Project Gutenberg's Mediæval London, v. 1-2, by Walter (Sir) Besant

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The Survey of London




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1. The Records 3
2. The Charter of Henry the Second 8
3. The Commune 11
4. The Wards 24
5. The Factions of the City 35
6. The Century of Uncertain Steps 66
7. After the Commune 72
8. The City Companies 108
1. The Religious Life 127
2. Church Furniture 159
3. The Calendar of the Year 164
4. Hermits and Anchorites 170
5. Pilgrimage 179
6. Ordeal 191
7. Sanctuary 201
8. Miracle and Mystery Plays 213
9. Superstitions, etc. 218
10. Order of Burial 223
1. General 227
2. St. Martin’s-le-Grand 234
3. The Priory of the Holy Trinity, or Christ Church Priory 241
4. The Charter House 245 vi
5. Elsyng Spital 248
6. St. Bartholomew 250
7. St. Thomas of Acon 263
8. St. Anthony’s 268
9. The Priory of St. John of Jerusalem 270
10. The Clerkenwell Nunnery 284
11. St. John the Baptist, or Holiwell Nunnery 286
12. Bermondsey Abbey 288
13. St. Mary Overies 297
14. St. Thomas’s Hospital 309
15. St. Giles-in-the-Fields 311
16. St. Helen’s 313
17. St. Mary Spital 322
18. St. Mary of Bethlehem 325
19. The Clares 329
20. St. Katherine’s by the Tower 334
21. Crutched Friars 342
22. Austin Friars 344
23. Grey Friars 348
24. The Dominicans 354
25. Whitefriars 360
26. St. Mary of Graces 363
27. The Smaller Foundations 365
28. Fraternities 382
29. Hospitals 385
1. List of Wards of London 391
2. List of Aldermen 393
3. Alphabetical List of Aldermen whose Names are affixed to Deeds in the Thirteenth Century 395
4. List of Parishes 397
5. Patronage of City Churches 400
6. Festivals 401
7. An Anchorite’s Cell 404
8. The Monastic Houses 406
9. A Dominican House 407
10. The Papey 411
11. Charitable Endowment 413
12. Fraternities 420



Extract from Letter-Book E, dated 1316, relating to the Grocers’ Company 5
Obverse and Original Reverse of the Seal of the City of London, showing Figure of St. Thomas à Becket 13
Old Mayoralty Seal, Thirteenth Century 15
King John signing Magna Charta Facing 20
Aldgate House, Bethnal Green 25
Parts of the South and West Walls of a Convent 30
The Tower of London about 1480 39
The Crown offered to Richard III. at Baynard’s Castle Facing 56
King Richard holding a Council of Nobles and Prelates 61
Henry of Bolingbroke challenges the Crown 62
Richard II. consulting with his Friends in Conway Castle 63
Richard II. and his Patron Saints 69
Whittington and his Cat 73
Death of Whittington 74
Crossbowman 77
The Morning of Agincourt 81
Facsimile of Heading of Account, 1575-1576, showing Cooper at Work 85
South-East View of the Old House lately standing in Sweedon’s Passage, Grub Street 91
South-West View of Gerrard’s Hall Facing 100
Facsimile of Surgeons’ Arms, 1492, with St. Cosmo and St. Damian supporting 101
Interior of the Guildhall 103
A Tally for 6s. 8d. issued by Edward I.’s Treasurer to the Sheriff of Lincolnshire 105
Election Garland given by Robert and Cicely Chamberlayn, 1463 105
A Bagpipe-Player 110
Illustration from Zeller’s La France Anglaise et Charles VII. 111
The Seal of the Vintners’ Company, 1437 112
Tombstone of William Warrington, Master Mason, at Croyland Abbey, 1427 113
Coopers’ Marks, A.D. 1420 114
Part of Facsimile of the Original Charter granted by King Richard III. to the Worshipful Company of Wax Chandlers of the City of London (16th February, 1 Richard III.) 116
Liverymen of London 117
Frontispiece to the Grangerised Edition of Brayley’s London and Middlesex Facing 118
William Smallwood, Master of the Pewterers’ Company 121
St. Ethelburga’s Church, Bishopsgate Street 129
The Prioress 131
The Monk and his Greyhounds 131
Chantry Chapel of Henry V. in Westminster Abbey 133viii
Earl of Northumberland receiving Mass 135
Interesting Antiquities in Westminster Abbey Facing 138
Savoy Chapel and Palace 141
The Lollard’s Tower, Lambeth Palace 149
Knights of the Holy Ghost embarking for the Crusades 151
A Priest called John Ball stirs up great Commotion in England 155
Embroidery of the Fourteenth Century, supposed to be part of a Frontal or Antependium 160
Archbishop of Canterbury preaching on behalf of Henry, Duke of Lancaster 161
Queen Margaret, Wife of Henry VI., at Prayers 168
All Hallows, London Wall 175
Wilsdon, Middlesex 181
The Tabard Inn, Borough 187
Boss from the Ruins of the East Cloister of St. Bartholomew’s Priory 195
Sanctuary Knocker, Durham Cathedral 202
The Martyrdom of St. Thomas 203
Brasses in St. Bartholomew the Less, Smithfield 207
The Sanctuary Church at Westminster 209
North-West View of the Ruins of the Bishop of Winchester’s Palace, Southwark 215
Torments of Hell 219
The Chapel of the Hospital for Lepers in Kent Street, Southwark, called Le Lock Facing 220
Funeral Service 223
North View of the Oratory of the Ancient Inn situated in Tooley Street, Southwark, and formerly belonging to the Priors of Lewes in Sussex 229
The Sanctuary of St. Martin’s-le-Grand 235
Plan of Holy Trinity Priory (Ground Floor Story) } Between 244 and245
Plan of Holy Trinity Priory (Second Floor Story)
The Charter House 246
Conjectural Restoration of the Buildings of the Priory Church of St. Bartholomew the Great as existing in Prior Bolton’s time (about A.D. 1530) 251
Part of the Choir, with the Remains of the South Transept, of the Church of St. Bartholomew the Great 252
Tomb of Prior Rahere 253
The Gate of St. Bartholomew’s Priory 255
St. Bartholomew the Less 257
Interior of St. Bartholomew the Great 259
Eastern Cloister of St. Bartholomew’s Priory 261
Seal of the Hospital of St. Thomas of Acon 263
Becket receiving a letter from Henry II. constituting him Chancellor. Consecration of Becket to the See of Canterbury. Becket approaching the King with Disapprobation 265
The Priory of St. John of Jerusalem, London 271
Crypt of St. John’s Church, Clerkenwell 273
“The Templars”: an Ancient House at Hackney 275
Knight Templar 276
Knight Templar: Temple Church 276
An Effigy at the Temple Church, erroneously described as that of Sir Geoffrey de Mandeville 277
Interior of the Temple Church 279ix
Ancient Cloisters in Clerkenwell 285
The Arms and Seals of the Prior and Convent of St. Saviour at Bermondsey 289
Bermondsey Abbey 293
A General View of the Remains of Bermondsey Abbey, Surrey Facing 294
Figure of a Knight Templar } 298
Traditional Figure of Old Overie
Gower’s Monument, St. Mary Overies 299
Bishop Andrewes’ Tomb, St. Mary Overies 301
Gateway of St. Mary’s Priory, Southwark 303
Ancient Crypt, Southwark 305
North-East View of St. Saviour’s Church 307
South-West View of the Interior of the Church of St. Helen, Bishopsgate Street 314
South-East View of the Nunnery of St. Helen, Bishopsgate Street 315
The Crypt of the Nunnery of St. Helen, in Bishopsgate Street 317
Seals of St. Helen’s Nunnery 319
The Gothic Altar-piece in the Collegiate Church of St. Katherine, with the Monuments of the Duke of Exeter and of the Hon. G. Montague 335
The Church of Austin Friars 345
Arms of Sir R. Whittington, Grey Friars, now Christ’s Hospital 348
Christ’s Hospital, from the Cloisters 349
“Ye Plat of Ye Graye Friers,” A.D. 1617 351
Blackfriars’ Priory 355
A Column of the Hall of Blackfriars’ Priory 357
Crypt of Old Whitefriars’ Priory 361
Flagellants 367
Interior of Old Lambe’s Chapel, Monkwell Street 369
Exterior of the South Side of Old Lambe’s Chapel 371
North-East View of the Chapel of the Holy Trinity, Leadenhall, in the Parish of St. Peter-upon-Cornhill, London 375
Hall of the Brotherhood of the Holy Trinity 383
Page of the Roll containing the names of the “Brethren and Sisters” of the Guild of Fraternity of Corpus Christi, 1485, 1486, 1488 Facing 384
North-West View of the Chapel and Part of the Great Staircase leading to the Hall of Bridewell Hospital, London 386




Before entering upon the government of London under the Plantagenet Kings, let us first ask what are the documents in which we shall find information at first hand.

No city in the world possesses a collection of archives so ancient and so complete as the collection at the Guildhall. Riley, in his Introduction to the Liber Albus, begins his list of those who have consulted the archives with John Stow. Surely, however, the compiler of the Liber Albus itself, John Carpenter, also consulted archives even in his day valuable and ancient. Strype, in the preparation of his Edition of Stow, also consulted the City archives:—

“Again,” he says, “another Thing, that Labour and Diligence hath been bestowed in, relates to the Laws, Customs and Usages of the City. Wherein the Liberties and Privileges, as well as the Duties of the Citizens, are contained. And therefore ought to be known by them, and in that regard necessary to be set down, as accurately and largely as might be; being Things so material for them to be advised of. This was laudably begun by A. M. in the last Edition: but very much improved and enlarged in this. And to enable me the better in the doing the same, it was not only necessary to gather up, and present the many and most important Acts of Parliament and Common Council, relating to the City and its Affairs; but also to have recourse to the authentick Books and Records belonging to the Chamber of London: Where many ancient and curious Matters of this nature might be found. But this seemed to be somewhat difficult to be obtained. Yet by the Help of some friends of Quality and good Account, and making the Court of Aldermen acquainted with my Design, and requesting their Leave and Licence, I obtained an Order from them to Mr. Ashhurst, then Town Clerk, to give me Access to some of their Books, that might be most to my Purpose, and their Allowance to transcribe what I thought convenient out of them: but withal I was enjoined by the Court to leave in Mr. Town Clerk’s hands all my Notes that I should so collect thence, to be reviewed and examined; lest some things published from them might seem prejudicial some way or other to the City, or be judged not so convenient to be known; or lest any Mistakes might4 be made by me in transcribing. Which (as was fit), I readily complied with. Many Remarks I took out thence, respecting both the ancient State of the City, and also of the Courts, the Customs, the Magistrates, the Officers, &c. The Chief Books I conversed with, were those two famous ancient Volumes, the one called Liber Horne, from the Writer, the other called Liber Albus, i.e. the White Book. Both so often made use of and cited by Mr. Stow. This last mentioned Book was composed in Latin, An. 1419. 7. H. 5. mense Novembris. And what it contains is known by what is writ in one of the First Pages, viz. Continens tam laudabiles Observantias, non scriptas, in dict. Civitate fieri solitas, quam notabilia memoranda, &c., sparsim et inordinate scripta. That is, ‘Containing as well laudable Customs, not written, wont to be observed in the said City, as other notable things worthy remembering, here and there scatteringly, not in any Order written.’ The Compiler of this White Book was one Carpenter: whose Name fairly and largely writ fronts the first page. Who I suppose may be that J. Carpenter, sometime Town Clark in the Reign of Henry V., mentioned by Stow in his Survey among the worthy Benefactors of the City: and whose Gifts are there set down. In this Volume are inserted Memorials of the Maiors, Sheriffs, Recorders, Chamberlains, and the other chief officers of the City: likewise all the Charters granted by the several Kings of England from William the Conqueror: and the Confirmations thereof. There is also a Tract of the Manner and Order, ‘How Barones & Universitas Civitat. London, &c. That is, the Barons (i.e. the Freemen) and Commonality of the City of London, ought to behave and carry themselves towards the King and his Justitiaries Itinerants in the Time it pleaseth the King to hold Pleas of the Crown at the Tower of London: Together with many other Matters and Subjects, contained in this Choice MS.’

The other Book, which I had also the favour of perusing, namely Horne, was near an Hundred Years older, so named from Andrew Horne, sometime Chamberlain of the City, viz. in the time of King Edward the Second. What this Book contains, is told by this Inscription in one place of it, viz. ‘Iste Liber restat Andreae Horne Piscenario London, de Breggestrete. In quo continentur Cartae, & aliae Consuetudines predict. Civitat. Angliae & Statuta per Henricum Regem, & Edwardum Regem fil. predict. Regis Henrici edita.’ And again, ‘In isto Libro continentur tota Statuta, & Ordinationes & Cartae & Libertates, & Consuetudines Civitat. London & Ordo Justitiorum itinerantium apud Turrim Lond. & ipsum iter.’



A larger image is available here.

Another Book also there was in the Chamber, which I also perused for the same purpose, called Liber Custumarum. The First Tract whereof is, de Laudibus Nobilitatis Insulae Britanniae. It is in old French, and consisteth of thirteen chapters; Beginning thus—


‘De Britaigne, que ore est appele Engleterre, & qui est si benure sur toutes autres Isles; & qui est si plentiuous de blez & des arbres, & large de boys & de rivers & de veneisons & de oisiaus convenables, et noble de mout de maneres bons chiens. Citees y ad mont belles et bien assises, & belles guameries de terre amyable; close de mere & de douces Ewes delitables: ceo est asavoir, de fluvies, de beaus undes, de clers fountaynes & de douces, &c.’

The writer then applies himself to treat of London; as, the several Charters, the Wards, and the Streets, Passages, and Places there, Privileges of Maiors, &c.

To which I add the Calendarium Cameræ, London, which was also another Book in the Chamber, of use to me also in my searches.”

During the eighteenth century, except for Strype, the archives appear to have been unmolested. Early last century Sir Francis Palgrave made many extracts from this treasury. More recently, M. Auguste Thierry published certain treaties of commerce of the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries, between the citizens of London and the merchants of Amiens. In 1843 M. Jules Delpit spent some time at the Guildhall collecting from copies of documents relating to the connections between France and England. Since then the work of publishing and annotating these papers has gone on with great diligence.

A list of the items which comprise the City archives is given by Riley:—

“In addition to the early Registers, or Letter-Books, from A to K inclusive (the respective dates of which are given at the conclusion of this volume), the Record-room at Guildhall contains the following compilations:—Journals and Repertories of the Courts of Aldermen and Common Council from A.D. 1417 down to the present time. Liber de Antiquis Legibus, a Latin Chronicle of the City transactions from A.D. 1178 to 1274, the only one of the records hitherto published. Liber Horn, a miscellaneous collection, date 1311, and compiled probably by its original owner, Andrew Horn. Liber Custumarum, a compilation of a similar nature, date about 1320, and put together probably under the supervision of the same Andrew Horn. Liber Albus. Liber Dunthorn, a compilation in Latin, Anglo-French, and English, prepared between A.D. 1461 and 1490. Liber Legum, a collection of laws from A.D. 1342 to 1590. Liber Ordinationum de Itinere, compiled temp. Edward I.: in addition to which, there are the Assisa Panis, commencing in 1284; Liber Memorandorum, date 1298, and several other manuscript volumes of inferior note and value.

Among the books which are known to have formerly belonged to the Corporation of London, but are now lost, are the following:—Liber Niger Major, and Liber Niger Minor, both quoted in Liber Albus, Speculum, Recordatorium, possibly identical with the Liber Regum Antiquorum, also lost; Magnus Liber de Chartis et Libertatibus Civitatis; Liber Rubeus, and Liber de Heretochiis,7 both mentioned in the Letter-Books, according to M. Delpit, as formerly in existence. It is not improbable that these volumes may have disappeared on the disastrous occasion when, in the reign of Edward VI., the Lord Protector Somerset borrowed three cartloads of books from the Library at Guildhall, none of which were ever returned.”—Riley’s Introduction to Liber Albus.

Since this list was prepared, the Corporation have undertaken the publication of Riley’s Memorials of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Centuries; Sharpe’s Calendar of Wills; the Calendar of Letters; Sharpe’s London and the Kingdom; Price’s Descriptive Account of the Guildhall; Agas’s “Map of London”; Riley’s Chronicles of Old London. In addition to these volumes, one must not omit Arnold’s Chronicle of Customs, published in 1811; the publications of the Camden Society, which include many documents invaluable to the student of City history; other Chronicles translation has made accessible, such as the “Dialogue de Scaccario,” published in full in Stubbs’s Select Charters.



The Charter granted by Henry the Second, though apparently full, contained certain omissions which are significant and important. Round has arranged this Charter side by side with that of Henry the First, dividing their contents into numbered clauses, italicising the points of difference (Geoffrey de Mandeville, pp. 368-369).

Henry the FirstHenry the Second
(1) Cives non placitabunt extra muros civitatis pro ullo placito. (1) Nullus eorum placitet extra muros civitatis Londoniarum de ullo placito praeter placita de tenuris exterioribus, exceptis monetariis et ministris meis.
(2) Sint quieti de schot et de loth de Danegildo et de murdro, et nullus eorum faciat bellum. (2) Concessi etiam eis quietanciam murdri, [et] infra urbem et Portsokna, et quod nullus faciat bellum.
(3) Et si quis civium de placitis coronæ implacitatus fuerit, per sacramentum quod judicatum fuerit in civitate, se disrationet homo Londoniarum. (3) De placitis ad coronam [spectantibus] se possunt disrationare secundum antiquam consuetudinem civitatis.
(4) Et infra muros civitatis nullus hospitetur, neque de mea familia, neque de alia, nisi alicui hospitium liberetur. (4) Infra muros nemo capiat hospitium per vim vel per liberationem Marescalli.
(5) Et omnes homines Londoniarum sint quieti et liberi, et omnes res eorum, et per totam Angliam et per portus maris, de thelonio et passagio et lestagio et omnibus aliis consuetudinibus. (5) Omnes cives Londoniarum sint quieti de theloneo et lestagio per totam Angliam et per portum maris.
(6) Et ecclesiæ et barones et cives teneant et habeant bene et in pace socnas suas cum omnibus consuetudinibus ita quod hospites qui in soccis suis hospitantur nulli dent consuetudines suas, nisi illi cujus socca fuerit, vel ministro suo quem ibi posuerit. (This clause is wholly omitted).
(7) Et homo Londoniarum non judicetur in misericordia pecuniæ nisi ad suam were, scilicet ad c solidos, dico de placito quod ad pecuniam pertineat. (7) Nullus de misericordia pecuniæ judicetur nisi secundum legem civitatis quam habuerunt tempore Henrici regis avi mei. 9
(8) Et amplius non sit miskenninga in hustenge, neque in folkesmote, neque in aliis placitis infra civitatem; et husteng sedeat semel in hebdomada, videlicet die Lunae. (8) In civitate in nullo placito sit miskenninga; et quod Hustengus semel tantum in hebdomada teneatur.
(9) Et terras suas et wardemotum et debita civibus meis habere faciam infra civitatem et extra. (9) Terras suas et tenuras et vadimonia et debita omnia juste habeant, quicunque eis debeat.
(10) Et de terris de quibus ad me clamaverint rectum eis tenebo lege civitatis. (10) De terris suis et tenuris quæ infra urbem sunt, rectum eis teneatur secundum legem civitatis; et de omnibus debitis suis quae accomodata fuerint apud Londonias, et de vadimoniis ibidem factis, placita [? sint] apud Londoniam.
(11) Et si quis thelonium vel consuetudinem a civibus Londoniarum ceperit, cives Londoniarum capiant de burgo vel de villa ubi theloneum vel consuetudo capta fuit, quantam homo Londoniarum pro theloneo dedit, et proinde de damno caperit. (11) Et si quis in tota Anglia theloneum et consuetudinem ab hominibus Londoniarum ceperit, postquam ipse a recto defecerit Vicecomes Londoniarum namium inde apud Londonias capiat.
(12) Et omnes debitores qui civibus debita debent eis reddant vel in Londoniis se disrationent quod non debent. Quod si reddere noluerint, neque ad disrationandum venire, tunc cives quibus debita sua debent capiant intra civitatem namia sua, vel de comitatu in quo manet qui debitum debet. (12) Habeant fugationes suas, ubicumque habuerunt tempore Regis Henrici avi mei.
(13) Et cives habeant fugationes suas ad fugandum sicut melius et plenius habuerunt antecessores eorum, scilicet Chiltre et Middlesex et Sureie. (13) Insuper etiam, ad emendationem civitatis, eis concessi quod sint quieti de Brudtolle, et de Childewite, et de Yaresive, et de Scotale; ita quod Vicecomes meus (sic) London[iarum] vel aliquis alius ballivus Scotalla non faciat.

The text of the first is that of Stubbs’s Select Charters; that of the second is taken from the transcript in the Liber Custumarum (collated with the Liber Rubeus).

One very curious mistake was discovered by Round in the first. In clause 9 the word wardemotum is used. This, by comparison with the corresponding clause in the second Henry’s Charter, should be vadimonia: in other words, both Charters confirmed to the citizens “the property mortgaged to them and the debts due to them.”

To consider the differences:—

(1) No citizens are to plead without the walls. The second Charter adds “except in pleas for exterior tenures, my moneyers and servants excepted.”

By the second clause the citizens are freed from Scot and Lot and Danegeld and Murder. Henry the Second substitutes acquittance of murder within the City and Portsoken.

(6) Clause 6 is omitted in the second Charter.


(9) Clause 9. I have already shown the error discovered by Round in the word wardemotum.

(10) Here is a limitation, “quæ infra urbem sunt,” which are within the City.

(11) The clause concerning debtors omitted in the second Charter.

(12) About taking toll or any other custom from the citizens: for the “citizens” is substituted the Sheriff.

(13) Observe that Henry the Second does not speak of the Sheriff of London, but of my Sheriff.

The most important omission, however, in the second Charter is that which gives the citizens the right to hold Middlesex on the firma of £300 a year, and the right to elect their own Justiciar and Sheriff.



We are now in a position to proceed to the establishment of the Commune. The stages of any important reform are, first, the right understanding of the facts; then a tentative discussion of the facts; then an animated discussion of the facts; next, an angry denial of the facts; then a refusal to consider the question of reform at all; finally, the unwilling acceptance of reform with gloomy prophecies of disaster and ruin. One knows nothing about these preliminary stages as regards the great Civic Revolution of 1191. But I am quite sure that, just as it was with the Reform Bill of 1832, so it was with the creation of a Mayor in 1191. There were no newspapers, no pamphlets, and no means of united action except the Folk Mote at Paul’s Cross—which would clearly be of no use on such a point—and the casual meeting day by day of the merchants by the riverside. There was no Royal Exchange; there were no Companies’ Halls for them to meet in; we have no record of any meeting; but we may be sure that the inconvenience of the situation was discussed whenever two or three were gathered together. We may be equally sure that there were Conservatives, those who loved the old days, and dreaded the power of a central authority. Opinion as regards reform has always been divided, and always will be divided; there are always those who would rather endure the ills that exist than meet unknown ills which may be brought upon them by change. I do not know how long the discussions continued and the discontent was endured. On this subject history is dumb. One or two points, however, are certain. The first is that all the great towns of Western Europe were eager for the Commune; the next is the model which they proposed to copy.

It must have been well known to our Kings throughout the twelfth century that the creation of the Commune in the great trading cities of Western Europe was not only ardently desired by the citizens, but had been actually achieved by many. What they desired was a Corporation, a municipality, self-government within their own walls. It is certain that London looked with eyes of envy upon Rouen, a City with which it was closely connected by ties of relationship, as well as those of trade, because Rouen obtained her Commune fifteen years before London obtained the mere shadow of one. It was, in fact, from Normandy that the City derived her12 desire to possess a Commune. The connection between London and Rouen was much closer than we are generally willing to recognise. Communication was easy, the Channel could be crossed whenever the wind was favourable, the Englishman was on a friendly soil when he landed in Normandy, a country ruled by his own Prince. The Normans found themselves also among a friendly people on the soil of England. They came over in great numbers, especially to London. The merchants of Rouen had their port at Dowgate from the days of Edward the Confessor. Many of the leading London merchants came from Rouen and Caen. Therefore, whatever went on in Rouen was known in London. Now, in the year 1145, great and startling news arrived. It was heard that the City of Rouen had obtained a Commune, that is to say, a municipality, with a Mayor for a central authority, and powers of government over the whole City. Further news came that the Commune was established in other parts of France and in the Netherlands, and that everywhere the cities were forming themselves into municipalities, breaking away from the old traditions and organising themselves. This was not done without considerable opposition. The rights of the Church, the rights of the Barons, the rights of the King, were all invaded by the creation of the Commune. It was, however, a great popular movement, irresistible. It succeeded for a time, but in one city after another it fell to pieces. In England it succeeded greatly, and it continued to extend and to flourish. Meanwhile the merchants of London understood very well that, in this respect, what suited the people of Rouen would suit them. Indeed, the conditions were very similar in the two Cities.1

Then began a serious agitation—but not after the modern fashion—among the London citizens in favour of the new civic organisation. Henry the Second would have none of it. In his jealousy of any transfer of power to the people, he allowed no guilds to be formed save with his consent; at one blow he suppressed eighteen “Adulterine” guilds which had thus been created. But he could not suppress the ardent desire of the people for the Commune.

Had the successor of Henry been as wise a King and as clear-sighted as his father, the desire of the City might have been staved off for another generation. But Richard was not Henry. When he was gone upon his crusade, the government was left in the hands of his Chancellor, William Longchamp. And then follows one of those episodes in which the history of London becomes actually the history of the whole country.

Longchamp had become unpopular with all classes. The barons felt the power of his hand and resented it; the merchants found themselves continually subject to extortionate fines, the clergy to exactions. He held all the13 Royal Castles; he was attended by a guard of a thousand horsemen; he affected the parade of royalty. In considering this personage, it must be remembered that he had many enemies in all ranks, and that his character has been chiefly drawn by his enemies. It was, of course, a great point against him—and always hurled in his teeth—that he was of humble origin; he was also, as a matter of course, charged with every kind of immorality. His haughtiness, which might be excused in his position of Viceroy, was undoubted; it was called by his enemies insolence; and there could be no doubt as to the taxes which he imposed. In the letter written by Hugh, Bishop of Coventry, after Longchamp’s deposition, even ecclesiastical invective seems to have done its very worst. The real reason of the deadly hatred is summed up in the following:—

“To omit other matters, he and his revellers had so exhausted the whole kingdom, that they did not leave a man his belt, a woman her necklace, a nobleman his ring, or anything of value even to a Jew. He had likewise so utterly emptied the King’s treasury, that in all the coffers and bags therein, nothing but the keys could be met with, after the lapse of these last two years.” (Roger de Hoveden, Riley’s trans., vol. ii. p. 235.)

From a wax cast in the Guildhall Museum.

On the other hand, Peter of Blois replied to the gentle Bishop of Coventry with a letter which must have awakened in the mind of that prelate something of the ungovernable wrath which belonged to his time. He says:14 “The Bishop of Ely [Longchamp], one beloved by God and men, a man amiable, wise, generous, kind, and meek, bounteous and liberal to the highest degree, had by the dispensations of the Divine favour, and in accordance with the requirements of his own manners and merits, been honoured with the administration of the State, and had thus gained the supreme authority. With feelings of anger you beheld this, and forthwith he became the object of your envy. Accordingly, your envy conceived vexation and brought forth iniquity; whereas he, walking in the simplicity of his mind, received you into the hallowed precincts of his acquaintanceship, and with singleness of heart, and into the bonds of friendship and strict alliance. His entire spirit reposed upon you, and all your thoughts unto him were for evil.” (Roger de Hoveden, Riley’s trans., vol. ii. p. 238.)

We have not to determine the guilt or the innocence of the Chancellor; it is enough to learn that there were opposite views.

The Barons and Bishops were headed by John, Earl of Mortain,2 brother of the King.

It was notorious that of all those who went out to fight the Saracen, few returned. Richard, in the Holy Land, was not sparing himself; it was therefore quite likely that he would meet his death upon the battlefield. Then, as the heir to the crown was a child, and as a man, and not a child, was wanted on the throne, John had certainly every reason to believe that his own accession would be welcomed. He prepared the way, therefore, by joining the popular cause, and put himself at the head of the malcontents.

And now, at last, the citizens saw their chance. They offered to use the whole power of the City for John and the barons, but on conditions. J. H. Round, in his Origin of the Mayoralty of London, p. 3, says:—

“It was at about the same time that the ‘Commune’ and its ‘Maire’ were triumphantly reaching Dijon in one direction, and Bordeaux in another, that they took a northern flight and descended upon London. Not for the first time in her history, the Crown’s difficulty was London’s opportunity, and when in October, 1191, the administration found itself paralysed by the conflict between the King’s brother John, and the King’s representative, the famous Longchamp, London, finding that she held the scales, promptly named the concession of a ‘Commune’ as the price of her support. The chroniclers of the day enable us to picture to ourselves the scene, as the excited citizens who had poured forth overnight, with lanterns and torches, to welcome John to the capital, streamed together on the morning, of the eventful 8th October, at the well-known summons of the great bell, swinging out from its campanile in St. Paul’s Churchyard. There they heard John take the oath to the ‘Commune,’ like a French King or Lord, and then London for the first time had a municipality of her own. What the English and territorial organisation could never have brought about, the foreign Commune, with its commercial basis, could and did accomplish.

And as London alone had her ‘Commune,’ so London alone had her Mayor. The ‘Maire’ was unquestionably imported with the ‘Commune,’ although it is not till the spring of 1193 that the Mayor of London is first mentioned. But already in 1194 we find a citizen accused of boasting that ‘come what may the Londoners shall never have any King but their Mayor.’”

“Not for the first time.” Remember that in 1066, after the battle of Hastings, London only admitted William as King on conditions. London elected Henry the First King on conditions. London made Stephen King on conditions. London received the Empress on conditions; a week later the Queen also on conditions;15 and now, once more, London saw its chance—such a chance as might never occur again—for getting what it wanted—on conditions.

Let us, however, enter more fully into the details of this victory, and into the causes which led to concession.

Longchamp gave the barons an opening by his attempted exclusion of Geoffrey, Archbishop of York (natural brother of the King), from the kingdom, and his forcible seizure of the Archbishop from the very horns of the Altar. Geoffrey complained to John, who gave orders that the Chancellor should stand his trial for the injury he had done to the Archbishop. Remembering the position of Longchamp, as the actual representative of the King, this summons was in the nature of an ultimatum. As regards the City, Longchamp had alienated many of the citizens by his exactions and by the great works which he carried on at the Tower, a point on which the citizens were always extremely jealous.

From a wax cast in Guildhall Museum.

A day was named for the hearing of the case. The Court, or the Council, sat at Reading. There were present: John, Earl of Mortain; the Archbishop of York as plaintiff; the Archbishop of Rouen—his appearance is most significant, with the bishops and the principal barons of the realm.

But no Chancellor appeared, nor did any message or reply come from him.

The Court being broken up, the barons marched from Reading to Windsor, while the Chancellor retired from Windsor to the Tower of London.

On the day following, the barons marched from Windsor into London. By this statement we may clearly understand that everything had already been arranged with the citizens, otherwise the gates would have been shut. The barons, with their following, were admitted into the City; they held another meeting at the Chapter House of St. Paul’s; and here John, the Archbishops of York and Rouen, and nearly all the bishops and barons of the realm, received the principal citizens, and solemnly granted to the City of London its long-sought Commune, and swore to maintain it firmly so long as it should please the King.

The words of Roger of Hoveden are quite clear; it is extraordinary that there could be any doubt about what was done:


“On the same day, also, the Earl of Mortaigne, the Archbishop of Rouen, and the other justiciaries of the King, granted to the citizens of London the privilege of their commonalty; and, during the same year, the Earl of Mortaigne, the Archbishop of Rouen, and the other justiciaries of the King, made oath that they would solemnly and inviolably observe the said privilege, so long as the same should please their lord the King. The citizens of London also made oath that they would faithfully serve their lord King Richard, and his heirs, and would, if he should die without issue, receive Earl John, the brother of King Richard, as their King and Lord.” (Roger de Hoveden, Riley’s trans., vol. ii. p. 230.)

This done, they proceeded without any trouble to depose the Chancellor, who fled, and, after many adventures, got across to Normandy in safety.

Observe the very great importance attached to this step. It was the condition in return for which London joined the barons in getting rid of a rapacious Viceroy; the concession was not lightly, but solemnly, granted, as a measure of the greatest weight, in presence of the chief persons of the kingdom; all present set their hands to the Act; all present swore to maintain it.

One of the chroniclers, Richard of Devizes, a very strong Conservative, shows us what was thought of the step by his party:

“On that very day,” he says, “was granted and instituted the Commune of the Londoners, and the magnates of the whole realm, even the Bishops of the province itself, were compelled to swear to it. London learned now for the first time, in obtaining the Commune, that the realm had no King, for neither Richard nor his father Henry would ever have allowed this to be done, even for a million marks of silver. How great those evils are which spring from a Commune may be understood from the common saying that it puffs up the people and it terrifies the King.”

Ralph de Diceto says more succinctly, “All the before-mentioned magnates [i.e. John, the archbishop, the bishops, earls, and barons] swore [that they would maintain] the Commune of London.” It is he who tells us what the others do not tell us, that this parliament was holden in the Chapter House of Saint Paul, London.

Giraldus Cambrensis says:—

“In crastino vero convocatis in unum civibus, communione, vel ut Latine minus vulgariter magis loquamur, commune seu communia eis concessa et communiter jurata.”

It is therefore abundantly plain that the citizens desired, and obtained from John, the concession of the Commune.

Another chronicler informs us that the Commune was granted to the whole body of citizens gathered together. This means that it was announced at a Folk Mote specially summoned at Paul’s Cross. I cannot but think that the importance of the concession called for the assemblage of the whole people. Mr. Round must be right in his picture. After the meeting in the Chapter House, the Great Bell of St. Paul’s was rung; the people flocked together; the bishop stood up at Paul’s Cross and told them the great news: that they had at last won their community; that for the first time they were one City; that they had for the first time their leader and their speaker.

The City got its Commune. The first Mayor, Henry FitzAylwin, or Henry of London Stone, was elected. Two years afterwards, he is spoken of as the Mayor of London. He held the office for five-and-twenty years: it was twenty-four years after his election that he was recognised by the King. John’s recognition, when17 he was no more than Earl of Mortain, heir to the Crown, was not official. As we have heard already, Richard never recognised either the Commune or the Mayor.

Mr. H. C. Coote, in a paper published by the London and Middlesex Archæological Society, argues that so great a change as that from the former to the later constitution demanded a Charter; that therefore this Charter must have been granted; and that it must have been lost. It is sufficient to note the fact that there is no such Charter. Considering the circumstances, it does not seem as if a Charter could have been granted. The Commune was conferred so long as it should please the King. It did not please the King, who never recognised the Commune. Therefore, one would infer there was no Charter.

In 1215 the citizens obtained from John their right to elect their own Mayor.

As for the meaning of the Commune, Stubbs says:—

“The establishment of the ‘Communa’ of the citizens of London which is recorded by the historians to have been specially confirmed by the Barons and Justiciar on the occasion of Longchamp’s deposition from the Justiciarship is a matter of some difficulty as the word ‘Communa’ is not found in English town-charters, and no formal record of the act of confirmation is now preserved. Interpreted, however, by foreign usage and by the later meaning of the word ‘Communitas’ it must be understood to signify a corporate identity of the municipality which it may have claimed before and which may even have been occasionally recognised but was now firmly established: a sort of consolidation into a single organised body of the variety of franchises, guilds, and other departments of local jurisdiction. It was probably connected with, and perhaps implied by, the nomination of a Mayor who now appears for the first time. It cannot, however, be defined with certainty.” (Stubbs’s Select Charters.)

Now Round3 points out that the words “concessa est communæ Londinensium,” agree exactly with the granting of the French Communes. The same words were used for the Communes of Senlis, of Compiègne, of Abbeville, and of Poitiers. The Commune again, in France, did not necessarily imply the election of a Mayor. At Beauvais and Compiègne at first there was no Mayor.

Round next shows, which is very remarkable, that the long struggle of the citizens to hold the City and County at the firma of £300, which the Crown persistently strove to raise to £500 and more, was terminated in 1191, the year when the Commune was granted, by a return to the old sum of £300. This is a very important fact. Entries of the years 1192 and 1197 show that this yearly sum was maintained at the lower figure. Three points, therefore, are certain:—

1. A Commune was granted to London in 1191.

2. The Firma of City and County was simultaneously lowered from over £500 to the old sum of £300.

3. The Mayor of London first appears in 1193.

It is at this point that an almost contemporary document, discovered by Mr. Round, in the British Museum, which is nothing less than the oath of the Commune, throws a flood of light on the situation.


“Sacramentum commune tempore regis Ricardi quando detentus erat Alemaniam (sic).

Quod fidem portabunt domino regi Ricardo de vita sua et de membris et de terreno honore suo contra omnes homines et feminas qui vivere possunt aut mori et quod pacem suam servabunt et adjuvabunt servare, et quod communam tenebunt et obedientes erunt maiori civitatis Lond[onie] et skivin[is] ejusdem commune in fide regis et quod sequentur et tenebunt considerationem maioris et skivinorum et aliorum proborum hominum qui cum illis erunt salvo honore dei et sancte ecclesie et fide domini regis Ricardi et salvis per omnia libertatibus civitatis Lond[onie]. Et quod pro mercede nec pro parentela nec pro aliqua re omittent quin jus in omnibus rebus p[ro]sequentur et teneant pro posse suo et scientia et quod ipsi communiter in fide domini regis Ricardi sustinebunt bonum et malum et ad vitam et ad mortem. Et si quis presumeret pacem domini regis et regni perturbare ipsi consilio domine et domini Rothomagensis et aliorum justiciarum domini regis juvabunt fideles domini regis et illos qui pacem servare volunt pro posse suo et pro scientia sua salvis semper in omnibus libertatibus Lond[onie].” (Round, p. 235.)

Compare this oath with that of a freeman of the present day:—

“I solemnly declare that I will be good and true to our Sovereign Lord King Edward, that I will be obedient to the Mayor of this City, that I will maintain the franchises and customs thereof, and will keep this City harmless in that which in me is; that I will also keep the King’s peace in my own person, that I will know no gatherings nor conspiracies made against the King’s peace, but I will warn the Mayor thereof or hinder it to my power; and that all these points and articles I will well and truly keep according to the laws and customs of this City to my power.”

Again, to quote from Round:—

“For the first time we learn that the government of the City was then in the hands of a Mayor and échevins (skevini). Of these latter officers no one, hitherto, had even suspected the existence. Dr. Gross, indeed, the chief specialist on English municipal institutions, appears to consider these officers a purely continental institution. But in this document the Mayor and échevins do not exhaust the governing body. Of Aldermen, indeed, we hear nothing; but we read of ‘alii probi homines’ as associated with the Mayor and échevins. For these we may turn to another document, fortunately preserved in this volume, which shows us a body of ‘twenty-four’ connected with the government of London some twelve years later (1205-6).

Sacramentum xxiiijor factum anno regni regis Johannis vijo.

Quod legaliter intendent ad consulendum secundum suam consuetudinem juri domini regis quod ad illos spectat in civitate Lond[onie] salva libertate civitatis et quod de nullo homine qui in placito sit ad civitatem spectante aliquod premium ad suam conscientiam reciperent. Et si aliquis illorum donum aut promissum dum in placitum fatiat illud nunquam recipient, neque aliquis per ipsos vel pro ipsis. Et quod illi nullum modum premii accipient, nec aliquis per ipsos vel pro ipsis, pro injuria allevanda vel pro jure sternendo. Et concessum est inter ipsos quod si aliquis inde attinctus vel convictus fuerit, libertatem civitatis et eorum societatem amittet.” (Round, pp. 237-238.)

“Of a body of twenty-four councillors, nothing has hitherto been known. To a body of twenty-five there is this one reference (Liber de Antiq. Leg. Camden Soc. p. 2):

Hoc anno fuerunt xxv electi de discretioribus civitatis, et jurati pro consulendo civitatem una cum Maiore.

The year is Mich. 1200-Mich. 1201; but the authority is not first-rate. Standing alone as it does, the passage has been much discussed. The latest exposition is that of Dr. Sharpe, Records Clerk to the City Corporation (London and the Kingdom, i. 72):

Soon after John’s accession we find what appears to be the first mention of a court of Aldermen as a deliberate body. In the year 1200, writes Thedmar (himself an Alderman), ‘were chosen five-and-twenty of19 the more discreet men of the City and sworn to take counsel on behalf of the City, together with the Mayor. Just as, in the constitution of the realm, the House of Lords can claim a greater antiquity than the House of Commons, so in the City—described by Lord Coke as epitome totius regni—the establishment of a Court of Aldermen preceded that of a Common Council.’”

But they could not have been Aldermen of the wards, simply because the number do not agree.

To find out who they were, we must turn to the foreign evidence. At Rouen the advisers of the Mayor were a body of twenty-four annually elected.

This oath on election was as follows. It will be seen how closely it resembles that of the English Commune—

“(II). De centum vero paribus eligentur viginti quatuor, assensu centum parium, qui singulis annis removebuntur: quorum duodecim eschevini vocabuntur, et alii duodecim consultores. Isti viginti quatuor, in principio sui anni, jurabunt se servaturos jura sancte ecclesie et fidelitatem domini regis atque justiciam quod et ipse recte judicabunt secundum suam conscienciam, etc.

LIV. Iterum, major et eschevini et pares, in principio sui eschevinatus, jurabunt eque judicare, nec pro inimicitia nec pro amicitia injuste judicabunt. Iterum, jurabunt se nullos denarios nec premia capturos, quod et eque judicabunt secundum suam conscienciam.

LV. Si aliquis juratorum possit comperi accepisse premium pro aliqua questione de qua aliquis trahatur in eschevinagio, domus ejus ... prosternatur, nec amplius ille qui super hoc deliraverit, nec ipse, nec heres ejus dominatum in communia habebit.

The three salient features in common are (1) the oath to administer justice fairly; (2) the special provisions against bribery; (3) the expulsion of any member of the body convicted of receiving a bribe.

If we had only ‘the oath of the Commune,’ we might have remained in doubt as to the nature of the administrative body; but we can now assert, on continental analogy, that its twenty-four members comprised twelve ‘skevini’ and an equal number of councillors. We can also assert that it administered justice, even though this has been unsuspected, and may, indeed, at first arouse question.” (Round, p. 240.)

We conclude, therefore, from continental analogy, that the twenty-four of London comprised twelve “skevini” and an equal number of Councillors. What became of this Council?

Round is of opinion, in which most will agree, that this Council was the germ of the Common Council, and he points out that the oath of a member of the Common Council, like that of the ancient Council of twenty-four, still binds him—(1) not to be influenced by private favour; (2) not to leave the Council without the Mayor’s permission; (3) to keep the proceedings secret.

Now the oath of an Alderman (Liber Albus, Riley’s translation, p. 267) is quite different. It is the oath of a Magistrate and superintendent of a ward—

“You shall swear, that well and lawfully you shall serve our lord the King in the City of London, in the office of Alderman in the Ward of N, wherein you are chosen Alderman, and shall lawfully treat and inform the people of the same Ward of such things as unto them pertain to do, for keeping the City, and for maintaining the peace within the City; and that the laws, usages, and franchises of the said City you shall keep and maintain, within town and without, according to your wit and power. And that attentive you shall be to save and maintain the rights of orphans, according to the laws and usages of the said City. And that ready you shall be, and readily shall come, at the summons and warning of the Mayor and ministers of the said City, for the time being, to speed the Assizes, Pleas, and judgments of the Hustings, and other needs of the said City, if you be not hindered by the needs of our lord the King, or by other reasonable cause; and that good lawful counsel you shall give for such things as touch the common profit20 in the same City. And that you shall sell no manner of victuals by retail; that is to say, bread, ale, wine, fish, or flesh, by you, your apprentices, hired persons, servants, or by any other; nor profit shall you take of any such manner of victuals sold during your office. And that well and lawfully you shall (behave) yourself in the said office, and in other things touching the City.—So God you help, and the saints.”4

Again, for English evidence. The City of Winchester shows also the existence of a Council of twenty-four, which continued until 1835:

“Il iert en la vile mere eleu par commun assentement des vint et quatre jures et de la commune ... le quel mere soit remuable de an en an.... Derechef en la cite deinent estre vint et quatre jurez esluz des plus prudeshommes e des plus sages de la ville e leaument eider e conseiller le avandit mere a franchise sauver et sustener.” (Round, p. 242.)

“There shall be in the City a Mayor elected by common consent of the twenty-four ‘Jurats’ and the Commune.... The which Mayor is to be removeable from year to year. Further, in the City there must be twenty-four ‘Jurats’ elected from the most notable and the wisest of the City, both loyally to aid and to counsel the aforesaid Mayor to protect and to maintain the franchise.”

At Winchester the twenty-four retained their distinct position, and it was not till the sixteenth century that the Aldermen were interposed between the Mayor and the Council.

Thus did London get the recognition of its Commune—its community,—and with it the Mayor. There was certainly reason for the suspicion and hostility of the old-fashioned Conservatives towards the new constitution. Some of the citizens, we are told, in the first exuberant joy over their newly-acquired liberties thought that henceforth there would be no need of a King at all. They pictured to themselves a sovereign State like that of Genoa, Pisa, or Venice, in which the City should be independent and separate from the rest of the country. I dare say there were such dreamers. Three years later, in 1194, we hear of citizens who boasted that “come what may, the Londoners shall never have any King but their Mayor.” Fortunately, the Mayor himself observed wiser counsels.

And now we may ask what it was that the City got with its new form of government. The Mayor took over the whole control of trade, which had been in the hands of the mysterious Guild Merchant; but with this vast difference, that he was provided with powers to enforce his ordinances. He took over, in addition, the administration of justice, the maintenance of order in the City, the subjection of all the various Courts and Ward Motes under one Central Court, with its Magistrates, its Bailiffs, its Officers, and its Servants. London as a corporate body actually began in 1191. The Sheriffs lost a great part of their importance; the Aldermen became, but not immediately, Magistrates of the City and not of the Wards only; the citizens themselves began to elect their representatives to rule the City; the regulations of the various crafts passed under the licensing authority of a Judge and his Assessors, who enforced their commands by penalties. In a word, the Commune abolished the ancient treatment of the21 City as an aggregate of private properties, each of which had its own Lord of the Manor, or Alderman, and substituted one great City, presided over by a representative possessed of power and authority, and backed by the strong arm of the law.

After the painting by Ernest Normand in the Royal Exchange, London. By permission of the Artist.

The step, in fact, made the future development of London possible and natural. Wherever there is self-government there is the power of adjusting laws and customs to meet changed conditions. Where there is no self-government there is no such power. A long succession of the wisest and most benevolent Kings would never have done for London what London was thus enabled to do for herself, because, to use the familiar illustration, it is only the foot which knows where the shoe pinches.

We must not claim for the wisdom of our ancestors that London advanced at once, and by a single step, to the full recognition of the possibilities before her. I admit that there were many failures; we know that there were jealousies and animosities; that there were times when the Mayor was unable to cope with the difficulties of the situation—for example, when Edward the First suppressed the Mayoralty altogether, and for eleven years ruled the City strongly and wisely,—but we can claim for the City that there was continuous and steady advance in the direction of orderly and just administration, and that the unity of the City, thus recognised and conceded, became a most powerful factor in the extension and expansion of the City and its trade.

To return to the changes made possible. The chief officer of the City was called a Mayor, after French custom; the Mayor was not appointed by the King; he was elected by the citizens from their own body; his powers were at first indefinite and uncertain; thus, the first act of Edward the Third, a hundred years later, was to make the Mayor one of the Judges of Oyer and Terminer for the trials of criminals in Newgate; the citizens’ right of electing the Mayor was always grudgingly conceded and continually violated. I suppose, next, that the practice of electing the Aldermen, which came in gradually, was accelerated by the natural desire of the citizens to elect all their officers. Another cause was undoubtedly the fact that the manors, or wards, of the City did not continue in the hands of the original families. The holders parted with their property; perhaps they retained certain manorial rights, which were afterwards bought out. The wards in which this happened began to elect their Aldermen; by the year 1290 there were only four wards still named after the Lords of the Manor. And it seems reasonable that, as soon as the City had a recognised head and chief under the King, he would be considered first, so that the Bishop’s Aldermanry naturally fell into abeyance. Certainly we find no more Charters addressed to the Bishop. The first Mayor remained Mayor for twenty-five years; that is to say, for life. It is natural to suppose that he was at first put22 forward on occasion as the City’s spokesman, as well as its chief officer. It is not absolutely certain that the Mayor was first appointed in 1191, when John granted the “Commune.” In some French towns the Mayor, as we have seen, came after the Commune, but he is mentioned in 1193. In 1194 Richard’s Charter makes no mention of the Mayor; he existed, certainly, but he was not yet acknowledged. In 1215—May 8th—John conceded the citizens the privilege of electing their Mayor.

This concession to London was followed by the same concession to other cities and towns of England. The Commune or municipality of London became the model for all other municipalities granted to other towns. It is also the model for all municipalities created wherever our race settles itself, and wherever an English-speaking town is founded. This fact makes the history we have just considered of the most vital interest and importance to every citizen or burgess in whatever town is governed by Mayor, Aldermen, and the Court of Common Council.

I cannot do better than sum up these notes on the changes effected by the Commune with another quotation from Dean Stubbs:—

“The Communa of London, and of those other English towns which in the twelfth century aimed at such a constitution, was the old English guild in a new French garb; it was the ancient association, but directed to the attainment of municipal rather than mercantile privileges; like the French communa, it was united and sustained by the oaths of its members and of those whom it could compel to support it. The mayor and the jurati, the mayor and jurats, were the framework of the communa, as the aldermen and brethren constituted the guild, and the reeve and good-men the magistracy of the township. And the system which resulted from the combination of these elements, the history of which lies outside our present period and scope, testifies to their existence in a continued life of their own. London, and the municipal system generally, has in the mayor a relic of the communal idea, in the alderman the representative of the guild, and in the councillors of the wards, the successors to the rights of the most ancient township system. The jurati of the Commune, the brethren of the guild, the reeve of the ward, have either disappeared altogether, or taken forms in which they can scarcely be identified.”

We have spoken of the first Mayor of London, and what we know about him has been summed up by Round for the Dictionary of National Biography. We do not know his parentage. It has been conjectured that he was the grandson of Leofstan, Portreeve of London before the Conquest. But there were three or four Leofstans. It is suggested by Stubbs that he was descended from Ailwin Child, who founded or endowed Bermondsey Abbey in 1082. It is also suggested that he was an hereditary Baron of London. In the “Pipe Roll” of 1165, a Henry FitzAylwin, Fitz Leofstan, with Alan his brother, pay for succeeding to land in Essex or Hertfordshire. Now FitzAylwin the Mayor did hold land in Hertfordshire by tenure of serjeantry. The name appears in four documents as Henry Fitz Ailwin, or Æthelwine, before he was Mayor, and in many documents after he was Mayor. In the former name the latest date is 30th November 1191,23 and under the latter the first is April 1193. It would therefore seem as if the Mayoralty was not established at first on the concession of the grant. It may well be that it took time for the citizens to assume their full organisation. We may fairly assume that his office, if not his election, dates from the day of that concession.

FitzAylwin was one of the Treasurers for the King’s ransom in 1194. He was also called Henry of London Stone, because his house stood on the north side of Candlewick Street, near St. Swithin’s Church, over against London Stone. He presided over a meeting of citizens on 24th July 1212, and died a few weeks later. He left children from whom many persons can still trace descent. Among them, as the two living representatives of the first Mayor, are, I believe, Lady Beaumont and the Earl of Abingdon. Fifty years ago a learned antiquary, Stapleton, drew up a list of all the descendants of Henry FitzAylwin.

King Richard took no hostile proceedings against the Mayoralty. He never recognised it; but he never tried to abolish it, and as the enemies of the Commune observed that nothing disloyal to the King, nothing dangerous to the Church, was set up in the City, they learned to regard the institution without disfavour or suspicion, so that when the Mayoralty was at last recognised by King John, there was no longer any hostility, or even any misgiving. The old order had passed, giving way to the new. How necessary this new order was; how it fitted in with the old order, so that there was revolution without dislocation, is proved by its adoption in all our towns and cities, by its long continuance, and by its present vitality.



The large area included by the Roman Wall was parcelled out, after the Saxon occupation, into manors, socs, or estates, held by private persons. Some of them passed into the possession of the Church; some into possession of the City; some changed hands. That these manors included the most densely populated parts of the City, or Thames Street, and the streets north of that main artery, proves that the first allotment took place very early in the Saxon occupation, when the City was still deserted; this fact, indeed, affords another proof of that desertion, because we cannot believe that a populous quarter, covered with warehouses and merchants’ residences, should have been assigned to one man or to a dozen men. The value of the manor, comprising gardens lying among ruined foundations, shut off from the river and its fish by a high and thick stone wall, could have been no more than that of a manor lying beside the north wall, on which corn was growing and orchards were planted. Just as the Bedford Estate in London began with the fields of Bloomsbury; just as the Westminster Estate began with the marshes round Thorney Island, so the original manors of London, at first gardens and wastes, became built over or sold for building purposes. What, then, were manorial rights? Let us read the instructions of Archdeacon Hall on this point. He says:—


“Manorial property was a possession differing in many respects from what is now called landed estate. It was not a breadth of land, which the lord might cultivate or not as he pleased, suffer it to be inhabited, or reduce it to solitude and waste; but it was a dominion or empire, within which the lord was the superior over subjects of different ranks, his power over them not being absolute, but limited by law and custom. The lord of a manor, who had received by grant from the crown, saca and soca, tol and team, was not merely a proprietor, but a prince; and his courts were not only courts of law, but frequently of criminal justice. The demesne, the assised, and the waste lands were his; but the usufruct of the assised land belonged, on conditions, to the tenants, and the waste lands were not so entirely his, that he could exclude the tenants from the use of them. It was this double capacity, in which the lord stood, to his tenants, as the arbiter of their rights, as well as the owner of the land, which rendered it necessary to the due discharge of the duty of his station, that the lord of a manor should be such a person as Fleta describes: Truthful in his words, faithful in his actions, a lover of justice and of God, a hater of fraud and wrong, since it most concerns him not to act with violence, or according to his own will, but to follow advice, not being guided by some young hanger-on, some jester or flatterer, but by the opinion of persons learned in the law, men faithful and honest, and of much experience. Manors were petty royalties; the court and household of the lord resembling in some degree that of the King. In Fleta an account is given of the officers of the royal household, the Senescallus Hospitii Regis, who held his court in the palace; the Marescallus, the Camerarius, the Clericus panetarii; but in the latter part of the book, which treats of the management of manors, we find the lord of the manor attended by the Senescallus, who held his courts, by the Marescallus, who had the charge of his stud, and by the Coquus, who rendered an account of the daily expenditure to the Senescallus.”

Drawn by Schnebbelie and engraved by Warren for Dr. Hughson’s Description of London.

Some of these manors belonged to the Bishop or to a Church or to a religious foundation, but the rights and the government and the management of all were alike. Again to quote Archdeacon Hall:—

“Manors, whether royal and baronial, or episcopal and ecclesiastical, were to their owners sources of wealth, derived from two distinct sources—the exercise of a legal jurisdiction and the rent of cultivation26 of land. The Ecclesiastical Manors differed in no respect from those which were in lay hands. They were the sources of income, not the field of spiritual labour. They contributed to the support of the Bishop or of the Chapter, and of the religious household of the Cathedral, by profits and revenues no way different from those derived by the Sovereign and the Lords from other Manors. It is remarkable that neither the Exchequer Domesday, nor the Domesday of St. Paul’s contains any evidence, that the Ecclesiastical Manors had any superior religious privileges, or were the centres from which religious knowledge was diffused to the neighbourhood. The Manors of the religious houses were in reality secular possessions; and their history, as shown in the Domesday of St. Paul’s, is valuable as illustrating the social, rather than the religious, condition of the time.”

It must be noted, however, that none of the City manors were royal; nor did any of their manors at any time belong to any noble great or small. The nobles had their town houses, many of them large and stately palaces covering a broad area, but they were never Lords of any London Manor. And the Church property in the City included, after a time, only the site of the various religious foundations and the house property which they happened to possess. The Ward of Portsoken, of which mention has already been made, is the only exception to this rule.

The manors, then, became the wards of the City.

The earliest list of the wards is contained in a document found among the archives of St. Paul’s, entitled: “The measurements of the land of St. Paul’s within the City of London.” The date is early in the twelfth century.

The list is not, unfortunately, complete; nor can all the wards be identified. But it is most valuable for what it does contain. A facsimile is published in J. E. Price’s Guildhall. Thus, the first ward is “Warda Episcopi,” the Bishop’s Ward, Cornhill. Then we have Warda Haco, i.e. of St. Nicholas of Acon, in Lombard Street; Warda Alwold (Cripplegate); Warda Fori—of the Market-place—Chepe; Warda Ralph, son of Algod; Warda Osbert Dringepinne; Warda Hugh, son of Ulgar; Warda Brocesgange; Warda Liured; Warda Reimund; Warda Herbert; Warda Edward, son of Wizel; Warda Sperling; Warda Brichmar the Moneyer; Warda Brichmar the Cottager; Warda Godwin, son of Esgar; Warda Alegate; Warda Rolf, son of Liviva; Warda Algar Manningestepsunne; Warda Edward Parole.5

There are twenty wards in all. It will be observed that they are all named after single persons except the Ward of the Market Place and the Ward of Alegate. These single persons were the proprietors, the barons, the owners of the land; the wards were the private manors into which the City was divided. (See Appendix I.)


It is impossible to say how many wards there were in the whole City. The owners were barons of right, a rank which afterwards descended to their successors, the elected Aldermen. The first governing body of London consisted of the owners of these estates, to whom were added the more important merchants. In the changes and chances of fortune, the estates changed hands; families died out and were replaced; we find, in the fourteenth century, for instance, that all the old families, whose names we know, had by that time disappeared, left the City, or become merged in the general population. But the manors themselves seem to have remained for the most part unbroken. It is difficult even at the present day to cut up a manor. The Lord of the Manor, called the Alderman, formed part of the ruling body by virtue of possession. In other words, the government of London, despite the survival of the Folk Mote, was a territorial aristocracy. In the Liber Albus (p. 30), Carpenter calls attention to the fact that although in his day—the beginning of the fifteenth century—the wards were known by their own names, they had formerly borne the names of their Aldermen. Thus, he says that the Ward of Candelwyk Street was formerly the Ward of Thomas Basyng; the Ward of Castle Baynard was the Ward of Simon Hadestok; Tower Ward was the Ward of Henry le Frowyk; Vintry Ward was the Ward of Henry le Covyntre; Farringdon Ward Without was the Ward of Anketill de Auvern. So also, as W. J. Loftie points out, the Ward of the Bridge was at one time that of John Horn; the Cordwainers’ Ward was that of Henry le Waleys; Langbourne Ward that of Nicolas de Winton; Aldgate that of John of Northampton; Walbrook of John Adrian; Broad Street of William Bukerel; Aldersgate of Wolman de Essex; Bread Street of William de Denham. Not one of these names can be found in the list just quoted.

By the time of Carpenter, the wards were clearly defined. Up to the reign of Edward the First their boundaries were unsettled.

The Ward Mote has been held from time immemorial, according to Stow. That is to say, whenever a manor became settled and populated, it was the interest of the Alderman to have a court of Assistants who could act as his Police, his Constables, his Detectives.

At what period the Aldermen ceased to be hereditary and were elected by the citizens, I know not. The election of Aldermen is not contemplated in the Charters of Henry the First, Henry the Second, Richard the First, or John. In the second Charter of Henry the Third, the Barons (i.e. Aldermen) of the City are appointed to elect the Mayor. In the Charter of Edward the Second it is provided that the Aldermen shall be “removable yearly and be removed on the day of St. Gregory (the 12th of March) and in the year following shall not be re-elected, but others shall be elected in their stead.” (Liber Albus.)

In the year 1354 the old order was restored, and the Aldermen remained in office for life.


The following is a list of the twenty-four wards into which London was divided before the end of the thirteenth century, with the names of the respective Aldermen:—

Warda Fori Alderman. Stephen Aswy.
Ludgate and Newgate     William de Farndon.
Castle Baynard Richard Aswy.
Aldersgate William le Mazener.
Bredstrete Ducan de Botevile.
Quenehythe Simon de Hadestucke.
Vintry John de Gisors.
Dougate Gregory de Rockesley.
Walbrook Thomas Box.
Coleman Street John Fitz Peter.
Bassishaw Radulpus le Blound.
Cripplegate Henry Frowick.
Candlewyk Street Robert de Basing.
Langeford Nicholas de Winton.
Cordewene Street Henry le Waleys.
Cornhill Martin Box.
Lime Street Robert de Rockesley.
Bishopsgate Philip le Taylour.
Alegate John de Northampton.
Tower William de Hadestock.
Billingsgate Wolman de Essex.
Bridge Joseph de Achatur.
Lodyngebery Robert de Arras.
Portsoken Trinity.

In this list we observe that Cheap Ward is still called Ward Fori; Langbourne Ward appears as Langeford; Broad Street Ward is Lodyngebery; Farringdon is Ludgate and Newgate Ward; Aldgate is Alegate. Forty years later there is found another list of wards in which the modern names appear with the exception of Alegate which is written Algate. The names of the wards are in four cases derived from the trades carried on in them: in four cases from the chief families in them: in the rest from buildings or monuments belonging to them. The names of the Aldermen show sixteen belonging to the old ruling families: seven belonging to new families or to trades, and one, the Prior of Holy Trinity, as an official Alderman.

The date of this list of wards and Aldermen is probably somewhere about 1290, nearly two hundred years after the first list. We have, then, the old City families still represented among the Aldermen. Were they elected? It is impossible to say how long the hereditary system was maintained, and when it was replaced by the elective system. The revolution was a peaceful and bloodless one, since there is no record of it. William Farringdon, who bought his ward, and his son Nicholas, were successive Aldermen of the ward for no less than eighty-two years.


The change of the names in the wards seems to have been carried out between the year 1272, when Riley’s Memorials begin, and 1314, when a list of wards appears with the names that belong to the street or quarter.

Thus we have6:—

1272. Ward of Thomas de Basinge (Bridge Ward).
1276.  „   „ Castle Baynard.
1277.  „   „ William de Hadestok (Tower Ward).
 „   „ Portsoken.
 „   „ Henry de Coventre (Vintry Ward).
 „   „ Anketill de Auverne (Farringdon Ward Without).
 „   „ Henry le Waleys (Cordwainers’ Ward).
1278.  „   „ John Adrien (Walbrook Ward).
 „   „ Chepe.
 „   „ William Bukerel (Broad Street Ward).
 „   „ John de Blakethorn (Aldersgate Ward).
 „   „ Henry de Frowyk (Cripplegate Ward).
 „   „ Ralph le Fever (Farringdon Within).
1283.  „   „ William de Farndon (Farringdon Within).7
1291.  „   „ Walbrook (see above).
 „   „ Cornhill.
1295.  „   „ Broad Street (see above).
 „   „ Bishopsgate.
1300.  „   „ Bassieshaw.
 „   „ Coleman Street.
1303.  „   „ Crepelgate.
 „   „ Langeburne.
 „   „ Tower Ward (see above).
1310.  „   „ Without Ludgate (Farringdon Without).
1311.  „   „ Dowgate.
 „   „ Vintry (see above).
 „   „ Aldersgate.
 „   „ Cordwainer Street (see above).
 „   „ Bread Street.
 „   „ Lyme Street.
 „   „ Candelwick Street.
 „   „ Bridge Ward (see above).
1312.  „   „ Queen Hythe.

From this list, it appears that between 1272 and 1283, of fourteen wards named in the Memorials, three only have the name of their street or quarter, the rest being all named after their Aldermen. But from 1283 to 1314 there are nineteen wards mentioned, and they are all named after their street or district. It is therefore safe to conclude that within these forty years the aldermanry had ceased to be proprietary or hereditary. We may connect this fact with the story of Walter Hervey’s election in 1272 (see p. 52), which proves that the oligarchy had already lost much of their power.



To repeat. The City consisted originally of a certain number of manors or private estates: the proprietors of these estates were the so-called barons of the City: some of the estates remained in the hands of their proprietors for many generations: these proprietors constituted themselves, without any law other than immemorial custom, the ruling council of the City. The boundaries of the manors remained after the property had been cut up and divided among many proprietors. Perhaps the Aldermen remained with the representative of the old family. When, one by one, the original proprietors had disappeared, died out, or parted with their property, the ancient boundaries of the ward were retained, and the inhabitants elected a chief, whom they still called Alderman, in place of the hereditary Alderman. It was ordered, in the thirteenth century, that the Alderman, like the Mayor, should be elected every year, and should go out after serving his year of office. But, as the new method was found to make difficulties, after half a century they went back to the old plan of electing an Alderman for life, and so the custom has remained ever31 since. The Alderman of the ward represents the Lord of the Manor, and is its principal magistrate for life.

Attention has been directed to the “Warda Episcopi.” Was, then, the Bishop of London formerly an Alderman? He was. He took his seat among the Aldermen in right of the property of the Church. He did not, therefore, take part in the temporal government of the City as Bishop, but as Alderman. This right he delegated to a Provost. So, also, the Prior of the Holy Trinity was an Alderman, not as Prior, but as Lord of the Manor of Portsoken.

When the Bishop ceased to preside over a ward I know not. It is certain, however, that it was of incalculable advantage at that time for the City of London to be partly governed in its temporal affairs by one who was a great churchman, a great lord, a person often with the King, a scholar and a statesman, one who had nothing to gain by encroaching on the liberties of the people, and, therefore, one who might be trusted. In certain cases it is known that he acted not by his Provost, but personally. It was no doubt the Bishop who persuaded the citizens into admitting William into the City as King on conditions which involved no dishonour, but quite the contrary—namely, that nothing was to be changed, but that all the rights and liberties which the citizens had enjoyed under Edward the Confessor, or Alfred himself, should be continued.

It must be borne in mind that parish boundaries and ward boundaries are by no means the same. One instance there is where a parish and a ward are conterminous, it is that of St. Michael Bassishaw.

Maitland gives the list of the wards in 1393 with their rateable value at one fifteenth. Thus:—

“The Wards in the West of Wallbrook.

The Ward of Cheap, taxed in London at £72: 16s. and in the Exchequer accounted for £72.

The Ward of the Vintry, in London at £36 and in the Exchequer accounted for £35: 5s.

The Ward of Queenhithe, in London taxed at £20 and in the Exchequer accounted for £20.

The Ward of Baynard-Castle, taxed in London at £12 and in the Exchequer accounted for £12.

The Ward of Cordwainers-Street, in London at £72: 16s. and in the Exchequer accounted for £72.

The Ward of Bread-Street, taxed in London at £37 and in the Exchequer accounted for £36: 10s.

The Ward of Faringdon Without, in London taxed at £35 and in the Exchequer accounted for £34: 10s.

The Ward of Faringdon Within, in London taxed at £54 and in the Exchequer accounted for £53: 6: 8.

The Ward of Aldrychgate, taxed in London at £7 and in the Exchequer accounted for £7.

The Ward of Cripplegate, taxed in London at £40 and in the Exchequer accounted for £39: 10s.

The Ward of Cripplegate Without, in London taxed at £10 and in the Exchequer accounted for £10. N.B.—This was not a separate ward, but only a liberty, or part of the former, under one Alderman, as at present.

The Ward of Bassyngshawe, taxed in London at £7 and in the Exchequer accounted for £7.

The Ward of Coleman-Street, taxed in London at £19 and in the Exchequer accounted for £19.

The Wards on the east side of Wallbrook.


The Ward of Wallbrook, taxed in London at £40 and in the Exchequer accounted for £39.

The Ward of Dowgate, taxed in London at £36 and in the Exchequer accounted for £34: 10s.

The Ward of Brydge, taxed in London at £50 and in the Exchequer accounted for £49: 10s.

The Ward of Byllingsgate, taxed in London at £32 and in the Exchequer accounted for £31: 10s.

The Ward of the Tower, taxed in London at £46 and in the Exchequer accounted for £45: 10s.

The Ward of Portsoken, taxed in London at £9 and in the Exchequer accounted at £9.

The Ward of Aldgate, taxed in London at £6 and in the Exchequer accounted for £5.

The Ward of Lyme-Street, taxed in London at 40s. and in the Exchequer accounted for 40s.

The Ward of Byshopsgate, taxed in London at £22 and in the Exchequer accounted for £21 10s.

The Ward of Broad-Street, taxed in London at £27 and in the Exchequer accounted for £25.

The Ward of Cornhill, taxed in London at £16 and in the Exchequer accounted for £16.

The Ward of Langbourne, taxed in London at £21 and in the Exchequer accounted for £20: 10s.

The Ward of Candlewick-Street, taxed in London at £16 and in the Exchequer accounted for £16.”

(Maitland, vol. i. p. 181.)

Outside the wards and not belonging to them, or within their jurisdiction, were certain socs, liberties, or vacant spaces. Such were the Precinct of St. Paul’s, the Precincts of the Religious Houses, the Sanctuary of St. Martin’s le Grand, and the “Roomlands” or open spaces of West Chepe, East Chepe, Tower Hill, and other places which were afterwards absorbed into the wards.

The names of those who owned the manors, together with the names found in contemporary documents, sufficiently prove how the Norman kings kept their promise and left the London merchants in possession of their property and their land. For with a few exceptions they are all Saxon names. The first, Mayor, Henry of London Stone, was FitzAylwin: Basing, Batt, Rokesby, Durman, Pountney, Bukerel, Billing, Faringdon, Thetmar, Orgar, Leofwin, Brechmar, Alwold, Algod, Esgar, Algar, Liured are all Saxon. Becket, it is true, is a name from Caen in Normandy. Blunt is Blond; Anketill de Auverne proclaims his origin.

We remark also that lads from the country had already begun to seek their fortune in London. We find Henry de Covyntre, Wolmar de Essex, John de Northampton, and many others.

We are considering in this place the City only. But we cannot avoid connecting the land all round the City, especially the land of Middlesex, held in farm by the citizens, with the City itself.

The City was surrounded by a broad belt of manors. These were very largely held by the Bishop, the cathedral, and certain abbeys and religious houses: in addition to these proprietors there were also a few nobles and private persons. The Abbey of Westminster owned a great estate, including the Strand and the lands between the river and Oxford Street: the De Veres held the manor of Kensington, but passed it over to the Abbey of Abingdon. The Chapter of St. Paul’s possessed manors at Willesden, Brondesbury, Brownswood, Chamberlain Wood, Mapesbury, Marden, Harlesden, Twyford, St. Pancras, Rugmere (St. Giles’s), Tottenhall, Kentish Town, Islington, Newington, Holborn, Portpool (Gray’s Inn), Finsbury,33 Hoxton, Wincock, Barn, Mora, and Fald Street; “covering a belt of land extending from St. Pancras on the west to the episcopal Manor of Stepney on the east.”

This being the case, the question arises as to the advantages accruing to the City in obtaining the Farm of Middlesex at £300 a year. It is certain that they would not have welcomed the privilege so eagerly but for the advantages it offered. These advantages may be summed up by the simple fact that the King’s rights over Middlesex were farmed out to the City. To begin with, the shire could no longer remain, as Southwark continued to be, a refuge or safe asylum for criminals whom it was difficult to catch, and still more difficult, in the conflict of royal and manorial rights, to bring to justice: next, it was a great step, though not at first understood, to creating the unity of the City. Other advantages in the grant are set forth by Archdeacon Hall:—

“The Sheriffs of Middlesex—every London burgher, that is—henceforth found themselves in possession, so to speak, when disputes arose between king and people; there was also a certain income from the courts which may eventually have been greater than the rent; the military protection of the City was rendered more easy when its civil jurisdiction extended so far beyond the walls, and the right conceded to the citizens to hunt in the surrounding forests formed the outward symbol of the completeness of their rule—a symbol which signified more under a Norman king than at any time since. To recognise the customs and laws of the City itself; to allow the ancient assemblies, the husting and the folkmote; to sanction the election of magistrates by the still unincorporated burghers; all these things were of importance, but the grant of Middlesex was more than any of them.”

It has been said that these manors made the growth of the suburbs impossible. But not in all directions. There was no obstacle to the growth of the riverside suburb called the Strand; here a long line of stately houses displaced the fishermen from Blackfriars to Westminster stairs: there was no obstacle to the extension of London along the river to the east, yet it did not extend in that direction. How the Church, which was the principal owner of the suburban manors, affected the successive settlements is described by Archdeacon Hall:—


“The suburbs, as I have said, owe their present condition not so much to the City as to the Church. By the time Henry I. made his grant of the county to the City, the broad lands of Middlesex had, almost wholly, passed into the possession of the great ecclesiastical foundations. What St. Paul had left, St. Peter acquired; and St. Martin, St. Bartholomew, and a little later, Holy Trinity at Aldgate, were watching to pick up fragments that the others had overlooked. Therefore, we must ascribe the modern suburbs, with their curious anomalies of local government, the so-called ‘metropolitan area’ with its imaginary boundaries, its districts and precincts, its boards and its vestries, answering to the sokes and liberties, the sanctuaries and wards within the walls, more to the clergy than to the municipality. The City supplied the population to colonise the wastes and woods; but the Church supplied the houses for them to dwell in, marked out their streets, and controlled the direction of each fresh stream of emigrants. When the first settlers along Holborn, or in Norton, or by the White Chapel, went forth from the City gates, it might have been expected that the rulers who had sway within the walls, and to whom Middlesex now belonged, as much as it had belonged to Earl Leofwine in the good days of King Edward, would have guided their steps and continued to govern their actions. But, where the citizens formed ‘wards without’ the walls, it was only by the leave, or in spite of the prohibition, of the Church. The King, when he gave to London the jurisdiction he had exercised in Middlesex, could give no land with it. At the time of the Survey, the royal estates had passed already to the Church, and William hardly owned an acre in the county. The estates of the Norman nobles had nearly all gone into the same hands by the time of Henry’s accession; and an enumeration of the Middlesex manors which never, at any time, were held ‘in mortmain’ would not comprise half-a-dozen names. The citizens could not protect their public meeting-place, their parade-ground, their markets within the walls, from the grasp of the ‘dead hand’; much less could they protect the new colonies of citizens in Kensington or Chelsea, in Hackney or Tyburn, far out in the open country.”



The long struggle between the oligarchic and the popular party, which was carried on without cessation for at least two hundred years, was at its acutest and its worst in the thirteenth century. It must be noted here because it exercised great influence in the development of municipal institutions. To this point I will return after we have considered the leading features of the faction struggle complicated by the machinations of the King.

We must note, at the outset, that the various Charters conferring and confirming old and new rights did not lay down laws for the government of the City; nor was it contemplated that the City was to be governed by the craftsmen. By Saxon custom every man was a lord or a dependant upon a lord; yet there was a Folk Mote: by Norman rule every townsman was under an over-lord and every countryman was under the Lord of the Manor; yet the Folk Mote was continued. That the craftsmen of the town were to be the rulers of the town; that they were to have a voice, as we understand it, in the management of the City was considered by the “Barons” of the City, the Aldermen, the wealthy merchants and the notables as a thing to be resisted in every way possible. Yet, to repeat, there was the Folk Mote with the lingering memory of a time when the people were summoned and shouted their approval or their refusal.

Again, we have been accustomed for so long to consider London as one of the greatest and most important cities of the world that we fail to realise her position in the twelfth or thirteenth century, as compared with certain other cities of Western Europe, long since sunk into decay and insignificance.

At that time the cities of Bruges, Ghent, and Ypres, now so shrunken and so deserted, were, in point of population, at least twice as great as London, while their trade and wealth were very much greater, even in proportion, and the liberties enjoyed by their citizens were such as London did not dream of until fired by their example. The trade between the Port of London and these towns, especially Bruges, made the citizens acquainted with these liberties as well as this wealth. It is difficult not to connect the newly-born ambitions and aspirations of the craftsmen of London with the liberties acquired by those of the Flemish towns.


London was governed, as we have seen, by the owners of the land; they were presently joined by the richer merchants; but they remained few in number. And they ruled the City in their own interests. We have seen how valuable was the Charter of Henry the First, how it assisted the City to advance, how it enabled the merchants to conduct their trade with greater security and ease, how it gave the citizens the right of electing their own sheriffs and their own justiciar, who were to be appointed by the citizens. What this meant, I take it, was that the Aldermen nominated the sheriffs, and their election by the people took the form of an assent declared at a noisy and tumultuous Folk Mote. It certainly could not be, and was not, an election by the citizens as we understand it. That the governing body had the power of election was a concession of the highest importance to them. The privileges of freedom from toll, etc., were again of enormous value to the merchants, but only indirectly to the craftsmen; now craftsmen understand direct advantage only. In a word, the Charters did not interfere with the government of the City, which remained in the hands of the small company of Aldermen. The Charters were intended to advance the trade and the prosperity of the City, not to confer new liberties upon the working man. Yet the craftsman began to understand the possibilities open to him.

The struggle begins, so far as history knows of it, with the brief and stormy episode of William Longbeard, shortly before the granting of the Commune. His is the first articulate voice heard among the murmurs of popular discontent. Perhaps there were other Hampdens before him whose dust lies beneath our feet, and whose blood like his tinged the earth of Smithfield, but we do not know of them.

Towards the close of the twelfth century change was impending. Guilds there were. As yet, they were not, as a rule, trading, but religious societies. As we have seen, in 1186, Henry the Second fined as many as eighteen for having been incorporated without license. What can this indicate but that the regulation of trade was contemplated by these guilds as well as the charitable and religious objects for which such associations were at first founded?

Even more important than the regulations of trade is the great fact that by means of their guilds the people, who had hitherto been inarticulate and powerless, were now becoming able to speak and to listen and to act.

Their grievances seem to have been at first founded rather on suspicion than on proof. When the City was taxed, the assessors were the Aldermen; the craftsmen had to pay what they were ordered to pay; no one knew what the Aldermen themselves paid. They were therefore, very naturally, accused of shifting the whole burden of taxation from their own shoulders to those of the craftsmen. But a grievance of suspicion, among a rude and ignorant people, is as dangerous as a grievance founded on fact. Another grievance was the poll tax, in which the poor37 men paid as much as the rich men. And a standard grievance in every industrial city, and in every age, is the question of wages and hours.

Presently the Deliverer arose—who yet was to prove no Deliverer.

William, called FitzOsbert, and sometimes William Longbeard, was the grandson of a certain Osbert, one of the Aldermen who, in 1125, had given to the Priory of the Holy Trinity, with the King’s permission, the lands belonging to the Cnihten Guild.

He was, therefore, by birth one of the governing class, whose abuses he attacked. He was also, it would seem from the first episode in his life which has come down to us, of a nature easily moved and imaginative, and, like his grandfather, disposed to piety. Such a mind belongs to the man who instinctively hates injustice and oppression.

Most of the chroniclers who tell the story belong to the other side, and, therefore, charge him with everything that they dare: the crimes, however, are so vague, such as obscurity of origin, meanness of appearance, ingratitude to a brother, that they mean nothing and may be neglected. I prefer to take the evidence of the historian, Roger de Hoveden, who says as follows:—

“The rich men, sparing their own purses, wanted the poor to pay everything. But a certain lawyer, William FitzOsbert by name, or Long-beard, becoming sensible of this, being inflamed by zeal for justice and equity, became the champion of the poor, it being his wish that every person, both rich as well as poor, should give according to his property and means for all the necessities of the State; and, going across the sea to the King, he demanded his protection for himself and the people.” (Roger de Hoveden’s Annals, vol. ii.)

The facts are few as they have come down to us. But we can learn something about the man. He was, to begin with, a visionary; now it is out of visionaries that martyrs, confessors, and enthusiasts are made. I know that he was a visionary from a little story related of him. He was one of those who took the cross and the vow when King Richard went on his crusade, and sailed in the fleet which contained the London and the Dartmouth Crusaders whose intention was to fight the Infidels. This fact points in the direction of an emotional temperament easily moved to enthusiasm. The fleet was becalmed in the Bay of Biscay. Thereupon, William FitzOsbert, with one Geoffrey, a goldsmith, prayed to St. Thomas à Becket—the newly canonised saint—already considered as the natural protector of London. St. Thomas, to the eyes of faith, answered their prayers in person. He appeared to them. He bade them be of good cheer; he promised a favourable breeze in the morning, after which they should accomplish their vows and return in safety. It must have been a visionary who would actually see the saint and receive his message. In the morning the promised breeze sprang up; the ships proceeded on their course and put in at a Portuguese port. Here they learned that the King of Portugal was in dire straits, being besieged by the Moors with a38 vast army. The Crusaders resolved upon going to his assistance; among them marched William FitzOsbert, rejoicing in the promise made him by St. Thomas à Becket, that he should perform his vows and should return. In these days he would have said that St. Thomas had need of him in his native town.

The Moors being defeated, the London Crusaders thought they had done their duty in fighting the Infidel, and so returned home.

After this crusade, William made the discovery above described. Now he was not of obscure birth, because he belonged to one of the great City families; his grandfather had been an Alderman, probably his father as well; he was a scholar—one Chronicler calls him a lawyer; he was a man of eloquence; he could persuade and carry with him the rude craftsmen of London, whom he gathered together at Paul’s Cross in the name of the old Folk Mote. He found out irregularities of all kinds on the part of the governing class. When there was neither audit nor scrutiny, irregularities were inevitable. He imparted these discoveries to the King, who listened with attention, and doubtless communicated his views on the subject to the Archbishop of Canterbury, then justiciary. It may be understood, also, that his communications rendered him peculiarly hateful to his own class, the governing body, whom he had deserted. His nickname, Longbeard, denotes his desertion of that class, which affected Norman customs, and either wore no beard or a very small beard. He himself went back to the old Saxon custom, which seems to have been retained by the craftsmen, and grew a long beard.

He left, then, his own people; he was no longer one of the governing class; he joined the party of the craftsmen; to show his change of opinion and of plan, he grew a beard. And we find him a great orator, haranguing the people on their wrongs; calling them together at Paul’s Cross; followed by a crowd who waited on his words; going to the King with proofs of the evil-doing of the Aldermen; getting, at first, the ear of the King, until Richard was set against the reforms by reports against FitzOsbert, such as that he was continually exciting the populace to further discontent. The historians, as has been stated, differ as to William’s real character. Stow, copying some of the Chronicles, says that he was “poor in degree, evil-favoured in shape ... a counterfeit friend to the poor ... a man of evil life, a murderer ... who falsely accused his elder brother of treason....”


From MS. Roy. 16.

Holinshed says that he was a “seditious person and of a busie nature.” Fabyan’s account is much more favourable. I subjoin his account of the whole episode:—


“And Wyllyam with ye longe berde shewyd to ye kynge the owtrage of the ryche men, whiche, as he sayd, sparyd theyr owne, and pylled the poore people. It is sayde that this Wyllyam was borne in London, and purchased that name by use of his berde. He was sharpe of wyt, and somedeale lettred, a bolde man of speche, and sadde of his contenance, and toke upon hym gretter dedys than he cowde weld: and some he usyd cruell, as apereth in appechynge of his owne brother of treason, ye whiche was a burges of London, and to hym had shewed great kyndenesse in his youthe. This Wyllyam styred and excyted ye common people to desyre and love fredam and lybertye, & blamed the excesse and owtrage of ryche men: by syche meanys, he drewe to hym many great companyes, and, with all his power, defendyd the poore mannys cause agayne the ryche, and accused dyuerse to ye kyng, shewinge that by theyr meanys, ye kyng loste many forfaytes and encheatis. For this, gentylmen and men of honoure, malygned agayne hym, but he had suche comforte of ye kyng, that he kept on his purpose. Then ye kyng beyng warned of the congregacions that this Wyllyam made, commaunded hym to cease of such doyngys, that the people myght exercyse theyr artis and occupacions; by reason whereof it was lefte for a whyle: but it was not longe or ye people followed hym, as they before hys tyme had done. Then he made unto them colacions or exortacions, & toke for his anteteme, ‘Haurietis aquas in gaudio de fontibus saluatoris,’ that is to meane, ye shall drawe, in joy, waters of ye wellys, of our savyour: and to this he added, ‘I am,’ sayd he, ‘ye savyoure of poore men; ye be poore and have assayed ye harde handis of ryche men; now drawe ye therefore holefull water of lore of my wellys, and that with joy, for ye tyme of youre vysytacyon is comyn. I shall,’ sayde he, ‘departe waters from waters. By waters I understande the people; then shall I departe the people which is good and meke, from the people that is wyckyd and prowde, and I shall dissevyr the good and the ylle, as the lyght is departyd from the derkenesse.’ When the bysshop was brought to ye archebisshop of Canterbury, he, by counceyll of the lordis of the spyritualtye, sent unto this Wyllyam, commaundynge hym to appere before the lordis of the kyngys counceyll to answere unto suche maters as there shulde be layed unto hym. At which day this Wyllyam appered, havynge with hym a multytude of people, in so moch that the lordys were of hym adrad, for ye which cause they remyttyd hym with pleasaunt wordys for that tyme, and commaundyd certeyn personys, in secrete maner, to espye when he were voyde of his company, and then to take hym, and to put hym in sure kepyng, the which, accordyng to that commaundment, at tyme convenyent, as they thought, sette upon hym and to have takyn hym; but he, with an axe, resysted them, and slew one of theym, and after fled to Saynt Mary Bowe Church, of Chepe, and tooke that for his savegarde, defendynge hym by strength, and not by ye suffragis of ye church: for to hym drewe, shortly, great multytude of people; but in short processe, by mean of the hedys and rulers of ye cytie, the people mynysshed, so that, in short tyme, he was left with fewe personys, and after, by fyre, compellyd to forsake the church, and so was taken, but not without shedying of blode. After which takyng, he was arreygned before ye jugys, and there, with ix. of his adherentis, cast and judged to dye, and was hanged, and they with hym the day folowynge. But yet the rumor ceased not; for the common people reysyed a great cryme upon the archbisshop of Cantorbury, and other, and sayd that, by theyr meanes, Wyllyam, which was an innocent of suche crymes as were objecte and pute agayne hym, and was a defendor of the pore people agayne extorcioners and wronge doers, was by them put wrongfully to deth: approuyng hym an holy man and martyr, by this tale folowyng: sayinge, that a man, beyng seke of the fevers, was curid by vertue of a cheyn which this Wyllyam was bounde with in tyme of his dures of enprysonement, which, by a preest of the allye of the sayd Wyllyam was openly declared & prechyd, wherby he brought the people in such an errour, that they gave credence to his wordys, and secretly, in the night, conveyed away ye jebet that he was hangyd upon and scrapyd awey that blode made there an holow place by fetchyng away of that erthe, and sayde that syke men and women were cured of dyverse sykenesses by vertue of that blode and erthe. By theyse meanes, and blowyng of fame, that place was the more vysyted by women and undyscrete persones, of ye which some watchyd there ye hoole nyght in prayer, so that the lenger this contynuyd, ye more disclaunder was anotyd to the justyces, and to suche as put hym to deth: notwithstandynge, in processe of tyme when his actys were publysshed, as ye sleigne of man with his owne hande, and uysyng of his concubyne within seynt Mary Church, in tyme of his there beynge, as he openlye confessyd in the owre of his deth, with other detestable crymes, somewhat keyld ye great flame of ye hasty pylgrymage; but not clerely tyll ye archebisshop of Canterbury accursed ye preest that brought up the firste fable, and also causyd that place to be watchyd, that suche idolatry shuld there no more be used.” (Fabyan’s Chronicles, p. 306.)

The mention of the woman is also made by Holinshed. He adds a single line which contains a world of love and pathos, the words, “who never left him fearing danger might betide him.” Fabyan’s words “not without shedding of blood” are by Holinshed shown to mean that one of his assailants thrust a knife into William’s body, so that he was carried to the Tower. One pictures the faithful, loving creature—was she his wife?—watching by the wounded man all night, giving him such solace in the agony of his wound as she could, and going out in the morning to see him die—or haply, to die with him. The manner of his death was that which was ordered for William Wallace, a hundred years later. William Longbeard and his friends were dragged by the heels to Smithfield and then hanged. The distance from the Tower to Smithfield is41 a mile and a quarter. It is a long way for the body of a man to be dragged: first the head and arms and back were bruised by the roughness of the road; then the clothes were torn to rags; when the sufferer arrived at the gibbet he was already senseless from the blows and buffets of his head against the stones and rough places in the road; when he was hoisted up on the gibbet, his body, stripped of the clothes, was bleeding and torn. Was that poor woman present? Perhaps they took her to Smithfield in a cart and burned her alive.

The case, as I said, is one of a Reformer before his time. One knows not all the reforms he desired and advocated. The example of his life, however, and the tradition of his teaching, remained. The Archbishop might curse the priest, or anybody there who defended him. But the fact remained that this man died a martyr for the cause of justice against oppression and despotic rule. Such a life is not wasted.

Then came the Commune with the struggle, begun by Longbeard, of the craftsmen against the governing class, caused by their resolve to obtain their share in the administration. It was in one sense fortunate for the City that the factions and the struggles which divided the City were continually complicated by the dissension of King and Barons. The issues were thus to a great extent obscured, and what might have been civil war in the City became part of the civil wars between the King and the Barons.

The reign of Henry the Third is filled with the King’s displeasure against the City as well as with the quarrels and dissensions which rent the City in twain. Let us run rapidly through the main incidents of the time, and then consider how the growth and development of the Commune were affected by those factions.

In the year 1221, or 1223, the tumult for which Constantine FitzArnult was hanged awakened the jealousy and suspicion of the young King, because it revealed the existence or the survival of a French party in the City. I cannot but think that this foolish rising was the first cause of that hatred towards his rich city which Henry entertained throughout his reign. The conspiracy, says Fabyan, was so “heinous and grievous to the King that he was mynded and purposed to throwe downe the wallys of the Citie.” However, for the time he was appeased, and presently issued his Charter of Confirmation to the City with the grant of a common seal.

In 1229 the Aldermen, with the consent of the people, agreed that a sheriff should not continue in office for more than one year, because charges had been brought against previous sheriffs of taking bribes from victuallers, and also of various extortions. On referring to the list we find that the continuance in office of the sheriffs had become of recent years a common practice, as the following list (Stow) shows:—


1218. Sheriffs. John Viel8 and John Le Spicer.
1219. John Viel and Richard Wimbledon.
1220. John Viel and Richard Renger.
1221. Thomas Lambart, Richard Renger.
1222. Thomas Lambart, Richard Renger.
1223. John Travars, Andrew Bokerel.
1224. John Travars, Andrew Bokerel.
1225. Roger Duke, Martin FitzWilliam.
1226. Roger Duke, Martin FitzWilliam.
1227. Stephen Bokerel, Henry Cocham.
1228. Stephen Bokerel, Henry Cocham.

In 1240, the Aldermen were elected and changed yearly, “but,” says Stow, “that order lasted not long.” (See Appendices II. and III.)

In the same year, following Fabyan’s Chronology, the King began to side with the popular party, intending in this manner to break up the privileges of the City.

At this point it is necessary to seek more closely into the reasons of the weakness which made London an almost unresisting prey to the exactions of this insatiate and insatiable King. The City, which could lend Simon de Montfort a fully equipped army of 15,000 men, might surely at any moment close its gates, keep the mouth of the Thames clear, and defy the King. But for many years it offered no resistance at all. The reason will immediately appear. A change so slow and gradual that it only at this juncture became important was passing over the City of London and its institutions, or to put it more accurately, the institutions themselves remained unchanged, yet assumed new meanings. It was, as has been already advanced, the happiness of London that, except for a very brief episode, its over-lord was the King and none other. The reeve of the borough was the bailiff or steward of this lord. In the name of the lord he was the magistrate; he collected rents, tolls and dues; he called the burgesses to their mote; he took care that the rights of the lord were properly executed. These duties observed, the burgesses were left at liberty to govern themselves. Naturally, when the town became prosperous it began to buy out the privileges of the over-lord. Thus, the Charters of the City of London are the recognition by king after king, that a certain portion of the rights of the over-lord have been bought out or conceded. And the reign of such a king as Henry the Third is a continual disregard of these concessions or purchases, by the assertion over and over again of the rights and powers of the over-lord, never, however, going so far as to give the City to any other over-lord. Thus Henry, as we shall see, in spite of the Charters, held courts in the City by his own justiciar, and called the citizens to plead their own cases at Westminster.


These Charters, then, granted their liberties to the citizens. But who were the citizens? “Land was from the first the test of freedom, and the possession of land was what constituted the townsman.... In England the landless man who dwelled in a borough had no share in its corporate life: for purposes of government or property the town was simply an association of the landed proprietors within its bounds.” (Green’s History of the English People.)

