An Augustinian foundation at Oxford in 1267 came on the heels of the establishment of the Augustinian Province of England in 1265. A foundation followed at Cambridge most likely followed not long before the year 1289, and was situated approximately where Corpus Christi College stands in Cambridge today.
The Order of Saint Augustine (often called the Austin Friars in England) eventually occupied all the land in Cambridge between Peas Hill on the north, Pembroke Street on the south, Free School Lane on the west and Corn Exchange Street on the east. Some of the Cambridge medical schools were later built on this former Augustinian property.
The Augustinian General (international) Chapter at Rimini, Italy in 1318 then legislated that both Oxford and Cambridge were always to have two masters of theology present, as was required at the longer-established Augustinian studium generale in Paris. The General Chapter simultaneously paid great honour to both Oxford and Cambridge by granting them the same status as Paris.
As well, it gave Cambridge the same recognition as the slightly older Augustinian foundation at Oxford. Comparative numbers for the Augustinian priories at Oxford and Cambridge in the fourteenth century show that Oxford had about fifty students in both 1305 and 1377, while Cambridge had thirty-six in 1297, but this had doubled to seventy in 1326. Records indicated that the Austin Friars were active throughout the Cambridge district in 1340, and that their church apparently was either repaired or enlarged in 1356.
The numbers of Augustinians at the Order’s studia (study houses) in both Oxford and Cambridge benefited from the Great Western Schism (1378-1414), when Continental Augustinian Provinces of the Roman Obedience stopped sending students to Paris (which was situated within the rival Avignon Obedience). For the positive effect of the Great Schism on Augustinian enrolments of Continental Europeans at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, click here.
But because the universities at Oxford and Cambridge had a rule that only one religious of an Order could be promoted to Doctor of Divinity each two years, the influx of foreign students declined as new universities were established on the Continent. Augustinian enrolments at Bologna and Padua soon surpassed those at the English universities. How many Augustinians undertook higher studies at Cambridge and Oxford? A survey of the data in A.B. Emden's two biographical registers of the universities at Oxford and Cambridge offers some light on this subject prior to the year 1500. These two monumental works, A Biographical Register of the University of Oxford to 1500, 3 vols. (Oxford, 1957-1959) and A Biographical Register of the University of Cambridge (Cambridge, 1963), include notices of some 434 Augustinian friars.
(This number was arrived at by reducing the combined total of 212 at Cambridge and 224 at Oxford by the twenty-two whose names were either repeated in the Oxford volumes — Abyndon, de Venezia, de Lucca, Hervy, and Schwarzenberg — or whose names occur in the registers of both universities — Berewyck, Newbigging, Herford, Godwick, Owenby, Cressall, Constant, Colchester, Marpes, Benit, Sharyngton, Thomas Penketh, Galyon, Curteys, Thwaytes, Rose, Toneys.) Of these, 135 received the magisterium, the doctorate in theology. The proportion completing the degree reached nearly fifty per cent in the generation immediately prior to that of the noted author and historian John Capgrave O.S.A. (thirty-five of seventy-six English Austin Friars between 1360 and 1400).In addition, none of the 66 foreign Augustinian friars — primarily Italian and German — appears before 1358 (i.e., effectively before the Great Western Schism closed to them the option of attending the Augustinian stadium generale in Paris), and there are only seventeen of them at Oxford or Cambridge after the beginning of the fifteenth century (when even some English Augustinians had begun attending new universities in southern Continental Europe). By 1427 Augustinian attendance at both Oxford and Cambridge had dropped, and Englishmen were able to take the places there that previously had been reserved for foreigners.
The Austin Friars were active in the disturbances involving the town and the university of Cambridge in 1413. It was alleged that Thomas Cressale, the local Prior of the Austin Friars (and seven years later the English Augustinian Provincial), and Henry Stokton, an Austin Friar in his community, had encouraged riotous students to insult and threaten the mayor of Cambridge. Cressale was subsequently arrested.
During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the Augustinian Priory at Cambridge provided a good service in educating Augustinians from England and the Continent to the doctoral level. Its sixteenth-century attraction to the Protestant Reformation should not deny it recognition for its labour of the two previous centuries.
