Of the thirty to forty houses that the Austin Friars established in England, Scotland and Wales between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries, the house at Winchester is chosen here for examination not because its pattern of establishment and development was particularly different to a host of other Augustinian houses in England (or elsewhere, for that matter), but because it can be taken as a general example of most of them.
Winchester is being used here partly to lay out a broader picture of the medieval English civil and ecclesiastical environment in which the Austin Friars operated. Therefore the general information included hereunder about the practices of the Austin Friars from the fourteenth century onwards apply broadly to other houses of the Austin Friars as well.
Located about 100 miles from London, Winchester has been a place of habitation continuously for over 2,000 years. It began as a Celtic hill fort, predating the Roman invasion of Britain in 43 B.C.. By the thirteenth century, it was an important centre of the wool trade, and of royal and ecclesiastical government.
At that time Winchester was a city of sufficient population and of administrative importance to attract houses of each of the four principal mendicant orders: Dominican, Franciscan, Carmelite and Augustinian (Austin Friars). The houses were named friaries by the Franciscans, and usually called priories by the other three principal mendicant orders. These residences and churches of the mendicant orders were often located on the edge of town, especially in the case of towns that were already long-established before the thirteenth-century mendicant phenomenon began.
This had already happened to the Augustinians, for example, in Florence, Italy and Toulouse, France. This fact was mutually advantageous for the mendicants and to newcomers to the town, as both were assisted by the cheaper land and housing rental prices in the suburbs. Even so, such a location was not as prestigious for a mendicant order as would have been a location inside the city walls and nearer to the town centre – a tempting factor that soon led the Austin Friars of Winchester to make an ill-advised error of judgment.
As well, such areas away from the ancient town centre were the localities where the churches and the ministry of the mendicant newcomers were most needed, rather than under the shadow of the famed Winchester Cathedral, where the bishop’s (diocesan) priests had already been serving for centuries. In Winchester, both the Dominican and Franciscan friaries were located within the city walls in densely-populated areas where artisans and labourers lived. The Dominican friars (known as Black Friars because of their black habits) arrived about 1230 and lived in a building between the Itchen and Busket Street.
Franciscan friars (called Grey Friars because of their grey habits) also arrived in Winchester about 1230 and lived near Eastgate. The number of Dominican and Franciscans friars locally always well exceeded the number of Carmelites and Augustinians, which was parallel with the statistical situation of these mendicant orders in relation to their numbers internationally.
Carmelite friars came to Winchester about fifty years after the Franciscans, in about 1278. They lived near St Michael's Church. When the Austin Friars arrived later again – sometime before 1300 - they settled in the southern suburbs just outside the city walls at Southgate, in modest dwellings. This Austin Friars' arrival in Winchester may have been somewhat earlier than numerous historians of recent decades have thought. They all overlooked the long and instructive document in the Close Rolls of 18th May 1352, which stated that the Austin Friars held a house on the outskirts of Winchester for over two hundred years.
Though this statement, no doubt, greatly exaggerated the age of the house, it points nevertheless to the friary's existence well before 1300, because none of the contestants of 1352 recalled of anyone occupying this house but the Austin Friars. It also shows a house well established because “many bodies of nobles and others lie buried (there), and others granted many goods for celebration of services for their souls.”
Until the Protestant Reformation all orders of mendicant friars had a certain following among the citizens, and small cash legacies were a routine feature in almost all of the medieval wills that survive in Winchester. The parish churches and the cathedral received by far the greater proportion of this generosity, but the various orders of friars were not overlooked. When for example John Baker died at Winchester in 1503, his cash legacies totalled two pounds, thirteen shillings and four pence, of which he gave about forty percent to the Church thus: 13s 4d (13 shillings and 4 pence) to his parish church of St Pancras in Winchester, and 3d 4d each to Winchester Cathedral, the Dominicans, Franciscans and Austin Friars.
As to preaching, some friars from time to time were engaged to serve in the parish churches, probably because of a shortage of diocesan priests. The nine friars taxed with the Winchester clergy in 1405-06 presumably had received stipends for work in parish churches. During 1302 Geoffrey Spiring of Farnham gave to the Austin Friars a small amount of land for the enlargement of their area outside Southgate, and in 1313 Hugh Tripacy granted them a plot of land, 12 perches long by 6 perches wide, adjoining their dwelling place, for its further enlargement.