These words explain the whole position. In the twelfth century the government of London was entirely in the hands of certain families who held the land. As we have seen, the wards were their own property, named after them: the heads of these families were hereditary Aldermen of the wards. The members of this corporation or association were themselves, for the most part, engaged in trade. They were the wholesale traders—mercers, drapers, merchant adventurers. They would not admit within their body the craftsmen, who began, however, to form guilds for themselves. And the efforts of the governing body were directed against the formation of the craft guilds which, they plainly saw, would lead to the destruction of their own power. In the reign of Henry the Third this struggle of the Prud hommes or the “wise men”—the men of the ruling class—against the craftsmen was at its fiercest. In the reign of John, they had secured the suppression of the comprehensive weavers’ guild. Slow and difficult is the process and many are the lessons which must be learned, great are the oppressions which must be endured, before men so far overcome their suspicion of each other as to unite for the common good. The Londoner—the man of the commonalty—of Henry the Third could unite for fighting purposes; he could trust his brother to stand by him shoulder to shoulder; what he could not do was to trust his brother-craftsman not to overreach him, or to undersell him. Do we not see the same thing to-day? We think we are better educated and wiser; and we are even now exhorting men to do exactly what these popular leaders of the thirteenth century exhorted them to do, namely—to combine. The commonalty, at first, were galled, not so much by having no share in the administration, for they had never looked for any, but by the suspicion that the real burden of taxation fell upon themselves instead of on the wealthy. The names of the Mayors of this reign sufficiently indicate the side on which the power lay from time to time. Thus Basing, Blunt, Bukerel, Frowyk, FitzWalter are names of the old families: Le Fullour and Grapefig are the names of craftsmen.

Early in the long reign of Henry the Third we find a certain Symon FitzMary, whose name perhaps indicates an origin so obscure that it was only derived from his mother, yet he was one of the Aldermen, one of the popular party, and—which is significant—in the service of the King. Henry, therefore, was playing off the popular against the aristocratic side. Symon was elected Sheriff in the year 1233, but in the first term of his shrievalty he was charged with “wasting the property that formed the issues of the Sheriffwick.” He was, therefore, set aside,—surely a44 very strong step,—and his clerks were ordered in his place to collect the money that formed the Firma. Six years later, in 1239, Symon presents himself at the election of sheriffs. He has letters from the King commanding the City to elect him. Here we have a deliberate attempt of the King to trample on the Charters. The City refused to obey, and repaired to Court in hopes of conciliating the King’s favour, but could not, “so that,” says FitzThedmar, “the City was without a Mayor for three months, when Gerard Bat, one of the aristocratic party, was elected.” At the next election he was again chosen. Then follows a very curious story. With him “certain of the citizens proceeded to Wodestok, for the purpose of presenting him; and his lordship the King declined to admit him [to the Mayoralty] there, or before he had come to London. And on the third day after, upon the King’s arrival there, he admitted him; and after the oath had been administered to him, that he would restore everything that had before been taken and received, and would not receive the forty pounds which the Mayors had previously been wont to receive from the City, the Mayor said, when taking his departure:—‘Alas! my Lord, out of all this I might have found a marriage portion to give my daughter.’ For this reason the King was moved to anger, and forthwith swore upon the altar of Saint Stephen, by Saint Edward, and by the oath which he that day took upon that altar, and said:—‘Thou shalt not be Mayor this year, and for a very little I would say, Never. Go, now.’ The said Gerard, hereupon, not caring to have the King’s ill-will, resigned the Mayoralty, and Reginald de Bunge was appointed Mayor of London.” (Riley’s edit. FitzThedmar’s Chronicles of Old London, p. 9.)

At the same time we find this oppressive King calling the citizens together at Paul’s Cross, and asking their leave to pass over-seas to Gascony!

On his return, the King took the City into his own hand for harbouring a certain Walter Bukerel without warrant, yet it was proved that Bukerel had been pardoned. He “took the City into his own hand,” i.e. he suspended all the Charters and Liberties; but he gave it to the Mayor, Ralph Aswy, for safe keeping. He then marched north to fight the Scots, but on his return he forbade the sheriffs to perform any of their functions. The City bought their pardon by paying a fine of £1000.

Again we find Symon FitzMary active at the election of the Sheriffs. It was in 1244. Now in 1229 the Aldermen had all taken oath that at no time would they allow the same man to be Sheriff for two consecutive years. Symon, therefore, understanding that it was proposed to re-elect Nicholas Bat, rose in his place and called him a perjurer. Reading between the lines, we understand that the self-denying ordinance of 1229 was a concession to the popular party, and the re-election of Bat in 1244 was due to the return to power of the other side. There was certainly a warm debate, and in the end Symon had to resign his Aldermanry, and Nicholas Bat was re-elected. The case, however, was taken before the King, who refused to admit Nicholas Bat.


To this time belongs a series of determined attacks upon the liberties of the City by the King. There was first the case of Margery Vyel; then the claims of the Abbot of Westminster; and thirdly, the Fair of Westminster. The Fair was granted to the Abbot of Westminster for fifteen days, to be held in Tothill Fields. During its continuance, trade of all kinds was to cease in London. Consider the intolerable nature of this enactment. The City bought off the latter regulation for the sum of £2000. As regards the claims of Westminster Abbey, they were complicated by questions of mediæval law and rights; for a long time they were advanced as a means of worrying the City. Thus, in 1249, the King appointed a “day of love” (i.e. reconciliation) between the City and the Abbot of Westminster. The meeting was held at the Temple. The Mayor, being accompanied by a “countless multitude,” met the Abbot, who had with him certain of the King’s Justices. But there was no conference; the whole of the people, with one consent, declared that they would have no conference, but would abide by their Charters. The case was taken before the King, but nothing seems to have been decided.

This brings us to the claim of Margery Vyel. It is related by Arnold FitzThedmar. Let us use his own words as far as possible.

“In the same year”—A.D. 1246—“on the Monday next after Hockeday [Hocking day was the second Tuesday after Easter] it was adjudged in the Guildhall that a woman who had been endowed with a certain and specified dower may not, nor ought to have of the chattels of her deceased husband beyond the certain and specified dower assigned to her, unless in accordance with the will of her husband. And this befel through Margery, the relict of John Vyel the elder, who, by numerous writs of his Lordship the King, demanded in the Hustings of London, the third part of the chattels belonging to her said husband.”

In the next year (A.D. 1247)46 “on the Monday after St. Peter Chains [St. Peter ad Vincula, August 1st] Henry de Ba, a Justiciar sent by his Lordship the King, came to St. Martin’s-le-Grand, where the record which had been given upon complaint of Margery Vyel was, to which judgment the said Margery had made complaint to his Lordship the King, and had found judges to prove that the same was false. Whereupon the Mayor and citizens meeting them, the record having been read through, and all the writs of his Lordship the King which the said Margery had obtained having been read and heard, the Justiciar said, ‘I do not say that this judgment is false, but the process thereof is faulty, as there is no mention made in this record of summons of the opponents of the said Margery, and seeing that John Vyel, her husband, made a will, it did not pertain to your Court to determine such a plea as this.’ To which the citizens made answer ‘There was no necessity to summons those who had possession of the property of the deceased for they were always ready, and preferred to stand trial at suit of the said Margery in our Court: and besides, we were fully able to entertain such plea by assent of the two parties, who did not at all claim or demand the Ecclesiastical Court and seeing that his Lordship the King by his writ commanded us to determine the same.’

At length after much altercation had taken place between the Justiciar and the citizens, the Justiciar said that they must show all this to the King and his Council and so they withdrew. Afterwards, however, and solely for this cause, the King took the city into his own hands and by his writ entrusted it to the custody of William de Haverille and Edward de Westminster, namely, on the vigil of St. Bartholomew (Aug. 24th): whereupon the Mayor and citizens went to the King at Wudestok and showed him that they had done no wrong: but they could not regain his favour. Wherefore, upon their arrival at London, William de Haverille exacted an oath of the clerks and all the serjeants who belonged to the Shrievalty, that they would be obedient unto him, the Mayor and Sheriffs being removed from their bailiwicks. Afterwards, on the Sunday before the Nativity of St. Mary (Sept. 8th) the Mayor and Sheriffs, by leave of the King, received the City into their hands and a day was given them to make answer as to the aforesaid judgment before the King and his Barons, namely, the morrow of the Translation of St. Edward [June 9th] at Westminster, and on the morrow of St. Edward, the Mayor and citizens appeared at Westminster to make answers to the judgment before mentioned, that had been given against the aforesaid Margery Vyel and so on from day to day till the fourth day, upon which last day, the King requested them to permit the Abbot of Westminster to enjoy the franchises which the King had granted him in Middlesex in exchange for other liberties which the citizens might of right demand. To which the citizens made answer that they could do nothing in such a matter without the consent of the whole community. The King on learning this, as though moved to anger, made them appear before him and after much altercation had passed as to the said judgment (Henry de la Mare a kinsman of the before named Margery Vyel constantly making allegations against the citizens) counsel being at last held before the King between the Bishops and Barons, the Mayor and citizens were acquitted and took their departure.” (Riley’s edition, FitzThedmar’s Chronicles of Old London.)

It will be observed that the King broke the Charters, first by sending his own Justiciar into the City to hear an appeal; next, by making the Mayor and citizens go to Westminster to have a City case tried; and thirdly, by granting the Abbot of Westminster rights or privileges in the County of Middlesex which was held and farmed by the City.

The City, at the price of surrendering its liberties, won the case, evidently a case considered as of the very highest importance. The reward bestowed upon Symon FitzMary is related by FitzThedmar:

“It should be observed, that when Symon FitzMary, for his offence, had delivered his Aldermanry into the hands of the City, as above noticed, by assent of47 the whole community the Mayor returned him his Aldermanry, upon condition of his conceding that if at any future time he should again contravene the franchises of the City, the Mayor might, without plea or gainsaying, take back his Aldermanry, into the hands of the City, and wholly remove him therefrom. Wherefore, in this year, because the said Symon had manifestly sided with Margery Vyel in the complaint which she had made to his lordship the King as to the judgment given by the citizens—as to which, as is already written, she herself was cast—as also, for many other evil and detestable actions of which he had secretly been guilty against the City, the Mayor took his Aldermanry into his own hands, and wholly removed him therefrom; and the men of that Ward, receiving liberty to elect on the Monday before Mid-Lent chose Alexander le Ferrun, and that too in his absence; but he, afterwards appearing at the Hustings, was on the Monday following admitted Alderman.” (Chronicles of Old London, pp. 16-17.)

And so Symon vanishes. One would like to hear more of his political career. As regards his private history, his will, by which he founded the House of St. Mary of Bethlehem, survives, so that he is the originator of the Royal Bethlehem Hospital, which has served the City so well and so long. He may have been of humble origin, in which case he is an early example of the rise of a poor lad to wealth, an example that after his time became well-nigh impossible until the eighteenth century.

In 1257 occurred another of the many strange stories of this time. A sealed Roll was found in the King’s wardrobe at Windsor. No one knew who wrote it, or how it came there. The Roll contained “many articles against the Mayor, to the effect that the City had been aggrieved by him and his abettors beyond measure, as well as in respect of tallage and of other injuries that had been committed by them.” In other words, the Roll contained a statement, no doubt highly coloured, of the discontented. The King, pretending to be resolute that the poor should not be treated unjustly, sent John Maunsell, Justiciar, to London with orders to hold a Folk Mote and to inquire into the truth of the allegations, which was done. Then the Aldermen were ordered to convene their ward motes, and to cause the people in each ward to elect six-and-thirty deputies, the Aldermen being absent; and these six-and-thirty men were ordered to appear in the hall of the Bishop of London. They were there put on oath; but they refused to make oath, alleging that by the laws of the City they ought not to make oath except upon a question of life or limb, or where land was to be lost or gained. The next day, at the Guildhall, the deputies still refused to take oath. Whereupon the King sent word that all he desired was to learn the truth; that he was willing to leave their franchises unimpaired, and that he desired to ascertain how his faithful people had been aggrieved in tallages and by whom. Then John Maunsell spoke pleasantly to the people, asking if they were not content with the promise of the King. And48 they shouted, “Yea, Yea,” “in disparagement,” says the Chronicler, who belonged to the City Barons, “of their own franchises, which, in fact, these most wretched creatures had not been the persons to secure.”

John Maunsell then proceeded to seize the City for the King, and to depose the Mayor, Sheriffs, and City Chamberlain. There was a trial at Westminster before the King; there was another Folk Mote, at which the people were persuaded by the silver-tongued John Maunsell to shout for the destruction of their own liberties, of which they understood little indeed. The Chronicler, in indignation, calls them “sons of divers mothers, many of them born without the City, and many of servile condition.” At that time, one observes, they were very far from the possibility of a democracy.

The popular cause never fails, in any age, to attract to itself leaders from the other side. William FitzOsbert, whose rise and fall we have already chronicled, had attempted to do for the commonalty, in King Richard’s reign, what Thomas FitzThomas attempted with greater success seventy years later. He was Sheriff during the sealed Roll business; his brother, Sheriff Matthew Bukerel, was deposed, and was replaced by a person whose name has already been mentioned, William Grapefig. William FitzRichard, another of the popular party, was made Mayor. In 1261-62, and in 1262-63, Thomas FitzThomas was elected Mayor, certainly by the people, as the names of the Sheriffs for the year imply that they had the upper hand for the time. His first year of office was marked by the stout resistance which he made to the Constable of the Tower, who attempted to take “prisage” of ships in the river. Now, one of the most important privileges of the City was the command of the river, so that no duties or tolls should be levied on ships coming up or going down the river except by themselves. FitzThomas was elected for a second year of office. And now you shall hear, what in the thirteenth century was thought by a merchant of the old school, of a man who could encourage the combination of trades and crafts.


“Be it here remarked9 that this Mayor, during the time of his Mayoralty, had so pampered the City populace that, styling themselves the ‘Commons of the City,’ they had obtained the first voice in the City. For the Mayor, in doing all that he had to do, ruled and determined through them, and would say to them, ‘Is it your will that so it shall be?’ and then if they answered, ‘Yea, Yea,’ so it was done. And, on the other hand, the Aldermen or chief citizens were little or not at all consulted in such matter; but were, in fact, just as though they had not existed. Through this that same populace became so elated and so inflated with pride that during the commotions in the realm, of which mention has been previously made, they formed themselves into covins and leagued themselves together by oath, by the hundred and by the thousand, under a sort of colour of keeping the peace, whereas they themselves were manifestly disturbers of the peace. For whereas the Barons were only fighting against those who wished to break the aforesaid statutes, and seized the property of each and that too by day, the other broke into the houses of the people and of other persons in the City who were not against the said statutes and by main force carried off the property found in such houses, besides doing many other unlawful acts as well. As to the Mayor, he censured these persons in but a lukewarm way.” (Chronicles of Old London, p. 59.)

Further, the barons, wishing above all things at this juncture to conciliate the citizens, desired that they would put in writing anything they might desire in augmentation of their liberties, and undertook, if the thing were reasonable, to bring it before the King and Council. Then this Mayor called upon the craftsmen and ordered them to make such provisions as should be to their own advantage. “Accordingly, after this, from day to day, individuals of every craft of themselves made new statutes and provisions, or rather such as may be called ‘abominations’—and that solely to their own advantage, and to the intolerable loss of all merchants coming to London and visiting the faire of England and the exceeding injury of all persons in the realm.”

This was the first trades union. Their rules were drawn up by the working men themselves. The memory of the old frith guilds had by this time perished, but there were fraternities, or religious associations, which would help them to some knowledge of the rules which they should lay down. Such as they were, the Chronicler tells us, they were not carried into effect.

In 1263-64 Thomas FitzThomas was again elected Mayor; but the King refused to receive him, being “for many reasons greatly moved to anger against the City.”

In the same year began the Barons’ War, in which the Londoners played a conspicuous, if not a noble, part. They reduced the castle of Rochester; they destroyed the palace at Isleworth, belonging to Richard, the King’s brother; they murdered five hundred Jews; they pillaged the property of the foreign merchants; and at the battle of Lewes they ran away.

Peace being made in the following year, Henry, now a prisoner, was made to hold a Court in St. Paul’s, where the Mayor, again Thomas FitzThomas, and the Aldermen swore fealty to him. A marginal note of the Chronicle completes the history of this oath. “Then those who were present might see a thing wondrous and unheard of in this age: for the most wretched Mayor, when taking the oath, dared to utter words so rash as these, saying unto his lordship the King in presence of the people, ‘My lord, so long as unto us you will be a good lord and King, we will be faithful and duteous unto you.’” The Mayor was four hundred years before his time.

After the defeat and death of Simon de Montfort at Evesham, there was great50 alarm in the City. Some proposed to close the gates and call together the adherents of the Barons’ cause; others proposed immediate submission. The latter course prevailed. Letters of submission were drawn up and sent to the King at Windsor. The messengers on the way met Sir Roger de Lilbourne, who told them that he was sent to declare the King’s pleasure to the citizens. The King’s pleasure was immediate and complete submission: the removal of all chains and posts in the streets as a mark of submission, and the despatch of the Mayor and principal men of the City to Windsor under letters of safe conduct. They went. FitzThomas, unluckily, was once more Mayor. The King disregarded the letters of safe conduct and clapped them into prison. All of them, except FitzThomas, were shortly afterwards released. Henry remembered the words by which FitzThomas had sworn a limited loyalty. FitzThomas never again appeared. He vanished. Perhaps the King ordered his execution; perhaps he caused him to languish for the rest of his life in prison. However that may be, FitzThomas was no more seen.

Henry came to London, his chief enemy in custody; he gave away sixty houses belonging to the principal citizens; he fined the City 20,000 marks. On the 6th of December of the same year (1265) John de la Linde, knight, and John Wallraven, clerk, were made seneschals, the Tower of London being delivered into their hands. On the same day there came to Westminster four-and-twenty citizens, who swore faithfully and safely to keep the City in the King’s behalf under their two seneschals.

The King gave, further, London Bridge, with its tolls, to Queen Eleanor, who allowed it to fall into decay. She then gave it back to the City.

FitzThedmar here remarks that some of the persons who had sided with the Earl of Gloucester took to flight, and there were among them some who, in the time of the late Mayor, FitzThomas, styled themselves the “Commons of the City.” On the election of a citizen “to attend to the duties of Sheriff of Middlesex and Warden of London,” the people clamoured for FitzThomas, who was probably by this time lying in his grave.

The citizens petitioned, but in vain, for the right of electing their Mayor and Sheriffs. In the following year, 1266, John Adrian and Luke de Battencurt were chosen Bailiffs instead of Sheriffs.

Out of the confusion and trouble of the time we can gather that the trade of London was brought to a standstill; that there were massacres of Jews; that there were riots in the streets, quarrels between trades, in one of which as many as 500 men went out armed and fought in the streets; that the trades continued to combine and to form companies, but without rule and supervision, so that they claimed work belonging to other trades, and caused ill-feeling; that there was no order kept in the wards, and no authority of the Aldermen. The Mayors, during the period following the Battle of Evesham, were appointed by the King. Fabyan says that51 there is uncertainty about this time, some being of opinion that there were no Mayors but only custodes. Fabyan also says that Thomas FitzThomas was released. He enters his name as Mayor for 1269-70. But his dates do not agree with those of Stow. In the latter year Prince Edward took the City into his own hands and appointed Hugh FitzOtho Constable of the Tower and Custos of the City. A few months of despotic and military rule smoothed the troubled waters of faction and restored order to the distracted City. The last years of King Henry’s reign were years of peace and rest. But he had done what he wished to do—he had deprived the proud City of its wealth, its liberty, and its rights.

The first phase of the contest between the oligarchy and the populace comes to an end. The former party is greatly broken up; the wards cease to be called by the names of their Aldermen.

In December 1269 an order was issued by the King that all those persons who, on the restoration of the City to him, had withdrawn, should be proclaimed publicly, and should be forbidden ever to return to the City under pain of life and limb. Their names were read out in the Guildhall and afterwards cried in the streets. There were fifty-seven of them; the list has been preserved by FitzThedmar. All, with a few exceptions, were craftsmen. Cofferer, Baker, Cook, Goldsmith, Ironworker, Fuller, Plumer, Broker, Butcher, Armourer, Chaloner, with a few mercers and others belonging to wholesale trades.

This act of justice accomplished, the citizens were once more granted the right of electing their Mayor and Sheriffs, but with the increase of the firma from £300 to £400.

They proceeded to exercise this right, apparently, with sadness and soberness, and with a compromise. The Mayor was John Adrian, of the aristocratic party; the Sheriffs were two craftsmen. The following year Walter Hervey, a man of the people, was Mayor, and two of the other side were Sheriffs.

The election of the Mayor of the following year is a most interesting and instructive story. Fabyan, we may observe, puts the election in the second year of Edward’s reign; Arnold FitzThedmar, one of the Aldermen concerned, and therefore an eye-witness, assigns it to the last days of King Henry and the earliest days of King Edward.

On the 28th of October, the Feast of St. Simon and St. Jude, the citizens met at the Guildhall for the election of the new Mayor. The Aldermen and the more “discreet” citizens—it is one of them who tells the tale—proposed the name of Philip le Tayllor. According to usage, their nominee ought to have been accepted; but the people in the body of the Hall refused to accept him, and cried out with a great tumult, “Nay, nay, we will have no one but Walter Hervey,” and against the will of the Aldermen—one pictures a good deal of hustling and pushing—they placed their own man in the seat of the Mayor.


It is not surprising that the same kind of accusations, which had formerly been brought against William Longbeard and Thomas FitzThomas, were now brought against Walter Hervey. He is said to have persuaded and promised the people that he would keep them free from all tallages, extortions, and tolls, and that they believed his word, and followed him by thousands, even in multitudes, without number. We remember that 50,000 are said to have followed Longbeard. The charge of gaining over the people by grand promises is very likely true; the demagogue has always resorted to the same methods of persuasion; in the end to the detriment or the ruin of the cause. One understands that the more popular leaders of London between 1190 and 1272 were men who desired, above all things, to render impossible the burden of unequal taxation, and to give the commons a voice in the management of their own affairs. This twofold aim is really one, because it was believed that the people, if they had the power, would exercise it wisely and justly. The leaders, however, did not realise that the average man understands by justice the shifting of his burden to the shoulders of some other man, and he is quite careless who that other man is.

Hervey, however, had the people with him.

The Aldermen, finding themselves thrust, in this rude way, out of power, repaired to Westminster to lay the matter before the King’s Council. They were followed by Hervey himself, accompanied by a vast multitude of his supporters. The case of the Aldermen was put with much ability: it was not the loss of their own power which they so much minded, as the chance that another civil war might be caused through the unruly pride of the populace.

“The Aldermen and their adherents, on coming before the King’s Council, as already written, showed unto them, with grievous complaints, how that this populace by force had violently and unjustly impeded their election, by those to whom the election of Mayor and Sheriffs in the City of right more particularly belongs than to any one else, and has always been wont to belong. They also duteously besought his lordship the King and his Council, that the King would be pleased to set his arm and his hand thereto, that so this populace, calling itself the ‘Commons of the City,’ and excluding the Aldermen and discreet men of the City, might not upraise itself against his peace and against the peace of his realm, as had happened in the time of the Earl of Leicester; namely, when Thomas Fitz-Thomas and Thomas de Pullesdon had so exalted the populace of the City above the Aldermen and discreet men of the City, that, when it was necessary so to do, they could not make such populace amenable to justice; through which, as a thing notorious to the whole world, a deadly war arose in England.” (Riley’s edit., FitzThedmar’s Chronicles of Old London, pp. 154-155.)

The people, without caring to answer these arguments, raised the cry: “We are the Commons. To us belongs the Election. We elect Walter Hervey.”

It was a time of great anxiety. The King was ill; he was now old—for that time, very old; the heir was in the Holy Land; it was most desirable that the peace should be maintained.

The Aldermen went on arguing. The same arguments were used before the53 passing of every successive Reform Act. The Aldermen pointed out that they were the heads, the people being only the inferior members, arms and legs; the Aldermen were also, by right of office, those who pronounced judgment in pleas moved within the City; they had a stake in the country; the populace, on the other hand, for the most part had neither lands nor houses, were of obscure and lowly origin, followed humble occupations, were rude and ignorant, and cared nothing about the City’s welfare. The people, however, kept up their bawling, which reached the ears of the King on his sickbed.

The Council, therefore, put the matter off. Hervey was told to go away and to return with no more than ten or a dozen followers. So for that day he went away.

On the morrow, after dinner, Hervey called all the people together, and, with them at his heels, went again to Westminster, and there, setting forth no reason, they kept up the same cry. The Aldermen were there before them. The Council told both parties that they must agree upon a Mayor, and that when they were agreed the King would admit him.

But they could not agree; there was no chance of an agreement. So, day after day, for a whole fortnight, viz. till the 11th of November, the people became more excited every day, and the Aldermen more dogged, and the same tumultuous scene was enacted in Westminster Hall.

As for Hervey, he affirmed—very likely he spoke the truth, for the situation was full of peril, and one could not forget the vanishing of FitzThomas—that he did not desire to be Mayor for his own sake, but solely for the love of God and from motives of charity; he was willing to endure that burden and that labour, that so he might support the poor of the City against the rich, who sought to oppress them in the matter of the tallages and expenditure of the City.

It speaks a great deal for the veracity of the historian that one who stood among the Aldermen and took part in the offices, seeing his authority and power suddenly taken from him, should have penned these words without casting a doubt upon the motives which actuated his enemy.

On the 11th of November the Council, who appear to have acted with strange weakness and irresolution, decided that as they could not agree, the King would take the City into his own hands and would appoint a Custos or Warden. Accordingly, Henry de Frowyk, one of the Aldermen (his Ward was afterwards called Cripplegate) was appointed Warden.

It was then agreed that each side should appoint five persons, and that this Committee of ten should elect the Mayor, both sides promising to abide by the decision.

The death of the King caused this agreement to be set aside. There was a fear lest the populace should take advantage of the confusion caused by the54 absence of the new King; FitzThedmar converts a vague anxiety into the discovery of a conspiracy against the property of the Aldermen. The Archbishop of York, with the Earl of Gloucester and other nobles, met the citizens at Guildhall, and, seeing the enormous number of Hervey’s followers, exhorted the Aldermen to elect him. They still refused; they would not, of their own free will, lay down their powers; they told Gloucester that the matter was referred to the Committee of ten.

The Earl, however, disregarding this arrangement, ordered a Folk Mote to be called for the next day at Paul’s Cross, met the Aldermen separately in the Chapter House, and begged them to yield and to suffer Hervey to be Mayor for one year, lest trouble should fall upon the City. They therefore gave way, and Hervey, after taking oath that he would not aggrieve or allow to be aggrieved, any who had been against his election, was presented to the people, amid their joyous acclamations, as their Mayor.

His year of office proved uneventful. FitzThedmar says that he took bribes from the bakers, so that they might make loaves under weight, but we need not believe this story; and that he would not allow any pleading, or very rarely any, in the Hustings of Pleas of Land. “The reason being that he himself was impleaded as to a certain tenement which Isabella Bukerel demanded of him by plea between them moved.” Arnold, we observe, still harbours resentment.

At the following election the Aldermen carried their own man, Henry Waleys, or le Waleys. He was one of the richest and most important merchants. He was again Mayor from 1280 to 1283. He had been Mayor of Bordeaux in 1275.

We have seen how, according to the Chronicler, the craftsmen made covins and combinations—in other words, trade unions, being exhorted thereto by Thomas FitzThomas. It appears that when Walter Hervey was Mayor he confirmed these combinations by Charters of his own granting regulation of trade for the common benefit. Now we have the first instance of a blackleg. One of the persons who had obtained, for his own benefit probably, such a Charter, came before the Mayor and citizens in the Guildhall with the complaint that a certain person of his trade was working in contravention of the statutes contained in the Charter, which he and his trade had obtained. From whom, he was asked, had they obtained that Charter? From Walter Hervey, when he was Mayor. “And here it is,” he said, producing a copy of the document. “It is true,” said Walter Hervey; “I granted that Charter by my authority as Mayor.” Then arose Gregory de Rokesley, Alderman, and one of the most “discreet” men in the city. “Such Charters,” he said, “have no force beyond the Mayoralty of the man who may grant them. Moreover, these Charters were only made for the benefit of the rich men in every craft, not for that of the poor: and they lead to the loss and undoing of the poor men as well as the loss of all other citizens and the realm.” Whereupon Walter Hervey sprang to his feet55 and there ensued a warm and personal discussion. Finally, Walter Hervey retired to St. Peter’s Church, Cornhill, where he convened the people and exhorted them to keep their Charters, which he would take care should be enforced; and the whole of that day and the next he went through the City haranguing the people, so that the Barons of the Exchequer and the King’s Council feared a popular tumult. Therefore they sent the Royal command to the City to take care lest, through the action of the said Walter Hervey and others, mischief should ensue. The City Magistrates interpreted this order to mean the arrest of Hervey. Which was done, but on the surety of twelve men he was released. This happened just before Christmas. After Christmas, the Mayor called a meeting in the Guildhall and ordered Hervey’s Charters to be brought to him. A fortnight later he caused them to be read, and explained that they would lead to the detriment and ruin of trade; that the Charters carried no weight and were worthless; that the men of every craft should resume their former liberty to follow their trade wherever and in whatever way they pleased; only that their work must be good and true. In other words, the Charters which Hervey had given them were intended to teach the people the necessity of order and discipline in order to gain their rights; and this Mayor led them gently back, under pretence of giving them liberty, to resume their old dependence. But they had not done yet with Walter Hervey. It remained to deprive him of his dignity as Alderman of Chepe. This was done full craftily. The greater part of the Ward of Chepe consisted of a market-place filled with sheds, selds, and shops. The sheds are explained by Stow to mean small, open shops, each with a “solar” or small upper chamber over them. One such “shed” remained till the other day close to Clare Market.10 The selds were wooden warehouses with shops. The tradesmen of this market, the greatest and most important in the kingdom, were the special friends of Hervey, his constituents, who had made him Alderman. Whereupon, in order to get rid of Hervey, these people must also be got rid of. The King’s Coronation suggested an expedient. Although the traders, butchers, fishmongers, and those of other callings, had paid large sums of money for the rent or permission to set up their shops in the market, the Mayor sent word that in order to clean the place of all refuse, when the King should ride through Chepe, they must all go and sell their wares in other places. Then, in the words of the Chronicle—


“On the morrow of Holy Trinity, the Mayor and citizens coming into the Guildhall to plead the common pleas, there came certain fishmongers, and more especially those who had been removed from Chepe. To whom answer was made by the Mayor, that this had been done by the Council of his lordship the King, in order that there might be no refuse remaining in Chepe on his arrival there. Walter Hervi, however, to the utmost of his power, supported the complaints of the said fishmongers against the Mayor and Aldermen: by reason whereof a stormy strife arose, in presence of all the people, between the said Mayor and Walter aforesaid. Hereupon the Mayor, moved to anger, together with some of the more discreet of the City, went to the Council of his lordship the King at Westminster and showed him what had then taken place in Guildhall. Accordingly, on the morrow, when the Mayor and Aldermen had come to the Guildhall, to determine the pleas which had been begun on the preceding day, a certain roll was shown and read before the said Walter and all the people, in which were set forth many articles as to the presumptuous acts and injuries, of most notorious character, which the said Walter had committed while Mayor, against the Commons of the City and in contravention of his oath: whereupon the said Walter was judicially degraded from his aldermanry and he was excluded from the Council of his City. Command was also given to the men dwelling in that aldermanry to choose a fit and proper man to be Alderman of Chepe in his place and to present him at the next Court in the Guildhall, which was accordingly done.”

So vanishes the form of Walter Hervey. He takes off his Alderman’s gown; he steps down among the folk, a plain citizen, and I daresay that the craftsmen, next day, had forgotten all that he had tried to do for them. But the memory of those Charters survived.

And so they made a political end of this reformer. To him, however, belongs the credit of creating or reviving the spirit of union and incorporation of the trades. I say reviving, because one must not forget the “adulterine” guilds of Henry the Second’s time; and because, wherever there was a guild for religious and charitable purposes, the other trade guild for commercial and practical purposes was not far off.

We have seen how, within forty years from this time, the wards ceased to be named after their Aldermen and their proprietors. In this interval there took place a silent revolution, the steps of which it is now difficult, or even impossible, to follow. The nature of the revolution is indicated by the rapid rise of the companies in the next few years. The authority of the aristocratic party was broken, though not yet destroyed; the shadow of their old power in giving their names to the wards vanished also. We shall now find the government of London transferred from the Aldermen to the trades.

The memory of the three early reformers, William Longbeard, Thomas FitzThomas, and Walter Hervey, should be better known to those who care about the origin and the history of civic liberties. They appear to me to bear a striking resemblance to each other. All three belonged to the aristocratic class; all three deserted their own people, and were bitterly reviled in consequence; all three surrendered their own interests; all three were filled with that overwhelming passion for justice which makes martyrs and carries on a cause. It is to be hoped that while the first was dragged by the heels to the gallows, while the second was murdered in a dungeon, while the third was put out of office and deprived of the right to speak and the power to act, some vision of the future was vouchsafed to them; some voice whispered in their dying ears that their life’s work was not lost, but would yet bear fruit in the coming freedom of the people for whom they had worked and for whom they suffered.

Reproduced from the picture in the Royal Exchange by permission of the Artist, Sigismund Goetze, Esq., by whom the copyright is reserved.

The long continuance of these factions, the civil wars, the disorders of the last reign, could not fail to produce the worst effects in the condition of the City.57 The streets were full of murders, robberies, house-breaking, and violence of all kinds. The first attempt to restore order seems to have been the recognition that a strong and permanent hand was wanted. Accordingly, we find the office of Mayor filled for twelve years by two men taking the post each for two or three years together. They were merchants of the aristocratic party; they were personal friends holding the same views, and those not of a democratic kind; they were wealthy; they bestowed large benefactions upon the City; they were trusted by the King. Yet they did not succeed. Loftie is of opinion that they were too much occupied with their own affairs, and were compelled to leave much of their proper work to subordinates. On the other hand, they may have been very great merchants, yet not good administrators. The earlier pages of Riley’s Memorials are filled with cases of murder and violence. There were excellent laws made for the preservation of peace. Nothing could have been better than the following:—

(1) Every trade to present the names of persons practising that trade, where they dwell and in what ward. This ordinance proves that all the trades had their guilds or unions.

(2) The Aldermen to inquire as to lodgers in hostelries.

(3) To provide security for suspected persons.

(4) Two serjeants to stand at each gate to watch persons entering or leaving the City.

(5) Curfew to be rung in every parish church, taking the time from St. Martin-le-Grand.

At Curfew all the gates to be closed; the taverns to be shut; no persons to walk about the streets; six persons to watch in every ward.

(6) No one to cross the river at night.

(7) The serjeants of Billingsgate and Queen Hythe to guard the river, each with his boat and crew of four men.

Yet, in spite of these regulations, the condition of the City became worse instead of better. The case of Lawrence Duket in 1284, which ended in the hanging of seven men of good family, and the burning of one woman, caused general discontent and murmuring. Finally, Edward resolved upon taking the conduct of the City into his own hands. The way in which this was effected shows that the comedy was agreed upon beforehand, so that everybody’s dignity should be respected.

The Mayor was Gregory de Rokesley. He was ordered by the King’s Lieutenant to repair with the Aldermen and Sheriffs to the Tower, there to answer certain questions concerning the condition of the City. He obeyed, but left behind him in the Church of Allhallows Barking, the gowns and chains of office, excusing himself on the ground that the citizens only pleaded or answered58 pleas within their own boundaries. He was arrested and kept in the Tower, with the other officers, for a day or two. Meantime, as the City was technically without a Mayor, the King used the fact as a pretext for taking it into his own hands. He did so, appointing Sir Ralph Sandwich as Custos or Warden. The City was kept under the rule of Sandwich and his successor, Sir John Breton, for twelve years. They were, in fact, permanent Mayors, who could not be displaced by the citizens, yet who took the Aldermen into counsel. The rule of these two Wardens was remarkable for many reforms, including the definition of the wards, the cleansing of the Walbrook, the suppression of night fairs, the repair of bridges, the restoration of order. Trade was carried on freely and prosperously, the trade guilds had leisure to consolidate themselves, so that they became, long before they got their Charters, necessary for the business of the City; London had assumed a new face when, in 1298, Edward gave back the Mayor, and Henry Waleys once more assumed office. Not that violence altogether ceased, but that violence was less frequent and more likely to be punished.

We have seen how the opinions of Lollardy were wide-spread among the people during the fourteenth century. The history of John of Northampton and that of his rival, Nicholas Brembre, belong to the close of that century, and to the conclusion of the struggle between the employers and the craftsmen.

John was born at Northampton of respectable parentage, as is proved by the fact that he was received into the Drapers’ Company, always one of the most exclusive of the City Guilds; he was Alderman in 1376, Sheriff in 1377, one of the City members in 1378; in 1380 he was a Commissioner for the erection of some kind of tower; and in 1381 he was Mayor. The first thing he did as Mayor showed what his opinions were. He took into his own hands a great part of the duties belonging to the Bishop’s Court. He caused all those persons, men and women, who had committed acts of unchastity to have their hair cut short, and then to be carried in public through the City, preceded by trumpets and drums, for an open shame, the men being placed in pillory, the women in thewe. A second offence demanded a similar punishment. For a third offence they were expelled the City altogether. Next, he cut down the fees of the parish clergy. A mass for the dead was to be charged no more than a farthing; a baptism not more than forty pence; marriage not more than half a mark. Multiply these figures by twenty, at least, to represent modern values: we have then, a mass sung for five pence; a baptism for £3: 4: 8; and a marriage for very nearly seven pounds. Does the cheapness of the mass indicate an unbelief in its efficacy? He also signalised his Mayoralty by a persecution of the fishmongers, whose monopoly he suppressed. Their offence, one supposes, was the high price at which they retailed their fish. We must again remind ourselves that quite one-fourth of the year was a time of fasting, so that it was most important that fish59 should be cheap, abundant, and fresh. John not only took away these privileges from the fishmongers, but he degraded them. They were forbidden to sell fish in the country at all; they were forced to sell it in town at a price fixed by the Mayor; and they were not to be eligible for any office. John was re-elected Mayor in the following year, 1382-83, which passed quietly. His successor, 1383-84, was his enemy, Nicholas Brembre, by whom all the reforms of John were swept away. In January 1384, John was bound over to keep the peace in the sum of £5000; in the following month he was arrested by the Mayor. It was said that he went about followed by four hundred of his adherents; it was also said that he created a tumult. One of his men, Constantyn, a cordwainer, was hanged for his share in a riot, and John was sent to Corfe Castle. Thence he was brought to London, tried before a Council called by the King at Reading, and sentenced to death by the King. The sentence was commuted, at the Queen’s personal request, to imprisonment. So he was sent back to Corfe Castle. Then, for some unknown reason, he was brought to the Tower, and again informed that he was to be hanged, drawn, and quartered; and again reprieved. He was then sent to Tintagel Castle, reflecting, no doubt, that while there is life there is hope, and that he had a friend in John of Gaunt who would not forsake him.

John of Gaunt did not forsake him. He renewed, from time to time, his efforts to effect his release; and he promised that John should not return to London if he were released. Then Nicholas Brembre, Mayor for four years running, asked the opinion of the Aldermen and Common Council as to the expediency of releasing this terrible prisoner. They all agreed that it would be dangerous to let him loose, even if he lived a hundred miles from the City. In 1389, however, he was allowed to return, and his property was restored to him. But the Mayor strictly forbade any discussions as to the quarrel between John of Northampton and Nicholas Brembre.

To go back for a while and trace the career of Sir Nicholas Brembre is now necessary. He was a wealthy grocer, son of Sir John Brembre, a knight and country gentleman of Kent. One of the many examples which the City affords of the country lad who was not a rustic, but a gentleman, coming to London to make his fortune (see vol. i. p. 216).

As he purchased estates in Kent in 1372, and became an Alderman in 1376, it seems reasonable to suppose that he was born about the year 1322. He joined the aristocratic party in the City, which strove to deprive the Craft Companies of any voice in the City, and was as strenuous a supporter of Courtenay as he was an enemy of John of Northampton.

In 1377, when Staple, the Mayor, was deposed, Brembre was appointed in his place. The year after Brembre was charged at the Parliament of Gloucester60 by Thomas of Woodstock, the King’s uncle, with negligence of duty on the occasion of a riot, when—

“Upon Cornhille in London, the men of that vicinity made assault upon the servants of the said Earl, and beat and wounded them, and pursued them, when flying to his hostel, and broke and hewed down the doors of the same with axes and other arms, the said Earl being then within and lying in his bed, and, by reason thereof, no little alarmed; to the grievous damage of the said Earl, and so pernicious an example to the whole realm; and all this, he alleged, had happened through the inexcusable slothfulness of the said Nicholas, and he requested that redress should be made to him for the same.” (Riley’s Memorials, p. 427.)

Brembre, however, offered a full and complete reply to the charge, and returned, says the contemporary authority, to his hostel with honour.

Thomas of Woodstock, however, neither forgot nor forgave, although Brembre gave him a hundred marks by way of conciliation. And there follows a very pretty passage, showing the spirit with which the City liberties were regarded:—

“Which transactions being thus related in order before the Mayor and the Common Council, each one of them gave hearty thanks to the said Nicholas; knowing for certain that it was for no demerits of his own, but for the preservation of the liberties of the City, and for the extreme love which he bore to it, that he had undergone such labours and expenses. Wherefore, with one accord, by the said Mayor, Aldermen, and all the rest of the Commoners, it was faithfully granted and promised, that the City should keep the said Nicholas indemnified as to the said 100 marks, and also all other expenses by reason of that matter by him incurred. And that the same might be kept in memory, orders were given to the Common Clerk that it should thus be entered.” (Riley’s Memorials, p. 428.)

Brembre then became one of the two collectors of customs for the Port of London, Geoffrey Chaucer being his comptroller. On the rising of the Commons, Brembre, with Philpot and Walworth, rode to Smithfield with the King, and was knighted for his services on that occasion.

It was after this that the great struggle between himself, as the leader of the aristocratic party, and therefore of the great companies, and John of Northampton, as the leader of the popular cause, took place. We have seen how John of Northampton acted as Mayor (1381-1383). In the latter year Brembre was elected Mayor, but it was by force of arms.

In January 1384 John was arrested, and, as we have seen, his follower, Constantyn, was hanged by Brembre. In 1386, petitions were presented to Parliament by ten of the City Companies, charging Brembre with tyrannical and oppressive conduct, and especially in securing the re-election by violence. For he filled the Guildhall with armed men, who ran upon those of the opposite faction with great noise, shouting, “Kill! kill! lour poursuyvantz hydousement.” Thomas of Woodstock, mindful of the old grudge, charged Brembre with plotting in favour of Suffolk. Yet he escaped, and was admitted by the King into his Council. In November 1387 he was again accused by Thomas of Woodstock with treason. The other four of the King’s Council were also charged with treason, viz. the Archbishop of York; Sir Robert Vere, Duke of Ireland; Michael de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk; and Tressillian, the Lord Chief Justice.


From Froissart, vol. iv.


The King replied that he had taken them into his own protection. Nevertheless, they all thought it prudent to fly in different directions.

The King sent for the Mayor. “How many archers and men-at-arms would the City provide in case of necessity?” The Mayor returned an evasive reply; he said that the citizens were only soldiers in defence of their City, as for himself, he begged permission to retire from office.

The King left Windsor and took up his residence in the Tower, thinking to have the City between himself and the Lords. But Thomas of Woodstock, now Duke of Gloucester, with the Earls of Arundel, Nottingham, Warwick, and Derby, hastened to London and demanded admission into the City. The citizens hesitated; at last, however, they yielded, and the Lords, with all their array, entered the City. It is significant of the condition of the City that the Lords offered to mediate in the trade disputes, but their offer was not accepted.


Meantime Brembre, who had fled into Wales, was captured and brought to London.

His trial took place as soon as Parliament met. There were thirty-nine charges brought against him as one of the King’s Council. He asked for delay to prepare his reply. This being refused, he offered wager of battle. All the Lords and Commons present threw down their gauntlets, but it was ruled that it was not a case for the ordeal by battle.

The trial was resumed the following day, the King, who was present, showing himself entirely in favour of the prisoner. The case was placed in the hands of a commission of Lords, who brought in a verdict of not guilty. But they were not63 going to allow Brembre to escape. They sent for the Mayor and Aldermen. Thus (I quote R. R. Sharpe):—

“One would have thought that with Nicholas Exton, his old friend and ally, to speak up for him, Brembre’s life would now at least be saved, even if he were not altogether acquitted. It was not so, however. The Mayor and Aldermen were asked as to their opinion (not as to their knowledge), whether Brembre was cognisant of certain matters, and they gave it as their opinion that Brembre was more likely to have been cognisant of them than not. Turning then to the Recorder, the lords asked him how stood the law in such a case? To which he replied, that a man who knew such things as were laid to Brembre’s charge, and knowing them failed to reveal them, deserved death. On such evidence as this, Brembre was convicted on the 20th February, and condemned to be executed. He was drawn on a hurdle through the City to Tyburn, showing himself very penitent, and earnestly desiring all persons to pray for him. At the last moment he confessed that his conduct towards Northampton had been vile and wicked. Whilst craving pardon of Northampton’s son, ‘he was suddenly turned off, and the executioner cutting his throat, he died.’” (London and the Kingdom, vol. i. p. 237.)

MS. Harl. 1319.

The history of Brembre shows that he was a strong man, at least, and fearless in a time when charges of treason were easily concocted and ruthlessly applied, when the King, his protector, was young and weak, and when the other side, which had with them the craftsmen of London, was strong and well-organised.

In looking upon the long struggle of the craftsmen against their employers, there are certain considerations which we must not forget.


It was really inevitable that the masters, the employers, would have the control, such as I have pointed out, in every trade. The men, quite ignorant of the very rudest principles of political economy, living from week to week, asking at most nothing but the weekly wage and cheap food, presently began to question. Why should the masters rule everything? Why should not the men command their own wages and their own hours? The questions, which we hear all around us at the present day, were asked six hundred years ago. The working men formed combinations, or unions, of their own; they kept on trying to form these combinations; the number of cases that have been recorded, which were certainly not the whole number, or anything like it, prove a deep and widespread discontent, and a sullen resolve of the working men to take, if possible, the management of their work into their own hands. They failed, however, and their failure was absolute and complete. They were brought before the Mayor and Aldermen; their combinations were dissolved; they were sent back to their company; no union, or association, or combination of working men was permitted to London outside the company. Let me take one case in illustration, that of David Brekenhof. This man, with half-a-dozen others, was brought before the Mayor, charged with rebellion against employers. They had broken off from the company; they had left the dwelling-places assigned to them; they had taken a house in another parish; here they had set up workshops for themselves; they called assemblies of other working men; they settled their own wages; they hustled and wounded one of the masters who went to expostulate with them; they rescued their companions from arrest when they were seized by the serjeants of the City. This, you will observe, was a very determined effort, coupled with assemblies of other working men, and backed by the appeal to arms. The sentence of the Mayor shows how seriously the danger was regarded. He did not dare to arouse a spirit of revenge among the working men. These offenders were left unpunished; they were simply told to give up their house; to go back to their company, and to resume work in obedience. And so David Brekenhof and his rebels vanish again and we hear no more of them. And until the nineteenth century there were no more combinations of working men in London.

With the ideas of the present day, this refusal to allow the craftsmen to combine seems tyrannical. We must go back, however, to the ideas of the thirteenth century. The assumption, the theory, the belief, that the working classes ought to have any voice in the management of their own affairs, if it lingered anywhere in London of the thirteenth century, was a survival of the Folk Mote, the Citizens’ Parliament, of Paul’s Cross. The Folk Mote still continued; it was used for party purposes; it had no real power, but it kept alive the memory of power. It ceased to be held after the thirteenth century; it died out when a Court of Common Council was formed, and it is significant that when65 the old Folk Parliament ceased to meet we hear no more of the revolt of working men against the companies.

What a citizen like Whittington thought and said was something like this: “In a great city the governing class should be wealthy, enlightened, and instructed. It should know the ports of trade, the demand for imports, the markets for exports, the limits of production, the figures which are needed to arrive at wages and retail price. It must also, in an age of artificial courtesy, understand good manners, and not be afraid to stand before kings. As for the men of the other class, who have no knowledge, save of a single trade, it is best for the State that they should be under rule and governance.” And to the best of his ability, Whittington, who was a stern Magistrate yet a just man, did keep the people under rule and governance. I believe that the mediæval masters were, as a rule, and up to their lights, benevolent; they did look after their people; they gave them wages which allowed a higher standard of living than was possible for any other working men in the world; they looked after the old, and they brought up the young.

For myself, I cannot but think that had the craftsmen then obtained their desire, the result would have been disastrous to the fortunes of the City. London would have become another Ghent or Bruges; it would be, now, a city of deserted trade. The time was not yet ready for the rule of the people by the people. They wanted education, experience, suffering, before they were able to rule. As yet they understood nothing, absolutely nothing, about liberties; they wanted nothing but the control over their own work. I think, in a word, that Whittington’s views were right for a man of Whittington’s time.



Whether the Mayor was elected immediately after the concession of the Commune, or a year or two later, as happened in certain French towns, matters very little. The point of importance is that even after his election, and that of the Council, his powers were ill-defined. During the reign of Richard the First, while he was not even recognised by the King, we can understand that a wise Mayor would not seek to magnify his office; it would be safer to allow the Commune to go on quietly, so as to accustom the King to its existence. This, I take it, was the policy of Henry FitzAylwin, the first Mayor, during his three-and-twenty years’ tenure of office.

It may be assumed that the duties and the authority of the Guild Merchant were at once transferred to the Mayor and his Council. But what were the duties of that body? What were its powers? What were its limits? In order to show the uncertainty on this subject, remember that when Walter Hervey was Mayor he gave Charters to certain trades. It was not contended that the Mayor had no right to grant Charters, but that these Charters had no effect after his Mayoralty came to an end. The powers of the Mayor were as yet uncertain; it was not thought desirable to limit or to define them too closely. Therefore the right of the Mayor to grant Charters was not questioned. At the same time, it was no doubt felt, and quite rightly, that for any one Mayor to grant Charters without consulting the Aldermen and the more “discreet” citizens might impose intolerable mischiefs upon the City.

Yet, a hundred years later, we find the trades drawing up ordinances for the regulation of their own crafts, and praying that they might be accepted and placed under the protection of the Mayor and Aldermen. In the meantime, it is obvious, the power and the authority of the Mayor had been more clearly defined. The statutes placed under his protection were also placed under the protection of the Court of Aldermen.

One more point to illustrate the uncertainty introduced by the new order. In the year 1200, according to the book which will form the text of this chapter, a Council of twenty-five “of the more discreet men of the City” were sworn to assist67 the Mayor. Round, as we have seen (p. 18), shows that the number was not twenty-five, but twenty-four; he has discovered their oath, which did not in any way resemble the oath of an Alderman; and he has adduced other instances of such a Council. So that there can be no doubt whatever as to its existence. Now in the same book, which records its creation and carries the chronicle of the City down to the year 1273, there is not a single word said about this Council. We hear of the Aldermen, the more discreet citizens, and the principal citizens. But not one word about the Council. Either, therefore, which one can hardly believe, the Council was allowed to drop out of existence, or, which is much more likely, it was a purely civic body, not recognised by the Charters and with no legal powers; a body which acquired its importance from the Mayor of the year, and was more in evidence a kind of private advisory committee with which the Mayor could take counsel if he wished, or which he could neglect if he wished.

The book, which I have called the Text-book of the present chapter, is the Chronicle printed by the Camden Society from the Liber de Antiquis Legibus, by Arnold FitzThedmar. This book is, of all the mediæval documents connected with the history of London, perhaps the most important. For it is the work of a contemporary, one who took part in the events which he describes, a strong partisan yet fair to his enemies; evidently a man of the highest honour and principle, and as much a condemner of the common people as any old Tory of 1832.

His family history shows the ease with which foreigners were admitted in the twelfth century to reside in, to trade in, and to become citizens of, the City of London.

His grandfather, named Arnald, or Arnold, or Arnulf, was a merchant of Cologne. He married one Ode, of the same town, with whom he lived for some years without children. Hearing, however, of the miracles performed daily by St. Thomas à Becket, the pair crossed the seas and made a pilgrimage to the shrine at Canterbury, imploring the favour of the Saint in the matter of offspring. This done, they went on to visit the famous City of London. Here the wife found that St. Thomas had heard, and had granted her prayers. The pair accordingly remained in London until the child was born. Then they bought a house and remained altogether in London. They had eleven children, of whom six died young. One of the surviving daughters was Juliana, who married a native of Bremen, also a resident merchant in London. The youngest son, Arnold, was the author of the Chronicle before us. A miraculous dream, he proudly tells us, accompanied his birth. Most mediæval families were able to point with pride to miraculous interpositions and dreams. In this case, as Arnold himself says, the difference between the log of wood and the slab of marble which formed the dream was known to God only. And so we may leave it.

Arnold became a man of considerable wealth. He was an Alderman, and when68 the City was fined 20,000 marks by Henry and 1000 marks for his brother, Richard of Almaine, his tallage amounted to 132 marks, or nearly a hundred and fifth part of the whole. The way of assessment was as follows:—He first paid four marks and forty pence for his house; then 20 marks “by inquisition of his neighbours”; then an increase of five marks; after that an assessment of 100 marks in a lump sum by John Waleran, Constable of the Tower, and William Hazelbech, commissioner, for the assessment appointed by the King. After that, half a mark, and then fifteen shillings on his rent. From this assessment it appears that the principal part of the fine must have been paid by the wealthy sort. Arnold had a good deal of trouble over the business, being annoyed by Walter Hervey and by Henry Waleys in succession for not having paid enough. However, he obtained protection from King Henry first and King Edward next.

Let us now proceed to show, from Arnold’s book, the “uncertain steps” of the City during the century of the new order.

The office of Alderman was passing out of the hereditary stage; there was a strong sense among the people that the City offices were to be held during good conduct only. Thus, in 1216, Jacob Alderman (had he no other designation either of trade or of birth?), being Mayor, was turned out by the King and another Mayor appointed. We have seen that in 1233 Symon FitzMary was turned out of his Shrievalty for wasting the City property. In 1248 the same citizen was deprived of his Aldermanry for siding with Margery Vyel. In 1254, on account of the escape of a criminal, the Sheriffs were deprived of office. In 1257 eight of the Aldermen were deposed for alleged malpractices.

The list of sixty-two names given in Appendix III. rescues from oblivion almost as many Aldermen of the thirteenth century. If we look into the names we can pick out with some degree of certainty those which belong to the aristocratic party, including the old City families and some of those which had become naturalised. Thus, we have Aswy, Basing, Blunt, Bukerel, Farndon, or Farringdon, Fulk, Gisors, Hardel, Haverhill, de Lisle, Renger, Sperling, Rokesley, Tovy, Tidmar (one Arnold FitzThedmar), Vyel, etc., about one-third of the whole.

We then find certain names without surnames at all, such as Adrian, Edmund, Geoffrey, Matthew; we are surely justified in concluding that they belonged to crafts; names such as FitzMary and FitzAlice, which indicate a mother but not a father; names where the father’s is also a Christian name, as Thomas FitzThomas, who, we know from FitzThedmar, belonged to the popular party; names of trades, as Cordwainer, Ferrun, and Potter. These may all be assigned to the popular party, and they account for nearly another third. There remain about twenty-five names which are local, as William de Hereford, of whom it is difficult to pronounce with any certainty. It is, however, certain that in the thirteenth century a good69 deal had been already effected in the breaking down of the oligarchy and the entrance upon office of the popular side.

From the Arundel Society’s reproduction of a contemporary painting at Walton House.

There can be little doubt that Henry throughout his whole reign was bitterly hostile to the City. On the other hand, the City, it must be acknowledged, with its turbulence and its claims of privilege and liberty, gave a despotic monarch a great deal of annoyance. Henry’s principal weapon of retaliation was to take the City into his own hands, i.e. to depose Mayor and Sheriffs, to deprive the Aldermen of their powers, and to appoint a Warden. In 1245, on a charge of harbouring a traitor, Henry took over the City, restoring the Charter after inflicting a fine of £1000. In 1247, during the famous case of Margery Vyel, the King again took the City into his own hands (see p. 46). Also in 1249, after the tumult of the populace against the Abbot of Westminster; in 1254, on the plea of mal-observance of the70 assize of bread, really in consequence of the quarrel between Richard of Almaine and the City; in 1259, when the City refused to pay the “Queen’s Gold”; in 1257, when the “Green” roll gave an occasion to make inquisition into the tallages; in 1263, after the Battle of Evesham; in 1265, the reason not stated; in 1266, after Gloucester had held the City. This is a considerable list of offences and punishments.

As regards the election to the City offices, there was a great deal of uncertainty with many changes. In 1265 only one Sheriff was allowed. In 1267 the City was ordered to elect, and to present to the King, six persons, from whom the King would choose two for Sheriffs.

The Folk Mote was used throughout this period as a weapon against the aristocratic party. The popular leaders, William Longbeard, Thomas FitzThomas, Walter Hervey, all made use of the Folk Mote. The King made use of it, notably after the Green Roll business, when he sent Maunsell to persuade the people as he pleased. It was at a Folk Mote in 1241, and at another in 1259, that the King took formal leave of the City before going to Gascony. It was charged against Thomas FitzThomas that he pampered the people, calling them the “Commons of the City,” calling them together at Folk Mote asking them what was their will without consulting the Aldermen at all. So that the people leagued themselves together, broke into the houses of usurers, removed encroachments, threw open rights of way; and in many other ways showed a rude, but resolute, desire to obtain justice. Again, in 1271, on the disputed election of Walter Hervey, the people raised the cry, “We are the Commons of the City. To us belongs the election of the Mayor.”

With all this apparent tyranny, it is quite certain that the King always recognised the importance of London. He stood by the City in their determination not to allow the Thames fisheries to be ruined; he granted their very reasonable request that Jews, “held in warranty by Writ of Exchequer,” should plead before citizens as to tenements in London, and that Jewish “cheirographs,” i.e. keepers of “starrs,” or deeds and covenants of Jews, should be tallaged like any other people. His brother Richard, although continually at variance with the City, wrote a most friendly and interesting letter on his reception in Germany. When the King introduced his new gold coinage, he took the advice of the City on the measure, and because they were opposed to it, he made it optional whether the people took the gold coinage or not. He granted the prayer of the City that pleas of the citizens relating to debt should be heard in the City only and before the Sheriffs. In 1268, when the King granted to his son Edward customs on everything that came into England or went out, and Edward had leased the grant to certain Italians, the City petitioned the Prince against a continuance of this burden. The Prince resigned the privilege, and so eased the City.


A great deal more might be extracted from this short chronicle. Enough, however, has been taken to show the uncertainty of the City during the first century of the new order: the people always ready to assert their rights, fancied or real, as the Commons; the Aldermen standing, as a rule, for the old rights; the King taking offence, often, one acknowledges, deservedly, and revenging himself by taking the City into his own hands, by fines, by depositions, by refusals to receive Mayor or Sheriffs; nothing settled as to the rights and methods of procedure in elections, or in continuance of office, or in the power and authority of the Mayor, while of the new Council of twenty-four, as I have said, not one single word.

In the next chapter we shall have to consider the City under its new form of government, after the powers of the various offices have been defined and the manner of election has been settled.



In the year of our Lord 1419, John Carpenter completed his great work on the temporal government of the City of London, the Liber Albus. It is in this work that we find the only complete description of the administration of the City as it was at the beginning of the fifteenth century, with all the officers, their duties, and their responsibilities, and the laws which governed the citizens.

The author was Town Clerk from the year 1417 to 1438. He was twice Member of Parliament for the City; he was executor to Whittington; and he was buried in the Church of St. Peter, Cornhill.

The book itself, and a copy made in 1582, are preserved in the Crypt of the Guildhall. Riley, who looked through the copy, says that it abounds in errors which have never been corrected. His own translation was made from the original, which has long since lost the purity of aspect from which it derives its title. Some one has written on the cover the following Latin lines:—

“Qui ‘Liber Albus’ erat, nunc est contrarius albo,
Factus et est unctis pollicibusque niger.
Dum tamen est extans, istum describite librum;
Ne, semel amisso, postea nullus erit.
Quod si nullus erit—nonnulla est nostraque culpa—
Hei! pretii summi, perdita gemma, Vale!”

The design of the work is thus laid down by John Carpenter himself:—

“Forasmuch as the fallibility of human memory and the shortness of life do not allow us to gain an accurate knowledge of everything that deserves remembrance, even though the same may have been committed to writing, more especially, if it has been so committed without order or arrangement, and still more so, when no such written account exists; seeing, too, that when, as not unfrequently happens, all the aged, most experienced, and most discreet rulers of the Royal City of London have been carried off at the same instance, as it were, by pestilence, younger persons who have succeeded them in the government of the City have, on various occasions, been often at a loss from the very want of such written information; the result of which has repeatedly been disputes and perplexity among them as to the decisions which they should give; it has long been73 deemed necessary, as well by the superior authorities of the said City as by those of subordinate rank, that a volume—from the fact of its containing the regulations of the City, it might be designated a ‘Repertory’—should be compiled from the more noteworthy memoranda that lie scattered without order or classification throughout the books and rolls, as well as the Charters of the said City. And forasmuch as such design—for some cause unknown, unless, indeed, it be the extreme laboriousness of the undertaking—has not been heretofore carried into effect, a volume of this nature, by favour of our Lord, is now at length compiled, in the Mayoralty of that illustrious man, Richard Whityngton, Mayor of the said City; that is to say, in the month of November, in the year of our Lord’s Incarnation one thousand four hundred and nineteen, being the seventh year of the reign of King Henry, the fifth of that name since the Conquest; containing therein not only those laudable observances, which, though not written, have been usually followed and approved in the said City, to the end that they may not be lost in oblivion hereafter, but also those noteworthy memoranda which have been committed to writing, but lie scattered in disorder in manner before mentioned; that so, by their being ascertained, the superior authorities of the said City, as well as those of subordinate rank, may know henceforth with greater accuracy what in rare and unusual emergencies should be done.”

From a small stone statue in Guildhall Museum.

I purpose in this chapter to make such extracts, quotations, and abridgments from the book as shall serve to explain in general terms, avoiding the minute details with which the book is crowded, the nature of the government of the City in the time of Whittington.

The author treats first of the offices of Mayor, Alderman, and Sheriff. The office of Mayor, he says, ignoring the subtleties of shire law and commune, was originally called Portgrave or Portreeve; he was the King’s representative in the City, Escheator, Chamberlain, and Justiciar, as well as Portreeve. By the Charter of Henry III., the Barons of the City11 were confirmed in the Privilege of electing74 their own Mayor every year. The election of the Mayor was an event greatly feared on account of the danger of a riot if the people were allowed to rush tumultuously into the Guildhall. A custom grew up, therefore, for the Mayor, Aldermen, and Sheriffs to meet together some days before the election, and so order things as to meet the danger. They therefore selected certain discreet citizens, so many from each ward, and summoned them by name to be present at the election on the Day of St. Edward, King and Confessor, and on that day no one was allowed in the Guildhall who had not been summoned.

From MS. 1421 in the possession of the Mercers’ Company.

Disputes arose between the Aldermen and the commoners thus selected, the latter claiming the nomination of the Mayor. The Aldermen, however, refused to allow this claim, on the ground that they, too, were citizens, and therefore entitled to vote. They therefore arrived at a compromise by which the commoners, one end of the Hall, nominated two Aldermen who had already served as Sheriffs, and presented their names to the Mayor and Aldermen at the other end, who proceeded to elect one of them.

In the early years of the Mayoralty the same Mayor was often re-elected; the reason why this custom obtained, was that at first the office brought with it no expenses; when, however, the Mayor had to give liveries, to conduct ridings, to maintain servants, and to hold feasts, the expense was generally too great for one man to support for more than a year. When the practice had become common for the Mayor to retire after one year, then, and not till75 then, the Aldermen went through the form of offering him a second term as a compliment.

“The feast of the Apostles Simon and Jude being now come, about the tenth hour by the clock, it was the custom for the Mayor, all the Aldermen—arrayed in cloaks of violet,—and numerous commoners, to meet together at the Guildhall. Silence and attention being then enjoined by the Common Crier, in other words, the Serjeant-at-arms, and duly made, the Recorder, seated at the right hand of the Mayor, announced to the people that, in conformity with the ancient usage of the City, upon that day he who was to be Mayor for the then ensuing year was to take the oath. Then it was the custom also for him to compliment the outgoing Mayor upon such points as deserved commendation; and the Mayor, too, if he had anything to say, was duly heard. This done, the outgoing Mayor vacated his seat, and the Mayor-elect took his place; the past Mayor, however, sitting next to him, on his left hand. Then the Common Serjeant-at-arms, holding before him the book with the Kalendar, with the effigy of Him crucified on the outside thereof, and he in the meantime placing his hand upon the book, the Common Clerk read to him the oath that he was about to make on the morrow in the King’s Exchequer. When he had made the promise and duly kissed the book, the old Mayor delivered to him the Seal of the Statute Merchant, together with the Seal of the Mayoralty, enclosed in two purses. The new Mayor was also heard, if he had anything to say, by way of entreating the aid of his fellow-Aldermen during his time, as also the Sheriffs and substantial men of the community, for the better government of the City.”

On the day after, the Mayor took the oath at the Exchequer:—

“On the morrow of the Feast of the Apostles Simon and Jude, provided such day was not Sunday—in which case the ensuing Monday was substituted,—it was the custom for both the new and the past Mayor, and the Aldermen as well, in a like suit of robes, attended by the Sheriffs, and as many as were of the Mayor’s livery and of the several mysteries, arrayed in their respective suits, to meet on horseback upon the place without the Guildhall about nine by the clock, the sword being borne upright before the person nominated as Mayor. Departing thence, they rode together along Chepe, through the gate of Newgate, and then, turning into Flete-street, passed on to Westminster.

Upon their arrival there, the Mayor, Aldermen, and Sheriffs alighted from their horses, and, preceded by the mace-bearers and Mayor’s sword-bearer, ascended to the room of the Exchequer, where were the Chancellor, Treasurer, Keeper of the King’s Privy Seal, and Barons of the Exchequer. The Mayor, Aldermen, and Sheriffs then standing at the Bar, the Recorder stated how that the City of London, in accordance with its ancient customs and liberties, had chosen N. as Mayor for the year then next ensuing, requesting the Barons, on behalf of the City, to accept76 the individual so elected, who then and there appeared in person. Answer being made by the chief Baron, or his representative, that it was their pleasure so to do, the book was presented to the Mayor, placing his hand upon which, he was charged with the same oath that he had made at the Guildhall.”

This oath is given in full in Liber Albus, and we may compare it with that of an Alderman on p. 78.

“You shall swear, that well and lawfully you shall serve our lord the King in the office of the Mayoralty in the City of London, and the same City you shall surely and safely keep to the behoof of the King of England, and of his heirs, Kings of England; and the profit of the King you shall do in all things that unto you belong to do, and the rights of the King, in so far as unto the Crown they belong within the said City, you shall lawfully keep. You shall not assent unto the decrease, or unto the concealment of the rights or of the franchises of the King; and where you shall know the rights of the King or of the Crown, be it in lands, or in rents, or in franchises, or in suits, to be concealed or withdrawn, to your utmost power you shall do to repel it; and if you cannot do it, you shall tell it unto the King, or unto them of his Council, of whom you shall be certain that they will tell it unto the King. And that lawfully and rightfully you will treat the people of your bailiwick, and right will do unto every one thereof, as well unto strangers as to denizens, to poor as to rich, in that which belongeth unto you to do; and that neither for highness, nor for riches, nor for promise, nor for favour, nor for hate, wrong you shall do unto any one; nor the right of any one shall you disturb, nor shall you take anything whereby the King may lose, or by which his right may be disturbed. And that in all things which unto the Mayor of the said City it pertaineth to do, as well in the regulation of victuals as in all other things, well and lawfully you shall behave yourself.—So God you help, and the Saints.”

This done, it was the custom for the chief Baron of the Exchequer, on behalf of the King and the Lords, to charge the Mayor in especial to preserve peace and tranquillity in the said City; and then, to the best of his ability, so to exercise surveillance over the sellers of all kinds of provisions, as not to allow the public to suffer from excessive prices. And after this, it was the usage for the late Mayor there to present himself as ready to account for his office as Escheator; whereupon he also was sworn to render a good and faithful account of the said office, appointing there such person as he might think proper to act as his attorney in passing his accounts.

The Mayor also and Aldermen, in behalf of the City, appointed a member of the Exchequer as attorney of the said City, to challenge and claim their liberties, as and when necessity might demand; after which, upon receiving leave from their lordships, they withdrew. In like manner also, in the Common Bench, they appointed a member of that place to act as attorney for the City. But in the77 King’s Bench it was the custom for them to appoint two attorneys, jointly and severally, to claim the liberties and ancient customs of the said City, as and when necessity might demand. Which done, they returned, the commons preceding on horseback in companies, arrayed in the suits of their respective mysteries. Those, however, who were members of the mystery to which the Mayor belonged, as also those who were of his livery, proceeded next before the Mayor. No person, however, moved so close to the Mayor but that there was a marked space between, while the serjeants-at-arms, the mace-bearers, and his sword-bearer, went before him, with one Sheriff on his right hand, and the other on his left, bearing white wands in their hands. The Recorder and the other Aldermen followed next in order, and accompanied him through the middle of the market of Westchepe to his house, after which they returned home, as many, that is, as had not been invited to the feast.


On the same day, after dinner, it was the custom for the new Mayor to proceed from his house to the Church of Saint Thomas de Acon, those of his livery preceding him; and after the Aldermen had there assembled, they then proceeded together to the Church of Saint Paul. Upon arriving there, at a spot, namely, in the middle of the nave of the Church, between the two small doors, it was the custom to pray for the soul of Bishop William, who, by his entreaties, it is said, obtained from his lordship, William the Conqueror, great liberties for the City of London; the priest repeating the De Profundis. They then moved on to the churchyard, where lie the bodies of the parents of Thomas, late Archbishop of Canterbury; and there they also repeated the De Profundis, etc., in behalf of all the faithful of God departed, near the grave of his parents before mentioned. After this, they returned through the market of Chepe (sometimes with lighted torches, if it was late) to the said Church of Saint Thomas, and there the Mayor and Aldermen made an offering of one penny each; which done, every one returned to his home, and the morning and the evening were one day.

We come next to the office of Alderman. The Aldermen had of old not only the style and title of Barons, but were buried with baronial honours:—


“For in the church where the Alderman was about to be buried, a person appeared upon a caparisoned horse, arrayed in the armour of the deceased, bearing a banner in his hand, and carrying upon him the shield, helmet, and the rest of his arms, along with the banner, as is still the usage at the sepulture of lords of baronial rank. But by reason of the sudden and frequent changes of the Aldermen, and the repeated occurrence of pestilence, this ceremonial in London gradually died out and disappeared. From this, however, it is evident what high honour was paid to the Aldermen in ancient times.”

The election of an Alderman was after the manner following:—

“It is the custom for the Mayor to proceed to the Ward that is vacant, and, at the place where the Wardmote of such Ward is usually held, to cause to be summoned before him by the bedel all the Freemen who inhabit such Ward, should he think proper: and there forthwith, if they are willing and able, or else on a given day, the Alderman is to be elected by the greater and more substantial portion of them, provided always, that fifteen days do not expire before making such election; for in such case, the Mayor is bound, and has been wont, with the counsel of his fellow-Aldermen, to appoint some man who is honest, rich, and circumspect, to be Alderman of such Ward. It is the duty also of the men of such Ward, when they have made their election, in manner already stated, to present the person so elected to the Mayor and Aldermen for admission.

And if the person elected, after he has been admitted, shall refuse to accept or undertake such charge, by custom of the City he shall lose his freedom; and he is not to be readmitted to the same without making a notable fine and ransom. But if the person so elected is duly admitted, in such case he shall take the oath that is entered in the Second Part of Book III. of the present volume, folio 125; provided always, that if the Mayor and Aldermen, for some notable cause, shall not think proper to admit the person elected, the Ward shall proceed again to make a more suitable election. But if the Wardsmen shall refuse to do this, or if, from malevolence and pride of heart, they shall elect some other person whom the Court, taking into consideration the advantage and honour of the City, cannot so far demean itself as to accept, it is the usage for the Mayor and Aldermen, as in the former case, after waiting fifteen days, to elect and admit another.” (Liber Albus, pp. 35-36.)

This is the form of oath taken by the newly elected Alderman:—

“You shall swear, that well and lawfully you shall serve our lord the King in the City of London, in the office of Alderman in the Ward of N, wherein you are chosen Alderman, and shall lawfully treat and inform the people of the same Ward of such things as unto them pertain to do, for keeping the City, and for maintaining the peace within the City; and that the laws, usages, and franchises of the said City you shall keep and maintain, within town and without, according to your wit and power. And that attentive you shall be to save and maintain the rights of orphans, according to the laws and usages of the said City. And that ready you shall be, and readily shall come, at the summons and warning of the Mayor and ministers of the said City, for the time being, to speed the Assizes, Pleas, and Judgments of the Hustings, and other needs of the said City, if you be not hindered by the needs of our lord the King, or by other reasonable cause; and that good lawful counsel you shall give for such things as touch the common profit in the same City. And that you shall sell no manner of victuals by retail; that is to say, bread, ale, wine, fish or flesh, by you, your apprentices, hired persons, servants, or by any other; nor profit shall you take of any such manner of victuals sold during your office. And that well and lawfully you shall (behave) yourself in the said office, and79 in other things touching the City.—So God you help, and the Saints.” (Liber Albus, p. 267.)

Formerly, says the author, the wards were called after their Aldermen, as the Ward of Anketill de Auvern, the Ward of Henry le Frowyk, and others; but afterwards the Aldermen were called after their wards.

The person of the Alderman was sacred. If a man struck an Alderman he had his hand struck off; if he defamed an Alderman he was pilloried and imprisoned.

The Alderman held his office for life. He was the magistrate, almost despotic, of his own ward; he had his officers or serjeants to attend him; and he presided at the Court called the Ward Mote, by which inquiry was made into the condition of the ward.

The Sheriffs were elected on the Day of St. Matthew, the 21st of September.

“As concerning the election of sheriffs,—the Mayor, Recorder, Aldermen and Commons, are to be assembled on the day of Saint Matthew the Apostle [September 21], in such manner as is ordained on the election of the Mayor; and in the first place, the Mayor shall choose of his own free will, a reputable man, free of the City, to be one of the Sheriffs for the ensuing year; for whom he is willing to answer as to one-half of the ferm of the City due to the King, if he who is so elected by the Mayor shall prove not sufficient. But if the Mayor elect him by counsel and with the assent of the Aldermen, they also ought to be answerable with him. And those who are elected for the Common Council, themselves, and the others summoned by the Mayor for this purpose, as before declared, shall choose another Sheriff, for the commonalty; for whom all the commonalty is bound to be answerable as to the other half of the ferm so due to the King, in case he shall prove not sufficient. And if any controversy arise between the commons as to the election, the matter is to proceed and be discussed in such manner as is contained in the article upon the ‘Common Council’ in the 13th Chapter of this First Book.

And if any one of those then chosen to be Sheriffs shall refuse or absent himself, so as not to be ready at the Guildhall in the Vigil of Saint Michael next ensuing, at ten by the clock, there to receive his charge, there shall be levied forthwith from the goods, lands, and tenements of him who so absents himself, one hundred pounds; one-half to the use of the Chamber, and the other half to the use of him who shall be then suddenly elected and charged by reason of such default. And if the second person elected shall refuse the charge, all his goods, lands, and tenements, shall be arrested, for all expenses touching that office.

And the old Sheriffs shall come to the Guildhall, at eleven by the clock at the very latest, and shall deliver to the Mayor (at the latest, at the Mayor’s general Court that is held after the Feast of the Epiphany) all records of pleas touching freeholds pleaded before them in their time, with all other memoranda touching recoveries suffered by any person, under a penalty of one hundred shillings, to be levied from each of them and to be paid to the use of the Chamber. To do which, the Mayor shall warn them the day on which they shall receive their charge. And then the Mayor shall deliver the Cocket12 to such Sheriff as he himself shall have chosen, and the records to the Chamberlain for safe custody.” (Liber Albus, Riley’s translation, pp. 39-40.)

The following was the oath of the Sheriffs:—

“You shall swear, that you shall be good and true unto N, the King of England, and his heirs, and the franchise of the City of London you shall save and maintain, within the City and without, according to your power; and that well and80 lawfully you shall keep the Counties of London and of Middlesex, and the offices which unto the same Counties appertain to be done, well and lawfully you shall do, according to your wit and power; and that right you shall do as well to poor as to rich; and that no good custom you shall break, or evil one maintain. And that the assizes of bread, and of ale, and all other assizes which unto you pertain, within the franchise of the City and without, well and lawfully you shall keep and shall cause to be kept. And that the judgments and executions of your Court you shall not delay without reasonable cause, nor any right disturb; and that the Writs which unto you shall come, touching the state and the franchise of the City, you shall not return before you have shown them unto the Mayor, for the time being, and unto the Council of the City, and of them have advice. And that ready you shall be, at reasonable warning of the Mayor, for keeping and maintaining the peace and state of the City. And that all other things which pertain unto your office and the keeping of the said Counties, lawfully you shall do, by you and yours, and the said City shall keep from harm, according to your wit and power. And that the County of Middlesex or the keeping of the Gaol of Newgate you shall not let to ferm.—So God you help, and the Saints.” (Liber Albus, pp. 266-267.)

When the Sheriffs were sworn all their servants had to take oath: their serjeants, clerks, valets, bailiffs of the customs and of Middlesex, and the gaoler of Newgate and his clerk; and the same day the Sheriffs were to go to Newgate and to take over the prisoners there; observe, by the terms of their oath, that they were not allowed to let the gaol “to ferm” nor the County of Middlesex.

Other officers were the Recorder, who was to be, on appointment, a barrister of less than sixteen years’ standing, the Chamberlain, the Common Serjeant-at-Law, and the Common Clerk. And there were inferior officers, clerks and serjeants.

Leaving the officers, John Carpenter goes on to show how the Barons and the community must behave towards the King and his Justiciars: in other words, he speaks of the method of receiving the King’s Writs and the Pleading of the Pleas of the Crown. Let us pass over these points, which are curious to the antiquary, and come to the methods of hearing criminal cases:—

“It is to be observed that, in accordance with the ancient liberties and customs of the City of London, there are three purgations in Pleas of the King’s Crown, by means whereof persons appealed, charged, and accused, are in duty bound to acquit themselves. The first of these is employed in cases of homicide or murder; such purgation being called the ‘Great Law.’ The second kind of purgation bears reference to mayhem, and is known as the ‘Middle Law.’ The third purgation is employed in cases of assault, battery, rapine, wounding, blows, bloodshed, and other injuries of a like nature, inflicted at the season of Our Lord’s Nativity and in the weeks of Easter and Pentecost; such purgation being styled the ‘Third Law.’

When a person is bound to clear himself by the Great Law, the mode of pro81ceeding according to such law is as follows:—He who is so appealed, charged and accused, has to make oath in his own behalf six times, in his own proper person; to the effect, that is to say, on each occasion, that he is innocent and guiltless of felony and breach of the peace of his lord the King, as also of all crime so laid to his charge,—‘So God may help him and those holy Gospels.’ After this, six men are to make oath that, to the best of their conscience and understanding, the oath that he has so sworn is a sound oath and a safe,—‘So God may help them and those holy Gospels.’ And this proceeding shall be repeated until the number of six-and-thirty jurors is exhausted; due care being taken that on each occasion the person accused makes oath first, in form before stated, and then, after him, six men, until the number before mentioned is completed.

After the picture by Sir John Gilbert in the Guildhall Art Gallery. By permission of the Artist.

In selecting these six-and-thirty men, the procedure, according to the ancient usage of the City of London, is wont to be, and should be, as follows:—The person accused being absent, eighteen men must be chosen from the East side of Walebroke and eighteen men from the West side of Walebroke, persons who are not kinsmen, cousins, or members of the family of the accused, nor yet connected82 with him by marriage or in any other way, but only trustworthy men of the franchise of the City. The names of these persons are to be read to the accused; who, upon hearing them, shall show unto the Mayors and Barons of the City the names of such among them as he holds suspected. And if he shall show reasonable cause against them, the names of such persons shall be struck out of the written list, and others shall be chosen in their stead, to complete the aforesaid number and duly to be read before him. And when the accused shall be content with the names so entered, and shall have put himself upon them for clearing himself of the said accusation, then, by counsel of the City, he shall appear before the Justiciars of his lordship the King, at a certain time and place, to wage and make his law. But in accordance with the ancient usage of the City, such person shall have respite for making his law for a term of forty days at the least complete. And the names of the six-and-thirty men so chosen shall be delivered unto the Justiciars of his lordship the King.

In making the Middle Law, the procedure is as follows:—The person, namely, who is charged and appealed of mayhem has to take oath in his own behalf three times, in his own proper person; to the effect, that is to say, on each occasion, that he is innocent and guiltless of that felony, and of breach of the peace of his lord the King, as also of all crime so laid to his charge,—‘So God may help him and those holy Gospels.’ After him also, six men are to make oath that the oath that he has so sworn is a lawful oath and a safe, to the best of their conscience and understanding,—‘So God may help them and the holy Gospels.’ And this proceeding shall be repeated until the number of eighteen jurors is exhausted; due care being taken that on each occasion the person accused makes oath first, in form before stated, and then, after him, six men, until the number before mentioned is completed.

In selecting such eighteen men, the same procedure is to be observed as is set forth above in all matters relating to the Great Law before mentioned.

In making the Third Law, the procedure is as follows:—A person accused of assault, battery, rapine, wounding, blows, bloodshed, and other injuries of a like nature, inflicted at the holy seasons before named, has to make oath once in his own behalf, in his own proper person; to the effect that he is innocent and guiltless of the misdeed laid to his charge, and of breach of the peace of his lord the King at the holy seasons above mentioned,—‘So God may help him and those holy Gospels.’ After him also, six men are to make oath that the oath that he has so sworn is a lawful oath and a safe, to the best of their conscience and understanding,—‘So God may help them and those holy Gospels.’ And be it known, that these six men should be chosen of the venue in which the person so accused is dwelling; provided always, that they are not cousins, or kinsmen, or members of his family, nor yet connected with him by marriage, or in any other way, but only trustworthy men of that venue and of the franchise of the City. And the names of such persons shall be read to the accused, etc., as above stated under the Great Law.”


The old custom of holding the Folk Mote was still kept up though the Common Council now performed its most important functions:—

“There are three principal Folkmotes in the year. One is at the feast of Saint Michael, to know who shall be Sheriff, and to hear the charges given. The second is at Christmas, to arrange the Wards. The third is at the feast of Saint John (24th June), to protect the City from fire, by reason of the great drought. If any man of London neglects to attend at one of these three Folkmotes, he is to forfeit forty shillings to the King. But, by the Law of London, the Sheriff ought to enquire after him whom he shall think proper, that is to say, whether he is there or not. And if there be any one who is not there, and he is there enquired after, such person ought to be summoned to the Hustings, if he is bound to abide by the law of the city. If the good man says that he was not summoned, the same must be known through the bedel of the Ward. If the bedel says at the Hustings that he was summoned, even where it is proved that the bedel has no other witness, no witness needs he have, save the great bell that is rung for the Folkmote at St. Paul’s.”

The most important Court was that called the Hustings:—

“Be it made known, that all lands, and tenements, rents and services, within the City of London and the suburbs thereof, are pleadable at the Guildhall in the same city, at the two Hustings; of which the one Hustings is called ‘Hustings of Pleas of Land,’ and the other Hustings is called ‘Hustings of Common Pleas’; which Hustings are holden in the said Guildhall, before the Mayor and Sheriffs of the same city, upon the Monday and Tuesday in each week; that is to say, upon Monday, for demanding appearance of demandants, and for the award of nonsuits, and the allowing of essoins; and upon Tuesday, for the award of defaults, and for pleading—certain seasons and Feast-days excepted, as well as other reasonable causes; at which times no Hustings can be held, by usage of the city aforesaid. It should also be known, that the Hustings of Pleas of Land must be held one week apart by itself, and that of Common Pleas the next week apart by itself, upon the days aforesaid; but the enrolments and titles of the said Hustings make mention of Monday only.”

I am indebted to Dr. R. Sharpe’s Introduction to his Calendar of Wills for the following additional notes on the “Court of Husting.” (1) To begin with, it was the single institution which the Saxon borrowed from the Dane. “Husting” = Hus-thing, the cause or case pleaded in the House, instead of in the open air.

The Court of Husting is mentioned in the Laws of Edward the Confessor as the place where the Court of the King is held every Monday. It is the oldest Court of record in the City, and at one time constituted the sole court for settling disputes between citizen and citizen. After the establishment of the Mayor’s and Sheriff’s Court for the settlement of actions merely personal, all actions affecting laws were heard in the Court of Husting. It was a Court of appeal for the Sheriff’s Court, while appeal from the decisions might be heard by certain commissioners at St. Martin-le-Grand. There was, after this, final appeal to the House of Lords.

The Court sat for a long time on Monday only. Thus it became the custom to sit on Monday for purposes of demanding the appearance of defendants, the award of nonsuits and the allowing of essoins, i.e. excuses for non-appearance. The sitting of Tuesday was for the award of defaults and for pleading. Eventually the Monday sitting was discontinued.


During the fairs of Boston and Winchester, and during harvest-time, the Court did not sit.

The judges in the Court of Husting were the Mayor and Sheriffs, the Recorder sitting as assessor for the examination of witnesses and for preliminary judgment. As the Court could not be held in the absence of the Mayor, and great inconvenience was sometimes so caused, an Act was passed in 1584 providing that, if the Lord Mayor was prevented from attending by sickness, any Alderman who had passed the Chair might act for him. But as early as the thirteenth century it had become a custom for any Aldermen to be present in the Husting and to act as Judges.

It was the custom for the officer who summoned the Aldermen to the Court to show his respect for them and for the Court by riding a horse valued at a hundred shillings at least.

The Town Clerk was Registrar.

The Counsel employed in the Court were the four City pleaders; the attorneys were those of the Mayor’s clerk.

The reader is referred to Dr. Sharpe’s pages for details of the Common Pleas and Writs used in this Court.

Aliens could be admitted to the freedom of the City only by this Court.

Disputes as to building were decided by this Court.

It was even a place for public penance. Perjury was punished by imprisonment until the next Husting, when the offender was placed upon a high stool before all the people while his crime was read aloud. After this, he was set at liberty.

In this Court deeds and wills were enrolled.

In this Court land was conveyed by a method “described by Blackstone as a kind of real contract, whereby the bargainer for some pecuniary consideration bargains and sells, that is, contracts to convey the land to the bargainee, and becomes by such bargain a trustee for, or seised to the use of the bargainee, and then the Statute of Uses completes the purchase; in other words the bargain first vests the use, and then the statute vests the possession.” (Calendar of Wills, i. 23.)

Probate of Will naturally belonged to the Court which enrolled Wills.

The Court undertook the guardianship of orphans. The citizen of London had the right of devising part only of his property; a certain part of it going, with or without his wish, to his widow and children. This restriction was only removed by the 2nd Act of George the First. The widow, for instance, by the custom of the City, was entitled to one-third of his estate, the children to another third, the residue was at the free disposal of the testator and was known as the legatory or the dead man’s portion.

Among the wills enrolled in the Court of Husting, Sharpe mentions the following:—


“1. John de Kyrkeby, Bishop of Ely, who endowed his see with houses, vines, and gardens situate at Holborn, whose gift is remembered at the present day by the names of Ely Place, Vine Street, and Kirby Street, and whose gardens, part and parcel of the gift, call to mind the well-known lines put into the mouth of the Duke of Gloucester by Shakespeare (Richard III., Act iii. sc. 4):—

‘My Lord of Ely, when I was last in Holborn,
I saw good strawberries in your garden there.’

2. William de Farndon, Alderman of Farringdon Ward, to which he gave its name, and Nicholas [le Fevre?], who married his daughter, took his name, and became Alderman of his Ward, which he afterwards disposed of by will to John de Pulteneye, although the latter appears never to have been de facto Alderman of the Ward.

From Coopers’ Company Illustrations.

A larger image is available here.

3. William de Elsing, the founder of Elsing Spital, on the site of which was afterwards built Sion College with its almhouses, one of the few picturesque relics of Old London which till lately remained to us, but now vanished.

4. William Walworth, whose prowess when Mayor against the rebel Wat Tyler at Smithfield is sufficiently well known.

5. Sir John Philpot, who was appointed joint treasurer with Walworth for receiving the subsidy granted to Richard II. on his accession, and who received the honour of knighthood with Walworth, Nicholas Brembre, and others.


6. John Northampton and Nicholas Exton, so long rivals of one another, the latter supporting Nicholas Brembre in his endeavour to sustain the monopoly enjoyed by the free fishmongers of the City, in opposition to the former.

7. Richard Whityngton, four times Mayor of London, whose munificent gifts and charitable acts need not be recorded here, as they are already household words.

8. John Colet, Dean of St. Paul’s, Sir Andrew Judde, Sir Andrew Laxton, and many others whose names are associated with the cause of education, not only within the City of London, but in all parts of the country.

9. Sir Martin Bowes, the wealthy and charitable goldsmith, whose almhouses at Woolwich still bear witness to his generosity, and who bequeathed to the Mayor of the City of London for the time being and his successors a goodly cross of gold set with pearls and precious stones to hang at the collar of gold worn by the Mayor at high feasts, ‘as mentioned in the Repertory.’

10. And, lastly, Sir Thomas Gresham (not to mention numerous others), the founder of the College within the City which still bears his name, and to whose munificence the merchants of the City were indebted for their first bourse, or Royal Exchange.” (Calendar of Wills, ii. 2-4.)

The Courts of the City, therefore, were the Folk Mote and the Court of Husting, which gave the City a sense of unity though as yet there was no collective governing body and no Head or Chief to stand for the City.

There was, next, the Ward Mote, for the local business of each ward.

“The Wardmote is so called as being a meeting together by summons of all inhabitants of a Ward, in presence of its head, the Alderman, or else his deputy, for the correction of defaults, the removal of nuisances, and the promotion of the well-being of such Ward. The meetings that we call ‘Wardmotes,’ the Romans called plebiscita; the same in fact that were styled folkesmot by the Saxons in ancient times. The Aldermen were in the habit also, by virtue of warrants by the Mayor for the time being to them directed, to hold their Wardmotes, twice at least, or oftener, in the year; on which occasions enquiry used to be made as to the condition and tranquillity of the Ward, and such defaults as were presented were corrected by the Alderman, as hereafter will be shown.

The process of holding a Wardmote in London has customarily been as follows:—The Alderman, after receipt of the warrant, is to command his bedel to summon all such men as are householders, as well as all hired servants, in his Ward, to appear before him at a certain day and hour on the morrow of such summons, in a certain place within the same Ward, for the purpose of holding such Wardmote. These names, after the persons have been duly summoned, the bedel is to have entered in a certain roll, those of the freemen, namely, of the City who dwell in that Ward, by themselves, and those of the hired servants and non-freemen, by themselves. And when at the hour appointed they have duly met together, the Alderman having taken his seat with the more opulent men of the Ward, each in his proper place, the clerk of the Alderman is to enjoin the bedel, in behalf of such Aldermen, to command attention; which done it is the clerk’s duty to read aloud the warrant before mentioned, and then to read to the bedel the names that are87 entered in the roll; while the bedel in his turn proclaims aloud that every person who shall not, there present, answer to his name, and shall make default therein, shall be put down and amerced in the sum of four pence at the least. After this, the bedel is to present to the Alderman a panel, arrayed by the Constables of the Ward, of those reputable men of such Ward by whom Inquisition should be made; which array, if the Alderman shall deem it expedient, he shall be at liberty to amend. This done, the jurors are to have read to them all the articles touching such Wardmote. After this, a certain day for making their presentment is to be given by the Alderman to the jurors. On which day the jurors are to present their verdict indented, one part of it to remain in possession of the Alderman, and the other with the Ward. It is the duty also of the Alderman to present his part to the Mayor, at the sitting of his next General Court; to the end that, after it has been seen and enquired if there is any matter the correction of which pertains unto the Mayor and City, the aforesaid indenture may be redelivered to him, to be acted upon in other respects, etc.