Thomas Penketh O.S.A., born in Warrington, was the closest to an internationally celebrated scholar that the University of Cambridge had produced up to the end of the fifteenth century. He obtained his doctorate in theology at Cambridge in 1469, and was Provincial of the Austin Friars in 1469-1472. In 1474 he won a public chair of theology at Padua, then the most famous university in Christendom. At Padua he lectured on metaphysics and edited some of the writings of Duns Scotus, copies of which still exist. Penketh has the distinction of being the only Augustinian named in a play by William Shakespeare. (For his full biography on Augnet, click here.)
The Pope granted the sale of a Plenary Indulgence in 1494 to the Cambridge Priory of the Austin Friars for ten years. These spiritual indulgences were promoted as remissions from punishment after death for sins committed before death. They were sold as a method of raising money, and the revenue was shared between the Pope and the Austin Friars. Rather than be financially enriched by the poorly-timed scheme of attempting to sell plenary indulgences, the Cambridge Priory was impoverished.
From the first stirrings of the Reformation in Germany in 1493, Cambridge had connections with it. Robert Barnes, an Austin Friar from Lynn, had been studying on the Continent at Louvain from 1514 to 1521. This was at the same time as when another Augustinian, Johann von Staupitz O.S.A. was the head of the Faculty of Theology at the University Wittenberg and a friend of Martin Luther.
Barnes was one of the first persons in England to publicly side with Martin Luther. The Augustinian Priory in Cambridge thus became a nursery for Reformation influence in England once Barnes with Lutheran leanings studied there for his degree of Doctor of Divinity during 1522-23. This was also the period that the Provincial Chapter in Wittenberg of the Augustinians of Saxony formally sided with Luther’s theses. At the insistence of Thomas Cromwell, the most powerful layman in the circle of King Henry VIII, Barnes was made a doctor of divinity at Cambridge without having to fulfil the teaching requirements usually involved. Soon after this, he was made Prior of the Austin Friars at Cambridge.
Barnes and his fellow-Augustinian Miles Coverdale (see below) attracted a following of young scholars who were partial to Lutheran thought, among which group were a number of Austin Friars. The group met at the White Horse Inn in Bumstead, Essex, which became described as Little Germany because of the Reformation doctrines discussed there. On Christmas Eve in 1525 Barnes preached Lutheran opinions in the local St Edward’s Parish Church, Cambridge. As a consequence, he was brought before Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and charged with heresy.
Placed in Fleet Street Prison, he recanted after two months. Transferred to the Austin Friars prison in London, he repeated Lutheran propaganda, and was sent to the Austin Friars prison in Northampton. Wolsey decided to have him burnt at the stake, but Barnes escaped his imprisonment and fled back to the Continent. Later he returned to the royal favour for helping to negotiate the marriage of Henry VIII to Anne of Cleves. Later again he was arrested for further intemperate behaviour and polemical preaching. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London without trial, and burnt at the stake at Smithfield (London) on 30th July 1540, for reasons that are still unclear.
From the city of York, Miles Coverdale, who was subsequently important in the translation of the Bible into English, was another Augustinian in Cambridge who had actively supported Barnes as a participant at Little Germany. Ordained an Augustinian priest in 1514, he had been Barnes’ secretary at the time of the latter’s trial for heresy. Coverdale was in correspondence with Thomas Cromwell in 1527, preached a sermon against images in 1528, and then left the Austin Friars and fled England. He returned to his homeland after the dissolution of the monasteries and was one of the best-known Reformers during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
More cautious than Barnes, his former Prior, Coverdale succeeded in avoiding serious danger throughout the course of his long life. By his translation of the Bible into English, he can perhaps claim to have exercised a greater influence on the religious thought of England than any other Augustinian.
When the general Dissolution of the monasteries and friaries of England was being carried out by King Henry VIII in 1538-39, there was at Austin Friars in Cambridge only the Prior of the time, John Hardyman O.S.A., and three other friars – John Barber, Thomas Watson and Thomas Norley - to add their signatures to the deed of surrender of this Augustinian property to the Crown. As with other monasteries, the other members of the community had seen the inevitability of their being evicted without compensation. They thus had not waited there for this inevitable step, but had departed at an earlier time of their own choosing. (For more details in Augnet’s coverage of the English Reformation, click here.)