In the same year Bishop Henry Woodlock (Bishop of Winchester, 1305-1316) gave the Austin Friars permission to have their church and cemetery blessed by any Catholic bishop, but this church either soon proved too small or was only a temporary chapel, because the next Bishop of Winchester (1316-1319), John de Sandale, in 1318 granted the blessing of the ground on which they intended to build their church. On 6th October 1318 he formally forbade them to bury there anyone except Austin Friars. Apparently the Friars believed they had such a right and, when the Friars exercised their right, the bishop then placed their church under interdict – meaning they were forbidden to offer the Sacraments there.
On 18 November 1318 the bishop removed the interdict when the Friars showed him the papal privilege whereby they could bury laity there. Privileges granted by popes and kings were robustly defended – and just as robustly challenged! Bishop John Stratford (Bishop of Winchester, 1323-1333), whom affairs of the state often kept away from the diocese, proved much more favourable to the Austin Friars than had his predecessor. In 1326 he granted to Prior Simon Scaleby O.S.A. and six of his confreres not only the faculties of the diocese (i.e., permission to preach and hear Confessions in his parish churches) but also asked his clergy to call on their services.
In 1332 he made the Austin Friar Benedict Icenus his suffragan bishop, while four years earlier (in July 1328) he had given them a lane which adjoined the city wall. The confirmation of this grant by the king in the same year describes the friary as near the Southgate. The lane was called Sevenetwychene, and was contiguous to their friary. It was described as being “a little without (outside of) the Southgate on the left hand on the way to Hampton.” This territory was known as the Soke (Soka)
This grant of land was confirmed by the king. The king was involved in this manner because, as king of the city, he had the right to tarrage, which was a tax on land and dwellings. When land was transferred from private ownership to possession by agencies of the church, the king could be asked to declare the property to be tarrage exempt henceforth. This pattern of progressive enlargement of an Order’s land holding – often by land donation - was a typical practice and was, for example, the means by which donors would greatly assist the expansion of the Order’s land ownership at its central Priories in both London and Dublin.
In 1306 the Austin Friars in Winchester had numbered thirteen members, and in 1317 had increased to twenty. Not all of the community would have been priests; some would still have been preparing for priesthood, while others had chosen the life of an Augustinian lay brother. That the Austin Friars in Winchester were increasing in number at this time is indicated by the fact that John de Sandale (Bishop of Winchester, 1316-1319) ordained to the priesthood three friars from the Austin Priory of Winchester; and his successor, Riguad de Asserio (Bishop of Winchester, 1320-1323), ordained another three.
This was an average of one additional Augustinian Friar in Winchester becoming a priest each year. A fourteenth-century bishop in England may have risen to promotion for the ability he displayed as a canon or dean of some church, but in a majority of cases he would have risen through the royal civil service. The king depended on clergy in large part for his trained officials. A lay chancellor of England was first appointed in 1340, but during the greater part of the fourteenth century the chancellor was a cleric.
These civil servants usually remained in minor orders for many years, while they were rewarded with canonries and benefices. They were frequently ordained to the priesthood only when through royal influence the Pope appointed them to a bishopric. It could well be suggested that English bishops of the day were more likely to be bureaucrats rather than saints.
When Bishop John de Sandale (mentioned above) was made Bishop of Winchester in 1316, he had been in the king’s service for many years, and already held two cathedral offices, eight prebends and ten rectories. Bishop Edingdon (below) had also been in the royal civil service, and had risen to the posts of Treasurer and Chancellor of England. Unlike the practice today, in medieval times each English Augustinian house was responsible for the recruitment and for the expense of the priestly education of its own candidates, even if it sent them to an Augustinian studium generale (an Augustinian international house of study) such as then existed in Oxford or Cambridge.
Furthermore, a candidate was obliged to join the nearest Augustinian house to his place of habitation, i.e., Austin Friars could not “poach” recruits who lived nearer to another Austin Friars community, and each Austin Friars house contained men raised in that general geographical vicinity similar to the situation in communities that were formed into the Order of St Augustine by the Grand Union of 1256, less than a century previously.
In June 1343, Pope Clement VI in Avignon instructed the Bishop of Winchester “to grant licence to the Prior and Austin Friars of Winchester to accept a manse in the city given them by Sir Oliver Bohun and Margaret, his wife, and thither to transfer themselves, and build a church and necessary offices; their place without Southgate being in a dangerous, lone and unfit site.”