And at the said Wardmote, there ought to be elected by the Alderman and reputable men of the Ward, as also by the jurors, the Scavagers, Ale-conners, Bedel, and other officials; who, at the General Court before mentioned, shall take the oaths befitting their respective offices. The Alderman also used to be specially certified by the bedel as to the names of such hostelers, brewers, bakers, cooks, victuallers, and auctioneers as dwelt within the Ward. Bakers also were to have their stamps there, the impressions of which were to be entered upon the Alderman’s paper; for doing which, every baker had to pay the Alderman four pence, unless it so happened that he had previously paid for an impression being taken of his stamp before the same Alderman of the Ward, no change of Alderman having taken place. It was the usage also for the Aldermen to seal the measures and weights in their respective Wards, and to condemn such as were not sealed, receiving a remuneration for such sealing to their own proper use, in the same way that the City Chamber now receives it. For every Ward had its own measure, made of brass, and corresponding with the royal standard of the City. At such Wardmote also, those persons who are not free of the City, and who have not previously been sworn there to that effect, ought to be put upon frank-pledge, notwithstanding that in other Wards they have been already received therein; on which occasion they are to take the oath for persons about to be admitted to frank-pledge. Every person also who is about to be so received is to give one penny to the clerk for his entrance; and if any such person shall absent himself at such Wardmote, he shall pay four pence to the Alderman; unless indeed such person be a Knight, Esquire, female, apprentice-at-law, or clerk, or some other individual who has not a permanent abode in this City.

The Alderman ought also, in his own person, to supervise and correct all88 defaults and nuisances presented by the jurors at the Wardmote aforesaid, unless perchance any matters of difficulty should arise, and of a nature bearing reference to the Chamber; matters of which description the Mayor and Chamberlain, aided by the Sheriffs and other officials, shall take in hand. Also, if the Alderman shall find the officers under him remiss or negligent, he shall warn them to amend their conduct; which if they neglect to do, he shall reasonably punish and chastise them, or else report the same to the Mayor, whose duty it is to provide a condign remedy for the same.” (Liber Albus, Riley’s translation, pp. 32-35.)

The Common Council—of which we have seen the beginning in the election of the Twenty-four—was now a fully organised body with definite duties, and methods of procedure laid down and established.

“The manner of holding a Common Council is as follows:—The day before the meeting thereof, the Mayor and Aldermen are to cause summons to be made by the serjeants of the Chamber, for sixteen, twelve, eight, or four (according as the Ward is great or small) of the wisest and most wealthy persons of each Ward to appear on the morrow at the Guildhall; and [further, to give notice] that no one is to appear unless summoned, or presume to be present at such Council, under pain of imprisonment, according to ancient usage, as also, by recent enactment, under a certain penalty and chastisement named in an ordinance made in the Mayoralty of Nicholas Wottone. All the commoners, too, that are summoned are to be called over one by one, by a serjeant of the Chamber standing aloft; and as to those who make default, they are to be noted by a clerk of the Chamber in a roll which he holds in his hands, in which are entered the names of those who have been summoned.

And as to those who duly appear, they shall then form a congregation; and if any matter of great difficulty or doubt shall arise, upon which they cannot agree, they shall be severally examined by the Serjeant-at-Law of the Common Clerk and of the Common Serjeant-at-Arms, upon the oath by which they are bound unto the City, etc. And observe, that the business of the City is not to be delayed for the arrival of the men of a Ward or two, supposing that they have been duly summoned; but it must be proceeded with, the presence of the persons so absent not being waited for. Every one, too, of the persons so summoned who does not appear is to be amerced in the sum of two shillings on each occasion, etc.

The oath of the men elected to the Common Council is as follows:—

You shall swear that you shall be trusty unto our lord the King N, and unto his heirs; and shall quickly come, when you are summoned to the Common Council of this City, if you be not reasonably excused; and good and true counsel you shall give, after your wit and cunning; and that for favour of any man you shall maintain no singular profit against the public or common profit of the said City; and that after you come to the Common Council, you shall not from thence depart, without reasonable cause or the Mayor’s license, until the Mayor and his fellows shall have89 departed; and that what shall be spoken in the Common Council you shall not disclose,—So God you help, and God’s Holy Gospels.

In the Mayoralty of John Warde, the after-mentioned ordinance was entered as to the election of Commoners for the Common Council of the City, to the effect that, whereas heretofore such Commoners had been elected by the Wards, in future the Commoners for the Common Council of the City should be elected by the respective Mysteries, and not by the Wards; that is to say, six by some of the Mysteries, by some four, and by some two. And for the purpose of so doing, bills were sent by the Mayor, not to the Aldermen, but to the rulers of the respective Mysteries. But so long as this ordinance continued in force, tumults increased among the people, and the great were held in contempt by the small. Consequently, great disputes and divisions arose among the citizens, as was seen at the elections of Nicholas Brembre, John Northamptone, and other Mayors, etc. After this, however, the more discreet and more worthy persons of the said City being called together, a long discussion was held as to the amendment of the said ordinance; and at length it was determined that, in accordance with the approved and established practice of ancient and praiseworthy usage, the Common Council should thenceforth be formed by the Wards only, and not by the Mysteries. And this usage, in reference to the great meetings in Common Council, is continued and observed to the present day.” (Liber Albus, Riley’s translation, pp. 36-37.)

Upon the Sheriff’s Court was laid a great quantity of work and responsibility.

There was also the Bishop’s Court for questions connected with Church property and the claims of the Church.

The officers of the City consisted of the following:—

First the principal officers—

Mayor, Aldermen, Sheriffs.

The Court of Common Council.

The Recorder, the Chamberlain, the Common Serjeant-at-Law, the Common Clerk.

The Common Serjeant-at-Arms or the Common Crier, the Clerks of the proceedings, the Serjeants of the Mayor and the Chamberlain, the Constables, the Scavagers, the Bedels, the Brokers, the Ale-Conners, the Under-Sheriffs and the Clerks of the Sheriffs, the Sheriffs’ Serjeants, the Serjeants’ Grooms, the Bailiffs of the Market, the Wardens and Bailiffs of the Bridge, etc.

There was great jealousy as to admission to the freedom of the City.


“Also, because as well in times past, out of memory, as also in modern times, the City aforesaid is wont to be defended and governed by the aid and counsels as well of the reputable men of the trades-merchant as of the other trades-handicraft; and from of old it hath been the usage, that no strange person, native or alien, as to whose conversation and condition there is no certain knowledge, shall be admitted to the freedom of the City, unless first, the merchants or traders of the City following the trade which the person so to be admitted intends to adopt, shall be lawfully convoked; that so, by such his fellow-citizens, so convoked, the Mayor and Aldermen, aforesaid, being certified as to the condition and trustworthiness of the persons so to be admitted, may know whether such persons ought to be admitted or rejected; the whole community demands, that the form aforesaid, so far as concerns the more important trades and handicrafts, shall in future be inviolably observed, that so no person in future may against the provision aforesaid be admitted to the freedom of the City.” (Liber Albus, p. 425.)

On the post and duties of the Coroner, Dr. Reginald Sharpe (Letter Book B) furnishes valuable information.

The functions of Coroner were exercised by the Chamberlain and Sheriffs. The King’s butler, to whom the office of Coroner belonged, was generally made City Chamberlain. In December 1302 the King’s Writ notified the Mayor and Sheriffs that William Trente, his Chamberlain, to whose bailiwick the office of Coroner in the City belonged (ad cujus ballivam officium Coronatoris ... pertinet), being busy on affairs of State, had deputed John le Clerk to act as Coroner.

More than once the citizens endeavoured to get the appointment of Coroner into their own hands. It was Edward the Fourth who, in consideration of a sum of £7000, gave the City a Charter which, among other things, enabled the citizens to appoint their own Coroner.

“The customary procedure of holding an inquest on the body of any one who had died in the City, otherwise than by his rightful death (ex alia morte quam recta morte sua), was as follows:—After receiving notice of such a death having occurred, and of the body of the deceased lying in a certain house in a certain ward, the Chamberlain (or Coroner) and Sheriffs proceeded thither, and having summoned a jury (drawn partly from the ward in which the body was found, and partly from two, or sometimes three, of the nearest wards), set to work to diligently inquire (diligenter inquisiverunt) how the deceased came by his death. If the Chamberlain and Sheriffs failed to hold an inquest, or held an insufficient one, in cases where the Justices Itinerant thought an inquest necessary, they were amerced.

The jurors were practically both judges and witnesses, and gave evidence as to all the facts connected with the deceased’s death, so far as they could be ascertained. The corpse was then viewed, and if its appearance tallied with the evidence given, and the jury were decided as to who caused the death, a precept was issued for the arrest of the felon (if not already in custody), and his goods were valued, for which the Sheriffs were answerable. The discoverer of the corpse, as well as those who witnessed the felony, and two or four neighbours, were usually attached by sureties to appear, if required, before the Justices Itinerant at their next coming to the City.


Not only was the discoverer of the corpse bound to raise the hue and cry so that the neighbours (patria) might come and assist in the capture of the felon, but every one who saw the felony committed was bound to do the same, and to lose no time in giving notice to the Chamberlain and Sheriffs, or risk imprisonment on the appearance of the Justices.” (Letter Book B, p. xii.)

The custom of deodand, which was kept up until very recently, was curious. The thing which caused the death of any person by misadventure became forfeited to the King by way of deodand, or gift of God. In course of time not the thing itself, but its value, was the deodand. Thus, if a horse, a boat, a beam, caused the death of any one, its value was forfeited and paid to the Sheriffs for the Mayor and Corporation.


The laws by which London was governed are too long for quotation; they are explicitly set forth in Liber Albus. In the year 1191 it was provided that a body of twelve Aldermen should be elected in full Husting, in order to decide all questions92 that might arise over the enclosure of land; they also had the power to prevent the erection of any wooden house; the walls, either party wall or outside wall, were to be sixteen feet high at least, and three feet thick; and the roofs were to be of tiles or slate instead of thatch. The law, like so many mediæval laws, was sensible and necessary. It fell through, as did all mediæval laws, for want of police to execute it. In London there were thousands of houses at that moment built of wood with roofs of thatch. There does not appear to have been any attempt made to replace wood with stone. That, indeed, would have been impossible on account of the cost; but, at least, as houses fell down, and many of them in the narrow courts were only wattle and daub, an attempt might have been made to replace them with more substantial houses having roofs of tiles. The mediæval way was to understand very clearly what ought to be, then to pass a law commanding that thing to be, and then to sit down, with the feeling that duty had been done.

The general regulations which governed the daily life are given under the heading of “Inquisitions at the Ward Motes”:—


“You shall present if the peace of his lordship the King has been broken, or any affray made within the Ward since the last Wardmote, and by what person or persons the same was done: or if any covin or assemblage against the peace of his lordship the King has been made.

Item, if there is any one resident or harboured within the Ward, who is not a lawful person, or not of good fame, or not under frank-pledge.

Item, if any woman of lewd life, or common scold, or common bawd, or courtesan, is resident within the Ward.

Item, if there is any oven, furnace, or defective reredos within the Ward, whereby it is likely that there may arise misadventure by fire; or if any persons use other fuel than wood or charcoal, against the Ordinance of the City.

Item, if any taverners, brewsters, hostelers, or chandlers, sell without measures sealed with the seal of the Alderman or of the Chamber of the Guildhall; and if any one of them sells against the Assize made thereon by the Mayor, Aldermen, and Common Council of the City; and if any one of them receives gamesters or other riotous persons after the hour forbidden by the Ordinance of the City; and if there are any persons in the Ward who are outlawed.

Item, if there is any huckster in the Ward.

Item, if any house in the Ward is covered with any other roofing than tiles, lead or stone, and none with reeds or straw.

Item, if there is any one whose practice it is to place filth in any streets and lanes within the Ward, and offensively before the doors of others.

Item, if any swine or cows are reared within the Ward, to the annoyance of the neighbours.

Item, if any leper is resident in the Ward.

Item, if any bargain of usury has been made within the Ward since the last Wardmote.

Item, if any purprestures are made in the streets or lanes, or upon the walls or fosses, of the City, or upon the Thames or other common soil within the Ward.

Item, if any baker of tourte bread bakes white bread, or the converse.

Item, if there are any persons in the habit of wandering within the Ward after forbidden hours, and in manner forbidden by the Common Council of the City.

Item, if any officer of the City has made extortion or affray within the Ward under colour of his office, to the wrong and detriment of any person; and what it is that has been so done, and how done; or if any person is a maintainer or champertour of litigation that is carried on within the Ward.

Item, if any person pays, or gives as wages unto, masons, carpenters, daubers, tilers, or any other labourers whatsoever, more than is ordained.

Item, if the ale-stake of any tavern is longer or extends further than is ordained.” (Liber Albus, Riley’s translation, p. 290.)

Then follows the regulation of various trades. The baker comes first, subject to so many rules and prohibitions that one is surprised to find any one willing to practise the mystery. Millers, brewers, and sellers of ale, are also taken under paternal surveillance. Usury is strictly forbidden—the frequency of the prohibition shows how powerless the law was to prevent it. The companies had Hall Motes, or meetings of their members, twice a year, at which their ordinances were to be read. No one was to take more than two or three apprentices, and then for a term of at least seven years. No one was to be wandering on the streets after curfew, unless he was a man of repute or his servant. No one was to carry arms in the City. Every Alderman was to keep a good watch on his Ward. None but free men were to be admitted to the freedom of the City. Wager of battle does not lie between persons free of the City, unless they consented thereto.

In addition to the Courts already mentioned, there were the Courts of the Sokes; that is to say, of those places which were outside the jurisdiction of the City; such were the places called afterwards Liberties.

The Iter, or Eyre, was a holding by the Justices Itinerant of the Pleas of the Crown, at which the citizens received, and had to answer a series of questions on, their Privileges, Customs, Liberties, and Rights. It was a Court which could be held in a day or two, without giving much trouble, or it was a Court which could be vexatious and oppressive to the highest degree.

John Carpenter is as full and explicit on the subject of the Iter as can be desired. He contemplated that it would be got through in a day or two. But it was a solemn and important function. The Justices sat in the Great Hall of the Tower; on the day appointed, all the laymen of the City were bound to meet at All Hallows at Barking, properly arrayed—“all the laymen”—does this mean the whole body of merchants, traders, and craftsmen? That might mean a company of 40,000 men! During the holding of the Pleas, no shop, seld, cellar, or solar was to be kept open, and nothing was to be sold. Evidently, therefore, the Iter was not expected to take long:—

“Also, upon the same day, by sanction of the Common Council of the City, there should be sent from Berkyngecherche six or more of the more serious, honourable, and discreet Barons of the City; who are to enter the Tower for the purpose of saluting and welcoming his lordship the King, his Council, and his Justiciars, on behalf of the City; begging of them that, if it so please his lordship the King, they may safely appear before them in the said Tower, saving all their94 liberties and customs unto the Mayor and all other citizens. For his lordship the King and all his predecessors, Kings of England, and their Justiciars, have always preserved unto all the citizens their liberties safe and unimpaired.

And further, the men before named should show unto his lordship the King, and unto his Council and his Justiciars, that, on behalf of his lordship the King, they ought to forbid any person to presume to keep ward at the doors or gates unless he be one of their own fellow-citizens, and by them thereunto appointed. Nor should any marshal or crier appear among their fellow-citizens unless he be one of their number, and acting by desire of the said citizens. For, in accordance with the liberties of the City, they ought, and of usage are wont, to have no porter, usher, marshal, or crier, except of their own number, and such persons as they shall think fit. All the gates and doors are to be kept open to the Barons and to all the citizens, so long as the Pleas of the Crown are being holden, to the end, that they may have free ingress and egress. For so it ought, and of usage is wont, to be.

After this, three men, discreet and moderate, should be chosen; one of them is to present unto his lordship the King, and unto his Council and Justiciars, in due order, such haps and mishaps concerning the Crown of his lordship the King as have occurred within the City, from the time when the pleas were last holden down to the present time: while the other two men are to remain standing by the said presenter, the one namely on his right hand and the other on his left. And if it should so happen that while thus making the presentment he becomes fatigued, one of these is to continue such presentment. And if by any chance he should commit an error in making the presentment, he must in a low voice be corrected by the two who are standing by, it being understood that no other person shall in any way presume to disturb or to correct such presenter, but only the two who are standing by him, in manner already mentioned. No tumult, no murmur, no strife, no debate with one another, is to be going on among the people while such presentments are being made; but all persons are to keep themselves quiet and without litigation, as they would preserve the honour and the liberties of the City, and to the end that the presenter may be heard by all and duly understood in peace.

It should also be known and kept in memory that, in the case of all things charged against the Barons and the community of the citizens, the answer to be made by the City is this—That although they may be fully instructed and certified how to make answer, still, they will not advisedly make answer thereto; but, after holding counsel and conference together thereupon, they will make answer by the Common Council, saving always the liberties of the City. And for the purpose of preparing such answers, four-and-twenty persons or more must be chosen from the Common Council, who shall forthwith proceed to hold a Common95 Council of the City for ensuring the safety and protection of the whole body of the citizens. And no stranger shall thrust himself among them, to hear the counsels of the City, so long as they shall be thus holding conference together thereon.

After the Justiciars of his lordship the King shall have handed and shown unto the Mayor and Barons of the City the articles pertaining unto the Crown, they shall immediately demand a fitting day, for the purpose of making due preparation and taking counsel thereon, to the end that they may be able safely to make answer to the said articles upon the day so granted unto them by the Justiciars; and that in the meantime they may be enabled discreetly to enrol and brief the same articles and their answers thereto.

From the four-and-twenty men or more before mentioned, four persons or more should be selected, of the Common Council of the City, to be associated with the Mayor for the purpose more especially of making answer to the charges and articles aforesaid. Also the Mayor’s Clerk, together with the Common Clerk of the City and the Sheriffs’ Clerks, shall be seated before them for the purpose of noting by way of memorial all such charges that are made; lest the same, through default of being so noted, should be lost in oblivion. And one of such persons must act as prothonotary; from whose notes all the others are to take copy, in setting down as well the King’s charges as the answers made by the community.

Also, as concerning the Sheriffs and Aldermen, provision must be made as follows:—The Sheriffs are to have their serjeants there present, and all the Aldermen the bedels of their Wards, becomingly and fairly arrayed and shod, prompt and ready to perform and fulfil the commands of the Mayor and Barons of the City, according to such injunctions as may be given to each; their capes, too, and cloaks laid aside, they are to be fairly arrayed in coats and surcoats, bearing straight white wands in their hands. Of these, too, four or more, as may be necessary, must be assigned to the office of keeping the gates and doors; as also two criers, and certain others who are to act as marshals, in fulfilling such duties as may be enjoined them. And if perchance any one of these should be an aged man, weak or infirm, or have sore eyes, then, at the common expense, another person must be substituted in his place, and of the same ward, efficiently to perform such duties. And as to such men, due precautions should be taken that they be seemly and proper persons, newly shaven and shorn.”

The following are “Articles touching his lordship the King”:—


“Of default made in appearing before the Justiciars. Of those who are at the King’s mercy, and have not been amerced. Of old Pleas of the Crown which have been formerly holden before the Justiciars, and have not been determined. Of new Pleas which have since arisen. Of youths of high parentage and of damsels, who are, and who ought to be, in the wardship of his lordship the King: in whose wardship they are, and through whom, and what is the value of their lands. Of escheats of his lordship the King; what such lands are, and who hold them, and through whom, and what is the value thereof. Of demesnes which are in the gift of the King, what they are, and who hold them, and through whom, and how much the lands thereof are worth. Of churches which are in the gift of the King, whether the same are vacant or not; which are such churches, and who holds them, and through whom. Of purprestures made upon the King, by land or by water, or elsewhere; what they are, and who has made them, and through whom. Of measures made throughout the realm; whether the same are observed in such manner as was commanded, and if any one has given reward to the wardens of such measures, that by measures they may sell or buy; and this is to be understood of all measures, as well of wine as of corn, and all measures (of length). Of wines sold contrary to the assize, and who has sold the same. Of treasures-trove, what they are, and who found the same. Of Christian usurers who have died, who they were, and what chattels they had. Of chattels of French or of Flemings, or of enemies of the King, that have been seized; what the chattels are that have been so seized, and who holds the same. Of chattels of Jews who have been slain, and of their debts, and deeds, and securities; who such Jews were, and who holds their securities or deeds. Of those who hold of the Honour of Pevrel in London and of Pevrel in Dover; who they are, and what land they hold, and by what service. Of outlaws, and burglars, and fugitives, and other malefactors, and of those who have harboured them. Of the seaports; if the same have been well-guarded, and if any one has carried corn or other things to the territories of the King’s enemies for sale. Of those who have taken lack of the thirteenths; who they are, and how much they have taken, and from whom. Of serjeants of hundreds or others who have taken reward from men on account of the thirteenths; who they are, and how much, and from whom. Of those who are wont to do injury in parks and piscaries; who they are, and where they have done so, and in what parks and piscaries. Of fugitives, if any one has returned since his flight. Of prises taken by Sheriffs or Constable, or by any Bailiff, against the will of those whose chattels were to be taken. Of forgers and clippers of the coin.”

But in the Iter of 4 Henry the Third there were only eighteen questions put to the citizens. Both questions and answers turn on points of law. It will readily be understood that such an inquisition was at all times irksome, and might be made tyrannical and intolerable. The Iter of 1321 was such an occasion. It was made to last for six months. One cannot suppose that shops were shut and nothing bought and sold for the whole of that time. The articles and questions submitted to the citizens were more than a hundred in number, and many of them required an97 investigation of more than twenty years back. In a word, the Justices had come to the Tower with instructions to make themselves as disagreeable as possible, to prolong the inquiries, raise objections, and make difficulties. They carried out these instructions, the citizens becoming more and more indignant. It was intended to prove that the City had been guilty of irregularities, such as to warrant the King’s taking it into his own hands.

Six months after the commencement of these proceedings, however, an insurrection was threatened in Wales. This made it desirable not to exasperate the Londoners any more, and the Iter was brought to a sudden close.

Let us, at this point, consider briefly the relations of London with the King. London, as we know already, except for a very brief period, had no over-lord except the King himself. This, one of her greatest privileges, caused the personal character of the Sovereign to be even more strongly felt by the citizens of London than by the rest of the Kingdom. In London, far more than in the rest of the country, the cause of order and authority rested upon the personal character of the King. If he were strong, the City was well-ordered; if he were weak, the City fell into disorder and confusion. Edward the First, when the City was manifestly beyond the control of the officers, deposed the Mayor for a time and governed the City by his own Warden till order was re-established. This power of the King over the City was not considered usurpation; it was part of the recognised order of things; every citizen knew that he was a servant of the King. On this point let me quote certain wholesome words of Cunningham (Hist. of Trade, p. 131):—

“Of all the cant which is current in the present day about history, none is more pernicious than that which despises the story of real personages and real events and busies itself about abstractions, which tells us that it is not concerned with kings and battles, but with the life of the people. It is true indeed that in modern times the life of the people can be treated apart from the consideration of the personal character of George IV. or William IV. But in the Norman reigns this was not the case; security for person and property, intercourse with other nations and commercial advance were directly connected with the personal character of the King; the life of the people was most deeply affected in every way by the strength or weakness of his disposition.”

The King’s revenue was made up of many distinct branches: (1) there were the Royal domain, manor, and estates scattered about the country and let to tenants; (2) there were the fines paid on great occasions; (3) pre-emption, that is, the right of buying what he pleased at his own price; when his purveyors bought goods exposed for sale this was called “prise”; (4) military tenures, by which for each five tithes of land the King might demand a knight’s services for forty days; (5) aids and fines, as on great occasions, such as the marrying of the King’s daughter; (6) the wealth of the Jews who were the King’s property; he was heir to their estates, and could without question seize on all they had; (7) Danegeld, which William continued; its name was changed but the tax remained; (8) tallages, which were aids in time of special need.


All the taxes were at first on estate. Henry the Second introduced taxation on movables. Sometimes it was a fifteenth. The nature of this tax may be imagined by supposing it to be imposed upon a trader’s stock at the present day. His stock is worth, suppose, £9000; he would pay £600 upon it. But he has a house with furniture, plate, pictures, and books which have accumulated for two or three generations. The contents of the house are worth, say, £3000. He would have to pay £200 on this account. He has £12,000 invested; he must pay £800 on the investments. He would have, then, to pay at one call £1600 in taxes. These taxes were not imposed all at the same time, nor on the same class; one year the clergy were called upon, another the knights, on another occasion the City of London would be taxed. It seems to us an arbitrary method; but then we have lost the sense of kingly authority. To our ancestors, whom we must not consider as prophets, it was a right and proper thing that a man should be called upon by the King at any moment to surrender a great slice of his property.

It was the first proof of a bad King that he demanded these aids too frequently. It was another proof that in spite of his aids he allowed the country to fall into disorder. At such times the hapless trader found it impossible to carry on his business in a country infested by robbers and over seas infested by pirates. Yet, even then, the King was still demanding more and more. The best, the only hope of the citizens was, not to be free from the King, but that the King should make his authority felt over them as well as over the country. They wanted a King like Henry the First, Henry the Second, or Edward the First. It was the greatest blessing to London that their Kings were, with one or two exceptions, strong and clear-headed men.

The King also exercised authority over the Moneyers and the Mint. Formerly there were mints in many places; we have seen how Henry the First treated those who debased the coin. Henry the Second kept the Mint in London, where he could control it more effectually. He also set up an office in the Mint for the exchange of foreign money: a great convenience to foreign merchants.

In the year 1312, letters were sent by the King, Edward the Second, to the City of London concerning the safe keeping of the City. The method of reception of a Royal Communication by the Mayor and Aldermen may be learned from Riley’s Memorials (p. 93). The following is the letter:—

“Edward, by the grace of God, King of England, Lord, etc., to the Mayor, and Aldermen, and all the commonalty of our City of London, greeting. Forasmuch as we do confide very much in the loyalty that is among you, and the affection which you have towards ourselves, such as you ought to have for your liege lord; and, more especially, for the love which we have, and at all times have had, towards you, as you well know; we do pray you affectionately, and do command and charge you, strictly enjoining, on the fealty which unto us you owe, and as you99 wish to save your bodies, and your heritages, and whatsoever you have, from penalty of negligence as regards us, that you cause our City of London right safely and surely to be kept, in behalf of ourselves and of our heirs; that so no damage or peril may befall it—the which God forbid—for default of good and sufficient guard; and that our lordship and our estate be there saved in all points, without any manner of blemish, as we do especially trust in you, and as you would eschew peril unto yourselves. And understand so well this our command, and have it so tenderly at heart, that we may be able to praise you for the same, and that nought of our right, or of our lordship, in our City be lost, on peril of losing whatsoever unto us you may forfeit. Given under our Privy Seal, at York, the 21st day of January, in the 5th year of our reign.”

In addition to this general letter, the following letter was sent separately to the leading citizens, viz.:—

“To John de Gisorz. To John de Lincoln. To Thomas Romain. To Henry de Durham. To William Servat. To John de Wengrave. To William Trente. To Richer de Refham. To William de Leyre. To John de Burford. To Simon Corp. To William de Forneis. To William Walrain. To William Bidik. To Robert de Keleseye. To Stephen de Abyndone. To Ralph le Balancer. To Hamond Godchep. To Robert le Callere. To Edmond Lambyn.”

“Edward, etc., to our well-beloved John de Gisorz, our Mayor of London, greeting. As we have sent word unto you, to the Aldermen, and to the Commonalty, of our City of London, that among you and them, in whose loyalty we do greatly trust, for the affection which you have towards ourselves, as towards your liege lord, especially for the love which we have, and at all times have had, towards you and those of the said City; and as you would yourselves save your bodies, your heritages, and whatsoever you have to save, from penalty of negligence as regards ourselves, you do cause our said City right safely and surely to be kept in our behalf; that so no damage or peril may befall it—the which God forbid—and that our lordship and our estate may there be saved in all points, without any manner of blemish; and as we do know that you are the man in London by whose counsels is guided the manhood thereof, and are persuaded that the manhood of our said City will charge itself with the safe-keeping of the same our City, and most willingly would save it to the use of us and of our heirs, as is right; we do command and charge you, on the fealty which unto us you owe, and as you would wish to eschew the penalty aforesaid, that you use all diligence and all counsel as towards the said manhood of the City, and towards all those of our said City, who shall be most available towards the safe-keeping thereof, that they undertake such safe-keeping, and cause the same our City so safely and surely to be kept, in behalf of us and our heirs, that nought of our right, or of our lordship, be lost therein; and that so we may be able to perceive the diligence that you shall have100 employed herein; for the which we may be the more especially beholden to you. Given under our Privy Seal, at York, the 21st day of January, in the 5th year of our reign” (pp. 94-95).

In consequence of these letters, John de Gisors, the Mayor, called together the Aldermen and some of the commonalty of each ward on the Saturday after the Purification, i.e. on the 2nd of February. It is remarkable that only seventeen Aldermen are named in the list; that eight did not appear at the meeting; and that, of those to whom the separate letters had been written, only three obeyed the King’s special invitation.

However, at the meeting certain ordinances were passed for the repair and the safety of the walls and the gates and the quay. Elsewhere these and similar orders have been set forth.

These regulations passed, the Mayor sent a letter to the King:—

“Whereas, Sire, you have demanded of us by your letters that we should cause to be guarded and safely kept your said City in behalf of yourself and your heirs, according as is in your mandate contained; know, Sire, that of the same wish we ourselves are, and at all times have been, and always will be, to the best of our lawful power, if God so please. And we do let you know that your said City is in good condition, may God be thanked; and your people set in good array, according as the times demand; and that ordinance has been made to strengthen and to repair the gates, and the defaults in the walls, and divers other things which pertain to the safe-keeping of the said City, so speedily as ever the same may be properly done. Unto God, our most dear Lord, we commend you, and may he save you and keep you; and may he grant unto you a good life, and a long” (p. 97).

To this letter was appended a very singular and suggestive rider, which the bearer was instructed to lay before the King:—

“Under the first head:—that the murage which our Lord the King has granted to the City, and wherewith the old walls of the City ought to be repaired, strengthened and amended, is now spent upon the new wall behind the Friars Preachers at Castle Baynard, towards the Thames, by your command and nowhere else.


(Gisors’ Hall, Basing Lane, otherwise denoted Gerrard’s Hall Inn, the residence of Sir John Gisors, Mayor of London in 1245, 1246, and 1259; it descended to another Sir John Gisors, Mayor and Constable of the Tower, in 1311-1314; and was possessed by several of that family until 1386, when it was alienated by Thomas Gisors.) From Londina Illustrata.

Also, that such outlays and costs, which are great, and are hastily expended upon so many repairs, whereas in justice they ought to be levied from all those who have rents, and tenements, and moveables, within the City, commonly fall upon one part of the citizens only, and not upon persons of the religious Orders, and others who have franchises by charter and in almoigne13; to the amount indeed of the third part of the rental of the said City. And such persons are not willing to give any portion thereof, or any aid or contribution, or any assistance, thereto, although they are saved just as much throughout the said city as the rest of the citizens. And if101 the King shall see fit, and deem it good that they should aid therein, the people of the City will be the better comforted, and the better strengthened, and the more speedily will they have the City put in due repair.”

So that the new piece of wall outside the Black Friars, and between their House and the Fleet, was not built by the Friars at all as is sometimes stated, but out of the murage granted by the King, and it will also be observed that so early as 1312, before the new ideas had been started, there were grumblings at the exemption of the Religious from taxation and a complaint that their property amounted to a third part of the rental of the whole City.

From Young’s Annals of the Barber Surgeons.

The comparative wealth of London at the time of the Conquest is shown by the fact that the City was assessed for Danegeld at 1200 hides: that Westminster was assessed at 118 hides; and Middlesex at 853-1/2 hides; that London paid £120, Middlesex £85: 0: 6; and, one supposes, on the same scale, Westminster £11: 16s.


Though London was never separated in feeling or in fact from the country, though the sons of the country gentlemen came up to London and were there apprenticed, trade was carried on between London and the country with as many laws, restrictions, and regulations, as if the towns were in a foreign state. This was not due to jealousies of the City or the towns, but mainly in consequence of the authority of the over-lord. For instance, the customs of Chester with reference to “foreign” merchants—those of London were foreign—show three separate jurisdictions in the City: that of the King, that of the Earl, and that of the Bishops. Trade with the interior was chiefly conducted at the fairs. During the fair, the people came from all the country round, including those who, like the Friars in later years, roamed about the villages and farms selling small things.

Let us make a special inquiry into the contribution of London to the Royal treasury. There were the customs dues of the Port; the customs tolls of the City Gates and the City Markets, the “Stallages” of the tradesmen, the fines of foreigners, the dues of Billingsgate and Queen Hithe; some of these were paid to the Corporation and some to the King’s officers. Whenever the money was paid into the Exchequer, it was weighed and assayed. Thus, on one occasion the Sheriffs paid in £245 odd on account of money due. The coin was assayed and found 13d. in the pound short. On a second trial it was found 12d. in the pound short. Thereupon the Sheriffs demanded a third trial. The accounts were kept by means of tallies, and for counters they used Venetian shillings and gold besants.

Apart from the customs and the Crown lands, the King’s revenues were largely increased by Fines, Amercements, “Misericordia,” Aids, Scutage and Tallage, all of which were methods of profound interest to the City. As regards fines, there were fines for everything. They were inflicted in the shape of money, horses, wine, hawks, dogs, lampreys, robes, Flemish caps and other things. In the pages of Madox one may read how men paid fines for becoming an Alderman, for the right to succeed to a property, for the King’s help in recovering debts from the Jews, for permission not to plead except in a certain manner, for permission to plead at all, for permission to summon a man, for permission for a jury of matrons to inquire whether a certain woman has or has not borne a child, for an inquiry whether a man was out with John in rebellion, to examine into a pedigree, to inquire into old customs, for permission to move that certain persons ought not to sit on a Jury, for an inquiry whether a certain man was accused unjustly or not, for petitioning the King that the Itinerant Justices might visit a town, for speeding a cause, for delaying a cause, for leave to hold office, for leave to quit office, for leave to marry, for leave (for a woman) to remain unmarried if she pleased (for life, or for five years—a very great number of widows desired to remain unmarried), for leave to marry a certain103 woman (Geoffrey de Mandeville paid a fine of £20,000, certainly equal to half a million of our money, for leave to marry Isabel, Countess of Gloucester, with all her estates), for leave to form a Guild, to import and export, for the concord of a duel, for leave to have a servant.

The Photochrom Co. Ltd.


Now and then the list of fines makes one wonder what story is hidden behind them. For instance, why was the wife of Hugh de Nevill fined for permission to stay one night with her husband? Was he in prison? Again, Reginald de Tewarden is fined twenty marks for permission to keep his lands after he had undergone the ordeal of hot iron unsuccessfully, and had abjured the country. He was proved guilty apparently. And was the fine of twenty marks thought the kind of penalty that would meet the case? William de Thievespathe—ominous name!—makes the same request for the same cause and with the same result. The iron, therefore, was sometimes hot. Another man, one Gospatric, pays twenty marks as104 a fine to escape the ordeal of hot iron. William of Sixteen Tale pays the large fine of £80 for wounding a priest: Robert, son of Hugh, gets off with £7: 2: 9—enough, however, to break a craftsman—for wounding “a man”; observe the difference between a man and a priest. Lawrence the Priest has to pay twenty marks “pro homine ementulato.” Who, again, was “Jeremy of London”? He took sanctuary, he refused to come out, they fined him a hundred shillings, and then? There is no more. Margaret FitzRoger has to pay a fine of £1000 before she can get at her inheritance, to wit, her father’s estate, her husband’s, her own dower, which her son has got, and be released from certain debts to the Jews. Sometimes the fine took the form of a bribe, as when Nathaniel Leveland, hereditary keeper of the King’s houses at Westminster and on the banks of the Fleet, sent in a fine of sixty marks for permission to keep that office, and Osbert de Longchamp paid the same fine for permission to take over those offices.

Every fine, whatever the amount, was either increased by a small sum or contained that small sum, which was called Aurum Reginæ, the Queen’s Gold. Thus when Thomas FitzAnther was forgiven his fine of ten marks, the Aurum Reginæ was at the same time remitted. In the year 1253 the City of London was called upon to pay up the Aurum Reginæ, part of the fine for receiving back their liberties, and in 1254 the Sheriffs were ordered to distrain for the amount.

Now the method of promoting virtue and filling the coffers was by the misericordia or amercement. I cannot understand the difference between the two. But that matters little, they both meant a fine. By studying the long list of cases furnished by my authority, Madox,14 I arrive at a theory, not a conclusion, that the amercement was a punishment for offences which could not be tried in a criminal court, yet were real offences. Thus, for false or unjust accusations or plaints, a man was amerced, or for unjust detainer, for offences in the forests, trespass, etc., for making a man fight two duels in one day, a thing manifestly unfair, for “ill keeping” a duel, i.e., not observing all the rules respecting duels, for claiming to be a free man when one was but a villein, for detaining sheep, for harbouring a man who was not in frank-pledge, for making again a dyke which the King had caused to be levelled, for using twice in ordeal an iron which had been heated only once, gross injustice to the second man, for burying a drowned man without the view by the King’s servant, for putting a man to the ordeal of water (was it then forbidden?), for trespass, and in the case of a rebellious bride, for not coming to be married on the day appointed. For these, and similar offences, the citizens suffered amercement and misericordia.

More formidable than any of these, more dreaded than fine, amercement, or misericordia, were the Aid, the Relief, the Scutage, and the Tallage.

There were three principal kinds of aid. (1) The aid pur fille marier, or the occasion of the marriage of the King’s daughter. Henry the First took for his105 daughter’s marriage three shillings on each hide. Henry the Second, for his part, imposed a tax under this name of one mark for every knight’s fee. As great lords might hold many knights’ fees, the tax was considerable. (2) The aid pur faire chevaler, on the occasion of conferring knighthood on the King’s son. This tax was the same in amount as the preceding. The third kind of aid was the raising of money if necessary for the King’s ransom.


Reliefs were simply arbitrary sums exacted by the King. The relief of the knight’s fee in the reign of Henry the Second was five pounds; that of a baron one hundred pounds. Scutage was, as its name denotes, an assessment of the knights’ fees.

Tallage corresponded more closely with our modern taxes. The City, ordered to make up so much money, assessed its lands separately at so much, which the Aldermen of each portion was bound to collect by assessing all the free men in his ward. In some cases, private merchants, those known to be wealthy, were separately assessed. Thus in one tallage Hugh de Basing is assessed at twelve marks, Thomas de Plaines at ten marks, William FitzAdam at a hundred shillings. Sometimes the King’s officers are separately assessed, as when the moneyers of London, Archard, Lefwine Besant, and Ailwine Finch, were ordered to pay respectively a hundred shillings, five marks, and two marks.

From Welch’s History of the Pewterers’ Company.

The tallage of the City in the year 1226 has been preserved. I copy it here from Thomas Madox (History of the Exchequer):—


“William filius Benedict, r. c. de xxxv. marcis, de Warde Fori. Andrew Bukerel, r. c. de xxx l. xvii s. viii. d., de Warde sua. Michael de Sancta Elena, r. c. de C & vii. s. & x. d., de Warda sua. Joceres Fitz Petri, xxxii. l. xviii. s., de Warda sua. Robertus filius Johannis (debet), iiij l. xvij s. & iiij d., de Warda sua. Johannes Viel (debet), xxj l. & xiij s., de Warda sua. Ace le Mairener, r. c. de xxvij l. & xx. d., de Warda sua. Rogerus Blundus, r. c. xxviij l. xi. s. & v. d. & ob., de Warda sua. Stephanus le Gras Waleran (debet), xi. l. & xij. s. de Warda sua.

Warinus filius Nicholai, r. c. de xiiij l. & xiij s., de Warda sua. Ricardus de Russye (debet), xj l. & iiij s., de Warda sua. Ricardus Raynger, r. c. de xiiij l. x. s. & iiij d., de Warda sua. Radulfus Sperling, r. c. de ix. l. & viij s., de Warda sua. Radulfus Steperingg, r. c. de vj l. & vj s., de Warda sua. Gilbertus filius Fulconis (debet), xix. s., de Warda sua. Walterus de Insula, r. c. de L xxiiij s., de Warda sua. Portsoken (debet), xxiiij s., de Warda sua. Johannes Travers, iiij l. xvj. s., de Warda sua. Petrus filius Rogeri, iiij l. xviij s., de Warda sua. Jacobus Blundus, viij l. xj s. & x. d., de Warda sua. Bassushag, xxxiij s., de Warda sua. Rogerus Burserius, r. c. de L s., de Warda sua. Johannes de Solarijs (debet), xxviij s. & iiij d., de Warda sua.” (Note 5, vol. i. p. 709.)

We also find the City disputing the right of the King to tallage them. Madox relates the story:—

“In or about the 39th year of King Henry III. it was provided by the King’s Council at Merton, that the King should tallage his Demeanes in England towards the great Expenses he had been at in foreign Parts. The citizens of London being called before the King and his Council at Merton about tallaging the City, Ralf Hardell, the Mayor, with several others came, and the King demanded of them a Tallage of three thousand Marks. When they had consulted with their Fellow-citizens, they came and offered two thousand Marks by way of Aid, saying, They could not, nor would give more. Upon this the King sent his Treasurer, Philip Lovell, with others to St. Martin’s to receive of the City a fine of three thousand Marks for Tallage, in case they would enter into such Fine, and if they would not, then they were ordered to assess the Tallage per Capita. The City refusing to enter into that Fine, the Treasurer and the other Commissioners were about to assess the Tallage per Capita, ordering the Citizens to swear concerning the Value of each other’s Chattells. The Citizens refused to make such Oath, or to declare upon the Faith they owed to the King the Value of each other’s chattells. So the Treasurer and other Commissioners came back re infecta. Afterwards the Citizens came before the King and his Council at Westminster on the Sunday after Candlemas. It was there disputed whether this should be called a Tallage or an Aid. The King ordered Search to be made, whether the Citizens had formerly paid Tallage to the King or his Ancestours. Upon Search, it was found both in the Rolls of the Exchequer and of the Chancery, that in the 16th year of King John, the Citizens were tallaged at two thousand Marks, to have the Interdict taken off; that in the 7th year of King Henry III. they were tallaged at one thousand Marks; that in the 26th year of the same King, they paid one thousand Marks by way of Tallage; and that in the 37th year, they gave one thousand Marks and xx Marks of Gold by way of Tallage. Afterwards, on the Morrow, the Mayor and Citizens came and acknowledged, that they were talliable, and gave the King three thousand Marks for Tallage.” (Vol. i. p. 711.)

In this chapter I have shown, by the aid of John Carpenter, that by the end of the fifteenth century the days of “Uncertain Steps” were passed away. The New Order, which gave the power and authority of the City more and more into the hands of the Commonalty, has now become well defined and established; it is the107 constitution of the City; the old feuds have vanished; the old City families have disappeared; the craftsmen no longer go about bellowing that they are the Commons; they are reduced to order every one in his own Company, and every man knowing his place in his Company; the place of the craftsman is one of obedience; he has been educated by the Company, apprenticed by the Company, made a freeman of the Company; he works in accordance with the rules of the Company; he is paid according to its rules; when he is old he will be a pensioner in the Company; should he die young his widow and children will be the care of the Company. And instead of the former government of the City by hereditary right, the City is now governed by the forms of popular election, with safeguards, by elected Aldermen, elected Sheriffs, elected Common Council, and elected Wardens as Masters of the Companies. And as to the share which the craftsmen possessed in the elections the less that question was raised the better it was for the order and the security of the City.



We have next to consider the origin, growth, and development of the City Companies.

On the origin and antiquity of Guilds I have already spoken (vol. i. p. 204). It is impossible to conceive of any time, after men had begun to live in villages and towns, after arts and crafts had arisen, after some attempt at order had been made, when there were no such associations as those we call guilds. Those of the same trade were compelled to band together for the use of tools, for instruction, for the regulation of the output, for protection of all kinds. In the fifth century there were “consuls” or chiefs, of the Locksmiths; the bakers of Paris act as a body in the reign of King Dagobert; in Lombardy they had colleges of artisans; in Ravenna in the tenth century there was a college of fishermen; there was a chief of the Corporation of Traders; a chief of the Corporation of Butchers. In Paris in the year 1162 there were dues payable by the Corporation of Tanners, Shoemakers, and Pursemakers.

The oldest Guild-Statutes extant in this country are the laws of three Guilds, those of Abbotsbury, Exeter, and Cambridge. The general principles of the three are thus summed up by Brentano:—

“According to the latest investigation into the origin of Gilds, the drawing-up of all these statutes took place in the beginning of the eleventh century. In the case of one of these Gilds, there is no doubt whatever as to the accuracy of this date. This Gild was founded and richly endowed by Orcy, a friend of Canute the Great, at Abbotsbury, in honour of God and St. Peter. Its object, according to the statutes, appears to have been the support and nursing of infirm Gild-brothers, the burial of the dead, the performance of religious services, and the saying of prayers for their souls. The association met every year, on the feast of St. Peter, for united worship in honour of their patron saint. Beside this, there was a common meal: and in order that the poor might also have their share in the joys of the festival, they received alms on the day of the feast; for which purpose the Gild-brothers were obliged to furnish, on the eve of the day, contributions of bread ‘well boulted and thoroughly baked.’ Guests were only admitted to the common meal by permission of the Master and Steward. Insults offered in a malignant spirit by one brother to another, were punished on the part of the Gild, and had also to be atoned for to the insulted. He who had undertaken an office, but had not properly discharged its duties, was severely punished.

The Exeter Gild, whose statutes have likewise been preserved, was of altogether the same character. Here, however, association for the purpose of worship and prayer stands out more prominently as the object of the brotherhood than in the former case. Three times a year the Gild-brothers assembled to109 worship together for the well-being of their living and dead fellow-members. Here, also, every such service was followed by a meal in common. When any brother died, every member was obliged to perform special devotions for the departed soul. The mutual care of the Gild-brothers was, moreover, shown by money contributions in case of death, and in the support of those who went on a journey, as well as of those who had suffered loss by fire. Punishments were decreed for insults offered by the Gild-brothers to each other, as well as for not fulfilling the duties imposed on them by the Gild.

The statutes of the Gild at Cambridge show that its main object was altogether different from that of the two already mentioned. At the very outset, in the oath which every member had to take on the relics of the patron Saint of the Gild, they swore faithful brotherhood towards each other, not only in religious, but also in secular matters; and though the statutes secured for the Gild-brothers the same support in case of sickness and death as those of Exeter and Abbotsbury—and, like those, contained regulations with reference to alms, divine worship and feasts—yet all these objects were but insignificant in comparison with the measures for the protection of the members of the Gild against criminals, and even against the evil consequences of their own wrong-doings. The following may be considered a first principle: ‘If one misdo, let all bear it; let all share the same lot’; and for carrying this out, a complete organisation existed. If one of the Gild-brothers required the help of his fellow-members, the inferior officer of the Gild living nearest to him had to hasten to his aid; should the officer neglect this, he became liable to punishment, and in like manner the head of the society, should he be remiss in affording help. If a Gild-brother was robbed, the whole Gild had to assist him in obtaining compensation from the law-breaker. So also every Gild-brother was obliged to help, if a member himself had to make atonement for killing a man. If, however, he had no justifiable motive for committing the act, if he had not been provoked to it in a quarrel, if he was not under an obligation to execute vengeance, but had slain the man merely from malice, he himself had to bear the consequences of the deed. If one Gild-brother killed another, he had first to reconcile himself with the kinsmen of the murdered man, and had moreover to pay eight pounds to all those belonging to his larger family, namely, the Gild; failing which, he was shut out of the society, and the members of the Gild were forbidden to hold friendly intercourse of any kind with him. In like manner, an insult offered by one Gild-brother to another was severely punished. The solidarity of the society was even shown in the case of violence and damage to property, which one member might have suffered from the servant of another; the master of the servant was answerable for him, and was sued by the society for compensation. It was, moreover, a leading principle of the society, to which every member had to bind himself by oath, always to support him who had right on his side.

The essence of the manifold regulations of the statutes of these three Gilds appears to be the brotherly banding together into close unions between man and man, sometimes even established on and fortified by oath, for the purpose of mutual help and support. This essential characteristic is found in all the Gilds of every age, from those first known to us in detail, to their descendants of the present day, the Trade Unions. According to the variety of wants and interests at various times, the aims, arrangements, and rules of these unions also varied. As a rule, the Gild-brothers periodically assembled together for common feasts.” (English Gilds, p. lxv, Toulmin Smith’s edit.)

Stubbs divides the English Guild into three kinds—the Religious Guild, which had a social side; the Frith Guild; and the Merchant Guild.

I. Let us set forth the ordinances, already summed up, of the Exeter Guild, which belongs to the first kind.


“First, this Society is assembled in Exeter for God’s love and their souls’ profit, both in regard to the prosperity of this life and the future, which we wish for ourselves in God’s judgment.

1. There shall be three meetings in the year, the first at Michaelmas, the second at the feast of Our Lady after midwinter, and the third at the feast of All Saints after Easter.

2. Each brother shall contribute two sextarii of malt, and each cniht one and a portion of honey.

3. The priest shall celebrate two masses, one for the living friends, the other for the dead, at each meeting; and each brother of lay estate shall recite two psalters, one for the living friends, the other for the dead. This altogether will make six masses and six psalters, there being three general meetings.

4. At each expedition ordered by the King every brother shall contribute five pence.

5. At a house-burning each brother shall contribute a penny.

6. If any brother neglect an appointment for a meeting on the first occasion he shall pay for three masses, on the second occasion for five, and on the third occasion no allowance shall be made for the neglect unless it be through infirmity or his lord’s business.

7. If any brother neglect the appointment of paying his subscription or contribution let him compensate for it two-fold.

8. If any man of this fellowship revile another, let him compensate for it with thirty pence. In conclusion the document prays ‘for God’s love, that every man of this assembly justly observe what we have justly ordained. God assist us therein.’”

From Nichol’s Some Account of the
Worshipful Company of Ironmongers

As, formerly, each family was a company allied against the world, so a Guild was the extension of that principle, and was the association of many families to form one. Thus, to quote Brentano once more (p. 5):—

“The family was, according to these historians (Waitz and Lappenberg), a community of all-comprehending importance, and its care provided completely for nearly all the wants of the individual. This it was able to do in consequence of the then simplicity of life. The minor found in it his protection; the insulted, the natural friends who sympathised with him most keenly in every injury inflicted, and who helped him to procure satisfaction. He who would engage in those pursuits which alone in that age were worthy of a freeman, and which at the same time promised riches and fame—in chase, feuds, and war—found in the family his natural allies. Naturally, he who fell into poverty, or sickness, or any other kind of distress, obtained from the family the necessary help; and it provided of course for the burial of the dead, whose heir it was. These are indeed the first, and are even nowadays the practical results of the family union. For the murdered, there arose from the midst of his family an avenger; to the robbed it gave the necessary help to prosecute and punish the thief, and to obtain restitution of the plunder. Further consequences of the nature of the family compact were, that the members were obliged to maintain peace amongst themselves; that they were not entitled to appear against each other in a court of justice; and, on the other hand, that they were called upon to punish members, especially women, who had violated the right of the family. Before the community, too, it became answerable for its members. The payment of the forfeited wergild was, in all cases of offence—which according to ancient usage and custom claimed revenge—the concern of the whole family. The family appeared as such an intimate union of its members, that this responsibility of the whole body for the individual member commended itself to the sense of justice of the people as a matter of course. But as it answered for the compensation, and took part in the payment thereof, and assisted the guilty in order that he might not forfeit life and limb to his antagonist, so it supplied the accused also with compurgators from among its members to ward off an unjust condemnation. In former times this family bond comprehended all relatives without limitation of degree; but in later days it became restricted to the nearer kinsfolk.”

The regulations of the Guilds resembled each other. Every Guild provided for its own masses and church services, and for the burial of its members, bringing the body to be buried, and providing wax lights, alms, and masses. Such111 of the Guilds as could afford it maintained their own Chaplain; women as well as men were admitted to membership. Sometimes the Guilds were composed of quite plain and simple folk; Worcester, it is known, had Guilds of Joiners and Carpenters, and perhaps of others; Bristol, among others, those of Fullers and Ringers; Holbeach, of Shepherds; Lynn, of Shipmen; Norwich, of “Peltyers”; Ludlow, of “Poor Men.” On the other hand, the Town Guild, or Merchant Guild, contained all the wealthier traders in the town. Sometimes it happened that men of different trades belonged to the same Guild. Thus Chaucer:—

“An Haberdasher and a Carpenter
A webbe, a Deyer, and a Tapiser,
Were all y-clothed in liverie
Of a solempne and grete fraternite.”
From Zeller’s La France Anglaise et Charles VII.

Some of the Guilds were very popular, and had an immense roll of members. That of the Corpus Christi, York, is said to have numbered more than 14,000 members. Its popularity, however, is accounted for on the ground of the important part it took in the pageants of the City. The members took an oath of obedience on entrance.112 There was an entrance fee and an annual subscription of “housefee,” the amount varying from place to place, and from time to time. There were also calls upon the members for burials or for help in case of a member falling into poverty, and there were legacies. There were special days appointed for meeting together; the members were summoned by the Dean or by the common bellman. On the day of meeting they appointed officers, made agreements, and did other necessary things. On one day in the year, their Saint’s day, they all put on red hoods and livery, assembled together, marched to Church, bearing wax tapers, heard mass, made offerings, and going to the Guild house, or to the house of a brother, they feasted together in love and good fellowship.

From Nichol’s Vintners’ Company.

On this day the richer Guilds got up processions, shows, ridings, pageants, and miracle plays. The internal administration of the Guilds was by a Master—“Gruuman” or Alderman, stewards or warders, Dean, and Clerk, the two latter being paid officers. Every Guild had its own livery. Those Guilds which were purely religious were, like the Corpus Christi of York, whose purpose was the conduct of a great and solemn procession, to celebrate one of the most important of Church doctrines. There were also Guilds for the performance of religious plays, as the Guilds of St. Elene, of St. Mary, and Corpus Christi at Beverley. There were Guilds for the repair of bridges and the building of chapels. There were Guilds of priests, especially the wide-spread Guild of Kalenders, so called because they, the members, met on the Kalend or first of every month. This Guild in some places, as at Bristol, maintained a school. Other Guilds, as that of St. Nicholas in Worcester, and that of Ludlow, maintained schools. All these Guilds were eventually swept away with the Dissolution of the Religious Houses.

II. The second kind of Guild was the old Saxon Frith Guild. There remains the complete code of a Frith Guild of the reign of Athelstan. In this

“May be recognised a distinct attempt on the part of the public authorities to supplement the defective execution of the law by measures for mutual defence ... if it be indeed the act of a voluntary association, it forms a serious precedent for the action of the Germanic leagues and the Castilian hermandad of later ages.” (Stubbs.)

After the ordinary rules of the Religious Guild there follow others connected with the distinct objects of the Society. Every member pays fourpence, which constitutes an insurance against theft; the Guild provides one shilling toward the pursuit of the thief. The members are arranged in bodies of ten, one of whom is the113 head man; these again are classed in tens under a common leader, who, with the other head man, acts as treasurer and adviser of the hundred members. The objects of the Society are the pursuit and capture of criminals and the exacting of compensation. As regards the body called the Cnihten Guild, it is dealt with elsewhere.

III. We next come to the Merchant Guild. This was simply the whole body of merchants organised for regulation of trade. In a mercantile city such a Society would of course be extremely powerful.


The statutes of the London Guilds were reduced to writing in the time of King Athelstan. From them Brentano thinks that the Guilds in and about London were united into one Guild, and to have framed common regulations for the better maintenance of peace, for the suppression of violence—especially of theft, and the aggressions of the powerful families,—as well as for carrying out rigidly the ordinances enacted by the King for that purpose.

It has already been stated that there are grave difficulties concerning the Merchant Guild of London. We find all the other towns in the country petitioning for the Merchant Guild unless they have already such an institution. But there are no documents at all which show the operation or the functions of the Merchant Guild of London. Some historians are of opinion that the Merchant Guild ruled the whole trade of the City, and that it was a body apart from the Portreeve or the Mayor and his Aldermen.

Whatever it was before the creation of the Mayor, there can be no doubt that after that important step all the functions of a Merchant Guild were discharged by the Mayor and Aldermen. These functions were, in brief, the regulation of trade. Now, in Riley’s Memorials we have a great number of trades approaching the Mayor and Aldermen with petitions not to regulate their trade for themselves; but that the Mayor and Aldermen would be pleased to regulate it in a certain manner; to bestow upon them certain powers; and to allow them to hale offenders, not before any court of their own, but before the Mayor and Aldermen. What is this but the authority of the Merchant Guild?

We have seen the rules of the Religious Guild. Let us now consider the ordinances submitted to the Mayor and Aldermen by a Craft Company. The114 following are those of the Pewterers. They are not the Articles of Association framed when the Company was founded, but the rules by which the Company regulated its own work:—

“Unto the Mayor and Aldermen of the City of London pray the good folks, makers of vessels of pewter in the same City, that it may please them to hear the state and the points of their trade; and as to the defaults, for the common profit, by good discretion to provide redress and amendment thereof; and the points which are proper for folks who are skilful in the trade, and are duly ordained, to support and maintain.

From Coopers’ Company Illustrations in Guildhall Library.

In the first place—seeing that the trade of pewtery is founded upon certain matters and metals, such as copper, tin, and lead, in due proportions; of which three metals they make vessels, that is to say, pots, salt-cellars, esquelles,15 platers, and other115 things by good folks bespoken; which works demand certain mixtures and certain alloys, according to the manner of vessel so bespoken; the which things cannot be made without good knowledge of a pewterer, well taught and well informed in the trade; seeing that many persons, not knowing the right alloys, nor yet the mixtures or the right rules of the trade, do work and make vessels and other things not in due manner, to the damage of the people, and to the scandal of the trade; the good folks of the trade do pray therefore that it may be ordained that three or four of the most lawful and most skilful in the trade may be chosen to oversee the alloys and the workmanship aforesaid; and that by their examination and assay, amendment may speedily be made where default has been committed. And that if any one shall be found rebellious against the Wardens and Assayers, the default may be shown, with the name of the rebellious offender, unto the Mayor and Aldermen; and that by them he may be adjudged upon, in presence of the good folks of the trade, who have found such default. And be it understood, that all manner of vessels of pewter, such as esquelles, salt-cellars, platters, chargers, pichers squared, and cruetz squared, and chrismatories, and other things that are made square or ribbed, shall be made of fine pewter, with the proportion of copper to the tin as much as, of its own nature, it will take. And all other things that are wrought by the trade, such as pots rounded, cruetz rounded, and candlesticks and other rounded vessels that belong to the trade, ought to be wrought of tin alloyed with lead in reasonable proportions. And the proportions of alloy are, to one hundred weight of tin 22 pounds of lead; and these are always called ‘vessels of pewter.’ Also, that no person shall intermeddle with the trade aforesaid, if he be not sworn before the good folks of the trade lawfully to work according to the points ordained; such as one who has been an apprentice, or otherwise a lawful workman known and tried among them. And that no one shall receive an apprentice against the usage of the City. And those who shall be admitted therein, are to be enrolled, according to the usage of the City.

Also—that no person, freeman, or stranger, shall make or bring such manner of vessel of pewter into the City for sale, or offer it for sale, before that material has been assayed, on peril of forfeiture of the wares. And if the material be allowable upon assay by the Wardens made, then let the wares be sold for such as they are and not otherwise. And that no one of the trade shall make privily in secret vessels of lead, or of false alloy, for sending out of the City to fairs and to markets for sale, to the scandal of the City, and the damage and scandal of the good folks of the trade; but let the things be shown, that shall be so sent to sell without the City, to the Wardens of the trade before. And no one shall do any work in the trade, if he will not answer as to his own workmanship, upon the assay of his work, in whatever hand it be found. And if any one shall be found from henceforth carrying such wares for sale, to fairs or to markets, or elsewhere in the kingdom, before it has been assayed, and, before the Mayor and Aldermen, shall be convicted thereof, let him116 have his punishment at their discretion, according to his offence, when he shall be so convicted at the suit of the good folks of his trade.


A larger image is available here.

Also—if any one shall be found doing damage to his master, whether apprentice or journeyman, privily in the way of larceny, under the value of ten pence, the first time, let amends be made unto the master by him or by his surety in the trade; and if he offend a second time, let his punishment be inflicted by award of the trade; and if he offend a third time, let him be ousted from the trade.

Also—as to those of the said trade who shall be found working in the trade otherwise than is before set forth, and upon assay shall be found guilty thereof; upon117 the first default let them lose the material so wrought; upon the second default let them lose the material, and suffer punishment at the discretion of the Mayor and Aldermen; and if a third time they shall be found offending, let them forswear the trade for evermore.


And also—the good folks of the trade have agreed that no one shall be so daring as to work at night upon articles of pewter; seeing that they have regard among themselves to the fact that the sight is not so profitable by night, or so certain as by day—to the profit that is, of the community. And also—that if any one of the said trade shall be found in default in any of the points aforesaid, he shall pay forty pence for the first default; for the second, half a mark; and on the third default, let it be done with him at the discretion of the Mayor and Aldermen; and of these payments let there be given one-half to the Chamber, to maintain the points aforesaid, and the other half to the Wardens of the said trade, for their trouble and their expenses. And that no one of the trade, great or small, shall take away the journeyman of another man, against the assent and the will of his first master, before he shall have fully served his term, according to the covenant made between them, and before the said journeyman shall have made amends to his master for the offences and misprisions committed against him, if he has in any way so offended or misprised, at the discretion of the Wardens of their trade; and whosoever shall do to the contrary of this ordinance, let such person have his punishment at the discretion of the Mayor and Aldermen.

Also—that no one of the said trade shall be so daring as to receive any one to work at the same trade, if he have not been an apprentice or if he be not a good workman and one who can have the testimony of his master, or of good folks of good condition; and can show that well and lawfully he has served his trade for the time assigned among them. There were chosen and sworn to oversee the Articles aforesaid—Stephen Lestraunge and John Syward, peautrers.

On Thursday next after the feast of Allhallows (1st November) in the 23rd year of the reign of King Edward the Third, etc., it was witnessed before Walter Turk, Mayor, and the Aldermen, that Stephen Lestraunge was dead, and that John Syward could not work; wherefore the reputable men of that trade chose Nicholas de Ludgate and Ernald Schipwaysshe, pewterer, who were sworn to keep the Articles aforesaid.” (Riley’s Memorials, p. 241.)

These are the main points. No one can complain that they are drawn up in the interests of the masters only. It is, however, to be remarked that the regulation118 of wages, hours, and prices is not attempted. The omission was doubtless designed as leaving such points fluctuating from day to day by arrangement between masters and men.

In the chapter on City Factions it is shown that, a hundred years before the date of their ordinances (1348), Thomas FitzThomas, the Mayor, had allowed the trades to draw up statutes for themselves, and had given them Charters which the following Mayors disallowed. These statutes, we are told in contemporary authority, had caused “intolerable loss” to merchants frequenting London. It is reasonable to conclude that they were drawn up by, and in the interests of, the craftsmen, and not by those who were able to take a wider view of trade than protection and high wages.

I have drawn up a list of the trades whose ordinances, as given by Riley, were submitted to the Mayor and Aldermen in the fourteenth century, with the dates of the regulations so drafted, and the subsequent date of the corporation as claimed by the present companies.

This document, like others in Riley’s Memorials, is most interesting as marking a definite stage. The trades have now learned, after a great deal of quarrelling, vague jealousies and suspicions, to formulate what they call the “points” of their craft. That their careful and judicious regulations, such as those I have quoted, were drawn up by the leading men of the craft, the masters and employers, cannot be doubted. They are not the work of ignorant men: they bear the impress of shrewd and experienced employers, whose conclusions and recommendations were drawn up for them by clerks skilled in the arrangement.

What is it that the Pewterers ask?

1. That the Mayor and Aldermen will consider the points of their trade, and that they will provide redress for faults.

Observe that they have no authority of their own such as they afterwards obtained as a company.

2. An assay of the material.

3. Admission, by apprenticeship, “according to the usage of the City.”

4. Protection against “foreigners,” i.e. persons not freemen of the City.

5. No secret profits by making vessels of false alloy for export to country fairs and markets.

6. The responsibility of every workman for his own work.

7. Penalties for damaging a master’s goods and for infringing the rules of the craft.

In the Guildhall Library, showing the Arms of the twelve principal City Companies.


Submitted to
Mayor and
Date of
Ordinances of the Pepperers of Sopere-lane 1316 1345
Regulations made by the Armourers of London 1322 1422
Ordinance of the Tapicers 1331
Ordinances of the trade called “Whittawyers” 1346
of the Pewterers 1348 1474
of the Glovers 1349 1639
of the Shearmen 1350
of the Braelers 1355
Regulations for the trade of Masons 1356 1411
Ordinance of the Waxchandlers 1358 1484
Regulations for the trade of the Alien Weavers in London 1362
Ordinances of the Plumbers 1365 1612
of the Pelterers, or Pellipers 1365
of the Tawyers 1365
Regulations for the Taverners 1370
Ordinances of the Court-Hand Writers, or Scriveners 1373 1617
of the Barbers 1376 1461
of the Fullers 1376
of the Hurers, as to fulling 1376
of the Cheesemongers 1377
of the Cooks and Pastelers, or Piebakers 1378 1473
of the Cutlers 1380 1413
of the Founders 1389 1615
of the Blacksmiths 1394 1578
of the Hurers 1398
Ordinance of the Fletchers 1403 1570
of the Writers of Text-letter, Limners, and others who bind and sell books 1403
of the Forcermakers 1406
Ordinances of the Brasiers 1416

The triumph of the crafts was completed in the reign of Edward the Third. At the same time it was a triumph which needed constant watchfulness. This necessity is shown by the case of the rich Pepperers, who seceded in 1345 and set up a company of their own. They were so rich that they commanded the Market. A petition was presented to the King complaining that—

“Great mischief had newly arisen, as well to the King as to the great men and commons, from the merchants called Grocers (grossers), who engrossed all manner of merchandize vendible, and who suddenly raised the prices of such merchandize within the realm; putting to sale by covin, and by ordinances made amongst themselves, in their own society, which they call ‘the Fraternity and Gild of Merchants,’ such merchandizes as were most dear, and keeping in stores the others until times of dearth and scarcity.” (L. Brentano, History and Development of Gilds, 1870.)

It was, therefore, ordered that in future all “artificers and people of mysteries” should choose each his own mystery, and should then practise no other.

What was the power of the incorporated Company? The keynote of the difference between the Company and the Fraternity was that the former had authority and the latter had none.

By their new powers, the Companies took over into their own hands the120 complete control of their trade. Henceforth the function of the Mayor was to compose disputes and settle differences between the Companies, especially in those cases where trades overlapped. The wardens, or the master and wardens, called meetings of the Livery; at these meetings regulations were passed; it was the duty of the wardens to enforce the execution of their own laws. They had the right, which the Fraternities had obtained of the Mayor, to examine the work and to destroy all that was “false.” In all matters concerning the Guild the master and wardens formed the only court: there was no Court of Appeal; their decision was final. There were certain exceptions to their power; the Mayor and Aldermen kept in their own hands the sale and the price of bread, meat, drink and fuel. The punishments were, for light offences, fines, either of money, of wax, or of beer and wine. For serious offences expulsion from the Guild was the worst and last punishment. A man so expelled could not any longer practise his trade in the City. We hear also of ’prentices being flogged for acts of dishonesty or immorality. Every man who practised any trade in the City must needs belong to the Company of this trade. There would have been no power, otherwise, to enforce their laws. What would be the good of calling order for the execution of good work if a colony of workmen set up in the City and refused to obey those laws or to enter their company? It was for self-preservation that this rule was enforced. Afterwards it became a weapon of oppression when the number of members was limited.

The care with which the Companies provided for good work was equalled by the jealousy with which they regarded the admission of new members. They looked to the moral character of a workman as well as his mastery over the craft. They made him serve an apprenticeship varying from seven to ten years. They received the boy in a manner calculated to impress upon his mind the importance of the duties upon which he was entering. At the close of his time he was, with like solemnity, received as a member of the Company, and, therefore, a free man of the City.

Next to looking after the young men, the Company looked after the tools. These were to be inspected regularly; they were to be “testified as good and honest.” The hours were fixed: no one was to work longer than from the beginning of the day till curfew, nor at night by candle-light. One Company, that of the weavers, forbade any work between Christmas and the Purification (Feb. 2). No one was to work on Sunday, or on festivals, or on the eve of a double feast, or on Saturday afternoons. The working men lost their Saturday half-holiday by the Reformation; it has taken them 300 years to get it back again.

As for the ordinances which regulated the conduct of members toward each other, I may pass them over. They were wise; they did what was possible to prevent over-reaching, underselling, taking good servants from a brother member, selling to one member indebted to another member, and, in a word, creating and121 keeping alive the feeling of brotherhood. Provision was made for those who fell into poverty. As long as any member remained out of work no member was allowed to employ any non-member; and the wife and children of a member might work at the trade with the husband or the father.

From Welch’s History of the Pewterers’ Company.

In course of time, very speedily in fact, abuses crept in. The trades began to limit the number of members; the richer members seceded and formed other companies—the shoemakers left the cobblers, the tanners left the shoemakers; masters withheld their wages from the workmen; journeymen were not allowed to work on their own account; nor could they become masters; there were strikes among the men, especially in the building trade; the journeymen formed companies of their own which they used for the purpose of raising wages; in the year 1383 a proclamation forbade the combination of workmen. Among the combinations so suppressed were those of the “yomen” saddlers and the “yomen” tailors.


The ground thus cleared, the masters could use the Companies entirely for their own profit and advantage. They endeavoured more and more to restrict the number of members, and to make the handicrafts of London the monopoly of a few families; in this attempt they were only too successful; in the sixteenth century Bacon calls the City Companies “fraternities of evil.” The masters made the apprentices swear that they would not carry on trade on their own account without the masters’ consent. The weakness of the law is shown in the failure of Henry’s law (1537); fixing the entrance fee of an apprentice at 2s. 6d., it rose to 40s., to £10; in the time of James the First to £20, £60, and £100; and in 1720 to £500 and more.

As to the further degeneration and the final ruin of the Craft Guilds, I refer again to Luigo Brentano.16


“As the Craft-Gilds everywhere had sunk down to mere societies for the investment of capital, and as their dividends depended entirely on the exclusion of competition, it was unavoidable that the spirit of gain should lead them to restrictions which became always more oppressive for the public. The annoyances they caused were considerably increased by a process which, after the sixteenth century, was of frequent occurrence in all countries; those Craft-Gilds namely, which had hitherto comprised kindred crafts, split up into several, according to the individual trades. These then watched each other with the utmost jealousy in order to prevent encroachments on their mutual rights, and continually fought each other in endless lawsuits. Thus, for instance, the Fletchers and Bowyers in London separated themselves into two corporations in the reign of Elizabeth. One might wonder that, on the one hand, the workmen, whose position was so much deteriorated by the degeneration of the Craft-Gilds, did not at once overthrow their dominion, as the Craft-Gilds had formerly superseded the degenerated Gilds of the patricians, and that, on the other hand, the State did not, in the interest of the public, take any steps towards the abolition of the Gilds, which had already been desired so often. But as to the working-men, though their position, and especially their prospects, had been greatly deteriorated by this degeneration of the Craft-Gilds, their interest was rather a reformation, than the abolition, of those bodies. The Craft-Gilds maintained a number of regulations, which protected the working-men, and in consequence of which their material position appears comfortable and free from cares, if compared with that of the factory hands at the beginning of this century, when these regulations no longer existed. Uprisings of working-men are therefore to be found in those days only in consequence of infringements of Gild-regulations. But as for a reformation of the Craft-Gilds according to the interests of the working-men, the latter were not powerful enough to carry it out against their masters. These still held strongly together in their Gilds, and did not yet, as in later times (and as formerly the patricians), rival each other in weakening competition. The State also had changed, and no longer consisted, as before, of an organisation of many smaller states. As, after the sixteenth century, the State became in all countries continually more centralised by its kinds, it was not possible for the journeymen to act with the same facility as the craftsmen had acted in former times in the towns. Moreover, owing to the men’s isolated method of working, they had not yet acquired the same feeling of solidarity, or the same consciousness of the power of masses, as our factory hands since have. And as to the State abolishing the Craft-Gilds, Kings used the bourgeoisie as a support; first, as Henry VII. in England, against the nobility; and then, because they needed them for pecuniary reasons.... The causes of the overthrow of the Craft-Gilds arose in the bourgeoisie itself. These causes were, the rise of large capital, and its investment in manufacture. The 2nd and 3rd Philip and Mary already indicates the commencement. After stating that ‘the rich clothiers do oppress the weavers, some by setting up and keeping in their houses divers looms, and maintaining them by journeymen and other persons unskilful; some by engrossing of looms into their hands, and letting them out at such unreasonable rents as the poor artificers are not able to maintain themselves by, and much less their wives and families; some again by giving less wages for the workmanship of cloth than in times past, whereby they are forced utterly to forsake their occupations, etc.; it is enacted that no clothier, living out of a city, burgh, or market-town, shall keep more than two looms, nor more than two apprentices,’ etc. In short, the Act endeavours to protect the small masters against the competition of the rich capitalists. But neither this Act nor all the other attempts of the corporations could restrain the process of development, which, especially in consequence of a series of technical discoveries, threw manufacture altogether into the hands of the large capitalists. Handicrafts, and the corporations together with them, lost continually in importance, and only made themselves hated and despised in their endeavour to arrest the natural progress of event.”

Let us sum up the origin and development of the Guild.

1. We have the family united for the protection of all its members, standing by each other, liable for each other.

2. Next we have the association of neighbours together, of many families, to form guilds of religion and brotherly love and mutual protection.

3. The crafts are found uniting for trade purposes, regulating the production, jealously watching the standards of work, fixing hours of work and prices, excluding foreigners, and importing raw material. These trade unions had no powers other than those obtained by common agreement.

4. The formation of a Merchant Guild.

5. The rise of a City aristocracy who usurp the power, own the City land, impose taxes, and are insolent towards the craftsmen.

6. The revolt of the crafts against the aristocracy and their ultimate victory after a long struggle.

7. The creation of trade or craft companies, not guilds, solely for trade purposes, under ordinances approved by the Mayor.

8. The conquest of power by the new companies.

9. The complete subjection of the craftsmen for five hundred years to their own companies.





If churches and religious houses make up religion, then London of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries surely attained the highest point ever reached in religion. The Church was everywhere. In Appendices IV. and V. will be found a list of the Parish Churches and their patronage. The abbeys, priories, nunneries, and friaries contained a vast army of ecclesiastics from archbishop to Franciscan friar: hermits, anchorites, pardoners, limitours, somnours, church officers of all kinds, were everywhere in evidence. No street but reminded the citizens by the sight of a spire or a wall, that the Church was with him always, to rule his life and to shorten his period of purgatory, on the simple condition of his obedience. Religion endeavoured to rule the whole of society: religion claimed to control the whole conduct of politics and political economy: but the power of religion has never been equal to her ambition: religion could not put a stop to war, or to the violences and outrages of war. Had she been able to do so, the world would now be held and bound in chains and slavery. Yet it was well that there should be the Church to restrain men in some degree. She kept in her own hands, so far, all learning, all science, all the arts, all the professions. The forms, duties, and rules of the Church attended all men from infancy to the grave. At the bidding of the Church the whole nation, from the King downwards, renounced meat for a fourth part of the whole year. This fact alone marks the enormous power of the Church. For hundreds of years the Church preached respect for human life and self-restraint with more or less vigour, and with more or less success. Sometimes the Church has fallen upon evil times; her ecclesiastics have been ambitious, worldly, licentious, avaricious; but they have always been, as a whole, superior to the world around them. Thus it may be said that the Church might always have been better, but that the world was always worse.

Let us, then, briefly examine into what was meant by the Religious Life of London in the fourteenth century.

There were a hundred and twenty-six parish churches in London. This seems an enormous number for a population of not more than 120,000 or thereabouts. But we have to remember what the Church did for the people. The daily128 services; the chanting of the daily masses for living and for dead; the funerals, the weddings, the baptisms, the visitation of the sick, the direction of Fraternities, the countless observances and customs of religion, for all these things the Church was the centre, and the parish clergy were the directors.

The boundaries of a parish were not at first rigidly laid down; they overlapped the ward boundaries; they were matters of agreement: it was not until the Poor Law made the definition necessary, that the boundaries were finally and exactly laid down.

The multiplication of parishes was partly due, no doubt, to the desire of expiating sins by building, endowing, and decorating a Church for the good of the Founder’s soul. The census of the City, taken at any time between the ninth and the fifteenth centuries, would certainly show an almost stationary figure, lowered upon a visitation of plague, or raised after a long interval without plague, pestilence, fire, or famine. The average represented about a thousand souls to every church. The origin of the City churches cannot, as a rule, be ascertained. The oldest dedications of the churches seem to show that the London parishes were settled before the Norman Conquest: most of the London churches were probably built in or about the eighth century during that strange outburst of religious enthusiasm, the first of so many which have swept over the country.

London was a city of churches: one could not escape the sight of the green churchyard, the trees standing over the graves, and the little church among them. Nor could one get away from the sound of the church bells. All day long, from daybreak until night, the bells were ringing, not only from the churches, but also from the monastic houses. High above the stroke of anvil, and the multitudinous roar of the industrial city, rolled and clanged and resounded the continual clash of the bells. What the boy Whittington heard at Highgate was not the chime of Bow Church alone; it was the sound of the bells of all the churches and all the convents of London ringing together.

I have estimated roughly that, with the parish churches and their property, a full quarter of the City was occupied by the religious houses and the places they owned. As for the proportion of the population which was supported by the Church, we may form an idea by taking the case of St. Paul’s Cathedral alone:—

In the year 1450 the Society, a Cathedral body, included the following: the Bishop, the Dean, the four Archdeacons, the Treasurer, the Precentor, the Chancellor, thirty greater Canons, twelve lesser Canons, about fifty Chaplains or chantry Priests, and thirty Vicars. Of inferior rank to these were the Sacrist and three Vergers, the Succentor, the Master of the Singing-school, the Master of the Grammar-school, the Almoner and his four Vergers, the Servitors, the Surveyor, the twelve Scribes, the Book Transcriber, the Book-binder, the Chamberlain, the129 Rent-Collector, the Baker, the Brewer, the Lavenders (washermen), the Singing-men and Choir Boys, of whom priests were made, the Bedesmen, and the poor folk. To these must be added the servants of all these officers—the brewer, who brewed, in the year 1286, 67,814 gallons, must have employed a good many; the baker, who ovened every year 40,000 loaves, or every day more than a hundred large and small; the sextons, grave-diggers, gardeners, bell-ringers, makers and menders of the ecclesiastical robes, cleaners and sweepers, carpenters, masons, painters, carvers, and gilders—one can very well understand that the Church of St. Paul’s found a livelihood for a thousand at least.

The Photochrom Co. Ltd.


The same equipment was necessary in every other religious foundation. Not a monastery but had its great and lesser officers and their servants. In every one130 there were the bell-ringers, the singing-men and boys, the vergers, the gardeners, the brewers, bakers, cooks, messengers, scribes, rent-collectors, and all of them were complete in themselves, as was St. Paul’s, though on a smaller scale. Then if we consider the Parish Churches. In some cases two priests were attached to each Church for the daily services: if there were, say, fifteen chantries, and in some there were many more, belonging to each, we have over 2000 priests for the parish churches alone; there were, next, the people belonging to each church: the choir, the sacrist, the organist, the beadle, the sexton, the anchorite or ankress, say an average, in all, of a hundred, including the families of those who were married. This makes some 12,000 souls living upon the endowments and revenues of the City Churches.

If there were eighty monks at St. Peter’s, Westminster, there were at least a hundred people, all of them married and with families, in their service. Now there were, large and small, about twenty-five Religious Houses in and outside London. If we take an average of seventy people of various trades attached to and living by each House, and an average of thirty brethren and sisters, we have nearly 7000 people belonging to them. To sum up, therefore, there were nearly 20,000 people in the City of London and its suburbs engaged in working for, and living by, the Churches and the Religious Houses. About one-fifth of the population of London lived by the Church. This is a moderate estimate. The proportion of ecclesiastics and their servants to the general population was probably much higher.

The Bishop, in the eyes of London, was the greatest person in the country next to the King: he lived among the people and was their natural protector: he had his Palace within the precinct, in the north-west of the Cathedral; he attended the Church on all the great Festivals—Christmas, Easter, Ascension, Whitsunday, the Festivals of St. Paul and St. Erkenwald, and also on Maundy Thursday and Ash Wednesday (see Appendix VI.). He observed the greatest state possible when he rode forth: there went with him, as he journeyed from one to the other of his country houses, forty persons at least, including his squires, his chaplains, the young monks entrusted to his care, and his servants: he was profuse in charity: he was stately in his carriage and splendid in his dress. As in the days of William the Conqueror, so in those of Edward the Third, the Bishop of London, with the Mayor, stood for the City, but the Mayor stood behind the Bishop.

The Cathedral, in the midst of the City, belonged to all alike: its splendid services, the singing of the choir, the rolling of the organ, the procession of priests with their white and gold copes, the ringing of the bell every day seven times from daybreak till curfew for as many services, the shrines of the saints, flaming with gold and precious stones and rich embroideries, especially those of St. Erkenwald, St.131 Ethelburga, and St. Mellitus, all these things appealed to the citizen and kept him loyal to the faith.

From the Ellesmere MS.

There were, after the Cathedral dignitaries, the parish priests and the chantry priests, with the great army of those who lived by the altar; the anchorites and the hermits, the monks and friars, the nuns and sisters, all the people who formed the service of the monastic houses, the hospitals for the sick, the houses for the insane, the lepers’ houses, the schools, and the colleges. The last named were not places of education, but colleges of priests, of which All Souls, Oxford, and the College of Dulwich are two survivals. In London there were the Colleges of St. Thomas132 of Acon, in Cheapside, where is now Mercers’ Hall; that of St. Spirit and St. Mary founded by Whittington for a Master and four Fellows with clerks, conducts, choristers, and an almshouse; St. Michael’s, Crooked Lane, for a Master and nine Fellows; Jesus’ Commons for priests; and St. Augustine’s Papey for old and infirm priests. Quiet and pleasant places all, where life gently glided along; where there were no duties but the daily mass, no Rule, no Austerities—the ideal life for the scholar among the books of the library; and for those who loved to sit apart and meditate among the trees and flower-beds of the garden in summer, or in the glazed cloisters sheltered from the cold wind and frost of winter. Outside, in the work-a-day world, what did the people think and believe? The history of religion, or of religious thought, in London, cannot be separated from that of the whole country. It is a history of enthusiasms in successive waves. When the whole of England—in the eighth century—understood, with a new and overwhelming sense, the reality of Christianity; when Kings and Queens, Earls and Thanes and noble ladies crowded into the monasteries, there to prepare for the next world, compared with which this present world is not worth considering, then the people of London for their part rebuilt the Abbey of Westminster, and founded the House of St. Martin-le-Grand; they divided London into parishes and erected parish churches; they created guilds for the spiritual nourishment of those who could not enter the Religious House.

During the two hundred years of struggle with the Danes and Normans, these Houses were destroyed, or, if they survived, were carried on with fewer brethren and a more slender endowment.

When order returned, and a strong King made it possible for men to live without the weapons of war at hand, the mind of the people, always a profoundly religious people, turned again to the realities of the unseen world. Once more there awakened the sense of change and decay and the worthlessness of things fleeting. The Court Jesters—converted—founded hospitals; the City Fathers handed over the lands of the City to the newly founded House of the Holy Trinity. Monasteries, nunneries, and colleges sprang up everywhere. The new foundations satisfied the people for another hundred years or so. Then they woke up once more in the old way. The religious life, they discovered, is not always found in the Religious House; the hood does not make the monk. The Friars came over to the country; they showed the people a new kind of religious life; one not separated from the world, but moving and living in the world; one that saves the soul by losing it and mounts to Heaven by the prayers and gratitude of men and women whom it has lifted from the mire and slough of sin and disease and misery. No more noble form of Christianity can be presented. Francis discovered the very mind of the Founder.

For a hundred years and more the Friars kept alive the new religion. This133 fell off; but their early teaching survived, and was the foundation of Lollardy. When the Religious Houses were suppressed, the people of London looked on without a protest; their work was done; the City was again waking up to a new enthusiasm. The Reformation, the many sects of the new Faith, the fanaticism of the seventeenth century, the enthusiasm of the eighteenth, the Evangelical domination, the return of High Church doctrine, the development of Ritual, all these things are but manifestations of the same spirit which caused the Revival under Henry the Fourth and the Puritanism of the Civil Wars. Many changes pass over the face of London, but deep down lies, unchanged, the ancient spirit of religion.

From Grangerised Edition of Brayley’s London and Middlesex in Guildhall Library.


In the Parish Church, generally a small building erected by some citizen who got a bit of the City carved out for his parish, there was little splendour. Every day mass was said in the morning, and vespers in the evening, by the Parish Priest: every morning the Chantry priests before the side altars sang mass for the souls of their founders. On All Souls’ Day the Parish Priest sang mass for the souls of all Christian men and women. There was many a poor faithful woman who could not find the money to pay for a Chantry or an obit, or an Annual, for the soul of her husband or her son—though well she knew, poor creature, how much he wanted that assistance. But she took comfort in the thought that so long as the world should last that yearly mass would be said for the benefit of all poor souls in pain.

The endowment of a Chantry generally provided for one priest, but often for two, in some cases for three, and in one, that of Adam de Bury in 1364, for seven priests. In the fourteenth century there were more than 70 chantries in St. Paul’s alone. There were also 111 obits or foundations for occasional masses—making altogether an income of £183: 18: 3-1/2.

In the reign of Richard the Second, Bishop Braybroke found that some of the chantries had fallen into decay, the endowments having been lost or wasted. He united some of the poorer ones. He also ordained that no beneficed priest should hold a chantry, and laid down regulations for the chantry priests. They were to attend the choir offices day and night; they were to take part in processions, funerals, and they were to live in Houses provided for them or in the chambers of Chantries. These priests seem to have given a great deal of trouble by the scandals which they caused. It must be remembered that they were not persons, as a rule, of scholarly habits; that their sole duty consisted in the daily mass for the soul of their Founder; and that they had the whole day to get through in idleness. They were also extremely poor, the average stipend being £5 a year, equivalent to something like £75. Archbishop Sudbury, in 1378, spoke of them in the strongest terms of reproach, summing up his enumeration of their vices by saying that their lives tended “in virorum ecclesiasticorum detestabile scandalum, et exemptum perniciosissimum laicorum.”

It is not possible, I think, to make out how far the London craftsman assisted at the Functions of the Church. At least once a year he must go to Confession. The Pope made that rule in 1215. The craftsman probably went to Confession at one of the greater festivals. Every Sunday morning he must be present at mass. That duty was then, as now, imposed on every faithful child of the Church. This law, doubtless, he did obey. There were dues to be paid: he had to pay them; there were friars who came begging: he contributed of his poverty; and he must fast in Lent and on Fridays and on certain other days—about a hundred days in all. In this point he must needs obey, because the butchers’ shops were closed, and he could buy no meat. He had to get married; to get the children baptized;135 to pay dues for the Vigil of the Dead. Another important function performed by the clergy was the reconciliation of enemies and the settlement of disputes by “love days.” There are many references to the love days. Piers Plowman constantly talks about them, and with bitterness, as if the Church made the office of Peacemaker a means of enriching herself. Riley quotes an ordinance forbidding people to make disturbances by getting up love days.

Harl. MS. 1319.

The memory of one of these love days has been preserved ever since the year 1484, when a dispute between two Companies of the City of London was finally adjusted. It was on the 10th of April 1484 that the Lord Mayor and the Aldermen decided a long-standing dispute between the Company of Merchant Taylors and the Company of Skinners as follows:136—“The said Mayor and Aldermen, the day and year above said taking upon them the rule, direction, and charge of arbitrament of, and in the premises, ‘for norishing of peas and love between the Masters Wardeyns and Fellashipps aforesaid’ adjudged and awarded that the Masters and Wardens should dine each year together at their respective Halls; the Taylors with the Skinners on the Vigil of Corpus Christi; and the Skinners with the Taylors on the Feast of Nativity of St. John Baptist; and as to precedency each Company was to take that on each alternate year save that a Mayor of either should give that Company precedence in his year of office.”

So the Decree has been observed 414 years, while “peas and love” have reigned between the two Fellowships.

In the twelfth century we find the London clergy married, and married into families of the highest position. Their marriage, therefore, was not looked upon by the people, although forbidden by the Church, as in any way blameworthy. In the Synod of 1108, and in that of 1125, both held in London, the most stringent rules were laid down against the marriage of priests. The title of wife was denied their wives, who were called concubines; yet the priests continued to marry. Even in the sixteenth century, when Skelton took Sanctuary against the wrath of Wolsey, he brought his wife and children with him.

In the thirteenth century a renewed effort was made to enforce celibacy as rigidly as could be done. The clergy of the towns, of London at least, were compelled to keep celibate, but not those of the country where the arm of the Bishop was weak. Holinshed, for instance, speaks of the methods adopted in the year 1225 (ii. 358):—


“This yeare also, there came foorth a decree from the archbishop of Canterburie, and his suffragans, that the concubines of preests and clearkes within orders (for so were their wives then called in contempt of their wedlocke) should be denied of Christian buriall, except they repented whilest they were alive in perfect health, or else showed manifest tokens of repentance at the time of their deaths. The same decree also prohibited them from the receiving of the pax at masse time, and also of holie bread after masse, so long as the preests kept them in their houses, or used their companie publikelie out of their houses. Moreover, that they should not be purified when they should be delivered of child, as other good women were, unless they found sufficient suertie to the archdeacon, or his officiall, to make satisfaction at the next chapter or court to be holden after they should be purified. And the preests should be suspended, which did not present all such their concubines as were residant within their parishes. Also, all such women as were convict to have dealt carnallie with a preest were appointed by the same decree to doo open penance. Where the question may be asked, whether this decree was extended to preests’ wives or no? Whereunto answer may be made, that as a quadrangle in geometrie compriseth in it a triangle, and a quaternion in arithmetic conteineth a ternion; so in logike a universall proposition comprehendeth a particular. But it is said here, that all such women as had carnal knowledge with a preest, were to be punished, therefore some, and consequentlie all preests’ wives. But yet this seemeth not to be the meaning of that decree, for preests were allowed no wives, naie Sericius the pope judged that all such of the cleargie as had wives could not please God, bicause they were in carne, which words he and the residue of that litter restreined to marriage, admitting that in no case churchmen should injoy the rights of matrimonie. Wherein they offer God great injurie, in seeking to limit that large institution of wedlocke, wherein all estates are interressed.”

In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries we find the natural harvest and fruit of this enforced celibacy.

It is not my desire to bring railing accusations against the morals of the clergy. It is, however, quite certain that if a large body of men without much learning or love of learning, to whom is assigned work which occupies them for a very small portion of the day, are forbidden to marry, and if they live for the most part among the lower classes in the City, drinking freely, and as much as they can afford, the result will be, must be, the prevalence of immorality among them. There are plenty of examples and proofs of this condition of things. There is the case in 1385 of Elizabeth Moring, who received girls nominally as apprentices, but really to live a lewd life, and “to consort with friars, chaplains, and other such men.” In 1406 we read of one William Langford, chaplain, taken in adultery with Margaret, wife of Richard Dod. In 1255 a certain Chaplain and Parish Priest took Sanctuary in St. Paul’s and confessed to having stolen sixteen silver dishes. In 1320 a Chaplain is taken up for being a Night Walker and carrying arms against the peace. In 1416 William Cratford, a priest, is reported as a common and notorious thief and hawker on the roads. In 1408 Riley reports that the Letter Book about this time (Henry IV.-Henry VI.) contains “some dozens of similar charges,” viz. of fornication and adultery. The way they tried to check the vice and punish the offender was by forbidding any one to pay or engage the incriminated clerk. This was done in 1413, when two priests of St. Bride’s, Fleet Street, were taken in adultery at the same time with two women in the Church. How far can William of Langland be trusted in setting forth the truth without exaggeration? One knows not. In Piers Plowman, however, the figure of Sloth is a priest. He confesses (Skeat’s Edition, B. Passus v. p. 168):—

“I have be prest and parsoun passynge thretti wynter,
Gete can I neither solfe [Sol-Fa] ne synge ne seyntes lyues rede,
But I can fynde in a felde or in a fourlonge [furrow] an hare,
Better than in beatus vir or in beati omnes
Construe oon clause wel and kenne it to my parochienes.
I can holde lovedays and here a reve’s rekenynge,
Ac in canoun ne in decretales I can nought rede a line.”

Many other things point to the scandalous lives of the religious. Thus, the Bishop of Lincoln—not London,—in the reign of Henry III., visiting the religious houses in his diocese, searched the bedrooms and the beds of the monks and friars,138 and caused examination of the closest possible kind to be made in the nunneries. This would hardly be done without grave suspicions and reports.

Another crying scandal in the Church was the appointment of foreigners to high offices and benefices.

