One remarkable friar in England chose Augustinian community life rather than the possibility of becoming the King of England. He was William of Monklane. He was born in Hereford, and joined the Augustinian priory (convento) nearby at Ludlow. There is good reason to believe he was a near relative of Humphrey de Bohun, the earl of Hereford and Essex.
The earl was the particular Humphrey de Bohun (the name was passed down in numerous generations) who financed the rebuilding of the Augustinian (Austin Friars) church in London, and was buried in it in 1361. The earls of Hereford and Essex had royal connections because Humphrey de Bohun, the fourth earl of Hereford and Essex, had wed Elizabeth, the daughter of King Edward I. In his last will and testament, Humphrey, the sixth earl of Hereford and Essex, made William his chief executor, and included some extraordinary provisions for him. By the year 1361 William was an Augustinian and a priest, and had been the earl’s confessor.
Humphrey was the grandson of King Edward I, and the cousin of the reigning king, Edward III. Humphrey was childless, and William of Monklane was apparently his close descendant and a potential contender for the throne of England should Edward III and Humphrey both die. William of Monklane, however, chose to become an Augustinian, to which decision his self-seeking relatives were bitterly opposed. He was the last of his family, meaning that there were no younger brothers who could be a candidate for royalty. Friends and members of the nobility pressed him to seek the royal path. His relatives would have dragged him from the Augustinians by force if necessary, but King Edward III ordered that William be permitted to choose the way of life he wanted. At the end of his novitiate year, he had to choose whether or not to take Augustinian vows, which were taken for life.
Photos (at right)Picture 1: Augustinian priest at Hammersmith parish, London, England.Picture 2: Young adults in Hammersmith parish recreation club. Picture 3: Augustinian priest and young adults in Hammersmith parish recreation club.
William chose Augustinian community. Possibly to remove him from distraction, he was sent to Saxony in Germany for his priestly training. One of his teachers there was Jordan of Saxony O.S.A., whose writings did more than those on any other fourteenth-century Augustinian to establish the identity adopted by the Augustinian Order for the late medieval period.
The exchange of Augustinian students between Saxony and England was not unusual during the fourteenth century, although that such a student – as in William’s case - not yet be a priest was less frequent. William was ordained a priest either in Germany or back in England sometime before 1361. Apparently he did not attain any academic degrees in Germany, for in his will of 1361 Humphrey de Bohun asked that William be granted the privileges of a master; had William a master’s degree, such privileges would have come to him automatically.
Speculation about William’s kingly prospects was promoted when Humphrey, the sixth earl of Hereford and Essex, died childless in 1361, and the earldom went to Humphrey’s nephew in a collateral branch of the family. In 1372 this seventh earl also died childless. By the death of the seventh earl, William would have had a legitimate claim to the throne of England, except by then he was by profession a life member of the Order of Saint Augustine. Had he not been an Augustinian and successfully sought royalty, he and not Henry Bolingbroke – who inherited the seventh earl’s wealth, was a grandson of King Edward III, a cousin of King Richard II, and succeeded the latter as King Henry IV in 1399 - would have succeeded King Richard II.
In 1364 it is possible that William of Monklane was Sub-Prior (i.e., second in charge) of the Augustinian Priory in London. Surprisingly, the date and place of his death and burial are unknown.In 1373 William was a member of the Augustinian Priory (convento) at Huntingdon, in the Diocese of Lincoln. In that year, it is recorded that he arranged that Mass be celebrated there daily at the altar of Saint Augustine for Queen Philippa, wife of King Edward III. In return, the king gave a weekly cartload of wood drawn by four horses, and King Henry IV reconfirmed this arrangement in 1406. During Monklane’s lifetime, the king in 1363 also gave permission for a very costly undertaking in relation to the Huntingdon Priory. This was the construction of an underground aqueduct which led in a straight line from a well near the old pesthouse (isolation quarters for those with infectious diseases) through the town to the priory. The wooden pipes were placed in a brick conduit, and this brickwork was still intact at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
For the Augnet photo gallery on Augustinian ministry in England, click here.