Photos (at right): Picture 1: Queen Mary I (Tudor), a daughter of King Henry VIII. Picture 2: Philip II of Spain, who briefly was Mary's husband. Picture 3: Winchester Cathedral, where Mary & Philip wed in 1554.The description of the Southgate property as a dangerous, lone and unfit site was possibly exaggerated. The Austin Friars must have communicated it to the pope to bolster their justification in desiring a change of address. As it happened, thirty-four years earlier in January 1309 the Augustinians in Toulouse, France used the same reasoning in successfully petitioning the Pope Clement V (1305-1314) to be permitted to move from the Matabiau district, which was outside of the walls of the city. Its position there was small and unhealthy, and stank because of the nearby sewers of the town. The Augustinians in Toulouse requested papal permission to buy land inside the city walls to build a new monastery (convento). This authorisation was granted on 28th October 1310 under the patronage of the Bishop of Toulouse, Gailhard de Pressac. In this case, the local bishop agreed with the proposal, whereas in Winchester the local bishop protested when in a similar situation.
The Bishop of Winchester protested that the old church site at Southgate had been deserted by the Austin Friars, contrary to the expectations of those who had made bequests in order to be buried there. The Bohun surname of the donor of the proposed city property in Winchester had already appeared in the history of the Austin Friars. In about 1252, Humphrey de Bohun, who was High Sheriff of England, the Earl of Hereford and Essex, an ex-Crusader, and a blood relative of the king, had donated land for the house of the Austin Friars in London, and one of his descendants would make a substantial bequest to the Austin Friars Church that commenced construction there in 1354.
To give an example of tarrage, which terminology was mentioned above: the city property offered by Sir Oliver Bouhn to the Austin Friars was assessed as worth forty pounds, and carried the annual encumbrances of a tarrage (land tax) of 3s 7d (three shillings and seven pence) payable to the king, 4s and one pound of pepper to Mottisfont Priory, and 10s to the Cathedral. It was assessed as having had a rental value of 26s 8d. In an era before the predominance of automatically-deducted payroll tax, imposts such as property taxes and taxes in kind were much more in vogue.
The bishop had a number of valid arguments for opposing this Augustinian removal from the Southgate area. The site of this proposed new Austin Friars house and church was opposite the parish church of St Michael in a thoroughfare called College Mead, and also was near the Carmelite church. The Bishop of Winchester had reason to be concerned about the positioning and number of friars’ churches because of their potential impact on the income of his parish churches.
He could suggest that the area had no need for an additional church.The transfer to this city site attracted the Austin Friars for their own sense of prestige and possibly for their financial prospects, but would it advantage the spiritual prospects of the people, and would it also disadvantage the livelihood of the other clergy nearby? In the face of this papal directive to the local Austin Friars with which he did not agree, the bishop adopted one of the only tactics immediately available to him. He delayed in approving it, and sought means to bring his concerns to bear in order to cause the alteration or the nullification of the papal decision.
And then the bishop received another shock. In May 1346 the Prior of Austin Friars at Winchester received the pope's sanction to lease out their Southgate site and to proceed immediately to the new site without any longer awaiting the consent of the diocesan bishop. And this is what the Austin Friars did – supported by the pope, but against the will of the Bishop of Winchester and without permission of the king. An act of God then intervened – the Black Death of 1348, which during the following three years killed between two and six million people in England, between 30-60% of the entire population.
It has been estimated that 40% of England's priests died in the epidemic. This left a large gap, which was hastily filled with underqualified and poorly-trained applicants. In turn, this accelerated a decline in church power and influence in England that ultimately helped to precipitate England’s Protestant Reformation. It is not know how many Austin Friars in Winchester were victims of the Black Death, but its effect on their rate of priestly ordinations has been deduced. Whereas between September 1346 and June 1348 (i.e., immediately before the Black Death), Bishop Edingdon ordained four Austin Friars to the priesthood, he then only ordained two more Austin Friars before his death in 1366, and these two were in 1358. In other words, there were no Augustinian ordinations in Winchester for ten years after the Black Death struck.