In the year 1245 an inventory was compiled of all benefices held by foreigners and appointed by the Pope. It was found that the sum of 60,000 marks was annually paid to these foreigners. This means almost a million of our money. The bitterness that this caused was so strong that in many parts the people refused to pay their tithe or their dues. There are other indications of hostility to the pretensions of the Pope. A certain Carthusian of London was brought before the Legate for teaching that Gregory was not the true Pope. The monks of Durham refused to obey the Papal ordinance, which commanded every one who was appointed as Abbot to proceed to Rome, there to receive the Pope’s blessing. And the Archbishop of York, refusing to bestow the revenues of his diocese on Italians and foreigners, was cursed by the Pope with bell, book, and candle. This resistance, however, was before its time; it was, in fact, two hundred years too soon.

In the year 1222 we hear of certain cases of cruel death inflicted for religious reasons. They did not occur in London, but at Oxford. A man was brought before the Council at that City charged with personating Christ Himself—Holinshed says two, but Matthew of Westminster says one, and it is impossible that two persons should both at the same time pretend to be Christ. The impostor showed the stigmata upon his hands and feet and in his side: he is said to have preached against the abuses of the ecclesiastics. Indeed, there was never any time when these abuses were more flagrant than in the reign of Henry the Third. The man was clearly an enthusiast, one who had gradually become mad with religious fervour, until he actually persuaded himself that he was the Christ whose religion he tried to preach. The other was the enthusiast’s follower and disciple. With them were two women,—when was there ever enthusiast without a pious woman at his side? One of these poor creatures had been assured by the leader that she was the Virgin Mary, and the other that she was Mary Magdalene. Both of them, of course, firmly believed the assurance. The whole four were tried, the leader was actually crucified, in mockery of his pretensions, and the women were “condemned,” most likely, to be burned.

The Devil with a Monk on his shoulders. A carving in wood supporting is much mutilated.
St. Paul.
Philippa duchess of York died Anno 1433. St.. Nicholas Chapel.
Head which supports a large Beam in the Chamber under the Roof at the east end near Henry VII’s Chapel.
A Woman beating a Monk with her distaff. A carving in wood under one of the seats of the Knights of the Bath in Henry VII’s Chapel.
The Coronation Chair.

Against these examples of crime and ignorance may be set the fact that there was never any such violent and unanimous attack upon the secular clergy as we find against the friars. And we may fairly conclude that Chaucer’s portrait of the Parson was drawn from the life, and that there were among the London clergy many who might have sat for models:—


“A good man was ther of religioun,
And was a povre PERSOUN of a toun;
But riche he was of holy thoght and werk.
He was also a lerned man, a clerk,
That Cristes gospel trewely wolde preche;
His parisshens devoutly wolde he teche.
Benigne he was, and wonder diligent, And in adversitee ful pacient;
And swich he was y-preved ofte sythes.
Ful looth were him to cursen for his tythes,
But rather wolde he yeven, out of doute,
Un-to his povre parisshens aboute
Of his offring, and eek of his substaunce.
He coude in litel thing han suffisaunce ...
This noble ensample to his sheep he yaf,
That first he wroghte, and afterward he taughte;
Out of the gospel he tho wordes caughte;
And this figure he added eek ther-to,
That if gold ruste, what shal iren do?
For if a preest be foul, on whom we truste,
No wonder is a lewed man to ruste;
And shame it is, if a preest take keep,
A shiten shepherde and a clene sheep.
Wel oghte a preest ensample for to yive,
By his clennesse, how that his sheep shold live.”
“A bettre preest, I trowe that nowher noon is.
He wayted after no pompe and reverence,
He maked him a spyced conscience,
But Cristes lore, and his apostles twelve,
He taughte, and first he folwed it him-selve.”

Chaucer makes the wife of the miller of Trumpington daughter of a priest and brought up in a nunnery. On this fact Skeat has a note17 of comment.

“The statement, that the parson of the town was her father, has caused surprise. In Bell’s Chaucer the theory is started that the priest had been a widower before he took orders, which no one can be expected to believe; it is too subtle. It is clear that she was an illegitimate daughter; that is why her father paid money to get her married to a miller, and why she thought ladies ought to spare her (and not to avoid her), because it was an honour to have a priest for a father, and because she had learnt so much good-breeding in a nunnery.”

The Religious Life of a Mediæval City largely consisted of the monastic life, and this again was divided between the monks and the friars.

The references to Monks and Monkery in London are, on the whole, good-humoured, from which we may infer that there was little in the way of serious scandal as regards their lives. The easy-going citizens did not expect the most ascetic life in the world from the monks and nuns, who were their own cousins, brothers, or sisters; they recognised it, however, when they found it: for instance, they held the Carthusians in the highest possible reverence, as a body of Religious who adhered strictly to an austere Rule: never ate meat, and never went outside the walls of the House. As regards the other monks, those of Holy Trinity, those of St. Bartholomew’s, those of Westminster, those of St. Mary Overies, it seems certain that they were latterly all of good family; that the austerity of the Rule140 had been very much relaxed; that the life of the Monastery was, as a rule, decent and dull; that it was very far from being conducive to the development of genius or learning; that it offered place and encouragement to piety of the gentler as well as the more austere kind; that it formed a home for younger sons; that it did not provoke animosity or indignation among the citizens. The well-known case of St. Alban’s, quoted by Froude,18 had it happened in London, would surely have become known by the people. Chaucer, who reflects the general feeling, has no bitterness at all towards the monk. He depicts him as fond of hunting; he is an “out-rider,” one who can go abroad on the business of the House; he rides a good horse—

“And whan he rood, men might his brydel here
Ginglen in a whistling wind as clere
And eek as loude as doth the Chapel belle.”

He kept hounds; all his “lust” was in “priking and in hunting of the hare”; he was dressed as a layman; he was fat and in good point; “he was not pale as a for-pyned ghost,”—a picture of a man whose thoughts, indeed, were not wholly set on things spiritual. Chaucer certainly compared the man with the austere monk designed by the Rule he professed, but without bitterness. He grants the old proverb,

“That a monk when he is cloistreless
Is lykened til a fish that is waterless”

(a proverb also quoted by William of Langland), but in order to show that the contemporary monk was not of that opinion he adds:—

“Thilke texte held he not worth an oistre.”

The rich clothing and unclerical garb of the monks outside the cloister, and their fondness for hunting, are the principal charges brought against them in the fourteenth century.

Drawn by Schnebbelie and engraved by Warren for Dr. Hughson’s Description of London.

Let us consider the actual life of a monk, a Benedictine monk. To begin with, it is a great mistake to suppose that an Abbey was always and for choice planted in some remote and secluded spot. As the people of the eleventh and twelfth centuries no more acted without good and sufficient cause than we their descendants, there must have been a very good reason to justify the foundation of so many Religious Houses within and without the walls of the City of London. Dear to many were the quiet meadows beside the rushing stream, beneath the hanging woods, far from the noise of men, of Tintern, of Fountains, of Dryburgh, or of Blanchland: dearer to others the thought of the life close to those walls, which held so much of violence, passion, ambition, and crime, which their very presence would calm and shame and admonish; of the men broken and ruined, of the women disgraced, to whom these quiet cloisters offered a resting-place; why, to the141 very worst, the most hardened of murderous ruffians, to such as Chaucer’s shipman, pirate and murderer, the daily prospect of these walls, the ringing of the bells, the voices chanting Litany and Laud, the sight of the friars going about among them, the knowledge that these men and women lived in abstinence from all that the world called pleasure; that they possessed no property; that they desired none of the things which the world desires; this reflection, the obtrusion of these facts, acted as a continual admonition and call to repentance. Of course there was the danger, the continual danger, always present in human affairs, of the relaxation of the Rule; the loss of the first enthusiasm; the decay of the first intention. A Benedictine who rides abroad dressed like a knight with hawk and hound, for whom a hundred manors send up their rent, their wheat and their game; who keeps a splendid table; who admits to his order only young men well born; to whom the place is like the College of All Souls, a House of Fellows with no duties, ceases to be regarded with reverence on account of reputed piety. When not even the memory is left of the early piety; when the air is thick with stories of incontinence and greed; when the land is everywhere parcelled out among the religious; then they become intolerable, and must be swept away. We shall have to return to this subject. Meantime let us consider the monastic life at a time when the monasteries were at their wealthiest, and when the ancient Rule,142 although very far relaxed, had not yet become an object of common contempt, when the monks and friars had not yet quite fallen from their ancient reputation. The time chosen for this view of the monastic life is that before the Wars of the Roses, which greatly impoverished the Religious Houses and at the same time deprived them of novices. Just as the first incursions of the Danes emptied the Anglican and Saxon Monasteries, so the long Wars of the Roses called out the younger as well as the elder sons to the wars. Now, by this time, the rich monasteries were entirely recruited from the younger sons of the gentry. Great nobles placed their children in monasteries. Thus, Ralph, Earl of Westmoreland, had twenty children, and three of his daughters became nuns. Edward the Fourth made one of his daughters a nun. One of the children of Owen Tudor and Katherine of Valois was placed in Westminster Abbey as an infant, and there remained for life as a monk. Edward the First had one daughter a nun. Thirteen daughters of nobles were in Ambresbury at the same time. The fact that the Abbey was for gentlefolk is clearly brought out by the list of names of the Westminster monks given in the Podelicote case. This occurred in the year 1303. It was the robbery of the royal Treasury or the Chapel of the Pyx at Westminster. Here were kept many of the things required for the assay of new coins, and at the time of the robbery the chapel contained an altogether unusual amount of specie, about £100,000, equal to perhaps a million of money in our time. The robber was Richard de Podelicote, who got into the Abbey from the palace, which, as the king was away, was probably less strictly guarded than usual. He climbed through one of the Chapter House windows, and so into the Refectory. He carried away many of the silver cups and managed to escape safely. However, he returned another time and attacked the Treasury. For this he had to cut through solid stone walls, and conceal his work; night after night he returned, and in his confession he makes no mention of any confederates. His perseverance was successful, and he took the money and all the gold and silver things which could be conveniently melted down away with him, but left behind the large jewels that he could not easily have got rid of. However, the stuff was afterwards traced, not only to Podelicote himself but to many others. Such is the story, and most amazing it is. There is no doubt that the chief actors were hanged, though there is no actual record of such a hanging. All the monks, forty of them, were sent to the Tower, presumably for their carelessness in guarding the Treasury. They were released after two years. In a letter from the king we have a record of their names, and these names show almost in all cases gentle birth. In effect, it wants no proof to understand that the desirable endowments of a Religious House, whose Brethren were like the Fellows of a College richly founded, would not be bestowed upon the children of rustics and servants. Here and there, no doubt, a rustic’s son might get advancement by the promise of143 exceptional ability; but this was in the ranks of the secular clergy rather than in the Religious Houses. The future monk was brought in, appointed by interest, as to a very good thing, when a boy. It was extremely difficult to procure such an appointment.

Founder’s kin, Benefactor’s kin sometimes helped; generally it was by private interest that lads were admitted as novices. The monks were not, as a rule, anxious to enlarge their numbers: rather to keep them down, so that the revenues of the House should provide amply for all. Sometimes admission was obtained by gifts or the conveyance of land. I have said that during the Civil Wars the number of monks decreased enormously; at Westminster it declined from eighty to thirty; at Canterbury from a hundred and fifty to fifty-four; at Gloucester from a hundred to thirty-six. This decrease was due, no doubt, partly to the disastrous influence of the War on rents; partly to the demand for fighting men; partly, I believe, to an increasing distaste for the monastic life. The child fortunate enough to be appointed was formerly presented in the Church as a novice; his parents first cut off his curls, offering his long hair to the Abbey. They then placed the chalice and the Host in his hand and led him to the priest at the altar. Here they wrapped his hands in the pall of the altar, and heard read a written engagement that they would not tempt the boy from the House. After this the Abbot consecrated a hood for the boy and laid it on him. He was then taken out, shaved after the fashion of the Order, robed, and brought back, after which he was received with prayers. It took long years to break in a novice, to teach him obedience, to crush his will, to take the fighting spirit out of him, and the love instinct out of him; in fact, if stories are true, the success of the system was often incomplete in every point. The novice had to sit in silence for hours, with down-cast eyes; he was never left alone to play at freedom; he had to do everything in a manner prescribed by rule, even the lifting of a cup at meals, even the carriage of the hands when seated; things had to be said in a certain form; services were frequent, and the singing of Psalms went on all day long and half the night. The Church ceremonies were involved and elaborate. By the time the novice was admitted he already knew every Function in the book, and all the Psalms and Prayers by heart. By this time, also, the House was all the world to him. What went on outside he knew not, the House was everything—father, mother, brothers and kin; he had no ambition except to rise to monastic honours. He had completed his education. If he were a Benedictine, that education was liberal: he was taught grammar, logic, Latin, philosophy, writing and illuminating, music, singing, and the history of the Order. After his profession, the Benedictine theory was that he continued his studies. If he did they were, in most of the English Houses, sterile of results. At eighteen the novice made his profession. There was then no retreat possible for him, he was a monk for life. At first he was a Junior, and as such144 he read the Gospel and the Epistle for the day; he carried a taper in processions; he read the martyrology in the Chapter.

The services began at two in the morning with Matins; this finished, the Choir went to bed; the rest sang Lauds for the dead; they went to bed again and slept till daybreak or five, when they got up and had Prime; at 9 A.M. there was Tierce; at 11 A.M. there was Sext; at 2 P.M. there was Nones; at 6 P.M. there were Vespers. The monks went to bed at eight, having given up eight hours at least out of the twenty-four to services in the church. Eight hours were spent in sleep. One hour was spent in the daily gathering in the Chapter House, leaving seven for meals, exercise, recreation, and study. The rules were in some cases relaxed for scholars, but, even making allowance for such relaxation, it is clear that the monk, who was a student, was at a great disadvantage compared with the student who lived outside.

The church was, of course, the most important part of the buildings of a monastery. South of the nave was the cloister, with its four walks, in which the monks spent their time when not in church; on the east of the cloister was the Chapter House; on the south, the Refectory; on the west, the Abbot’s House. Beyond the cloister were the dormitories, the Scriptorium, the Misericordia, the Infirmary, the Guest House. Beyond these were the Kitchen, Buttery, Pantry cellars, Brewery, Bakehouse, Laundry, offices for making and mending, orchards, gardens, vineyards, fishponds etc., and stables. An important House had a great establishment to keep up. This was presided over in its various departments by the Brethren themselves, whose offices will be enumerated presently. This work occupied a good many of the Seniors. In fact there were so many offices that it is difficult to discover how they could find time for purposes of study. If they wanted to study, or if they wanted to meditate, there was the cloister, but no other place. Desks were set out there; but as the novices’ school was also carried on there with, as sometimes happened, mechanical work by some of the Brothers, it would seem impossible, according to modern ideas, to carry on serious study amid such interruptions. It is a commonplace to speak of the monotony of a Religious House. Considering that most of the inmates knew no other kind of life, they hardly felt the monotony; and, besides, we must remember that the House was filled with its own ambitions, its envyings, its disappointments, which relieved it of monotony. Who would not desire to be Abbot and to rank with an Earl? The Abbot enjoyed that rank: when he rode abroad he was followed by a retinue of a hundred persons; he could create knights; in some cases he could coin money; he was guardian to many noble children who became his pages; he administered a splendid estate. Or one might laudably desire the office of Prior: he went first after the Abbot; he had his own stall; he put on his hood before the others. Or there was the sub-Prior: he sat among the monks145 and saw that every one behaved properly; he also, at five o’clock in the evening, shut up the House.

Then there were administrative offices. These were the Altarer, the Precentor, the Director of Ceremonies, the Kitchener, the Seneschal, the Bursar, the Sacrist, the sub-Sacrist, the Almoner, and the Master of the Novices. There were also the offices of less honour, but which still conferred responsibility and even power; such as those of the Infirmarer, Porter, Refectorer, Hospitaller, Chamberlain, Keeper of the Granary, Master of the Common House, Orcharder, Operarius Registrar, Auditor, Secretary, Butler, Keeper of Baskets, Keeper of the Larder, apart from the mere service of the House, which required Baker, Brewer, Carpenter, Carver, Sculptor, Bookbinder, Copyist, etc. As for the morality of the monks, I am inclined to believe that the Religious Houses maintained much more of their early piety than we have been accustomed to believe. That they grew luxurious in their living, and in some cases immoral in their lives, seems to have been due to the cause assigned by Wyclyf and the Lollards—their great wealth. While they were poor they lived simple lives; they practised the Rule; they worked at copying Gospels and Mass Books; some of them kept Chronicles of their own age—an invaluable service; they received the sick and the poor. In the very worst times that the country ever experienced, the monasteries stood up here and there over all the land to witness for justice, and righteousness, and mercy. Bad as these times were, they would have been far more ferocious and more cruel but for the existence and the example of the monasteries.

At the same time, there were always scandals. Who could expect in a monastery that all the younger monks should retain their purity? And when there was nothing else to think about, who could expect men not to think about their food? In the time of Henry the Second, Giraldus Cambrensis relates that the monks of Canterbury had sixteen covers, or more, with an abundance of wine, “particularly claret, mulberry wine, mead, and other strong drinks.” And it is related by the same authority that the monks of St. Swithin’s complained to Henry the Second that the Bishop had reduced their dishes to ten. Upon which the King swore that the Bishop should reduce the number to what suited himself, namely, three. The monastic life expected of those who followed it, not a mere obedience to the Rule, but a total absorption in the spirit of the Rule, so that the Brethren should not look constantly for possible relaxation and for indulgences, but should desire more and more all the austerity possible under the Rule. And because there was everywhere a falling-off from the austerity of the Rule, new branches were continually founded, and new Orders continually sprang up, in order to return to the ancient Rule with new austerities. When the Brethren fell to relaxing any portion of the Rule, the downfall of the House began. Then the spirit went out of the services, the meaning went out of the offices, the sense went out of the Rules; the Brethren146 became either like Rabelais, weary to death with the daily iteration of services, or they became careless and sensual, evading and breaking vows as well as the Rule; or they became dry sticklers for order and jealous for minor customs, though the essentials had long been lost. This was already the case in the fourteenth century. Decay was active in most of the Monastic Houses; things were whispered; but still the bequests poured in upon them from citizens rich and poor; people were loth to part with the belief in the godly monks. And that there were still saintly hearts in the cloister, still pious women in the nunnery, even in the worst times of any, there can be no doubt. But, further, there can be no doubt, also, that there was never any considerable or notable body of scholars in the English Monasteries from the time of their foundation to their Dissolution, and that no Monastic Rule ever devised was calculated to create a love of learning or a school of students, theologians, or philosophers.

The monasteries possessed a vast amount of property in lands and houses. The lands were cultivated, and the houses held, in the usual manner. I gather, from what is said on the subject, that monks made good landlords, just, if exacting. In their schools they gave free education, but not to all-comers. They also taught certain trades, but not all; not those of a mere menial kind. Thus they taught carving, painting, weaving, embroidery, damask work, enamelling, lapidary work, music, and making musical instruments, illuminations, copying of MSS., medicine, surgery, the making up of drugs and the composition of cordials. Every Religious House had within itself a library, a reading-room, a school, a burial-ground, a cloister, gardens, and walks. Every novice brought some property. Everything, as I have said, points to the fact that the mediæval monastery in England belonged to the gentry and not to the lower class.

The monastic life in London was at its best in the twelfth century; later on, besides the scandals, which perhaps were false or exaggerated, we hear of relaxations, monks obtaining license for residing outside the House, for “cutting chapel,” for indulgences in wine and other things.

Let us turn to the Friars. There were five Orders of Friars in London: the Franciscans, who came to London in 1224; the Dominicans, who settled first in Oxford, 1221; the Austin Friars, whose London House was founded in 1253; the Carmelites, or White Friars, in 1341; and the Crutched or Crossed Friars in 1244. The most numerous and most important of these, the most deeply loved and reverenced, were the Franciscans, or Grey Friars.

The first appearance of the Franciscans in London was in the year 1224, when a small company of them appeared and asked for a place wherein to build themselves a humble lodging. They were granted a place in the least desirable part of the City, close beside the Shambles, next to “Stinking Lane.” Here they stayed. For many years after their arrival they worked among the poorer classes of the people,147 silently and without attracting much attention. Presently it began to be noised abroad among the citizens that there was an extraordinary band of Brethren who had no money and would take none; who had no food except what was given to them; who went into the poorest and the worst streets, who prayed with the dying murderer and comforted the dying harlot, and attended the sick robber in a spirit of divine forgiveness and love. Then the hearts of all went out towards the Franciscans. Never was any Religious Order so reverenced, never were any religious men so loved and worshipped by the good people of London. All the world brought them gifts; they were ruined by the gifts; since they would not receive estates, they must have gold and jewels; with the gold they built a church, magnificent even in that age of magnificent churches; since they must remain poor, they spent all their money on the church and its decorations and furniture.

And then the inevitable decay set in; with so great a Church and so noble a House the old begging for daily bread became a form; boxes were put up in shops and houses, and the collectors came round at regular intervals and cleared them; not a citizen of any substance but left money in his will to the Franciscans; they received endowments of chantries and obits; they took money for burying great persons in the Church. The Friars grew careless and self-indulgent; the old zeal for the poor died away; they were no more seen in the hovels of the poorest. The Franciscan Rule, in fact, proved too severe to be maintained in all its rigour. Yet the Dissolution of the Religious Houses shows that in some particulars it was kept up. For instance, the only property possessed by the Grey Friars when they left their House was the rent of a few houses built within their precinct. They had no estates. The great House, with its splendid church, was maintained by the gifts of nobles and rich merchants; by the endowment, as mentioned above, of chantries; and by the masses daily bought and said, or sung, “for the intention” of the purchaser. It is the modern custom in some Catholic countries to buy a mass before undertaking any enterprise; even before beginning some necessary work, such as haymaking. This mass is sung “for the intention” of the purchaser. There is, therefore, reason to believe that the faithful purchased formerly, as they do still, masses for “good luck.”

The rise, the extent, and the gradual decay in the respect held for Friars is illustrated very remarkably by the Calendar of Wills. From this valuable book, which may be accepted as a perfectly trustworthy guide so far as it goes, I have extracted the following tables of bequests to the five Orders of Friars. These bequests were sometimes made collectively, so much each to all the Orders of Friars; sometimes singly, so much to the Austin Friars, or the Preaching Friars. It will be seen how the fashion of bequeathing money to the Friars grew and increased and how it died away, as the popular respect for the Friars decreased, and the new ideas spread.


Up to the year 1311 there are recorded in the Calendar of Wills in all five such bequests.

As for special and separate bequests, the Grey Friars, formerly the most popular of all, obtained only one bequest between 1396 and 1436; after that, none at all. The Black Friars got no legacies at all from 1413 to 1503; in the latter year one fell to them. The White Friars got none between 1395 and 1503, when they got one. The Austin Friars got none after 1395; the Crutched Friars none from 1460 to 1518. That is to say, in the bequests, few and small, given during this period to the various Orders, they get their share, but there is no special gift made to any.

While considering the subject of wills and bequests, I ran through the volume edited by Dr. Furnivall called The Fifty Earliest English Wills. These were from 1389 to 1439. A brief analysis shows that in most cases bequests are made to the parish church, either to the High Altar, or to the “Works,” either of vestments, or of money to the priests and clerks, or of money for masses, a rental of masses or “the year’s mind” for twenty, seven, or five years. In seventeen cases, or perhaps more, provision is made for the poor; in three cases for prisons and prisoners; in three cases for nuns; in one case for an “ankeress”; in one for mending the ways; in one for repairing a bridge; and in nine cases for friars, either the recognised Orders, all together, or one or other of them. But four of these cases belong to the country; there are, therefore, only five belonging to London. The period covers that when Lollardy was at its highest, and this result confirms the conclusion arrived at by an analysis of the Calendar of Wills; that, namely, as to the decay of respect for the Religious.

Then there are those wills published by the Camden Society (Wills from Doctors’ Commons) which belong to the time before the Reformation, viz. those of Cicely, Duchess of York, 1495; Dame Maude Parr, 1529; Archbishop Warham, and Charles Brandon.

The Duchess of York leaves bequests to certain colleges named, to the House of Sion, of which her daughter was prioress, and to certain parishes, but nothing to the Friars.


Dame Maude Parr gives forty shillings each to the four Orders of Friars in London, and twenty shillings each to the Friars of Northampton.

Archbishop Warham gives nothing to the Friars.

Engraved by J. Greig, from a drawing by J. Whichelo.

Again, of bequests to the various Orders, between 1356 and 1412, there are 110, between 1412 and 1544 there are only 7. The contemplation of these figures, the amazing falling-off of such bequests in the beginning of the fifteenth century, when Lollardy was rife, the failure of the Friars to recover their old position of reverence, goes far to show why in London the suppression of the Religious Houses was effected with so little opposition. The people had ceased to believe in the150 holiness of the Friars; as for that of the monks, it was perhaps different, as we shall see in another place.

Since we have spoken of the decay of belief in the Friars, let us also speak of the respect actually paid to them when their popularity was at its height.

Shortly after the Black Death, a letter was sent by the Mayor and Aldermen to the Pope, asking that a certain John de Werthyn, a Dominican Friar, might be appointed Penitentiarius to the City. The office itself was important. In Confession there were continually occurring certain cases not provided for in the instructions of the ordinary priest. In such a case the priest could only grant conditional absolution. He referred it to his Bishop, who either decided it himself, or, if it was one of an unusual and difficult kind, passed it on to the Penitentiarius. If he, too, found the case too grave for his decision, he referred it to the College or Court of Penitentiaries at Rome, on whose official report the Pope generally acted. The Mayor and Aldermen, after a preamble to the effect that their City had been of late grievously afflicted by a dreadful mortality, so that the merchants were not able to wait in person upon his Holiness, proceeded to petition the Pope that he would “grant unto the venerable and religious man, Brother John de Werthyn, his chaplain, a man of honour, of approved life and manners, and also of learning, sprung from the high blood of the realm, who alone of all others strengthens us with the word of Christ, that he and he only, within the City may be able to absolve the people being penitent.” They go on to ask that the office, at his death, may be continued in the Order of the Dominican Friars.

The satires against the Religious Orders began within the very century of their foundation in England. One, for example, given in Thomas Wright’s Political Poems, belongs to the reign of Edward the First. It is the poem called “The Order of Fair Ease.” The Order of Fair Ease takes a point from every Order, of course it takes the weak point in every case. To begin with, the Order is entirely confined to gentlefolk—one wonders whether Rabelais had read this satire, and whether any part of it suggested the Abbey of Thelema.

“Quar en l’Ordre est meint prodhoume,
E meinte bele e bone dame.
En cel ordre sunt sanz blame,
Esquiers, vadletz, e serjauntz;
Mès à ribaldz e à pesauntz
Est l’ordre del tot defendu
Qe jà nul ne soit rescu.”

As at the Abbey of Sempringham, the Order is to receive both men and women; but whereas at Sempringham there are walls and ditches to separate the Brethren from the Sisters, in this Order there is to be no wall or ditch or anything to separate them. Three times a day, at least, they are to eat, and if they do it in company the Order will be none the worse.

From Beverley they are to take the custom of eating and drinking well at dinner,151 at supper, and at collation; and after collation every one is to have a piece of candle as long as from the elbow to the finger ends; and to go on drinking so long as the candle lasts.

From the Hospitallers they will take their long and sweeping robes.

From the Canons they will take the custom of eating meat three times a week, and if on Fast Days they find themselves without fish, then they are to eat whatever is in the larder.

From the Black Monks (the Benedictines) they are to borrow the habit of getting drunk every day.

After a miniature from the “Statutes of the Order of the Holy Ghost” at Naples. MS. of the fourteenth century in the Louvre. From Lacroix’ Military and Religious Life in the Middle Ages.

From the Secular Canons, who willingly serve the ladies, the new Order is to take that point and to be constant companions of the Sisters, both before and after matins, so that the Order may not on that account fall into discredit.

In the Order of Silence, each brother shuts himself up in his cell; the new Order shall have the same rule, provided that a sister be locked up with a brother.

In the Friars Minor the Brethren are ordered to take whatever hospitality is offered them; but they take care never to rest at the house of a poor man, so in the new Order the Brethren will on no account take up their quarters unless where the owner is a rich man.

As for the Black Friars—the Preaching Order,—they may wear sandals if they please and ride if they please. The new Order will always wear sandals and will always ride.

“Atant fine nostre Ordre,
Q’à touz bonz ordres se acorde,
Et c’est l’Ordre del Bel-Eyse,
Qe à pluzours tro bien pleyse!”


To this we may add Chaucer’s description of a Friar. Now Chaucer was of London town. This Friar was “a wanton and a merry”; he was a “limitour,” that is to say, he had his “beat” in which he exercised his craft. “He had made full many a marriage of young women at his own cost”—that is, whom he had first seduced. He was greatly respected as a Father confessor, on account of the easy terms on which he gave absolution, so long as the services gave to the Order:

“For many a man so hard is of his herte,
He may not wepe al thogh him sore smerte.
Therefore instide of weping and preyeres,
Men moot yeve silver to the povre freres.”

He carried knives and pins in his tippet, because the Friars had now become pedlars and carried knives, pins, purses, girdles, silk, etc., to sell in the country places. He knew all the taverns and every hostler and barmaid (tapster); he was the best beggar ever known; he could sing and play right well:

“And in his harping whan that he had songe
His eyen twinkled in his heed aright,
As doon the sterres in the frosty night.”

Chaucer’s company contained other functionaries, but for our purpose this is enough.

We need not suppose that the widespread hatred of friars indicated any disbelief in their doctrines. That would come later, but as yet there seemed no desire for change in doctrine. The people made songs, and told stories, about the luxury, the greed, the concupiscence, the license of the friars, but the convents remained, and the people continued to cling to the supposed sanctity of the place. A man who one day cursed the whole crew of monks, friars, and pardoners, the next day begged for a letter of fraternity, by which he might participate in the spiritual advantages of Carmelite or Augustine; he arranged for burial in the Convent Church; he would be buried in a friar’s robe; he would found a chantry, a trental, an obit, an anniversary.

It is difficult to understand the roving life of the friar. One supposes that he was always attached to his Friary. Had he a license to roam and beg? Was he a limitour, i.e. a friar licensed to hear confessions and grant absolution over a certain district? Was he a wandering preacher? Were the “simple priests” sent out by Wyclyf mendicant friars? Did the wandering preachers, whether sent by Wyclyf or not, all preach the same vague socialism? Some of these questions may be answered with some degree of certainty. The Friars of the street and road were nearly all sprung from the lower classes; even the villeins sent their sons to become Friars and Priests. A very little consideration of the vast army required for Ecclesiastical purposes, poorly paid, with slender learning, with no prospects of promotion, will show that the scholars of both Universities must have amounted to an immense number, consisting chiefly of poor scholars, with a license153 to beg. The Commons, in the reign of Richard the Second, complained of the way in which the sons of villeins thus bettered their condition by “advancement par clergie.” The clerks who issued from the universities obtained episcopal orders, and in some cases took upon them the vows and robes of the Mendicants. They then began to wander about the country, preaching and teaching, living on charity, received into certain houses; and so continued for the rest of their lives. For the most part, they were careful not to ask for a license from their Bishop; they had no papers; they were not attached to any House; they roamed about from village to village, from town to town; in London they preached in the streets, in the markets, at street corners; they preached not only concerning things religious, but concerning things social; and belonging themselves to the people, knew what the people wanted, and preached accordingly.

One of them, John Ball, whose preaching has been thought worthy of the historian, probably because he was considered to be so mischievous a person, taught a kind of rough socialism. “At the beginning we were all created equal: it is the tyranny of perverse men which has caused slavery to arise in spite of God’s Law: if God had willed that there should be slaves, He would have said at the beginning of the world who should be slave and who should be lord.” A poor argument, because, notoriously, we are not created equal, but unequal in every respect. Also, there is nothing to show that the Creator did not say at the beginning who should be slave and who should be lord. Froissart also speaks of John Ball:—

“This preest vsed often tymes on the sondayes after masse whanne the people were goynge out of the mynster, to go into the cloyster and preche, and made the people to assemble about hym, and wolde say thus: A ye good people, the maters gothnot well to passe in Englande, nor shall not do tylle euery thyng be common, and that there be no villayns not gentylmen.... What haue we deserued or why shulde we be kept thus in seruage? we be all come from one father and one mother, Adam and Eve: wherby can they say or shewe that they be gretter lordes than we be, sauynge by that they cause vs to wyn and labour, for that they dispende ... they dwell in fayre houses, and we haue the payne and trauele, rayne and wynde in the feldes: and by that that cometh of our labours they kepe and mayteyne their estates.... Lette vs go to the kyng, he is yonge, and shewe hym what seruage we be in.... Thus Johan (Ball) sayd on sondayes whan the people issued out of the churches with another in the feldes and in the wayes as they want togyder, affermyng howe Johan Ball sayd trouthe.”

That many of the friars held and preached similar doctrines is proved by the story of Jack Straw, who would have kept no other ecclesiastics upon earth except the Mendicants. Their popularity, of course, was advanced and preserved by the social doctrines they preached. But in London they seem to have lost their popularity very early. In the reign of Edward the Second the Preaching Friars had to fly before the rage of the people, “on account of their proud behaviour. And Richard the Second, in 1385, issued a proclamation against certain persons who, instigated by the Evil Spirit,154 “do openly and secretly stir up our people to destroy the houses of the said friars, tearing their habits from them, striking them, and ill-treating them against our peace.”

From Froissart’s Chronicles.

The greatest enemies of the mendicant were the parish priest and the monk. The former found himself abandoned; no one confessed to him; no one listened to him. They were all running after the mendicant friar, who spoke to them in their own patois, was one of themselves, who knew their ways and their wants, and confessed them easily. And Jack Straw’s rebellion showed what had been the teaching of these wanderers. Since there were so many of them that alms were not always to be obtained, some, as we have seen, became pedlars:—

“They wandren here and there,
And dele with divers marcerye,
Right as thai pedlers were,
That dele with purses, pinnes and knyves,
With gyrdles, gloves, for wenches and wyves.”

Walsingham, a monk of St. Alban’s, says of them, “The friars, unmindful of their profession, have even forgotten to what end their Orders were instituted; for the holy men their law-givers desired them to be poor and free of all kinds of temporal possessions, that they should not have anything which they might fear to lose on account of saying the truth. But now they are envious of possessions, approve the crimes of the great, induce the commonalty into error, and praise the sins of both: and with the intent of acquiring possessions ... call good evil and evil good.”

And a popular song of the fourteenth century says of them:—

“Full wisely can they preach and say;
But as thei preche no thing do thei,
I was a frere ful many a day,
Therefore the sothe I wate.
But when I saw that thair lyvyng
Accordyd not to thair preching,
Of I cast my frer clothing,
And nyghtly went my gate.
Other leve ne took I none
Fro ham where I went.
But took ham to the devil ye none
The prior and the convent.”

And see Political Songs, Edw. III.—Rich. III. vol. ii. p. 17, edited by Thomas Wright:—


“But the felliest folke
that ever Antichrist found,
been last brought into the church,
and in a woonder wise;
for they been of diverse sects of Antichrist,
sown of diverse countries and kindreds.
And all men knowne well that
they bee not obedient to bishops,
ne leege men to kings;
neither they tillen ne sowen,
weeden ne reapen,
wood, corn, ne grasse,
neither nothing that man should helpe,
but onely themselves,
their lives to susteine,
And these men have all manner power
of God, as they seyn,
in heaven and in yearth,
to sell heaven and hell
to whom that them liketh;
and these wretches weet never
where to been themselves.
And therefore, freer, if thine order and rules
been grounded on Goddis law,
tell thou mee, Jacke Upland,
that I aske of thee,
and if thou be or thinkest to be on Christes side,
keepe thy paciens.”

And these are the questions asked of the Friar:—

In the restoration of the City life of the fourteenth century, remember that in every street we find the mendicant friar; at dinner-time he walks into any house he chooses: “Peace be unto this house,” he says, after which, by the Franciscan rule, it is lawful for him to eat of all meats that are set before him; at the corner157 of the street there is a wandering preacher denouncing the luxury and sloth of the rich; his audience is composed of craftsmen in leather jerkins listening with eager ears and intelligent faces. He is fat and well nourished; he has a full, rich voice and a certain rude oratory that lays hold of the people and constrains them to listen. There passes along the street, in a ragged gown, a lean and hungry chantry priest; he looks at the crowd round the preacher; he hears him talk the rough, strong East Saxon dialect which has always been the language of the London craftsman. He sighs, it is his own native patois, but he cannot talk as this man talks; he is a poor scholar, once a licensed beggar, and now a ragged, half-starved priest, having nothing but his little chantry endowment. Yet, being a scholar, he could prove that this man is all wrong. So he sighs and passes on his way. There comes next a Pardoner with his box hung round his neck; that precious box in which he has a finger-nail of St. Luke, the feather with which St. Matthew’s Gospel was written, a piece of a stone thrown at St. Stephen, the last footstep of the Prophet Elijah embedded in the rock, a piece of St. Peter’s fishing-net—you can see for yourself that it is a fishing-net, and other very precious relics. The box also contains pardons and indulgences which this good man sells to the faithful. At sight of the preacher, however, the Pardoner says nothing. In vain would he open his box of relics and offer his parchment indulgences in the presence of this preacher and his listeners. Lollards all! Lollards all!

There rides along the narrow street a monk with hawk on fist bravely dressed. Behind him walk his men leading the dogs. They are going to cross London Bridge and gain the wild heath country lying beyond the Southwark and Lambeth marshes. He regards preacher and crowd alike with scorn ineffable. It is the hour of Angelus—and from every parish church, from every monastery church, from every Chapel, from every College, and from the Cathedral, the bells call the world to silent prayer. For a few moments all are hushed; the roar of London is stilled; it was not the roar of wheels so much as the sound of ten thousand hammers. The preacher is silent for a moment; his audience take off their caps; the monk who goes hawking crosses himself; the Pardoner stands bare-headed: it is but a moment, then the noise begins again.

The support of the church by the taxes or offerings of the parishioners is a singular story of conservatism and of gradual development. It was customary for the congregation on Sundays and Apostles’ days to make offerings or oblations at the celebration of the mass. This usage became regulated not by law but by custom, more binding than law, into a payment of one halfpenny by every citizen who paid a rent of 20s., and one farthing by every citizen who paid a rent of 10s. The number of days so observed amounted to 60, so that in the former case the citizen paid 2s. 6d. a year, and in the latter case 1s. 3d. a year. Observe that this custom amounted to an eighth part of the rent; applied to modern custom, for158 an office in the City rented at £100 a year, the citizen would now have to pay £12:10s.

Bishop Roger Le Noir converted this custom into law in 1228. In 1389 Archbishop Arundel interfered and increased the number of Apostles’ days to be so observed by 22 more, making the 2s. 6d. into 3s. 9d. An appeal to the Pope was answered by his support of the Archbishop; but the citizens continued to grumble. In 1535, probably with the desire of making the Londoners pleased with his ecclesiastical changes, Henry reduced the 3s. 5d. to 2s. 9d. And so the tax remained, until the Fire of 1666 necessitated a revision of the law.



The furniture of a London church was elaborate to a degree which astonishes those accustomed to a simple Anglican ritual. It would also, I believe, astonish the modern Catholic priest when he thinks of his own village church. The Book of the Visitation of Churches belonging to St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1297 and in 1458 (Camden Society, edited by W. Sparrow Simpson, D.D.) enables us to understand the extent and the wealth of these churches. The font, of which many specimens still remain, was generally of stone, but sometimes of marble, and sometimes of wood. It was kept locked lest the consecrated water should be used for superstitious purposes. The water was changed every week. The altar was sometimes of stone; when it was of wood a superaltar of marble or stone or jasper, with feet of silver, was placed upon it. An altar frontal was generally found, sometimes of carved wood, sometimes of embroidered work. On the altar were two chalices, one of silver or silver-gilt, and one of tin; there was a small cross, called crux parva, to distinguish it from the rood; there were phialæ and a ferrum or stamp for stamping the altar bread with the letters XPC, IHC, DS. There was a pix or tabernacle for the reservation of the Eucharist. This was sometimes a very beautiful casket of glass, ivory, copper, silver, or enamel, hanging over the altar with canopies. There was the crismatorium, with its oil for the sick; there were the carpets before the altar; the curtains and the veils. There were various kinds of candlesticks and candelabra of copper, brass, pewter, or even of wood. The expenses of the lights were defrayed by a kind of rate. A tenant who had a cow paid 12d. a year, one who had an ewe paid 2d., one who had a wether 1d., and the possessor of a sow 2d. Of bells there were those hanging in the tower, and the small hand-bells rung at funerals and at masses. There was a processional cross; there were banners; the lectern had its hangings; there were chests for the reception of the robes and relics; there were seats for the clergy, but none for the people, who either stood or knelt on their own cushions. The pax or osculatorium was a tablet of wood, or other material, which was kissed by the celebrant. At only two of the churches in the Visitation were there any organs. Then there were the robes and veils; the dalmatic, the chasuble, the choir cope, the surplice, the canopy held over the newly-married pair,160 the Lenten veil which covered everything during Lent, etc. Then came the books—the Legenda, Antiphonare, Gradale, Psalterium, Troparium, Ordinale, Missale, Manuale, Epistolarium, Processionale. Many of these books were kept in duplicate: we can very well understand how the books would be constantly wearing out by daily use. To replace them in a poor parish was a work of great expense and trouble. Yet these things were considered necessaries in every church, however humble. What was to be expected of the great churches endowed and furnished by princes, nobles, and rich merchants?

Engraved from the original.

The following is a list of the treasures belonging to the Church of St. Laurence Jewry:—


Harl. MS. 1319, page 12.


Among the minor offices of the Church, that of the blessing of the widow may be mentioned. The Benedictio Viduæ accompanied the vow of future chastity.

Between the Gospel and the Epistle the widow knelt before the Bishop sitting on a fald stool. He asked her in the presence of the congregation if she were willing to become the spouse of Christ and to give up the lusts of the flesh. She then read, or caused to be read, the following profession:—“I, A. B., avow to God perpetual chastity of my body from henceforward, and in the presence of the163 Honourable Father in God, My Lord by the Grace of God, Bishop of C., I promise steadfastly to live in the Church a widow. Then the Bishop blessed the ring, sprinkled it with holy water, and put it on the widow’s finger as a sign of her marriage with Christ, saying:—

“Accipe, Famula Christi, annulum Fidei signum, connubii indicium, quem devota deferas, casta custodias, quo ad amplexus divini sporsi coronanda perficias. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Oremus.”

He then said certain prayers, and the ceremony was completed. Of this ceremony Furnivall quotes a remarkable instance. In the year 1231 Eleanor, sister of Henry the Third (and widow of William, Earl of Pembroke, who died 15th April 1231), took the vow before Edmund, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Richard, Bishop of Chichester. Seven years later, however, she married Simon de Montfort. The Archbishop protested, and a dispensation was obtained from the Pope.

In 1351 Philippa, widow of Guy, son of Thomas, Earl of Warwick, took the vow in these words:—


“En le nom de le Seint Trinitie, Piere, Fils et Seint Esprit jeo Philippa que fu la feme Sire Guy de Warwyst face puriment et des queor et voluntie entierement, avow a Dieu et Seint Eglise, et a la benure Virgin Marie et a tout le bel compaigne delestine et a vous reverent Piere en Dieu Sir Reynaud per le Grace de Dieu Evesque de Wircester que jeo ameneray ma vie en chastitee defoie en avant, et chaste ferra de mon corps a tout temps de ma vie.”


The influence of the Church on the daily life of London may be illustrated by a brief Calendar of the Ecclesiastical Year and of the observances of the people. It is needless to remind ourselves that these observances included an immense collection of old traditions, ancient pagan customs, and superstitions grafted on the association of these days with Church history and doctrine. (See Appendix VI.) The year began with the holy season of Advent, when the Wednesdays and Fridays were days of that complete Fasting which allowed of one meal only in the day, and that without meat. On Christmas Eve, and also on St. Agnes’ Eve, girls practised certain divinations to see what husbands they would get. Thus, they wrote the names of men on onions and laid them by the fire: the part to sprout or burst was that which contained the name of the coming lover; and since it was important to know what kind of husband he would be, the maiden went to the woodstack and pulled out a stick: if it were a straight and even stick, with no knots, he would be a kind and gentle husband; if it were crooked or knotty, resignation must be cultivated. At Christmas there were mummings and feasts and merrymakings; the rooms were decked with holly and all kinds of green branches; there were pageants, masques, and moralities. In the church was acted the Nativity, with the angels and the shepherds and the Child in the cradle; in some places children danced before the altar. On the day of St. Stephen horses were made to gallop about, and were bled to keep them well throughout the year. On the day of St. John the people bought of the priests manchets made with hallowed wine as a preventive against storms. At Childermasse—28th December,—Innocents’ Day, they whipped the children so that they might remember the slaughter of the Innocents. Then came the New Year:—

“Then giftes the husband gives his wife and father eke the child
And master on his men bestows the like with favor milde:
And good beginning of the year they wish and wish again,
According to the ancient guise of heathen people vaine:
Then eight days no man doth require his dettes of any man
Their tables do they furnish out with all the meat they can.”


The month of January was a time of great revelry, simply because the short day brought work to a close between four and five, and left a long evening.

“In January men do play
In cards and dice their time away;
Now men and maids do merry make
At stoolball and at barley break.”

On Twelfth Day they chose a king by lottery of the Cake: the king was lifted up on the hands of the others while he traced the sign of the Cross upon every rafter in the roof. This blessed sign kept off Devils. Another singular custom on this day was that the master of the house at eventide set down a loaf of bread on the hearth, and strewed frankincense on a pan of coals. He then, followed by the whole of his household, inhaled the fumes. This was to keep them all during the year to come from toothache, earache, or any malady of the eyes and nose. When all had thus fortified themselves, they took up the loaf and the pan of coals and bore them round the house. In so simple a way were they enabled to insure themselves against want of food and the power of witches. On Candlemas Day, 2nd February, every one offered a taper. These tapers were sovereign for keeping off ghosts, lightning, storm, and tempest. On the day of St. Blasius, they procured, at great cost, water made holy by being passed through one of the Saint’s bones. Barrels of this water were sold. Valentine’s Day they observed with zeal; says John Lydgate:—

“Seynte Valentyn, of custom yeere by yeere
Men have an usance in this regioun,
To loke and serche Cupid’s Kalendere,
And chose theyr choyse by grete affectioun:
Such as ben prike with Cupid’s nocioun,
Takyng theyr choyse as theyre sort doth falle:
But I love oone which excellith alle.”

Shrove Tuesday brought a very madness of revelry: the people dressed up like wild beasts and ran about the streets; they danced; they made shows; they feasted and drank. The street processions did not end with Shrove Tuesday, they were carried over to Ash Wednesday, when every one paraded the streets carrying a herring on a pole and singing doggerel. And the approach of spring was celebrated by the following rough sport, evidently an ancient custom:—

“In some place all the youthful flocke with minstrels doe repaire,
And out of every house they pluck the girles and maidens faire;
And them to plough they straitway put, with whip one doth them hit:
Another holds the plough in hand: the Minstrel here doth sit
Amid the same and drunken songs with gaping mouth he sings
Whom foloweth one that sows out sande, or ashes fondly flings.
When thus they through the streets have plaied, the man that gardeth all
Doth drive both plough and maidens through some pond or river small:
And dabbled all with dirt, and wringing wet as they may bee
To supper calls and after that to dancing lustilee.”


Then fell upon the City a time of great sadness. In the churches the images were covered up with painted cloths, on which was declared, one knows not how, the “Wrath and furie great of God”; the butchers’ stalls were closed; the shambles were innocent of blood; the cooks’ shops furnished nothing but fish; and devout people, and men and women of religion, took but one meal in the day. On Palm Sunday there was the Procession of the Entry into Jerusalem; after the Procession and Mass the boys led the Ass about the parish begging for money and eggs.

For three days before Easter in this City of multitudinous bells—bells of monasteries, bells of colleges, bells of hospitals, bells of churches—there was a stillness profound. No bells were rung at all. The sexton climbed the tower or the steeple and called to mass with a wooden clapper. The boys ran about the streets with wooden clappers calling the people to church. It is even said that during the solemn darkness of the Tenebrose, the ’prentices carried on a free fight. And during this week the curious custom was observed of bringing into every great man’s house a twisted tree. At Easter Eve all fires were put out and renewed from flint and steel. The water for baptism was hallowed with a procession of crosses, tapers, and banners. It was lucky to carry some banner. On Easter Day the Resurrection was represented in many churches. On this day, also, people ate radishes to keep off agues. On one of the three days before the Ascension the parish bounds were beaten by the parish beadles and a pack of boys. On Ascension Day it was the custom to eat birds, for their upward flight was held to be a symbol of the Ascension. At church the image of our Lord was literally pulled up to the roof with ropes, while an image of Satan was thrown down and broken to pieces.

On Whit Sunday white pigeons and doves were set free in the church. On Corpus Christi Day, the Host was carried about in a procession followed by representations of the Saints.

“Fayre Ursley with her maidens all, doth passe amid the wayes:
And valiant George with speare that killed the dreadful dragon here:
The Devil’s house is drawn about where in there doth appere
A wondrous sorte of damned sprites, with foule and fearful looke:
Great Christopher doth wade and pass with Christ around the brooke:
Sebastian full of feathered shafts the dint of dart doth feel:
Then walketh Kathren with hir sworde in hande and cruel wheele:
The Challis and the Singing Cake with Barbara is led,
And sundrie other Pageants playde in worship of their bred.
Saint John before the Bred doth go, and poynting towards him,
Doth show the same to be the Lambe that takes away our sinne:
On whom two cladde in Angels’ shape to sundrie flowers fling
A number great of salving belles with pleasant sound doe ring.”

On the Feast of John the Baptist bonfires were lighted and the young people danced in the street, a survival of the midsummer rejoicings. Every house on167 this evening was decorated with leaves and branches, green birch, fennel, white lilies, St. John’s wort and garlands, with variegated lamps, which were hung up everywhere. There were miracle plays enacted in the summer on carts and wheeled machines. At Martinmas, 11th November, the beginning of winter, roast goose was eaten, and boys went about singing:

“It is the Day of Martilmass
Cuppes of ale should freely passe:
What though winter has begun
To push down the shining sun?
To our fire we can betake,
And sit beside the crackling brake,
Never heeding winter’s face
On the day of Martilmass.”

The religious functions of the Lord Mayor and Corporation were many, and were considered inseparable from the office. I have elsewhere called attention to the point that it is futile to ask whether any mediæval Foundation, Corporation, or Institution was religious in character, because at that time nothing could be considered which was not based upon, or supported by, religion.

The following are some of the religious duties imposed upon the Mayor. On the morrow of SS. Simon and Jude the Mayor, newly elected, took the oaths at the Exchequer in the morning. He then dined, and after dinner he proceeded to the Church of St. Thomas of Acon, where prayers were said. Thence he went in procession to St. Paul’s, where, kneeling in the nave, he prayed for the soul of Bishop William, who saved the liberties of the City at the Norman Conquest. After this he went out into the churchyard, where he prayed for the souls of the Martyr’s parents buried there. This done, he returned to the Church of St. Thomas of Acon, where he and the Aldermen made an offering. This conclusion of the afternoon’s ceremonies was conducted, if it was already dark, by torchlight.

On the Day of All Saints the Mayor with his household, the Aldermen with their households, and the substantial citizens, all marched together to St. Paul’s and heard vespers.

On Christmas Day they again went to St. Paul’s to hear vespers and compline, the Mayor sitting on the right hand of the Dean.

On Whit Monday the Mayor, Aldermen, and Sheriffs met in the Church of St. Peter, Cornhill: they were met by the clergy of the City churches, and, a procession being formed in which the clergy led the way, they walked through Chepe to St. Paul’s. Entering by the north side they were met by the officials of the Cathedral, and escorted through the transepts to the south side, where they went out, and walking through “the Close of Watling Street,” i.e. the south part of St. Paul’s Precinct, they entered at the great door of the west. In the nave they heard the hymn, “Veni Creator,” while a winged angel in white robes censed the people from the roof. This done, the Mayor advanced to the168 Altar and laid his offering upon it. It will be observed that he represented the City, and prayed for the guidance of the Holy Spirit not for himself but for the whole City.

On Whit Tuesday the same ceremony was observed. But the procession was formed at the Church of St. Michael le Querne, outside the Precinct of Paul’s, and was joined by the common folk of Middlesex. The same ceremony was performed in the Cathedral. On Whit Wednesday the same ceremony was performed for the third time, but with the common folk of Essex. The Mayor on these two days represented, therefore, the people of two counties.

From Wadmore’s Some Account of the Worshipful Company of Skinners.

There were many other occasions in the year when the Mayor went in state to certain City churches.

On occasions of rejoicings there were also special visits. Thus, on the news of the birth of Edward the Third the Mayor and Aldermen repaired immediately to the Cathedral, where the Bishop sang mass, and after mass, to the sound of trumpets, the Mayor and Aldermen “led the Carol” (“menerent la Karole”). A few days after a great pageant was celebrated in the City.

Mention is made above of one or two charms against certain diseases. It must not be forgotten that for every disease there was a saint who could ward it off. It was part of the wise woman’s lore to know all these saints and to invoke their aid when she applied her herbs. Here is a list:—St. Appolus preserved169 the teeth, St. Otilia the eyes, St. Vitus the brain, St. Laurence the back and shoulders, St. Valentine prevented the falling sickness, St. Erasmus saved from colic, St. Blasius from quinsy, St. Peruel from ague, St. John from prison (a very dreadful disease), St. Mark from sudden death, St. Suran from infamy, St. Wolfgang from gout, St. Agatha from fire, St. Christopher from ghosts, St. Anne from wealth—why was not she the patron saint of this merchant city? St. Wendlin kept the cattle, St. Antony the hogs, St. Gertrude drove off mice and rats, St. Magnus grasshoppers, St. Nicolas protected mariners, St. Indocus the crops, St. George looked after the horsemen, St. Luke the painters, St. Cosmus the physicians, St. Leonard the prisoners, St. Botolph the travellers, while all these functions and many others were ascribed to the Virgin Mary, in whom was centred all the love and faith and veneration and hope possible among millions of ignorant women governed by their affections and passions.

They were great believers in charms in those days: in the peril of child-birth the women purified the chamber to keep off evil spirits; the men went to sea, on a journey, to battle, with charms hung round their necks to keep them safe. These charms were sometimes a verse of the Gospel enclosed in a silver box hung about the neck with a silver chain: or words meaning nothing, or crosses drawn with blood or painted; the men had their swords charmed or blessed; they had their horses charmed. Again, the people were great believers in astrology, necromancy, and the influence of the moon. Before undertaking anything the position of the moon was first consulted. Unless this was favourable they would not only abstain from beginning any enterprise of importance, but they would not bathe, or cut their hair, or pare their nails, or even take medicine. Some of these superstitions we know still linger, but they exercise no real influence. Lucky and unlucky days are all forgotten: omens are very feeble things, we have practically outgrown them. But we must realise that in the London of the fourteenth century the whole population were under the governance of superstitions; I am not speaking of their religion, but of the superstitious beliefs that are outside religious dogma and religious observance. The time seems to those who look into it full of activity, full of joyousness, full of brightness. All these things, undoubtedly, do belong to Plantagenet London. Wealth, good work, good wages, splendid dress, good food, good wine, good ale, and outdoor life—yet, withal, an ever-present dread of the unknown, of the immediate future, of what chance, luck, fate or the anger of a saint might bring. It was, in a word, the life which seizes with avidity on the present, and enjoys what the gods provide from day to day.



There is one branch of ecclesiastical history which has been curiously neglected, that, namely, concerned with the anchorite, ankret, anchoress, or ankress. That is to say, it is generally concluded that a hermit and an anchorite are the same persons. One might as well think that a monk is the same as a friar.

There was nothing to prevent a hermit setting up his cell wherever he pleased; yet there were certain places where a hermitage was a recognised institution, and the hermit was, so to speak, presented as to a living. Thus, there was a hermitage outside the City wall at Aldgate, one at Bishopsgate, one at Cripplegate, one at Charing Cross, one at St. Laurence Jewry; a hermitage was often found at a bridge, and by the roadside, in a forest, or in any place not too secluded, because a hermit lived upon alms, and had therefore of necessity to reside near the haunts of men. The character and reputation of the hermitage depended entirely upon the character of the occupant, and therefore varied from time to time. William of Langland speaks of “fals hermits,”—“But these hermits who build their dwelling by the highway, of yore were workmen, weavers and tailors, and carters’ knaves, and graceless clerks. They kept full hungry house and had much want, long labour and little earning, and at last espied that liars in friars’ clothing had fat cheeks. Therefore these unlearned knaves left their labour and clothed themselves in cloaks like clerks, or as if they were of some Order, or else prophets.”

Hermitages were not occupied continuously; if one hermit died, his cell was vacated, and not necessarily filled up. A few of these hermitages remain, as, for example, that of Warkworth, which is a very striking monument. On the other hand, an anchorite was a recluse; he was shut up and separated from the world; he never came out of his cell. Before a man or woman was allowed to become an anchorite he had to obtain a license from the Bishop, who also required of the Rector or Vicar of his church, of the Abbot or Prior of the House, that the anchorite should be properly supplied with food. The hermit was free to roam—solivagus; the anchorite was shut up—conclusus. The difference between the hermit and the anchorite is drawn clearly by R. Sharpe (Calendar of Wills, ii. 33).

“An Anchorite’s cell—or ankerhold, as it was sometimes called—was usually in171 or near a church, although not always: it was so situate that the recluse might see the altar and hear the service, and its door was locked and often walled up, one or more iron-barred windows being left open by which he could receive the Communion and the necessaries of life. He was often a priest and much resorted to as a confessor, as, indeed, were also some hermits. The latter, however, commonly followed a trade or occupation.

Although anchorites were not hermits, ankerholds were sometimes called hermitages, and the distinction between the two classes of religious is not always preserved in the Husting wills. Thus we have in one will a reference made to the tenement of the hermit of Cripplegate—a hermitage founded by Mary de St. Pol, Countess of Pembroke, for the soul of her unfortunate husband Aylmer de Valence—and in another a bequest made to the anchorite at Cripplegate, as well as to the anchorite at Holborn. That both classes were held in high esteem by the citizens of London is shown by the numerous bequests made to every anchorite and every hermit in or near London. Besides the anchorites or hermits at Cripplegate and Holborn, we have special mention made of the hermit in the meadows beyond the Thames, the hermit near Charing Cross, and the hermit near Bishopsgate: the anchorite living in the Church of St. Peter, Cornhill; Friar John Ingram, the anchorite near the hospital of St. Katharine in the neighbourhood of the Tower, previously described in the will of Geoffrey Patrik (1371) as the hermit living at a place called ‘le Swannesnest’ near the Tower; and, in the same will, Friar Richard de Swepeston, the hermit near the Church of St. Laurence in the Jewry, and Geoffrey his companion. The mention of a companion for a hermit seems incongruous, but it appears from a rule for solitaries drawn up by Grimlaic, an anchorite priest in the ninth century, or perhaps somewhat later, that several were permitted to dwell together in one enclosure and have communication by a window, provided the cell of every one was separate.”

Of ankresses there were many. Such was Juliana of Norwich, whose book of Ejaculations has been preserved: such was the anchoress of Bishopsgate, who received 40s. a year from the Sheriffs of London. Such was Christina of St. Alban’s: such were the anchoresses of St. Giles, St. Benedict, and St. Mary de Manny.

The frequent mention in the Calendar of Wills of the anchorites in and around London shows that there were always many of these inclusi, and that they were held in great respect; but since men, evidently not wealthy, left money to all, it is certain that there were not anchorites and ankresses attached to every church. So few of the old London churches are left that it is impossible to look to them for much information on this point. It is said that traces of the anchorite’s cell may still be seen in the Inner Cloisters of Westminster Abbey, but for my own part I have failed to distinguish them. They should be part of the ruins of St. Catherin172e’s Chapel. If, however, we turn to the village churches about the country, we find indications which point to the anchorite’s cell as well as to other things.

Thus, it is not uncommon to find in the chancel of many churches built before the fifteenth century low side windows, sometimes with shutters, sometimes without. These are commonly called lepers’ windows, and one is told how the lepers, forbidden to enter the church, were allowed to assist in the mass by looking through the window at the altar. The Cambridge Camden Society called them lychnoscopes.

As regards the theory of the lepers, we must remember the rigid laws concerning the separation of leprous persons: they were not allowed to enter inns, churches, mills, or bakehouses; they were not to touch healthy persons; they were not to eat with healthy persons; they were not to wash in streams; they were not to walk in narrow footpaths; they wore a distinctive dress, and they carried a clapper to give warning of their approach. There were also lazar-houses for their residence, no less than ninety-five of the first class in England, besides smaller ones. With these regulations, what room was there for an isolated leper in a village? Where would he live? How would he live? Where there were small lazar-houses the lepers’ window is conceivable, but not in the little village where the leper could not be allowed to live at all. So that for most of these villages we may discard the theory of the lepers’ squint altogether.

A valuable paper on the low side windows of certain Surrey churches may be found in the Transactions of the Surrey Archæological Society (vol. xiv. part ii.), in which the writer gives drawings of many of these windows with detailed descriptions, and shows that they served one of two purposes—either for the confessional, in which case the priest sat within the church and the penitent knelt without; he proves that the practice was common in these churches where the only other place of confession was “behind the veil,” i.e. in the chancel. The other purpose was for the anchorite to take part in the service through this window. There are indications in some of the churches that a cell formerly existed against the church wall, e.g. the marks of a peat-roof in the wall. In one church, that of Hurtly, near Rainham, the cell itself remains to this day.

The writer observes that these low side windows are not found in churches built during the second half of the fifteenth century. He attributes this to the decay into which the friars, who had formerly been the favourite confessors, had fallen. In another place, I have shown that the practice of making bequests to the friars, hermits, and anchorites of London gradually decayed and finally ceased during the same period. May we not believe that the decay of the respect formerly paid to the religious of all kinds affected the demand for anchorites and therefore the supply? It is surely reasonable to believe that when the calling or profession of an inclusus was no longer attended by the general belief in superior sanctity, one attraction, perhaps the principal one, towards the life would no longer exist, while it is certain173 that the knowledge and the proof of such a belief would be a powerful support and a certain encouragement to the anchorite in enduring the lonely vigils, the frosts and cold, the silence of the night, the visits and the mockeries and the terror of the Fiend, and all the miseries of the cell, which he was never to leave until death called him forth.

In my book on “Westminster” I have described the consecration of a recluse—supposing, without any historical foundation, that the Sub-prior was ready to take the place of the late anchorite. The manner of the consecration is supposed to be described by one of the monks:—


“The Sub-prior, being a priest, was taken into the choir, where he prostrated himself with bare feet. The Abbot and three of the brethren who were priests having taken their places, the Cantor began the service with the responsory, Beati in melius, after which the Abbot and assistants before the altar sang with the choir certain Psalms fourteen in number. After the Psalms followed a Litany, the choir singing after each clause, Ora pro eo. The Litany finished, the Abbot advanced towards the prostrate brother bearing a crucifix, a thurible, and holy water, and, standing over him, he thrice sprinkled him with water, censed him, and prayed over him. The Abbot then raised the candidate with his own hands, and gave him two lighted tapers, at the same time admonishing him to remain steadfast in the love of God. Then the candidate, standing, listened to the Deacon, who read first from the prophet Isaiah, next the Gospel according to Saint Luke, as on the Festival of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. After this the new garments which he was to put on were blessed. The candidate then took the vows, which were three only, and those the same as the vows at profession, viz. of chastity, of obedience, and of steadfastness.

The candidate next kneeled at the altar, and, kissing it three times, repeated each time the words Suscipe me, Domine, etc., the choir responding. This done he offered the two tapers at the altar, and again kneeled while the Abbot removed his monastic frock and clothed him with the garments newly blessed. Then followed a service of prayer. It was the Veni Creator, with the Paternoster and Et ne nos. The Abbot then, standing on the north side of the altar, preached to the brethren and to the congregation assembled, commending the new recluse to their prayers. The candidate then himself sang the mass of the Holy Ghost.

We had now completed that part of the consecration which takes place in the church. The Abbot then took the new recluse by the hand and led him down the nave of the church, followed by the choir and all the brethren, unto the little door leading into the West Cloister. The church was filled with people to see the sight. A new recluse is not seen every day. There were the domicellae, the maidens of the Queen, come from the Palace; there were knights and pages, and even men-at-arms; there were sanctuary men, women, and children; men with hawks upon their wrists; men with dogs; merchants from the wool staple; girls of wanton looks from the streets and taverns beyond the walls. The hawks jangled their bells, the dogs barked, the women chattered, the men talked loudly, the girls looked at the brothers as they passed, and whispered and laughed: and I heard one brother say to another that this was a thing which would make the Sub-prior return to the monastery an he saw it. And all alike craned their necks to see the man who was going to be shut up in a narrow cell for the rest of his days.

The ankret’s cell is on the south side of the Infirmary Cloister. It is built of stone, being twelve feet long, eight feet broad, and with an arched roof about ten feet high. On the side of the church there is a narrow opening by which the occupant can hear mass and can see the elevation in the Chapel of St. Catherine. On the other side is a grating by which he can receive his food and converse with the world. But it is too high up for him to see out of it; therefore he has nothing to look upon but the walls of his cell. This morning the west side had been broken down in order to remove the body of the dead man and to cleanse the cell for the new-comer. So, while we gathered round in a circle, and the people stood behind us, the Abbot entered the cell, and censed it, and sprinkled it with holy water, singing more Psalms and more prayers. When he came forth the recluse himself entered, saying aloud: Hæc requies mea in seculum seculi. The choir sang another Psalm. Then the Abbot sprinkled dust upon the head of the recluse with the words beginning De terra plasmasti.

This done, the Operarius cum suis operariis replaced the stones and built up the wall anew. And then, singing another Psalm, we went back to the cloister, leaving the Sub-prior to begin his lifelong imprisonment. A stone bench for bed, his frock for blanket, a crucifix, and no other furniture. In the cold nights that followed, lying in my bed in the dormitory, I often bethought myself of the former Sub-prior alone in his dark cell, with Devils whispering temptation through the grating (Devils always assail every new recluse), well-nigh frozen, praying with trembling lips and chattering teeth. No, I am not worthy. Such things are too high for me.”

It seems as if, for a period of some hundred years, every monastic house and many churches possessed a recluse, man or woman. They were specially bound to pray for the House or the Church, probably for the parish as well. They frequently arrived at a reputation of the highest sanctity; they were consulted as an oracle. Thus Richard the Second, before he started on his dangerous journey to put down the rebellion, consulted the anchorite of Westminster. So also Henry the Fifth spent the night after his father’s funeral in weeping, prayer, and confession with the anchorite’s successor.

The anchorite’s cell was not always of the same shape or form. Sometimes it was partly or wholly underground; sometimes a grated window communicated with175 the outside and enabled the occupier to see and to be seen; sometimes the grated window was too high for the anchorite to see his visitors or to be seen by them. In the nunnery of Marmoustin at Tours there was an anchorite’s cell in which the occupant was totally secluded; at Royston there was a subterranean cell to which there was an approach from the outside and an opening on the top. The approach was probably blocked up when the recluse entered the cell and all communications were through the upper opening. At Bengeo, Herts. (see Appendix VII.), the anchorite’s cell consisted of a wooden hut placed against the north-east end of the chancel. It was eight feet long and six feet high; there was a recess in the wall for the anchorite’s bed and seat; there was an entrance into the church; perhaps the anchorite was a chantry priest.


Sometimes there were two ankresses living in the churchyard, but not in the same cell. Henry the Fourth before his accession to the throne endowed an anchorite’s cell in a village of Lancashire. The ankress very often took care of the church and kept it clean. As regards London, the bequests to anchorites are numerous. We read of ankresses at St. Michael’s and St. Giles, Cornhill; at St. Giles, St. Benedict, and St. Mary Manny, we read of a lady getting so many176 square feet of ground for the purpose of building an anchorite’s cell; we read of anchorites at St. Albans, St. Giles, and Westminster Abbey.

One of the earliest Old English works is the Ancren Reiwle or Rule for Anchorites. It was written for three ladies who had resolved upon adopting the recluse life in a village in Dorsetshire. The author is doubtful. It was perhaps Richard Poor, Bishop successively of Chichester, Salisbury, and Durham, in which case it is older than 1237, the year of Richard Poor’s death; or else by Simon of Ghent, a native of London, Archdeacon of Oxford, 1284, Bishop of Salisbury, 1297. He died in 1315. The dates are of importance, because the recluse life would not seem to have become common before the middle of the thirteenth century, and it would further seem to have fallen into disuse by the end of the fourteenth century. The work itself seems to show that these ladies were adopting a new thing, or at least an unusual thing.

During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, however, we must remember that in every Monastic House, and in most churches, the cell of the anchorite was built against the chancel wall with an opening to allow the occupant to “see God,” i.e. to witness the elevation of the mass every day; that at all hours of the day and night were to be heard the prayers, the praises, the ejaculations, the groans of the man or woman thus buried alive.

It is difficult to understand the attraction of such a life. Probably the very horror of it attracted some minds. To be alone day and night so long as life should last, to pray continually, never to enjoy one single comfort or solace or relief from physical pain, to be always cold, always hungry, always clad in rags, always unkempt and unwashed, to have to battle every night with superstitious terrors and the invention of an excited imagination, to dwell perpetually on images of death, these things make the life so terrible that the mere merit of choosing it appeared extraordinary; the Gates of Heaven would surely be thrown open to one who had passed years of such endurance and such combat.

Picture to yourself such an anchorite. He rises slowly from his knees; his limbs are full of rheumatic pains; he straightens himself with difficulty; he advances to the grating and looks through the bars. He is a gaunt tall man, as thin as living man can be; he is clad in rags; his hair flows over his shoulders; his beard falls down to his waist; his cheeks are hollow; his shrunken eyes are like coals of fire. He prays for the Church and all the souls of those who belong to the Church, that is to say, the dead as well as the living. Great are the blessings conferred on a parish by the prayers of an anchorite! He prays all day and all night; while others sleep the anchorite is offering continual supplication. He is racked with pains; he is always cold, always hungry, always unwashed; yet he is not unhappy. He is supported by Faith undoubting; and he has consolations and compensations. The Virgin Mary sends him angels who sing carols for him alone to hear; they are a177 foretaste of the singing in Heaven; he is allowed even to see the gates of Heaven standing open and the blessed saints sitting on their thrones exactly like the barons at a coronation. And he is visited by devils who are always beaten back and are always returning with fresh whispers and fresh temptations. Sweet are the joys of battle! He wrestles nightly with the Fiend, and every night sends him out of the barred window screeching with rage and disappointment. Oh, the anchorite is a happy man! And sometimes he is blessed with the gift of prophecy: he knows what is coming: in the morning he remembers his vision, and perhaps the very words are taken down and preserved. He is also, if he chooses, the parish oracle: he is asked to advise on all subjects, for there is no subject into which religion cannot enter. Merchants consult him about their ventures; women about their love affairs; princes about their policy. See, there is a girl tripping over the long grass: she bears a basket; it contains a gift of food for the anchorite, such simple food as he will receive; and she comes with heightened colour because she is going to ask a question of a most delicate nature concerning a young man. In some churchyards, where the anchorite is good-humoured and popular, or where there is an ankress, the grating of a cell has been known to become a place of resort; it is said that scandals and mischievous gossip were sometimes first started outside the ankress’ cell; all the women went there to talk of what was going on in the parish; the cell became a nuisance; the parish priest spoke about it; the Bishop heard of it.

Think of the effect upon the imagination produced outside by the mere voice of the unseen solitary who, as long as he lived, would never change his clothes, nor wash himself, nor cut his hair or beard, nor look upon the face of other men, nor see the sunshine and the blue sky, nor look for any physical comfort or solace so long as life should endure. They knew he was there; they came and spoke to him; the hollow voice came out of the grave in reply; they lowered food; one day they came and heard no voice in reply; they removed the stones and looked in. God had summoned the man of long endurance; who would take his place?

I said, above, that for a hundred years there were anchorites attached to most churches. My reason for assigning this period is that the London citizens began to bequeath property to anchorites in the middle of the fourteenth century, in the year 1341, and left off the practice at the same time as they left off bequeathing property to the Friars about the year 1400. For sixty years there was a general formula with all those who had property to leave. They bequeathed small sums to their own parish church, to all the five orders of friars, to every anchorite in London, or to every anchorite, man or woman, in and about the City of London, to every hermit in London, to every leper in London, to every poor prisoner in London. The reason why the fashion of giving bequests to the maintenance of solitaries began so late and ended so quickly was, I suppose, that the practice of building anchorites178’ cells became more common in the fourteenth century than it had been in former times; that men clutched at every chance of getting prayers as well as masses for their souls; that the appearance of so many newly built cells struck their imagination; that they thought the prayers of a holy anchorite must be of great efficacy inasmuch as the man not only led a saintly life but endured continual sufferings. In the same way they left money to lepers and to prisoners in order to obtain their prayers.

And the reason why the fashion of bequeathing money to anchorites suddenly ceased was that by the end of the fourteenth century the mind of London was saturated with that part of Lollardy which scoffed at hermits, friars, and monks. At the time when the House of Commons was petitioning the King to suppress all Religious Houses of every kind, the rich men of the City left off, as if by common consent, as if by a kind of conspiracy or secret resolution, the bequeathing of money to friars, hermits, and anchorites. A broad black line is drawn. No more money shall be left to these people. It would be interesting, if it were possible, to learn what became of the anchorites and the hermits. Some of them, no doubt, survived till the Reformation. Can we imagine, with the Dissolution of the Monastery, the suppression of the Anchorite? Can we imagine the old man, with his grey hair, his beard flowing to his waist, scarcely clad decently in the rags which he has worn for fifty years, with sunken cheeks and haggard face and wild eyes blinking at the light, and wondering why after so many years he is dragged out once more into the sunshine and the sight of his fellow-men?



Pilgrimage, never so great a craze in London as in the country, or in England as in France, plays an important part in the mediæval life. The earliest pilgrimage was, of course, to the Holy Places of Jerusalem: it began in the second century with a journey to the site of the Ascension. The other sites multiplied with the increase of pilgrims and the demand for sites and sacred relics and associations. The desire to go pilgrimaging grew and spread with great rapidity among all classes. In the century before the Crusades the roads to Palestine were black with swarms of pilgrims: we have the history of many early pilgrimages, including that written down by the Abbot Adamnanus of Scotland from the lips of the shipwrecked pilgrim Arnulfus, and that of Willibald the English pilgrim who started with his father and sister Walfunga, his brother Wunibald, and a large party of followers and servants: in Italy the father died and the brother and sister went home: Willibald persevered and reached Jerusalem safely.

It is easy to understand why the pilgrimage attracted so many. It was full of adventure and of danger. On the other hand, it was greatly meritorious: if one was killed on a pilgrimage, the doors of heaven were thrown open: if one returned in safety the term of purgatory was shortened. Then the pilgrim got away from his work: he had nothing to do but to plod on: he wanted no money: every day brought him to some hospitable monastery where he found supper, bed, and breakfast: he made new acquaintances and new friends perpetually: the way was enlivened by talk, and by casual potations: in the evening there was sometimes revelry at an inn, with wine or ale and music and dancing and the shows of the jogleurs. Who would not exchange the dull and tedious life in the country for a time of such varied experience and entertainment?

The practice quickly became an abuse. The peasant deserted his plough, his wife, and his children, to go pilgrimaging. The craftsman left his bench and his shop, in search of adventures as a pilgrim: even the monk left his monastery to wander out into the world, sometimes never to come back again: sometimes he did come back, with the confession of broken vows. The Church, therefore, interfered. No one must go on pilgrimage without the Bishop’s license. This granted, the pilgrim180 was solemnly invested with the scrip and staff, and the long woollen robe which formed the chief part of his dress. The parish priest with his friends accompanied him to the boundaries of his parish and he set forth, armed with the Bishop’s license and a passport which procured him hospitality in all Christian countries.

“In the name of God,” ran the commendatory letter, “we would have your highness or holiness to know that the bearer of the present letters, our brother, has asked our permission to go peaceably on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, either for his own sins, or to pray for our preservation. Thereupon, we have given him these present letters, in which we salute you, and pray you, for the love of God and Saint Peter, to receive him as your guest, to be useful to him in going and coming back, so that he may return in safety to his house: and as is your good custom, make him pass happy days. May God the Eternal King protect you, and keep you in His kingdom!”

The Church did more than bless the pilgrim: it celebrated in one of those dramas by which so much was taught, the act of pilgrimage itself, in a service which has been preserved. The following is an abridgment:—


“In the nave of the church was erected a fort, ‘castellum,’ representing the house at Emmaus where the two travellers entered and broke bread with Christ. At the appointed time two priests, ‘of the second seats,’ appointed for the day, came forth from the vestry singing the hymn which begins ‘Jesu, nostra redemptio.’ They were to be dressed in tunics, ‘et desuper cappis transversum,’ were to have long flowing hair and beards, and were each to carry a staff and scrip. Singing this hymn, and slowly marching down the right aisle, they came to the western porch, where they put themselves at the head of the procession of choristers waiting for them, and all began together to sing, ‘Nos tuo vultu saties.’ Then the priest for the day, robed in alb and surplice, bare-footed, carrying a cross on his right shoulder, advanced to meet them, and ‘standing suddenly before them,’ asked, ‘What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another as ye talk and are sad?’ To which the two pilgrims replied, ‘Art thou a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which are come to pass there in these days?’

‘What things,’ asked the priest. ‘Concerning Jesus of Nazareth,’ they replied, with the words which follow. ‘Oh, fools!’ said the priest, ‘and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.’ And then, feigning to retire, the priest would there have left them, but they held him back, and pointing to the ‘castellum,’ entreated him to enter, singing, ‘Abide with us for it is towards evening and the day is far spent.’ Then singing another hymn, they led him to the ‘Fort of Emmaus,’ which they entered, and where they sat down at a table already spread for supper. Here the priest brake bread sitting between them, and being recognised by this act for the Lord, ‘suddenly vanished out of their sight.’ The pilgrims, pretending to be stupefied, arose and sang sorrowfully (lamentabiliter) ‘Alleluia,’ with the verse, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the Scriptures?’ Singing this twice they walked to the pulpit, where they sang the verse, ‘Dic nobis Maria.’ After this, another priest, dressed in a dalmatic and surplice, with head muffled up like a woman, came to them and sang, ‘Sepulcrum Christi Angelicos testes.’ He then took up a cloth from one place, and a second from another place, and threw them before the great door of the choir. And (the directions conclude) then let him sing, ‘Christ has risen,’ and let the choir chaunt the two other verses which follow, and let the women and the pilgrims retire within: and the memory of this act being thus recalled, let the procession return to the choir, and the vespers be finished.”


There was also the pilgrimage of punishment, when a criminal was condemned to wander up and down the road whithersoever the Pope should direct him. There were many of those poor wretches to be met with on the road; most of them were murderers; a chain was made in which was worked up the sword or knife or other weapon with which the crime was committed; the neck, arms, and body of the criminal were bound round with this chain; so equipped, the malefactor toiled painfully from shrine to shrine, living on alms. It was not until the fourteenth century that the practice was discontinued. Can anything prove more abundantly the power of the Church than this punishment of murderers, who were simply loaded with these chains and then commanded to go forth on a pilgrimage from shrine to shrine? There was no police to enforce obedience; there was no guard set over the criminals; they were told to go and walk to a certain shrine and there to await further orders; and they obeyed.

There were two kinds of pilgrimage: peregrinatio major and peregrinatio minor. Of the former kind were those to the Holy Land and to Rome. Of the latter kind,182 those which generally satisfied our ancestors, were those to Walsingham with its Virgin, Glastonbury with its holy thorn, Waltham with its black cross, St. Edmund’s Bury with the body of the King, Durham with the shrine of St. Cuthbert, Chichester with that of St. Richard; there were also Beverley, Winchester, Lincoln, York, Peterborough—all famous shrines. The two places most popular were the Walsingham and the Canterbury pilgrimages. But in thinking of Chaucer’s immortal company we must remember that such companies left London daily in the summer bound for one or other of these holy places. In the illogical confusion of things belonging to the period the pilgrimage which for many was an orgy and a period of unbounded license all the way, was coupled with prayers devout and tears unfeigned.

It would be idle to look too closely into the accounts of pilgrimages for evidences of the religious spirit among the pilgrims. Yet such evidences are found, notably in the fervent prayers and praises of Felix Fabri, who will be mentioned immediately. It is sufficient to remember that with the great mass of the people religion consisted in obedience. They had but to do what the Church ordered. After death there would be purgatory. Pilgrimage and other observances shortened the period of purgatory. They went, therefore, partly with that object, partly with the desire of seeing strange countries, partly to work off the restlessness that falls upon men, as upon nations, from time to time.

Wyclyf, William of Langland, Chaucer, Gower, all the mediæval writers, continually make allusions to pilgrims. Sometimes the life of pilgrimage is ridiculed. Thus William of Langland speaks of the “crowd of hermits with hooked staves, who wend to Walsingham and their wenches after them, boobies who are unable to labour, clothe themselves in cloaks to be known from the others, and become hermits for their ease.” Sometimes the tales of the pilgrims are derided.

“Pylgrimis and palmers plyghten hem to-gederes,
To seche saint Jame and seyntys of Rome,
Wenten forth in hure way with many un-wyse tales,
And heven leve to lye al hure lyf-tyme.”

Thorpe (Skeat’s Notes to Chaucer, p. 49), when examined by Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1407, complains of the pilgrims, saying:183 “They will ordain to have with them both men and women that can well sing wanton songs: and some other pilgrims will have with them bagpipes: so that every town that they come through, what with the noise of their singing, and with the sound of their piping, and with the jangling of their Canterbury bells, and with the barking out of dogs after them, they make more noise than if the King came there away, with all his clarions and many other minstrels. And if these men and women be a moneth in their pilgrimage, many of them shall be an half year after, great jangelers, tale-tellers, and lyers.”

But the Archbishop said, “Leude Losell, Thou seest not ferre ynough in this matter, for thou considerest not the great trauel of pilgremys, therefore thou blamest the thing that is praisable. I say to thee that it is right well done that pilgremys have with them both syngers and also pypers, that whan one of them that goeth barfoote striketh his toe upon a stone and hurteth hym sore, and makyth him to blede; it is well done that he or his felow begyn then a songe, or else take out of his bosom a baggepipe for to drive away with suche myrthe the hurt of his felow. For with soche solace the trauel and weeriness of pilgremys is lightely and merily broughte forth.”

Sometimes the people invented saints and shrines for themselves, as when they flocked to the tomb of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, a man far removed from the saintly life, or to that of Simon de Montfort. In 1338 a grocer of London sold a mazer ornamented with the image of St. Thomas of Lancaster. And a few years later the people made a saint of the preacher and hermit Richard Rolle of Hampole. All these popular but ephemeral saints worked miracles abundantly while the faith in their power lasted. Would that some poet had depicted the swarm of pilgrims who, in the year when the grocer sold that mazer, rode out of London on a pilgrimage to Pontefract where St. Thomas of Lancaster was buried!

Not only must men get a license to go on a pilgrimage: the shipmen who carried them were also licensed. Pilgrims to foreign parts went either to Calais and thence by land, or, if they were going to Compostella, they went all the way by sea. Thus, the ship called La Charité de Paynton, Peter Cok, Captain, was licensed to carry a hundred pilgrims. “Le Petre de Dartemouth” was licensed for sixty, “La Marie de Southampton” for one hundred, “Le Thomas de Saltash” for sixty, and so on.

In the narrative of Felix Fabri (A.D. 1484) pilgrims to the Holy Land (see Palestine Pilgrims Text Society, vols. vii.-x.) we can read how the long pilgrimages were conducted on board ship. Felix sailed from Venice. The methods were much the same for pilgrims from every country, except that the ships which had to cross the Bay of Biscay, and to sail round the headlands of Portugal, were probably stouter than those which sailed in the Mediterranean alone.

The pilgrim paid so much for the voyage there and back: he was also taken to the Holy Places under escort. A special contract was entered into with each party. Thus, that of Felix consisted of twelve, viz. four noble Lords and eight attendants, viz. a kind of general manager or courier, a barber and musician, an old soldier for a manservant, a bourgeois for manciple, a cook, an ex-trader who had been a galley slave and acted as interpreter, a “man of peace,” who was a schoolmaster by profession, and Felix himself, Priest of the Order of Preaching Friars. The articles of the contract were, in brief, these—the party were to be conveyed from Venice to Joppa and back again. They were to receive two full meals a day,184 with a cup of malvoisie every morning before breakfast; they were to be protected from ill-usage by the galley slaves; they were to be taken to see all the Holy places; and they were to pay forty ducats a head. The value of the ducat at this time I cannot pretend to estimate. There were gold ducats and silver ducats; ducats of Hungary, Austria, Hamburg and Italy.

On the weighing of the anchors, the Germans sang together the Pilgrims’ Hymn:—

“In Gottes Namen fahren wir:
Seiner Gnaden begehren wir:
Nun helff uns die Gottliche Kraft und das Heilige Geist:
Kyrie Eleison!”

It would be pleasant to know the words of the English Pilgrims’ Hymn on arrival within sight of Joppa, when they all sang together, led by two priests. There were many nations represented on board the ship, Italians, Lombards, Gauls, Franks, Germans, English, Irish, Scots, Hungarians, Dacians, Bohemians, Spaniards, and they joined together in the “Hymn of Ambrose and Augustine,” i.e. the Te Deum Laudamus.

As for the life on board, the inconveniences, the insects, the turbulent slaves, the sea-sickness, Felix spares us nothing. The earliest of our sea songs, belonging to nearly the same date, is an account of a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Saint Iago of Compostella. It is evidently the work of one who writes from experience. The ship is filled with pilgrims, and they are all sea-sick together:—

“Men may leve all gamys,
That saylen to Saint James’s;
For many a man hilt gramys;
When they begin to sayle.
For when they have take the sea,
At Sandwyche or at Wynchylsea,
At Bristow, or where that hyt bee,
Theyr hertes begin to fayle.
Thys menewhyle the pylgryms lye,
And have theyr bowlys fast them by,
And cry afthyr hote malvesy,
‘Thou helpe for to restore.’
And soon sold have a saltyd tost,
For they myght ete neyther sode ne rost,
A man might sone pay for theyr cost,
As for one day or twayne.
Some layd their bookys on theyr kne,
And rad so long they myght nat se:
Alas! myne hede will cleve on thre!
Thus sayeth another certayne.”

The itinerary of two pilgrimages made by one English traveller still remains, and has been published by the Roxburghe Club. His name was William Wey, Bachelor of Divinity, formerly fellow of the Royal College of the most Blessed Mary at Eton beside Windsor. He travelled twice to Jerusalem, in 1458 and in 1462, and once to St. James of Compostella in 1465. He was185 “consecratus ad modum peregrinorum,” set apart by the special service: he received the license of the King, so that he was not to lose his fellowship by unauthorised absence; he left Eton to join the Augustines of Hedington, or Edinton; he made his last pilgrimage in the seventieth year of his age; and he died in the monastery in the year 1476 aged eighty-six. Evidently a strong man. He bequeathed, or gave, to the Brethren of Hedington, a great collection of valuable relics and curiosities from the Holy Land.

Unfortunately he tells nothing of the start or the return, beginning his pilgrimage at Venice. Here there was a regular service of ships, where captains undertook to do the “round trip”—to Jerusalem and back—for so much.

When he went to St. James of Compostella, there was a pilgrim fleet of six ships which sailed from Plymouth, viz. from Portsmouth, Bristol, Weymouth, Lymington, Plymouth—called the Mary White, and others—was this the annual pilgrim fleet? or was it only one of many such fleets?

The itineraries of Wey illustrate the comparative ease with which people travelled at that time. It was a long way to Palestine, but not too long for a man of seventy to undertake. The traveller relates stories of purses cut and jewels stolen, but there is no sense of other dangers or of any terrors: the pilgrims were taken on board; they were carried to the port; they were landed; they were conducted under escort to their shrines; and they were brought home again. It is noticeable that Wey’s two companions on his first pilgrimage were priests like himself. In Chaucer’s time, as is well known, all who could afford the time and money went on pilgrimage. Thus the wife of Bath:—

“Thrice hadde sche ben at Jerusalem:
Sche hadde passed many a strange stream:
At Rome she hadde been and at Bologne:
In Galice at Seynt James and at Cologne.”

One imagines that the long civil wars and the widespread Lollardy, which was only silenced, not killed, interfered with the practice of pilgrimage in the fifteenth century. On the other hand, Erasmus shows us that the pilgrims to English shrines, at least, were numerous in his time. The regular service of personally conducted pilgrimages to Venice and back proves that pilgrimage to the Holy Land was not diverted or interrupted, in spite of war raging all around.

At every shrine the pilgrim bought or was presented with a sign to show that he had been there. These signs were cast in pewter or in lead. A pilgrim who had been to many shrines came home with his cap or his coat covered with these emblems. Thus Chaucer says (Archæologia, xxxviii. p. 130):—

“Then as manere and custom is, signes there they bought,
For men of contre should know whome they had sought:
Eche man set his silver in such thing as they liked,
And in the meen while the miller had y-piked
His bosom ful of signs of Canterbury brochis.”



“They set their signys upon their hedes, and some upon their capp,
And sith to the dynerward they gan for to stapp.”

Erasmus makes Menedemus ask, “What kind of attire is this that thou wearest? Thou art bedizened with semicircular shells, each full of images of tin and lead, and adorned with straw chains, and thy arm is girt with a bracelet of beads.” The reply is that he has been to certain shrines on pilgrimage.

Besides the ordinary insignia of pilgrimage (see Skeat’s Notes to Piers Plowman), every pilgrimage had its special signs, which the pilgrim on his return wore conspicuously upon his hat or his scrip, or hanging round his neck, in token that he had accomplished that particular pilgrimage. Thus the ampullæ were the special signs of the Canterbury pilgrimage; the scallop-shell was the sign of the pilgrimage to Compostella (shrine of St. James in Galicia); whilst the signs of the Roman pilgrimage were a badge with the effigies of St. Peter and St. Paul, the cross-keys (keys-of-Rome) and the vernicle. The vernicle was a copy of the handkerchief of St. Veronica, which was miraculously impressed with the features of our Lord.

The late Dr. Hugo communicated to the Society of Antiquaries a paper on this subject, accompanied by several specimens found on the banks of the Thames. Remember, in examining these, that the greater number of people went about the streets adorned with these emblems. (Archæologia, xxxviii.)

We might expect that, as was the custom with one of the duties required of the faithful, so it would happen with others. Thus, since the soul was saved by means of prayer and praise, it mattered little who sang or said those prayers, and a rich man could endow a priest in perpetuity to say prayers for his soul every day. In the same way, since a pilgrimage was in itself a most meritorious action, and equal to many masses, a man might pay others to go on a pilgrimage for him. This, in fact, was done. We find bequests of money for pilgrimages. One merchant of London bequeathed sixty gold scudi to be given to some one who would undertake, in the name of the testator, and for the good of the testator’s soul, to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulchre and the sacred places of Jerusalem. Another left money with the object of getting credit for going to the convent of Mount Sinai: while many left smaller sums for pilgrimages to Santiago di Compostella and the Blessed Virgin of Walsingham. Were there, one asks, professional pilgrims? Did men painfully work through the exercises at shrine after shrine, all for the good of souls stranger to themselves? Was there no way by which they might divert the intention of the testator and reap for the benefit of their own souls these accumulations of merits and good deeds?

When we think of a London pilgrim, one of two pictures presents itself. We either see the companies assembling at the Tabard Inn bound for the shrine of St.187 Thomas of Canterbury, or we see the smaller and more serious party bound for the Holy Sepulchre and the sacred places of Jerusalem. All our views of the mediæval life are curiously narrowed by the influence of Chaucer. So strong and fine is the light thrown upon the Canterbury Pilgrims and those to Palestine that we have forgotten the many other shrines to which the pilgrim fared in search of a blessing and the remission of his sins.

From a drawing by Philip Norman, F.S.A.

But besides the English shrines already mentioned, there were other local ones for the Londoner. There was the shrine of Our Lady of Crome’s Hill, Greenwich, or that of the Holy Rood of Bermondsey, or that of Our Lady of Willesden, or that of Our Lady of Muswell, or that of “Our Lady that standeth in the Oke.” The last-named place of pilgrimage was somewhere between Highgate and Islington. May its name be supposed to linger in the modern form of Gospel Oak? The whole country, in fact, was studded all over with shrines of local celebrity. Outside London, no one, for instance, knew or cared about Our Lady of Muswell: but to Londoners she was a very real saint, to whom multitudes paid pilgrimage. Of these minor shrines, concerning which Chaucer is silent, which Erasmus never visited, there are very few historical notices extant. When they were suppressed and the images themselves burned, there was no one left to care about the records and the188 papers connected with them, so they, too, were burned, or they were left to moulder in the muniment chest.

