was imprisoned in the Tower and in Newgate, condemned by Act of Attainder a few days before Cromwell's fall, but pardoned on 2 October 1540; it is not clear whether the pardon was issued in time to save him from execution. (fn. 27)

The house was surrendered by Edward Stubbis, the prior, and seven friars, on 13 November 1538 to Hugh Wyrrall and Tristram Teshe, who 'made a book of the property' and notified to Cromwell that the tenements in Doncaster were in some decay, and that the image of our Lady had already been taken away by the archbishop's order. (fn. 28) The plate sent to the royal jewel house was considerable; 25 oz. of gilt plate, 109½ oz. parcel gilt, and 48½ oz. white plate. (fn. 29) The net profit from the sale of the goods seems to have been £21 18s. 4d. (fn. 30) The site with dovecot and other houses, a garden and orchard all surrounded by a stone wall and containing 2½ acres, was let to Wyrrall for 10s. a year. The tenements in Doncaster included an inn called 'Le Lyon' in Hallgate, already let by the prior to Alan Malster for forty-one years at 40s. a year in 18 August 1538, a messuage in Selpulchre Gate similarly leased on 2 September 1538 to Emmota Parsonson for 12s., and various tenements, shops, and cottages, the whole property bringing in £10 17s. 4d. a year. (fn. 31)


William de Freston, 1366 (fn. 32)

John Marrey or Marre, before 1407 (fn. 33)

John Sutton, 1472 (fn. 34)

'E. Th. Prior' 1515 (fn. 35)

John Bale (?) c. 1530 (fn. 36)

Laurence Coke, 1536 (fn. 37)

Edward Stubbis, 1538 (fn. 38)


  • 1. Leland, I tin. i, 36. See F. R. Fairbank, 'The Carmelites of Doncaster,' in Yorks. Arch. Journ. xiii, 262-70, where excavations on the site are described.
  • 2. Inq. a.q.d. file 299, no. 12; Pat. 24 Edw. I, pt. iii, m. 10, 9.; B.M. Harl. MS. 539, fol. 144; Speed, Hist. fol. 1082.
  • 3. Harl. MS. 6969, fol. 49b.
  • 4. Yorks. Arch. Journ. xiii, 191.
  • 5. Test. Ebor. i, 82, where the date is twice misprinted 1346. Many bequests are noted by F. R. Fairbank in Yorks. Arch. Journ. xii, xiii.
  • 6. Tanner, Bibliotheca, 562
  • 7. a Pat. 20 Ric. II, pt. ii, m. 22.
  • 8. Cal of Papal Letters, iv, 305, 315.
  • 9. B.M. Harl. MS. 539, fol. 144.
  • 10. Hardyn, Chron. (ed. Ellis), 353.
  • 11. Yorks. Arch. Journ. xiii, 267-8.
  • 12. Pat. 12 Edw. IV, pt. ii, m. 4.
  • 13. Northumb. Household Bk. (ed. T. Percy), 338, 339 (20s. a year toward the buying of their store). Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, in his will made 1485, left these friars £20; Test. Ebor. iii, 304.
  • 14. Dict. Nat. Biog. xxxvi, 196.
  • 15. Ibid. xi, 337.
  • 16. Tanner, Bibl. 700 n.
  • 17. Ibid. 574; Hist. MSS. Com. Rep. viii, App. iii, 107; Dict. Nat. Biog. xliii, 237; Fuller, Worthies.
  • 18. Test. Ebor. iv, 239.
  • 19. Hunter, South Yorks. i, 15-17; Test. Ebor. v, 17.
  • 20. Leland, I tin. i, 36.
  • 21. Rous, Hist. 213-14.
  • 22. Test. Ebor. iii, 274.
  • 23. Yorks. Arch. Journ. xiii, 270; Northumb. Household Bk. 338.
  • 24. Yorks. Arch. Journ. xiii, 558; Hist. MSS. Com. xiv, App. iv, 1.
  • 25. L. and P. Hen. VIII, ix, 230.
  • 26. Engl. Hist. Rev. v, 341; L. and P. Hen. VIII, xii (1), 6.
  • 27. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xii (1), 852, 854; (2), 181; xiii (1), 1024; xv, pp. 215, 217; xvi, 220 (7); Burnet, Reformation (ed. Pocock), i, 566; Gasquet, Hen. VIII and the Engl. Mon. ii, 366.
  • 28. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiii (z), 823, 860; cf. 1064. On the image cf. ibid. (1), 1054, 1177; (2), 1280.
  • 29. Mon. Treasures (Abbotsford Club), 23.
  • 30. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiv (2), 326.
  • 31. Mins. Accts. 30-1 Hen. VIII (Yorks.), no. 166. The White Friars was situated in what is now High Street and Printing Office Street.
  • 32. Test. Ebor. i, 82.
  • 33. Dict. Nat. Biog. xxxvi, 196; he was a distinguished theologian.
  • 34. Pat. 12 Edw. IV, pt. ii, m. 4; cf. Harl. MS. 1819, fol. 200b.
  • 35. Hunter, op. cit. i, 17.
  • 36. L. and P. Hen. VIII, ix, 230.
  • 37. Ibid. xii (1), 854; he was Prior of Scarborough in 19 Hen. VIII; Conventual Leases, Yorks. (P.R.O.), no. 905.
  • 38. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiii (2), 823.