The ordination rate of the Austin Friars in Winchester had dropped dramatically from one a year before the Black Death to only two in the seventeen years immediately afterwards. This probably did not even allow for the replacement of the number of local Austin Friars who fell victim to the Black Death. The available statistics for the Dominican, Carmelite and Franciscan houses in Winchester over this period are very similar in pattern to the Augustinian experience.
This decreased ordination rate seems to make it all the more remarkable that the Austin Friars persisted with their intention of moving within the city walls of Winchester, but possibly by then, financially speaking, their die had been cast. Was this transfer made even more so by the enticing reduction in land prices that resulted from the severe decline in population during the Black Death? The answer to this intriguing question is unknown.
Bishop William Edingdon led the Diocese of Winchester in 1346-1366, and his register shows that he was a careful administrator, and one without any evident bias against the mendicant orders. He later declined to be Archbishop of Canterbury, preferring to remain at Winchester. In the hierarchy of state appointments, he was successively Treasurer (1350) and Chancellor (1357) of England. For the Austin Friars to be waging a battle of wills in 1850 against their bishop who was also Treasurer of England was potentially foolhardy indeed.
The Austin Friars had given Bishop Edingdon no notice of their intention to abandon the site at Southgate that they had occupied for many previous decades, nor had they asked him to bless the new church which they were building within the city's walls. Determinedly, the Austin Friars took more provocative action again. Taking advantage in the decline in land values after the Black Death, they acquired five adjacent properties so as to enlarge their new site, demolished buildings and erected new ones. They consecrated a church there, and enclosed the precinct with a wall.
Not unnaturally, the bishop was indignant at these series of events. His disquiet was even greater when he was informed that the friars had abandoned their former church, thus exposing to neglect and unseemly treatment the graves of those whose remains had been laid to rest within its walls. Bishop Edingdon’s register contains a document, dated 23rd November 1351, in which he protested most vigorously against the action of the friars, and solemnly forbade people of his diocese from seeking burial within the walls of the new church of the Austin Friars.
The bishop could see that a legal protest was possibly going to be more effective than an ecclesiastical one, i.e., to enlist the support of the king rather than to challenge the pope. Bishop Edingdon succeeded in having the king’s land tax tribunal investigate the case. The king’s officials officially determined that, because the Austin Friars’ old site was adequate for their purposes, their acquisition of the six properties near the High Street in the City had caused an unnecessary decrease of tax income and of other dues to the Crown, and thus should be avoided.
As a result, in February 1352 King Edward III – one of the most successful English monarchs in the Middle Ages - confiscated the Austin Friars’ new property.Furthermore he issued an order requiring them to forfeit to the citizens of Winchester those houses, places, and tenements which they had recently acquired without his royal licence. Here was an example of the three-way conflict of various rights and prerogatives belonging to the Crown, the papacy and the local bishop. The Pope could permit a religious order to set up a new house and church, but that could not happen if the king did not permit the desired parcel of land to pass tax-exempt to the religious order in question, and the bishop could attempt to forbid members of his diocese from attending the church.
A tangled web could soon occur if a religious order attempted to operate too far outside of standard procedures and common practices. In this particular situation, the will of the king prevailed, and the Austin Friars lost badly. The bishop had made his point by allowing the king to intervene decisively. King Edward III granted these properties to the City, in consideration of the waste and depression which the citizens had suffered as a consequence of the Black Death. The whole matter had proved literally to be a costly error on the part of the Austin Friars.
This decision, the only one of its kind in the history of the English Augustinian Province, proved to be the death blow to the ambitions of the Austin Friars in Winchester. It broke their back financially and condemned them to a mediocre future because their old location was one “of vast solitude and far removed for the practice of piety.” Not a single royal document mentions them again up to the time of dissolution of monasteries in 1538.
This decision in 1352 might have been quite different if both the Augustinian Provincial and the Prior of Winchester had attended the royal land court and done their duty. But even more damaging than the failure of the superiors was the fact, that William Edendon, the bishop of the city, was the king's treasurer and that the finances of the realm had suffered too much from the Black Death. The exaggerated tenor of the decision suggests that the judge was only too willing to cooperate with the bishop by giving the Austin Friars a disproportionately harsh verdict.
Such irregular actions as the Winchester Augustinians had attempted were not uncommon at this period, and the King seemed usually to have granted a belated permit once the friars had found a favourable opportunity for stating a reasonable case. In this case, however, it was judged that the Augustinians had pressed too far ahead; to obtain papal approval was not an absolute carte blanche in relation taking action, especially when a concomitant episcopal and royal approval had not then been forthcoming.