Or, if the Londoner wanted a pilgrimage with little personal exertion, which might be performed in a single day, he could choose between the shrine of Edward the Confessor at Westminster, a place of the greatest sanctity: that of St. Erkenwald in St. Paul’s, also regarded as most powerful and efficacious: there were two feasts of St. Erkenwald: on these days all the clergy of the diocese repaired to the shrine robed in their copes: special indulgences were granted to those who visited this shrine.

The three shrines north of London, now so completely forgotten, all lay in the heart of the great Middlesex Forest. Each of the miraculous images was probably a Lady of the Oak: there was Our Lady of the Oak all over Europe. The miraculous figure is always found in an oak, and is always, it is said, black. Thus, Our Lady of Puy in France, supposed to be the most ancient of these figures, is described as being carved out of cedar, swathed round and round with fine linen like a mummy, deep black, the face and features extremely long, the eyes small and formed of glass, the look haggard and wild (L. and M. Archæological Trans. iv. 178); and there is a Black Virgin at Marseilles.

These shrines were near enough for a single day’s journey: a pleasant summer’s ride through the gardens and orchards of Islington where the Forest began, and so over the greensward and under the branches of the wood to the clearing on the top of Muswell Hill, where now stands the Alexandra Palace, and then stood the chapel containing the black image swathed with linen, crowned, decked with gold and jewels, before which stood the altar and burned the lamp day and night. Every day through the summer came the penitents, the sick, the jovial pilgrims, who only wanted to put in a plea for indulgence. Outside the chapel there were taverns and merry-making places. First the pilgrim knelt at the shrine; sometimes he went round it on his knees; and prayed, with simple belief, if not with fervour; faith made the sick man whole; faith absolved the penitent; faith made the most careless happy in the belief that Our Lady of Muswell had knocked off many—he knew not how many—years of purgatory. The religious act finished, no one objected to pleasure and merriment. There are indications that the merriment was not always seemly, nor was the pleasure always sinless. Yet pilgrimage continued because the sick who had been healed spread abroad the story of their miraculous cures, and because everybody wanted to get out of purgatory as quickly as possible, and because it was a most delightful form of holiday and recreation.

The Lollards preached against pilgrimages continually; a fact charged against them by the Church time after time. Thus, when a Lollard named William Dynet had to abjure his Lollardy in the year 1395, he swore that thenceforth he would189 worship images and that he would never more despise pilgrimages. A hundred and forty years more the worship of images had to continue in the land. Piers Plowman speaks with contempt of the sham holiness of pilgrims in words already quoted:

“Heremytes in an heep with hoked staves,
Wenten to Walsingham and their wenches after.”

Later on, one Father Donald, a Scotch Friar, said, preaching, “Ye men of London, gang on yourself with your wives to Willesden, or else keep them at home with you in sorrow.”

In the year 1509, when there occurred a fire in Willesden Church, which damaged the sacred image, one Elizabeth, wife of John Sampson, citizen, got into trouble for expressing a not unnatural doubt of the power of the image to help others when she could not help herself. “If Our Lady of Willesden might have holpen men and women which go to her of pilgrimage, she would not have suffered her own tayle (taille) to have been burnt.”

She had to abjure these sentiments publicly. But if the ordinary citizens’ wives commonly talked in this manner, the way was surely rapidly being prepared for the Reformation. In 1530—very shortly before the end—one Dr. Crown, being questioned as to heresy, said, “I will say again, do your duty and then your devotion ... when thou comest at the Day of Judgment, He will not say unto thee ‘why wentest thou not to Wilsdon a pilgrimage?’ He will say unto thee ‘I was an hungred and thou gavest me no meat: I was nakyd and thou gavest me no clothys’: and soche lyke.”

In September 1538 all the images—those of Walsingham, Ipswich, Worcester, the Lady of Willesden, the Lady of Muswell, the Lady “that standeth in the Oak,” and many others—were brought up to London and publicly burned at Chelsea. Then the Fair, which went on all through the summer, with noisy taverns, drunken men, disorderly women, music, dancing, singing, tumblers, and minstrels, at Willesden, Muswell, and other unknown places “in the Oake,” came to a sudden end. Silence set in, and Willesden Church became the church of a little secluded village in the midst of the Forest; the road to Muswell through the woods became overgrown and forgotten, and nobody in the next generation knew where stood the oak with its sacred image, which had attracted so many thousands every year.

Besides these shrines of London, with their miraculous Virgins, there were the Holy and wonder-working Roods, of which the most important seems to have been that of Bermondsey Abbey. There were, also, objects of pilgrimage, of votive offering, and of prayer, the Holy Wells of which some 500 have been enumerated in England, and round London no fewer than sixteen. The origin of Holy Wells is a subject that belongs to archæology and scholarship; nor indeed is this the place for an examination into the subject. Streams, rivers, fountains, springs, have all been accounted holy, and possessed each its nymph or its god, who demanded sacrifice.190 Wells were dressed with flowers: they were used for divination; long before Christianity newly-born children were passed through water; coins have been found by the hundred in wells where they were thrown in order to read an oracle from the troubling of the waters; there were superstitions about the springs; there were superstitions about water drawn on certain nights; there were wishing wells; there were wakes of the well; it was in some places held necessary that converts should be baptized in clear running water. Wells cured different diseases: one was good for the eye, and one for the ear. Wells sprung up miraculously to mark the site of a martyrdom, and so on.

The holy wells of London were as follows:—

1. Clerkenwell. This well, where the parish clerks held their plays, was situated at the edge of Clerkenwell Green and on the south-east corner of Ray Street. The Green stretched north-west of St. John’s Priory Church.

2. St. Chad’s Well. The site of this well, which had medicinal qualities, was just south of the present King’s Cross Station on the Metropolitan Line.

3. St. Clement’s Well was north of St. Clement’s Church, close to Clement’s Inn.

4. Islington. Here was a very holy spring, greatly believed in for its restorative qualities. It was on the site of Sadler’s Wells Theatre.

5. Hampstead. The Holy Well of Hampstead was that called afterwards the Shepherd’s Well, which is now represented by a drinking fountain in Fitzjohn’s Avenue.

6. Muswell Hill. Besides the wonder-working Virgin of Muswell Hill, there was the Well of St. Lazarus. The name implies that it was used by lepers. Robert Bruce tried to cure his leprosy by bathing in its waters.

7. Kensington Gardens. Here was the Well of St. Gover, where, until a few years ago, an attendant still dispensed the waters of the well.

8. St. Pancras Well was on the north side of St. Pancras Church.

9. At Tottenham there were two wells—that of St. Loy or St. Eloy, and that called the Bishops’ Well.

10. Skinner’s Well was not far from Clerks’ Well, which is all the information one has about it. The same may be said of Todwell, Faggeswell, Loders Well, and Radwell, all now filled up and forgotten. The site of the Holy Well was preserved until recently in the street of that name.

11. At Shoreditch there was the Well of St. John; not far from Shoreditch in Old Street, north of Tabernacle Square, was the spring of St. Agnes le Clair, called also Dame Annice, the Clear and Anniseed Clere.



Trial by ordeal was always possible in London, yet, in later years, rarely practised. The reason of its rarity was, no doubt, the fact that the accused person was in most cases the guilty person. In an age when the judgment of God could be solemnly invoked, when there was absolute belief in the punishments and tortures reserved for the guilty, a man would, as a general rule, hesitate before loading his soul, heavy with the actual crime, with perjuries and the blasphemy of calling upon an offended God to prove his innocence; to invite, that is, the Father of Justice himself to deliver a false judgment. It was this clear and unquestioning faith which made the trial by ordeal possible for the innocent man to claim, and generally impossible for the guilty.

There were many kinds of ordeal.

The first was the ordeal called the corsned, i.e. the eating of a small cake of consecrated barley bread. The accused called upon the Lord God to choke him with it if he were guilty. It was believed that in this case his throat would become contracted and his jaws fixed. It was so that Earl Godwin was said to have been adjudged guilty and choked by the Hand of Justice which he had invoked.

The second method, long practised in the case of witches, was the ordeal of cold water. The accused was stripped, his hands were tied crosswise to his feet; he was sprinkled with holy water; he was permitted to kiss the cross; a rope was tied around his waist, and at the distance of two ells from his body a knot was tied; he was then thrown into deep water; if he sank as deep as the knot he was innocent; if not, he was guilty. The administration of the ordeal was not conducted in the bare and simple method indicated above: it was placed in the hands of priests; mass was said before it; there were appropriate psalms and prayers; the accused confessed his sins to the priest; before the whole congregation he called upon God to prove his innocence; he swore upon the holy relics of the church that he was innocent. The function was one of great solemnity, and calculated to impress the minds of the people most deeply.

The ordeal by hot water was, it will be seen, as a mere ceremony, most remarkable. One case will stand for many.


Four men, all belonging to the Ward of Chepe, were accused of robbery and murder; the dead body of the murdered man had been found lying near the Standard in Chepe stripped, and showing gaping wounds; the four men were known to be “roreres,” that is, night wanderers and brawlers; the evidence against them, chiefly circumstantial, warranted their arrest; they claimed to prove their innocence by the ordeal of boiling water.

On the appointed day they were brought out from Newgate and conducted to St. Sepulchre’s Church, where they first confessed and then attended mass, being placed in the body of the church before the altar screen. After mass a short special service was sung for them; they then, one after the other, swore upon the relics that they were innocent; they demanded, singly and one after the other, the proof by ordeal; they solemnly implored the Lord to make manifest their innocence if they were innocent, or to prove their guilt if they were guilty. This done, a procession was formed. The whifflers marched first, followed by the clergy and the singing boys. Then came the prisoners guarded by the sergeant.

They were led out to Smithfield followed by a great crowd; the ordeal was not a function that could be witnessed every day; the Londoners have always turned out in force to witness an execution, or a flogging, or pillory, or any act of justice. On Smithfield, at the east of the Elms, that is, nearly in front of Bartholomew’s Hospital, a fire of wood was burning in an open grate; upon this stood a caldron full of water; the smoke of the fire rolled up round the caldron and was blown hither and thither; with it ascended, or was blown about, the steam of the boiling water; the flames crackled and licked the black sides of the caldron, the water bubbled and overflowed and hissed. Behind the caldron was a gibbet, with ropes for four. It was afterwards observed that of the four men one preserved a cheerful and confident air, the other three were haggard and wan; their limbs dragged as they went.

Arrived at the spot the Sheriff, who was present with the Alderman of Chepe, informed the prisoners—which they knew already—that at the bottom of the caldron lay a round white stone; they would each have to dip an arm into the boiling water and bring out that stone without scalding themselves.

The first to essay the adventure was the prisoner of the cheerful and the confident countenance; the guards took off his doublet; they rolled a thin piece of linen round his arm and sealed it with lead. They then bade him advance. He stepped forward; he stood beside the caldron, his arm raised; the Priest and singing men began a Psalm.

The smoke and the steam blew this way and that way; the man could not be seen sometimes for the fumes; when the wind blew aside, the people saw him still, hand upraised, watching the boiling water. Suddenly the smoke and the steam were193 blown aside; he plunged his arm; the smoke was blown back again; but he stood before the officers, the white stone in his hand.

The crowd shouted. The Lord had proved his innocence.

He was set aside; he would be taken back to Newgate; three days afterwards, the covering would be taken from his arm, and if there were no signs of scalding he would be set free.

The next man stepped forward.

He plunged his hand at once; he groped about for the stone; he drew out his hand; he plunged again; he drew it out with a yell of agony. No need to look at the arm searchingly, it was horribly scalded. They hanged him up at once.

The third man was brought forward.

He looked at his companion hanging; he looked at the caldron and the fire. He fell on his knees confessing the crime.

So, likewise, did the fourth man.

So, out of four ropes, three were wanted; and for four of them who were accused, the Lord Himself had pronounced the guilt of three and established the innocence of one.

The fourth method was the ordeal by fire, in which the accused had to lift a red-hot bar of iron without burning his hands, or to walk barefoot over red-hot iron; or to put his hand into a red-hot iron glove; or to pass through a blazing fire with his clothes untouched. In the case of the bar of red-hot iron, the trial took place in the church, and as soon as mass was begun the bar was placed in the coals; at the last collect it was taken off. A stand of some kind was placed near the fire, then a space of nine times the length of the prisoner’s foot was measured off; this made a distance of about seven or eight feet. This space was divided by lines into three. The prisoner had to lift up the bar and to carry it by three steps across the space. His hand was then bound up, and after three days it was examined. If it showed signs of burning he was hanged.

These kinds of ordeal naturally fell into disuse as soon as people began to suspect that there was “management” by the priests; their suspicions began certainly as early as the time of William Rufus, and perhaps earlier. The Normans, indeed, scoffed at all the old ordeals. On one occasion, when twenty prisoners had successfully passed the ordeal by fire, William Rufus laughed at the whole business and ordered them all to be tried. But the ordeal by battle stood on a different footing. In this ordeal there could be no deception and no bribing; the priest had nothing to do with it; the two parties had to fight it out to the death; it was conducted in grim and solemn earnest; it was an appeal and a heartfelt prayer to the Lord of Justice. He was called upon to show the world which was the guilty party. And just as in the ordeal by water, the consciousness of innocence gave a man assurance, and thereby enabled him to undertake the fearful task without194 confusion or haste, so in the Ordeal by Battle, the consciousness of innocence sent a man into the field doubly armed.

The mediæval view of the Ordeal by Battle is set forth seriously and solemnly by Dante (De Monarchia, book ii. chap. x.)19:—

“Moreover, what is acquired by ordeal is acquired by Right. For wheresoever human judgment is at fault, either because it is involved in the darkness of ignorance or because there is not a presiding judge, then, lest justice should be left deserted, we must have recourse to Him, who so loved her as Himself to meet her demands with His own blood in death. Hence the psalm, ‘Just is the Lord, and deeds of justice hath he loved.’ Now this is what takes place when by the free assent of either side, not in hatred but in love of justice the divine judgment is sought through means of the mutual clash of strength, alike of mind and body. Which clash, since it was first tried in the single contact of man and man, we call the ordeal.

But we must ever take heed that like as, when it is a question of war, all means should first be tried in the way of award, and only in the last resort should the way of battle be tried (as Tully and Vegetius agree in saying, the one in Re militari, the other in the De Officiis), and like as in medical treatment, everything else should be tried before steel and fire, and they only in the last resort; so when every other way of finding judgment in a dispute has been exhausted, we are to recur in the last resort to this remedy, forced by a kind of compulsion of justice.

There are then two formal characteristics of the ordeal: one is that which has just now been spoken of; the other the one which was touched upon above, to wit, that the contenders or champions should enter the palæstra, not in hate or love, but in sole zeal for justice, with common consent. And therefore Tully said well in dealing with this matter, but wars, the aim of which is the crown of Empire, should be waged less bitterly.

But if the formal characteristics of the ordeal are preserved (else were it no ordeal) are not they who have gathered together by common consent, under compulsion of justice and in zeal for her, gathered together in the name of God? And if so, is not God in their midst, since He himself promises as much in the Evangel? And if God is present, is it not impious to think that justice may succumb?—justice whom He so loves as is forenoted above! And if justice cannot succumb in the ordeal is not that which is acquired by ordeal acquired by Right?”

A Function, or an Act of Worship, undertaken and carried out in this spirit, cannot be regarded otherwise than most seriously. Let us turn to the actual manner in which the Ordeal by Battle was conducted.

The accused began by denying the whole accusation word by word. He then offered to prove his innocence by his body. If the Judge accepted the offer and decided that the duel should take place, he made the parties exchange gloves. They then had to find pledges that they would appear on the day of battle. Fines were paid to the King for permission to fight, for recreancy on failure to appear, for refusing to fight, for not holding the ordeal properly, or as a bribe to allow a fight.

For the following rules in the preparation of the ground, I am indebted to the learned pen of my friend Prof. Skeat, whose Notes to his Chaucer and his Piers Plowman are a treasure-house of learning:—


“The King shall find the field to fight in, and the lists shall be made and devised by the constable; and it is to be observed, that the list must be 60 paces long and 40 paces broad, set up in good order, and the ground within hard, stable, and level, without any great stones or other impediments; also, that the lists must be made with one door to the east, and another to the west; and strongly barred about with good bars 7 feet high or more, so that a horse may not be able to leap over them.”

It appears that there were an immense number of ordeals by battle; indeed, in such an age, when every man was a soldier, one can very well understand that this method would seem to an innocent man far superior to any form of trial. In one year of Henry the Second’s reign, there were thirty-four ordeals. Not only to an innocent man, but to the guilty the ordeal by battle commended itself; many a sturdy rogue, having little fear of God’s vengeance before his eyes, preferred the chance of battle to the certainty of the gallows; so much was this the case that criminals were sometimes pardoned on condition of fighting so many battles successfully and ridding the country of so many malefactors. The ordeal by battle brought into existence, as might have been expected, a kind of gladiator, the champion or hired fighter, who risked his neck with every fight.


These are the rules for the arming of a knight (Arch. Journal, iv.):—

“How a man shalle be armyd at his ese, when he schal fighte on foote. He schal have noo schurte up-on him, but a dowbelet of Fustean lynyd with satene, cutte fulle of hoolis; the dowbelet must be strongeli bounden there the poyntis muste be sette aboute the greet of the arme, and the beste before and behynde: and the gussetis of mayle muste be sowid unto the dowbelet in the bought of the arme, and undir the arme: the armynge poyntis muste be made of fyne twyne, suche as men make stryngis for crossebowes, and they muste be trussid smalle, and poyntid as poyntis. Also they muste be waxid with cordeweneris coode and than they wolle neythir recche nor breke. Also a payre hosyne of stamyn sengille, and a peyre of shorte bulwerkis of thynne blanket to put aboute his kneys, for chawfynge of his lighernes. Also a payre of shone of thikke cordewene, and they muste be frette with smal whipcorde; thre knottis196 up-on a corde; and thre coordis muste be faste sowid un-to the hele of the shoo, and fyve cordis in the myddille of the soole of the same shoo: and that ther be betwene the frettis of the heele and the frettis of the myddille of the shoo the space of thre fyngris.

Two arme a man: Firste, ye muste sette on Sabatones and tye hem upon the shoo with smale poyntis that wol breke. And then griffus, and then quisses, and then the breche of mayle. And then touletis. And then brest. And then vambras. And then rerebras. And then glovys. And then hange his daggere upon his right side. And then his shorte swerde upon the lyfte side in a rounde rynge, alle nakid, to pulle it oute lightli. And then putte his cote upon his bak. And then his basinet pynnid upon two greet staplis before the breste with a dowbille bokille behynde upon the bak, for to make the basinet sitte juste. And then his longe swerde in his hande. And then his pensille in his hande, peyntid of seynt George, or of oure lady, to blesse him with as he gooth towarde the felde, and in the felde.

The day that the Pelaunt and the defendant shalle fighte what they shal have with hem into the felde.

A tente muste be pight in the felde
Also a cheyre
Also a basyne
Also vj loves of bread
Also ij galones of wyne
Also a messe of mete, flesshe or fisshe
Also a borde and a peyre trestelis, to sette his mete and drynke on
Also a borde clothe
Also a knyf for to kutte his mete
Also a cuppe to drynke of
Also a glass with a drynke made
Also a dosen tresses of armynge poyntis
Also a hamyr and pynsones, and a bicorne
Also smale nayles a dosene
Also a long swerde, shorte swerde, and daggar
Also a kerchief to hele the viser of his basinet
Also a penselle to bere in his hande of his avowryre.

In the case of knights, we see that the weapons were those in customary use, and the duel was a fight with spears and with sword; in the case of the common sort, it was a very different thing. The gallows stood in readiness for the vanquished man; the weapons were staves armed at the end with iron shaped like a ram’s horn. There was a strict rule about the dress of the combatants, which was to be of white wool; they were bare-headed and bare-footed; their heads were shaved to avoid giving a chance for either to catch the other by the hair. In a certain duel on record the combatants first broke their staves and then fought with fists and claws and feet and teeth, especially with their teeth; they tore each other’s garments and the flesh beneath, until at last one got the other down and gouged out both eyes with his thumbs. After this there was nothing to be done but to surrender and to be carried to the gallows there to be hanged.

In the year 1350, just after the visitation of the Black Death, occurred the famous Ordeal by Battle between John de Viscomte and Thomas de la Marche. The quarrel arose in the East, where both these knights were engaged in the war then going on between the Armenians, the Cypriotes, and the Rhodians on one197 side, and the Saracens on the other. John de Viscomte was a cousin of the King of Cyprus and Thomas de la Marche was a natural son of Philippe de Valois, King of France. Charges were brought by the former that the said Thomas had been guilty of perjury, treason, and forgery. The particulars of the accusation do not concern us. Thomas denied the whole and challenged the accuser to single combat. It is not exactly clear why the battle was not fought out in Cyprus or in Rhodes; probably both parties desired to make as much as possible of the quarrel and of the battle; probably the case was felt to be one which interested the whole of Christendom; however that may be, it was agreed to refer the matter to the King of England as the most worthy and honourable Prince in all Christendom. The knights, therefore, arrived in England at the beginning of September 1350 with letters from the Kings of Armenia and Cyprus containing a statement of the case, and inviting the King to allow the Ordeal by Battle to take place in his presence.

The day was fixed for the 4th of October; the battle to be fought out in the Lists in his Palace of Westminster. The combatants appeared on the day appointed, fully armed and on horseback. The King, the Prince of Wales, and a great concourse of people were present. The oaths were administered and the battle began. Sir John, leaping from his horse, determined to fight on foot; in which he was followed by his adversary. Stow says that they began by running “at the tilte.” The following is Stow’s account of the fight, with the tragical conclusion:—


“For this therefore were these two worthy souldiers appointed to fight, which they performed within the listes of the King’s pallace at Westminster, on Mondaye nexte following after the feaste of Saint Michael, where Thomas, in declaration of hys innocencie, in that he was accused of, overcame his enemie, but yet killed him not, for he could not, because he was not able to wounde hym beyng so armed, with anye kynde of piercing weapon, except it were in hys face whiche was bare. For after that they hadde runne at the Tilte, and foughte on foote, as they were striving together on the grounde, wyth certaine prickes bothe shorte and sharpe, then called Gadlings, being closed in the joints of his right gauntlet, the sayde Thomas struck the sayde John in the face, and sore wounded hym: but on the other side John hadde no suche kinde of weapon, wherewyth hee myght hurte Thomas face, and therefore cryed out aloude moste horribly, wherupon by the King’s commaundemente the combatte was ended, and the victory adiudged to Thomas, who gave the sayde John being thus overcome, to the Prince of Wales for a Captive, and offered up his owne armoure to Sainte George in Sainte Paules Churche at London, wyth great devotion. These matters beyng thus finished, the Cipres man is manumitted and sette at libertie as a free man againe. And Thomas thinking boldly to goe into the presence of his brother the Frenche King, toke hys journey thyther, and at his coming, founde the sayde King and the nobilitie of Fraunce greatlye offended, and in indignation against him, for that he agreed that the combat shoulde be tried before the King of England. Wherefore Thomas thinking secretly with him selfe howe to winne the false friendship of his brother, became desirous to shewe that therein he hadde done well among all other things he greatelye praysed the nobilitie of Edwarde and his worthy fame spredde over all the worlde, and also the justice whiche he used in judging, not accepting the person of the manne of Cipres (yea thoughe he loved the Kyng himselfe verye well), neyther suffered him to be preferred before me, which am a French manne, and brother, and friende to thee my Lorde Kyng of Fraunce, judge over the sayde King Edwarde my adversarie. Also the Earle of Ewe highly praysed the King of England, for that he hadde receyved greate comforte and commoditye at hys handes during the tyme of hys Captivitie in Englande, shewing also howe farre that good Kyng hadde banished envie and hatred from hys hearte, who at a time of justyng beyng in the fielde at that exercise, and the Kyng also, was commaunded by the Kyng himselfe to beare awaye the price and pricke from them all. These commendations did the French Kyng envie at, and for indignation, he most wickedlye commaunded the setters forth of those prayses to be beheaded. And for to colour the matter the better he fayned that the Earle used too much familiaritie with the Queene his wife, and that his brother was guiltie of treason against the King of Fraunce, bycause he committed his cause and the combat to be tryed by the judgement of the King of England. After he had thus murdered his brother, he tormented his wife to death by famine, who was daughter of the noble King of Boheme, lately slaine in battayle by Geffery.”

On the 7th of June 1380 another Ordeal by Battle was held. It is a very singular story, and reads as if the guilty man were prevented from making a good fight by the knowledge of his guilt. Fabyan and Stow both refer to the incident, but only briefly; Holinshed is the authority for the fuller details. The accuser, Sir John Annesley, charged Thomas Catrington, Esquire—Fabyan calls him Carton—with having betrayed and sold to the French the castle of St. Sauveur in Normandy, of which he was Governor. He brought the charge before the Court of the Constable of England sitting at Westminster, concluding by throwing down his gauntlet and offering to justify the words in open duel. Catrington denied the charge and accepted the duel.

In the year 1384 another Ordeal of Battle took place in the Palace Lists, which, like the last, resulted in the death of the unjust. The case was this:—One Mortileto de Vilenos, a gentleman of Navarre, brought a charge of treason against John Welsh, an English gentleman, stating that the treason had been committed while Welsh was Governor of Cherbourg. They fought it out on St. Andrew’s Day, the result being the overthrow of Mortileto, who then confessed that his charge was without foundation, but that it was invented in revenge for the seduction of his wife by Welsh. He was therefore by the King’s command hanged immediately, though the Queen, Stow says, made earnest intercession to have his life saved.

Madox (Exchequer, i. 550) furnishes an account of an Ordeal by Battle with an illustration of the manner of combat:—

“Now we are speaking of Duels, I will lay before the Reader a pretty remarkable Case of a Duel that was fought in the Reign of K. Henry III. between Walter Bloweberme, an Approver, and Hamon le Stere; together with a Draught or figure of the Duel, as it was drawn at that time. The Case was this. Walter Bloweberme appealed Hamon le Stere of Robbery: alleging that they were together at Winchester, and there stole Cloaths and other Goods; whereof Hamon had, for his Share, two Coats, to wit, one of Irish Cloth, and the other a Party-coat or Cloth of Abendon and Burell of London: and that he (the said Walter) was in Fellowship with the said Hamon in the said Robbery, he offereth to prove by his Body, as the Court shall award. Hamon came and denyed the whole. And saith that he will defend himself by his Body. Whereupon it was awarded, that there should be a Duel between them. A Duel was struck. And Hamon being vanquished in the Combat, was adjudged to be hanged. It was found that Hamon had no Chattels to forfeit to the King.”


The account of a dispute about a manor in the Isle of Harty, which was to have been fought out in Tothill Fields, Westminster, but ended very tamely, is given at length in London in the Time of the Tudors, p. 391.

In the Collections of a London Citizen there are two Ordeals by Battle, one at least, very grim and horrible:


“And in that same yere (1445) there was an armyrer and hys owne man fought whythe yn the lystys in Smethefylde the last day of Januer, ande there the mayster was slayne and dyspoylyde owte of hys harnys, and lay stylle in the fylde alle that day and that nyght next folowynge. And thenne aftyrward by the kyngys commaundement, he was drawyn, hanggyde, and beheddyde, and hys hedde sette on London Brygge, and the body hynggyng a-bove erthe be-syde the towre....

Also that yere (1455) a thyffe, one Thomas Whytehorne, was take in the Neweforeste be-syde Beuley and put yn preson at Wynchester. And when the day of delyverans com he appelyd many trewe men, and by that mene he kepte hys lyffe in preson. And thoo men that he appelyd were take and put yn stronge preson and sufferde many grete paynys, and was that they sholde confesse and a-corde unto hys fals pelyng: and sum were hongyd that hadde noo frende shyppe and goode, and thoo that hadde goods gate hyr charters of pardon. And that fals and untrewe peler hadde of the kynge every day j d. ob. And thys he contynuyd al moste iij yere, and dystryde many men that were sum tym in hys company. And at the laste he appelyd on that outerly sayde that he was fals in hys appelynge, and sayde that he wolde preve hyt with hys hondys, and spende hys lyfe and blode a-pone hys fals body. And thys mater was fulle dyscretely take and hyrde or bothe pelerrys parte, and of the defendente ys parte also. And a notabylle man, and the moste petefullyste juge of al thys londe in syttyng a-pon lyffe and dethe, toke thys sympylle man that offeryd to fyght with the peler, ande fulle curtesly informyd hym of alle the condyscyons of the fyghtyng and duelle of repreffe that shulde be by-twyne a peler of the kyngys, fals or trewe, in that one party, and by-twyne the defendent, trewe or false, in that othyr party. For in cas that the peler prevaylyd in that fyght he shulde he put in preson ayen, but he shulde fare more better than he dyd be fore tyme of fyghtynge, and be i-lowe of the kyng ij d. every day as longe as hit plesyd the kyng that he shulde lyf. For in prosses the kynge may by the lawe put hym to dethe, as for a man sleer, bycause that hys pelyng, fals or trewe, hathe causyd many mannys dethys, for a very trewe man schulde with yn xxiiij howrys make opyn to be knowe alle suche fals hyd thyngys of felony or treson, yf he be nott consentynge unto the same felowschyppe, undyr payne of dethe; and thys peler ys in the same cas, wherefore he moste nedys dy by very reson. Thys ys for the pelers party.

The defendaunte ys party ys, as that nobylle man, Mayster Myhelle Skyllyng, sayde ande informyde the defender, that he and the peler moste be clothyd alle in whyte schepys leter, bothe body, hedde, leggys, fete, face, handys, and alle. Ande that they schulde have in hyr hondys ij stavys of grene hasche, the barke beyng a-pon, of iij fote in lenghthe, and at the ende a bat of the same govyn owte as longe as the more gevythe any gretenys. And in that othye ende a horne of yryn, i-made lyke unto a rammys horne, as scharpe at the smalle ende as hit myght be made. And there whype they schulde make hyr foule batayle a-pone the moste sory and wrecchyd grene that myght be founde a-bowte the towne, havyng nothyr mete ne drykne whythe, bot both moste be fastynge. And yf hyr frowarde wepyn ben i-broke they moste fyght with hyr hondys, fystys, naylys, tethe, fete, and leggys; hyt ys to schamfulle to reherse alle the condyscyons of thys foule conflycte. And yf the defendent sle that pelers, fals or trewe, the defendent shalle be hangyde by-cause of man sleynge, by soo moche that he hathe i-slayne the kyngys prover, for by hys meny the kynge hadde mony of suche as were appelyd, and that mony that rosse of hyr stuffe or goodys that they hadde was put to the kynge almys, and hys amener dystrybutyd hit unto the pore pepylle. But the kyng may by hys grace pardon the defendent yf he wylle, ys the defendent be welle namyd and of competent governaunce in the toune or citte there at hys abydyng ys; but thys fulle seldon sene by-cause of the vyle and unmanerly fyghtynge. And by reson they shulde not ben beryd in noo holy sepulture of Crystyn mannys beryng, but caste owte as a man that wylfully sleythe hym selfe. Nowe remembyr thys foule batayle, whethey ye wylle doo hyt or noo. And bothe partys consentyde to fyght, with alle the condyscyons that long there too. And the fendent desyryd that the juge wolde sende unto Mylbroke there that he dwellyde, to inquere of hys gydynge and of conversacyon. And alle the men in that toune sayde that he was the trewyste laborer in alle that contre, and the moste gentellyste there with, for he was a fyscher and tayler of crafte. And the peler desyryd the same, but he was not a-bydynge in no place passynge a monythe. And in every place there as inquesyscyon was made men sayde, ‘Hange uppe Thome Whythorne, for he ys to stronge to fyght with Jamys Fyscher the trewe man whythe an yryn rammys horne.’ And thys causyd the juge to have pytte a-pon the defendent,

The maner of fyughtynge of thes ij poore
wrecchys by-syde Wynchester.

The peler in hys a-rayment ande parelle whythe hys wepyn come owte of the Este syde, and the defendent owte of the Sowthe-Weste syde in hys aparayle, with hys wepyn, fulle sore wepynge, and a payre of bedys in hys hond; and he knelyd down a-pone the erthe towarde the Este and cryde God marcy and alle the worlde, and prayde every man of forgevenys, and every man there beyng present prayde for hym. And the fals peler callyde and sayd ‘thou fals trayter! why arte thou soo longe in fals bytter be-leve?’ And thenne the defendent rosse upe and hym and sayde, ‘My quarelle ys as faythefulle and alle soo trewe as my by-lyve, and in that quarelle I wylle fyght,’ and with the same worde smote at the peler that hys wepyn breke; and thenne the peler smote a stroke to the defendent, but the offycers were redy that he shulde smyte no more, and they toke a-way hys wepyn fro hym. And thenn they fought to gederys with hyr fystys long tyme and restyd hem, ande fought agayne, and thenn restyd agayne; and thenn they wente togedyr by the neckys. And then they bothe with hyr tethe, that the lethyr of clothyng and flesche was alle to rente in many placys of hyr bodys. And thenn the fals peler caste that meke innocent downe to the grownde and bote hym by the membrys, that the sely innocent dryde owt. And by happe more thenne strengythe that innocent recoveryd up on hys kneys and toke that fals peler by the nose with hys tethe and put hys thombe in hys yee, that the peler cryde owte and prayde hym of marcy, for he was fals unto God and unto hym. And thenn the juge commaundyd hem to cesse and hyr bothe hyr talys; and the peler sayde that he hadde accusyd hym wrongefully and xviij men, and be-sought God of marcy and of forgevenys. And thenn he was confessyd ande hanggyd, of whos soule God have marcy. Amen.

As for the defendent was pardonyd of hys lyfe, leme, and goodys, and went home; and he become an hermyts and with schorte tyme dyed.”



It is strange that an institution which played a large part in the social scheme of the Middle Ages should have fallen so completely into decay as to be absolutely forgotten by the people, so that there is not even a legend or a tradition of it left. The memory of Sanctuary is as clean lost and forgotten as that of Frank Pledge. Yet, three hundred years ago, the constant thought of debtor or malefactor was, that, if the worst came to the worst, he could fly to St. Martin’s or to Westminster and so escape the clink of Ludgate, or the gaol of Newgate. Even the murderer always had it in mind when justice was in pursuit of him, that there was the refuge of Sanctuary, if only he might win there, where he could be received, and could abide in safety.

Like every other ecclesiastical foundation, the right of Sanctuary was originally a beneficent and wise institution, designed by the Church for the protection of the weak, and the prevention of revenge, wild justice, violence and oppression. If a man, in those days of swift wrath and ready hand, should kill another in the madness of a moment; if by accident he should wound or maim another; if by the breaking of any law he should incur the penalties of justice; if by any action he should incur the hostility of a stronger man; if by some of the many changes and chances of fortune he should lose his worldly goods and fall into debt or bankruptcy, and so become liable to imprisonment; if he had cause to dread the displeasure of king, baron, or bishop, in all these cases the right of Sanctuary was open to him. Once on the frith-stool, once clinging to the horns of the altar, he was as safe as an Israelite within the walls of a City of Refuge: the mighty hand of the Church was over him; his enemies could not touch him on pain of excommunication.

In theory every church was a sanctuary; but it was easy to blockade a church so that the refugee could be starved into submission. If a felon took refuge in a church, it was the duty of the neighbours to watch him, until he had either surrendered, or, in presence of the proper officer, had abjured the realm. If he was allowed to escape, the parish or the Ward was fined a hundred shillings, to be paid to the King. The only real safety for a fugitive from justice or revenge was in those abbeys and places which possessed special charters and immunities. Foremost202 among these were the Sanctuaries of Westminster and St. Martin’s-le-Grand. Outside London, the principal sanctuaries appear to have been Beverley, Hexham, Durham, and Beaulieu. But every abbey, like every church, possessed its sanctuary as a part of its privileges. That of Westminster was, if not founded, defined and regulated by Edward the Confessor; that of St. Martin’s, the existence of which was always a scandal and an offence to the City of London, was regulated by half a dozen charters of as many kings. Its refugees were principally bankrupts, debtors, and common thieves; these as offenders against property were especially hated by a trading community.

The privilege of sanctuary was beautiful in theory. “Come to me,” said the Church, “I will keep thee in safety from the hand of violence and the arm of the law; I will give thee lodging and food; my doors shall be always open to thee, day and night; I will lead thee to repentance. Come, and in safety sit down and meditate on the sins which brought thee hither.”


The invitation was extended to all, but with certain reservations. Nor was it merely a formal invitation; sanctuary was actually sought by multitudes, but traitors, Jews, infidels, and those who had committed sacrilege, were not received. In Durham Cathedral two men slept every night in the Galilee Chapel to admit any fugitive who might ring the bell or lift the knocker. Nay, sanctuary was actually converted into a city of refuge by the setting apart of a measured space, the whole of which was to be considered sanctuary. At Hexham, where four roads met in the middle of the town, a cross was set up on every one of the roads to show where sanctuary began. At Ripon and at Beverley a circle with a radius of a mile was the limit of sanctuary. At St. Martin’s-le-Grand the precinct was accurately laid down, and jealously defended. It included many streets, and the area is now almost entirely covered by the buildings of the General Post Office. At Westminster the whole precinct of the Abbey, church, monastery buildings, close, cloisters, and gardens were sacred ground.

In Archæologia (xvii. p. 198) is given the oath of sanctuary. I extract the whole passage:—

“Among the Harleian Manuscripts in the British Museum is a thin folio volume written upon vellum marked No. 4292, and containing the Register of Persons who sought sanctuary for different crimes at St. John of Beverley in Yorkshire, in the reigns of King Edward the Fourth, King Henry the Seventh, and King Henry the Eighth. The bookbinder, by whom it appears to have been rebound of later years, seems to have mixed some of the leaves, or, at least, to have put the entries of King Edward the Fourth’s time after some of those of King Henry the Seventh’s.


The greater part of the manuscript is of course confined to a list of names and crimes; but on the reverse of folio 17 is a copy of the oath taken by those who sought the peace of the place. I do not remember to have met with a sanctuary oath elsewhere. The bailiff of the town, by whom the oath was administered, is directed to inquire of the refugee ‘what man he killed, and wher with, and both ther names: and than gar hym lay his hand uppon the book, sayng on this wyse.

Catharine W. B. Ward.

From a Copy, preserved in Canterbury Cathedral, of the almost obliterated Painting at the head of the Tomb of Henry IV.

Sir tak hede on your oth. Ye shal be trew and feythful to my lord archbishop of York, lord off this towne, to the provest of thessame, to the chanons of this chirch, and all othir ministers’ thereof.

Also ye shall bere gude hert to the baillie and xii. governars of this town, to all burges’ and comyners of thessame.


Also ye shall bere no poynted wapen, dagger, knyfe, ne none other wapen ayenst the kyngs pece.

Also ye shal be redy at all your power if ther be any debate or stryf or other sothan case of fyre within the town to help to s’cess it.

Also ye shal be redy at the obite of Kyng Adelstan at the Dirige and the Messe at such tyme as it is done at the warnyng of the belman of the town, and do your dewte in ryngyng, and for to offer at the messe on the morne, so help you god and thies holy Evangelists.

And then gar hym kysse the Book.’”

The history of St. Martin’s-le-Grand is the history of a stalwart resistance and defence of the rights of sanctuary against the attacks of the citizens and others. For in a lawless age no rights, no privileges, no laws are obeyed. In Wat Tyler’s rebellion his followers paid no respect to sanctuary; they dragged from the very altars the tax-collectors who had hurried thither to be out of danger. Twenty years later the City itself protested against the abuses caused by the immunities of the sanctuary. But as yet the place was too strongly fortified by charters and papal bulls for any change to be effected. The King, on the other hand, took the line that it was by the negligence of the City magistrates that so many crimes were committed, and that so many claimants of sanctuary existed.

There is a story of sanctuary at St. Paul’s told by Riley (Mem. p. 24). It was in the 17th year of King Edward the First, and on the Day of St. George, that one Walter Bacon, a chaplain, or Parish Priest, took sanctuary in the Cathedral. Thither came, in consequence, the King’s Coroner, William le Mazeliner, the warden of the City (it was during the suspension of the Mayor’s office), John le Breton, Sir Baroncin, John de Banquelle, and other trustworthy persons. Then the Coroner, in the presence of the assembled company, demanded of the man for what reason he had taken sanctuary. Whereupon the man replied that it was because he had stolen sixteen silver dishes belonging to Sir Baroncin. The dishes being restored, the Sheriff was instructed to take charge of them in a sealed packet; and two days after the packet was opened by the Sheriff in presence of the Coroner, and the dishes were given back to the said Baroncin. What became of the chaplain is not stated.

Many examples have been preserved of those who sought safety within those walls. There is the case of one Henry who stole a signet ring, a pyx for consecrated wafers; had it ever been used he would have been debarred sanctuary for sacrilege; he also stole some money and other things. He took sanctuary, then he changed his mind and fled, leaving his stolen property behind him. The Dean’s officers seized it as a “waif” left within the soke or franchise of the College. There is, again, the case of Henry Ciprian, Canon of Waltham. He, for certain offences, took refuge at St. Martin’s. It was in the year 1430, the 9th of King Henry the Sixth. The Mayor and Sheriffs thereupon seized him and dragged him out. The Dean and Canons brought the case before the King, who ordered Ciprian to be restored to sanctuary. But the smouldering hostility of the City continued and increased. The Alderman of Aldersgate, Matthew Philip, on the imposition of a205 certain tax, called upon the Dean of St. Martin’s for his share, alleging that it was not a privileged place; and actually levied the money by distress. The King ordered it to be restored.

In the same year occurred the famous case of St. Martin’s-le-Grand, which, though it was decided against the City, strengthened enormously the case against sanctuary.

A certain soldier named Knight lay in prison at Newgate. His friends trumped up a case of debt against him, to answer to which he had to be taken to the Guildhall; therefore he passed the south side of St. Martin’s. Five of his friends lay in ambush in Panyer Alley, and as he passed they dragged him from the officers, and so into sanctuary, where they all remained. Surely this was an abuse of the privilege. The City thought so, evidently. The Sheriffs, Philip Malpas and Robert Marshall, with the Alderman of the Ward, the City Chamberlain, and a great multitude of people, crowded into St. Martin’s demanding the prisoners, whom the Canon refused to surrender. They therefore seized them by force, chained and manacled them, stripped them to their shirts, and led them off to Newgate. Evidently it was a case which excited the greatest indignation. The King, on receiving the complaint of the Dean, ordered the release of the prisoners by letters taken from Windsor to the Tower by Lord Huntingdon. The Mayor refused to open the letters. He said that the Tower was a privileged place outside his jurisdiction, and that he could perform no official act in it, not even the opening of a letter addressed to himself as Mayor. Lord Huntingdon then produced the King’s writ, which was received and considered in the Church of Allhallows Barking. Here, with the assistance of the City clerk, John Carpenter, they found some legal objection, which they conveyed to the King.

The matter, however, was heard in the Star Chamber. The case of the Dean was based, of course, on the Charters of the House, and on the antiquity of the privileges claimed. The case of the Sheriffs, where it did not depend upon a legal quibble, rested on the enormous inconvenience and the many mischiefs caused by the sanctuary. Thus one Stody deliberately murdered a woman, took refuge in the sanctuary, and succeeded in escaping; John Frowe, having a grudge against one Robert Dodmerton, dogged him till he was close to the gate of sanctuary, where he stabbed him in the neck, so that he died, when the murderer calmly took refuge in the sanctuary. One Lullay, a Cambridge man, did exactly the same thing in the same place. It was also argued that certain criminals in the reign of Henry the Fifth had been taken from sanctuary, that a lane of the precinct in which criminals assembled had been stopped by order of the King, and that church, precinct, and lane were all portions of the City itself. These arguments prevailed not. The Sheriffs had to give up the prisoners.

Another mischief caused by this privilege was the fabrication of counterfeit206 plate and jewels which was established there. The Goldsmiths’ Company, who had the right to examine all goldsmiths’ shops in the City, demanded admission to St. Martin’s Precinct in order to examine the workshops there. The Dean refused permission as a right, but invited them to come in and inspect the work. He himself went with them, and caused all bad work to be destroyed. Edward the Fourth, in a statute against fraudulent goldsmiths’ work, excepted the Precinct from its operation. It is interesting to note that makers of counterfeit plate and jewels continued in their old quarters long after the Dissolution. Thus Butler says:—

“’Tis not those paltry counterfeits
French stones which in our eyes you set,
But our right diamonds that inspire,
And set your am’rous hearts on fire.
Nor can those false St. Martin’s beads,
Which on our lips you place for reds,
And make us wear like Indian dames,
All fuel to your scorching flames,
But those, true rubies of the rock
Which in the cabinets we lock.”

Perhaps the strength of St. Martin’s was best shown in the case of William Cayens. He was one of Jack Cade’s associates, and on the dispersion of the rebels he took sanctuary in St. Martin’s. The King demanded him as a traitor. The Dean took with him all his bulls and charters and pleaded the case. In the end he won it. The traitor was to remain, but to be prevented from committing any more treason. Some time after, Cayens received the King’s pardon, and was even admitted to his favour.

When the Civil Wars broke out one Oldehall, chamberlain to the Duke of York, was ordered by the King’s advisers not to leave the City of London. He fled to sanctuary, was dragged out, and was ordered to be taken back again. Up to this point the Dean had proved too strong for the City. But in the year 1455 the sanctuary men presumed so much upon their security that they formed into companies and attacked and robbed the citizens. Thereupon the Mayor and Sheriffs broke into Sanctuary and seized the ringleaders. The Dean complained, the King sent for the Mayor and his officers, but the time was not one in which the City could be made hostile, and the prisoners were not restored.

Again, in the year following, the sanctuary men took part in an attack upon the Italian merchants. The complaints were now so general and so loud that some restriction had to be imposed on the privilege. Articles were drawn up for the better regulation of the Sanctuary. They are like those already quoted from the Archives of Beverley. Thus (1) every person on entering must declare the cause of his seeking refuge. (2) No one is to carry any weapon within the Precinct. (3) That any “erraunt and open thiefe, robber, murderer and felon noised by the common fame of the people” shall find security for good behaviour both in sanctuary207 and for a quarter of a year afterwards, and that he be kept in ward until he has found that security. But he may depart if he pleases. (4) The gates to be shut at certain hours. (5) Stolen goods not to be taken into sanctuary. (6) If any acts of robbery or violence be committed by a sanctuary man he is to be placed in prison and kept there. But he may depart if he will (of course to find the Sheriff’s officer waiting for him). (7) Forgers, makers of counterfeit goods, pickers of locks, etc., not to be allowed in sanctuary, (8) Strumpets and all immoral persons to be kept in prison until they amend or depart. (9) Gambling—“plays at hazard, the dice, the guell, the kayelles, the cloysh”—to be forbidden in sanctuary. (10) Sundays and holy days to be kept, and (11) every person admitted to take oath that he will obey these rules.


Already, on more than one occasion, the difference between mediæval laws and mediæval practice has been remarked. What, for instance, could be better than these ordinances? Everything seems to be provided for, merciful refuge for the criminal, prison for those who commit new crimes, the practice of dishonest trades forbidden, the morality of the sanctuary protected, the place to be a House of Religion and Repentance, and not a refuge and lurking place for thieves and rogues.208 What happened? That the sanctuary went on just as before. There was, no doubt, some little stir at the outset: the Canons ordered their servants to exercise diligence in the maintenance of these laws: we have seen the Dean going round with the Goldsmiths’ officer; perhaps he went round with his own officers, and questioned the refugees, admonished them all, both men and women, and then departed. The decay of all the Monastic and Ecclesiastical foundations was everywhere partly due to the fact that, while the Rule remained, that part of it which demanded personal service was handed over to servants and inferior officers. The criminal who ran into the sanctuary was received by a servant, not by the Canons: he was lodged by a servant, not by the Canons; then, the food provided being humble in quality and insufficient in quantity, the refugee carried on his trade in order to get more food; probably the custom grew up, as it had grown up in the prisons of Newgate and Ludgate, of paying fees to the sanctuary officers; in return for those fees everything was permitted. Men, who lived by robbery and who were well known to be robbers; women who lived by procuring and by prostitution; sharpers, forgers, fabricators of false goods, fraudulent bankrupts, receivers of stolen goods; thieves actually took sanctuary with their stolen goods in their hands; all these people lived in security and peace: they escaped the pillory, the stocks, the agony of the whipping-post, the noisome prison, and the gallows. The City did well to protest without ceasing against the abuse of the Sanctuary.

During the civil wars St. Martin’s proved a veritable Haven of Refuge to many, including the Countess of Oxford, Morton, Bishop of Ely, and other prelates, as well as both Lords and Ladies. In St. Martin’s lived and died—“rotted away piecemeal”—Miles Forrest, one of the murderers of the young Princes. A great change was made in St. Martin’s when the College was transferred by Henry the Seventh to the Abbey of St. Peter, Westminster. The Abbot became Dean of St. Martin’s; another seal was made; the duties of the Canons were performed by Vicars.

In the year 1548 all chantries, free chapels, and brotherhoods were suppressed, St. Martin’s among them. The splendid church was pulled down; the site was speedily built over by tenements and shops and taverns. But superstition and custom reserved until a much later time some of the privileges of sanctuary both at St. Martin’s and at Westminster.

The Chronicle of the west end sanctuary is somewhat nobler.

It must be understood that the whole Precinct of the Abbey and not the Church only was the sanctuary, of which the more sacred part, of course, was the Church. But the name of sanctuary was especially given to a gloomy square pile built of ragstone, about seventy-five feet square and about sixty feet high. Outside was a round tower no higher than the building itself, which contained a stair communicating with the upper storey. There were two storeys, each of which209 was a chapel, the lower one being especially dark and gloomy. On the roof it appears there were sometimes erected small houses for the accommodation of refugees.

By a very remarkable omission, this interesting building is not noticed by Stow or by any later writer. Stukeley first observed it, and sketched and measured it in the year 1750 when they were taking it down.

Here is a glimpse (1556) of a sanctuary procession:—

“The vi. day of December the Abbot of Westminster went a procession with his convent: before him went all the sanctuary men with crosse keys [upon their garments] and after went iij. for murder: one, the Lord Dacre’s sone, of the Northe, was wypyd (whipped) with a shett abowt him for kyllyng of a man, master West sqwyre dwellyng besyd ... and anodur theyff that dyd long to one of master comtroller ... dyd kyll Recherd Eggyllston the comtroller’s tayller, and [killed him in] the Long Acurs, the bak-syd Charyng-crosse: and a boye [that] kyld a byge boye that sold papers and pryntyd bokes [with] horlyng of a stone and yt hym under the ere in Westmynster Hall: the boy was one of the chylderyn what was [at the] sckoll ther in the abbey: the boy was a hossear sune [hosier’s son] a-boyff London-stone.”

From Allen’s History of London.

The whipping of Lord Dacre’s son, wrapped in a white sheet, for murder, must have been edifying. Sanctuary, therefore, was not wholly free from pains and210 penalties. Two months later, another man in sanctuary was whipped “before the cross” for murder.

Not always, however, were the rights of sanctuary respected. That Wat Tyler should respect them was hardly to be expected. Therefore we read without surprise how he dragged the Marshal of the Marshalsea from one of the pillars of the Confessor’s shrine, to which, as the holiest place in the church, he was clinging. But the murder of the knight Hawke in the year 1398 is a very remarkable illustration of the violence and ungovernable temper into which the men of that time could fall. There were two knights named Hawke and Shackle. In the Spanish wars of the Black Prince they had between them effected the valuable capture of a Spanish noble. He exchanged his son, a youth, for himself, a method of hostage not uncommon, and went home, leaving the two Englishmen expectant of a lordly ransom. Then, however, John of Gaunt, who claimed the throne of Spain, demanded the delivery of the young Spaniard to himself. This was refused. Thereupon he threatened imprisonment, so that the knights fled and took sanctuary at Westminster, accompanied by the captive disguised as a page or valet. It would seem as if they were pursued on their flight. At least what follows does not look like a deed done in cold blood. The two knights fled into the church as the safest part of the sanctuary. Thither they were followed by Alan Bloxhall, Constable of the Tower, Sir Ralph Ferrers, and a company of fifty men. Shackle, for his part, escaped with the page—probably into the cloisters, where he could easily be conveyed to a place of safety. But Hawke remained in the church and ran round the choir followed by his enemies. This took place actually during the celebration of High Mass. At last the wretched man fell covered with wounds in front of the Prior’s stall, that is, within the choir. After this, the Prior closed the church for four months, and caused the violators of the sanctuary to be excommunicated, as well as fining them £200 apiece—equal to nearly £3000 of our money. If sanctuary, if sacrilege meant anything at all, the abbot was bound to make as much as he could of the “factum horribile.” The unfortunate Hawke was buried in the south transept.

But there were other violations of sanctuary, as when Sir Robert Tresilian, Lord Chief Justice, was dragged out from the refuge he had sought; and when the Duke of Exeter was treated likewise: on the other hand, Henry the Seventh showed his wisdom in respecting sanctuary when Perkin Warbeck took shelter there.

And sanctuary was, as a rule, respected. When Eleanor Cobham, Duchess of Gloucester, went into sanctuary at Westminster, she was unmolested, and might have stayed there all her life had she chosen. Elizabeth Woodville gave birth to her elder boy, “forsaken by her friends and in great penury,” yet in safe keeping. Here she placed the child in his father’s arms on his return. A second time she fled thither when that boy, thirteen years of age, was in the hands of her enemy and211 in the Tower. She took with her the younger boy, but we all know what happened. Sanctuary was broken. The Archbishops gave their consent to the sacrilege even though they knew, everybody must have known, that the boys would be murdered one after the other. It was the lot of every prince or possible heir to the throne in those times to be murdered or to be slain in battle. Henry the Sixth, Prince Edward, the Duke of York, the Duke of Clarence, the Duke of Exeter, are all examples instructive enough. Yet the Archbishops yielded. Why? I think it is clear that they dreaded above all things a boy King: above all things they wanted repose for the distracted land. It was a case of choosing between the lives of two innocent boys, or fresh wars, new distractions, which? The violation of sanctuary in this case is remarkable for the opportunity it gave the Duke of Buckingham to attack the whole system of sanctuary.

“I dare well avow it, weigh the good that they do with the hurt that cometh of them, and ye shall find it much better to lack both than to have both. And this I say, although they were not abused as they now be, and so long have been, that I fear me they will ever be, while men be afraid to set their hands to the amendment: as though God and St. Peter were the patrons of ungracious living. Now unthrifts riot and run in debt upon the boldness of these places: yea, and rich men run thither with poor men’s goods. There they build, there they spend and bid their creditors go whistle for them. Men’s wives run thither with their husbands’ plate, and say they dare not abide with their husbands for beating. Thieves bring thither their stolen goods, and there live thereon. There devise they new robberies nightly to steal out, they rob, and reave, and kill, and come in again as though those places gave them not only a safeguard for the harm they have done, but a licence also to do more mischief.”

It must not be forgotten that Skelton the poet escaped the wrath of Wolsey by taking refuge in the Westminster Sanctuary, where he lived in safety and died unmolested.

In the Italian Relations of England (Camden Society), probably written at the end of the fifteenth century, the author bears testimony of the same kind to the evils of sanctuary. Apparently the institution did not exist in Italy.

“The clergy are they who have the supreme sway over the country, both in peace and war. Amongst other things, they have provided that a number of sacred places in the kingdom should serve for the refuge and escape of all delinquents: and no one, were he a traitor to the crown, or had he practised against the king’s own person, can be taken out of these by force. And a villain of this kind, who, for some great excess that he has committed, has been obliged to take refuge in one of these sacred places, often goes out of it to brawl in the public streets, and then, returning to it, escapes with impunity for every fresh offence he may have been guilty of. This is no detriment to the purses of the priests, nor to the other perpetual sanctuaries: but every church is a sanctuary for 40 days: and, if a thief or a murderer who has taken refuge in one cannot leave it in safety during these 40 days, he gives notice that he wishes to leave England. In which case, being stripped to the shirt by the chief magistrate of the place, and a crucifix placed in his hand, he is conducted along the road to the sea, where, if he finds a passage, he may go with a ‘God speed you!’ But if he should not find one, he walks into the sea up to the throat, and three times asks for a passage: and this is repeated till a ship appears, which comes for him, and so he departs in safety. It is not unamusing to hear, how the women and children lament over the misfortune of these exiles, asking ‘how they can live so destitute out of England’: adding, moreover, that ‘they had better have died than go out of the world,’ as if England were the whole world!”


Henry the Seventh in 1483 procured a bull from Pope Innocent the Eighth, which allowed of malefactors being taken out of sanctuary when it was proved that they had left sanctuary in order to commit some mischief. And that if persons suspected of high treason took refuge it should be permitted to the King to station guards at the gates and elsewhere to keep them from going out. Later, in the year 1504, Henry the Seventh procured another bull permitting him to take out persons suspected of high treason. This bull would seem to allow the actual destruction of sanctuary.

The procedure in the claim of sanctuary was as follows (the statute being put up in the Custom Hall of the Cinque Ports, Dover), (Italian Relations):—

“And when any shall flee into the church or churchyard for felony, claiming thereof the privilege for any action of his life, the head officer of the same liberty where the said church or churchyard is, with his fellow jurats or commoners of the same liberty, shall come to him and shall ask him the cause of being there, and if he will not confess felony immediately, it shall be entered in record, and his goods and chattels shall be forfeited, and he shall tarry there forty days, or before, if he will, he shall make his abjuration in form following before the head officer, who shall assign to him the port of his passage: and after his abjuration there shall be delivered unto him by the head officer, or his assignees, a cross, and proclamation shall be made that while he be going by the highway towards the port to him assigned, he shall go in the king’s peace, and that no man shall grieve him in so doing, on pain to forfeit his goods and chattels. And the said felon shall lay his right hand on the book, and swear this:—‘You hear, Mr. Coroner, that I ... a thief, have stolen such a thing, or have killed such a woman, or man, or a child, and am the king’s felon, and for that I have done many evil deeds and felonys in this same his land, I do abjure and forswear the lands of the kings of England, and that I shall haste myself to the port of ... which you have given or assigned me: and that I shall not go out of the highway, and if I do, I will that I shall be taken as a thief, and the king’s felon, and at the same place I shall tarry but one ebb and flood, if I may have passage: and if I cannot have passage in the same place, I shall go every day into the sea to my knees and above, crying, Passage, for the love of God, and King ... his sake: and if I may not within forty days together, I shall get me again into the church, as the king’s felon. So help me God and by this book according to your judgment.’ And if a clerk flying to the church for felony, affirming himself to be a clerk, he shall not abjure the realm, but yielding himself to the laws of the realm, shall enjoy the liberties of the church, and shall be delivered to the ordinary, to be kept safe to the convict prison, according to the laudable custom of the realm of England.”



I have elsewhere spoken of the singular fact that no remains of a Roman theatre or amphitheatre have been found in London, and I have ventured to put forward a theory as to the site of one or both. One cannot, indeed, understand how there could be a theatre at Rutupiæ, or at Bath, and none at London. It is true that Augusta was, for the greater part of her Roman existence, a Christian City; but so was Bath; it is also true that the Church condemned the Theatre. But these facts did not destroy the Theatre. St. Augustine tells us how much he was attracted by the drama—rapiunt me spectacula theatrica. The total destruction of the Roman theatre in the country with the stage machinery and the stage traditions, we may be quite sure, was effected, not by the thunders of the Church, but by the coming of the Angles and the Saxons, and by the Desolation of Augusta. The drama had to begin again later on. As the mimetic instinct always survives every attempt at repression, the drama in some form was sure to revive. It began again in two forms: first, in the Church, the very place whence it had been denounced, and in the entertainments given by wandering mummers, minstrels, dancers, and tumblers. The wandering folk, the show folk, the ribauds, the people who cannot work, the men and women who can only earn their bread by making music and merriment, by telling stories, singing songs, performing tricks, dancing, turning somersaults, and pandering to the ever-present desire for pleasure,—these people cannot be suppressed; and they kept alive the art of acting. In England they flourished exceedingly in quiet times. What sort of rude play they performed it is not possible to ascertain. It was, I believe, a rough and ready farce, like that preserved in Rabelais, where the Farce of the Dumb Woman is presented. The people want to laugh. What do they mostly laugh at? The discomfiture of some one in some way. Enter the Dumb Woman—she makes great business with her broom; she knocks down one man with it and hits another over the nose; both men complain and suffer pain and indignity. Then the people laugh. Add music and a tumbling girl; add gestures unseemly and jokes unfit for repetition. Add, further, anything you please from the modern role of214 clown and pantaloon, and we shall understand the entertainment afforded by the show folk of the eleventh century. I suppose that they sometimes made fun of the priests—always a tempting subject—one reason for thinking so is that the more reverend a man wishes to be thought, the more he lays himself open to ridicule; another reason is that contemporary writers, as John of Salisbury, condemn actors with ecclesiastical plainness. They were in request, it would appear, at marriage feasts, and the nature of their entertainment is indicated by the order that any priests who were present were to get up and go away when the players began. These people have left little behind them, but they maintained the taste for scenic performances, and, no doubt, they drew away from the plough or the carpenter’s bench many a lad whose heart yearned for the music and the twinkling feet, the bright dresses, and the laughing life of these masterless vagabonds and lawless girls. But in England nothing was written or invented: it is to the Church and not to the show folk that we owe the modern drama. And it began with the laudable desire—nay, the necessity—of making people, in whom the imagination was dull, realise the doctrines of the Church. The service was in Latin, a language not comprehended any longer even in Italy; nobody could read; there were no books for them if they could: preaching, of which there was little before the Friars came, could not effect much: mural painting was not even begun: how then were the people to be taught the leading events, the foundations, in the History of the Christian Faith? Only by some kind of dramatic representation. Thus, at Christmas-time it was easy—nay, praiseworthy—to build a stall for oxen in the church; to fit it with a manger; to invite all the people to see for themselves, as if they were alive, the Virgin Mother with the Infant Christ, Joseph, the Magi, the angels, and the shepherds. On Good Friday a great crucifix was set up and solemnly lowered into the grave. On Easter Day the stone of the sepulchre was rolled away and our Lord came forth; after Easter He walked with the pilgrims of Emmaus; He appeared to the disciples. At Ascension He mounted visibly to Heaven in the sight of all. So also, He raised Lazarus; He healed the sick; He washed the feet. When the simple people looked on and saw such miracles who could doubt? Nay, who could ever forget? “There is the grave, with Lazarus in it—look at him! The grave-clothes are swathed about him, his face is white, he is dead, there is even to another sense the unmistakable proof of death. Here comes the Lord Himself. Tell me not that it is Brother Ambrose—it is the Lord Himself! Who but the Lord can bring a dead man to life? It is the Very Christ!” So they went away marvelling. These things were elementary; but they offered scope for acting, and they offered food for the imagination. Of course they became more and more realistic. The priests’ robes were exchanged for suitable dresses; the chorister, who represented an angel, added wings to his white surplice, and carried a harp and wore a crown. And the field of the drama215 widened. It included at length the whole scheme of Redemption from the Fall of Lucifer to the Day of Judgment.


The procession of the Patron Saint, or any other holy day, and that of Corpus Christi Day were further used to teach the people in the dramatic way. The saints marched with the Trade Guilds; they were known by what they carried. Adam and Eve wore the Tree of Knowledge; John the Baptist was a herald—everybody at that time knew what was meant by a herald; Judas followed. Of course he was received with hisses and groans, but he could not escape observation, because he carried a bag of gold and was followed by the Devil with the gallows; Christopher carried Christ; the wise men carried gifts; nothing was forgotten. That these representations sank deeply into the hearts of the people is certain, because it is only natural that this should be their effect. A story is related of a German Prince, the Landgrave Frederic of the Scarred Cheek, who, after witnessing a play of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, in which the Virgin Mary herself failed to move her Son to mercy, cried out, “What sort of thing is Christian faith if Christians cannot be pardoned even on the intercession of the mother of God and all the Saints?” And so fell into a religious melancholy such as was common in later times among Calvinists. But it wants no such story to make us understand the power of these dramatic performances. At first they were presented in dumb show; then with the words of the Bible; lastly, with words specially written for them. The next step was the transfer of the stage from the nave of the church216 to the place outside. This took place when the machinery required was too large for the little parish church, and when the dramatis personæ were too numerous for the ecclesiastical staff of the Church. Then the laity became the actors, speedily the only actors. At the same time, the Church did not surrender control over the plays: in Rome there was the Fraternity of the Gonfaler: in Antwerp the Brethren of St. Luke, who were authorised to perform these plays. In England they were divided among the Trade Guilds, every one of which had to exhibit some dramatic scene on the Feast of Corpus Christi. Thus at Coventry the smiths played the Trial and Crucifixion; the Cappers played the Resurrection and Descent into Hell; the Shearmen played the Birth of Christ, the Adoration of the Magi, the Flight into Egypt and the Massacre of the Innocents. In London the Company of Parish Clerks took a prominent part, one of their performances being recorded by Stow as lasting for three days. This was at the Skinners’ Well, Smithfield, in the year 1391. Another performance is also mentioned which took place in 1409, and lasted for eight days. The civic procession of Corpus Christi, which was attended by Mayor, Sheriffs, and Aldermen, with all the City officers, together with the City clergy, and was adorned by pageants and figures and groups, was entrusted to the Skinners’ Company. I have not been able to discover other London companies entrusted with the representation of these plays. The stage was of considerable area, and contained two “rooms,” the upper room for heaven and the lower for earth; or the upper “room” was earth and the lower was hell. Sometimes there were three “rooms.” The play was introduced by a prologue: each player was presented by name: when not acting the players stood aside and were supposed to be invisible. The realism was startling. When Judas was hanged he carried to the gallows the entrails of some animal, which, when he cast himself off, he let fall. At the same time the devil, who was behind him on the gallows, cut the rope, and they both fell down into hell together. There was no shrinking from the representation of a birth upon the stage: saints in torture made jokes; Solomon quarrelled with one of his wives and drank a mug of beer; the devil carried off a soul in a wheelbarrow; at the scene of the Resurrection the gardener made fun over the effects of his herbs; the pedlar wanted to sell his wares to the women weeping over the grave; the mouth of hell vomited flames; Adam and Eve appeared as they were before the Fall; it is as if the Church wanted to make the event more real by connecting it with the actual life, the unmistakable life of men and women. From Church to Market-place was one step; from the mystery to the morality is another step; the last step of all was from the morality, an insipid performance, to the real comedy of human life, and even this had to make its way by means of the drama founded on the life of the saint. How great a step to discover that in every man there was a possible drama equal in interest to the life of any saint or martyr! There is very little positive information about217 the early drama in London. Yet we know that the miracle play was performed here as well as elsewhere. Stow’s contribution to our knowledge I have already quoted. FitzStephen, too, speaks of these plays. Piers Plowman mentions them as common. Chaucer’s Wife of Bath goes to processions, pilgrimages, miracle plays, and marriages. To the class of Church Play belongs the curious function of the Boy Bishop, which was practised in St. Paul’s and in many parish churches of the City. On the eve of St. Nicholas, the choristers elected one of their number to be the Boy Bishop. A set of episcopal robes was provided for the boy, including a mitre, a pastoral staff, and all the vestments:—

“Towards the end of evensong on St. John’s Day, the boy bishop and his clerks, arrayed in their copes and having burning tapers in their hands, and singing those words of the Apocalypse (ch. xiv.), Centum quadraginta, walked processionally from the Choir to the Altar of the Blessed Trinity, which the boy bishop incensed. Afterwards they all sang the anthem, and he recited the prayer commemorative of the Holy Innocents. Going back into the Choir, these boys took possession of the upper Canons’ stalls, and those dignitaries themselves had to serve in the boys’ places, and carry the candles, the thurible, the book, like acolytes, thurisers, and lower clerks. Standing on high, wearing his mitre, and holding his pastoral staff in his left hand, the boy bishop gave his solemn benediction to all present; and, while making the sign of the cross over the kneeling crowd, he said:—

Crucis signo vos consigno: vestra sit tuitio.
Quos nos emit et redemit suæ carnis pretio.”

The day after, a sermon, which was written for him, was preached by the Boy Bishop; at this the scholars of St. Paul’s were bound to attend. It has been sometimes stated that the boy celebrated mass, but this is not true; it was impossible at any time in the history of the Church that a child or any person but a priest should be allowed to celebrate mass.

This curious and apparently irreverent ceremony formed part of the general rejoicing, mumming, and feasting of the season. Probably it was explained in something of this way. It taught the children that the things done by the altar concerned them, the young as well as the old. It deepened their impression and strengthened their hold of the simple doctrines which they were taught. It was, in other words, a presentment of the same thing in a different form.



When we think of the great mass of people of Mediæval London, when we think of their laborious and industrious days, the precarious nature of their lives, the perils which attended them, far greater to our thinking than those of the present day—dangers ever present, of fire, famine, plague, pestilence, and war, we are moved to inquire into the ideas and beliefs which controlled the minds of this apparently inarticulate mass. There were ideas on religion, on superstitions, on manners and customs, on war, and on government. As regards their religion, there was no doubt, or question, or hesitation whatever, as to the one leading doctrine which influenced them. They were all, of course, absolutely certain that after death came either the pains of purgatory or the torments of hell. How could there be either doubt or question, when they could see depicted on the walls of the churches the Day of Judgment with the devils receiving souls and hurling them into the flames? They could see the souls themselves plunged to the neck in yellow flames, in torments unspeakable and endless, with bodies unconsumed and indestructible: the golden Heavens, the saints sitting with crowns upon their heads and harps in their hands. On these points there could be no doubt. Since every man, as the priests told them, was continually committing all kinds of sin, both carnal and venial, there was no chance for any one to escape except through the pains of purgatory. These, of course, could be procured as a substitute for the other place by the kind offices of the Church. For this reason, and among the great mass of the people for no other reason, not because the Church cultivated morality and honesty, peace and mercy and righteousness, but simply and solely in order to secure purgatory which, at least, however terrible, did offer a termination after many years: with this object in view, and with no other, the rich men built their churches, founded chantries, masses, almshouses, paid pilgrimages, gave rich presents to the Church, and built colleges for the priests.

From twelfth-century MS. executed at Convent of Hohemburg. MS. destroyed in the fire of Strasburg Library, 1870.

At first a man was sufficiently fortified by the last offices ordered by the Church itself: he died in hope when he had received extreme unction. Presently, however, people became a little doubtful; the fear arose that the service of the Church for the dying might prove by itself insufficient to ensure for the soul entrance219 into purgatory. Accordingly, therefore, new precautions were invented. Men thought that it would be safer for them if they were buried in consecrated ground within, not outside, the walls of the church: again, it would certainly be safer to be laid as near the high altar as possible. Then again, it was discovered that the church of the monastery was more sacred, and therefore still safer than the parish church. After this, it was believed that some monasteries were even safer than others. Thus the Greyfriars Church in London was esteemed a much more220 desirable place of interment than St. Paul’s: it was therefore crammed from east to west with monuments of kings and princes, great lords and great ladies. Here they all lay buried in the habit of a Franciscan, hoping either to step into Heaven in the guise of a Friar, or at least, being in such a guise, to get off at the Last Day with a shorter allowance of purgatory than that due to them, or even without any purgatory at all.

It seems to us, with our ideas of equality, a most monstrous belief that a rich man should be able to buy himself out of purgatory, while a poor man must endure the full weight and penalty of his sins. I do not think that the poor man considered the matter in this way at all. On the contrary, it was one of the attributes of wealth and rank that they should make the conquest of Heaven more easy. The poor accepted the situation. Their poverty was imposed upon them with all its consequences. They could not, however they tried, rise out of it: between nobility and villeinhood there was an impassable gulf: well for them that the Lord had left open a way even after many thousand years of purgatory.

As regards the doctrines of the Church, the great mass of the people knew very little, and questioned not at all. The history of the Saints and of the Old and New Testaments they partially understood, because on the walls and in the windows of their parish churches were everywhere represented the acts of Christ and of the Apostles and those of the Saints. Moreover, as we have seen, in the mysteries or sacred plays, the scenes from the Old Testament were performed with grotesque, and even burlesque, imitations in the open air for all the world to see.

The influence of the Church on morals was probably no greater in the Middle Ages than it is now. Certainly men were no more moral than they are now. In saying this, one is not attacking the moral influence of the Church. In a time of greater rudeness, greater ignorance, greater lack of self-command, greater violence, one would expect what actually happened, viz. that there were times when the power of the Church seemed lost, e.g. in the Civil Wars of King Stephen’s reign. As for the City, much the same cheating went on in trade, and there was quite as much laxity in morals of every other kind as we can boast of in our own time. Moreover, it is always difficult to decide when the law punishes an evil-doer-whether it is the law or the preaching of the Church which restrains others from becoming evil-doers.

As regards the superstitions of the people of London. They were at all times believers in magic and sorcery, but, as always happens, many of the popular beliefs seemed often to sleep or to be dead. It was only from time to time that there occurred an outbreak of belief showing that superstition of this kind still existed among them. The most notable case, for instance, is that of Eleanor Cobham, Duchess of Gloucester, whom we heard of at p. 210: she was accused of attempting to compass the death of Henry the Sixth by means of a magic image. Everybody seems to have firmly believed this story, which, indeed, may have been perfectly true. She, however, did penance in the City of London, and was confined for life in Chester Castle, and the woman who assisted her was put to death. Later on, Richard the Third endeavoured to make out that Elizabeth Woodville had been guilty of magic and sorcery.

From the Grangerised Edition of Brayley’s London and Middlesex, in the Guildhall Library.


Other superstitions the people had, and, as at the present day, obscure persons earned their livelihood by pretending to discover where stolen property was to be found, and by telling fortunes and the like. A curious superstition is mentioned by Chaucer. He tells us that, by the help of a bone of a wether’s right shoulder, from which the flesh had been boiled (not roasted) away, some could tell what was being done in far countries, “tokens of pees and of werre, the staat of the relme, sleynge of men, and spousebreche.”

The actual attitude of the people towards the claims and pretensions of the Church are illustrated by the wills of which I have already made so liberal a use. (R. Sharpe, Calendar of Wills.) Thus, as we have seen, it was an article of faith down to the middle of the sixteenth century that the soul could be released from purgatory, or could be relieved from many years of purgatory, by good works done for the Church, by masses said after death, by the prayers of the Religious, or by securing a share in their merits. Thus, a citizen left money for the maintenance and decoration of the parish church, for obits, for trentals, i.e. services of thirty masses, for a daily mass in perpetuity; for so many masses, perhaps a thousand within three days of death; for the endowment of a chantry, and perhaps the erection of a Chantry Chapel; for the purchase of books on Church Service, vestments, altar cloths, Paschal candles, and singing candles. Again, as the maintenance of bridges was in itself a religious duty, bequests for that purpose were common. In order to secure a share in the merits of the Religious, bequests were constantly made to all the orders of the mendicant Friars—the Franciscans or Grey Friars; the Dominicans or Black Friars; the Carmelites or White Friars; the Augustinian or Austin Friars; and, though they were not always included, the Crutched Friars, or Friars of the Holy Cross. With the same object, bequests were made to the hermits, anchorites, and ankresses.

Bequests were also made—one believes out of sheer charity, apart from any considerations as to the safety of the soul—to hospitals, such as St. Bartholomew’s, St. Mary Spital, St. Mary Bethlehem, St. Thomas’s, and the three “Colleges” of lepers, “Le Loke” of Southwark, St. Giles’ in the Fields, and the House with the “misil cotes” at Hackney.

Bequests were made to the Prisons, Newgate, Ludgate, Fleet, the two Marshalseas, the Clink in Southwark, the White Lyon in Southwark, the City Compters, the Borough Compter, and the Gate House of Westminster. Bequests were also made to pilgrims, that the testator might enjoy the benefits conferred upon pilgrimage.


Bequests were made to the poor of the testator’s Company or parish: of clothes to friends or to kinsfolk: clothes made of fur, silk, satin, and fine cloth, girdles, chains, daggers, rings, weapons, armour, drinking cups, silver plate, pewter.

The wife, at her husband’s death, was entitled to one-third of the personal property; she was, however, generally provided for by a dower which exceeded the amount she could claim. I have already described the vow of perpetual widowhood, which was not an uncommon thing for a widow to make, according to the form provided by the Church. Sometimes she took the vows and entered a convent.



The display at funerals, and the ceremonies observed, the hospitality offered, and the order of the procession, formed a large part in the social life of the time, especially in times when some great man or other was always dying. The following is the order of the funeral procession of the fifteenth century, set forth in detail:—First, for the Burial of a King. (Archæologia.)

Drawing of the fourteenth century.


“What shall be don on the demyse of a King annoynted? When that a King annoynted is decessed, after his body is sp’ged, it must be washed and clensed by a Bishop for his holy annoyntment, than the body must be bamed, wrapped in laun, or reynez yf it may be gotyn, than hosyn cherte, & a perer of shone of rededlether, & do on his surcote of cloth, his cap of estate on his bed, and then ley hym on a fair borde cou’ed with cloth of gold, his on hande on his bely & a sep’r in the toder hande, & oon his face a kerchief yef the weder will it suffre. And when he may not godely longer endur, take hym away and bowell hym and then eftones bame hym, wrappe him in raynez welw trameled in cords of silke, than in tarseryn tramelled, & than in velvet, & so in clothe of gold well tramelled, and than led hym and cofre hym, and in his leed write hym a plate of his stile, name, and the date of our Lord gravyn, and yef ye cary hym, mak an ymage like him clothd in a surcote with a mantell of estate, the laces goodly lying on his bely, his sep’r in his hande, and a crown on his hed, and so cary hym in a chare open with lights and baners, accompanyed with lordes and estates as the counseill can best devyse, having the hors of that chare trapped with diverse trappers or elles with blake trappers of blake with scochons richely betyn, and his officers of armes aboute hym in his cotes of armez, and then a lorde or a knyght with a courser trapped of his armez, his herneysz upon hym, his salet or basenet on his hed crowned, a shylde and a spere till he come to the place of his ent’ring. And at the masse the same to be offred by noble ducs.”

Next, for the Burial of a person of lower rank:—

(1) The procession begins with a sword offered by the most worshipful man of the kin.

(2) Next follow those who bear the deceased’s Coat of Worship, his helmet, and his crest.

(3) Then must be borne banners of the Trinity: of Our Lady, of St. George, or of the saint, “his avower”—i.e. the patron saint of the deceased, and of his arms. There must also be a Guidon of his device with his word.

(4) There must be a double vallance about the hearse, above and below, with his word and his device written around.

(5) There must be twelve scutcheons of his arms affixed to the bars of the hearse, and three dozen “pinselles to stand above the hearse between the lights.”

(6) There must also be provided as many scutcheons as there are pillars in the church. Scutcheons may be set up in the four quarters of the church at discretion.

(7) Torches must be carried to the number of the deceased’s years, every torch to carry a scutcheon.

(8) Before and beside the hearse must walk five officers of arms bearing his coat of worship, his sword, his helmet, his crest, and his banner of arms, together with the banners already mentioned of the Holy Trinity, Our Lady, St. George, and the Saint, his avower.

(9) Cloth of gold for the ladies to give away.

(10) A company of “innocents” in white carrying tapers.

(11) The horse of the dead man, with a man-at-arms carrying the sword or spear or battle-axe.

(12) The heir must stand beside the priest when offerings are made.

This order, it will be observed, says nothing about the mourners. There were troops of mourners: the family, the relations, the friends, the servants, until the long, slow procession, singing, with the Priests of the Papey marching before, reached the whole length of Cheapside from St. Michael le Querne to St. Mildred’s.





The history of the Monastic Life, with its rise and its decay, its work and its importance, has attracted many writers and historians. It has been fiercely assailed; it has been vehemently defended. In speaking of the Dissolution it was necessary to state plainly the condition into which Monks and Friars had fallen in the early sixteenth century. (See Appendix VIII.) In this place, and as a fitting preface to a review in detail of the Monastic Houses of London, it may be permitted to quote those who could speak in praise of the Religious Life. There are two writers who seem to say all that can be said in favour of Monasticism. The first was contemporary with the Dissolution; his work is in MS. in the British Museum. I quote it at second hand from Cunningham, Growth of English Industry (p. 472):

“There was no person that came to them heavy or sad for any cause that went away comfortless; they never revenged them of any injury, but was content to forgive it freely upon submission, and if the price of corn had begun to start up in the market, they made thereunto with a wain load of corn, and sold it under the market to poor people, to the end to bring down the price thereof. If the highways, bridges, or causeys were tedious to the passengers that sought their living by their travel, their great help lacked not toward the repairing and amending thereof, yea oftentimes they amended them on their own proper charges.

If any poor householder lacked seed to sow his land, or bread, corn, or malt before harvest, and came to a monastery, either of men or women, he would not have gone away without help: for he should have had it until harvest, that he might easily have paid it again. Yea if he had made his moan for an ox, horse, or cow, he might have had it upon his credit, and such was the good conscience of the borrowers in those days that the thing borrowed needed not to have been asked at the day of payment.

They never raised any rent, or took any incomes or garsomes (fines) of their tenants, nor ever broke in or improved any commons, although the most part and the greatest waste grounds belonged to their possessions.

If any poor people had made their moan at their day of marriage to any Abbey, they should have had money given to their great help. And thus all sorts228 of people were helped and succoured by abbeys: yea, happy was that person that was tenant to an abbey, for it was a rare thing to hear that any tenant was removed by taking his farm over his head, nor he was not afraid of any re-entry for non-payment of rent, if necessity drove him thereunto. And thus they fulfilled the works of charity in all the country round about them, to the good example of all lay parsons that now have taken forth other lessons, that is, nunc tempus alios postulat mores.”

The second writer is Tanner in his Notitia Monastica (Preface):

“John Wethamsted, Abbot of St. Albans, caused above eighty books to be transcribed (there was then no printing) during his abbacy. Fifty-eight were transcribed by the care of one Abbot of Glastonbury, and so zealous were the monks in general for the work that they often got lands given and churches appropriated for the carrying of it on. In all the greater abbeys there were also persons appointed to take notice of the principal occurrences of the kingdom, and, at the end of every year, to digest them into annals. In these records they particularly preserved the memories of their founders and benefactors, the years and days of their births and deaths, their marriages, children, and successors, so that recourse was sometimes had to them for proving persons’ ages and genealogies, though it is to be feared that some of these pedigrees were drawn up from tradition only, and that in most of their accounts they were favourable to their friends and severe upon their enemies. The constitutions of the clergy in their national and provincial synods, and (after the Conquest) even Acts of Parliament were sent to the Abbey to be recorded, which leads me to mention the use and advantage of these religious houses.

First, The choicest records and treasures in the kingdom were preserved in them. An exemplification of the Charter of Liberties granted by King Henry the First was sent to some abbey in every county to be preserved. Charters and inquisitions relating to the County of Cornwall were deposited in the Priory of Bodmin; a great many rolls were lodged in the Abbey of Leicester and Priory of Kenilworth until taken from thence by King Henry the Third. King Edward the First sent to the religious houses to search for his title to the kingdom of Scotland in their leigers and chronicles, as the most authentic records for proof of his right to that crown. When his sovereignty was acknowledged in Scotland, he sent letters to have it inserted in the chronicles of the Abbey of Winchcomb and the Priory of Norwich, and, probably, of many other such places. And when he decided the controversy relating to the crown of Scotland between Robert Bruce and John Baliol, he wrote to the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul’s, London, requiring them to enter in their chronicles the exemplifications therewith sent of that decision. The learned Mr. Selden hath his greatest evidences for the dominion of the narrow seas, belonging to the King of Great Britain, from monastic229 records. The evidences and money of private families were oftentimes sent to these houses to be preserved. The seals of noblemen were deposited there upon their deaths, and even the King’s money was sometimes lodged in them.

Nash del.

Londina Illustrata, vol. i.

Secondly, They were schools of learning and education; for every convent had one person or more appointed for this purpose, and all the neighbours that desired it might have their children taught grammar and church music without any expense to them. In the nunneries, also, young women were taught to work and read English, and sometimes Latin also. So that not only the lower rank of people, who could not pay for their learning, but most of the noblemen’s and gentlemen’s daughters were educated in these places.

Thirdly, All the monasteries were, in effect, great hospitals, and were, most of them, obliged to relieve many poor people every day. They were, likewise, houses of entertainment for almost all travellers. Even the nobility and gentry,230 when they were upon the road, lodged at one religious house and dined at another, and seldom or never went to inns. In short, their hospitality was such that, in the Priory of Norwich, 1500 quarters of malt, and above 800 quarters of wheat, and all other things in proportion, were generally spent every year.

Fourthly, The nobility and gentry provided not only for their old servants in these houses by corrodies,20 but for their younger children and impoverished friends by making them first monks and nuns, and, in time, priors and prioresses, abbots and abbesses.

Fifthly, They were of considerable advantage to the crown. (1) By the profits received from the death of one abbot or prior to the election, or, rather, confirmation of another. (2) By great fines paid for the confirmation of their liberties. (3) By many corrodies granted to old servants of the crown, and pensions to the King’s clerks and chaplains till they got preferment.

Sixthly, They were likewise of considerable advantage to the places where they had their sites and estates. (1) By causing great resort to them, and getting grants of fairs and markets for them. (2) By freeing them from the Forest Laws. (3) By letting their land at easy rates.

Lastly, They were great ornaments to the country, many of them were really noble buildings, and though not actually so grand and neat, yet, perhaps, as much admired in their times as Chelsea and Greenwich Hospitals are now. Many of the abbey churches were equal, if not superior, to our present cathedrals, and they must have been as much an ornament to the country, and employed as many workmen in building and keeping them in repair, as noblemen’s and gentlemen’s seats now [1744] do.”

It will be observed as a doubtful advantage that the nobility and gentry provided for their old servants by corrodies, and had further privileges in the way of making their own “younger children and impoverished friends” monks and nuns, abbots and abbesses. But Tanner belonged to a time when it was still firmly believed that everything good and worth having belonged to gentlefolk, so that, if the Monastic House was of advantage to them, it must necessarily be of advantage to the country. In other respects, also, one cannot altogether agree with the learned writer. If, for instance, the Monastic Houses kept schools open to all comers, what was the need of founding new schools in London in the fifteenth century? Nor can it be accepted as proved that the children of poor parents were admitted either to the abbey or the nunnery school. Let, however, this plea for the Religious stand. There is enough, and too much, to be said on the other side.


“As to the extent of church property,” Milman remarks (v. 201) “in London and the neighbouring counties of Middlesex, Surrey, Essex, the church lands must have been enormous. Hardly a parish in Middlesex which did not belong, certainly so far as manorial rights, to the Bishop of London, the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul’s, the Abbots and Monks of Westminster, and other Religious Houses; the Carthusians, St. John Clerkenwell (Hospitallers), Sion, and many smaller foundations. The chapter of St. Paul’s swept in a broad belt round the north of London till they met the church of Westminster at Hampstead and Paddington. The Abbot of Westminster was almost a Prince of Westminster.”

Again, to quote from the same writer:—

“The wealth of the Clergy, the landed property, even with the tithe, was by no means the whole: and, invaded as it was by aggression, by dilapidation, by alienation through fraud or violence, limited in its productiveness by usage, by burthens, by generosity, by maladministration, it may be questioned whether it was the largest part. The vast treasures accumulated by the Avignonese Pontiffs when the Papal territories were occupied by enemies or adventurers, and could have yielded but scanty revenues, testify to the voluntary or compulsory tribute paid by Western Christendom to her Supreme Court of Appeal. If the Bishops mainly depended on their endowments, to the Clergy, to the monastic houses, oblations (in many cases now from free gifts hardened into rightful demands) were pouring in, and had long been pouring in, with incalculable profusion. Not only might not the altars, hardly any part of the church might be approached without a votive gift. The whole life, the death of every Christian was bound up with the ceremonial of the church: for almost every office was received from the rich and generous the ampler donation, from the poorer or more parsimonious was exacted the hard-wrung fee. Above all, there were the masses, which might lighten the sufferings of the soul in purgatory: there was the prodigal gift of the dying man out of selfish love for himself, the more generous and no less prodigal gift of the bereaved, out of holy charity for others. The dying man, from the King to the peasant, when he had no further use for his worldly riches would devote them to this end: the living, out of profound respect or deep affection for the beloved husband, parent, brother, kinsman, friend, would be, and actually was not less bountiful and munificent. Add to all this the oblations at the crosses of the Redeemer, or the shrines of popular or famous saints, for their intercessory prayers to avert the imminent calamity, to assuage the sorrow, or to grant success to the schemes, it might be, of ambition, avarice, or any other passion, to obtain pardon for sin, to bring down blessing: crosses and shrines, many of them supposed to be endowed with miraculous powers, constantly working miracles. To most of these were made perpetual processions, led by the Clergy in their rich attire. From the basins of gold or the bright florins of the King to the mite of the beggar, all fell into the deep insatiable box which unlocked its treasures to the Clergy. Besides all these estates, tithes, oblations, bequests to the Clergy and the monasteries, reckon the subsidies in kind to the Mendicants in their four Orders—Dominicans, Franciscans, Augustinians, Carmelites. In every country of Latin Christendom, of these swarms of Friars, the lowest obtained sustenance: the higher, means to build up and maintain splendid churches, cloisters, houses. They were a vast standing army, far more vast than any maintained by any kingdom in Christendom: at once levying subsidies to an enormous amount and living at free quarters throughout the land.”

Any investigation into the conditions of monastic life brings the reader into many strange and unexpected places. At first, probably, he is impatient over the futility of the life, the loss of the old ideals, the worship of a Rule which is broken away and disregarded at every point, the contrast between the profession of sanctity and the life of idleness. Presently, he begins to understand that at its worst the monastery always presented some kind of example, if only in its freedom from violence, and in a discipline, lax perhaps, but far more severe than could be found outside. And then he observes how much was done by the monastery, and how much was expected of it. I do not suppose that the indiscriminate charity enjoined232 upon the brethren, and always practised by them, was favourable to the repression of mendicity, and the discouragement of the tramp and masterless man. Still there is always the immediate need of the starving and the sick and the suffering, which should be met without too jealous questioning into records and antecedents. We need not ask what contributions to Mediæval Literature and Learning were made by this or that convent: it is enough to know that here was a Library, and that here the monks set up reading boxes in their cloisters for those who wished to study. The example was there. We need not ask how far the town folk or the village folk were admitted to the monastery school, or if it was used only for the children of noble parents confided to the Abbot for education. The school was there, it was an example. We need not, even, pry too closely into the private lives of the Religious, though I think that as a rule they were as blameless as could be expected, considering the time and the manners: the example was there: the rule of chastity, temperance, obedience, and contempt of wealth.

Again, the reader cannot fail, presently, to understand the eagerness, the pathetic eagerness, with which the people ran after every new Order of Religion which appeared. One after the other, they were Reformers: they would introduce a sterner discipline, fiercer austerities. One after the other they fell off; the pristine zeal cooled; the new Order followed in the same lines as the old; the brethren preserved the letter and threw away the spirit. Most pathetic of all is the respect, the admiration, the awe, with which the people regarded the Franciscans in their first splendid self-devotion. They saw a company to whom nothing was unclean, nothing was beneath their care, no criminal too base, no wretched woman too low for them, no disease too loathsome, no hovel or den too filthy for the bearers of consolation and of succour to approach. What could be too good, too costly, too precious for such men? They would accept no endowment. They lived on the broken meats of charity. Then let their church be adorned; let the pillars bear aloft the roof over chapels and altars ablaze with gold and lights; let their sacred vessels be of gold—nothing less would serve; let the vestments be of cloth of gold and silver. And so on until the dreadful suspicion arose that the Grey Friars were not so holy and so devoted as of old. They lived upon their reputation for a hundred years and more; and for a hundred years to follow they slowly decayed, until there was no reproach too bitter, no invective too vehement, for the poor Franciscan.

Again, as to the uses to which their Houses were put. They were sanctuaries; they were hospitals; they were places of education for the sons of nobles; they were places of training for young ecclesiastics: great ladies, whom it was not politic to punish with imprisonment were sent to a Monastic House, where they were allowed everything except the liberty of leaving it. Thus Queen Katharine of Valois, after the discovery of her secret marriage, was sent to Bermondsey Abbey233 till she died: Queen Elizabeth Woodville, who surely must have proved all the miseries that belong to a crown, was also sent to Bermondsey. Dame Badlesmere, after her husband’s execution, was sent to the Clares of London. Then we find the King’s clerks expecting a pension for one of their body whenever a new Abbot or Prior was elected: and we find the King sending his old and incompetent servants to the Monastic Houses for maintenance for the remainder of their lives. Of those who professed much, more was expected.

In a word, what we find in these glimpses of monastic life is that it is all so human—so intensely human. Did we expect anything else? Yes, the Rule demands a life that is superhuman: therefore the Rule breaks down. Its weakness is that men cannot endure it; yet they have taken the vows; they cannot break free from the Rule; but they may introduce alleviations and palliatives—in every Monastic House there was the Misericordia, where indulgences were granted and conferred.