The original royal visitors (i.e., the king’s inspectors) had sold the bells, but there was still some lead remaining in the roofing, in spite of earlier sales by Prior John Hardyman and his predecessor as Prior, the unscrupulous and mendacious George Browne O.S.A.. Hardyman wanted to buy the friary for his own use, and stayed there for a number of years as its caretaker on behalf of the king. In 1544, however, the officials of the king sold the property to George Keynesham, who probably was the one who in 1545 sold the slate from the Austin Friary for use on the steeple of Great St Mary’s Church, which caused the deterioration of the former Austin Friary, and the demolition of large sections of it.
Keynesham sold the property to John Hatcher, professor regius of physics at Cambridge, who then occupied the property until his death in 1587. Hatcher’s heirs divided the property, one section for a free grammar school, and the other for an almshouse. In 1636 Thomas Buck, a university printer, set up his printing shop in a large room in the former Austin Friary - possibly the refectory, infirmary or a guest area. After Buck had died, William Cole his nephew demolished the formert printery in 1746; it had been the final architectural remnant of the Austin Friars’ structure in Cambridge. A brickhouse was built in its place.
The remainder of the former Austin Friars' site came into the possession of Dr Richard Wagner in 1760, who in 1762 presented it to the university, which used it for its (old) botanical gardens. Towards the end of the nineteenth century the university acquired most of the remainder of the original Austin Friars’ site. Shortly before its dissolution, the library of the Austin Friars in Cambridge was known to have contained five works by William of Ockham and two by John Capgrave O.S.A., the famous Austin Friar of Lynn, England. The only book known to have survived from this library is now at Trinity College, Dublin, It is a book that was written in Cambridge by Adam de Stockton in 1375.
In Augustinian history the studium generale at Paris will always be considered superior to those at Oxford and Cambridge because the fame of the Order in Scholastic theology stemmed from Paris, ("the fountain of all knowledge"). The works of the Parisian Augustinian masters are found in comparatively large numbers in English libraries, but not so those of their English-educated counterparts. For example, Prior General Ambrose Massari de Cori O.S.A., who published the first printed chronicle of the Order, mentions only one English master: Thomas Penketh O.S.A.. Officially, however, these three Augustinian studia generalia were put on an equal basis.
As early as at the Augustinian General Chapter that was held at Paris in 1318, it was agreed that two masters and two bachelors should always be present at each of these three theological schools. In 1359 it was ordained that England, despite its tremendous advantage over other provinces could send students to Paris like any other province and that its students should also be entitled to fifty florins from the common fund on condition that they actually obtained the magisterium (doctorate).
When the fame of Bologna and Padua surpassed that of the three older universities, and other Italian universities then became their equals, ambitious English Augustinian students attended in ever greater numbers these southern centres of learning, but few attained the magisterium. Johannes de Anglia O.S.A. obtained it in Bologna about 1370, and Robert Malpas O.S.A. at Rome in 1439, Robert Stocton O.S.A. and John Halam O.S.A. at Naples in 1456.
Augustinian Canons RegularIt should be kept in mind that many Internet links to an “Augustinian Priory” in Cambridge refer to the Priory of the Canons Regular of Saint Augustine, which is a religious congregation that was always completely separate from the Order of Saint Augustine. Founded two centuries before the Order of Saint Augustine, the Canons Regular first moved to Cambridge in 1092 at St Giles, which was near the castle. Their priory in Cambridge was relocated in 1112 to Barnwell (the “Barnwell Priory”), situated on land next to the royal estate of King Henry I at Chesterton.
There were initially six Augustinian Canons there; however, by the time of the dissolution of the Barnwell Priory by Henry VIII in 1538 the number had grown to fifteen canons and sixteen secular members. Their buildings were demolished, and most of the stone was used for college buildings. The name of this Priory survives in the Abbey ward of the Cambridge City Council, Abbey Road, Abbey Pool, the Priory Primary School and Abbey Stadium. Membership of the Canons Regular of Saint Augustine was always more numerous in England than was that of the Order of Saint Augustine, and it was usual that both of these quite distinct Augustinian groups settled in the larger towns. AN4207