Well before the English Reformation, the action also highlights, at a time when there was an undivided Christian Church in England, the close link between the king and the episcopacy, in that almost all bishops had previously trained in the royal civil service. It thereby makes less dramatic and less wide the later step by English bishops to accept the king rather than the pope as head of the Church in England.
Just as depressing as this bitter loss of property in Winchester was the divided Augustinian Provincial election in Winchester in 1419, which gave the English Province two Provincials and split it into two warring camps- an eerie parallel to the Great Western Schism that had just ended. In great contrast, the Provincial Chapter held at Winchester on 23rd July 1453 proved very peaceful. It saw the unanimous election of John Capgrave O.S.A., who became the most profilic the author in the history of the English Province. No doubt chastened and financially poorer by the King’s confiscation of their city property in 1352, the Austin Friars continued in Winchester.
From 1453 to 1457, Capgrave oversaw thirty-four Augustinian houses in England and Ireland, with a total of over 500 members. He was well travelled, a doctor of theology, and the most prolific writer of all English Augustinians, although the vast majority of his works are no longer extant. His Chronicle of England of 1464 is a key work in fifteenth-century English historiography. Another century closer to the present time, Winchester Cathedral was the venue of the royal wedding of the Catholic Queen Mary I (daughter of King Henry VIII) and Philip II (later King of Spain and instigator of the Spanish Armada in 1588). Their arranged political and dynastic marriage took place in Winchester Cathedral on 25th July 1554, just two days after they first met.
Philip had known the Augustinians in Spain, and was unsuccessfully contacted at Brussels (after quickly quitting England) in September 1555 by Sebastigo Toscano O.S.A., who was an intermediary of the Augustinian Prior General regarding the restoration of the Order in England after its complete dissolution there fifteen years earlier by Henry VIII in 1538.
The Austin Friars’ Winchester house endured until the dissolution of monasteries by King Henry VIII in 1538. The following is the meagre inventory of the goods of the Austin Friars at Winchester that was taken at the time of the dissolution of the house:
Md this stuffe under wryttyn ys praysed by Mayster Burkyn, alderman of Wynchester and Mayster Knyght at the mayorys assygnacion by ye syght of the kynges vysytor under the lorde privye seal for ye kynges grace the whyche longyd to the austen frearys, that is to say: iiij great candelstykes ij small, a stop (sic) and copper crosse about an C and an halffe, vjs. viijd.; Wyll'm Alen berebrewar axythe for bere; iiij aulter clothys, ijs. iiijd.; ij payntyd clothys, xd.; a sensor, xyjd.; iiij antepaynys, xxd.; a surpples and a rochet, viijd.; vj coupys, xiijs. iiijd.; ij towellys, ijd.; a myeter, jd.; ij small crossys coveryd with sylver, iijs. iiyd.; a banner clothe, viijd.; ij quysshons, xijd.; iiij corporasys with the casys, xvjd.; a sute of grene wantynge an albe, vs.; viij vestymenttes with ther albes, xxs.; a crosse and a laten baason and a paxe, iiijs.; ij deske clothys, xd.; viij lent clothys, iijs. viijd.; iij chests, ijs.; a paxse, ijd.; iij fether beedes and a bolster, ixs.; ij coverys, vjd.; iiij brasse pottes and ij panys, xvjs.; ij cobyrons a trevet a pothooke a hoke eyaryn (iron), xviijd.; a bason, ij coverys, ij borddes, xxd. Summa vli. vijs. ixd.
There were debts on the house to the amount of 27s. None of the Austin Friars at Winchester wanted to leave the Augustinian Order, and asked to be transferred to other houses; that, however, was not possible because all houses were to be suppressed. In March 1539 the Austin Friars priory and site of 1.7 acres at Winchester was leased to John Incenti for 14s 4d (14 shillings and four pence), and then in 1543 all three mendicant friaries in the city were granted to Winchester College (St Mary's College).
For further reading
The English Austin Friars 1249 – 1538 (Vol 1 & Vol II) by Francis Roth O.S.A. (Augustinian Historical Institute, New York: 1966 & 1961 respectively).
Link From: 'Friaries: Austin friars of Winchester', A History of the County of Hampshire: Volume 2 (1973), pp. 192. http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=38114