So we begin with prejudice and with contempt, and we end with sympathy and pity. After so many years we no longer feel, though we may understand, the exasperation with which the abuse of the Monastic system came to be regarded: the accumulation of vast estates in the hands of a multitude who toiled not neither did they spin: who professed an austere Rule and lived a luxurious life: who despised wealth but enjoyed all that wealth could give: who pretended to pay no regard to birth yet admitted into their ranks none but those of gentle blood: with whom the difference between profession and practice was monstrous and scandalous.

I have said that when the Rule was too hard for men to obey, they made for themselves alleviations.

There was one Rule at least where, so far as one can learn, no alleviations were practised; in this Rule men had to conform or be broken in the attempt. It was the Rule of the Carthusians. It was so austere as to seem well-nigh impossible of observance; but it was observed; nay, it was loved: Sir Thomas More lived with the brethren for a time and practised all their austerities; he would have continued to live with them; he desired nothing better than to live and die under a Rule which repressed all natural desires, but the brethren would not receive him: they sent him out into the world to do a nobler work among the people of his age and of the generations to come.



This foundation, by reason of its antiquity and religious objects, should have been venerable, but it became, by its claims, privileges, and position, an institution hateful and detestable, long before the Monastic Houses fell into disrepute. It had its origin certainly before the Conquest, but how long before cannot be ascertained. Tradition made Wythred, King of Kent, its founder in the seventh century. We need not trouble ourselves with the reasons which make this tradition impossible. Safe ground is touched about the year 1056, when St. Martin’s was either founded, or endowed, by Ingelric and Girard [Edward], two brothers, for a Dean and Secular Canons. In 1068 a Charter was granted to the College by William:—

“I William, etc.... grant, and by my royal authority for ever corroborate and confirm to God and the Church of the blessed Martin, situate within the walls of London, which the aforesaid Ingelric and Girard his brother, from their own revenues, and in atonement of their faults, honourable built to the praise of God, and for the Canonical Rule therein to be held and observed for ever. Now these are the names of the lands, Estre in Essex, with the Berewic of Maissebery and Norton, and Stanford, and Fobbinge, and Benedict, and Christehal, and Tolesfunte, and Rowenhal, and Angre, together with their appendages, the meadows, pastures, woods, mills, and all to them belonging; and in Benefleot one hide, and in Hoddesdon one hide, also the church of Mealdon with two hides of Land, and the tithes and all things to it appertaining. Moreover also, on my own part, I give and grant to the said Church, for the redemption of the souls of my father and mother, all the land and moor without the postern, which is called Cripelesgate on either side of the postern, to wit, from the Northern angle of the City wall, where a rivulet of springs, near thereto flowing, marks it out (i.e. the moor) from the wall, as far as the running-water which enters the City. I grant to it besides all the Churches and all the tithes, lands also and houses, which the faithful in Christ have already given to it within and without London, or shall in future bestow....

This Charter was renewed or confirmed by Henry the First and by Stephen.

Among the various historical points connected with St. Martin’s, the following may be noted as the most important.

Henry the Second granted to the Canons a free court of all their men and tenants: they were not to be impleaded out of it except before the King and the Chief Justice.

The Saddlers’ Guild became connected with the Church of St. Martin’s—a fact which shows that the college was not wholly regarded as a sanctuary for criminals.


In 1235 Henry the Third upheld the Canons’ Court against the City.

The erection of St. Leonard’s Parish Church on the confines of the Precinct in 1236 points to a restriction of St. Martin’s Church to the College or sanctuary. But there are other instances, e.g. that of St. Catherine Cree, in which a parish church was, for convenience, built outside the Monastic Precinct.

The buildings of St. Martin’s were improved and rebuilt by its Dean, William de Wykeham, about 1367.

Pope Innocent the Third exempted the Royal Chapels from Excommunication or Interdict.

From Strype’s Stow, 1754 edition.

Edward the First forbade Cardinals sent from Rome to receive procuration from St. Martin’s.

In 14 Edw. II. the College, under a Quo Warranto heard at the Tower, relinquished any claim to receive toll within the City.

By Rich. II. St. Martin’s was exempted from tenths, fifteenths, tallages, aids, and all contributions or quotas by the King.

St. Martin’s was by far the largest, the safest, and the best-protected of all the English sanctuaries. The meaning and the development of the theory of sanctuary have been considered already (p. 201). At first it meant little more than a temporary asylum, where criminals could find shelter while they sought for means to236 redeem their offence by paying the penalty attached by Saxon Law. Every Monastic House, every church, the King’s Palace, were all sanctuaries. But a sanctuary within the walls of the City, which was not a place of temporary refuge, not a place, such as a church, in which the fugitive could be starved into surrender, but a place in which every kind of criminal might find an asylum and safe retreat for life, a place which practically defied the arm of the Law and the hand of Justice, was certain to become an intolerable burden to a law-abiding city. And so St. Martin’s actually did become. Again and again the City of London revolted in vain against its powers; again and again cases were vainly laid in the courts against the Dean and Chapter.

The Precinct is almost exactly occupied by the present Post Office and Telegraph Offices of St. Martin’s-le-Grand.

About the year 1285 it was judged expedient to close a lane leading from St. Vedast, Foster Lane, to St. Nicholas Shambles through the Precinct of St. Martin’s because it had become the safe haunt for thieves and rogues.

In 1381, during Wat Tyler’s rebellion, Roger Legat, “quest monger” or collector, was torn from the High Altar of St. Martin’s and beheaded in Cheapside.

In 1405 the citizens petitioned Henry the Fourth for the abolition of St. Martin’s privileges as to sanctuary, on the ground that it sheltered murderers, thieves, and fraudulent debtors. It was, however, impossible to hope that Henry, who owed his crown largely to the support of the Church, could do anything so contrary to ecclesiastical privilege. It is perhaps astonishing that so simple a plan as the removal of the College bodily to some place in the country, or, at least, without the walls of the City, should not have been suggested.

In 1416 one Henry Kneve, who had taken sanctuary, fled for some reason, leaving behind him a quantity of valuables which he had stolen. These were seized by the Dean’s officers as waif. One would have thought that they would have been restored to their owners.

We have seen (p. 205) the case of the year 1422, when the City fought with all its powers, and by means of its most learned men.

In 1430 the Mayor and Sheriffs withdrew by force from sanctuary a certain Canon. They were, however, compelled to restore him.

One Matthew Philip, Alderman of Aldersgate Ward, denied the right of St. Martin’s Lane, which ran through the Precinct, to be privileged, and demanded certain payments on account of taxes or tallage to be paid there. On being refused, he levied by distress. He, too, had to give way, and offered the Dean, by way of reconciliation, a supper.

It must not be supposed that sanctuary men lived in St. Martin’s for nothing. On the contrary, the great cost of living within the Precinct was a source of considerable profit to the Canons, and was doubtless one of the reasons why the237 place was continued. Many of the refugees took advantage of the immunities of the place to make counterfeit goldsmiths’ work. Hence the phrase “false St. Martin’s beads.” It is noteworthy, however, that in 1447 the Goldsmiths’ Company, by permission of the Dean, although against the privileges of the place, searched the Precinct, and took away all the counterfeit work they could find, while the Dean consigned the offenders to the College Prison.

St. Martin’s, during the Wars of the Roses, served as a refuge and an asylum for many persons of consideration. William Oldehall, the Duke of York’s Chamberlain, was one of them. Henry demanded his surrender, but withdrew his order. Shortly after, Oldehall was charged with breaking sanctuary in order to commit murder. The Alderman of Aldersgate broke into St. Martin’s and carried him off, but, as in every other case, had to bring him back with gifts of atonement to the Canons.

In 1455 the City was highly provoked by the lawlessness of the sanctuary men. The Mayor and Aldermen, at the head of the citizens, forced the sanctuary and took out the ringleaders. The Dean complained, but it was the time of the outbreak of the Civil Wars, and his complaint appears to have passed unheeded.

In the following year the sanctuary men joined the citizens in attacking aliens. But, indeed, the fact proves nothing except the readiness of the lawless to commit lawless actions.

In 1457 the following Articles were drawn up for the reformation of the sanctuary, no doubt in deference to the complaints of the citizens:—

The Dean was to be sworn to keep the said Articles:

(1) Refugees to make known their reasons for taking sanctuary, and the same to be registered in a book with the refugee’s name.

(2) Refugees to deliver up weapons or armour, except a pointless knife for meat.

(3) A notorious thief entering the sanctuary must give good security for the time he remains there and three months after; failing such security, he is to be committed to ward, in the sanctuary, but may depart from the sanctuary if he will.

(4) The outer gates and posterns of the sanctuary to be closed from 9 P.M. to 6 A.M., Allhallows to Candlemas, and the rest of the year from 9 P.M. to 4 A.M., or till the commencement of the first mass there. Refugees for felony or treason to remain in sanctuary all night.

(5) Fugitives to be deprived of stolen goods they may bring into the sanctuary, and the same to be restored if possible to the owners. No one to buy such goods in the sanctuary, but if such purchase be proved, the buyer to make satisfaction to the owner.

(6) Any sanctuary man leaving the sanctuary to commit crime, is to be put to ward in the sanctuary, and if he wish to depart the sanctuary he shall do so at a given hour in daytime.

(7) Persons guilty of certain offences, as lock-picking, forgers of seals, evidences, workers of counterfeit gold and silver work not to be suffered in the sanctuary. Persons suspected of such to be committed to ward till they find sufficient security.

(8) Vicious persons not to be “suspected” in the sanctuary. If any be there, they to be put to open ward in the daytime till shame cause them to depart, or they amend their evil ways.


(9) That deceitful games be not played in the sanctuary.

(10) Barbers and artificers to keep Sundays as the citizens of London do, if they break this ordinance they to be put in ward. They to use their crafts according to the ordinances of the same City.

(11) Every person taking sanctuary to be sworn on a book, to obey these ordinances.

Among others who took sanctuary in St. Martin’s during the Civil Wars were the Countess of Oxford; Anne Neville, afterwards Richard’s Queen; and Miles Forrest, one of the murderers of the young Princes in the Tower. The tradition was that he “rotted away piecemeal”—probably he was one of the late victims to leprosy, which was then rapidly vanishing.

In 1498 Henry the Seventh endowed the Abbey of Westminster and his Lady Chapel there with St. Martin’s-le-Grand, so that the Abbot became the Dean of the College. A new seal was made. Also a new and a more powerful defender of sanctuary was created. It was not until 1548, when all chantries, free chapels, and brotherhoods were granted to the King, that the College was dissolved and the church was demolished. Even then the privileges of sanctuary survived, though under greatly modified conditions.

The church, as appeared from the excavations in 1818, was more than 200 feet long. After it was pulled down, tenements called the New Rents were erected on its site. On the place of the high altar was a wine tavern.

During the reign of Elizabeth, most of the inhabitants were foreigners—French, German, Dutch, and Scotch. By the freedom of the Precinct they could trade without being free of the City: among them were shoemakers, tailors, buttermakers, goldsmiths, purse-makers, stationers, silk weavers, and silk throwsters. The number of the foreigners of St. Martin’s in 1593 was 196.

In 1697 whatever privileges of sanctuary remained were abolished.

The Act of 1815, providing for the site of the new Post Office, reserved to the inhabitants the right to trade without being freemen of the City; the Court of St. Martin’s remained undisturbed; and the inhabitants were entitled to vote at Parliamentary Elections as Electors of Westminster.

There is an immense mass of material in connection with this ancient House, but the above seems to embody the matters of importance. It may be added that the College possessed considerable property outside Aldersgate; that St. Botolph’s Church was united with St. Martin’s in 1399, and seems to have been farmed to the Priory of St. Bartholomew. The French Protestant Church, now in Soho Square, was situated in St. Martin’s from 1841 to 1877.

St. Martin’s was one of the churches where the Curfew Bell was rung every night; the other churches, from time to time, being those of St. Mary-le-Bow, St. Laurence, St. Giles Cripplegate, and All Hallows Barking.

The common opinion of the citizens in the sixteenth century regarding the sanctuary is set forth by Stow. He, it must be remembered, was able to recollect239 the actual working of sanctuary, while St. Martin’s was still a living and acting Foundation.

“This St. Martin’s appears to have been a Sanctuary for great Disorders, and a shelter for the loosest sort of People: Rogues and Ruffians, Thieves and Felons and Murderers. From hence used to rush violent persons, Committers of Riots, Robberies, and Manslaughters: Hither they brought in their preys and stolen goods, and concealed them here, and shared or sold them to those that dwelt here. Here were also harboured Picklocks, Counterfeiters of Keys and Seals, Forgers of false Evidences, such as made counterfeit chains, beads, ouches plate, Copper gilt for gold: nay, common strumpets and Bawds, Gamesters and Players at Hazard and Dice, and other unlawful games. And lastly profaners of Sundays, and other Festival days, exercising their crafts thereon.

And again, to this licentiousness was this Sanctuary grown in these times, that in Henry VII.’s reign, one coming hither for Sanctuary, the Sheriffs took him thence by violence, and brought him away. But observe what followed: The Abbot of Westminster (to whom this college now belonged) in the year of Henry VII. exhibited a bill to the king against these sheriffs for arresting and drawing out with force a privileged person, out of the sanctuary of St. Martin’s belonging to the said Abbey. Which matter was heard in the Court of the Star Chamber, before the Lords and others of the King’s Counsel, and Hody and Newton, chief Justices. Which Justices determined that by Law, the Party ought to enjoy the privilege of sanctuary: and the Sheriffs were grievously fined by particular named.” (Stow’s Survey, vol. i.)

After the Dissolution some of the liberties of the place, as we have seen, remained. And the last condition of the precinct was almost worse than the first.


“Because of the Liberty enjoyed by such as lived within these bounds, many Foreigners, English and others, Tradesmen and Artificers, planted themselves here. In 1585 a Survey was taken of all the strangers, being French, German, Dutch and Scots, inhabiting here and their occupations. Many of them were cordwainers, that is shoemakers (which trade still continues there), Taylors (hence the tallymen who sold shreds of Cloth; and Button makers, and Button-mold-makers, that remained there even until the great Fire in my remembrance). Here inhabited also Strangers, Goldsmiths, Purse-makers, Linen-drapers, some Stationers, some Merchants, silk weavers. Here lived also two silk twisters, who I suppose were the first silk throwers in London, and brought the trade into England. And for remembrance sake, I shall set down their names: the one was John James, born under the Dominion of King Philip, and made Denizen the 19th of December, the 10th of the Queen. The other was Anthony Emerick, born also under the obedience of King Philip, and made Denizen the 1st of January an 17 regin Elisabethæ. There were also upon that survey aforesaid, found to be of householders (Denizens as well as others), their Wives, Children, and Servants, one hundred and fifty in number. Which nevertheless was less by half than was some years before: for in 1569 their number was 269. There was a Constable and a Headborough for this liberty. But divers things here wanted provided for: in respect whereof they that lived out of the Liberty were in better condition. Sundry of the inhabitants refused to watch and ward, when upon occasion they were required, as good subjects and honest neighbours so to do. They refused to contribute to such taxes and payments as were set upon them for Her Majesty’s service, with the rest of their neighbours. Several visited with the sickness would not obey the Orders appointed in that behalf: that is, they would not keep their doors and windows shut, nor keep themselves within their houses: but walked forth, and struck out the red cross set upon their doors, and threatened mischief to any that should come to set crosses there. And some repaired to the Court with their Wares, a thing dangerous to the Queen and Nobility. There was no prison in the said liberty to commit such as should be troublesome and offensive, but the Gatehouse in Westminster: which was in another Shire, and out of the Liberty. And so they that were thus committed, commonly brought their actions against those that committed them, and put them to great trouble.

Hence in the year 1593, the officers and inhabitants petitioned the Lord Treasurer to grant them such good ordinances for the redress of the said disorders, and sufficient authority for the execution of the same, for the good government of the said liberty: and conversation of the people in peace: as to his Lordship’s discreet wisdom should be thought fit. And that they might have a prison and execution of justice within the precinct of their liberty. And that he would send his letters to the Constable and Headborough, to find out a convenient place for such purpose: and to assess all the inhabitants of the liberty to the charge thereof. The Lord Treasurer recommended this matter to Serjeant Owen, and Mr. Lewis, Lawyers: who gave their Judgments, that for all matters for the service of the Queen, the inhabitants were compelled to perform the same. But for other matters, they must make some Bye-Laws and Orders among themselves, to bind themselves to performance.” (Maitland.)



This once rich and flourishing House was founded in the year 1108 by Maud, wife of Henry the First, owing, it is said, to the persuasion, if that pious Queen wanted any persuasion, of Anselm.

“This church was given to Norman, first canon regular in all England. The said queen also gave unto the same church, and those that served God therein, the plot of Aldgate, and the soke thereunto belonging, with all customs so free as she had held the same, and twenty-five pound blankes, which she had of the city of Excester, as appeareth by her deed wherein she nameth the house Christ’s church, and reporteth Aldgate to be of her domains, which she granteth, with two parts of the rent of the city of Excester. Norman took upon him to be prior of Christ’s church, in the year of Christ 1108, in the parishes of St. Mary Magdalen, St. Michael, St. Katherine, and the Blessed Trinity, which now was made but one parish of the Holy Trinity, and was in old time of the Holy Cross or Holy Rood parish. The priory was built on a piece of ground in the parish of St. Katherine towards Aldgate, which lieth in length betwixt the King’s street, by the which men go towards Aldgate, near to the chapel of St. Michael towards the north, and containeth in length eighty-three ells, half, quarter, and half-quarter of the king’s iron elm, and lieth in breadth, etc. The soke and ward of Aldgate was then bounded as I have before showed. The queen was a means also that the land and English Knighten Guild was given unto the prior Norman: the honourable man, Geffrey de Glinton, was a great helper therein, and obtained that the canons might enclose the way betwixt their church and the wall of the city, etc. This priory, in process of time, became a very fair and large church, rich in lands and ornaments, and passed all the priories in the city of London or shire of Middlesex; the prior whereof was an alderman of London, to wit, of Portsoken ward.

I read, that Eustacius, the eighth prior, about the year 1264, because he would not deal with temporal matters, instituted Theobald Fitz Ivon, alderman of Portsoken ward under him, and that William Rising, prior of Christ’s church, was sworn alderman of the said Portsoken ward in the 1st of Richard II. These priors have sitten and ridden amongst the aldermen of London, in livery like unto them, saving that his habit was in shape of a spiritual person, as I myself have seen in my childhood; at which time the prior kept a most bountiful house of meat and drink, both for rich and poor, as well within the house as at the gates, to all comers, according to their estates.” (Stow’s Survey, vol. i.)

What happened many years afterwards with the Franciscans happened then in the case of these brethren of the Augustine Order. Their piety, their austerity, the endless offering of prayer and praise which ascended from their chapel deeply moved the hearts of the people. The endowment at first consisted of £25 a year, equivalent to about £750 a year of our money, if there be any certainty as to the comparative value of money, together with the proceeds of the port called Aldgate.


In the year 1125 a very singular event greatly increased the possessions and the wealth of this House. I mean the conveyance of the property held in trust by the Cnihten Gild to the Priory of the Holy Trinity.

Twelve years later, Pope Immanuel the First, by a Bull, confirmed the House in all their possessions, including “two parts of Issues of the City of Exon the Lands of Lestune, which Prince de Moulins and Adeline his wife out of piety granted to the same place, the land and the soke of the English Cnihten Gild, the Church of Bix with its rents, and the church of Tottenham.” Many other possessions fell to the House as time went on.

The Priory stood upon a triangular piece of ground, of which Aldgate and Leadenhall Street, as far as St. Catherine’s Cree Church inclusive, formed the south-west side; Cree Church Street, King Street, and Duke Street, the east side; and the wall of London the north side. The square called St. James’s Place is certainly the site of a former court of the Priory. The church probably stood on the site of St. James’s Church, which was built in 1622 partly of materials belonging to the old church, just as on the site of Grey Friars Church was erected the present Christ Church. The Precinct of the monastery covered nearly the whole of four ancient City parishes, viz. St. Mary Magdalene, St. Michael, St. Catherine, and the Blessed Trinity, amalgamated into one Parish, with, at first, the Convent Church for Parish Church, called Holy Trinity or Holy Rood. The inhabitants of St. Catherine’s, however, could not be reconciled to the loss of their church, and presently built another for themselves in the Churchyard of the Priory. The Church of St. Michael continued as a ruin, of which the crypt remained one of the most remarkable of the monuments of ancient London, down to the formation of the Underground Railway in the year 1865. It was then, most unfortunately, allowed to be destroyed.

Ancient and rich and venerable as was this Priory, whose monks enjoyed the reputation of splendid hospitality, the House in later years seems to have lost some of the consideration for sanctity which it enjoyed during the first century of its existence. This is shown by the meagre list of monuments belonging to the Priory Church compared with that of the Grey Friars or the Dominicans. Henry Fitz Ailwyn, first Mayor of London; two children of King Stephen; and Geoffrey Mandeville (after his twenty years of dangling above ground) are among the few remarkable names in Stow’s list of those here interred.

I have before me thirty-seven closely written pages containing extracts from ancient documents and archives bearing on the four hundred years’ life of this House. It is a history which might be told once for all by a Dugdale and confided to the shelves of the Society of Antiquaries: it contains the story of the management of a large estate; the usual crop of ecclesiastical quarrels and disputes over rights243 and claims; the recognition of the said rights by Pope and King; dispensations, faculties, injunctions, and restraints.

For instance, in 1250, the Archbishop of Canterbury issued sentence against Prior, Sub-prior, Sacristan, Cellarer, and Precentor of Holy Trinity for refusing to receive him as Visitor. The sentence is annulled by superior authority. But two years later the Pope ordered the Prior to admit the Archbishop, the Metropolitan, as Visitor. Citizens bequeathed money in order to found an obit, or anniversary for the benefit of their souls; the Bishop of London was consecrated in their Church; the heart of John Peckham, Archbishop of Canterbury, was buried in their church; the Prior, on his election, was sworn as Alderman of Portsoken; citizens of well-known names turn up unexpectedly in these pages; thus, John Bocuinte, son of Geoffrey Bocuinte, and Juliana his wife, sold certain property with fees held of the Priory; Gilbert Fitz Fulk, one of the Aldermen of the thirteenth century, going to the Holy Land, bequeathed, in case of his death, certain lands and houses to the Priory for the good of his soul, and the souls of his father and mother; other citizens desired to be buried in the church; the King asked for the loan of a cart and horses to carry his household gear to Dover; on the election of a new Prior the House was bound to provide a benefice for one of the King’s Clerks—see Tanner’s Notes on Monastic Houses,—others of the King’s officers for divers reasons were maintained by the House—it seems, indeed, a common practice for the King to have invited this House to maintain his old servants. At one time the Priory became owner of the market called Queenhithe. William of Ypres gave it to the House. It was then called Edredes hyde, and the gift was subject to a yearly payment of £20 to the Hospital of St. Katherine by the Tower.

In 1352 we find the brethren seeking assistance in rebuilding this Church and House by offering a “Relaxation” of one year and forty days of “enjoined penance” to any who would assist. The offer to hold good for ten years. At this time the House possessed property in eighty-eight London parishes. In the reign of Edward the Second mention is made of three Grammar schools, of which one is that of the Holy Trinity Priory.

During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the House flourished and obtained considerable additions to its estates, so that it became the richest of all the London Houses. Its good fortune, however, did not continue. Its property decreased in value; much of it was sold; the decay continued; in the year 1532 the Prior and the Canons held a Chapter in which they recognised that their House was not only sunken and decayed in its rents and emoluments, but that it was entirely reduced and laden with debt. They therefore surrendered their House and remaining lands to the King.

The site was given with all the buildings to Sir Thomas Audley, afterwards Lord Chancellor. Audley offered the great church, just as it stood, with its peal of244 bells, to the adjacent parish of St. Catherine, meaning that they should pull down the latter and build upon the site. Unhappily, the parishioners were afraid to accept the offer, “having doubts in their heads,” says Stow, “of afterclaps.” If they had accepted, another fine Monastic Church would have been preserved, together with those of St. Mary Overies and St. Bartholomew the Great.

Whereupon Audley pulled down the Church himself with a great deal of expense and labour. On the death of Audley, his daughter and heiress, Margaret, became the second wife of Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk. The Duke was executed for high treason in 1572; the mansion went to his son, by Margaret, who sold it in 1592 to the Mayor and Corporation of the City.

Some remains of the buildings were standing until recently. The place itself seems to have been occupied by the Jews on their return under Oliver Cromwell. For nearly two hundred years it was almost entirely the Jews’ Quarter in London. Every year they held a kind of Fair on the Feast of Purim in Duke’s Place. The Feast, which falls in the month of Adar, i.e. partly in February and partly in March, commemorates the execution of Haman and the deliverance of the Hebrews. The Fair was held without any authority until early in the nineteenth century, when it was licensed for three days, generally extended to six, the square of Duke’s Place being let for shows. It was found to be a public nuisance, and was suppressed a few years later.

For many years after the destruction of the Priory Church, the inhabitants of the Precinct had no parish church of their own. In 1622, however, St. James’s was built as a parish church for the Precinct. The church became notorious for the irregular marriages without banns or license which were solemnised here. In 1874 the curacy of St. James’s was united with that of St. Catherine Cree, and the former church was pulled down.

The Precinct was privileged, and though within the City, persons not freemen of the City were permitted to trade within its limits.


These plans were made by a surveyor named J. Symans in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. From the mention of Sir Thomas Heneage’s garden, their date is probably before 1595, when Sir Thomas, who was Keeper of the Tower Records, died. The first shows the ground floor of the buildings then standing. The original monastery extended from the street, now called Leadenhall Street, northward and eastward to the old Wall. Two semicircular bastions and a third which formed one tower of Aldgate are seen on the plans, which also, among items otherwise unknown hitherto to London topographers, give us the canon’s church as well as that of the parishioners of St. Katherine Cree. Both these buildings have now disappeared. The conventual church in Symans’ plan had already been in part removed by Lord Chancellor Audley, in favour of the “Ivye Chamber.” The “Charncell” is still intact and “owre Ladychapell”; but there is notice of “the north end where the great tower fell Downe” and “the south end now teniment.” By “end,” Symans meant transept. The cloister and the chapter house, one portion of which is labelled “This was the chapell,” the body of the church and a south porch are clearly denoted; while, of the domestic buildings, we distinguish the gatehouse labelled “The way owte of Allgat Streat into Creechurch monastary”: the Dorter, or sleeping quarters of the monks, which open from the cloister; more than one extensive garden; the “Greate Cowrte,” and a number of apartments or separate small holdings, let to various tenants, whose names, Awnsell, Bayle, and Kirwin, for example, occur in several places on the plans. At the north side of “the Great Garden adioyning the Dorter” and close to the city wall, is “A Foundation for new buildings uppon the wall”; this seems to be let to Awnsell, who has also a lease of the garden. The north chancel aisle is let in “new Teniments.” Some relics of the vaults, or “Favlts,” are occasionally disclosed in Leadenhall Street; some Norman arches are figured by Malcolm and there are others in Pennant’s London, 1793, and many other books; but no Tudor plan of the buildings has hitherto been published.


A larger image is available here.


A larger image is available here.

These are quite the most important (archæologically) of any of the illustrations in this book. Neither of them has been reproduced elsewhere. The originals are in the Marquess of Salisbury’s Hatfield House MSS., and the late Marquess gave permission for them to be used. They were sent to the British Museum for safety and were photographed there. It will be noticed that these plans show not only the disposition of the whole of the priory buildings, church, chapels, cloister, dormitory, etc., but also the ground plan of St. Katherine Cree, the position of the upper bastions of London Wall, and the direction of the lanes and streets thereabouts. They provide the basis for a wealth of discovery.

The second plan is labelled, “This second story or grownd Plat of Creechurch is drawn by J. Symans.” In it we see “Ivy Chamber” and close by the south transept let to “Darsey.” The upper floor of the Dorter, with “the gallery to the Dorter,” “a great Kitchen,” “a privy Kitchen,” and “The Great Tower,” which stood at the north-west corner of the nave, so as to be close to the entrance to “the body of the church,” by the west door, are all seen.

In both the plans the parish church appears where the present one is still, at the corner of Leadenhall Street and St. Mary Axe. This street is inscribed “A lane to London Wall from Allgat Streat”; and, after a turn past one of the smaller priory gates, “The waye from the monastary in to Allgat Streat.” The church fills a corner of the priory wall and is irregular in shape, with apparently a tower at the corner, under which is an entrance to the street. From the frequency of the window openings it would appear to have been in the Perpendicular style. It was in this building that the body of Hans Holbein, the artist, was buried at his death of the plague, while painting in Lord Audley’s house in November 1543. This church was ruinous in 1624. Two years earlier the parishioners nearer Aldgate built themselves a church, St. James’s, Duke’s Place, which stood very near, if not exactly on, the site of the Lady Chapel of the conventual church. It also fell out of repair and was pulled down in 1874, the parish being united with St. Katherine’s, which meanwhile, namely, in 1631, had been rebuilt by Archbishop Laud, and occupies the space shown by Symans, together with a narrow aisle taken from “the church yarde,” on the north side. This may perhaps be defined by a narrow passage shown in the ground plan along the wall of the church, and has hitherto been supposed to have formed part of the cloister. Churches, like this one for parishioners, occur in many other convents—St. Alban’s and Westminster Abbey, for instance.



In Agas’ Map of London, “Civitas Londinum,” circa 1560 (see end of London in the Time of the Tudors), there is represented, lying on the west of Aldersgate Street, an irregular square or place called Charter House Square: it has a small church in the middle, and on the north side are monastic buildings; on the north of these are gardens and orchards; one of them with a small building which may be meant for a church enclosed with a wall. Some of these monastic buildings, with later additions and alterations, still remain to the present day; the square remains, but the orchards and gardens are built over, with the exception of the ground once enclosed by the cloister, which is now the play-ground of the Merchant Taylors’ School. Before the middle of the fourteenth century this place formed part of “No Man’s Land,” a swampy plain, covered, like Smithfield and Moorfield, with ponds and reeds and rushes. In the year 1349 the Black Death arrived; and as the City churchyards were becoming so full that they could hold no more, the Bishop of London bought a piece of this ground which he enclosed for a burial-place, building a chapel, “which is now,” says Stow, “enlarged and made a dwelling-house,” and the place was called Pardon Churchyard. It was afterwards used as a burial-place for suicides and criminals and persons who died a violent death. The body was put into a cart, hung with black cloth, belonging to St. John’s Hospital; on the black cloth was the white cross of St. John; within the cart hung a bell which rang with the jolting and the shaking of the hearse—a doleful sound and a doleful sight.

In 1350 or 1351, the plague still continuing, Sir Walter Manny bought thirteen acres of ground, adjacent to the Pardon Churchyard, and gave this to the City as a new burial-ground; the chapel stood somewhere in Charter House Square, perhaps about the middle of it. There used to be a stone cross in this burial-ground with the following inscription:—

“Anno Domini 1349, regnante magnâ pestilentiâ, consecratum fuit hoc cœmiterium in quo et infra septa presentis monasterii sepulta fuerunt mortuorum corpora plus quam quinquaginta millia præter alia multa abhinc usque ad presens: quorum animabus propitietur Deus, Amen.”

In the Charter House Precinct, to this day, whenever the ground is opened bones are found.


Some years later Sir Walter Manny, with Michael de Northburgh, Bishop of London, founded on the spot a House which they at first intended to be only a College of twelve Chaplains, one of whom was to preside; they enlarged their plan, however, and converted this college into a House of Carthusians, whose Prior obtained a Bull of the Pope in 1362 for the acquisition of certain benefices valued at £200 a year. Nine years later, in February 1471-72, the House obtained license to hold twenty acres of ground for their Precinct, together with a Chapel dedicated to the Annunciation of the Virgin. It had already received, by the will of Bishop Michael, who died in 1361, £2000 in money, many rents and tenements, the Bishop’s Library, and his best Vestments. The House was, further, largely endowed by other Kings and Princes. Sir Walter Manny, who died in 1471, was buried in the Choir of the Church.

From the Grangerised edition of Brayley’s London and Middlesex in Guildhall Library.

No House commanded greater respect than this of the Carthusians, for the simple reason that while the Rule in other Houses was relaxed, or was scandalously neglected, successive generations of Carthusians showed no change in their austerities and no deviation from their Rule. They came to England about 1180, and settled first at Witham, near Bath. Their austerities are thus described:—


“They wear nothing made from furs or linen, nor even that finely-spun linen garment which we call Staminium; neither breeches, unless when sent on a journey, which at their return they wash and restore. They have two tunics with cowls, but no additional garment in winter, though, if they think fit, in summer they may lighten their garb. They sleep clad and girded, and never after matins return to their beds; but they so order the time of matins that it shall be light ere the lauds begin: so intent are they on their rule, that they think no jot or tittle of it should be disregarded. Directly after the hymns, they sing the prime, after which they go out to work for stated hours. They complete whatever service or labour they have to perform by day without any other light. No one is ever absent from the daily services, or from complines, except the sick. The cellarer and hospitaller, after complines, wait upon the guests, yet observing the strictest silence. The abbot allows himself no indulgence beyond the others, everywhere present, everywhere attending to his flock, except that he does not eat with the rest, because his table is with the strangers and the poor. Nevertheless, be he where he may, he is equally sparing of food and speech; for never more than two dishes are served to him or to his company: lard and meat never but to the sick. From the Ides of September till Easter, through regard for whatever festival, they do not take more than one meal a day except on Sunday. They never leave the cloister but for purpose of labour, nor do they ever speak, either there or elsewhere, save only to the abbot or prior. They pay unwearied attention to the canonical services, making no addition to them except for the defunct. They use in their divine service the Ambrosian chants and hymns, as far as they were able to learn them at Milan. While they bestow care on the stranger and the sick, they inflict intolerable mortifications on their own bodies for the health of their souls.” Add to this list of austerities that they wore a hair cloth next the skin; that they were not permitted to buy fish, but that they might accept it; that they made bread of bran and drank their wine diluted.

The House of the Salutation stood for 200 years. During that long period the Brethren continued the same austerities; there is no record of any falling-off; they remained all their lives within the walls of their House; all that the world knew of them came from their servants and their visitors. Other Houses might relax, into other Houses luxury might creep, but not with the Carthusians, they remained true till the end. The story of the end belongs to that of the Dissolution of Religious Houses. (See London in the Time of the Tudors.)



This House, the memory of which had almost disappeared, was again restored to Mediæval London by the publication of Dr. Sharpe’s Calendar of Wills. And since the original terms of a Religious Foundation, and the subsequent growth of a Religious House by bequest and gift, are not often accessible, I extract from the work (1) the précis of the original will of William de Elsing, mercer, by which this House was created; and (2) a list, with dates, of the various gifts which from time to time were made to the House. Here, then, is the will, dated 1348, in which he confirms his Foundation of 1329.

Elsingg (William de) Mercer.—To Robert his son a tenement with shops and garden in the parish of S. Botolph without Aldrichesgate, and divers rents in the parish of S. Laurence in the Jewry. All his tenements and rents in the parishes of S. Alphege and S. Mary de Aldermanburi, together with the appropriation of the said church of S. Mary in which tenements he had already commenced to build an almshouse of stone and a church, he devises for the maintenance of a hospital for the poor, blind, and indigent of both sexes, under the direction of a prior and convent; and he wills that no one else soever, ecclesiastic or secular, except the said prior and convent and the testator’s executors after named, shall intermeddle in the said house or hospital. And whereas the wants of the poor are too many for his means to completely satisfy, he leaves to the said prior, &c., tenements, shops, rents, &c., in the parishes of S. Laurence in the Jewry, All Hallows de Honylane, S. Martin Pomer in Ismongerelane, S. Mildred in the Poultry, S. Giles without Crepelgate, and All Hallows de Graschirche: also in Conynghoplane in the said parish of S. Mildred and in Cordwanerstrete in the parish of S. Mary le Bow, and in the parish of S. Benedict atte Wodewharf and elsewhere, so that the said prior and convent for the time being maintain chantries for the souls of Robert le Fruyter, Ralph de Holbech and Sir Geoffrey de Holbech, William de Carleton, Bartholomew de Castello, William de Gayton, and others. Notification of the king’s licence in mortmain for the above devises having been obtained; and also of the assent of Sir Ralph (de Stratford) Bishop of London, the Dean and Chapter of S. Paul’s and other parties interested, to the canons of the said Hospital being placed under the rule and order of S. Augustine, with the habit of canons regular of the same order, and to their number being five at the least. The Dean and Chapter of S. Paul’s appointed patrons of the said hospital and to act as wardens during a vacancy. His executors to be guardians of the said Hospital and of all the above tenements and rents until a prior and canons shall have been duly elected and constituted. Dated in the hospital aforesaid Monday next before the Feast of Annunciation of V. Mary (25th March) A.D. 1348.

The Hospital had been already commenced, as the Will states, on the site of a decayed nunnery in Gayspur Lane, London Wall, for the maintenance of blind men.


The House thus founded began to attract bequests. Robert de Elsing, son of the founder, endowed chantries for the souls of his father and others. I find thirty-two bequests in the Calendar of Wills down to the year 1530, and of course these were not all.

In the year 1430 a considerable accession to the property of the Hospital occurred through the then Bishop of London transferring the estates of a decayed House, that of Thele, Hertford, to Elsyng Spital on condition of founding two canons on Thele and three on Elsyng to pray for the souls of certain benefactors of Thele.

On the surrender of Elsyng House its annual income was returned at £193: 15: 5.

The Priory was granted to Sir John Williams, afterwards Lord Williams of Thane, and Keeper of the King’s jewels. He converted the whole into a dwelling-house for himself; the chapel yard he made a garden; the cloisters a gallery, and bedesmen’s rooms into stables. The house was burned down in 1541.

Meantime, the chapel of the Priory had been converted into the Parish Church of St. Alphege. The old church stood on the opposite side of the road, under the wall, like the churches of St. Augustine and All Hallows; its churchyard, on the east of the Chapel, still remains, opposite the entrance of the modern church. The parishioners paid the King £100 for their new church.



The Hospital and the Priory of St. Bartholomew were distinct and separate foundations, of which the former was governed by the latter. The traditional history of this foundation is one of those remarkable stories which belong to a period when things material and things imagined were mixed together, and the visions of a brain, disordered by sickness, or by fasting, or by loneliness, were even more real than the tangible realities of man and matter. In the time of Henry the First there lived about the Court one Rahere, who was a knight, or a minstrel, a gentleman, or a jester, a man of noble extraction, or of obscure origin, whichever you please, for the histories differ. Either before or after his “conversion” Rahere is said to have occupied the stall of Chamberlayne’s Wood at St. Paul’s. It was a time in which there was a great deal of what modern Evangelicals used to call “conviction of sin.” Rahere was one of those so convinced. Like many others at that time, when a wave of religious emotion swept over the whole country, Rahere yearned to deepen his newly found sense of religion by going on pilgrimage. The going on pilgrimage, as a part of mediæval life, has been treated in another place. Rahere, it is enough to say, followed the common custom of the time when he went on pilgrimage to Rome. This was in 1120. Now, on arriving at Rome, or on the way, he was seized with a malarious fever, insomuch that he was like to die. He therefore prayed to St. Bartholomew, promising to found a Hospital for the poor, should he by the help of the Saint be permitted to recover. Now the bones of St. Bartholomew were found in India, A.D. 1113, only seven years before Rahere’s arrival, and, being brought over to Rome, were placed on an island of the Tiber, where had formerly stood a temple to Æsculapius. Probably Rahere had quite recently visited this place; we remember the eagerness with which the mediæval folk ran after every new saint, or every new discovery of relics. However that may be, he had a Vision, in which the Saint appeared to him, and granted his recovery on the conditions promised by the supplicant. Rahere, therefore, on his return, proceeded to found the hospital. But the Saint appeared to him: would he do more? Would he found also a Religious House? The spot—Smithfield, the smooth field—was part of the fenny flat that lay north of London Wall: a barren251 heath covered with springs and ponds, and set with occasional clumps of trees. Horse races were held here, a weekly horse fair, there were stables and grooms and people to look after the horses, they were a rough and rude folk, living without the jurisdiction of the City, and they had no Church nor any religious people among them; it was the place also on which executions were held, and it was accounted infamous. Rahere obeyed the Saint in this respect as well; he erected his hospital, beginning the building in 1123, with the assistance of Richard de Belmeis, then Bishop of London, and the King himself.


A larger image is available here.

With the REMAINS of the SOUTH TRANSEPT of the CHURCH of St. BARTHOLOMEW the Great.
London. Published 25 March 1821 by Robert Wilkinson, 125 Fenchurch Street.

Rahere next proceeded to found the Priory of St. Bartholomew beside the Hospital. The House received its first Charter from Henry the First in 1133. In this Charter the King orders his successors to defend the House as jealously as their own crown. The Priory has long since disappeared, with the exception of part of the Church, but the Hospital exists to this day, enlarged and richly endowed, a perennial fountain of life and health, while the church of the Priory, such part of it as still remains, is the noblest mediæval monument left to London. The Hospital, according to the custom of the time, consisted of a double Hall, or a single Hall with aisles. Between the aisles, or at the end of the Hall, was the Chapel. In either aisle were the beds of the sick: the men on one side, the women on the other. As the patients were brought in, they were put to bed—two, four, even eight252 in one bed—without any regard to the kind of disease from which they suffered, so that in case of contagion or infection the other occupants of the bed were certain to catch it. One wonders how, in these circumstances, any one ever came out of the Hospital at all, and how any one could expect to recover. But all diseases were not infectious or contagious; and as for the patient, he was probably, from long experience of dirt and confined air, secure as regards many things which would now be fatal; then there was food for him; there was nursing of a kind; if one were thirsty he could drink; if one were hungry he could eat; the sisters were gentle and pitiful; the physician was always in readiness; his remedies were strange and wonderful, but the groundwork was the old wife’s knowledge of herbs and their uses—lore not to253 be despised;—moreover, the chief terror of death was removed, because the priest was always in the hospital with the last offices of the Church to fortify the dying. The Hall was spacious, lofty, and well lit—a paradise to a fever-stricken wretch from a hovel without chimney, floor, or window; the beds were soft and clean—as cleanliness was then understood; the way of death was made easy, even if the recovery of health were denied.

In the Church of St. Bartholomew the Great.

Rahere himself became the first Prior of his monastery; he died September 20, 1144, and was buried in the Church; the canopied tomb of the fifteenth century, which still stands in the Chancel of St. Bartholomew the Great, is said to cover the dust of the Founder, whose effigy may be twelfth-century work. On the tomb are figured two monks reading in Bibles open at the fifty-first chapter of Isaiah and the third verse:—


“For the Lord shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving and the voice of melody.”

It would be difficult to find a more appropriate text. There are four shields on the tomb, being those of England, London, the Hospital, and the Priory. The tomb itself was desecrated by workmen in 1864. One of the leather sandals was taken off Rahere’s foot, and lost for thirty years; it has now been recovered, and is placed with other things in a small glass case in the church.

Rahere joined the order of Canons Regular of St. Augustine, who were great builders and architects, and, among other things, practised medicine.

Those of the original buildings which remain are small portions of the choir of the church, from which the whole has been restored, and perhaps a portion or fragments of the transepts. The nave has long since been destroyed; the transepts are later. Originally there were an apsidal Lady Chapel and two apsidal side chapels: that on the north side is dedicated to St. Bartholomew; that on the south to St. Stephen. When Rahere died there were thirteen canons for the new Foundation, a number increased to thirty-five under his successor. There can be no doubt, therefore, of the success of the House. The canons were not subject to duty in the Hospital. For the service of the sick there was another Foundation, consisting of a Hospitaller with eight Brothers and four Sisters, under the rule of the Prior. Rahere’s buildings were largely extended by his successor. About the same time was built the gateway into Smithfield, which still, most fortunately, stands, having escaped vandal, builder, landlord, and every danger. The present west front is, of course, modern, and the churchyard occupies the site of the former nave.

In this Priory happened that most disgraceful scene of violence in which the Archbishop of Canterbury, an alien of Provence, was the chief aggressor, when he visited the Priory in defiance of the rights of the Bishop of London and replied to remonstrance by violence. This prelate was Boniface, uncle of Queen Eleanor of Provence, who had been brought to this country with so many of his countrymen and preferred to the highest place that the realm had to offer (see vol. i. p. 29).

We have in this episode a graphic and most suggestive picture of the exasperation caused by the admission of aliens to the offices and dignities which, above all, required a knowledge of the country and its institutions and its prejudices. The rights and privileges of ecclesiastics and of Religious Houses were defended with the greatest possible jealousy and tenacity. It was clearly a privilege of this House that their visitor was the Bishop of London, and that the Archbishop had no right to intrude himself into the House. That he did so is proof of an attempt at encroachment, of which an Englishman would have been incapable. But observe, as well, the arrogance of the Prelate. He seizes the Sub-prior and hurls him against a pillar; the Canons run to his rescue, and the Archbishop is thrown on his255 back ignominiously, betraying the fact that he is armed beneath his episcopal robes. And his men, his followers, are themselves strangers and aliens—men of Provence, like himself.

From the Grangerised edition of Brayley’s London and Middlesex in Guildhall Library.

It may be observed, as well, that the citizens had their own standard of episcopal duties, if the words are correctly reported. “He is no winner of souls,” they cry: “he is an exacter of money, whom neither God nor any lawful or free election did bring to this promotion.” That the ideal of the people was so far above the practice of the prelates in such cases as this shows, it might be fairly argued, that the parish priest of Chaucer, drawn a hundred and fifty years later, existed already in the thirteenth century.

The restored plan of the Priory is here reproduced by permission of the Rev. Sir Borradaile Savory, Bart.

In 1410 the church was rebuilt “almost anew.” The apse of the east end was256 removed; a square east end terminating with two large windows was inserted; the Norman Lady Chapel was taken down and the present one erected with a crypt; the Norman Clerestory was taken down and replaced by the present one; the Norman capitals were changed; the stone screen under the North Transept was inserted, probably to give strength to the piers. A Chantry Chapel was built on the north side of the north aisle. In wills of this period St. Katherine’s Chapel is referred to, also a Pardon churchyard. A stone pulpit was put up in the choir. A peal of five bells was given to the church in 1520 by one Thomas Bullesden. This is the oldest peal in London, and the bells are dedicated respectively to St. Bartholomew, St. Anna, St. Peter, St. Katherine, St. Johannes Baptista.

The last Prior but one was Bolton (1506-1522). He built the oriel window on the south side of the Choir. His rebus of a Bolt-in-Tun is in the centre panel. The same rebus is found in the spandril of the door leading into the Vestry Room, and in the brickwork of Canonbury Tower, Islington, which was also built by Bolton. This Tower, with buildings now destroyed, standing in extensive grounds, the boundaries of which can still be made out, was apparently a summer residence of the Canons.

To return to the Hospital, Rahere’s first Hospitaller was Alfune, who built St. Giles’s, Cripplegate, also outside the walls. Alfune used to go into the shambles every morning begging scraps and bits of meat for the sick men and women. He had under his orders eight Brothers of the Hospital, who were priests as well as physicians, and four sisters.

A representation of a mediæval hospital shows the double hall, the priest is administering the last rites of the Church to one patient, the sisters are sewing up the body of another just dead, mass is being sung at the altar, a visitor is kneeling in prayer. Such is Rahere’s first hospital, such was every mediæval hospital.

Little is recorded of the Hospital between the Foundation and the Dissolution. In the reign of Henry the Third one Katherine, widow of William Hardell, obtained a grant of a small plot of ground, twenty feet each way, for the purpose of building an anchorite’s cell next to the “chapel of St. Bartholomew”—was that the chapel of the Hospital or the stately church of the Priory? It was the special duty of the anchorite to pray for the prosperity of the House and for the souls of those within it. Perhaps he may have prayed for both Hospital and Priory. In the reign of Edward the Third the Hospital was “confirmed” by the King. In the year 1423 Whittington’s executors repaired the buildings; and in the same year we learn that the Hospital possessed a library, because Sir John Wakening, once a priest in the House, enriched their library by the gift of a beautiful Bible.

In the Collections of a London Citizen21 is the following notice of the Hospital:—


“Bartholomew ys Spetylle. Hyt ys aplace of grete comforte to pore men as for hyr loggyng, and yn specyalle unto yong wymmen that have mysse done that ben whythe chylde. There they ben delyveryde, and unto the tyme of purtfycacyon they have mete and drynke of the placys coste and fulle honestely gydyd and kepte. And in ys moche as the place maye they kepe hyr conselle and hyr worschyppe, God graunte that they doo so hyr owne worschippe that have a-fendyde. Amen.”

From the Grangerised edition of Brayley’s London and Middlesex in the Guildhall Library.

Referring to the very copious notes in my hands, I make the following additions to the history which precedes:—

The Charter of Henry the First, 1133, granting the Foundation of the Priory, and addressed to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and to Gilbert the Universal, Bishop of London, was printed in 1891 by Dr. Norman Moore from the copy in the Record Office. The reader desirous of more detailed information on this House is also referred to Dr. Norman Moore’s work on the Church of St. Bartholomew the258 Great. There is a great quantity of literature on the subject of this House. The following list is by no means exhaustive, but it will serve:—Papers may be consulted in the Vetusta Monumenta, vol. ii.; in the Transactions of St. Paul’s Eccl. Soc. vol. ii.; Archæologia, vols. xv. and xix.; Notes and Queries—see Indices; the Antiquary—see Indices; the Reliquary—see Indices; the L. and Midd. Arch. Soc. vols. i., ii., iii.; Journal of Brit. Architects, i., xxx., xli.; Archæolog. Journal, vols. xli. and xlviii.

In 1362 we find a dispute between the Canons of the Priory and the Brethren of the Hospital concerning the list of the sick. In 1433 the Bishop of London issues ordinances for the better management of the Priory. Another dispute between the Priory and certain persons in the Diocese of Lincoln was thought important enough to demand a Papal commission, the Commissioners being the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul’s, to decide upon it. The Prior and Canons complained in 1310 of the offal thrown out into the Fleet at Holborn Bridge. They succeeded in getting an Ordinance, but as to its enforcement history is mute. We find them, later on, petitioning against the making of holes and ditches in Smithfield—the petition, referring to some temporary grievance, shows that the Priory considered itself as in some sort the guardian of Smithfield. It seems, since the claim is set up in other cases, to have been a custom, in the election of a new Prior, to grant a Pension to one of the King’s clerks. John de Herclaston, clerk, in 1316, addresses a letter to the Prior and Canons claiming such a pension by right of custom. In the same year a certain Nicholas de la Marche begs the Prior to admit him into their House, “because he is an old servant of the King and infirm.” In 1530 we find that one Thomas Cornwall, convicted of heresy, who had been condemned to wear a faggot broidered on his sleeve—a pleasing reminder of orthodoxy—was sent to perpetual custody in the House of St. Bartholomew for disobeying the sentence. The story opens up a large field for hopeless inquiry. How many prisoners for heresy were there in the Houses at the time of the Dissolution? Were they all permitted to go at large? Is there any evidence as to the subsequent history of any of them? As regards Thomas Cornwall, if he was placed “in penance,” i.e. on bread and water, in a solitary cell, he did not, probably, survive to see the Dissolution of his Prison. On the other hand, if he did, it is not very likely that he saw his own private heresy any the nearer to becoming the creed of the Catholic Church.

Of St. Bartholomew’s Fair an account will be found in another place. (See London in the Eighteenth Century, p. 465 et seq.)

On October 25, 1540, Fuller, the last Prior, surrendered the House. The revenue was then £773: 0: 1-1/2; the net income was £693: 0: 10-3/4. The nave was destroyed, and the stones were used by the King for other buildings.

The Priory buildings, consisting of the Prior’s house, the Infirmary, the259 Dormitory, the Refectory, the cloisters, kitchens, stables, and gardens, were sold to Sir Richard Rich for £1064. The site of the nave, eighty-seven feet in length, became a churchyard, and the choir became a Parish Church. The King appointed the first Rector, after which the patronage belonged to Sir Richard Rich as his successor.

Sir Richard Rich, as Lord Chancellor, presided at the trial of Anne Askew, and, according to report, assisted with his own hands in her torture. He was also present at her execution.


In 1516 Queen Mary gave the Priory to the Black Friars, who lived here until their expulsion in 1559 by Elizabeth.

In Londina Illustrata it is said that the old Parish Church adjoined the Priory Church; that when the Black Friars were turned out, the Priory Church, together with the old Parish Church, was made the Parish Church. In that case the old Parish Church must have been part of the structure of the Priory Church. The account is confused, because the writer goes on to relate that the old Parish Church was pulled down, except the steeple of wood, which became ruinous, and was taken down in 1628, the present tower being then erected.


The Great Fire was happily stopped before it could cross Smithfield.

In 1697 Hogarth was baptized in this church.

In 1863 Restoration was begun. The Lady Chapel had been converted first into a dwelling-house and next into a fringe manufactory; part of the factory projected into the church, and was supported by an iron girder and two iron columns. In the north Transept was a blacksmith’s forge; in the south the boys’ school.

The following is an account of the most interesting Restoration—may one who is no architect be permitted to say the most valuable?—as set forth in the papers prepared for the reopening of the Lady Chapel on May 18, 1897:—

At the commencement of the Restoration in 1863, the floor was lowered to its original level, the pews removed, a dry area formed round the outside of the Church, and the walls and piers, which had perished, were made good. The Apse was also completed on the ground-floor level by the insertion of the two central piers, the storey above being occupied by a fringe manufactory. Some £5000 in all was collected and expended. (Late Rev. J. Abbiss, M.A., Rector.)

In 1884-86 the Fringe Factory, which projected twenty feet into the east end of the Church, and which covered the remains of the Crypt and Lady Chapel, was purchased for £6500.

The Apse was restored at the sole charge of the Patron, the Rev. Canon Phillips. The Church was re-roofed.

The Blacksmith’s Forge, occupying the site of the North Transept, was purchased. The restored portions were reopened on November 30, 1886. (Late Rev. W. Panckridge, M.A., Rector.)

In 1887-92 the South Transept.—The temporary Vestry, which occupied the upper portion of the South Transept Arch, was removed. The Norman Arch on the north side, and the Transition Norman Arch on the south side, were uncovered and brought to light, together with much other work of considerable interest. One bay was added to provide a Baptistery, and to form a suitable approach on the south side of the Church. The Transept now covers about half of the site of the original Transept. It was opened on March 14, 1891.

The Boys’ School was removed from the North Triforium, and new Schools were built adjoining the Church. A Working Men’s Club was built beneath the Schools, at the sole charge of the Rector.

A Memorial Screen was erected beneath the Organ Loft to the late Rector, the Rev. Wm. Panckridge, M.A.

In 1892-93 the north Transept—the Blacksmith’s Forge—was removed, and a shallow Transept rebuilt, giving abutment to the great arches of the Crossing, and providing a Morning chapel, and uncovering much old work. This Transept was opened on June 5, 1893.


A north Porch was built, giving access to the Church from Cloth Fair, and providing a room for the Mission Worker.

A west Porch was built with a room over. The west Front was newly faced with flint and stone, and the approach widened.

A new Pulpit was erected, the gift of the late Sextoness.

From the Grangerised edition of Brayley’s London and Middlesex in Guildhall Library.

A new Organ Case was erected, the gift of Mr. Henry Thomas Withers, in memory of his brother, the late Frederick John Withers.

The north and south Triforia were opened out. The Peal of Bells was re-hung, and the Bell Tower repaired.

In 1895 the Crypt was restored and reopened as a Mortuary Chapel.

In 1897 the Lady Chapel was restored, and was opened as a Morning Chapel by the Bishop of London on May 18, 1897.


Mr. (now Sir) Aston Webb, the Architect in charge of the Work, was guided throughout by the sound principles: (1) never to remove from its position any worked stone.

(2) To add no new work except such as is necessitated by the requirements of the day.

(3) To make new work harmonise with the old, but to differentiate it so that those who come after may never mistake the work of any one century for that of any other.

And, finally, to bear in mind the direction contained in Rahere’s Vision—“Having in Him trust, do thou of the cost of the building doubt thee nought, only give thy diligence, and my part shall be to provide the necessaries, direct, build, and complete the work.” (Rev. Sir Borradaile Savory, Bart., M.A., Rector.)

The Hospital of Saint Bartholomew’s, when it was suppressed, at the same time was valued at a yearly revenue of £35: 5: 7. We make an observation on this hospital similar to that suggested by St. Mary’s Spital. How could the House, we ask, consisting of a Master, eight brethren, and four sisters, be kept on £35: 5: 7 a year? and on what funds were the sick people received and treated? There must have been some organised method of getting subscriptions, donations, alms, and gifts in kind. The story of what happened when the place was taken over by the City shows that voluntary and organised help for the sick was surely no new thing.


“Then also were orders devised for the relief of the poor, the inhabitants were all called to their parish churches, where by Sir Richard Dobbes, then Mayor, their several aldermen, or other grave citizens, they were by eloquent orations persuaded how great and how many commodities would ensue unto them and their City if the poor of divers sorts, which they named, were taken from out their streets, lanes, and alleys, and were bestowed and provided for in hospitals abroad, etc. Therefore was every man moved liberally to grant, what they would impart towards the preparing and furnishing of such hospitals, and also what they would contribute weekly towards their maintenance for a time, which they said should not be past one year, or twain, until they were better furnished of endowment: to make short, ever many granted liberally, according to his ability: books were drawn of the relief in every ward of the city towards the new hospitals.”


A Foundation of very human interest was the Hospital of St. Thomas of Acon or St. Thomas of Acres. It is well known that Thomas Becket belonged to a wealthy city family, his father having been a citizen of Norman extraction. Gilbert Becket died leaving behind him a considerable property in houses and lands. Whether the Archbishop took possession of this property as his father’s son, or whether he gave it to his sister, I do not know. Certain it is that, after his death, his sister Agnes, married to Thomas FitzTheobald de Heiley, gave the whole of the family estates to endow a Hospital dedicated to her brother, Saint and Martyr. Nothing should be kept back, all must be given; one sees the intensity of affection, sorrow, pride, with which the new saint was regarded by his family. There are no churchwomen so zealous as the daughters of the Bishop; there could be no worshippers at the altar of St. Thomas à Becket more devout than his own sister.

From John Watney’s Some Account of
the Hospital of St. Thomas of Acon

The full title of the House was “To the Honour of Almighty God and the Blessed Virgin and the most Glorious Martyr St. Thomas, for a Master and Brethren Militiæ Hospitalis S. Thomæ Martyris Cantuariensis de Acon.”

Newcourt gives two explanations for this dedication and the name of Acon:—


“Radulphus de Diceto, Dean of London, who in his History, intituled, Imagines Historiarum, living Ann. Dom. 1190, ann. 2 Ric. I., when the City of Acres or Acon in the Holy-land (call’d also Ptolemais) was besieg’d by the Christians, writes as follows; About these Days, when the City of Acon was first besieg’d, one William, an English-Man by Nation, being Chaplain to Radulphus de Diceto, Dean of London, when he went to Jerusalem, bound himself by a Vow, that if he should prosperously enter Acon, he would build a Chapel to S. Thomas the Martyr, at his own Charge, according to his Ability, and would procure there, to the Honour of the said Martyr, a Churchyard to be consecrated, which was done. Then many flocking from all parts to serve in this Chappel, William himself as a Token of his Christianity, took on him the Name of Prior, who, whilst he serv’d Bodily as a Souldier of Christ, had an especial Care of the Poor, and he freely bestow’d all his Diligence and Labour, in Burying of the Bodies of such as died, as well naturally, as of others who were slain with the Sword, representing himself in Mans sight, the next Successor of that great Tobias.

My other testimony (saith he) is out of the Theatre of Honour, Lib. 9, cap. ii., where, repeating the Military Orders of the Holy Land, he saith thus, The Order of S. Thomas was instituted by the King of England, Richard, surnamed Cœur de Lyon, after the surprizal of Acres, and being of the English Nation, they held the Rule of S. Augustine, wore a white Habit, and a full red Cross, charged in the middle with a white Scallop, they took for their Patron (as I have heard) the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Metropolitan of England, Thomas Becket, who suffer’d Martyrdom (as his Favourers say) under the King of England, Hen. II. of that Name. Peter de Rupibus, Bishop of Winchester, who had been five years in the Holy Land, removed the Church there of S. Thomas the Martyr, from an unfit place to a more convenient, and caused the Patriarch of Jerusalem to take Order, that the Brethren of this Church who were before, Lay-men, might be under the Order of the Temples, wearing a Cross on their Breast. He bequeathed also to this House of St. Thomas of Acon 500 Marks. So much M. Paris in vita Hen. III. p. 472, sub Anno 1238.

Hereby it is clear, that the Dedication of this Hospital or Chapel to S. Thomas of Acres or Acon, must have relation to the like Dedication of the Chapel and Holy Order in the City of Acre, in the Holy Land, to the same Archbishop: All these three Dedications being near about one and the same time within few years after the Archbishop’s Death. And it is probable that in Imitation of those Dedications at Acres, this in London might do the like.” (Newcourt’s Repertorium, vol. i. pp. 552-553.)

It was in the year 1171 that Becket’s sister founded the Hospital. It extended at first from Ironmonger Lane to the Old Jewry; later on, the Society bought gardens on the other side of Old Jewry and obtained permission to erect a gallery of communication across the street, so as to get access to their garden. It was from the gallery that Henry the Eighth beheld the Marching Watch (see London in the Time of the Tudors, p. 262). The buildings included a Chancel and Chapel of SS. Stephen and Nicholas. Over the gateway (which is now the entrance of Mercers’ Hall) was a statue of the Saint. This figure which was “newly sette up of late”—(Mar. 14, 1554)—“over ye dore of Sent Thomas of Acon was shamefully mangled: ye hedde and ye right arm being cleane stryken of, ye which Image once before this time had the hedde lykewyse stryken off and was afterwards newly set up and newe eftsoones broken.” Protestant zeal once more attacked this unlucky image. It was in the reign of Elizabeth that some fiery enthusiast destroyed it, and in its place substituted a paper of rebuke on the worship of Saints.



It was quite right and natural that, before the Protestant fury against saint worship, or the intercession of Saints, the people of London should entertain a profound belief in the protection extended to them by their own Saint—one whose name and fame were spread over the whole of Christendom—for instance, refer to the family history of Arnold FitzThedmar (p. 67). Thomas Becket was without any doubt a citizen, and the son of a citizen—even, at the outset, intended for the mercantile life. The Saint, quite early in his beatitude, listened benignantly to the prayers of William, afterwards the Leader with the long Beard, and guided266 him and his friends safe to port and to victory. Such a story spread, naturally, in all directions. It was the greatest honour for the City to possess such a Saint; every day the pride in St. Thomas grew and was increased by reports and rumours of miracles wrought in answer to the prayers of pilgrims.

There was another reason why St. Thomas became the tutelary Saint of London. The Mediæval enthusiasm over their Saints was liable to wane and fade away, and even to vanish. The old Saxon Saints—where were they? The shrine of St. Erkenwald still blazed with golden vessels and tapers of wax, but miracles were rare: there were still churches dedicated to St. Ethelburga, St. Osyth, St. Swithin, not to speak of the Danes, St. Olaf and St. Magnus, but no one looked any longer for miracles. As the faded images in a fifteenth-century rood screen now appear to the modern ecclesiologist, so the figures of their Saxon saints in the thirteenth century had become mere umbræ, shadows of the past. The shrine of Edward the Confessor was still splendid, but the King’s miracles were no longer, so to speak, quoted by the pilgrims and the miracle-mongers. The city wanted a new Saint. Heaven gave them one—all their own—in Thomas of Chepe.

Therefore, on the day when the Lord Mayor was sworn at the Exchequer, he repaired to the chapel of St. Thomas Acon with the Aldermen; after prayer and praise at his altar, they formed a procession and thence marched to St. Paul’s, where they went to the Pardon Churchyard in the precinct of St. Paul’s, where were buried Gilbert Becket and his wife; and thence they marched back to St. Thomas Acon, where every one offered a penny.

Let us consider how such a Foundation as this, not one of the richest, yet always a prosperous House, was enriched and maintained. In the first place, the original endowment was ample, if not plentiful, for the expenses of a modest number of Brethren. But the bequests of grateful or penitent or pious citizens speedily began to pour in. During the three hundred and fifty years of its existence, there never quite ceased, though the violence diminished, a continual stream of gifts. Thus, during the period from 1262 to 1535 (Sharpe’s Wills), about forty perpetual chantries were founded. These bequests show the affection of the citizens for their Saint. But there were greater and more important gifts. Henry the Third, Edward the First, Geoffrey FitzPeter, the Earl of Essex, Edward the Third, Henry the Sixth, were all benefactors to this Hospital. The Mayor and Commonalty were visitors of the House; the Mercers’ Company, on a vacancy in the Mastership, had the right to nominate two or three of the Convent, from whom the brethren were to choose their master.

Between the Hospital and the street, Sir John Allen, Mercer and Mayor in 1525, built a very beautiful Chapel, and on his death in 1544 was buried in it. Over the Chapel was a Hall—Newcourt says the Mercers’ Hall. The Chapel was clearly along the line of the street—if the north side of Chepe was yet in alignment267— because, some years after the Dissolution, the body and tomb of Sir John Allen were removed to the Church itself, and the Chapel was divided into shops, and so let out for rent; after the Fire, which consumed the whole, the shops were rebuilt on the same site.

Among the names of those who were buried in this church, we find those of the Butlers—Earls of Ormond; Cavendish, of the fourteenth century; Frowyk; Leigh; and many others. The church is said to have been a “large and noble structure, consisting of a choir and the body of a church with side aisles.” (Newcourt.)

The House was surrendered in 1539, the last master being one Lawrence Gospeller, who received a pension of £66: 13: 4. The annual income was estimated at £277: 3: 4. Through the offices of Sir Richard Gresham, the Mercers purchased the site and opened the church again in 1541 as the Mercers’ Chapel. Here was kept a Free Grammar School, removed after the Fire to the site of St. Mary Colechurch.



The Hospital of St. Anthony stood in Threadneedle Street, exactly opposite Finch Lane. It was originally a cell to the House of St. Anthony in Vienne, and was founded as such in the reign of Henry the Third. According to Stow, the Jews had built a synagogue there, which was taken from them and converted into a church dedicated to the Virgin. This church became the Chapel of the Hospital. The House consisted of a master, two priests—afterwards enlarged to fourteen,—and twelve poor men. To the ground thus occupied there was afterwards added a Messuage, with a garden which, under the mastership of John Carpenter (1441), was made into a school and an almshouse. The school received from Henry the Sixth certain manors for the maintenance of five poor scholars at Oxford, allowing ten pence a week for every scholar. This, making allowance for the present value of money, would not mean more than ten shillings a week, which would make a very bare subsistence for a young and hungry student. The general stipend of a chantry priest, which, I suppose, was the lowest form of preferment, was £6 a year, or about 28d. a week.

Henry the Fifth, in the suppression of alien Houses, gave this House its independence. In the year 1474 Edward the Fourth granted the House the same establishment as that of St. Anthony of Vienne, and in 1485 the House was annexed to, and incorporated with, the College of St. George of Windsor. Other gifts and bequests fell to the Society of St. Anthony’s. In 1411 one John Sauvage, desiring to be buried in the church of St. Anthony, and before the altar of St. Katherine, left all his lands and tenements to the Master and Brethren of the Hospital, with the usual conditions as to observing his obit. In 1435 Thomas Knolles, grocer, bequeathed to Friar John Snell, warden, preceptor, or Master of the House of St. Anthony, a shop in the parish of St. Benedict Fynk for the maintenance of a lamp to burn in the chancel of the church of the said House, and for the observance of the obit—not of himself, but of the said warden; a great, and perhaps unique, mark of friendship thus to provide for a friend’s safe and speedy passage through purgatory, rather than his own. In 1484 William Wyse, barber, left his brewery, “le coupe super le Hoop,” in the parish of Allhallows-in-the-Wall, in order to269 maintain a clerk to instruct the children of St. Anthony’s in singing to music (in cantico organico) and in plain chant (in plano cantico), and to provide for special prayers on behalf of John Carpenter, Bishop of Worcester, the first Master of the School, with the Collect, “Rege quæsumus, Domine, famulum tuum” while he lives, and upon his death, that beginning “Deus qui inter apostolos.”

A curious privilege is recorded of this House. When the Inspectors of Markets found a pig that was unfit for food, as being too lean, or too old, or from any other cause not proper to be killed, they marked it as such by slitting the animal’s ears. Then the Proctors of St. Anthony’s took possession of the creature, and tied a bill round its neck to denote their ownership. These pigs, and no others, were allowed to run about the streets, and to feed on what they could find, or what was given them. If they grew fat and well, they were killed for the use of the Hospital. But no one ventured to touch them. “But,” says Stow, “if any one gave them bread, they would keep watch for, and daily follow, these donors, whining till they had something given them.” Whereupon was raised a Proverb, “Such an one will follow such an one and whine as it were an Anthony Pig.”

The school was at one time equal in reputation to that of St. Paul, and turned out as many scholars and Bishops—among them Sir Thomas More, Archbishop Heath, and Archbishop Whitgift. It fell into decay after the annexation to St. George’s, Windsor. One Johnson, a Prebendary of Windsor, and Master of St. Anthony’s, seems to have taken advantage of his position to ruin the House. He turned out the bedesmen, dissolved the choir, conveyed away the plate, and sold the bells. Then the school speedily fell into decay.

Once a year—on the 15th of September,—while the school was flourishing, the boys marched in procession from Mile End along Aldgate, down Cornhill to Stocks Market, and thence to Austin Friars, with flags flying and drums beating.

After the Dissolution the church was given to the Walloons, or French Protestants, who kept it, having rebuilt it after the Fire, to recent times.

The school, which was not closed in 1561, was carried on as a Parish Grammar School until the Great Fire destroyed it. Afterwards it was not rebuilt.

It is pleasing to note that the Dissolution of the Houses did not deprive the scholars or the bedesmen of their endowments. In the year 1565 the collector of the rents of the House of St. Anthony shows in his accounts the sum of £17, devoted to the instruction of the scholars in grammar, and £31: 4s. for the stipends of twelve poor persons for one year at the weekly charge of 1s. for each. Also 2s. was paid, as usual, to270 “le skavinger.”


The history of this House belongs to the history of the Knights of St. John, or Knights Hospitallers. The Order was founded about the year 1048, beginning, like all great orders, in a small and humble way, with a Hospital for pilgrims at Jerusalem; after the conquest of the city, the Brethren were incorporated into a religious body, bound by vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience; in the year 1118 they became a military body, sworn to defend the Holy Sepulchre. They became, in the course of two centuries, an extremely wealthy body, whose only rivals were the Templars. They wore a red surcoat over their armour, with a Maltese Cross enamelled white and edged with gold for a badge. Their motto was “Pro fide,” with the later addition of “Pro utilitate hominum.”

There were nearly 40,000 knights scattered over the various Priories, Commanderies, and Preceptories of the Order; they were divided into eight “langues”—Provence, Auvergne, France, Italy, Aragon, England, Germany, and Castile.

The Grand Prior of Clerkenwell ranked as the first Baron of England; he had absolute authority over the English branch; after the suppression of the Templars the Hospitallers obtained a nominal grant of all their estates, but these were so heavily burdened with legal and other charges, that the new owners were not greatly enriched.

The church of the Priory was dedicated by Heraclius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, in 1185. The English branch of the knights grew and prospered; they acquired a great number of manors; they sent abroad companies and contingents wherever fighting was going on against the Moslem; no one could accuse the knights of refusing to act up to their vows as regards fighting. But they became most unpopular; they acquired the reputation, like the Templars, of being oppressive landlords and proud neighbours. In the rising of Wat Tyler, vengeance fell especially upon the Knights Hospitallers. The mob attacked, seized, wrecked, and fired the Priory; they would not allow any effort to stay the flames; they watched it burn for a week; and they destroyed the Prior’s house at Highbury.

When the insurrection was quelled, the knights returned to their ruined271 Priory and set themselves to rebuild it in greater magnificence; the rebuilding, conducted in the leisurely mediæval fashion, took nearly two hundred years; it was not until 1504 that the House was completed by Sir Thomas Docwra, then Prior, and this was only one short generation before the suppression of the Order in England and the confiscation of their property.

The Dissolution of the Order took place in 1540. The Act for its suppression was read for the first time in the House of Commons on the 22nd of April, for the second time on the 26th, and for the third time on the 29th. On the 7th May the Order was suppressed. The value of its revenues in England was estimated, according to Stow, at £3385: 19: 8; according to Dugdale, at £2385: 12: 8. The last Prior, Sir William Weston, received from the King the promise of a pension of £1000 a year—an enormous pension considering the value of money. But he died on the day of the suppression.

Londina Illustrata, vol. i.

Unlike many Houses, the Priory, with its noble church, escaped the hands of the destroyer for some time. What happened to it is told by Stow:—

“This Priory church and House of St. John was preserved from spoil or downpulling, so long as King Henry VIII. reigned, and was employed as a store-house for the King’s toils and tents, for hunting, and for the wars, etc.; but in the 3rd of King Edward VI., the church, for the most part, to wit, the body and side aisles, with the great bell tower (a most curious piece of workmanship, graven gilt, and enamelled, to the great beautifying of the city, and passing all other that I have seen), was undermined and blown up with gunpowder; the stone thereof was employed in building of the Lord Protector’s house in the Strand. That part of the choir which remaineth, with some side chapels, was, by Cardinal Pole in the reign of Queen Mary, closed up at the west end, and otherwise repaired; and Sir Thomas Gresham, knight, was then made lord prior there, with restitution of some lands, but the same was again suppressed in the first year of Queen Elizabeth.” (Survey, vol. ii.)

Not even the Templars, at their highest point of splendour, outdid these knights in magnificence and luxury, in pride and in independence. Unpopular as they were, they did not incur the same odium as the Templars. In their pride and272 their privileges, it is true, they were the equals of the rival Order; they were as hard landlords; but they had this great superiority over the Templars in the fact that they did honestly continue the work for which they were founded: they fought the Moslem without intermission at Acre, at Rhodes, at Cyprus, at Malta, and in the Mediterranean Sea. They preserved the respect of the world for unconquerable courage.

In 1191 the Knights Hospitallers took Acre, which they held till 1292. On losing this, the last Christian stronghold in the Holy Land, they retired to Cyprus, where they lay quiet, maturing their plans for fourteen years. It was, no doubt, the knowledge that they were forming plans for another attack on the Saracens which saved them on the downfall of the Templars. In 1308 they conquered Rhodes, which they defended for more than two hundred years. In 1522 they were turned out of this island; the few knights who survived sailed away with about 4000 soldiers and others from Rhodes, and took refuge in Candia, in Sicily, and in Naples, hoping for assistance to retake Rhodes. This assistance was not forthcoming, but they accepted from Charles the Fifth the islands of Malta and Gozo, to which they repaired, with all their archives and relics, in 1530. For two hundred and fifty years after this, the knights continued to fight Turk, Algerine, and Moor in the Mediterranean. In 1798, however, they allowed Napoleon to land without striking a blow.

Their rules were so stringent that it would seem, at first, wonderful how so much pride and luxury should have crept in. But the history of every Monastic House shows how rules can be evaded, or so obeyed as to destroy the spirit while adhering to the letter.


“Poverty, chastity, and obedience: to expect but bread and water and a coarse garment. The clerks to serve in white surplices at the altar. The priests, in their surplices, to convey the Host to the sick, with a deacon or clerk preceding them, bearing a lantern and the sponge filled with holy water. The brethren to go abroad by appointment of the master, but never singly, and to avoid giving offence. No females to be employed for or about their persons; when soliciting alms, to visit churches or people of reputation, and ask their food for charity; if they received none, to buy enough for subsistence; to account for all their receipts to the master, and he to give them to the poor, retaining only one-third part of provisions, the overplus to the poor. The brethren to go soliciting only by permission; to carry candles with them; to wear no skins of wild beasts, or clothes degrading the Order. To eat but twice a day on Wednesday and Saturday; and no flesh from Septuagesima till Easter, except when aged or indisposed. To sleep covered. If incontinent in private, to repent in privacy, and do penance; if the brother was discovered, he was to be deprived of his robe in the church of the town after mass, to be severely whipped, and expelled from the Order; but, if truly penitent, he might be again received; but not without penance and a year’s expulsion, etc.”


If we follow the fortunes of the House after the accession of Elizabeth, we find that the south gate was granted by King James in 1604 to Sir Roger Wilbraham for life. In 1607 the site of the House, containing five acres, was granted to Ralph Freeman and his heirs. The choir, which had been restored or rebuilt by Cardinal Pole, became the property of Sir William Cecil; the Earl of Elgin got it by his marriage with Diana, daughter of the Earl of Exeter; his son, being created Earl of Aylesbury, called it Aylesbury Chapel. In the reign of James the Second a Roman Catholic convent of Benedictine monks was set up in the Precinct of St. John’s. An account of the attempt is given in T. Cromwell’s History of Clerkenwell:—


“It appears, that in the reign spoken of, a certain Father Corker was ‘resident in England to the Elector of Colen’ (Cologne); and that, having first set up a chapel in the Savoy, from which, owing to a dispute with the Jesuits, he was persuaded by the King to remove, ‘he went to St. John’s, corruptly called St. Jone’s, and there built a mighty pretty convent, which the Revolution of 1688 pulled down to the ground, to his very great loss, for as he was Dean of the rosary, he melted down the great gold chalice and patten to help towards this building, supplying the want of them with one of silver just of that make. He counted this convent for the conversion of souls amongst those things which the holy Fathers of the Church allow the church treasure to be spent on.’ This convent seems to have cost the Benedictines considerable sums of money; frequent entries appear in their account-books of that period of amounts paid towards its erection, etc. It is always styled in these books ‘The Factory,’ or, ‘The Factory in Clerkenwell.’”

In the year 1721 the estate was purchased by Simon Michell, and in 1723 he repaired and enlarged the chapel, which he sold to the commissioners for building fifty new churches, for £2950. The church was declared to be a parish church, and the parish assigned to it was the former precinct of the Priory.

The remains of the Priory consist now of the gate, the crypt of the church, some fragments of the ancient walls, and foundations of the former buildings. The crypt, which, until recently, was filled with coffins, has now been cleared; it is one of the most remarkable monuments in London; it was found by excavation to have extended, formerly, much farther to the west; probably to the whole extent of the church.

The Gatehouse consists of the gate itself, with two rooms, one on each side, and a large chamber above. In 1731 it was occupied by Edward Cave the publisher, and from this spot was issued the Gentleman’s Magazine. The associations of Johnson, Goldsmith, and others with the Gate belong to another place.

The Gatehouse served for some time as a tavern. In 1876 it became the Chapter House of the English Order of St. John of Jerusalem.

The Templars

We now turn to the second of the two great Military Orders which belong to the Mediæval Life. The Templar, as well as the Knight Hospitaller, rode through the streets with his following, haughty, rich, luxurious, hated by the people as a hard and cruel landlord; hated by the King for his privileges; by the Church as outside Episcopal jurisdiction; by the City for his pride, and for the vices which were freely attributed to him.

The story of the destruction of the Order of Knights Templars in 1306-1312 is a historical problem that will never, I suppose, be satisfactorily explained. The broad facts are well known. In the year 1305, through the influence of Philippe le Bel, King of France, Bertrand, Archbishop of Bordeaux, was elected Pope and took the title of Clement the Fifth. He was the first of the Popes of Avignon. In return for the tiara, Clement undertook to perform certain acts, in number six. Five of them are known. The sixth, kept a secret, is supposed to have been the suppression of the Templars. There were indeed various reasons why the King—or any king in Western Europe—should desire the suppression of this Order. The knights had grown enormously rich; some idea of their wealth may be obtained by the enumeration of some of the manors they possessed in275 England alone. Let us take one county, Hertfordshire (C. G. Addison’s Knights Templars, p. 94). In this county formerly they possessed the town and forest of Broxbourne, the manor of Chelsin Templars (Chelsin Templariorum) and the manors of Laugenok, Broxbourne, Letchworth, and Temple Dynnesley; demesne lands at Stanho, Preston, Charlton, Walden, Hiche Chelles, Levecamp and Benigho; the church of Broxbourne, two watermills, and a lock on the river Lea; property at Hichen, Pyrton, Ickilford, Offeley Parva, Walden Regis, Furnivale, Ipolitz, Wandsmyll, Watton, Therleton, Weston, Gravele, Wilien, Leccheworth, Baldock, Datheworth, Russenden, Codpeth, Sumershale, Buntynford, etc., and the church of Weston.

Drawn and engraved by S. Rawle.

It must not be supposed that Hertfordshire was exceptional in this respect; the whole of England was dotted over with the possessions of the Order. All this land was given to the Order at a time when the first passion for crusading had cooled, and princes began to think that it might be better for the country if men were paid to fight the Saracen. The Templars were at first a very fine regiment, splendidly equipped, and full of valour. To maintain this regiment was surely a good work, almost as good as going to fight in person. The land was given them on the condition that the larger part of the revenues should be sent every year to the Grand Master of the House and Order in Jerusalem. It was held by them, further, on such terms as were never before heard of; the knights were exempt from all276 taxation aids and “amerciaments”; they could not be compelled to plead except before the King or his Chief Justice; they had power to hold Courts; to impose fines upon their tenants; to hold markets; to try criminals caught on their lands; they could travel without paying toll; they were not obliged to contribute to bridges and other works; they seized the chattels of all felons caught on their lands. Nor was this all: they were exempted from paying tithe; they could not be excommunicated by Bishop or priest; their houses had the right of sanctuary; and they had an Ecclesiastical Court of their own, with a judge, whom they called Conservator Privilegiorum Suorum. The Grand Master and the Brotherhood were subordinate only to the Pope; a large number of priests had been admitted to the Order, which was entirely free from the Church in any country. This great Order, at the beginning of the fourteenth century, numbered, it is said, fifteen hundred knights, with chaplains and serving brothers innumerable. The revenues were, as has been shown, enormous, and not one penny went to the purpose for which the Order had been endowed. The Holy Land had been swept clear of Christians; the Latin Kingdom, the name of which survived, had been destroyed for more than a hundred years; the degenerate grandsons of the Crusaders had long been scattered to the four winds; the Knights Templars and Knights Hospitallers had been expelled from the country, even from the fortified ports: Jaffa and Antioch fell in 1268, Tripoli in 1290, Acre in 1291. Then the Templars, reduced in numbers, retired to Cyprus, whence, in 1300, Jacques de Moray, the last Grand Master, made an unsuccessful attempt to seize Alexandria, and in 1303, when he tried to found a settlement at Tortosa, not only the power of the knights had gone but also their prestige. These dates are necessary, because they show that as soon as the Templars were proved incapable of doing the work for which they existed, then the attack upon them commenced, and not before.



The central house of the Templars in London was called the Temple. At first it was built on the north-east corner of Chancery Lane. Remains of this house were standing until quite modern times. When the Order became richer, the members bought a piece of ground stretching from Whitefriars to Essex House, and there erected a splendid convent, of which the Chapel remains to this day. The Master of the Temple was the Master of the English Templars. There277 were, however, some fifty Preceptories scattered about the country, monastic establishments, each ruled by a Prior, chiefly inhabited by sick or aged Templars. The site of many of their Preceptories is still preserved by the name, as Temple Combe in Somersetshire, Temple Rothley in Lincolnshire, and others. The Priors of the Preceptories had in their hands the management of the estates and the collection of the rents and dues.


The Temple of London, in consequence of its garrison of knights, its monastic character, and its privilege of sanctuary, became a place in which great lords and even kings deposited their treasure. Queen Berengaria’s dower was placed in the hands of the Templars. Hubert de Burgh made the Temple his bank, and the knights refused to let the King’s officers remove the money and jewels he had given into their care. Kings made the place their residence; King John was there when his barons came to him demanding the “liberties and laws of King Edward.” Henry the Third, after a little quarrel with the Order, became reconciled to them, and lived for a while in the Temple; he made them the guardians of his treasure; he was present at the consecration of the Chancel of their Church in 1240. And he sent certain Castilian Ambassadors to the Temple as his guests. But by the beginning of the fourteenth century there is no doubt that the Templars had become unpopular. The King could not be pleased to think of manors and lordships which produced no revenues for the realm; the nobles grudged the immunities of the Order, and remembered that the lands of the Templars had once belonged to their ancestors before they were piously alienated; merchants could not with patience behold the annual transmission of vast sums of money out of the country; the Bishops lusted after the tithes, and regarded the Templars with suspicion and dislike as a united body over whom they had no authority. Finally, soldiers and military historians remembered that in the last days in Palestine the Order would own no subordination to King, Bishop, or Council; the knights stood apart, a compact body; so far, it was said, from supporting the Cross in the Holy Land, they did their best by their stubborn independence to pull it down. War has no rule more rigid and inflexible than the rule of obedience to one general. This rule the Templars had broken. That they fought with valour no one could deny, but they fought for themselves. Lastly, since there was no more fighting in Palestine, and no hope of any, why go on sending all their treasure out of the country? And what good were the Knights Templars any longer? There had been signs of coming storm after the fall of278 Acre in 1291. Edward the First seized the money intended to be sent to Cyprus on the ground that the purpose for which it had been sent in former years no longer existed. He gave it up, it is true, at the request of the Pope. Before this he had seized ten thousand pounds belonging to the Templars, and this money he did not return. Edward the Second also took away from the Temple fifty thousand pounds of silver, with a quantity of gold, jewels, and precious stones. That these acts of violence were committed without remonstrance or redress indicates that the power of the Templars had greatly diminished. These considerations—coupled with the intolerable pride of the knights and their splendour, which mocked the smaller gentry—were sufficient to account for the unpopularity of the Order and for the general acquiescence in its suppression. And with societies as well as with men when they become unpopular, sinister rumours began to be whispered, crimes began to be alleged, words began to be reported.

On 6th June 1306 Clement the Fifth addressed an invitation to the Grand Masters of the Templars and the Hospitallers inviting them both to a conference as to the recovery of the Holy Land. It is thought that it was his intention to overwhelm both Orders in one common destruction. Since, however, a great part of the property of the Templars was afterwards given to the Hospitallers, it is not probable that this was the Pope’s intention. Jacques de Moray, Grand Master of the Templars, accepted: the Grand Master of the Hospitallers declined to be present. De Moray arrived in France with sixty knights and a long train of sumpter mules bearing his treasure, estimated at 150,000 golden florins, and a vast quantity of silver. On September 14 the King, without waiting for the Pope’s consent, issued secret orders to all his seneschals instructing them to summon each a powerful force on the night of October 12; not to open the orders until that night, and then to execute them. On that night every Templar in France was arrested. The world heard with amazement that this great and valiant order was guilty of the most frightful crimes. These were arranged under five heads:

(1) That at their initiation they denied Christ and spat upon the Cross.

(2) That they worshipped an idol of some monstrous form.

(3) That they gave and received disgusting kisses at these receptions.

(4) That they omitted the words of consecration in the mass.

(5) That they practised unnatural vices.

There were other and minor charges. Among them, for instance, that the Grand Master claimed the power of granting absolution; that they wore a magical cord; that they were in secret league with the Mohammedans. How these charges arose it is impossible to prove; it was said that they came from one Squin de Florian, a man who had been imprisoned on account of his corrupt life, and according to others a certain Nosso, an apostate Templar, who between them devised and invented the whole.


Photochrom Co. Ltd.


How those charges became an indictment of the Templars in Paris; how they were tortured until they confessed, and slowly burned to death when they retracted, belongs to the general history of the Order. Here we have only to do with the Templars in London. The French King, Philippe, sent a messenger, one Bernard Peletin, to Edward the Second, his son-in-law, informing him of the detestable crimes of which the Templars were guilty, and urging him to follow his example. Edward refused at first to believe the charges. But the Pope wrote to the same effect; and, against his wishes, Edward had no choice but to arrest the Templars in England, Scotland, and Ireland. The arrest was made on the 8th of January. By this time, the news from Paris had spread over every Preceptory in the country; many anticipated their arrest by flight; but the leaders, the Master of280 the Temple, the Priors, and the chief officers made no attempt to escape. The knights, with the exception of the Master, who was liberated on bail, were kept prisoners till September in the following year, when the two inquisitors appointed by the Pope arrived. There were in all 229 knights. There is reported to have been a general scramble for the goods and chattels of the knights—no doubt the Temple and the Preceptories were full of silver plate and tapestry and armour. The trial began in the hall of the Bishop of London’s Palace. The first examination in London, Dublin, York, and Lincoln produced nothing. All, without exception, steadfastly denied the charges brought against them. At the same time, as the Pope had sent a bull in which he assumed as already proved the guilt of the Order, and the crime of which the members stood accused, the Inquisition was bound to find the knights guilty. One should observe here that although as yet no torture had been applied, the knights could not be ignorant of what was being done in France, where tortures too dreadful to be written down were applied to the unhappy prisoners. Probably they expected what was to follow. The infamy of the torture, however, belongs to the Pope, not to Edward. The Pope it was who wrote to admonish his dearest son that the “question” should be applied. Edward gave way: he ordered that the prisoners should be confined in separate rooms, and that the inquisitors should visit them, and do with their bodies “whatsoever they should think fit, according to ecclesiastical law.” For three months, therefore, the knights were subjected to question under torture. Not one confessed anything. The Inquisitors then examined witnesses for the prosecution. The evidence was, from beginning to end, hearsay. It discloses a great deal of hatred towards the Templars, since these things could be whispered about them, but there is not the least direct evidence. Then the knights drew up a declaration of faith, which they handed in. It is full and explicit, and asserts their orthodoxy and their belief in the strongest terms. Once more the torture was applied. By this time the prisoners filled the City prisons. Some were in the Tower, some were in the prison of Aldgate, some in that of Cripplegate, some in that of Bishopsgate, some in that of Ludgate, and some in that of Newgate.

They were loaded with fetters; they were placed in solitary confinement; they were kept in dungeons; they were living on bread and water; and thus weakened, they were tortured by the Inquisition and worried by learned doctors of theology, who succeeded at last in getting a confession from two serving brethren and one chaplain. There was nothing in the confessions except what the Inquisitors wanted. However, armed with that, they were able to satisfy the Pope. The process against the Templars was at least more humane in London than in Paris. Torture there was, but at the express command of the Pope; there was no burning, not even of the Master; nor was there any of the accursed slow roasting which makes the French business so atrocious.


What happened in London to terminate the Inquisition was this. The Bishops of London, Winchester, and Chichester had an interview with some of the Templars, and told them that they were clearly guilty of heresy in supposing that the Grand Master had power of absolution, and that it would be well for them, generally, to clear themselves of that and any other heresy of which they might be accused. The prisoners replied that they were anxious to clear themselves of any heresy into which they might have fallen. Observe that there was not one word said about any of the five charges brought by Philip; these were quietly dropped. The Templars, therefore, were publicly reconciled to the Church, and absolved by a form of words in which it was guardedly said that “they could not entirely purge themselves of the heresies set forth in the apostolic bull.” Surely a verdict of not guilty could not be more plainly returned. Then the rest were reconciled. All but William de Moray the Master. He died in prison of a broken heart. At the same time, in Aragon, Portugal, Tarragona, and Germany, the Order, though examined under torture, was pronounced innocent of the charges brought against it. It was said, long afterwards, that with his dying breath Jacques de Moray summoned Pope and King to meet him before the judgment seat of God. Both of them died the year after. Everybody, it is reported, and it was believed, connected with the trials and the cruelties, came to a miserable end. The wretched man who invented the charges, Squin de Florian, was hanged for some new crime. And as for the agonising death of Edward the Second, men whispered that thus and thus had it been done unto him in return for his treatment of the Templars. The voice of the people is difficult to hear in the first decade of the fourteenth century, otherwise one would like to know what they thought of the introduction of torture as a judicial instrument. For until these trials torture was unknown in England. To be tried, to be hanged, to have the hand struck off, to be branded, these things the people understood, but torture they did not understand. Nay, so ignorant were they of the art and method of torture that two Frenchmen were sent for to instruct the executioners. Torture was always regarded, not only by the English people generally, but by the judges and lawyers, with a shrinking and horror which did not exist on the Continent, where they continued to torture prisoners until well into the eighteenth century. There can be no doubt that the later hatred of the Roman Catholic Religion was fomented and kept alive by the reports which came from Spain and Portugal of the tortures inflicted by the Inquisition in the name of that religion. The Tudor sovereigns occasionally inflicted torture. But the judges in 1628 declared that the torture of Villiers, the murderer of Buckingham, was illegal. Considering the wholesale nature of the torture of the Templars, and that the thing was done in the City prisons, and that it was well known to the Mayor and Sheriffs, and therefore, one supposes, to all the world, one would expect some282 kind of shuddering recollection of the event in the minds of the people, some lingering horror. But there is none. The flames of Smithfield, all laid to the charge of Mary, remain in men’s minds. But the cruel torture of these men, and their unmerited sufferings, passed at once out of mind and were forgotten. For three years and a half the English Templars were in prison. They were arrested in January 1308 and released in 1311. In April 1312, at a Council held at Vienna, the Order was finally suppressed.

The property of the Templars—by order of the Pope—was given to the Knights Hospitallers. Their personal property, their vast heaps of gold and silver plate, their furniture, tapestry, armour, precious stuffs, their sacks of money were seized and scrambled for at the outset. When a rich Preceptory was suddenly left empty and deserted save for a few outdoor servants, anybody, any neighbouring Baron, could step in and clear out the contents. Their manors and lordships, their churches, villages, tolls and rights were given away by King Edward with a lavish hand. No king, as yet, since William the Conqueror, had had so much to give as Edward; nor would any king again have so much till the Dissolution of the Houses. The Pope expostulated. But it was difficult to make the new owners give up their holdings: an Act of Parliament was passed; it proved futile. Later on, in the reign of Edward the Third, another Act was passed, and some of the property was given to the Hospitallers. In France, Philip handed over the whole, but so charged and laden by his own demands that the Hospitallers found themselves none the richer.

The evidence and the confessions suggest certain observations. For instance, the knights wore a magical cord. That there was a cord is clear, and they all wore it, but they were mostly in ignorance of its meaning. It was intended to remind them of their vows of chastity; it was supposed to have been passed round the waist of the Virgin. The cord remained, but its symbolical meaning was lost. Then as to the denial of their religion, the kiss of brotherhood, and so forth. There have been, and are still, many societies of men in which there is a secret form of initiation, with ceremonies which are symbolical. I see no reason at all to doubt that at the initiation of a Templar he was led into the Hall naked or in a shirt only—he was to be penniless, naked, without arms, helpless—all temporal gifts he was to receive from his brethren. Is it too much to suppose that he went through the form of worshipping an idol indicated by a statue or picture while in this naked, prehistoric condition, in order that he might receive his religion also from the knights, and so owe everything in this world and the next to the Brotherhood? Considering other initiations of which one has learned something, I am quite prepared to admit the probability of such a ceremony. As to the origin of the reports and rumours, it is quite enough to live in an ignorant age, to be raised above the common herd by wealth, to be283 separated from the rest of the world, and to observe secrecy as regards certain forms and ceremonies. Against such men reports and rumours will speedily arise and spread abroad and fill the whole land. And these, it is very certain, will not be reports of virtue or rumours of sanctity.

The transference of the property of the Templars to their rivals makes one doubt that the object of the Pope was plunder. Since we cannot believe that he had destroyed one Order, on account of its wealth and power, only to make another Order richer and more powerful still, it seems certain that the jealousy of the Templars’ wealth was not the cause of the Pontiff’s action. Was it, then, really a belief in the charges brought against them? We have seen that there was no evidence, so far as has been recorded, to support these charges: that in Spain, Portugal, and Germany the Order was found “not guilty”: that a verdict practically amounting to “not guilty” was found in London: and that in Paris only were the knights sentenced to be punished as heretics and relapsed heretics. If Clement the Fifth actually believed in the hearsay evidence of improbabilities amounting to impossibilities, he must have possessed far less of the judicial faculty than belongs even to the ecclesiastical mind. Had such a man been a layman he would be set down as the most mischievous fool that ever sat upon a bench of justice. We will suppose that Clement was not a fool, what then? Why did he write those bulls? Was it in accordance with the sixth condition agreed upon with Philip? Is Philip, and Philip alone, responsible for this terrible crime, the greatest of all the Mediæval crimes? Did he destroy the Order simply and solely for the sake of its wealth? And did he, in order to get a handle, make use of the ignorant and idle gossip which was current as to the morals and customs of the Secret House? And to all these questions it is useless even to suggest an answer.



It has been generally believed that the founder of the Convent, dedicated to the Honour of God and the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, was one Jordan Briset about the year 1100. Stow speaks as if there was no doubt of the matter at all:—

“Beyond this house of St. John’s, was the Priory of Clerkenwell, so called of Clarks-Well adjoining; which Priory was also founded, about the Year 1100, by Jorden Briset, Baron, the son of Ralph, the son of Brian Briset: Who gave to Robert, a Priest, fourteen Acres of Land, lying in the Field next adjoining the said Clarks-Well, thereupon to build an House for religious persons, which he built to the Honour of God, and the Assumption of our Lady; and placed therein black Nuns. This Jorden Briset gave also to that House one piece of Ground, thereby to build a Windmill upon, etc. Upon the Dissolution of this Priory, it became a Parish Church, called St. James, Clerkenwell.”

Mr. J. H. Round, however, has discovered that the date of the Foundation has been placed too early, and that the founder was not Jordan Briset at all, but a certain person identified as the younger son of a Domesday under-tenant, who had himself founded the Priories of Bricett for Austin Friars and of Stanegate for Cluniac Monks. Both this House and the Priory of St. John adjacent were founded, in Mr. Round’s view, about the year 1145.

The value of the House at the surrender was, according to Dugdale, £262: 19: 0; according to Speed, £282: 16: 5. In the Calendar of Wills there is not a single bequest to the nuns of this House.

Isabella, the last prioress, was a daughter of Sir Richard Sackville. She furnishes another instance tending to prove that the monasteries and nunneries had fallen into the hands of the noble and gentle families. She received a pension of fifty pounds a year on the Dissolution; she died in 1569, and was buried in her own church.

The site of the House was given to the Duke of Norfolk, who exchanged it with the King for another place. Then Walter Henley and John Williams, knights, got a grant of it. It passed through many hands during the next hundred years. Among others, it was possessed by Sir Thomas Challoner, tutor to Prince Henry, son of James the First. He built a spacious house within the Close of the Priory,285 on the front of which he engraved the following lines, a rare tribute to the memory of the departed Sisters:—

“Casta Fides superest, velare tecta Sorores
Ista relagatæ deseruere licet:
Nam venerandus Hymen his vota jugalia servet,
Vestalemque focum mente fovere studet.”

Thus Englished by Fuller:—

“Chaste Faith still stays behind though hence be flown
Those veyled nuns who here before did rest:
For reverend marriage wedlock vows doth own,
And sacred flames keep here in loyal brest.”

Some remains of the cloisters were standing in 1785. They were figured in the Gentleman’s Magazine for that year.

The Church of St. James was originally the choir of the nunnery, and was made a Parish Church on the Dissolution.

“Strype, in his additions to Stow’s account of the church, says, ‘About the year 1623 the steeple fell down, having stood time out of mind without any reparation; nor among the records of that church could any mention be found of any such thing. This Steeple in the rebuilding thereof, and being near finishing, fell again, upon the undertaker’s neglect in not looking into the strength of that upon which he was to rear such a burthen. With the steeple fell the bells, their carriages and frames, beating a great part of the roof down before them, the weight of all these together bearing to the ground two large pillars of the south aisle, a fair gallery over against the pulpit, the pulpit, all the pews, and whatsoever was under or near it.’ The church, however, was thoroughly repaired, and the steeple renewed, by 1627, at the expense of £1400.

On August 25th, 1788, the ground was first prepared for the reception of a new church, which was consecrated on July 10th, 1792, by Beilby Porteus, Bishop of London.” (London and Middlesex Notes, pp. 80-81.)



The nunnery of Haliwell, or Holywell, was named after a holy spring or well on the eastern extremity of Finsbury Fields, in the parish of St. Leonard, Shoreditch. There were many other holy wells around London, especially that in the Strand, west of St. Clement Danes. How one spring came to be accounted holy above other springs, one knows not. However, there can be no doubt that this spring in Shoreditch was a place of considerable resort and great sanctity, which was reason enough why its owner, Robert Fitz Gelran, Canon of St. Paul’s, should enclose it with a wall, and to erect a nunnery over it. The House was built to the honour of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and St. John Baptist for Benedictine nuns. This was done about the year 1127. Robert, Earl of Gloucester, Richard the First, Henry de Hallingbury, Simon, Bishop of Ely, John de Gatesbey, Richard de Beaumes, Bishop of London, Stephen Gravesend, Bishop of London, Sir Thomas Lovell, were the chief benefactors of this House. Richard the First gave the nuns a part of the moor, on which their House was built; he also gave them the church at Dunton, with land in Bedfordshire, at Camberwell, in Surrey, and in the City of London. It is unnecessary to enumerate all the gifts. Very shortly before the Dissolution, the House was rebuilt by Sir Thomas Lovell. He endowed it with more land, and was buried in a chapel built by himself for his sepulchre, little dreaming that in less than a generation the House and the Chapel and all the rest would be destroyed. On the painted windows and on the walls were inscribed the verses:—

“All ye nuns of Haliwell
Pray ye both day and night
For the soul of Sir Thomas Lovell
Whom Harry the Seventh made knight.”

Holiwell Nunnery, on surrender, had a yearly revenue of £293 according to Stow, of £347: 1: 3 according to Speed.

In 1553 the following sisters were still living, and in the receipt of pensions:—Sibilla Nudigate, per annum, L li.; Elena Claver, per annum, liij s. iiij d.; Alicia Marteine, per annum, iiij li.; Alicia Goldwell, per annum, iiij li. vj s. viij d.;287 Beatrica Fitzlewas, per annum, Lxvj s. viij d.; Agnes Bolney, per annum, Liij s. iiij d.

In 1544 Queen Catherine Parr asked for the site for Henry Webbe. His daughter brought the place to her husband, Sir George Peckham. The Church and House being pulled down, houses were built on the site “for the lodgings of noblemen, of strangers born and other.”

In 1785 the last fragment of importance, a stone gateway, was pulled down: there still continued to be shown some walls, a small arch, and part of a doorway in a cellar of a tavern called “The Old King John.”

On the site of the ground belonging to the House were built two of the early theatres—“The Curtain” and288 “The Theatre.”


The absolute oblivion into which this once noble House has fallen, so that there is no longer, among the people living on its very site, any memory or tradition of its existence, is not without a parallel in the case of other London Houses. Yet it is remarkable for the reason that its site and its gardens remained open and unbuilt over until a hundred years ago, while, almost within the memory of man, many ruins and portions of the former buildings still remained.

The internal history of the Abbey is naturally without interest. The list of Priors and Abbots has been preserved: there were sixty-nine from the Foundation of the House in 1082 until the Dissolution in 1538. The duration of each Prior’s rule was therefore an average of six years and a half; but many of them died very shortly after their election, a proof that the election went, as a rule, by seniority; or, at least, that the brethren chose for their chief one who was well stricken in years and of long experience.

The House was at first, and for three hundred years, an alien Priory dependent on that of Cluny. It was founded by a citizen of London named Aylwin or Æthelwine Child, in the year 1082. The Cluniacs were brought into this country by William, Earl of Warren, who, with Gunhilda his wife, stayed at Cluny, and was greatly impressed with the sanctity and the devotion of the brethren. He persuaded the Abbot to allow some of the monks to come to England, and in 1077 established a Cluniac House at Lewes. Another followed at Wenlock, and, in 1082, this House of Bermondsey.

Among the benefactors of the House were William Rufus; Mary, sister to the Queen of Henry the First; that King himself; King Stephen; the Earls of Gloucester and Stafford; and many others. In 1390, under Richard the Second, Bermondsey ceased to be an alien Priory, and was made denizen. This was not without a remonstrance from Cluny. Fifty years later three Cluniac monks were sent over to set forth the claims of the Mother House. The brethren stated their case, but could not get any attention paid to their arguments. One of them died in this country, the other two went home having accomplished nothing. A piteous letter to the Abbot of St. Albans explains their position:—


“For the rest, be it known to you, my Lord, that after having spent four months and a half on our journey, and following our Right with the most serene Lord the King and his Privy Council, we have obtained nothing: nay, we are sent back very disconsolate, deprived of our Manors, our Pensions alienated, and what is still worse, we are denied the obedience of all our Monasteries which are 38 in number: nor did our Legal Deeds, nor the Testimonies of your Chronicles avail us anything, and at length, after all our pleading and expenses, we return home moneyless, for in truth, after paying for what we have eaten and drunk, we have but five crowns left, to go back about 260 leagues. But what then? We will sell what we have; we will go on; and God will provide. Nothing else occurs to write to your Paternity: but that as we entered England with joy, so we depart thence with sorrow; having buried one of our Companions—viz. the Archdeacon, the youngest of our company. May he rest in Peace! Amen.”

W. B. Grove.


Meetings of the Council were held at Bermondsey from time to time: in the reign of Henry the Third many of the nobility who had taken the Cross met here in deliberation. In 1213 the then Prior, Richard, founded the almonry in Southwark, which afterwards developed into St. Thomas’s Hospital.

In 1276 there was a dispute between the Bishop of Winchester, who claimed an annual procuration, an entertainment of one day during his Visitation, and the House.

In 1309, by a breach in the River Wall, the lands of the House were so much damaged that the brethren were exempted from the purveyance of hay and corn.

In 1324 Edward the Second issued letters patent for the arrest of the prior, John de Causancia, and certain monks for harbouring rebels. These were probably the adherents of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, who, after his defeat at Boroughbridge, took sanctuary in the Abbey. In 1337 the Bishop of Ely excommunicated certain persons for stealing a hawk belonging to him from the cloisters of the Abbey. Many other associations gather round this House. Marmion, Lord of Fontenay, was a benefactor to Bermondsey; the monks sold their lands in Southwark in the reign of Richard the Second to Robert of Paris, from whom the place was called Paris Gardens; Cardinal Beaufort visited the Abbey, and was received in procession by the monks. The Prior Henry, afterwards Abbot of Glastonbury, took an active part in the release of King Richard.

In 1323 the greater church of St. Saviour of Bermondsey and the great altar were dedicated in honour of St. Saviour and the Blessed Virgin and All Saints. On the same day were dedicated three other altars in the church—one of the Cross, one in honour of the Virgin and St. Thomas the Martyr, and one in honour of St. Andrew and St. James and all the Apostles.

Among those buried here were Leofstan, Portreeve of London in 1115; William of Mortain, or Mortaigne, Earl of Cornwall; Mary, daughter of Malcolm the Third of Scotland, and sister to Queen Maud, who died April 18, 1115. The following is the inscription on her tomb:—

“Nobilis hic tumulata jacet Comitissa Maria:
Actebus hæc nituit: larga benigna fuit.
Regum sanguis erat: morum probitate vigebat,
Compatiens in opi: vivit in arce Poli.”

Also Matilda, daughter of Guy, Earl of Warwick, who died in 1368; Margaret de la Pole; Anne, widow of Lord Audley, and the murdered Duke of Gloucester, before the removal of his body to Westminster.

But the most illustrious residents of the House were the two Queens who died within its walls.

The first of them was Katherine of Valois, widow of Henry the Fifth, who married secretly Owen Tudor, and was the grandmother of Henry the Seventh.291 The marriage was not found out for some years. The Queen must have been most faithfully and loyally served, because children cannot be born without observation. Owen Tudor must have conducted matters with a discretion beyond all praise. No doubt the ordinary members of the household knew nothing, and suspected nothing, because several years passed before any suspicion was awakened. Three sons and one daughter, in all, were born. The eldest, Edmund of Hadham, was so called because he was born there; the second, Jasper, was of Hatfield; the third, Owen, of Westminster; the youngest, Margaret, died in infancy.

Suspicions were aroused about the time of the birth of Owen, which took place apparently before it was expected, and without all the precautions necessary, in the King’s House at Westminster. The infant was taken as soon as born to the monastery of St. Peter’s secretly. It is not likely that the Abbot received the child without full knowledge of his parents. He did take the child, however; and here little Owen remained, growing up in a monastery, and taking vows in due time. Here he lived and here he died, a Benedictine of Westminster.

It would seem as if Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, heard some whisper or rumour concerning this birth, or was told something about the true nature of the Queen’s illness, for he issued a very singular proclamation, warning the world, generally, against marrying Queen-dowagers, as if these ladies grew on every hedge. When, however, a year or so afterwards, the fourth child, Margaret, was born, Humphrey learned the whole truth: the degradation, as he thought it, of the Queen, who had stooped to such an alliance with a man of humble rank, and the audacity of the Welshman. He took steps promptly. He sent Katherine with some of her ladies to Bermondsey Abbey, there to remain in honourable confinement: he arrested Owen Tudor, also a priest—probably the priest who had performed the marriage—and his servant, and sent all three to Newgate.

All three succeeded in breaking prison and escaping. At this point the story gets mixed. The King himself, we are told, then a lad of fifteen, sent to Owen commanding his attendance before the Council. Why did they not arrest him again? Owen, however, refused to trust himself to the Council—was not Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, one of them? He asked for a safe-conduct. They promised him one by a verbal message. Where was he, then, that all these messages should be sent backwards and forwards? I think he must have been in Sanctuary. He refused a verbal message, and demanded a written safe-conduct. This was granted him, and he returned to London. But he mistrusted even the written promise; he would not face the Council; he took refuge in the Sanctuary of Westminster, where they were afraid to seize him. And here for a while he remained. It is said that they tried to draw him out by sending old friends, who invited him to the taverns outside the Abbey Precinct. But Owen would not be so drawn. He knew that Duke Humphrey would make an end of him if he could.292 He therefore remained where he was. I think that he must have had some secret understanding with the King; for one day, learning that Henry himself was with the Council, he suddenly presented himself and pleaded his own cause. The mild young King, tender on account of his mother, would not allow the case to be pursued, but bade him go free.

He departed, and made all haste to get out of such unwholesome air; he made for Wales. Here the hostility of Duke Humphrey pursued him still; he was once more arrested, taken to Wallingford, and placed in the Castle there a prisoner. From Wallingford he was transferred again to Newgate, he and his priest and his servant. Once more they all three broke prison, “foully” wounding a warder in the achievement of liberty, and got back to Wales, choosing for their residence the mountainous parts, into which the English garrisons never penetrated.

When the King came of age, Owen Tudor was allowed to return, and was presented with a pension of £40 a year. It is remarkable, however, that he received no promotion or rank; that he was never knighted; and that the title of Esquire was the only one by which he was known. It certainly seems as if the claim of Owen Tudor to be called a gentleman was not recognised by the King or the heralds. Perhaps Welsh gentility was as little understood by these Normans as Irish royalty—yet, so far as length of pedigree goes, both Welsh and Irish were very superior to Normans.

The two sons, Edmund and Jasper, were placed under the charge of Katherine de la Pole, Abbess of Barking, and sister of the Earl of Suffolk. When the King came of age, he remembered his half-brothers; Edmund was made Earl of Richmond, Jasper, Earl of Pembroke; both ranked before all other English Earls. Edmund was afterwards married to Margaret Beaufort, who, as Countess of Richmond, was the foundress of Christ’s and St. John’s Colleges, Cambridge. Her son, as everybody knows, was Henry the Seventh.

As for Owen Tudor, that gallant adventurer, who began so well on the field of battle, ended as well, fighting, as he should, for his stepson and King, under the badge of the Red Rose. When the Civil Wars began, he joined the King’s forces, though he was then nearer seventy than sixty. He fought at Wakefield; he pursued the Yorkists to Mortimer’s Cross, where another fight took place. The Lancastrians were defeated. Owen was taken prisoner, and was cruelly beheaded on the field. It was right and just that he should so fight and should so die. He survived his Queen twenty-four years.

Katherine lived no more than a year after her imprisonment. She made a will shortly before her death, in which there is not one word about her second husband or her children by Owen Tudor. She says in the preamble: “I trustfully,” addressing her son the King,293 “and am quite sure, that among all creatures earthly ye best may and will best tender and favour my will, in ordaining for my soul and body, in seeing that my debts be paid and my servants guerdoned, and in tender and favourable fulfilment of mine intent.”

The second Queen, who died at Bermondsey Abbey, was Elizabeth Woodville. Her imprisonment in the Abbey was regarded with great surprise. It was in the year 1486, when the insurrection broke out in Ireland in favour of the pretended Earl of Warwick, son of the Duke of Clarence: a council was held, after which, without any cause assigned, or the bringing of any charge, the widowed Queen was carried to Bermondsey, where she remained for the rest of her life. The reason commonly accepted was that she knew Edward Plantagenet, and so could prompt and instruct the Pretender in his personation of the prince. Bacon says, “That which is most probable out of the precedent and subsequent acts is that it was the Queen Dowager from whom this action had had the principal source and motive; certain it is she was a busy, negotiating woman, and in her withdrawing chamber had the fortunate conspiracy of the King against Richard the Third been hatched, which the King knew and remembered but too well; and she was at the time extremely discontent with the King, thinking her daughter, as the King handled the matter, not advanced but depressed.”


It is not easy to find much sympathy with this unfortunate woman, yet there294 are few scenes in history more full of pathos and mournfulness than that in which her boy Richard was torn from her arms; and she knew—all knew—even the Archbishops, when they gave their consent, knew—that the boy was to be done to death. When one talks of Queens and their misfortunes, it may be remembered that few Queens have suffered more than Elizabeth Woodville. In misfortune she sits apart from other Queens, her only companions being Mary Queen of Scots and Marie Antoinette. Her record is full of woe. But in that long war it seems impossible to find one single character, man or woman—unless it is King Henry—who is true and loyal. All—all are perjured, treacherous, cruel, self-seeking. All are as proud as Lucifer. Murder is the friend and companion of the noblest lord, perjury walks on the other side of him, treachery stalks behind him, all are his henchmen. Elizabeth met perjury and treachery with intrigue and plot and counter-plot; she was the daughter of her time. She was accused of being privy to the plots of Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck; she was more Yorkist than her husband; she hated the Red Rose long after the Red and the White were united in her daughter and Henry the Seventh. That she was suspected of these intrigues shows the character she bore. We must make allowance; she was always in a false position; Edward ought not to have married her; she was hated by her own party; she was compelled, in the interests of her children, to be always on the defensive; and in her conduct of defence she was the daughter of her age. These things, however, deprive her, somewhat, of the pity which we ought to feel for so many misfortunes.

She, too, had to retire to the seclusion of Bermondsey, where she could sit and watch the ships go up and down, and so feel that the world, with which she had no more concern, still continued. It has been suggested that she retired voluntarily to the Abbey. Such a retreat was not in the character of Elizabeth Woodville, so long as there was a daughter or a kinsman left to fight for. Like Katherine of Valois, she made an end not without dignity. Witness the following clauses in her will:—

“Item, I bequeath my body to be buried with the body of my lord at Windsor, according to the will of my said lord and mine, without pomps entering or costly expenses done thereabout. Item, whereas I have no worldly goods to do the Queen’s Grace, my dearest daughter a pleasure with, neither to reward any of my children, according to my heart and mind, I beseech Almighty God to bless her Grace, with all her noble issue: and with as good a heart and mind as is to me possible, I give her Grace my blessing, and all aforesaid, my children. Item, I will that such small stuff and goods that I have be disposed truly in the contentation of my debts and for the health of my soul as far as they will extend. Item, if any of my blood will any of the said stuff or goods to me pertaining, I will that they have the preferment before any other.”

Drawn by C. J. M. Whichello.Engraved by B. Howlett.
As it appeared in the year 1805, with the adjacent country. Taken from the steeple of the Church of St. Mary Magdalen.

The position of Bermondsey Abbey would at first appear to have been exactly similar to that of Westminster: both Abbeys stood upon islets slightly raised above high-water mark; all round the islet of each stretched marshes, with other tiny islets295 here and there, as at Chelsea and Battersea. But there was this difference. In front of Thorney was a ford; at the back of Thorney was a ford; beyond the ford on the south was the high road to Dover; beyond the ford on the north was the high road to the heart of the country. Bermondsey was near the river, but the river here was broad and deep even at low tide; Bermondsey was not situated on the high road of commerce; the high road to Dover was near the Abbey, certainly, but not running right through it, so to speak, as the road ran at Westminster. The Abbey lay quiet and remote, even from Southwark; and after the building of the river wall on the south, whenever that was done, the marshes became low-lying meadows, dotted with ponds and with trees, where cows lay asleep in the sun. The Abbey stood alone, removed from houses, among gardens and orchards; it might almost have been in the country, so quiet and peaceful were the surroundings. But from the river there was heard the yeo-heave-ho of the sailors; the masts and sails could be seen above the river wall; there was heard every day the hymn of praise with which the sailors celebrated their safe arrival in port; and the sound of the multitudinous bells of London was wafted across the river to this peaceful spot.

The Abbey possessed a miraculous Rood, to which people paid pilgrimage. It was one of the many shrines round London which were convenient for a day’s pleasant journey into the country. In the Paston Letters, John Paston writes, “I pray you visit the Rood of Saint Saviour in Bermondsey while ye abide in London, and let my sister Margery go with you to pray to them that she shall have a good husband or she come home again.”

This holy Rood was found in the Thames in 1117, and began almost immediately to work miracles. In 1118 William, Earl of Morton, was “miraculously liberated from the Tower of London through the power of this holy Cross.”

Twenty-two years later, the same William, Earl of Morton, entered the Abbey and took the vows. The Rood was taken down on the same day that the Rood of Grace of Kent was destroyed by the Bishop of Rochester at Paul’s Cross.

One of the last acts of Henry the Seventh was to found an “anniversary” in this House to pray for the good and prosperous estate of the King during his life, for the prosperity of the realm, for the soul of his late Queen Elizabeth—not Elizabeth Woodville, of whom no mention is made, for the soul of Edmund, Earl of Richmond, the King’s father, and of Margaret, Countess of Richmond, his mother; and for the souls of his children.

At the Dissolution, the revenues of the House were valued at £548: 2: 5-1/2. The Abbot, who was made Bishop of St. Asaph, received a pension of 500 marks, or £333: 6: 8 a year. Fifteen years later, in 1553, there were still seven or eight annuitants surviving, viz. one at 15 marks a year; three at 9; two at 8; and smaller annuities amounting to 11 marks a year.


The House and Manor were granted to Sir Robert Southwell, Master of the Rolls. He sold it to Sir Thomas Pope, founder of Trinity College, Oxford. Sir Thomas pulled down many of the monastic buildings, and erected a stately house with the materials. The house with the gardens he sold to Sir Robert Southwell, from whom he had bought it; the Manor he sold to Robert Trapps, citizen and goldsmith.

In 1583 the Earl of Sussex, Lord Chamberlain to Queen Elizabeth, died in the House.

The parish church of St. Mary Magdalen was built by the monks for their tenants. The Earl of Sussex had to rebuild it when it was reported to be falling into a ruinous condition.

Among the various benefits conferred upon the country by the monastic houses, that of hospitality was by no means the least. But it is evident that hospitality could only be practised when the House stood near to a highway. As Bermondsey Abbey was removed from any roads or highways, the monks could only carry out their duties towards the poor by placing their almonry on the High Street of Southwark. But the Abbey possessed a school of great repute. Leland, in his Cantu Cygni, written a few years before the Dissolution, says:

“And hail thou, too, O House of Charity, the nurse
Of many students helped by Gifford’s purse.
Thou happy, snowy swan, hast thy serene abode,
Where Burmsey of her well-known isles is proud—
Well-known, indeed, for there is seen the shrine
Where her priests labour in the work Divine.”



The Priory of St. Mary Overies, or Overy, was one of the most ancient Houses in London. It stood beside the ferry, the south end of which was the long and narrow dock still to be seen, close to the present church. The other end of the ferry may be also still existing in what is now called Dowgate Dock; it is true that this is not opposite, but it may be surmised that Allhallows Lane led to the north end of the ferry. This ferry existed long before London Bridge was built, and continued long after. Indeed, if we consider the narrowness of the old bridge, the tolls, crowded vehicles blocking the way, and the long delays that must have occurred in getting across the bridge, we may very well understand that it might be more expeditious and cheaper to cross by the ferry than the bridge. Here, at all events, was the ferry, and at the south end was a small convent of nuns engaged in praying for the safety of the travellers. At every starting-point or returning-point for the mediæval traveller, there was some religious foundation to pray for his safety or to offer praises for his return; at four of the London gates, there were churches dedicated to St. Botolph, the chosen saint of travellers. Outside Cripplegate was the Church of St. Giles. Outside Newgate was the Church of St. Sepulchre. Within Ludgate was the Church of St. Martin. Over Fleet Bridge was the Church of St. Bride. When the first stone bridge was erected over the Thames, a double chapel was built in the midst of it; while it was only a wooden bridge, there was a chapel at either end—the south chapel, singularly, dedicated to a Danish saint. So that I am inclined to believe that the small nunnery on the south of the ferry may possibly have had its sister nunnery or church on the north; if a nunnery, its existence has been clean forgotten; if a church, then All Hallows the Great may have been that church.

Two effigies
This figure of a Knight Templar; carved in wood, & painted, was taken up to make room for Lockyer’s Monument; and was afterwards placed upright, against the North wall, near the Vestry door. This Monument is placed on the ground under the North window in the Spiritual Court, & is traditionally said to be in memory of Old Overie, father of Mary Overie, foundress of the Priory.
From the Grangerised edition of London and Middlesex in Guildhall Library.

The story of the first foundation is entirely legendary; one Mary, daughter of Awdry, ferryman, is said to have founded on the site a small House for nuns before the Conquest. It was converted, according to tradition, by one Swithina into a College of Priests. It was, however, refounded in 1106 by two Norman knights, William Pont de l’Arche, who had a mansion in Dowgate, and William Dauncey, as a House for Canons Regular. William Gifford, Bishop of Winchester, joined in the298 foundation, and built the nave of the church. Henry the First, another benefactor, gave to the House the Church of St. Margaret in Southwark; King Stephen gave the Canons the House of their founder, Pont de l’Arche. In 1212 the Priory was destroyed by fire. Then Peter de Rupibus took the foundation, still very poor, in hand, and rebuilt the church; he also founded the chapel of St. Mary Magdalen, afterwards made into a Parish Church. A hundred years later the unhappy monks sent a petition to Edward the First, stating that the House had fallen into the deepest poverty; that they had not enough to provide the barest necessaries, but were dependent on charity; that their church was ruinous, but that they could not rebuild it; and that they had even suffered the embankment to be carried away, and were in daily terror of an inundation. They managed, however, to get along299 somehow during the fourteenth century. Early in the fifteenth the House found two more benefactors—Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester, and Gower the poet. The latter was buried in the church after residing for some years in the House. His monument may still be seen. A list of the Priors from 1130 to 1540 has been preserved. The House, on the Dissolution, was valued at £624: 6: 8. The Prior received, on the surrender, a pension of £100 a year.


The position of the Priory, close to the Palace of the Bishop of Winchester, made it convenient for many functions. In this church were married, in 1406, Edward Holland, Earl of Kent, and Lucia, daughter of the Lord of Milan. Here also, in 1424, was married James the First, King of Scotland, a poet and scholar, of whom300 Drummond of Hawthornden wrote that “of former kings it might be said that the nation made the kings, but of this king, that he made the people a nation.” His bride was Joan, daughter of the Earl of Somerset, and niece to Cardinal Beaufort.

“The fairest and the freshest yonge flower
That e’er I saw, methought, before that hour.”

In 1539 the House was suppressed and given to Sir Anthony Brown, whose son became Lord Montague, giving his name to the ancient cloister of the Monastery. In the following year the church was made parochial, including the Church of St. Mary Magdalen, which stood beside it, as St. Gregory stood beside St. Paul’s, or St. Margaret by Westminster Abbey, or St. Peter-le-Poor beside the Church of the Austin Friars.

A great many monuments are in the church: the chancel, transepts, and tower, with the Lady Chapel, still remain, forming the finest of the old churches in the whole of London.

Here lie buried, according to tradition, Mary, the foundress; the two benefactors, Pont de l’Arche and Dauncey—a wooden figure may represent one of them; John Gower, on whose monument may still be read the words which he wrote for it:—

“En toy qui es Filz de Dieu le Père,
Sauvé soit qui gist sous cest pierre.

Lancelot Andrewes, Bishop of Winchester, is buried in the Lady Chapel; Dyer the poet, who died 1607; Edmund Shakespeare, brother of the poet, somewhere in the church; Laurence Fletcher, one of the shareholders in the Globe, who died 1608; Philip Henslow, who died 1616; John Fletcher, who died 1625; Philip Massinger, who died 1639. On the tomb of Richard Humble, who lies with his two wives and his children, are the lines:—

“Like to the damask rose you see,
Or like the blossom on the tree,
Or like the dainty flower of May,
Or like the morning of the day,
Or like the sun, or like the shade,
Or like the gourd which Jonas had,
Even so is Man; Man’s thread is spun,
Drawn out, and cut, and so is done.
The rose withers, the blossom blasteth;
The flower fades, the morning hasteth;
The sun sets, the shadow flies,
The gourd consumes, and Man he dies.”

In the Lady Chapel of this church were held many of the trials of the martyrs under the Marian persecution: those, for instance, of Bishop Hooper, John Rogers, Bradford, Crome, Saunders, Ferrar, and Taylor. The death of Gardiner, the persecutor, seemed, to the common people, by the hand of God, in punishment of301 his cruelties. He was given, however, a magnificent funeral, beginning at this church. Machyn describes it:—


“The xxiiij day of Feybruary was the obsequies of the most reverentt father in God, Sthevyn Gardener, docthur and bysshope of Wynchastur, prelett of the gartter, and latte chansseler of England, and on of the preve consell unto Kyng Henry the viij and unto quen Mare, tyll he ded; and so the after-none be-gane the knyll at Sant Mare Overes with ryngyng, and after be-gane the durge; with a palle of cloth of gold, and with ij whytt branchys, and ij dosen of stayffe-torchys bornyng, and iiij grett tapurs; and my lord Montyguw the cheyffe mornar, and my lord bysshope of Lynkolne and ser Robart Rochaster, comtroller, and with dyvers odur in blake, and mony blake gownes and cotes; and the morow masse of requeem and offeryng done, be-gane the sarmon; and so masse done, and so to dener to my lord Montyguw (’s); and at ys gatt the corse was putt in-to a wagon with iiij welles all covered with blake, and ower the corsse ys pyctur mad with ys myter on ys hed, with ys armes, and v gentyll men bayryng ys v baners in gownes and hods, then ij harolds in their cote armur, master Garter and Ruge-crosse; then cam the men rydyng, carehyng of torchys a lx bornyng, at bowt the corsse all the way; and then sam the mornars in gownes and cotes, to the nombur unto ij C. a-for and be-hynd, and so at sant Gorges cam prestes and clarkes with crosse and sensyng, and ther they had a grett torche gyffynt them, and so to ever parryche tyll they cam to Wunchaster, and had money as many as cam to mett them, and durge and masse at evere logyng.” Wilkinson, who gives several views of the church and the buildings around it, has preserved one taken from the north-east, which shows the whole north side of the church, with the Little Chapel, the Lady Chapel, and the church itself, in the year 1813 (see p. 307). Montague Close, where the view was taken, was very shortly after covered with buildings, which prevented a repetition of a drawing from this point; but in 1825 he procured a sketch of the Little Chapel and part of the Lady Chapel.


The existence of the Little Chapel is nearly forgotten; yet it will be seen, in considering the church as a whole, that it forms a natural part. In the year 1626 this chapel was selected as a fitting place for the tomb and monument of Lancelot Andrewes, now in the Lady Chapel. From this monument the place was generally called the Bishop’s Chapel.

It is by the greatest good fortune this beautiful church has been preserved. It would most certainly have been taken down, like the exquisite church of the Holy Trinity Priory, like those of Eastminster, Whitefriars, and Blackfriars, but for the interference of Stephen Gardiner, who supported—and doubtless instigated—the parishioners of St. Margaret’s and St. Mary Magdalene, in a petition to the King praying for the church of the Priory as their parish church. The petition was granted, and the church was saved.

Not, certainly, in the life of Stephen Gardiner, but after his death, in the time of Queen Elizabeth, though the church was safe, the Lady Chapel, and, of course, the Little Chapel with it, was desecrated. In Anthony Munday’s edition of Stow, 1633, he tells us to what base uses this noble chapel was put:—


“It is now called, The new Chappell; and indeed, though very old, it now may be cal’d a new one, because newly redeemed from such use and imployment, as in respect of that it was built to, Divine and Religious duties, may very well be branded, with the stile of wretched, base, and unworthy, for that before this abuse, was (and is now) a faire & beautifull Chappell, by those that were then the Corporation (which is a body consisting of 30. Vestry men, sixe of those thirty, Churchwardens) was leased and let out, and this House of God made a Bake-house.

Two very faire doores, that from the two side Iles of the Chancell of this Church, and two that throw the head of the Chancell (as at this day they doe againe) went into it, were lath’t, daub’d, and dam’d up: the faire Pillars were ordinary posts, against which they piled Billets and Bavens; in this place they had their Ovens, in that a Bolting-place, in that their Kneading-trough, in another (I have heard) a Hogs-trough; for the words that were given mee were these, This place have I knowne a Hog-stie, in another a Store-house, to store up their hoorded Meale: and in all of it, something of this sordid kind & condition.

It was first let by the Corporation afore named, to one Wyat, after him to one Peacocke, after him to one Cleybrooke, and last to one Wilson, all Bakers, and this Chappell still imployed in the way of their Trade, a Bake-house, though some part of this Bake-house was sometime turned into a Starch-house.

The time of the continuance of it in this kind, from the first letting of it to Wyat, to the restoring of it againe to the Church; was threescore and some odde yeeres, in the yeere of our Lord God 1624, for in this yeere the ruines and blasted estate that the old Corporation sold it to, were by the Corporation of this time repaired, renewed, well, and very worthily beautified; the charge of it for that yeere, with many things done to it since, arising to two hundred pounds.

This, as all the former Repaires, being the sole cost and charge of the Parishioners.

One Ile in this Chappel, was paved at the onely cost of one Master John Hayman, Taylor, and Merchantaylor, in the yeere 1625.”

Londina Illustrata, vol. i.

It was, therefore, immediately after this restoration that the remains of Bishop Andrewes were deposited in the Little Chapel. May there not have been some thought of preventing further desecration by the monument of this learned Divine?

The Chapel was taken down in 1830. The monument of the Bishop took up nearly the whole of the east end; a marble canopy originally stood over it, but this was broken in 1676 when the roof of the Chapel fell in; there was no304 altar and there were no services held in the Chapel; there was one other monument of a citizen named Hayman, buried here in the same year as the Bishop. Another monument, erected in 1807, was that of Abraham Newland, chief cashier of the Bank of England. Two stone coffins were preserved in this Chapel; and here were stone steps leading down into the vaults; the Chapel is said to have been quite plain, “with a groined roof, strong ribs, and a stone seat on both sides and at the east end.”

The removal of the Chapel formed part of the restoration work of 1830. At this time the church was in a most dangerous condition, the roof of the nave being so dilapidated that it was impossible to hold service there. Consequently the pews, organ, and monuments were removed to the chancel and transepts; the roof was taken down and the materials sold; and the walls and aisles were simply left exposed to the weather.

Wilkinson thus describes what followed:—

“The roof thus destroyed was a fine specimen of the architecture of the thirteenth century, and possessed the striking peculiarity of having the corbels, whence the ribs of the arches sprang, placed perpendicularly over the columns. Those columns had been already banded with iron, and the walls were green and dark with apparent decay, though it is said that some of the ancient timbers were still in a fine state of preservation; but in pursuance of the above order, the organ was removed to form a temporary termination to the choir, and the nave was uncovered and exposed; in which lamentable state it still continues, August 1834, not unlike the half-ruined edifice of the Cathedral of Llandaff.


The very laudable, zealous, and preserving efforts made for the preservation of the Lady Chapel at the eastern end of the Church, were, however, completely successful; though it was for some time earnestly debated whether it should be destroyed or restored. But even in the vestry the design of demolition was opposed, and on January 28th, 1832, a numerous general meeting for the preservation of the structure took place at the Freemasons’ Tavern, at which a series of Resolutions was passed to that effect. The principal of them were, That the few remaining reliques of Gothic, or Early English Pointed style of architecture in this kingdom, are replete with interest: That the Chapel of Our Lady in St. Saviour’s Church is a splendid specimen of that style of architecture: That as the Parish of St. Saviour has expended £30,000 in the repair of this Church, of which a debt of £8000 is unpaid, it is expedient that a public subscription be commenced to enable the Parish to restore the Lady Chapel; and that a Committee be appointed to promote the restoration by soliciting public subscriptions. Notwithstanding the very great expense, which the rebuilding of St. Saviour’s Church had already proved to the Parish, it was evident, by some of the speeches at this meeting, that the design of demolishing the Lady Chapel305 was not by any means even partially sanctioned in Southwark, but only that the assistance of the public was required for so costly an undertaking; but it was perhaps almost entirely owing to the unwearied and meritorious exertions of Mr. Thomas Saunders, that so general and lively an interest was excited on the subject. The estimated amount of the restoration was £2500, and by February nearly £1400 had been raised; but the sentiments of the parishioners were most equivocally displayed at the general poll which had been demanded by Mr. Saunders of all the parochial rate-payers, and which took place on February 9th and 10th; the conclusion being a majority of 240 for the restoration of the building. The subscriptions were subsequently continued with great zeal, and were also extended to the restoration of the ancient altar-screen in the choir; for the effecting of all which they were aided by a performance of Sacred Music in the Church, on Thursday, June 21st, 1832, and the delivery of some scientific lectures. The superintendence of the Restoration was gratuitously undertaken by Mr. Gwilt, Mr. Hartley was the contractor for the building, and the first stone of the new works was laid July 28th, 1832. The two annexed modern Exterior Views of this Church will convey an accurate notion of the appearance of the outside of the Lady Chapel before this restoration; excepting that it then showed four dilapidated and tiled gables, and that the part from which the Bishop’s Chapel had been removed was white, whilst the remainder was defaced and discoloured stone, coarsely repaired with brick. In taking down the arch which led into the Bishop’s Chapel was discovered part of the fabric of the lancet-window originally in that place; which became a most valuable model for the restoration of the others. In the present perfected state of this edifice, the eastern end of it exhibits the four original gables, each surmounted by a rich cross, and containing in the point a small triple lancet window, with carved corbelheads and columnated-mullions;306 with a large window of the same description below. The form of the glazing in the latter consists of large intersected circles and lozenges; with some armorial ensigns, etc., in stained glass. The roofs of the Chapel are covered with lead, and the walls are of flints like those of the other restored parts of the Church, with stone mouldings and quoins; the four buttresses, and the north-east turret containing the staircase are also restored in a similar manner; the latter having loopholes and a low cap of stone. On each side of the building also the peculiar windows have been likewise carefully copied. Within, the Lady Chapel is 42 feet in length, and has the roof divided into nine groined arches, supported by six octangular columns, with circular shafts at their angles. When this place was formerly used for the Consistorial Court of the Bishop of Winchester, and the Visitations of the Deanery of Southwark, the north-east corner was parted off in the manner of a pew, and contained a desk, table, and elevated seat; but the remainder of the space was abandoned to the reception of lumber.

Whilst the restoration of the Chapel was in agitation, a further difficulty appeared in the very narrow frontage to be allowed for it on the south approach forming to the New London Bridge. So early as November 1830, the Wardens of St. Saviour’s addressed a memorial to the Bridge-Committee, soliciting a sufficient space for the exhibition of the structure, and suggesting an opening of 130 feet. On April 19th, 1831, it was resolved by the vestry that the width of 60 feet, offered by the Committee, was altogether inadequate, added to which it was made a condition of that grant that the Lady Chapel should be taken down; and, therefore, in the following October the Wardens memorialised the Lords of the Treasury. In an interview between them, the latter appeared to be in favour of a greater opening, but on January 24th, 1832, the Wardens were informed that not more than 70 feet would be allowed, and that space only on condition of removing the Chapel, if the consent of the Bishop of Winchester could be procured. In a letter on the subject, however, the Bishop declined giving his consent to the London Bridge Company; stating that it could not be alleged that the removal of the Consistorial Court was required for public accommodation, which he viewed as the only justifiable reason for the demolition of a Church, or any part of one. It was then resolved to petition the Committee of the House of Commons appointed on the Bill for Improving the Approaches to the New London Bridge; by which it was decided, on February 29th, 1832, after four days’ deliberation, and by a majority of 17 to 3, that the opening to St. Saviour’s Church should be 130 feet instead of 70, as proposed by the original framers of the Bill. The houses on the west side of Wellington Street opposite the Lady Chapel, are therefore terminated so as to form the sides of a handsome approach to it. From hence at a future time a flight of steps may be formed to the building beneath, and an appropriate rail also erected round the church,307 but at present the structure is defended on the east only by a high circular enclosure of boards.

north east view of ST. SAVIOUR’S CHURCH.consistory court and chapel of ST. JOHN
Taken from Montague Close, Southwark.
Londina Illustrata, published 1813 by Robert Wilkinson, No. 58 Cornhill.

The last meritorious work of restoration in St. Saviour’s Church was that of the ancient Altar Screen given in the commencement of the sixteenth century by Richard Fox, Bishop of Winchester; a subscription for which was ultimately united with that commenced for the Lady Chapel. To the latter of these funds the present Bishop of Winchester gave £300, and £100 to the Screen; and other large sums were speedily and liberally contributed. Previously to Mr. Gwilt’s restoration of the choir, the eastern wall of the Church was covered with a composition of wood and plaster, ascribed by tradition to Sir Christopher Wren, though apparently without any authority. Above this Screen appeared the mutilated and inelegant broad window of the sixteenth century, the arch of which was sculptured in relievo, in panels; that in the centre having an angel holding a shield, and those at the side, a pelican feeding her young, the emblem of Christ, and the device of Bishop Fox. There was also a carved facia, on which the pelican was repeated, with the holy lamb and oak leaves, the style of all which entirely disagreed with that of the altar-piece below. On the removal of the modern308 screen, a series of small tabernacle-niches was discovered on the partition behind, the canopies of which had been cut down to almost a level surface; though they still possessed so much beauty as to cause the restoration of the whole to become a circumstance of the greatest interest. This was completed in the commencement of 1834, by Mr. Robert Wallace, the Architect of the Church, Mr. Firth, the Contractor, and Mr. Purdy, the principal Carver; the contract amounting to only the sum of £700. The ancient material of this Screen was Firestone and the stone of Caen; and the restoration has been executed in stone from Painswick, in Gloucestershire, which agrees well with the former. Wherever it was practicable the original work has been retained, but nearly the whole of the ornamental carvings have been wrought from moulds and replaced in the precise situations of the ancient sculpture whence they were taken. The whole screen is lofty, and the general composition of it is divided into three stories in height and as many partitions in breadth. In the centre of the lowest story is a space for the altar, with three tall tablets and canopies above; and on each side is a door with a depressed pointed arch. On each side of the doorways is a niche rising from the ground, flanked by slender buttresses and covered with a triangular tabernacle of two canopied arches, with the angular point in front. In each niche is a tall pedestal with a richly carved head; and above the doors are short double canopies of a similar style, though rising above those on the sides, and breaking the line of a broad frieze of demi-angels, above which is a narrow line of carved pelicans, holy lambs, and scrolls. These terminate the first story; and the above second and third are composed of a large niche in the centre, with a semi-hexagonal canopy, placed between five niches on each side, with pedestals and canopies like those below; whilst a second frieze of angels, etc., parts the two stories. As the story finished the remains of the ancient screen, Mr. Wallace has designed a termination of an entablature of angels supporting shields, with a crown-like cornice above; something similar to which most probably surmounted the original design.” (Londina Illustrata, vol. i.)



The commonly received opinion as to the Foundation of this Hospital is that it sprang out of an Almonry belonging to Bermondsey Abbey, founded in 1213 by Richard, Prior of that House. This statement was made by Stow, and has been followed by Strype, Maitland, and others; Wilkinson, however, does not agree with it.

According to Tanner and Dugdale, the Almonry of the Abbey, consisting of an almshouse for converts and a school for poor boys, was attached to the walls of the House, was dedicated to St. Thomas of Canterbury, and was under the government of the Monastery Almoner. This Almonry perished with the Abbey in the Dissolution, and had nothing to do with the Hospital of St. Thomas.

It is stated by Tanner that after the Fire of 1212, which destroyed the church of St. Mary Overies together with their Hospital or Almonry, the Prior and brethren erected a Hospital near their ruins in which they established their church for a time. When their own House was rebuilt, Peter de Rupibus, Bishop of Winchester, transferred the Hospital to the other side of the causeway for some supposed advantages of air. It was built on ground belonging to Amicius, Archdeacon of Surrey, and dedicated to St. Thomas the Martyr. It was always in the patronage of the Bishop of Winchester. A list of the Masters is preserved.

Stow, however, says that the Hospital was held of the Abbey of Bermondsey, and that in the year 1428 Thetford, then the Abbot, sold to the Master of the Hospital the right to keep all the lands belonging to the Abbey and then held by the Hospital at a small rent.

It is impossible to reconcile these statements unless we suppose that the Hospital itself, always separate from, and independent of, the Abbey, was occupying lands of the Abbey of which it desired to keep the control.

On the Dissolution, the House was valued at a yearly income of £309: 1: 11 clear; it had a Master, Brethren, three lay sisters, and made up forty aids for the sick with food and firing.

In 1552 the City bought the House of Edward the Sixth and opened it again as a Hospital.


The place has little history. The brethren had at their gates the right of market for corn and other commodities. The Archdeacon of Surrey, in 1238, had a hall, a chapel, a stable, and a residence in the Hospital. The Bishops of Winchester claimed the right of visitation, which was exercised on more than one occasion.

The old buildings continued until the close of the seventeenth century, when they were taken down and the Hospital was erected in their place. This House remained until it became necessary to destroy it, in order to make way for the railway station and extension on its site. The demolition of old St. Thomas’s is one of the few acts of destruction which one can regard with satisfaction. For the removal of the Hospital to the crowded streets of Lambeth, leaving Guy’s for the eastern part of South London, was unquestionably a great gain to the former, and no loss to the latter, which is fully served by Guy’s.



The Hospital known as St. Giles-in-the-Fields was founded by Maud, Queen of Henry the First, about the year 1117. It was a large foundation, designed for forty lepers, the Master, Chaplains, Matrons, and servants.

The original endowment was only £3 a year, which, even in the twelfth century, would not go far towards the support of forty lepers. It appears, however, as if the custom of lepers going about begging with a bowl and a clapper was considered the right thing, because it is said that the Proctor of the House went begging for the lepers. Probably those who could crawl were allowed at the outset to beg for themselves.

But other benefactions fell in. The lepers obtained rents and lands at Isleworth, St. Clement Danes, and round their own house; they also obtained the manor of Feltham in Middlesex; Henry the Second gave them lands at Heston; people left them houses in London; the House became wealthy.

There were many dissensions and disputes as to the rule and management of this House. They were finally terminated by Edward the Third, who placed it under the authority of the House of Burton Lazars, the central Leper Hospital of England.

The area covered by the ground of the Hospital consisted of eight acres, which was afterwards largely increased. The Hospital buildings were situated near to the present church on the west of it; they were surrounded by a triangular wall running along Crown Street (formerly Hog Lane), High Street, and Monmouth Street. At the lower end of what is now the Tottenham Court Road on the west side of it was the Pound: when the gallows was removed from the Elms at Smithfield, it was set up at the north end of the Hospital enclosure opposite to the Pound. On the same spot Sir John Oldcastle had been slowly roasted to death some years earlier.

Criminals in later times, on their way to Tyburn, stopped at St. Giles, there to take their last draught of ale at a tavern named The Bowl.

The lazar houses were probably all governed by similar laws and regulations. Those of Sherburn, near Durham, will stand, therefore, for many others. The house was dedicated to Christ, the Blessed Virgin, Lazarus, and his sisters Martha and312 Mary. The lepers were under the rule of a steward; there were three priests and four clerks, of whom one was a deacon. During Lent and Advent all the brethren had to receive corporal discipline three times a week in the chapel, and the sisters in like manner in presence of their prioress. Why lepers should be flogged more than ordinary people is not apparent. Perhaps there was some feeling that a loathsome and incurable disease argued the wrath of the Almighty on account of some great crime. The daily allowance of food to the lepers was as follows:—A loaf and a gallon of ale to each; one mess of flesh between two for three days in the week; or of fish, cheese, or butter, on the remaining four; on high festivals a double mess; on St. Cuthbert’s Day, fresh salmon; on Michaelmas Day, four messed on one goose. The dress of lepers generally consisted of a grey gown with a hood, and each one carried a basin and a wooden clapper.



The foundation of this House of Benedictine Nuns was in or about the year 1212, when Alardus de Burnham, who died in 1216, was Dean of St. Paul’s. The right, or permission, to found the House is contained in a deed still preserved.

The seal of the convent represents the finding of the Cross by St. Helen: she stands beside the Cross, holding in her hand the three nails, while a crowd of nuns are on their knees with uplifted hands.

In 1439 the then Dean, Reynold Kentwode, drew up a new set of Rules for the use of the Sisters. The following are the principal clauses:—

“‘Reynold Kentwode, Dean and Chapeter of the Church of Poules, to the religious women, Prioresse and Covent of the Priory of Seynt Eleyns, of owre patronage and jurisdictyon immediat, and every Nunne of the sayde Priory, gretyng in God, with desyre of religyous observances and devocyon. For as moche as in owre visitacyon ordinarye in youre Priorye boothe in the hedde, and in the membris late actually exersyd, we have founded many defautes and excesses, the whiche nedythe notory correccyon and reformacyon, we wyllyng vertu to be cherished, and holy relygion for to be kepte, as in the rules in youre ordyerre, we ordeyne and make certeyne Ordenauns and Injunccyons, weche we sende you wrete and seeled undir owre commone seele, for to be kepte in forme as thei ben articled and wretyn unto you.

Firste, we ordeyne and enjoyne yow, that devyne servyce be don by yow duly nythe and day, and silence duly kepte in the tyme and place, aftir the observaunce of yowre religione.

Also we ordayne and enjoyne you Prioresse and Covente, and eche of you synglerly, that ye make due and hole confession to the confessor assigned be us.

Also we enjoyne yow Prioresse and Covent, that ye ordeyne convenyent place of firmarye, in the wiche youre seeke sustres may be honestly kepte and relevyd with the costes and expences of yowre house, accustomed in the relygion durynge the tyme of heere sikenesse.

Also we enjoyne you Prioresse, that ye kepe youre dortour, and ly thereinne by nythe, aftyr observaunce of yowre religion, without that the case be suche315 that the lawe and the observaunce of youre religione suffreth yow to do the contrarye.

Also we ordeyne and injoyne yow Prioresse and Covent, that noo seculere be lokkyed withinne the boundes of the cloystere; ne no seculere personnes come withinne aftyr the belle of complyne, except, wym-ment servauntes and made childeryne lerners, also admitte noon, sojournauntes wymment withoute lycence of us.

Sir Thos. Gresham.Sir Wm. Pickering. Sir John and Lady Crosby.

Taken during the repair in 1808. Exhibiting also some of the principal Monuments.
Londina Illustrata, published 1817 by Robert Wilkinson.

Also we ordeyne and enjoyne yow Prioresse and Covent, that ye, ne noone of yowre sustres use nor haunte any place withinne the Priory, thoroghe the wiche evel suspeccyone or sclaundere mythe aryse; weche places, for certeyne causes that move us, we wryte not here inne in oure present injunccyone, but wole notyfie to yow Prioresse; nor have no lokyng nor spectacles owte warde, thorght the wiche ye mythe falle in worldlye delectacyone.

Also we enjoyne yow, that alle daunsyng and revelyng be utterlely forborne among yow, except Christmasse and other honest tymys of recreacyone, among youre selfe usyd, in absence of seculers in all wyse.

Londina Illustrata, published 1819 by Robert Wilkinson, 125 Fenchurch Street.

Also we ordene and injoyne yow Prioresse, that there be made a hache of cenabyle [reasonable?] heythe, crestyd withe pykys of herne, to fore the entre of yowre kechyne, that noo straunge pepille may entre with certeyne cleketts avysed be yow and be yowre st’ward to suche personys as yow and hem thynk onest and conabell.

Also we enjoyne yow Prioresse, that non nonnes have noo keyes of the posterne doore that gothe owte of the cloystere in the churchyard but the Prioresse, for there is moche comyng in and owte unlefulle tymys.’” (Londina Illustrata, vol. i.)


At the Dissolution the revenues of this House were valued, according to Dugdale, at £314: 12: 5, and according to Speed at £376: 6s.

The site and the church were given to Cromwell. Edward the Sixth gave the advowson to the Bishop of London, but it has since returned to the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul’s.

The buildings were purchased by the Leathersellers’ Company, who converted the Nuns’ Hall into their Common Hall, and so it continued until the demolition of all the ancient buildings in 1799.

It appears from Malcolm that he believed the Nuns’ Hall to have been demolished, and a new hall built in 1567. These are his words:—

“We will suppose the monastery of St. Helen demolished, the materials disposed of, and the purchase of the site compleated by the Company. The architect finds a foundation far superior to any their funds would supply, and therefore cases the basement walls with brick, and makes the pavement (ready for his purpose) serve as the floor for the new Hall. And thus far he acted wisely; for his work of 1567 became too ruinous and expensive for repair in 1797, was taken down, and will be forgotten. What remains to be said of the antient crypt? That it would not have required repair for 500 years to come. Had the enormous masses of fungous webs, which depended from the arches of this beautiful work, been carefully swept away, and the walls rubbed with a dry broom, the antient windows re-opened, the earth that clogged the pavement removed, and its other defilements cleared off, these crypts, now scattered in piles of rubbish, would have formed a church how infinitely superior to forty I could name!

The regret with which I saw those slender pillars torn from their bases, and the strong though delicate arches sundered in masses, is still warm to my remembrance. The angles were filled with white sand, a layer of earth, another of sand, a layer of oak chips; one now lays before me. Six hundred years have passed since this wood was cut, and the mark of the axe is fresh upon it, and so on till the spaces were filled.” (Vol. iii. pp. 562-563.)

The representation of the hall given by Wilkinson and that given by Malcolm do not seem to agree in all particulars.

Malcolm adds a view not presented by Wilkinson showing the ruins of the cloisters.

I have elsewhere called attention to the remarkable fact that London possessed, down to the end of the eighteenth century, a greater collection of mediæval ruins than any city of Europe, and that no one, poet, historian, antiquary, essayist, took the least notice of them. Wilkinson, however, does remark that the group of ruins “reminds us rather of some romantic fragment of antiquity to be found in distant countries than of one situated in the very centre of populous London, and were it not for the modern buildings made out in the background, a spectator might be led to imagine the scene many miles distant from the Metropolis of England.”

This House of Benedictine Nuns pursued its uneventful course for more than three hundred years. Now and then the nuns stopped a lane across their property, or they let their land at long leases, or they inherited new lands, or they mismanaged and wasted their property, or they buried a Prioress and had to elect another. Very little else can be recorded of them. It was on this land that Crosby House was317 built on a ninety-nine years’ lease. Meantime, the church of St. Helen’s did duty both for the nuns and for the parish.

In the year 1534 the value of the House was estimated at £376: 6s. a year. The property of the nuns shows that this House was always exclusively a London Foundation. They had houses in the City, in Middlesex, Kent, Essex, Hertford, and Buckingham—but these were all home counties. In the country they held little, if any, property.

W. Capon del.Wise sculp.
From the north, showing the situation of the two Chapels at the south end. The upper part of the plate exhibits the ceiling, etc., of a fine apartment over the crypt, which was used as the dining hall of the Leathersellers’ Company, by whom the Nunnery had been purchased after the Reformation, and which was pulled down by their order in 1799. The site is occupied by the buildings now forming St. Helen’s Place.
Londina Illustrata, vol. i.


The collection of facts concerning the last years of the nunnery, made by the late Rev. Thomas Hugo, throws considerable light on the position of the House.

In the first place, the names of the successive Prioresses and those of the Sisters seem to be chiefly of London origin; secondly, the bequests recorded in the Calendar of Wills, twenty-seven in number, are all made by London citizens. They are, moreover, situated in various wards, showing that the House was regarded as belonging to the whole of the City, and not to any part of it. Some of the bequests are made without any specified purpose; some have conditions and duties attached; thus, one is for providing communion wine, while others are to be accompanied by permission of burial in the church.

In reading the disposition and management of their property by the nuns, one cannot avoid the suspicion that they were sometimes under the influence of certain persons not wholly disinterested. Thus, there was one Richard Berde, citizen and girdler. He first takes over a tenement in the parish of St. Ethelburga belonging to the House for a term of forty years at the rent of 20s. He then takes another tenement in the same parish for sixty years at 45s. a year. Then he becomes tenant to the Sisters for the great messuage, or inn, called the “Black Bull,” with cellars, etc., and two adjoining tenements for one-and-twenty years at a rent of £9: 14s. a year. So that he became the holder on long leases of one great house and four tenements. It is perfectly certain, of course, that he intended to sublet them all at a profit to himself, and that the Sisters in this transaction got the worst of it. But Richard Berde got more than this out of the nuns: they made him their seneschal, receiver and collector, with a salary of £12, the annual sum of 20s. for his livery, board and lodging, with allowances of beer and wine, an allowance of fuel, and the free use of a chamber and a parlour. The Dissolution must have been a heavy blow to good Richard Berde: he lost his salary and his allowances; one supposes that he was still allowed to retain his tenancy of the houses. He received a pension of 40s., but what was that compared with the extremely comfortable little job that was taken away?

The name of the last Prioress was Mary Rollesley. What relative was this lady to John Rollesley, gentleman? One asks because John Rollesley seems to have done pretty well with the Sisters, too. He got the manor of Burston from them on a lease for eighty years at a rent of £9. And the year after319 this concession, he obtained a messuage in the Close of St. Helen’s, which must have been a great house, because it had been occupied by the Bishop of Llandaff, on a lease of fourscore years at a rent of 46s. 8d. More than that, he obtained the lease, for the same time, of ten tenements, also in St. Helen’s Close, at a yearly rent of £15. And on the same day he got two more tenements outside the Close and a marsh at Stebenhithe (Stepney) for a term of sixty years at a rent of £8: 15: 4. Two years later the grateful nuns gave John Rollesley a small pension of four marks a year for good counsel, and Edward Rollesley, gentleman—clearly one of the same family,—received an annuity of 40s. also for good counsel. One of the last acts of the last Prioress was to leave to John Rollesley the manor of Marke, in the parish of Leyton and Walthamstow, for fourscore years at a rent of £8. Probably all the estates of the House were let in this way to men who farmed them, making their profit by subletting them. These facts show how lucky it might be, in the blessed and religious days before the Reformation, for a family to have a Prioress among them.

Londina Illustrata, vol. i.

We note, further, that the nuns paid a chief steward, a receiver, and an auditor; that they paid pension to three chantry chaplains; and yearly payments to the320 church wardens of St. Mary Bothaw, to the wardens of a fraternity in Bow Church, to the Bishop of Lincoln for procurations, etc., to the Abbess of Barking, and annual doles to the poor on certain days. All these facts, taken together, seem to throw unexpected light upon the ramifications and divisions of ecclesiastical property.

The nuns were dispersed in 1538. Eighteen years later, in 1556, a list of the survivors shows that the last Prioress, Mary Rollesley, and six sisters, still survived. Of these six sisters, five received a pension of £2: 13: 4, and one, who had probably held some conventual post, received a pension of £3: 6: 8. At the Dissolution there were two Chantry Priests who had stipends of £8 and £7 respectively.

A considerable part of the ruins of this House was standing until the end of the eighteenth century. Wilkinson has figured some of the details. The following description is from the Survey of the King’s Offices, taken when the nuns left it (Archæologia, vol. xvi. 1806):—


The late Priorye of Saint Elenes within the Citye of London.

The View and Surveye ther taken the xxith daye of June, in the xxxiij Yeare of the raigne of our Soveraigne Lord Kinge Henrye the viijth, by Thomas Mildmay, one of the King’s Auditors thereunto assigned. That is to saye,

Fyrste, the cheaf entre or cominge into the same late Priory ys in and by the street gate lyying in the pishe of St. Elenes in Bysshopsgate Streat which leadeth to a little cowrte next adjoining to the same gate, havinge chambers, howses, and buyldinges, environinge the same, out of wch cowrte there is an entre leadinge to an inner cowrte wch on the North side is also likewies environed with edificyons and buyldings, called the Stewardes lodging, with a Countinge house apperteninge to the same. Item, next to the same cowrte ther ys a faire Kechinge, withe a pastery house, larder houses, and other howses of office, apperteninge to the same: and at the Est ende of the same Kechyn and entre leadinge to the same hall, with a litle plor adioyning, having under the same hall and plor sondrie bowses of office, next adioyning to the Cloyster ther, and one howse called the Covent plor. Item, iij. fair Chambers adioyninge to the hall, whearof the one over the entree leadinge to the cloyster, thother over the Buttree, and the third over the larder. Item, from the said entre by the hall, to the Cloyster, which cloyster yet remaneth holly leaded, and at the North side of the same cloyster a fare long howse called the Fratree. Item, at thest end of the same Cloyster, a lodginge called the Suppryors lodging, with a little gardin lieng to the same. And by the same lodginge a pare of staires leading to the Dortor, at the Southend whearof ther is a litle hows, wherein the Evidence of the said hows nowe dou remayne, with all howses and lodginges under the same Dortor. Item, at the Westende of the same cloyster, a dore leadinge in to the nunes late Quire, extending from the dore out of the churche yarde unto the lampe or pticyon deviding the priorye from the pisshe which is holly leaded. Item, at thest ende of the said cloyster, an entre leading to a little Garden, and out of the same littell garden to a faire garden called the Covent garden conteninge by estimacn half an acre. And, at the Northend of the said garden, a dore leading to another garden called the Kechin garden: and at the Westende of the same ther is a Dovehowsshe; and in the same garden a dore to a faire Woodyerd, with howses, pticons, and gardens, within the same Woodyerd a tenement with a garden, a stable, and other thapptances to the same belonginge, called Elizabeth Hawtes lodginge.”

Ogilby’s map (see end of London in the Time of the Stuarts) shows the site as it was a hundred years later. There is part of the cloister left, part of the nuns’ garden. As for limits in 1542, the southern boundary of the Nunnery was the partition wall dividing the church of St. Helen’s; the eastern boundary was St. Mary Axe, or perhaps a row of houses on the west side; the western boundary was Bishopsgate Street within, and the northern was Camomile Street, or London Wall, unless there was a row of houses on its south side.

I have before me a voluminous mass of MS. notes referring to this important London House. Most of the notes are of small importance. It must, however, be acknowledged that the chronicles of the House show, perhaps, more quarrels than we find in the monasteries of men.

In 1432 the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul’s issue ordinances for the Reformation of the Convent. A little earlier the same body excommunicate a certain Jowsa or Joyssa who, after taking the veil as a professed nun of St. Helen’s, left the House and contracted marriage. About the same time there was a scandal concerning the treatment of Joan Heyron, one of the nuns, by the Prioress. Joan had gout in her hands and feet so badly that she could not perform her canonical duties. The Prioress, probably thinking that Joan was shamming, had, therefore, put her in prison, from which the Dean of St. Paul’s ordered her release, and the Pope—no less an authority—gave instructions for her maintenance. This little anecdote opens the door for speculation of a very interesting kind as to the Row Royal which should demand the intervention of the Dean first, and an appeal to the Pope afterwards. One understands, for instance, that Joan Heyron was a Londoner by birth, that she had relations of influence, and that they were not going to stand it. We find the admission of Chantry priests by bequest; petitions to elect a prioress in the room of the late sister deceased; grants of tenements; petitions for a market; and so on.



Outside Bishopsgate, on the site now occupied by Spital Square, stood that most venerable and most beneficent House called Domus Dei, or Domus Beatæ Mariæ. It was founded by Walter Brune and Rosia his wife, for Canons Regular, in the year 1197. Walter, Archdeacon of London, laid the foundation stone, and William, Bishop of London, dedicated it to Jesus Christ and His Mother, by the name of Domus Dei et Beatæ Mariæ extra Bishopsgate. The place carried on a blameless and most useful existence for three hundred and fifty years. When it was dissolved it was found to contain no fewer than a hundred and eighty beds for the sick poor. Now beds were not considered as intended for one person only, but for as many as, in case of need, could be crammed in, so we may reckon that at least three hundred and sixty poor persons were always received and treated in this House.

The boundaries of the House are laid down by Stow:—

“The Bounds whereof, as appeareth by Composition betwixt the Parson and Prior of the said Hospital, concerning Tythes, begin at Berward’s Lane, toward the South, and extend, in Breadth, to the Parish of St. Leonard, Soresditch, towards the North; and, in Length, from the King’s Street, on the West, to the Bishop of London’s Field, called Lollesworth, on the East. The Prior of this St. Mary Spittle, for the Emortising and Appropriation of the Priory of Bikenacar, in Essex, to his said House of St. Mary Spittle, gave to Henry the Seventh £400, in the 22nd Year of his Reign.

This Hospital, surrendered to Henry the Eighth, was valued to expend £478 wherein, besides Ornaments of the Church, and other Goods pertaining to the Hospital, there were found standing one Hundred and eighty Beds well furnished, for receipt of the Poor of Charity; for it was an Hospital of great Relief....”


“A part of the large Churchyard pertaining to this Hospital, and severed from the rest with a Brick Wall, yet remaineth as of old time, with a Pulpit Cross therein, somewhat like to that in Paul’s Churchyard. And against the said Pulpit on the South Side before the Charnel and Chapel of St. Edmond the Bishop, and Mary Magdalen (which Chapel was founded about the Year 1391 by W. Evesham, Citizen and Pepperer of London, who was there buried), remaineth also one fair builded House of two Stories in height for the Maior, and other honourable Persons, with the Aldermen and Sheriffs to sit in, there to hear the Sermons preached upon Easter Holidays. In the Loft over them stood the Bishop of London, and other Prelates; now the Ladies and Aldermen’s Wives do there stand at a fair Window, or sit at their Pleasure.

And here it is to be noted, that time out of mind it hath been a laudable Custom, that on Good Friday in the Afternoon, some especial learned Man, by Appointment of the Prelates, doth preach a Sermon at Paul’s Cross, treating of Christ’s Passion: and upon the three next Easter Holidays, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, the like learned Men, by the like Appointment, do use to preach on the Forenoon at the said Spittle, to persuade the Articles of Christ’s Resurrection: and then on Low Sunday, before Noon, one other learned Man at Paul’s Cross is to make Rehearsal of those four former Sermons, either commending or reproving them, as to him (by Judgment of the learned Divines) is thought convenient. And that done, he is to make a Sermon of himself, which in all were five Sermons in one. At these Sermons so severally preached, the Maior with his brethren and Aldermen are accustomed to be present in their Violets at Paul’s on Good Friday; and in their Scarlets, both they and their Wives, at the Spittle in the Holidays, except Wednesday, in Violet: and the Maior with his Brethren on Low Sunday in Scarlet at Paul’s Cross, continued until this Day.

Touching the Antiquity of this Custom, I find none other than that in the Year 1398. King Richard having procured from Rome Confirmation of such Statutes and Ordinances as were made in the Parliament begun at Westminster, and ended at Shrewsbury, he caused the same Confirmation to be read and pronounced at Paul’s Cross and at St. Mary Spittle, in the Sermons before all the People. Philip Malpas, one of the Sheriffs in the Year 1439 the 18th of Henry VII. gave 20s. by the Year to the three Preachers at the Spittle. Stephen Forster, Maior in the Year 1454 gave 40l. to the Preachers of Paul’s Cross and Spittle. I find also, that the aforesaid House, wherein the Maior and Aldermen do sit at the Spittle, was builded (for that purpose) of the Goods, and by the Executors of Rich. Rawson, Alderman, and Isabel his Wife, in the year 1488. In the year 1594 this Pulpit being old, was taken down, and a new one set up, the Preacher’s Face turned towards the South, which was before toward the West. Also a large house (on the East side of the said Pulpit) was then builded, for the Governors and Children of Christ’s Hospital to sit in: and this was done of the Goods of William Elkins, Alderman, late deceased. But within the first Year, the same House decaying, and like to have fallen, was again (with great cost) repaired at the City’s charge.” (Survey, vol. i)

In Spital Square, Bishopsgate Street Without, we have the site of the cloisters, or perhaps the outer court of the House of St. Mary Spital. At the Suppression its income was £478; and it contained one hundred and eighty hospital beds. This means that the hospital contained accommodation, according to the meaning of the word at the time, for four or five hundred patients. On an estimate of maintenance at £5 a head, one asks with wonder how all these beds were kept up, and whether the Hospital depended partly on voluntary donations. The Hospital of St. Bartholomew, we know, sent its people to beg meat in the Shambles; did St. Mary’s also send men on the same quest?

One custom survived the House—that of the Easter sermons. It was the rule that on Good Friday, in the afternoon, some learned man, by appointment of the Bishop, should preach a sermon at Paul’s Cross on the Passion; that on the three Easter Holidays, on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, other learned men should preach in the forenoon at the Spital Cross on the subject of the Resurrection; and that on Low Sunday another learned man should “make rehearsal” at Paul’s Cross of these four sermons, either commending or reproving them. This was surely the one single function in the whole of Christendom in which one preacher was ever invited to criticise publicly the sermons of four other preachers. These sermons were of great antiquity. In the year 1398 Richard the Second made use of them for the publication or the confirming of certain statutes by the Pope. In 1439 Philip Malpas, sheriff, gave twenty shillings annually; in 1454 Stephen Forster gave324 forty pounds for the preachers; the “house” in which the Mayor and Aldermen, with their wives, sat to hear the sermon at St. Mary Spital, was a kind of double gallery open in front. If the Mayor and Aldermen wore their violet cloaks on Good Friday; their scarlet on Monday and Tuesday at the Spital; their violet on Wednesday; and their scarlet on Low Sunday, as Stow says, the sermons of St. Mary Spital must have been very gorgeous and ceremonial functions.



St. Mary of Bethlehem, from which we get the word Bedlam, was founded by Simon FitzMary, sheriff, in 1247. The deed of gift is preserved among the archives of the Bethlehem Hospital. I am indebted for the following copy to the Rev. E. G. O’Donoghue, Chaplain to the Hospital. The name of the principal witness, “Peter Fitz-Alwyn,” is probably a misreading of “Peter Fitz Alan.” The preamble is omitted.

The deed by which Simon Fitzmary conveyed his land in Bishopsgate to
the Bishop of Bethlehem.

By REASON of my reverence for my Lord Himself and for the same His most tender mother, to the honour and glory also of my Lord Henry the illustrious King of England (may the aforesaid mother of God and her Only Begotten Son take his wife and children under their care and protection!), to the benefit in manifold ways of the City of London, in which I was born, as well as for the salvation of my own soul, and of the souls of my ancestors and descendants, for the salvation of the souls of my parents and of my friends, and specially for the souls of Guy of Marlow, John Durant, Ralph Aswy, of Matilda, Margery, and Dionysia their wives.

I have given and granted (and by this present Deed of Charter have confirmed the gift) to God and the Church of St. Mary of Bethlehem, all that land of mine which I had in the Parish of St. Botolph without Bishopsgate, London,—to wit, all that I had or might have there, in houses, gardens, orchards, fish ponds, ditches, marshes, and all other things appertaining thereto, as defined by their boundaries. These extend in length from the King’s Highway in the East to that Ditch on the West which is called Depeditch, and in breadth to the land which belonged to Ralph Dunning on the North and to the land of St. Botolph’s Church on the South.

To be held and retained as alms bestowed upon the aforesaid Church of326 Bethlem, free from all secular control, tax, or service for ever, and especially for the Foundation of a Priory there, and for the institution there of a Prior, Canons, and Brothers, and of Sisters as well, so soon as ever Jesus Christ shall have bestowed His grace upon it. These shall solemnly profess in the said place the Rule and Order of the said Church of Bethlem, and shall in the same wear publicly upon their copes and mantles the badge of a Star.

And there shall be celebrated there divine services for the souls aforesaid, and for the souls of all the faithful dead.

But in particular this Priory shall be founded to receive there the Bishop of Bethlem, the Canons, Brothers, and Legates for all time, so often as they shall come thither.

Furthermore to the intent that a Church or Oratory may be erected there, so soon as ever the Lord shall have poured out his grace upon it, under such conditions that the Ordination, the Institution, and the Dismissal of the Prior, Canons, Brothers, and Sisters of the said place, together with the rights of Visitation, Correction, and Reformation, shall for ever belong to the Bishop of Bethlem and his successors and to the Chapter of his Church and of his Legates, so often as they shall come thither, and shall be willing, and shall see that it is expedient to do so, without the contradiction and hindrance of any one, save where there are appertaining to the said land the services due by the Lords Superior.

And for the greater security of this gift

I have placed myself and mine outside the said property, and I have solemnly put in actual possession of it, and have handed over the possession of all things aforesaid to the Lord Godfrey, one of the Prefects of the City of Rome, at this time Bishop-elect of Bethlem (as by our Lord the Pope confirmed), and at this time actually in England, in his own name, and in that of his successors, and in the name of the Chapter of the Church of Bethlem.

And he has received possession of the said property, and has entered upon it in the form prescribed.

Now in token of subjection and reverence the said place in Bishopsgate Without in London shall pay annually in the said City one mark sterling on Easter Day to the Bishop of Bethlem, or his representative on account of its property.

And according as the property of the said place shall by the gift of God and more increase, in like manner the said place shall pay more, in proportion to its income, on the aforesaid date, to its mother church of Bethlem.

This Deed of Gift and the Confirmation of the present Charter of my Foundation I have on behalf of myself and of my heirs made secure and binding.

In the year of our Lord 1247 on the Wednesday after the Feast of S. Luke the Evangelist.


These being Witnesses

Peter Fitz-Alwyn, then Mayor of London, &c. &c.

This is what the London Citizen (see Collections of a London Citizen) says of the House:—

“A chyrche of Owre Lady that ys namyde Bedlem. And yn that place ben founde many men that ben fallyn owte of hyr wytte. And fulle honestely they ben kepte in that place: and sum ben restoryde unto hyr wytte and helthe agayne. And sum ben a-bydyng there yn for evyr, for they ben falle soo moche owte of hem selfe that hyt ye uncurerabylle unto man. And unto that place ys grauntyde moche pardon, more thenne they of the place knowe.”

This Priory continued for nearly three hundred years, during which period it never obtained any popularity or any substantial increase to its revenues. On searching the Calendar of Wills, we find a few bequests left to the House until 1411. After this date there is no more mention of the House.

Then poverty fell upon it: it received permission to beg for alms; and the Brethren—were there ever any sisters?—as they died were not replaced; between the years 1411 and 1538—that is, for a hundred and twenty-seven years—there is a dead silence in the Wills. We know that there was a chantry here for Lord Basset, who was a benefactor; and we know that Henry the Fourth appointed in 1423 one Robert Dale, and in 1471, one Richard Sneeth as Prior or warden. The House was probably the most conspicuous case in London of a Foundation of which only the shell was left. Its endowments gone, the “special devotion” of the Founder to the Church of Bethlehem no longer understood, the respect for the sacred site of Bethlehem a thing decaying, and, at last, the very Brethren gone. At the Dissolution one man was found in the House, the Master, and he had left off wearing the habit of the Order. Was he quite poor? Did he live alone in the place wandering about the ghostly cloister, singing matins at midnight alone in the mouldering chapel, the roof of which was falling off? Or cultivating the little garden beside the City Ditch for vegetables and roots which formed most of his food? Strange life! Or were the revenues large enough to keep him in comfort with servants to attend upon him, so that he lived in semi-ecclesiastic guise?

There is some obscurity about the conversion of the House into an Asylum for persons of unsound mind. Stow says that it became an asylum, but does not give the date. Newcourt says, that “sometime, a King of England”—which is vague—disliking the presence near the Court of the Lunatic Asylum which stood at Charing Cross, ordered the removal of the inmates to Bethlehem, which would show that the place had fallen into decay some time before the Dissolution. In the year 1523 one Stephen Jennings gave £40 towards the purchase of the patronage of the House, and the Mayor took steps toward carrying out this object328 when the Dissolution happened, and the place, whose surrender value is not stated, went to the King. The mad people were turned adrift; one knows not where they went or how they fared: in 1546, however, the King gave the House to the City, and the Mayor bought the patronage and houses and tenements belonging to it and replaced the lunatics.

The church was taken down in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. It does not appear that the House had any property, because the patients were maintained by their friends, or if these were too poor, by a charge upon the parish. There was accommodation for sixty patients. Five years after the King’s gift, license was granted to John Whitehead, proctor of the House, to ask for alms in the dioceses of London, Ely, and Lincoln.



The Abbey of St. Clare, which stood on the site of the church called Holy Trinity, Minories, was founded by Blanche d’Artois in 1293. The following genealogy sufficiently explains the connection of Blanche with this country and with London:—

Genealogical tree

A tabular version is available here.

The House was founded in 1293 for the reception of “certain nuns devoted to the service of God, St. Mary and St. Francis, expected shortly to arrive and to settle in this realm.” The first nuns were Frenchwomen, brought over by Blanche. They belonged to the Order called Clares, their name being that of St. Clare, the foundress of the Franciscan nuns, who was canonised in 1253, two years after her death. They called themselves Sorores Minores—as their Franciscan Friars were Fratres Minores; they were also called “rich Clares,” because they were allowed to possess endowments and lands; others of the same Order being “poor Clares,” who subsisted entirely on the charity of the people. They were also called Urbanists, because their rule had been revised by Pope Urban; and they were inclusæ, that is to say, forbidden, except by reason of pestilence, war, or fire, to go outside the convent walls.

The endowments began with three tenements and four parcels of ground near, or upon, the site of the House, together with some houses in West Chepe, yielding £30 a year.

Subsequent endowments included a large number of messuages, tenements, wharves, and shops in London and Whitechapel. It would be interesting to ascertain how much of London actually belonged to the Religious Houses.


The infant Convent received three Bulls from Pope Boniface VIII. In the first he received the House, with all its buildings and property, under his own peculiar jurisdiction. In the second he declared the House free from the jurisdiction of the Bishop of London and the Archbishop of Canterbury. In the third he pronounced the House inviolable, and ordered the Bishop of London to consecrate for the nuns all the Church plate and sacred vessels.

In the reign of Edward the Second the King exempted the sisters, on account of their poverty, from all tallage payable to the Crown for their lands and houses in London.

In the reign of Edward the Third they obtained a grant of thirty marks a year, and another of twenty marks from private persons. They also obtained from Isabella, mother of Edward the Third, the advowsons of three churches, on the condition of praying for the soul of the late King. Edward the Third also endowed them with lands and houses.

The writer of a paper in Archæologia enumerates many gifts of messuages, etc., made to the sisters during the two hundred and fifty years of their existence. In the Calendar of Wills between 1341 and 1519, I find twenty-five bequests to this House, of which all but seven belong to the fourteenth century.

A considerable mass of ruins of the Convent House remained standing down to the end of the eighteenth century, when most of them were destroyed. In 1706 it was found that the north wall of the present church of the Holy Trinity was part of the wall of the Sisters’ Chapel; in 1793, in digging the foundations of a house, in Haydon Square, a massive stone wall was discovered, certainly part of the House, as it formed the boundary of the parish. On the west side of the Square the houses in 1803 were part of the original building, the walls being of stone, even the partitions between the rooms. In 1797 a fire, which consumed many of the houses south of the church, from the Minories to Haydon Square, eastward, laid open the remains of a Hall which seemed to be the Refectory.

Stow has the following particulars concerning this House:—


“The License for founding it bore Date 21 E. I. to the Abbess of St. Clare without Aldgate. There was a Charter granted 9 E. II. that the Sisters Minoresses without Aldgate should be quit of Tallage on account of their Lands and Tenements in the City of London. In another Charter 14 E. II. it is called the Abby of the Minoresses of St. Mary of the Order of St. Clare without the Walls of the City: In which Charter are confirmed certain Messes of theirs in the Vintry, in Wood Street, Lad Lane, Old Fish Street, and one Mess and two Shops in Lombard Street, Christ’s Church Lane, and Shirburgh Lane; gotten of divers well affected Persons: What the Charters and Liberties of these Minoresses were, may be seen by the Confirmation thereof in 1 H. V. and Anno 16 and 25 and 2 H. 4, which remain in the Tower Records. The Manour of Apeldercome was granted to the Prioress of the Minoresses without Aldgate, 1 H. IV. and 22 H. VI. A Mess called the Herteshorn, in the Parish of St. Mary Matfelon, was granted to them by Nicholas Walshe, 7 E. IV. To all the rest let this be added.

That this House was first erected to receive Nuns that were to be brought over by Blanch, Queen of Navarre, Wife to the abovesaid Earl Edmund: And they were professed to serve God, the blessed Virgin, and St. Francis; as appears by this Charter of Licence, which the said Edmund obtained of the King his Brother the 21st of his Reign.”

The House attracted and maintained the greatest respect of the citizens. This is shown by the bequests which were showered upon the sisterhood; these were continued far into the fifteenth century, long after the stream of benefactions had ceased for the other religious houses of London. It is also shown by the request of many ladies that they should be buried in the Chapel of the Nuns—among them was Elizabeth, Duchess of Norfolk, who died in 1506, only thirty years before the Dissolution. It has already been noticed in another place that there is nowhere to be found any scandal, or suggestion of scandal, concerning the Religious women of the London Houses.

The House has no history. For two hundred and fifty years the sisters carried on their quiet lives; they produced no saint; they enjoyed no ecstatic visions; they obeyed the Rule with such modifications as were introduced from time to time; their lives were monotonous, but they had their little distractions. One event alone is recorded of them—the plague of 1515—when within these walls alone twenty-seven of the sisters were carried off, besides the lay sisters and the servants.

At their dissolution their income amounted to £318: 16: 5. If we consider that the stipend of a Chantry Priest was no more than £6 or £7 a year, on which he could live, we may multiply this income by ten at least, and we may conclude that the number of sisters, making allowance for the maintenance of the House, was not more than thirty, and perhaps less, the tendency in the latter days, when there were few bequests, being to keep down the number of the sisterhood, therefore they were well off.

The Clares were not included in Cardinal Wolsey’s first suppression of the smaller Houses of 1528, nor in that of 1536. The Abbess, however, Lady Elizabeth Savage, resigned her charge in 1538, the year before the final Act was passed.

For two years the place remained empty and deserted. In 1540 however, the King granted the House to the See of Bath and Wells for a London residence. The Bishop at that time was John Clarke, a man whose share in the momentous events of the day has somehow been passed over by historians.

He was born about the year 1480; he took the degrees of B.A. and M.A. at Cambridge; he studied law at Bologna; he took Holy Orders and received many benefices, including the Mastership of the Maison Dieu at Dover. Since these preferments were scattered about in many counties, it is evident that he performed none of the duties. He was otherwise occupied. In 1519 he was sent by the King with a message to Louise of Savoy; he was made Archdeacon of Colchester, Dean of Windsor, Judge of the Court of the Star Chamber; and he was charged in 1521 with the presentation of King Henry’s work against Luther. He remained332 at Rome as the King’s Ambassador and the servant of Wolsey for four years; he was employed in an embassy to the Court of France, and was sent a second time to Rome. He returned with Cardinal Campeggio. By this time he had been promoted to the Bishopric of Bath and Wells.

He did not long enjoy his London residence. In the same year in which he received the gift, he was sent on an embassy to the Duke of Cleves, and, with his servants, was poisoned. He came back to die in January 1541, and was buried in the Chapel of the Clares.

The House was once more taken over by the Crown, being exchanged by Bishop Barber for other property in 1548. Edward granted it to the Duke of Suffolk in 1552. It does not appear, however, that Lady Jane Grey, his daughter, was ever resident at the House of the Clares. The Duke was executed on the 23rd of February 1554. We may believe that some of the old sanctity was still lingering about the Chapel of the vanished nuns. There is some reason to believe that the head of the Duke was brought to the Chapel and buried before the altar. In 1852 the then Earl of Dartmouth was inspecting the vaults under the modern church, where some of his ancestors are buried. He came upon something that might have been a basket full of sawdust. On examination there was found to be a head well preserved, with the marks of decapitation on the neck. The features resembled those of the beheaded Duke, and it seems probable that either by his own request, or by the pious care of a servant, the head was brought here to be laid in the Duke’s own Chapel, the former Chapel of the Sorores Minores Inclusæ.

After the accession of Queen Elizabeth, the Precincts of the Abbey remained, like many other Precincts, a quiet place, in whose Close houses were built. The church was granted to the people of the place on the condition of their maintaining a minister for the parish, which occupied exactly the same site as the former Abbey.

It was a small parish, no more than 255 feet in length, facing the City Wall. The old buildings were gradually pulled down, and the materials used for the new houses, but enough remained, even as late as the end of the eighteenth century, to form a picturesque collection of ruins. A fire in 1767 destroyed most of the buildings. As to the church, it became that of the Holy Trinity; it was repaired in 1618, in 1624, in 1636; it escaped the Fire of London. But most unfortunately it was taken down in 1740—with the exception of the north Wall—and rebuilt a mean and poor little church, which will remain standing as a Church House while the Parish, consisting of Haydon Green and little else, has been absorbed in that of St. Botolph, Aldgate. The new church contained something of the old chapel: the font, the reredos, the pavement before the altar, the monuments which were put up on the north wall. The church plate is also rich and curious. The charities are very small, amounting to no more than £13 a year in all.

The church was at one time—about the close of the seventeenth century333— a favourite place for weddings. In 1697 there were 956; sometimes there were six, eight, or ten weddings in one day. The reason seems to have been that the church claimed to be a peculiar, and exempt from the visitation of the ordinary, therefore licenses were not required for this church any more than for St. James’s, Duke Place, or the Fleet, or May Fair.

A Roman sarcophagus, discovered within this parish, is now preserved in the British Museum.

The church is much richer in associations than would be expected from its outward appearance. There is a brass to Constance Lucy, one of the well-known Lucy family; there is the tomb of Sir John Pelham and his son; there are buried here the first Lord Dartmouth, son of Colonel William Legge, and thirty-two of his descendants; there is a portrait of Sir Isaac Newton, with the tradition that he once lived in Haydon Square and worshipped in this church; Miles Coverdale preached here, as the historian of the church, Dr. Kinns found, on eleven occasions. The tomb of Colonel William Legge, who lived in the Abbey, bears his shield, on which are impaled the arms of the Washington family, with the stars and stripes which are the origin of the American flag. The connection of the Washingtons and the Legges is given by Dr. Kinns in the following pedigree:—

Genealogical tree

A tabular version is available here.



On the 30th day of October, in the year of grace one thousand eight hundred and twenty-five, there was gathered together a congregation to assist at the mournfullest service ever heard in any church. The place was the Precinct of St. Katherine’s, the church was that known as St. Katherine’s by the Tower—the most ancient and venerable church in the whole of East London—a city which now has but two ancient churches left, those of Bow and of Stepney, without counting the old tower of Hackney.

Suppose it was advertised that the last and the farewell service, before the demolition of the Abbey, would be held at Westminster on a certain day; that after the service the old church would be pulled down; that some of the monuments335 would be removed, the rest destroyed; that the bones of the illustrious dead would be carted away and scattered, and that the site would be occupied by warehouses used for commercial purposes. One can picture the frantic rage and despair with which the news would everywhere be received; one can imagine the stirring of the hearts of all those who in every part of the world inherit the Anglo-Saxon speech; one can hear the sobbing and the wailing which accompany the last anthem, the last sermon, the last prayer.

B.T. Pouncy delin et sculp’


St. Katherine’s by the Tower was the Abbey of East London: poor and small, certainly, compared with the Cathedral church of the City and the Abbey of the West, but stately and ancient; endowed by half a dozen Sovereigns; consecrated by the memory of seven hundred years, filled with the monuments of great men and small men buried within her walls; standing in her own Precinct; with her own Courts, Spiritual and Temporal; with her own judges and officers; surrounded by the claustral buildings belonging to Master, Brethren, Sisters, and Bedeswomen. The church and the hospital had long survived the intentions of the founders; yet as they stood, so situated, so ancient, so venerable, amid a dense population of rough sailors and sailor folk, with such enormous possibilities for good and useful work, sacred and secular, one is lost in wonder that the consent of Parliament, even for purposes of gain, could be obtained for their destruction. Yet St. Katherine’s was destroyed. When the voice of the preacher died away, the destroyers began their work. They pulled down the church; they hacked up the monuments, and dug up the bones; they destroyed the Master’s house, and cut down the trees in his quiet orchard; they pulled down the Brothers’ houses round the little ancient square; they pulled down the row of Sisters’ and the Bedeswomen’s houses; they swept the people out of the Precinct, and destroyed the streets; they pulled down the Courts, Spiritual and Temporal, and opened the doors of the prison; they grubbed up the burying-ground. With the bones and the dust of the dead, and the rubbish of the foundations, they filled up the old reservoir of the Chelsea waterworks, and enabled Mr. Cubitt to build Eccleston Square. When all was gone they let the water into the big hole they had made, and called it St. Katherine’s Dock. All this done, they became aware of certain prickings of conscience. They had utterly demolished and swept away and destroyed a thing which could never be replaced; they were fain to do something to appease those prickings. They therefore stuck up a new chapel, which the architect called Gothic, with six neat houses in two rows, and a large house with a garden in Regent’s Park, and this they called St. Katherine’s. “Sirs,” they said,336 “it is not true that we have destroyed that ancient foundation at all; we have only removed it to another place. Behold your St. Katherine’s!” Of course it is nothing of the kind. It is not St. Katherine’s. It is a sham, a house of Shams and Shadows.

The beginning of the Hospital dates seven hundred and forty years back, when Matilda, Stephen’s Queen, founded it for the purpose of having masses said for the repose of her two children, Baldwin and Matilda. She ordered that the Hospital should consist of a Master, Brothers, Sisters, and certain poor persons—probably the same as in the later foundation. She appointed the Prior and Canons of Holy Trinity to have perpetual custody of the Hospital; and she reserved to herself and all succeeding Queens of England the nomination of the Master. Her grant was approved by the King, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Pope. Shortly afterwards William of Ypres bestowed the land of Edredeshede, afterwards called Queenhythe, on the Priory of Holy Trinity, subject to an annual payment of £20 to the Hospital of Katherine’s by the Tower.

This was the original foundation. It was not a Charity; it was a Religious House with a definite duty—to pray for the souls of two children; it had no other charitable objects than belong to any religious foundation—viz. the giving of alms to the poor, nor was it intended as a church for the people; in those days there were no people outside the Tower, save the inhabitants of a few scattered cottages along the river wall, and the farmhouses of Stebenhuthe (Stepney). It was simply founded for the benefit of two little princes’ souls.

The Prior and Canons of Holy Trinity without Aldgate continued to exercise some authority over the Hospital, but apparently against the protests and grumblings of the St. Katherine’s Society. It was, however, formally handed over to them, a hundred and forty years later, by Henry the Third. After his death, Queen Eleanor, for some reason, now dimly intelligible, wanted to get the Hospital into her own hands. The Bishop of London took it away from the Priory and transferred it to her. Then, perhaps with the view of preventing any subsequent claim of the Priory, she declared the Hospital dissolved.

Here ends the first chapter in the history of the Hospital. The foundation for the souls of the two princes existed no longer—the children, no doubt, having been long since sung out of Purgatory. Queen Eleanor, however, immediately refounded it. The Hospital was, as before, to consist of a Master, three Brothers, three Sisters, and bedeswomen. It was also provided that six poor scholars were to be fed and clothed—not educated. The Queen further provided that on November the 16th of every year twelve pence each should be given to the poor scholars, and the same amount to twenty-four poor persons; and that on November the 20th, the anniversary of the King’s death, one thousand poor men should receive one halfpenny each. Here is the first introduction of a charity. The Hospital is no longer an ecclesiastical foundation only; it maintains scholars and gives substantial alms. Who received these alms? Of course the people in the337 neighbourhood—if there were no inhabitants in the Precinct, the poor of Portsoken Ward. In either case the charity would be local—a point of the greatest importance. Queen Eleanor also continued her predecessor’s rule that the patronage of the Hospital should remain in the hands of the Queens of England for ever; when there was no Queen, then in the hands of the Queen Dowager; failing her, in those of the King. This rule still obtains. The Queen appoints the Master, Brothers, and Sisters of the House of Shams in Regent’s Park, just as her predecessors appointed those of St. Katherine’s by the Tower.

Queen Eleanor was followed by other royal benefactors. Edward the Second, for example, gave the rectory of St. Peter’s in Northampton. Queen Philippa, who, like Eleanor, regarded the place with especial affection, endowed it with the manor of Upchurch in Kent, and that of Queenbury in Hertfordshire. She also founded a chantry with £10 a year for a chaplain. Edward the Third founded another chantry in honour of Philippa, with a charge of £10 a year upon the Hanaper Office; he also conferred upon it the right of cutting wood for fuel in the Forest of Essex. Richard the Second gave it the manor of Reshyndene in Sheppey, and one hundred and twenty acres of land in Minster. Henry the Sixth gave it the manors of Chesingbury in Wiltshire, and Quasley in Hants; he also granted a charter, with the privilege of holding a fair. Lastly, Henry the Eighth founded, in connection with St. Katherine’s by the Tower, the Guild of St. Barbara, consisting of a Master, three Wardens, and a great number of members, among whom were Cardinal Wolsey, the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk, the Duke and Duchess of Buckingham, the Earl and Countess of Shrewsbury, and the Earl and Countess of Northumberland, with other great and illustrious persons.

This is a goodly list of benefactors. It is evident that St. Katherine’s was a foundation regarded by the Kings and Queens of England with great favour. Other benefactors it had, notably John Holland, Duke of Exeter, Lord High Admiral and Constable of the Tower, himself of royal descent. He was buried in the church, with his two wives, and bequeathed to the hospital the manor of Much Gaddesden. He also gave it a cup of beryl, garnished with gold, pearls, and precious stones, and a chalice of gold for the celebration of the Holy Sacrament.

In the year 1546 all the lands belonging to the Hospital were transferred to the Crown.

At this time the whole revenue of the Hospital was £364: 12: 6, and the expenditure was £210: 6: 5; the difference being the value of the mastership. The Master at the dissolution was Gilbert Lathom, a priest, and the brothers were five in number—namely, the original three, and the two priests for the chantries. Four of the five had “for his stipend, mete, and drynke, by yere,” the sum of £8, which is fivepence-farthing a day; the other had £9, which is sixpence a day. It would be interesting, by comparison of prices, to ascertain how much could be338 purchased with sixpence a day. The three sisters had also £8 a year, and the bedeswomen had each two pounds five shillings and sixpence a year. There were six scholars at £4 a year each for “their mete, drynke, clothes, and other necessaries”; and there were four servants, a steward, a butler, a cook, and an under-cook, who cost £5 a year each. There were two gardens and a yard or court—namely, the square, bounded by the houses of the brothers, and the church.

This marks the closing of the second chapter in the history of the Hospital. With the cessation of saying masses for the dead its religious character expired. There remained only the services in the church for the inhabitants of the Precinct in the time of Henry the Eighth.

The only use of the Hospital was now as a charity. Fortunately the place was not, like the Priory of the Holy Trinity, granted to a courtier, otherwise it would have been swept away just as that Priory, or that of Elsing’s Spital, was swept away. It continued after a while to carry on its existence, but with changes. It was secularised. The Masters for a hundred and fifty years, not counting the interval of Queen Mary’s reign, were laymen. The brothers were generally laymen. The first Master of the third period was Sir Thomas Seymour: he was succeeded by Sir Francis Flemyng, Lieutenant-General of the King’s Ordnance. Flemyng was deprived by Queen Mary, who appointed one Francis Mallet, a priest, in his place. Queen Elizabeth dispossessed Mallet and appointed Thomas Wilson, a layman and a Doctor at Laws. During his mastership there were no Brothers, and only a few Sisters or Bedeswomen. The Hospital then became a rich sinecure. Among the Masters were Sir Julius Cæsar, Master of the Rolls, Sir Robert Acton, Dr. Coxe; three Montague brothers—Walter, Henry, and George; Lord Brouncker; the Earl of Feversham; Sir Henry Newton, Judge of the High Court of Admiralty; the Hon. George Berkeley, and Sir James Butler. The Brothers had been re-established—their names are enumerated by Ducarel—one or two of them were clerks in orders, but all the rest were laymen. They still received the old stipend of £8 a year, with a small house. As for the rest of the greatly increased income, it went to the Master after the manner common to all the old charities. During the latter half of the sixteenth and the whole of the seventeenth century, St. Katherine’s by the Tower consisted of a beautiful old church standing with its buildings clustered round it—a Master’s house rich in carved and ancient wood-work, with its gardens and orchards, its houses for the Brothers, Sisters, and Bedeswomen, each of whom continued to receive the same salary as that ordained by Queen Eleanor. Service was held in the church for the inhabitants of the Precinct, but the Hospital was wholly secular. The Master devoured by far the greater part of the revenue, and the alms-people—Brothers, Sisters, and Bedeswomen—had no duties to perform of any kind.

In the year 1698 this, the third chapter in the life of the Hospital, was closed.339 The Lord Chancellor, Lord Somers, held in that year a Visitation of the Hospital, the result of which is interesting because it shows, first, a lingering of the old ecclesiastical traditions, and, next, the sense that something useful ought to be done with the income of the Hospital. It was therefore ordered in the new regulations provided by the Chancellor that the Brothers should be in holy orders, and that a school of 35 boys and 15 girls should be maintained by the Hospital. It does not appear that any duties were expected of the Brothers. Like the Fellows of colleges at Oxford and Cambridge, they were all to be in priests’ orders, and for exactly the same reason, because at the original foundation of the colleges, as well as of the Hospital, the Fellows were all priests. As for the Master, he remained a layman. This new order of things, therefore, raised the position of the Brothers, and gave a new dignity to the Hospital; further, the School, as well as the Bedeswomen, defined its position as a Charity. It still fell far, very far, short of what it might have been, but it was not, between the years 1698 and 1825, quite so useless as before.

A plan of the Precinct, with drawings of the church, within and without, and of the monuments in the church, may be found in Lysons. The obscurity of the Hospital, and the neglect into which it fell during the 18th century, are shown by the small attention paid to it in the books on London of the 18th century and the early years of the last century. The Hospital buildings consisted of a square, of which the north side was occupied by the Master’s house, with a large garden behind, and the Master’s orchard between his garden and the river; on the east and west sides were the Brothers’ houses, and on the south side of the square was the church and the Chapter House. On the east of the church was the burying-ground. South of the church was the Sisters’ close, with the houses occupied by the Sisters and the Bedeswomen. The old Brothers’ houses were taken down and rebuilt about the year 1755, and the Master’s house, an ancient building, full of carved timber work, had also been taken down, so that in the year 1825, when the Hospital was finally destroyed, the only venerable building standing in the Precinct was the church itself. To look at the drawings of this old church, and to think of the loving care with which it would have been treated had it been allowed to stand till this day, and then to consider the “Gothic” edifice in Regent’s Park, is indeed saddening. The church consisted of the nave and chancel, with two aisles built by Bishop Beckington, formerly the master. The east window, thirty feet high and twenty-five wide, had once been most beautiful when its windows were stained. The tracery was still fine; a St. Katherine’s wheel occupied the highest part, and beneath it was a rose; but none of the windows had preserved their painted glass, so that the general effect of the interior must have been cold. The carved wood of the stalls, and the great pulpit presented by Sir Julius Cæsar, may still be seen in the Regent’s Park Chapel, where are also some of the monuments. Of these the church was full.340 The finest (now in Regent’s Park), was that of John Holland, Duke of Exeter, and his two wives; there was one of the Hon. George Montague, Master of the Hospital, who died in the year 1681; and there was the monument with kneeling figures of one Cutting and his wife, with his coat of arms. The seats of the stalls are curiously carved, as is often found, with grotesque figures: human birds, monkeys, lions, boys riding hogs, angels playing bagpipes, beasts with human heads, pelicans feeding their young, and the devil with hoof and horns carrying off a brace of souls. There was more than the customary wealth of epitaphs. Thus, on the tablet to the memory of the daughter of one of the brothers was written:

“Thus we by want, more than by having, learn
The worth of things in which we claim concern.”

On that of William Cutting, a benefactor to Gonville and Caius, Cambridge, is written:

“Not dead, if good deedes could keep men alive,
Nor all dead, since good deedes do men revive.
Gunville and Kaies his good deedes maie record,
And will (no doubt) him praise therefor afford.”

On the tablet of Charles Stamford, clergyman:

“Mille modis morimur mortales, nascimur uno:
Sunt hominum morbi mille sed una salus.”

And to the memory of Robert Beadles, freemason, one of his Majesty’s gunners of the Tower, who died in the year 1683:

“He now rests quiet, in his grave secure;
Where still the noise of guns he can endure;
His martial soul is doubtless now at rest,
Who in his lifetime was so oft oppressed
With care and fears, and strange cross acts of late,
But now is happy and in glorious state.
The blustering storm of life with him is o’er,
And he is landed on that happy shore
Where ’tis that he can hope and fear no more.”

There they lay buried, the good people of St. Katherine’s Precinct. They belonged to all trades, but chiefly to those which necessitate going down to the sea in ships. On the list of names are those of half a dozen captains, one of them captain of H.M.S. Monmouth, who died in the year 1706, aged 31 years; there are the names of lieutenants; there are those of sail-makers and gunners; there is a sergeant of Admiralty, a moneyer of the Tower, a weaver, a citizen and stationer, a Dutchman, who fell overboard and was drowned, a surveyor and collector—all the trades and callings that would gather together in this little riverside district separated and cut off from the rest of London. Among the people who lived here were the descendants of them who came away with the English on the taking of Calais, Guisnes, and Hames. They settled in a street called Hames and Guisnes341 Lane, corrupted into Hangman’s Gains. A census taken in the reign of Queen Elizabeth showed that of those resident in the Precinct 328 were Dutch; 8 were Danes; 5 were Polanders; 69 were French—all hat-makers—2 Spanish, 1 Italian, and 12 Scotch. Verstegen, the antiquary, was born here, and here lived Raymond Lully. During the last century the Precinct came to be inhabited almost entirely by sailors, belonging to every nation and every religion under the sun.

This was the place which it was permitted to certain promoters of a Dock Company to destroy utterly. A place with a history of seven hundred years; which might, had its ecclesiastical character been preserved and developed, have been converted into a cathedral for East London; or, if its secular character had been maintained, might have become a noble centre of all kinds of useful work for the great chaotic city of East London. They suffered it to be destroyed. It has been destroyed for sixty years. As for calling the place in Regent’s Park St. Katherine’s Hospital, that, I repeat, is absurd. There is no longer a St. Katherine’s Hospital.



The Order of Crutched, or Crossed, Friars—“Brethren Crucifer”—was instituted in the twelfth century. Some came over to England towards the end of the thirteenth century. Two London citizens, Ralph Hoster and William Sabernes, being greatly attracted by the sanctity of the Friars, took for them three tenements at an annual rent of 13s. 4d. of the Holy Trinity Priory, and for themselves either entered the Order or took up the Fraternity of the Order. Twenty years later, the Community had obtained enough money to enable them to buy other houses of the same Priory and to build a convent for themselves. The site was a piece of ground lying east of Seething Lane. The Friars carried in their hands a cross, and were also distinguished by wearing a cross of red cloth on their backs. The House, unlike other Friaries, seems to have held certain lands in Suffolk and certain Houses in the City: perhaps lands and houses were only endowments of an obit or an annual remembrance for the donor and his family. Like all the Friaries, this House was always poor: at the surrender it was valued at no more than £52: 13: 4. Stow cannot enumerate more than twenty worthies of London who were buried here. Of these the most important was Sir John Milbourne, who founded almshouses in the year 1521 for thirteen bedesmen, who were bound every day to attend the eight o’clock mass at Our Lady’s Altar, founded by Sir John Milbourne, there to pray for their benefactor’s soul. The will of the founder illustrates the change which had fallen upon men’s minds. Milbourne had not got beyond the belief in masses and prayers for the dead; but he had got beyond the belief in the perfunctory service of a chantry priest; he would keep poor men past work from want; this would be a more meritorious work than the endowment of a priest who should have nothing in the world to do except to say a daily mass; the prayers of a bedesman ought to be at least as efficacious as those of a paid chantry priest.

The Crutched Friars surrendered in 1539. Their house and estates were valued at £52: 13: 4, as stated above. The church and buildings were pulled down; a carpenter’s shop with a tennis-court and other places were built upon its site. The hall was turned into a glass-house, and thirty-five years after the Dissolution,343 was burned down. There were thus no remains or ruins of the House left at all; unless it were vaults or crypts.

On its site were erected later on the Navy House,—Pepys’s Navy House—and at the present day an open court, once, probably, the site of the cloister of the Brethren Crucifer, may still be seen. It now belongs to some Railway Company. First, a cloister of Friars, then a glass-house and tennis-court, next a Navy Office, and lastly, Receiving House for a Railway—here is a sequence of uses which Sir John Milbourne would hardly be able to foresee. After the Dissolution, the place appears to have attracted many persons as a residence, presumably from the quiet that still lingered about the Precinct. Here Dr. Turner had his Botanical Garden, one cannot doubt—on the site of the Monastic Garden. He dedicated his book, The New Herbal, 1568, to Queen Elizabeth, from “my house at London in the Crossed Fryers.” Dr. White Kennett, Minister of St. Botolph, Aldgate, 1699-1728, lived in “Crutchet Fryers,” and Pepys’s Diary is, of course, filled with references to the Navy Office, Crutched Friars.



The House of Austin Friars, i.e. of Friars Eremites of the Order of St. Augustine, was founded in the year 1253 by Humphrey Bohun, Earl of Hereford and Essex, “to the honour of God, and the Blessed Mother, the Virgin, and for the health of the souls of himself, his ancestors, and his descendants.” The House was enriched in 1344 by the munificence of Reginald Cobham, and in the year 1354 the great-grandson of the founder built the church, of which a portion of the nave still remains. This Church, one of the noblest in London, possessed a spire, or flèche, which, like that of the Sainte Chapelle of Paris, was the pride and admiration of the whole city. Like all the churches of the Friaries, it was for many years esteemed a specially holy place for burial. Among those whose dust lies in this spot are Edmund, first son of Joan the Fair, mother of Richard the Second; Humphrey Bohun, the founder; Richard, Earl of Arundel, Surrey, and Warren; Sir Francis Courtenay; the Earl of Pembroke; John de Vere, Earl of Oxford, beheaded 1463; Edward, Duke of Buckingham, beheaded 1521; many of the Barons slain at Barnet Field; and a long list of noble knights and dames besides. The Austin Friars came over here in the year 1251; they found a welcome not only in London, but elsewhere; they had, for instance, houses at Oxford and many other places. The Augustines turned out many scholars; among them the principal opponent of Wyclyf. The Order, in fact, unlike that of St. Francis, was one which professed to cultivate learning. The monastic dress of an Austin Friar was a long black gown with broad sleeves and a fine cloth hood; a white habit and scapulary, with a black leathern belt buckled with ivory.

This was never a rich House, but it always retained a certain steady reputation, not only as a centre of learning and letters, but also for a more scrupulous enforcement of discipline than was found among several other branches.

Austin Friars was essentially a London House. Yet it was never so popular as many other Houses. It appears by an examination of the London Wills that the Austin Friars were not so much regarded by the citizens as, for instance, the Grey Friars; or even as some of the smaller Houses such as Elsyng Spital. It was customary with wealthy and pious persons to leave money to all the orders345 of Friars in the City, and even to every Friar individually. The Augustine Brotherhood are not, it is true, omitted in these pious gifts, but there are few bequests of any value; a tenement is named, here and there, certain houses to be sold and divided between the Augustine Friars and others; there is occasionally a gift of wax or some such small matter. One Will in connection with this House is noticeable. It is that of William Calley, Draper, dated 1515. He leaves to the Honourable Company of Drapers, and to their successors, certain tenements in the Parish of St. Margaret, Lothbury, so that the said Company shall keep an obit within the “Frere Augustynes” of London for the benefit of his soul, for the soul of Mawde his wife, and others named; the bequest being also charged with certain charitable gifts. The Company and Wardens of the Craft are to attend the said obit, and afterwards to take such refection and repast as the said Freres “ordyn and prepaire.” And, by a codicil, William Calley wishes to be buried in the church of the Augustines, a privilege for which substantial fees were exacted by the brethren.

Drawn and Engraved by John Coney.

The references to this House are not voluminous, nor are they of very great importance. A paper on the Church by Mr. G. H. Birch has been published in the St. Paul’s Eccles. Soc., vol. i. Its piers, he points out, are Perpendicular, its windows Late Decorated, the arcades built probably in the latter part of the fifteenth346 century, and the nave wider than that of any English cathedral except, perhaps, Chichester. The roof, before the fire of 1862, was a waggon roof with the beams belonging to the same date as the arcades.

It may be noted that in the construction of their own church the Friars had to destroy the ancient parish church of St. Olave, Broad Street, but they built on a site adjoining the church of St. Peter-le-Poor a parish church in its place.

The House had four seals, one of the thirteenth century, two of the fourteenth, and one of the fifteenth. The seal of the Prior-General of the Order contains a figure of St. Catherine, crowned and holding a wheel.

In the year 1895 the demolition of certain houses on the north of the church brought to light what appeared to be the remains of the Cloister, together with bosses, on one of which was represented, apparently, a female figure carrying a wheel. A paper on this discovery was communicated by Mr. Allen Walker to The Builder (Feb. 29, Ap. 4, 1896). (See also Midd. and Herts. N. and Q., ii. pp. 86, 136.)

A good many references to this House belong to the period immediately following the Dissolution. There is the petition of St. Peter-le-Poor against the destruction of the flèche. (L. and Midd., i., ii., 17.)

On the surrender of Austin Friars its revenues were valued at £57: 0: 4. The brethren, of whom there were no more than thirteen, subscribed to the acknowledgment of the Royal Supremacy in 1534. They were finally dispersed on the 12th of November 1549. Although the revenues of the House were then esteemed at so small a sum, we must remember that the Friars did not profess to hold property; they were supposed to live on the alms of the people. George Brown, one of those who signed the Acknowledgment, was made Archbishop of Dublin; the rest received small pensions. The site was granted in portions to Sir Thomas Wriothesley; to Sir W. Paulett, afterwards Marquis of Winchester; and to Sir Richard Rich. On the site of the House and the Cloister, Winchester House was built; the splendid monuments of the church were broken up, and the materials sold and carried away in cartloads for the sum of £100 in all. The lovely spire was taken down in spite of the vehement protests of the Mayor; the chancel and the transepts were destroyed, and only the nave was left, and, in part, stands to this day. Some thirty years ago this fragment was greatly injured by fire, but was restored after a fashion, and at the present day, with its scanty congregation of Dutch, by which congregation it has been used ever since the suppression, it allows the visitor to understand of how large and spacious a church it formed a portion.

In Wyngaerde’s map, and in Agas’s map (see end of London in the Time of the Tudors), there is a rude sketch of this House as it stood before the suppression, or immediately afterwards. In both there is a manifest indication for the position of the cloisters. They stood on the north of the church, the transept and the north347 wall of the nave serving for two sides. The transept has long since gone—and on the site stand modern houses. In the wall of one of these was found some years ago a stone arch. This was noted by some antiquary, but nothing more was done. In February 1896, however, during the demolition of this House, the arch was found again, and before it was taken down its place was marked and it was photographed, together with certain carved stones lying in the ground. There is very little doubt from its position that this arch was an entrance, perhaps from the Prior’s House, to the eastern cloister.




In the year 1224, being the eighth year of King Henry the Third, there arrived at Dover a small company of nine Religious, being Brethren of the Fratres Minores, the Franciscan Order, not yet known in this country. Five of these were priests, the remaining four were laymen. They pushed on without delay as far as Canterbury, where they halted and begged permission to begin their missionary work in that city. They were allotted a room in which they slept at night, and in the daytime they used it as a school. After a little it was resolved to attempt the foundation of a branch in London. Therefore, while the priests remained at Canterbury, the laymen were sent to London to look about them. They first lodged for a fortnight with the Preaching Friars in Holborn. They then hired a house in Cornhill, of John Travers, one of the Sheriffs, where they built—presumably in the garden—rude cells of wattle and clay, and began their preaching and ministration among the poor of the City. Very quickly it became noised abroad that a new and saintly Order of Religion had arrived in the country; that its followers were absolutely unlike all other Religious; that their austerity, the strictness of their Rule, their earnestness, their eloquence, their poverty—for they owned nothing—absolutely nothing—not even church furniture, and lived on alms, simply on whatever was bestowed upon them by the charitable—were things never before known among men; and that their lives were spent not in prayers and Litanies, but in work among the dregs of the people; that none were too base, too low, too degraded, too loathsome by disease for the offices of these good friars. The impression produced by this phenomenon was only strengthened when John349 Ewen, Mercer, bought a piece of ground in the parish of St. Nicholas Shambles and gave it to the brethren for their use, on which they might build a house and church. Then all the citizens began to vie with each other in making splendid gifts to the church of these Franciscans—for themselves they took nothing, save, as before, the broken victuals and crusts given them by the charitable. William Joyner, Mayor, built the Choir; Henry Waleys, Mayor, built the Nave; Walter Potter, Alderman, built the Chapter House; Thomas Filcham built the Vestry House; Gregory Rokesley, Mayor, built the Dormitories and furnished them; Bartholomew of the Castle built the Refectory; Peter de Heyland built the study; Richard Whittington, Mayor, founded the Library. Nor was the support of the Franciscans limited to the citizens. Queens, Princesses, and great lords helped to endow the House and to make these poor mendicants rich. Queen Margaret, Queen Isabel, Queen Philippa; the Earls of Gloucester, Richmond, and Pembroke; the Countesses of Pembroke and Norfolk, all gave money, plate, lands, or buildings to the Friars. One Queen thought the choir ought to be more splendid, and rebuilt it; another thought the nave ought to be more splendid, and rebuilt it; no gift could be too lavish, no buildings too costly for religious men so truly and unfeignedly350 religious. In our eyes it is pathetic to observe the hope and confidence always ready to be renewed, always doomed to disappointment, with which the people turned from one professedly ascetic order which—alas!—had fallen from its first profession and had now become rich, fat, and lazy, to another beginning with the best intentions, itself destined before long to fall off from the early zeal and the first austerities. Who could retain the pristine austerity when all these gifts came pouring in? When the broken victuals became a steady shower of all the good things that the earth had to give? And the despised and poverty-stricken brothers, lean, hungry, hollow-eyed, filled with the fever of faith and zeal, had become transformed into the sleek and comfortable Friars of whom all men spoke well?


Their church was 300 feet long, 89 feet wide, and 64 feet 2 inches high. It contained an immense number of monuments, because the ground was supposed to be the holiest in all London. Here were buried Margaret, daughter of Philip, King of France, and second wife of Edward the First; Isabel, daughter of Philip le Bel of France, and wife of Edward the Second—with her, the heart of the husband whom she had betrayed; Joan of the Tower, daughter of Edward the Second, and wife of Edward Bruce, King of Scotland; Lady Isabel Fitzwarren, Isabel, Countess of Bedford, daughter of Edward the Third; Eleanor, Duchess of Brittany; Beatrice, Duchess of Brittany; Eleanor, Duchess of Buckingham; Lady de Lisle; the Countess of Devon; Margaret, Duchess of Norfolk; Eleanor, Duchess of Northumberland; and an immense number of great and noble persons. Had the church with all its monuments survived, there would have been no church in the country, or, perhaps, in any other country, more crowded with names of personal and historical interest. Of London worthies, we find the gallant John Philpot once Mayor; Nicholas Brembre also Mayor, who finished his career with a traitor’s death; John Gisors sometime Mayor; many of the Blunts—Lords Mountjoy, who married into London families—the wife of Edward Blunt, Lord Mountjoy, was the widow of one Mayor and the daughter of another; William Blunt, Lord Mountjoy, married the daughter of Henry Keble, mercer. There were a vast number besides, some of whom are enumerated by Stow, who tells us that the church had ten great tombs of alabaster and marble—he means tombs with chapels and carved work. Of less costly tombs there were some score. In the Dissolution all the glorious marble and alabaster work was sold for fifty pounds or thereabouts by Sir Martin Bower, Goldsmith. The revenue of the House was no more than £32: 10s.


Ye Plat of ye Graye Friers” A.D. 1617.
from an unpublished drawing preserved at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital.

A larger image is available here.

An examination of those London Wills (Sharpe’s Calendar of Wills) which contain any mention of the Grey Friars shows that out of fifty-three nearly all are bequests of money “for a trental of masses”; for a Dirige and a Placebo in the church; for “masses”; for prayers; in some cases a charity is founded; in many the testator wishes to be buried in the church; in a great many cases money is352 left to all the orders of friars in the City, which are sometimes named, but generally not. I have elsewhere called attention to the remarkable fact that the stream of bequests and legacies to the Religious Houses becomes narrowed early in the fifteenth century and dries up altogether before the end.

The extent of the Grey Friars’ monastery can be traced by considering the present site of Christ’s Hospital. The school, unable to extend itself on the east, west, or north, spread out beyond the wall, which was at this point taken down soon after the foundation of the school. The monastery, therefore, was bounded on the north side by the wall; on the east by King Edward Street, formerly Butcher’s Hall Lane, and by old Stinking Lane; on the west by the wall and Newgate; and on the south by Newgate Street. It occupied, that is to say, a corner of the city of irregular shape, being 600 feet from east to west; 300 feet at its greatest breadth from north to south; and 80 feet, or perhaps 100, at its least breadth; an area, that is, of about 45,000 square feet. The Cloisters, in which lie buried a considerable multitude of London citizens, were asphalted and used for the boys’ playing field; some fragments of the old building still remain. As for the old monastery, it has entirely perished—church—cloisters—everything in the Fire of 1666. The monuments, we know, had gone long before.

While I write, the place itself is doomed. The spirit of barbarous vandalism has seized upon the school. Before long the school which, for three hundred years, has been the object of so much pride and affection among the citizens, will exist no longer. Another school—a new school, not the same—will be called by the name, and will be found somewhere in the country, and the Bluecoat school, with all its memories of Grecians, and of the young King Edward, and of the Grey Friars, will be swept away and blotted out. It is pitiful; it is wonderful that such things should be possible.

A plan of Grey Friars in the year 1617, when the old buildings were not yet all destroyed, and the plan of the House could still be made out, is preserved in Bartholomew’s Hospital, and has been reproduced by the London and Midd. Archæological Society, vol. v. p. 420. It shows that the north side of Newgate Street consisted of a row of tenements belonging to the Goldsmiths’ Company: the Bridge house and St. Bartholomew’s; behind the tenements and south of the wall lay the Precinct of Grey Friars. The church, with its middle and two side aisles, its great west window, its high roof and its Clere-story, might be re-drawn from the sketch in the plan; the Great and Little Cloisters are still standing with the old courts and gardens, the Brewhouse and the Bakehouse, the Mill and the great and small gates; the wall running along the north side is pierced by a gate connecting the Precinct with Smithfield, and the wall of the Precinct running along the east side is Stinking Lane.

There is not much that is important in the MS. notes referring to this House.353 In 1340 a great storm battered to the ground part of the church, especially the west end. In 1360 we find certain persons after murdering the Porter of Newgate Prison, taking sanctuary in the Grey Friars’ Church. This points to flight and pursuit, since the Sanctuary of St. Martin’s-le-Grand, a much safer place, was only a few minutes’ run down the street.

At the time of the Dissolution, as has already been stated, the condition and reputation of the Friars were as bad as they could be; their buildings were falling into ruin; they were selling their gold and silver vessels and the lead off their roofs; the Franciscans of London had dwindled down to fifteen only when the House surrendered. The Head of the House alone of his Order received a pension.

For a time the place served as a storehouse for all kinds of things, especially merchandise taken from the French. In the first year of Edward the Sixth all the tombs, altars, stalls, walks of the choir, and altars in the church were pulled up and sold—of course as so much marble and stone in the rough.

When the House was given to the City there are enumerated the Fratry, the Library, the Dorter, the Chapter House, the Great Cloister, the Little Cloister, and the chambers and buildings which had been in the recent occupancy of certain persons named.

Some of the buildings which escaped the Great Fire were still standing at the end of the eighteenth century. The south side of the Cloisters was not yet swept away; on the north side some of the walls and windows of Whittington’s Library were standing. The western walk of the Cloister was under the Great Hall, which, with Whittington’s Buildings, were pulled down in 1827.



The Dominicans, or Black Friars, came over to England with their Prior, Gilbert de Fraxineto, in the year 1221. There were thirteen of them in company. They were at first received by Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, who invited the Prior to preach, and being greatly pleased with his discourse, became the patron of the Order in England.

Their first quarters were in Holborn on the south side, part of the site of Lincoln’s Inn. Here they built a House and church, and their gates opened upon Holborn on the west side of Chancery Lane. They remained here for more than fifty years, when, in 1276, Gregory de Rokesley, the Mayor, granted the Archbishop of Canterbury permission to stop up certain lanes adjoining Castle Baynard and Montfichet. This was for the purpose of enabling the Dominicans to build a new House on the foreshore or banks of the River Fleet without the wall of the City. The Friars, however, were permitted to take down the wall between Ludgate Hill and the river, and to use the stones of Montfichet Castle for their new buildings. The King ordered the City at the same time to build a new wall along the side of Ludgate Hill, and so south along the bank of the Fleet to the Thames. Of their first House little is known. There was once a convocation of their Order held there attended by four hundred Friars to confer on their own affairs. It is reported that the assemblage was entertained on one day by the King, on the next by the Queen, and on other days by the Bishop of London and the Abbots of St. Albans, Waltham, and Westminster.

If we consider the buildings of the second House we shall find ourselves assisted to a certain extent by the disposition of the courts and lanes at the present moment. Thus, the boundaries of the Precinct are those of the present parish of St. Anne. It is therefore proved that the Friars began by taking down the old wall of the City between Ludgate Hill and the river, in order to build over that part of their Precinct which came to them on the other side of the wall. Again, since the site of a burial-ground within a city is almost always ancient, we may conclude that any burial-ground now within the parish was formerly within the Precinct. And if we have the measurements of the Church, we may355 lay it down accurately, provided we have a single angle or corner with which to start.

Now, the burial-ground of St. Anne’s still remains untouched. Its length from east to west is about 60 feet. The church of the Friars was 220 feet long and 66 feet broad. It probably consisted of chancel and nave, or antechapel without transepts; the Cloister was a square of 110 feet; the Chapter House on the west was 44 feet by 22 feet. If the chancel was 60 feet long, which is a very fair proportion, it just fits in south of the present burial-ground, while the block of buildings looking upon Church Court corresponds with the breadth of the church. Laying down the church, therefore, with these data, we find the Cloister also fits in with its square of 110 feet, now partly occupied by the Court of the Apothecaries’ Hall.

From an old painting in the Guildhall Museum.

The rest of the buildings, the dormitories, the Chapter House, the Refectory, the Great Hall, the Misericordia, were all contained in the square of the north-west angle. To place them lower down below the church and cloisters would be to ruin the effect of the group of buildings from the river, a thing abhorrent to the mediæval mind. The lower space, representing an area of more than three acres, was doubtless filled up with gardens, orchards, and offices. In appearance the House was said to resemble a fortress, because it had the battlements and towers of the City wall on two sides. (See Appendix IX.)

If for many generations the Franciscans were of all the Religious the most356 loved, their rivals, the Black Friars, who were considered the most stalwart defenders of the Faith, were the most respected for their learning. Even when the people threatened to destroy their House, in consequence of their arrogance, they still retained the general respect for learning. Their Precinct was a Sanctuary, so also was that of the Grey Friars; their strong-rooms and treasure-houses were used for the storing of the National Records, Acts, and Charters; they numbered among their body the greatest scholars, theologians, and jurists; their hall was used for the meeting of Parliament, and their church for the hearing of great cases. In the year 1382, for instance, Archbishop Courtenay held in the Blackfriars’ Church his court for the condemnation of Wyclyf’s opinions: and here was held, from day to day, and from week to week, the great trial before Cardinals Campeggio and Wolsey concerning the divorce of Queen Catherine. In the Hall of the Dominicans was assembled one of the Parliaments of Henry the Sixth; here was commenced the so-called “Black” Parliament of Henry the Eighth.

There are many other historical notes connected with this Order in London. Here are one or two of the more important:—

In 1258 the King gave orders that the Dominicans were to have at their desire freestone for making carved statues in stone and a pedestal for the statue of the Virgin; lead for their aqueduct, and other materials for the forwarding of their work. Obviously, therefore, they were engaged in building at their old House.

In 1326, when the Queen and her son issued letters to the citizens of London exhorting them to aid in destroying the enemies of the country, and Hugh le Despenser in especial, it was at the House of the Friars Preachers that the Mayor and Aldermen received the commonalty in conference. A little later occurs the very curious story (Chron. of Mayors and Sheriffs, p. 267) of the removal of Edward the Second to Berkeley Castle for fear that he might be carried off by the abetting and procurement of a Brother Thomas Dunheved, a Dominican, who, with many others of that Order, conspired with him. This Brother Thomas had been sent to the Pope from Edward to pray for a divorce from Isabel; he now raised a body of men in the King’s service, was unsuccessful, was taken prisoner, confined in Pontefract Castle, and was killed while endeavouring to escape. There were evidently two parties among the Preaching Friars.

Later on we hear of a quarrel between the Duke of York and the Duke of Somerset, and of the spoiling of the goods of the latter by the people of the former at the Friars Preachers’.

Discovered in course of excavations. Now at St. Dominic’s Priory, Hampstead.

The place was also one at which Royal and distinguished persons were entertained. The Dominicans, for instance, received Charles the Fifth of Spain on his visit to Henry the Eighth. It was in the Hall, called the Parliament Chamber, that Wolsey was found guilty on a Præmunire. The brethren, of course, took no part in these functions; but the fact that they were held in their House proves the357 position which they occupied. They did not, being mendicants, and without property, entertain Royal persons at their own charges. The sentence on Wolsey was the last event of importance connected with the Black Friars. Within a very few years after the holding of that Court, the proud Dominicans were turned into the street. Their whole property consisted of a few houses within the Precinct, which were valued at an annual rental of £104: 15: 4, so that, like the Franciscans, they remained actually mendicant to the very end. The respect in which these Friars were held, especially by the better sort, is shown by the list of great people buried in their church. Among the names we find those of Margaret, Queen of Scots; Hubert de Burgh, Earl of Kent; the children of the Earl of Arundel; Queen Eleanor, wife of Edward the First, whose heart lay here; the Earls of March and Hereford;358 the Duchess of Exeter, and many more. The House was surrendered in 1539. It does not appear that anything was done with it in the lifetime of Henry the Eighth. Very possibly he kept the place as convenient for holding Parliaments on occasion; it was also, and had been, at least since the time of Edward the Second, a house where Records and Charters were kept. Edward the Sixth granted the Hall and the site of the Prior’s House to Sir Francis Bryan; three years afterwards he gave the whole Precinct to Sir Thomas Cawardine.

We have seen that the Liberties of Sanctuary, especially that of St. Martin’s-le-Grand, were always a great trouble and annoyance to the City. Now the Precincts both of the Grey Friars and the Black Friars were claimed—though there were no more Friars—by those who had succeeded in the ownership of the Precincts as being without the jurisdiction of the City, and privileged, whether for those who took Sanctuary in the Precinct, or for those who carried on trade to be free of the City. This claim was stoutly resisted by the City authorities, and in 1586 the case was heard in Court before the Chief Justices.

There was a small church called the Church of St. Anne, which appears to have stood beside the great church, just as St. Margaret’s stands beside the Abbey; St. Gregory beside St. Paul’s; St. Peter’s beside the Austin Friars. The Precinct became the Parish of St. Anne. The old church of St. Anne seems to have perished with the Friars’ church. Perhaps it was an aisle. Then they built another church, which was nothing more than an upper chamber. As for the liberties and privileges of the Precinct, these were gradually forgotten and lost like those of the Grey Friars. The church was unroofed for the sake of the lead; it was then divided into two parts, part becoming a carpenter’s yard, and part converted into stables. The church, according to Wyngaerde, had no transepts, so that it would be easy to divide it. The Hall remained standing for some time longer, and was used for a Theatre—Burbage’s Theatre,—and some of the Shakespearian plays were acted there.

In the reign of Queen Elizabeth, the Precinct was “much inhabited” by noblemen and gentlemen. Afterwards the place became the residence of feather-dressers and glass-blowers—because it was still outside the City,—and later still of artists. “Thence into Blackfriars, visit the painters where you may see pictures” (Ben Jonson, The Devil is an Ass). Vandyck died here in 1641; Cornelius Jansen lived here; Isaac Oliver died here. There is one spot in modern Blackfriars which may still be recognised as part of the ancient house of the Dominicans. Passing through Playhouse Yard at the back of the Times office, and turning into a narrow lane called Church Entry, there is the small disused burial-ground of which I have already spoken. An open yard on the other side of the court apparently formed part of the Friars’ cemetery, just as at Westminster, where, the cloisters being reserved for the brethren, there might be a burial-ground outside the church. On359 the east of this yard is a fragment of ancient wall, and in a carpenter’s shop (No. 7 Ireland Yard) there is still (April 1900) remaining a single arch which once formed part of the House. I know not to what building this arch belonged; the site was afterwards a mortuary and a Watch house, but I know not which of these uses was the earlier.



On the north bank of the river, between Bridewell and the Temple, stood the House of the White Friars—Fratres Beatæ Mariæ de Monte Carmeli,—first founded by Sir Richard Gray in the year 1241. King Edward the First gave them ground in Fleet Street; their House was enlarged and beautified in 1350 by Hugh Courtenay, Earl of Devon. John Lovekyn, Mayor of London, gave them a lane running from Fleet Street to the river, in order to extend the west end of their church. Sir Robert Knowles, in the reign of Henry the Fourth, rebuilt the church. The London House of White Friars was always a house of humble pretensions and small consideration, although from time to time it received the patronage of wealthy benefactors.

The buildings of the House were apparently of no great account. After the Dissolution they became ruinous and were pulled down. A small part of the crypt, apparently, of the church was discovered a few years ago to be still in existence. It is beside the cellar of a house in a small court.

I find in an old and very scandalous story that one John le Moigne, together with William Portehors, of the Carmelite Friars, London, and others were accused of slaying by night a certain Friar Gilbert de Stretton of the Order, and afterwards breaking open the treasury and stealing £300 belonging to Sir Eustace de la Hacha. John le Moigne was found not guilty. There appear to have been two other trials in the same case. In the first of these two one William Crepyn took the place of John le Moigne, the other prisoners being the same. In the second case Bartholomew Portehors, one supposes a brother of the Friar, stood his trial with the same set of prisoners and was acquitted. Nothing is said of Friar William and the others. We may hope that their innocence was also fully proven.

Trials were occasionally heard at this House. In 1313 John de Ely, for taking gifts from men of London and hindering the King’s right, was tried before the King’s Council at the Carmelite Friars, convicted, and sent to Newgate.

The Rolls of Chancery were for some time kept in this House. In the Paston Letters two of the family desire to be buried in the Church of the361 “Fryers Preachers”; Sir John Paston, however, in his will, desired to be buried in the church of the White Friars.

The White Friars surrendered their House in 1538. It was valued with their property at £62: 7: 3. There seems to have been no delay in pulling down the church and buildings of this House, and very shortly after the suppression, according to Stow, noblemen and others built upon the site. Sir John Cheke, tutor to Edward the Sixth, lived in one of the new houses. Unfortunately the right of Sanctuary, which belonged to the Precinct while it was a Monastic establishment, continued to be claimed after it became secularised. In the year 1609 the right was formally granted by a charter of James the First, not only to this Precinct but to that of Blackfriars. This privilege, which transformed Whitefriars into the notorious Alsatia, continued till the year 1697, when it was finally abolished. Part of the House was allowed to remain, and become the residence of some of the Greys. John Selden, jurist and author, lived in it 1651 to 1654, when he died.

At A a modern building intrudes which is not shown in the drawing.

The buildings were so entirely destroyed that all trace of them above ground had vanished apparently in Stow’s time. Nor was it until the other day known where the church of the Friars actually stood. In the autumn of 1895, however, a discovery was made which seems to throw light on the matter. On the west side of Whitefriars Street, low down, is a small court called Britten’s Court, containing half a dozen houses, apparently about two hundred years old. One of these, Number 4, was placed in the hands of Messrs. Lumley, Land Agents and Auctioneers, 22 St. James’s Street, for sale. On examining the house, Mr. Lumley found that it contained a small cellar under the court itself. This cellar, nearly362 filled up with rubbish, had been used as a storehouse for wood and coal. On examination, it turned out to be a crypt, in dimensions a square of 12 feet 3, with a height of 8 feet above the present level of the excavation, and a height from the crown of the vault to the pavement of the court of about 2 feet 6 inches. The crypt belongs to late fourteenth-century work. Eight ribs meet in a rose in the centre. The roof is of church stone, such as was used in the construction of Westminster Abbey. In the north-west corner is an old doorway.



This House was called that of St. Mary of Graces, or Eastminster, or New Abbey. It was situated without the walls by East Smithfield. Newcourt gives the following account of it:—

“In the Year 1348 (23 Edw. III.), the first Great Pestilence in his time began and increased so sore, that for want of room in Church-yards to bury the Dead of the City, and of the Suburbs, one John Corey, Clerk, procured of Nicholas, Prior of the Holy Trinity within Ealdgate, one Toft of ground near East Smithfield for the burial of them that died, with condition, that it might be call’d, The Church yard of the Holy Trinity; which Ground he caused by the aid of divers Devout Citizens to be inclos’d with a Wall of Stone, and the same was dedicated by Ralph Stratford, Bishop of London, where innumerable Bodies of the Dead were afterwards buried, and a Chapel built in the same Place to the Honour of God. To which King Edward setting his Regard (having been in a Tempest on the Sea, and in peril of drowning made a Vow to build a Monastery to the Honour of God, and the Lady of Grace, if God would grant him Grace to come safe to Land) builded a Monastery, causing it to be call’d East-minster, placing an Abbot, and Monks of the Cistertian or White Order there.

In Order whereunto the said King Edward, by his Letters Patents bearing date at Westminster, March 29, in the 24th of his reign (1349) for the first Founding and Endowment of this Abbey, gave to the Abbot and Monks thereof, all those Messuages, with the Appurtenances at Tower Hill, which he had of Joh. Cory aforesaid, in pure and perpetual Alms. Ordering this House to be call’d, Liberam Capellam Regiam Beatæ Mariæ de Gratiis. And afterwards by other Letters Patents, dated Octob. 5, in the 50th of his Reign, he gave and granted to John, Duke of Lancaster, Simon, Archbishop of Canterbury, John, Bishop of Lincoln, and others, certain Mannours and Lands, which he purchased in Kent, and elsewhere, for the farther Endowment of this Abbey, which they after his Death granted and confirm’d to the said Abbot and Monks for a certain term of Years.

But these lands being for certain Causes seiz’d into the hands of King Richard II. as forfeited, he, by his Letters Patents, dated Aug. 3, in the 12th of his364 Reign by advice of his Counsel, gave and granted the Rents, Issues and Profits of those Mannours and Lands, which were the Mannours of Leybourne, Gravesend, Leach, Wattingbury, Gore, Parrock and Bykenore, with their Appurtenances, together with the Advowsons of the Church of Bykenore, and of the Churches of the other places above-named, with all other their Appurtenances in the County of Kent. As also the Reversion of the Mannour of Gomshalf with its Appurtenances, in the County of Surry, after the Death of Thomas de Stanes, to pray for the Good Estate of the said King whilst alive, and for his Soul when dead, and for the Soul of his Grandfather King Edw. III. and for the Souls of all his Progenitors, his Heirs, and Successors, and all the Faithful deceas’d, according to the Intention and Will of his said Grandfather. And farther, gave Licence to the Said John, Duke of Lancaster, and John, Bishop of London, the surviving Feoffees of Edw. III. to release and quit-claim the said Mannours and Lands to the said Abbot and Monks, and their Successors, as appears by his Letters Patents, dated at Notingham, July 3.

William de S. Cruce, late Abbot of Geranden of the Cistertian Order, was at the King’s instance made the first Abbot of this House, to whom the King gave £20 per ann. for the Maintenance of himself and his Monks, March 24, 1349.

Will. de Warden was made Abbot of this House, Aug. 27, 1360.

This Abby was surrender’d Anno. 1539 (30 Hen. VIII.), and was valued at £546: 0: 10 per Ann., Dugdale; £602: 11: 10, Speed.

Since which time the said Monastery being by King Hen. VIII. in the 34. of his Reign granted to Sir Arthur Darcy, Knight, was clean pull’d down. And of late time in place thereof is built a large Store-house for Victual, and convenient Ovens are built there for baking of Bisquets to serve Her Majesties Ships: and it is the Victualling Office for the Royal Navy to this day; the Grounds adjoining and belonging formerly to the said Abbey, are occupied by small Tenements built thereon.” (Newcourt, i. pp. 465-466.)

To this account it may be added that the House does not seem to have attracted many other benefactors, while in the Calendar of Wills there are only six bequests to the Abbey. One testator devises money for the buildings; one gives a small sum of money; three leave houses; one founds a chantry. It may be presumed that the proportion of bequests to this House compared with those made to others was the same with the wills not presented in these two volumes. Yet its surrender value, as we have seen, was considerable. In the first volume of the Transactions of the Lond. and Midd. Archæological Association is published an early representation of the Abbey, taken probably just before the Dissolution.



Among the Houses mentioned by Arnold FitzThedmar are two or three not considered in the above enumeration. There are the Houses of St. Anne by the Tower Hill, St. James in the Temple, St. James in the Wall, St. Stephen’s at Westminster, St. Thomas’ Chapel of the Bridge, St. James in the Field, St. Mary Magdalen Guildhall, St. Mary Rouncevall, and St. Ursula in the Poultry. There are one or two others which shall here be briefly mentioned.

Concerning many of these Houses, so little is known that the list becomes merely a catalogue. The position of these smaller Houses in the City in some respects corresponded to that of the humbler Dissenting Chapels of the present day. That is to say, although at the time there could be no thought of separation or of schism, the poor folk found themselves more at home in the smaller Houses. With them they had their Craft Fraternities; their priests were not the great Ecclesiastical Lords of the stately Abbeys and priories, but of humbler guise, men accessible to themselves.

The Order of Penitence or Fratres de Saccâ

The Order of Penitence grew out of the teaching of Francis of Assisi very early in his career. It was brought under rule by the Bull “Significatum est,” dated December 16, 1221, but it is said to have existed before this date.

Among other things, the order actually forbade the carrying of arms. They anticipated the Quakers, they anticipated the Peace Society, they were many centuries in advance of mankind. Like the Quakers, they did not understand that the very existence of a people under the conditions of the time—and of our time as well—rests upon force and strength of arms.

The great innovation designed by the Third Order was concord; this fraternity was a union of peace, and it attempted to bring before astonished Europe a new truce of God.

The second essential obligation of the Brothers of Penitence appears to have been that of reducing their wants as far as possible, and while preserving their366 fortunes, to distribute to the poor, at proper intervals, such portions of the revenue as remained after contenting themselves with the strict necessaries of life.

To carry on with contentment and uprightness the duties of their calling; to seek a holy inspiration for the slightest actions of life; to find in the infinitely little and ephemeral events of existence, the things apparently the most commonplace, the handiwork of the Almighty; to keep pure from debasing deeds, words, thoughts, ambitions, and interests, to use things as if not possessing them, like the servants in the parable who knew that they would have to give an account of the talents confided to them; to close their hearts to hatred; to open them wide to pity; to give their aid to the old, the poor, the infirm, the diseased, the outcast and the abandoned: such were the other essential duties of this most excellent Order of Penitence.

The letter to all Christians in which these thoughts break forth is a living souvenir of St. Francis’s teachings to the Tertiaries. To represent these latter to ourselves in a perfectly concrete form, we may resort to the legend of St. Lucchesio, whom tradition makes the first Brother of Penitence.

And the history of the first Brother of Penitence may be thus condensed into a short narrative:—

A native of a little city of Tuscany, he quitted it to avoid its political enmities, and established himself at Poggibonsi, not far from Sienna, where he continued to trade in grain. Already rich, it was not difficult for him to buy up all the wheat, and, selling it in a time of scarcity, realise enormous profits. But he was disturbed in conscience: he was convinced—it is exactly like the report of a Salvation Army meeting—by the preaching of Francis of Assisi: he was enabled to see himself from the outside—which is indeed the beginning of all repentance and conviction: he resolved to bestow the whole of his superfluous wealth upon the poor, and to keep nothing at all but his house with a small garden and one ass. From that time he was to be seen devoting himself to the cultivation of his ground and the conversion of his house into a sort of free hostelry, which was filled with the poor and the sick. He not only welcomed them, but he sought them out, even to the malaria-infested Maremma, often returning with a sick man astride on his back and preceded by his ass bearing a similar burden. The resources of the garden were necessarily limited: when there was no other way, Lucchesio took a wallet and went from door to door asking alms, but most of the time this was needless, for his poor guests, seeing him so diligent and so good, were better satisfied with a few poor vegetables from the garden, shared with him, than with the most copious repast. In the presence of their benefactor, so joyful in his destitution, they forgot, it is said, their own poverty—one reads with doubt this statement,—and the habitual murmurs of the poor, half-starved and diseased creatures were transformed into outbursts of admiration and gratitude. Conversion had not killed in him all family ties: Donna367 Bona his wife, became his fellow-labourer, and when in 1260 he saw her gradually fading away, his grief was too deep to be endured. “You know, dear companion,” he said to her when she had received the last sacraments, “how much we have loved one another while we could serve God together: why should we not remain united until we depart to the ineffable joy? Wait for me. I also will receive the sacraments, and go to heaven with you.”

Facsimile of a Miniature in the Cité de Dieu (MS. of 15th century in St. Genevieve Library, Paris).

So he spoke, and called back the priest to administer them to him. Then after holding the hands of his dying consort, comforting her with gentle words, when he saw that her soul was gone, he made over her the sign of the cross, stretched himself beside her, and calling with love upon Jesus, Mary, and St. Francis, he fell asleep for eternity.

The Order, therefore, known as Penitentiarii or Fratres de Saccâ Order, consisted of both men and women: the latter were Sorores de Pœnitentia. They might be married, in which case conjugal abstinence was enjoined on certain days;368 but they could not marry after admission; they might individually or collectively hold property. They came over in the year 1257, and they remained until 1307, when their Order was dissolved. They had for their House the old Jewish Synagogue of Old Jewry, and apparently were always quite a small fraternity. Beside their London House there were seven Houses of the Order in England, viz. at Lynn, whose Prior was the head of the Order; at Canterbury, Cambridge, Norwich, Worcester, Lincoln, and Leicester.

Their House, on the suppression in 1307, was handed over to Robert FitzWalter: it was the same house which afterward belonged to Robert Large, to whom Caxton was apprenticed; it stood at the north-east corner of the Old Jewry.

St. James on the Wall

If one stands in the south-west part of St. Giles’ churchyard, Cripplegate, one can observe the bastion of the old stone wall which still exists there. Within this bastion, in the corner of the wall at the end of Monkwell Street, was formerly a small religious House, a cell of Garendon Abbey called St. James’s in the Wall; it was originally a Hermitage, and it was placed in the corner no doubt for the same reason that the Greyfriars’ was placed in the next corner going westward, as in a place unoccupied and out of the way of business.

The founder of the Hermitage is said to have been Henry the Third. Wilkinson (Londina Illustrata) thinks that it was founded as a Chantry Chapel endowed for a single priest; but the Hermit appears at a very early period. There is a deed quoted by Wilkinson, dated 1253, which mentions the Chapel. In 1275 it is found that the guardian of the place was the Mayor of London. He was appointed by the King for a curious reason—viz. to prevent the spoliation of the place and the robbery of the chalices, vestments, etc., on the decease of the Hermit. The custody of the Hermitage, a few years later, was transferred to the Constable of the Tower, Anthony Beck, afterwards Bishop of Durham. In 1299 the care of the cell was given to the Abbey of Garendon in Leicestershire, I know not why. Newcourt relates an anecdote of the Hermit of 1311, which illustrates the jealousy always felt by parish priests of Hermits and others who intruded into their office:—


“I find, that in the year 1311 (Ralph de Baldock, being then Bp. of London), and Thomas de Wyreford, an Hermit of this Cell (a presumptuous, troublesome Man, it seems) took upon him to hear Confessions of People of the neighbouring Parishes, to enjoyn Penances, to grant Indulgences for 500 Days to such as frequented his Hermitage, and the like, having no lawful Authority so to do. For which Offences he was judicially proceeded against by the Bishop, and pronounc’d Guilty, and to be a Transgressor of the Canons; whereupon he was admonish’d to make Satisfaction for the same, within 15 days, and inhibited to do the like, as also were the People warn’d not to follow, or to be seduc’d by him, under Pain of Excommunication.” (Newcourt, vol. i.)

In 1315 the custody of the place was committed to one Walter Kemesey: in 1343 William de Lyons was the Hermit. In 1347 the Abbey of Garendon sent two chaplains here to pray for the soul of the Earl of Pembroke, who was killed in a tournament on the day of his third marriage, and of his widow, who retired from the world, and devoted herself to acts of piety and charity.

Looking towards the Founder’s Monument and the Master’s Seat at the east end.
Londina Illustrata, vol. i.

In 1543 the site of the Hermitage was granted by Henry the Eighth to William Lambe, citizen and clothworker, one of the gentlemen of the King’s-house here.

The Fire seems to have damaged, but not destroyed, this Chapel. It was rebuilt with considerable alterations, and continued to be used as a church until its demolition in 1825, when a crypt of great interest was found below. It is described in the Gentleman’s Magazine of May 1825 by Mr. A. J. Kempe.


“He there states that the recent demolition of the upper part of Lambe’s Chapel for the purpose of rebuilding it gave access to the curious vault occupying the space beneath. After descending ten or twelve narrow steps, a low vaulted chamber was entered, 26 feet long from east to west, and 20 feet broad; having in it originally nine short round columns, six of which were remaining, supporting the groined roof of the apartment. The capitals of these columns were Saxon, ornamented with leaves and volutes at the angles, and the capitals of the four corner pillars were placed diagonally to the square of the building. Some of the intersecting stone ribs springing from the columns were plain, and others were adorned with zigzag, twisted, and other ancient mouldings; specimens of which, with one of the pillars, and a plan of the directions of the arches, are given on the right hand of the lower part of the present Engraving of old Lambe’s Chapel. On the other side of the corresponding part of the same Plate is a Section of the ornamented mouldings from one of the arches; and leaning against the wall, in the Interior View at the top of the Plate, is represented a Ground-plan of the Crypt, with the Outside of the Chapel. The material of which this Crypt was constructed was freestone, of a reddish colour, the surface being very considerably decomposed; and several modern brick walls intersected the building.” (Londina Illustrata, vol. i.)

The Rolls House

The very curious and interesting history of the “Rolls House” was told for the first time, as regards its original objects, by Mr. W. P. W. Phillimore, Editor of the London and Middlesex Note-Book, 1896. I refer the reader to that paper for fuller details. In this place the leading facts only are taken.

Newcourt, after relating the origin of the House, says that the number of converts decayed when the Jews were banished in 1290; therefore the House in 1377 was given to William Burstall, Keeper of the Rolls: that, nevertheless, “such of the Jews as have in this Realm been converted to Christianity have been relieved there.” It will be seen that this bald statement conveys a very erroneous idea of the place and its history.

In 1232 Henry the Third made an annual grant of 700 marks for the maintenance of those Jews who had been converted to Christianity, for finding them a home and for building them a church. This sum was to be paid out of the Exchequer until the House should possess property of its own equivalent. At the same time the King founded a similar House at Oxford. The number of converts became comparatively large: in 1256 the King’s almoner provided cloth for 150 robes for the converts; in 1257, 171 tunics for Easter and 164 for Pentecost; in 1265 the House was enlarged; in 1267 a third chaplain was added; in 1275 the chapel was enlarged; in 1280 King Edward sanctioned certain rules for the government of the House, especially ordering that the inmates should work at their own handicraft, and if they were able to earn their own living, they should not be371 allowed to draw the allowance made to all. He also granted to the converts half the value of all their possessions, the whole of which belonged by right to himself; with the chevage or head tax of all the Jews in England. This chevage for 1281 amounted to £14: 14: 9, which, at 3d. a head, means only 1179 Jews in all England—a figure which by no means agrees with the number of those who were banished in 1290.

The revenues of the House for this year were a little over £50, in addition to which they had the annual grant from the Exchequer of £53: 6: 8.

Drawn from the Court of the Alms Houses. This building was taken down in 1825.
Londina Illustrata, vol. i.

In 1290 the number of converts had gone down to 80. The original occupants of the House must by this time have died and their children have become merged in the general population. The absence of any traditional caste or class, such as that of the Cagots in the South of France, is a proof that this absorption into the general population was complete.

In that year the converts petitioned the King for a Keeper who would look after their interests. It is noted that during the next hundred years many of the Keepers of the Domus Conversorum were also Keepers of the Rolls.


However, the King answered the petition by fixing the allowance for the House at £202: 0: 4, out of which the Fabric was to be kept up, the Master, Chaplains, and Clerk were to be paid, and the converts were to receive weekly allowances. On the death of a convert the amount of the grant was to be decreased. It was evidently supposed that the converts would die off. This, however, did not take place. On the other hand, though the numbers rapidly decreased, the House was never without new converts. Mr. Phillimore does not say where these converts came from: if there were no Jews left in England there could be no converts made in this country.

In 1308 the converts complained that their allowances were not paid. The King ordered an inquiry. It was found that out of all the inmates in 1290, 34 were dead, twelve had left the House, and 56 were still living there. The King thereupon granted a reduced payment of £123: 10: 6.

In 1330-1 there were 8 men and 13 women converts.

In 1334 there were 7 men and 13 women.

In 1337-8 there were 13 men and as many women.

In 1350 there were 2 men and 2 women.

In 1351 Henry de Ingleby had only 1 convert under his care.

In 1371 William de Burstall, who was Keeper of the Rolls, was made Keeper of the Domus Conversorum: there were then two converts. In 1377, on learning that William de Burstall had repaired the dilapidated buildings, Edward the Third provided that the two offices should be held together.

In 1386 payments were asked for the Keeper, one chaplain, one clerk, and three converts.

It is very curious to find that the supply of converts continued; only once did they wholly cease; there was sometimes only one; then three, four, eight, five, two, and so on. Where, I repeat, did they come from? One woman was named Elizabeth Portugall—evidently a Portuguese Jewess; another was called Elizabeth Baptista; another was “Kateryn Wheteley,” sometime called Aysa Rudeywa; another, Mary Coke, alias “Omell Fayll Isya.”

Thomas Cromwell was made Keeper in 1534. In his term of office he held a Court of Law at the House: yet it was not without converts. In 1550, when John Beaumont became keeper, he had but one convert, the above-named Mary Coke.

When Mary Coke died in 1551 (?), there followed a period of 26 years when there were no converts at all. In 1578 Yehoude Mende appears followed by Fortuna Massa, Philip Ferdinando and Elizabeth Ferdinando. In 1606-7 there were four converts. And then the allowances cease.

One Paul Jacob petitioned King James to grant him assistance, but he was not received into the Domus. That part of its history was closed.


In 1708 we hear that the buildings were much dilapidated: in 1717 the Rolls House was built upon the site of the Domus. And the Chapel was used as a muniment room for depositing the rolls of Chancery, until their removal to the Public Record Office.

Chapel of St. Mary Magdalen and All Saints Guildhall

The foundation of a college dedicated to St. Mary Magdalen is said by Stow to have taken place in 1299. It appears to have been so much enriched seventy years later by Adam Francis and Henry de Frowick as to have become a new Foundation. A third benefactor, Peter Fantore, died before his intentions were carried out. It was endowed for five chaplains who were to pray for the souls of the Founders, their wives, and their children, King Edward the Third, and all departed Kings, Mayors, Wardens, Sheriffs, and Chamberlains of the City. In the year 1430, the buildings, having become ruinous, were pulled down and others erected on the south side of them. In 1450 the parish clerks obtained leave to have a Guild dedicated to St. Nicholas in the Chapel, with two chaplains and seven almspeople.

At the Dissolution the College had a Warden, seven chaplains, three clerks, and four choristers. The Chapel was given to the Mayor and Aldermen, for whom services were held in it on certain occasions.

In the year 1785 the Chapel was made into a Court of Requests, and so remained until the year 1820, when it was taken down.

The Chapel and College of Leadenhall

This very ancient market was the property of the City as early as the first quarter of the fourteenth century. The College was founded by Simon Eyre, draper and Mayor, in 1445, when he also built a granary.

It was to consist of a Warden, five secular priests, six clerks, and two choristers to sing mass daily: there were also to be three schoolmasters with an usher; one master, to wit, with an usher, for grammar; one for writing; and one for singing; the masters were to have a yearly stipend of £10; every other priest £8; every clerk £5: 6: 8; and every chorister £3: 6: 8. Stow says that the conditions of the will were not carried out as regards the services in the Chapel and the free school.

But, in 1466, a Fraternity of the Holy Trinity was founded in connection with the Chapel by three priests. It consisted of 60 priests with other brothers and sisters. They performed divine service every market day in the afternoon, and once a year they had a solemn service with a procession of all the Fraternity. The property of this Fraternity amounted to £7: 10s. yearly.

The chapel escaped the Great Fire. It was pulled down in 1812. Wilkinson thus describes it:—


“This Chapel projected eastward from the exterior of the eastern cloisters of Leadenhall, from which it was entered by a large arched doorway, having the arms of the founder over the centre; and on each side of the interior arch was a perforated Gothic screen, of exquisite workmanship. The building was oblong, and was divided on the exterior sides into four parts, by buttresses reaching nearly to the roof, and separating as many large windows of the depressed pointed arch form, each parted into three lights, by stone mullions with cinquefoil arches; the window at the eastern end being considerably larger than the other, and containing five lights. On the outside the Chapel was almost completely enclosed by a case of wooden sheds, which reached nearly to the bases of the windows. It was covered with rafters and tiling of the coarsest modern workmanship, instead of the ancient roof, which had been pointed, and was supported within by carved brackets of chestnut wood, resting on corbels let into the walls against the buttresses: but of those brackets, only the scrolls and one fragment remained when the building was destroyed. Within the Chapel, at the south-west corner, was a small oaken door curiously studded and panelled, opening into a square apartment, which had probably been the sacristy; against the walls of which Mr. John Thomas Smith discovered some slight remains of painted figures. One of these exhibited the cheek, ear, and side of a head, with long yellow hair, flowing over blue and red drapery; the whole very much resembling the paintings discovered in St. Stephen’s Chapel, Westminster, executed in the reign of Edward III. Those at Leadenhall, however, were neither embossed nor gilded; but were outlined and shaded with red ochre.” (Wilkinson, vol. ii.)

The Nunnery of Kilburn

This small House, a cell to the Abbey of Westminster, is, in history, chiefly an account of the jealousies of the Bishop of London and the Abbot of Westminster as to the Episcopal jurisdiction.

Its history is curious. One Godwyn, a recluse, built a hermitage at Kilburn on some land belonging to himself. He conveyed the land to the Abbey of Westminster, by whom a small convent was built on the spot for three ladies, maids of honour to Matilda, Queen of Henry the First. Godwyn became Warden for life, and the Abbey made provision for the maintenance of the nuns.

On the foundation of the nunnery, Gilbert, the Bishop of London, exempted it from his own jurisdiction. This exemption was questioned by Roger le Noir, Bishop in 1229. In 1231 a composition was entered into between the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul’s on the one side and the Abbot of Westminster on the other.


Londina Illustrata, published 1825 by R. Wilkinson, No. 125 Fenchurch Street.

“By virtue of this agreement the bishop for the time being was to have access to the cell of Kilburn, to be received with procession, to preach, hear confessions, and enjoin penances; but without being entitled to any claim for procurations. It was also conceded that the secular priest, or warden, who was set over the house by the abbat, should, upon his appointment, be presented to the Bishop and pay canonical obedience to him, but to be removable by the abbat alone. That the prioress of the house, though appointed by the abbat and his successors, should be under obedience to the bishop, saving in all things the canonical reverence and subjection which she owed of old to the abbat. That, however, the entire ordering or regulation of the house, concerning matters and persons within its precinct, with the correction of excesses and reformation of its abuses, and the institution or destitution of the prioress and nuns, should belong to the abbat and his successors for ever; provided, that in case any matters requiring persons abiding there, should be neglected by him for the space of a month after warning having been given to him (or in his absence to the Prior) by the bishop, then, upon clear evidence of such neglect of reformation, it should be lawful for the bishop himself to proceed376 toward correcting and reforming them in such manner as ‘prout secundum Deum viderit expedire.’ It was further ordained that no monk but the abbat (or in vacancy, absence, or illness, the prior) should go near the nuns to hear their confessions and enjoin penance. That the bishop should, when requested by the abbat, perform the office of blessing or consecrating the nuns, but that no other bishop should be in future introduced or admitted at Kilburn to perform any episcopal ceremony. Finally, that neither the bishop nor his chapter should, by reason of this composition, challenge any jurisdiction or subjection over the abbat and monks of Westminster, nor in anything derogate from the rights of the aforesaid nuns, or their cell.” (London and Middlesex Notes, pp. 422-423.)

The House received a good many benefactions, but always remained a small Foundation. The revenues, when it was dissolved, amounted to sums variously stated between £74: 7: 11 and £121: 14s. The inventory of all the goods belonging to the nunnery of Kilburn, the 11th day of May, 28th of Henry the Eighth, seems to show that the House was well and completely furnished. It contained a Hall; five chambers for the ladies of the House: Kitchen, Buttery, Pantry, Larder, Brew-house, Bake-house, Cellar; three chambers for the Chaplain and the Husbandmen; the Confession chamber; and the church.

No remains are now to be seen of this House. The last Prioress was Anne Browne.

The Nunnery of Stratford-le-Bow

This Priory was in the Parish of Bromley, but so near to the hamlet of Stratford-le-Bow that it was commonly called after it. The House has been sometimes confused with a Convent of White Monks in the Parish of West Ham, called the Abbey of Stratford Langthorne.

The nunnery, dedicated to St. Leonard, is said to have been founded by William, Bishop of London, in the reign of William the Conqueror. It was always a small house. We read of certain donations and benefactions—lands at Haseling field; the Church of Northim, afterwards called Norton Mandeville; gifts by Henry the Second; the Manor of Bromley; lands held by Idonea Cricket in the reign of Edward the First, by the service of holding the King’s napkin at the Coronation.

Here was buried Elizabeth, sister of Queen Philippa, and daughter of William, Earl of Hainault.

At the Dissolution there were a Prioress and nine nuns. The revenues of the House were estimated, according to Dugdale, at £108: 1: 11-1/2, and according to Speed at £121: 16s. At this time the maintenance of a chantry priest being £5 or £6 a year, the ten nuns would require about £50 for their maintenance, leaving £70 for the House and the service. Sibilla Kirke, the last prioress, received a pension of £15 a year. She was still living in 1553.


The site of the Priory, the advowson of the Church, and the Manor of Bromley, were given to Sir Ralph Saddler. The Chapel is now the Parish Church of Bow.

St. Augustine’s Papey

The history of this interesting house, previously almost unknown, was rescued by the late Rev. Thomas Hugo, who read a paper on the subject before the London and Middlesex Archæological Society (vol. v.).

It was founded in 1442 by four priests of London, viz. Thomas Symmeson, Rector of All Hallows in the Wall; William Cleve, Priest of the Charity of St. John the Baptist in the Church of St. Mary Aldermary; William Barneby, a Chantry Priest in St. Paul’s Cathedral; and John Stafford, Priest in London. The Foundation was a Hospital or College for aged and impotent Priests. The Churches of the time were filled with Chantry Priests, each of whom had to live upon the very small endowment of a Chantry—generally £6 or £7 a year, sometimes less—in return for a Mass said every day for the soul of the Founder. When age fell upon these men, and they could no longer perform the one simple duty of their life, what could they do? How could they live? We cannot believe that an old and impotent Priest was ever suffered to starve. At the same time, until the charity of the Papey was founded, the lot of many must have been precarious and dependent and most miserable.

The Papey was situated within the wall just at the north end of the street now called “St. Mary Axe.” In the Collections of a London Citizen (Camden Society) it is written “Pappy Chyrche in the walle be twyne Aldgate and Bevysse Markes. And hit ys a grete Fraternyte of prestys and other segular men. And there were founde of almys certayne prestys both blynde and lame that be empotent: and they have day masse and xiiij a weke, barber, and launder, and one to dresse and provyde for hyr mete and drynke.” They also had allowance of bread and coal, with one aged man and his wife to keep the house clean.

The Church and parish of St. Augustine had recently been incorporated with that of All Hallows in the Wall. It was therefore a disused church which was first placed at the service of these poor priests. The Rector of All Hallows, in addition, gave over to their use a certain messuage with a garden which had been given to All Hallows by a late citizen. The community, so formed, was to be in honour of St. Charity and St. John the Evangelist. This name, however, was never given to the house by the people, who called it still St. Augustine, qualified by the words De Papey—i.e. of the papes or fathers who lived there. The Foundation was poor; but it possessed a house at Baynard’s Castle, six cottages and two messuages in Pavyn Alley; there was also the messuage in Bevis Marks given them by the Rector of All Hallows. This is all the property that can be proved to belong to378 them. Those of the members who could walk and sing sometimes attended the funerals of great persons, and in this way added something to the slender revenues of the House. At the time of the foundation there were twenty-four brethren and fifteen sisters—it does not appear how the sisters were elected or for what cause.

The history of the House is not marked, so far as I know, by a single event. It lasted for 106 years, being suppressed by the Act of 2 Ed. VI. for the suppression of all chantries, hospitals, and similar foundations. The value of the land and property of the Foundation was returned at £23: 11: 8. William Nevill purchased the House for £102. There were then six old priests but no sisters. These, one records with satisfaction, were all provided with small pensions: the Master receiving sixty-six shillings and eightpence a year, a little over twopence-farthing a day, and the brethren forty shillings, a little under 1-1/3d. a day. The church was pulled down, and an Apothecary set up his shop on the site, the Churchyard was converted into a garden, and the Priests’ House became a private residence. Thus was thrown down and destroyed a Foundation which might have continued doing good work unto the present day. There is not, in fact, among all the numerous charities, foundations, and endowments belonging to the Church, a single House at the present day which at all corresponds with this ancient Foundation of St. Augustine Papey.

The late foundation of the House, at a time when bequests to the religious House had begun to fall off before they ceased altogether, sufficiently accounts for its poverty. One or two bequests only, and these apparently of small account, are on record. (See Appendix X.).

Whittington College

The College of St. Spirit and St. Mary, founded by Whittington, whose intention was carried out by his executors, was for a Master, four Fellows, Clerks, Choristers, etc., together with an Almshouse. Fortunately the Almshouse was separated by the executors from the College, so that it was spared when the College was suppressed. The following is a portion of the original ordinances of the Charity drawn up by the executors:—


“The fervent Desire and best Intention of a prudent, wyse and devout man that be to cast before and make seure the State and thende of the short liffe with Dedys of Mercy and Pite: and namely to provyde for such pouer Persons which grevous Penuere and cruel Fortune have oppressed, and be not of power to gete their lyving either by Craft or by any other bodily Labour: whereby that at the day of the last Jugement, he may take his part with hem that shal be saved. This considering the foresaid worthy and notable Merchaunt Richard Whittington, the which while he leved had ryght liberal and large hands to the Needy and Poure People, charged streitly, in his Death-bed, us his foresaid Executors, to ordeyne a House of Almes after his Deth, for perpetual sustentacion of such poure people as is tofore rehersed: and therupon fully he declared his Wyll unto us. And we wylling after our power to fullfil thentent of his commendable Wille and holesome Dessre in this part, as we be bound.

First, Yfounded by us, with sufficient Authorite, in the Church of Seint Mighells, in the Royolle of London: where the foresaid Richard and Dame Alice his Wife be biried, a commendable College of certain Prestes and Clerkis; to do there every day divine Service for the aforesaid Richard and Alice.

We have founded also, after the Wille abovesaid, a House of Almes for XIII pouere folk successively for evermore; to dwell and to be susteined in the same House. Which house is situated and edified upon a certain Soyl that we bought therefore, late in the Parish of Seinte Mighel abovesaid: that is to say, Bytweene the foresaid Church and the Wall that closeth in the voyd place, behind the heigh Auter of the same Church in the Southside, and our great Tenement, that was late the House of the aforesaid Richard Whyttington in the Northside. And it stretcheth fro the dwelling place of the Master and the Prestis of the College abovesaid. The which also we did late to be now added in the Eastside unto a great voyd place of our Land. The which by the help of God we purpose to do be hallowed Lawfully for a Churchyard to the same Church within short time in the Westside.” (Stow, i. bk. iii. pp. 3-4.)

And the ordinances for the poor folk are as follows:—


“To be twelve pouer Folks alonely of Men or Women togiddre; after the sad Discretition and good Conscience of the Overseers underwrit, and Conservators of the same House, to be provided and admitted.

The which every day, when due and convenient time is, shal pray for evermore, for al the now being alive, and also for the bypast, to God; Whose names of great Specialty been expressed in these Statutes underwrit.

To be one Principal, which shal pass al other in power and Reverence, and be called TUTOR. The Office and Charge of him shal be the goods of the Almes-house, which shal come to his hands, well and truly to minister. The Goods dissevered to gather again togidre; to the Use of the Almes-house: And at the Husbandry of the same house, in as much as he may goodly oversee, dispose and ordain; inforcing himself to edifie and nourish Charity and Peace among his Felawes.

The Poor folks unto the said Tutor evermore shal obey.

The thirteen poor folke to be hable in Conversation, and honest in Living.

The same House to be called for ever God’s House, or Almes house, or the Hospital of Richard Whyttington.

The L. Maior to be overseer of the said Almeshouse: and the Keepers of the Commonalty of the Craft of Mercers to be called for evermore Conservators of the foresaid House.

The Tutor to have a Place by himself, that is to say, a Cell or little House, with a Chimney and a Prevy, and other Necessaries. In the which he shall Lyegge and rest. And that he may aloon and by himself, without Let of any other Persoon intend to the Contemplation of God, if he woll.

Every Tutour and poor folk every day first whan they rise fro their Bedds, kneeling upon their knees, sey a Pater Noster and an Ave Maria, with special and herty recommendacion-making of the foresaid Richard Whyttington and Alice, to God, and our Blessed Lady Maidyn MARY. And other times of the day, whan he may be best and most commody have leisure thereto, for the Staat of al the Souls abovesaid, Say three or two Sauters of our Lady at the least: that is to say, threies seaven Ave Marias, with XV pater nosters, and three Credes. But if he be letted with febleness, or any other reasonable cawse, One in the day at the least, in case it may be: that is to say, after the Messe, or when Complyn is don, they come togidder within the College about the Tomb of the aforesaid Rich. Whyttington and Alice, and they that can sey, shal sey for the Soules of the seid Richard and Alice, and for the Soules of al Christen people, this Psalm de Profundis with the Versicles and Oriosons that longeth thereto. And they that can shal sey three Pater nosters, three Ave Marias, and oon Crede. And after this doon, the Tutour, or oon of the eldest men of theym that sey openly in English, God have mercy on our Founders Souls and al Chrysten. And they that stond about shal aunswer and say, Amen.

That they be bound to dwell and abide continewally in the seid Almes house, and bounds thereof: And that every day, booth at meet and sopier, they eet and be fed within the said Almes house. And while they be at meet, or soupier, they absteyn thanne from veyn and ydel words. And if they wol any thyng talk, that it be honest and profitable.

That the Overclothyng of the Tutour and pouer folk be derk and brown of colour; and not staring ne blaising; and of esy prised, according to their Degree.” (Stow, i. bk. iii. pp. 4-5.)

The Almshouse, removed from its former place behind the church of St. Michael Royal, is still in existence at Highgate.

We may pass rapidly through the few remaining small Houses.

Denton’s Hospital is entered as one of them, but it never existed except in the intention of the Founder, Robert de Denton. He obtained, in 1369, the Royal license to found a Hospital for distracted priests and others, but could not carry out his intentions, and instead founded a chantry at the House of St. Katherine by the Tower.

Of Charing Cross Hospital I find nothing but a tradition that one of the Kings, being annoyed by the presence of the patients so near the Court, ordered their removal to Bethlehem Hospital.

St. Michael, Crooked Lane. This College was founded by Sir William Walworth, who united certain Chantries and added lands and certain houses, and so formed a College for the support of a Master and nine priests.

Barking College was attached to the Church of All Hallows, Barking. Richard the First founded and endowed here a Chapel to the Virgin. John, Earl of Worcester, added a Brotherhood with a Master and Brethren endowed from the alien Houses of Tooting, Bow, and Okeburn. Richard the Third rebuilt the Chapel and founded a college with a Dean and six Fellows. It was dissolved by Edward the Sixth, the buildings pulled down, and the ground converted into a garden.

Holme’s College of St. Paul’s was founded by Roger Holme, Chancellor of St. Paul’s, in 1395, as a college of seven Priests, whose services were held in the Chapel of the Holy Ghost. The College buildings stood in the parish of St. Gregory, south of the Cathedral Precinct.

Lancaster College was founded by Henry the Fourth and the executors of John of Gaunt in connection with the Cathedral: the College buildings were also in the Parish of St. Gregory.

Another College in connection with the Cathedral was that of the Minor Canons, founded by Richard the Second. They had houses adjoining the Precinct and a Common Hall within the Precinct.

The College of St. Lawrence Poulteney, in connection with that church, consisted of a Master or Warden, thirteen priests, clerks, and choristers.

In Dowgate stood a small college of Priests called Jesus Commons: Stow says that it was a381 “House well furnished with Brass, Pewter, Napery, Plate, etc., besides a fair Library well stored with books: all which of old time were given to a number of priests that should keep Commons there.” Evidently a quiet and peaceful College, not unlike All Souls, Oxford.

St. James’ in the Fields, a hospital founded from time immemorial, for leprous virgins of the City, was suppressed by Henry the Eighth. St. James’s Palace stands upon its site.

St. Mary Rouncevall or Runcevall, at Charing Cross, a hospital, suppressed as an alien House by Henry the Fifth, was refounded as a Brotherhood by Edward the Fourth, provided with new statutes for a Master, Wardens, Brethren, and Sisters by Henry the Seventh, and suppressed again by Edward the Sixth. Northumberland House, with its gardens, used to occupy exactly the Precinct of St. Mary Rouncevall. It was built, as Northampton House, in the year 1614.

Beside this House was a modest Hermitage, named after St. Catherine, founded by Edward the First (see also Appendix XI.).



We must not forget the Fraternities. There was not, I believe, a single Parish Church which had not its Fraternity. Except for purposes of war, when all marched under order of the King, the first attempt at union was the Parish Fraternity. The Parish Church has always been the natural centre round which gathered the temporal as well as the spiritual concerns of the Parish. The Fraternity, dedicated to the Patron Saint of the Parish, was a union of all for the protection of all: the members maintained those who were sick and old, educated and apprenticed the orphans, protected the widows, celebrated masses for the dead. They formed themselves into one family. How, then, do we find so many Fraternities belonging to separate trades? Two explanations are possible. One, that the parishes became entirely composed of men practising the same trade, with their families: the other that a large proportion of men engaged in one trade lived in the parish. In the former case, the Fraternity of the Parish Church became the Fraternity of one trade: in the other case it was reasonable that men carrying on the same trade should live as much together as possible, for convenience, use of tools, acquisition of raw material, and regulation as to production: that they should break off from one common parish Fraternity and constitute their own Fraternity for their own advantage.

Thus we have the Fraternity of St. Anthony, consisting of Pepperers; that of St. Nicholas, consisting of Parish Clerks; of Corpus Christi consisting of Cloth-workers; of St. George, consisting of Armourers; of St. John the Baptist, consisting of Merchant Taylors; and that of St. Mary, consisting of the Drapers. (See Appendix XII.)

In other words, the Companies did not spring out of the Fraternities: the union of men working at the same trade grew up slowly: the Fraternity was the first outward proof that such union had been formed: it consecrated the union. When the Company was finally formed, it only laid down as definite law what had been for many years a custom; the Fraternity was in no way touched by the new Charter; thus, the Religious side of the union went on and flourished until all such Fraternities were destroyed.


There were, however, other Fraternities. I find, in the fourteenth century, mention of over a hundred: of these, by far the larger number are the Parish Church Fraternities. Then there are the Trade Fraternities mentioned above, and those representing some form of religious fervour by which the Church provided an outlet for enthusiasts.

In St. Botolph’s Parish, Aldersgate, as remaining in February 1790.
From an old Engraving.

Such were the Fraternities of the Holy Cross, of the Light of the Holy Cross, of the Holy Trinity, of Jesus, of the Holy Ghost, of the Assumption of the Virgin, of the Resurrection of Christ. Annual services and processions, certain vows of abstinence and chastity, alms, some kind of outward decoration, distinguished the384 Brethren and helped to make life seem fuller of interest, and themselves of more importance. Meantime, the real importance of the Fraternities in the history of London is that they first showed the way to common action, and made the independence, the dignity, and the wealth of trade possible.

A Fraternity of importance was that of Aldersgate, originally a Hospital for the Poor. It was an Alien Foundation: therefore, on the suppression of all such Houses by Henry the Fifth, it was given, with the lands, to the Parish of St. Botolph’s, Aldersgate, and a Fraternity of the Holy Trinity took its place. This Fraternity had its own Chapel. It endured to the time of Henry the Eighth.

Close beside it was the Chapel of another small Religious body called the Chapel of Mount Calvary without Aldersgate.

Yet a third house outside Aldersgate was the Hospital of the Abbot of Walden, founded 15 Ed. II.

The Fraternity of St. James, Garlickhithe, was governed by rules which have been preserved by Stow:—

“In the Worship of God Almighty our Creator, and his Moder Saint Marie, and Allhallows and Saint James Apostle, a Fraternite is begon of gode Men in the Church of Saint James the Yer of our Lord 1375, for Amendement of her Lyves, and of her Sowls, and to nourish more Love among the Brethren and Sustrein of the Brederhede. And ech of theym had sworen upon the Book to performe the Pointes undernethe at her Power.

Fyrst, All who wisscheth, other schul be in the same Brederhede, they schul nothing of goodloos Conditions and Bering: and that he love God and holy Chirche, and his Neybours, as holy Chyrch maketh mencion.

Who that entreth in the same Fraternite, he shal geve at the Entrie to the common Box vi s. viiid.

The foreseid Brethrehede will, that there be Wardeyns thereof. Which Wardeyns shal gather the Quartridge of the Bretheren and Sustren, and trewelick yield her Account thereof every Yer once, to the Wardeyns that have been tofore hem of the Bretherhede, with other wysest of the Bretherhede.

Also the Bretheren and Sustren every Yer shul be clothed in Suyt and every Man pay for that he hath.

Also the Bretheren and Sustren, at one Assent in Suyt byforeseid shul every Yer commin hold togeder, for to nourish more Knowledg and Love, a Feast. Which Feast shal be the Sonday after the day of St. James Apostle, and every pay their xxd.

At four Tyme other once in the Yer two Shill. at firmast tofore the Day of the Account of the Maisters. So that the Wardeyn mowe her Account yelderlich, etc.

Every Brother or Suster that ben of the Fraternite, yf he be of Power, he shal geve somewhat in Maintenance of the Fraternite, what hym lyketh.

Also yf ther be in Bretherhede ony Riotour, other Contekour other soche by whom the Bretherhede might be enslaundered he shal be put out thereof, into Tyme that he have hym amended of the Defoults beforeseyd, etc.

Yf any of the forseid Bretherhede falle in soch Mischefe that he hath noght, ne for Elde other Mischefe of Feebleness helf himself: and have dwelled in the Bretherhede seven Yeres, and doen thereto al the Duties within the Tyme: every Wyk aftyr, he shal have of the common Box xiiiid. Terme of his Lyfe: but he be recoveryd of the Mischefe.

Also if any of the foreseid be imprisoned falsely by any other by false Conspiracie, and have noght for to fynd hym with, and have also ben in the Bretherhede seven Yeres, etc., he shall have xiiid. during his Imprisonment every Wyk.”

From the Illuminated Books of the Company. From Wadmore’s Some Account of the Worshipful Company of Skinners.

A larger image is available here.



Stow provides a list of Hospitals in the City and suburbs “that have been of old time and now presently (1598) are.”

“Hospital of St. Mary, in the parish of Barking church, that was provided for poor priests and others, men and women in the City of London, that were fallen into frenzy or loss of their memory, until such time as they should recover, was since suppressed and given to the hospital of St. Katherine by the Tower.

St. Anthony’s.

St. Bartlemew, in Smithfield.

St. Giles in the Fields, a hospital for leprous people.

St. John of Jerusalem, by West Smithfield, a hospital of the Knights of the Rhodes.

St. James in the Field, a hospital for leprous virgins of the City of London.

St. John at Savoy, a hospital for relief of one hundred poor people, founded by Henry VII., suppressed by Edward VI.: again new founded, and endowed, by Queen Mary.

St. Katherine, by the Tower of London.

St. Mary Within Cripplegate, a Hospital founded by William Elsing.

St. Mary Bethlehem, without Bishopsgate, was an hospital, founded by Simon Fitzmary.

St. Mary without Bishopsgate, a hospital and priory called St. Mary Spital.

St. Mary Rouncevall, by Charing Cross.

St. Thomas of Acon, in Cheap.

St. Thomas in Southwark.

A hospital there was without Aldersgate, a cell to the house of Cluny, of the French order, suppressed by King Henry V.

A hospital without Cripplegate, also a like cell to the said house of Cluny, suppressed by King Henry V.

A third hospital in Oldborne, being also a cell to the said house of Cluny, suppressed by King Henry V.


The hospital or almshouse called God’s House, for thirteen poor men, with a college, called Whittington College, founded by Richard Whittington.

Christ’s Hospital, in Newgate Market.

Bridewell, now an hospital, or house of correction, founded by King Edward VI., to be a workhouse for the poor and idle persons of the city, wherein a great number of vagrant persons be now set a-work, and relieved at the charges of the citizens. Of all these hospitals, being twenty in number, you may read before in their several places, as also of good and charitable provisions made for the poor by sundry well-disposed citizens.”

Londina Illustrata, published 1813 by Robert Wilkinson, No. 58 Cornhill.

The care of the sick, and especially of the helpless and incurable, is one of the first duties recognised by men when they begin to associate. Stow says that the hospital for leprous women at St. James’s existed from time immemorial. Leprosy is the most incurable of all diseases; it devours body and mind; it renders the unhappy victim helpless. The Lazar House, therefore, was very naturally founded before any other hospital. Those of London already mentioned were St. James’s on the site of the present Palace; and St. Giles’s, Holborn, founded by Matilda, Queen to Henry the First. To these were afterwards added, in the 20th387 year of Edward the Third, four Locks for lepers—viz. one in the Old Kent Road, one in the Mile End Road, one at Kingsland, and one at Knightsbridge; all, it will be observed, at a convenient distance from the city walls. In the reign of Edward the Fourth one William Pole, yeoman of the Crown, being afflicted with leprosy, founded a Hospital for lepers at Highgate. Three hundred years before this, King Stephen founded a Lazar House at Great Ilford in Essex, which still exists as an Almshouse.





3 Edward I
Nomina Wardarum, 1274Mod. Eng., 1897
Adrian, Joh’, Ward (see Walbrook)
Alv’nia, Anketili le Mercir de, Warda Farringdon Within and Without
Aunger’, Petr’, Warda Broad Street
Blakethorn’, Joh’is de Warda Aldersgate
Basing’, Thom’ de, Warda Candlewick
Bassieshagh, Warda de }
} Bassishaw
Blond, Rad’ le’ Ward }
Colemannestate, Warda de (see Meldeburn’)
Coventrie, Henr’ de, Warda Vintry
Douegate, Warda de Dowgate
Durham, Will’i de, Warda, alias Dinoll, Will’ de, Ward Bread Street
Edelmeton, Petri de, Warda Castle Baynard
Essexe, Wolmer’ de, Warda Billingsgate
Fabri, Rad’i, de Cornhill, Warda Lime Street
Fori, Warda Cheap
Frowyk’, Henr’ de, Warda Cripplegate, Within and Without
Hadestok, Symonis de, Warda Queenhithe
Hadestok, Will’i de, Warda Tower
Horn, Johannis, Warda Bridge Within
Langeburne, Warda de }
} Langbourn
Winton, Nich’ de, Ward }
Meldeburn’, Robert’ de, de Colemannestate, Warda }
} Coleman Street
Colemannestate, Warda de }
Norhampton, Joh’is de, Warda Aldgate
Portsok’ prioris de Cristesch’che extra Alegate Portsoken
Poter, Walter’ le, Warda Cornhill
Taillur, Ph’i le, Warda Bishopsgate
Walebrok’, Warda de }
} Walbrook
Adrian, Joh’, Ward }
Waleys, Henr’ le, Ward Cordwainer
Winton, Nich’ de, Ward (see Langbourn)


Order of Wards



(Supposed to be dated c. 1285-1286; from Calendar of Wills, Pt. i. p. 702)

The following is a copy of the earliest list of Aldermen of the City of London preserved among the records of the Corporation (Letter-Book A, fol. 116), together with the names of the wards they respectively represented. It is not dated, but there is good reason for conjecturing it to have been written circa 14 Edward the First [A.D. 1285-1286].

Nomina propria Wardarum Civitatis Londoniarum et nomina Aldermannorum

Warda Fori Stephanus Aswy
Warda de Lodgate et Neugate Willelmus de Farndon
Warda Castri Beynard Ricardus Aswy
Warda de Aldreidesgate Willelmus le Mazener
Warda de Bredstrate Anketinus de Betevile
Warda de Ripa regine Simon de Hadestok
Warda Vinetrie Johannes de Gisors
Warda de Douegate Gregorius de Rokesle
Warda de Walebrock Thomas Box
Warda de Colemanestrate Johannes filius Petri
Warda de Bassieshawe Radulphus le Blound
Warda de Crepelgate Henricus de Frowick
Warda de Candlewystrate Robertus de Basinge
Warda de Langeford Nicholaus de Wintonia
Warda de Cordewanerstrat