Greyfriars, London

From The Logic Museum

Jump to: navigation, search
Blue plaque marking the site of the London Greyfriars

The London Greyfriars was a Franciscan friary that existed from 1225 to 1538 on a site at the North-West of the City of London by Newgate in the parish of St Nicholas in the Shambles. It was the second Franciscan religious house to be founded in the country.[1] The establishment included a conventual church that was one of the largest in London; a studium or regional university; and an extensive library of logical and theological texts. It was an important intellectual centre in the early fourteenth century, rivalling only Oxford university in status. Members of the community at that time included William of Ockham, Walter Chatton and Adam Wodeham. It flourished in the fourteenth and fifteenth century, but was dissolved in 1538 at the instigation of Henry VIII as part of the dissolution of the monasteries. Christ's Hospital was founded in the old conventual buildings, and the church was rebuilt completely by Christopher Wren as Christ Church Greyfriars after the original church was almost completely destroyed in the Great Fire of London. The building currently standing on the site, designed by Arup, is currently occupied by Merrill Lynch International.

It was named after the Franciscans' practice of wearing grey religious habits.



View of the Greyfriars from the West as imagined by H.W. Brewer in 1895

The Friars Minor first arrived in England in September 1224, on the Tuesday after The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin. They settled in London in the summer of 1225, after John Iwyn, a wealthy businessman, bought a plot of land for them in the parish of St. Nicholas in the Shambles, then the butchers' quarter.[2] The land was just inside the city wall, which at that time was next to open country.[3] Three years later, Joce Fitz Piers gave the Grey Friars his property in Stinking Lane.[4] In 1229, King Henry III gave the Minorite Friars of London oak to build their house. By 1243 there were eighty friars in residence, and by 1258 they had extended the site on the North and West side. The original church was built with money provided by William Joyner, (mayor of London in 1239), who built the chapel and also gave two hundred pounds towards the cost of other buildings. Kingsford concludes from the sums of money spent on building work in this period that friary would have been "of a modest kind".[4]

Further work began on the church towards the end of the 13th century. Henry le Waleys (d. 1302), another mayor of London, is supposed to have built the nave, and given timber for the altars. In 1301–1302 Queen Marguerite of France (second wife of Edward I) spent 60 marks on land in the parish of St. Nicholas for the Grey Friars. The Choir was built on this site. She funded the construction of the church, spending 2,000 marks on the work before her death in 1318, at which point it was still unfinished. Queen Isabella of France, wife of Edward III (r. 1327–1377), was responsible for completing the work, spending around £700[4]. Built in the Gothic style it was completed in 1348, and was the second-largest in medieval London, measuring 300 ft by 89 ft.[5] It had at least 11 altars. It became a favourite burial place for those of high rank and status. Marguerite was buried there, as was Isabella of France, widow of Edward II, and it contained the heart of Eleanor of Provence, wife of Henry III of England.

The monastery was dissolved in 1538 by Thomas Chapman, an agent of Thomas Cromwell. On 12th of November the house signed a deed of surrender, probably composed by Chapman. The Friars were made to confess that

"the perfeccion of Christian liuyng dothe not conciste in...weryng of a grey cootte, disgeasing our selffe aftyr straunge fassions, dokynge, nodyngs and bekynge, in gurdyng our selffes wythe a gurdle full of knots, and other like Papisticall ceremonyes"[6]

After the Surrender some of the houses on the site were converted for private use, and the church was closed, and used as a store-house for treasure looted from the French. In 1547, the king gave the church, the buildings called "le Fratrye," "le Librarye," "le Dorter," and "le Chapterhouse," and the ground called "le Great Cloyster," and "le Little Cloyster" to the City of London. The church, now called Christ Church Greyfriars was to be church of a new parish formed by joining St. Nicholas and St. Ewen. It was re-opened on 30th January, 1547.[7] It was destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Christ's Hospital School was founded for orphans in some of the old friary buildings in 1553 by Edward VI.

The Library


The north side of the Great Cloister was occupied by Whittington's Library, which escaped destruction in the Fire and survived in a somewhat mutilated condition till 1827. It is said to have been 129 feet long and 31 feet broad;[8] this shows that its east end was flush with the east wall of the east side of the Cloister, as its west end was at the north-west inner corner of the Cloister. The "Repertory Book" records that there were twenty-eight desks and settles in the Library, "and also there be certain old books upon the said desks".

The antiquary John Leland (c.1503 – 1552), was authorised by Henry VIII in 1533 to examine the libraries of the religious houses in England and spent the next few years visiting them before they were dissolved, listing significant or unusual books in their libraries. According to Kingsford, Leland's list of manuscripts in the Grey Friars library [9] was not intended to be exhaustive, his practice usually being to record only historical works, and works by English writers. The list is below, containing many scholastic treatises, including a number by Ockham.

According to Kingsford, the list omits the Commentaries of Nicholas de Lyra in two volumes, and the Lectura domini Hostiensis (Henricus Bartholomeus de Segusia - ?), which were purchased in Wynchelsey's time, as well as the only volume from the Greyfriars Library which has so far been identified, Royal MS., 4 D. iv., at the British Museum. The first page of the MS has the note, "ll. 29, Postilla Bertrandi super Evangelia. Iste liber est de Conventu fratrum Minorum London" Its contents are

  1. Postilla Bertrandi super Evangelia. ff. 1–226. By the French Franciscan theologian Bertrand de Turre (c.1262-1332).
  2. De Viciis, ff. 226–243 by John of Wales (Johannes Wallensis).
  3. Penitencia, ff. 244–262 by the same.
  4. De Regimine Principum, ff. 262–348 by Aegidius Romanus

The register of the convent suggests that the Library must have had a copy of Thomas of Eccleston, De Adventu Fratrum and probably also the Chronica of Friar Richard of Durham. :"Stow speaks of "an old book written by one friar Jones, in the Greyfriars Library"; he quotes from it an account of the feast at Goldsmith's Hall in 1503; so it was probably historical. These last names indicate that Leland's list was not exhaustive even of historical works, and works by English writers."

In bibliotheca Franciscanorum Londini

  • Vita S. Edwardi martyris, ignoto autore.
  • Historia Ivonis Carnotensis[10], inc. Assyriorum igitur rex.
  • Sigeberti[11] monachi historia.
  • Chronica Martini. [12]
  • Alexander de S. Albano (Necham) de naturis rerum.[13]
  • Lincolniensis super Libros Dionysii de Hierarchia.
  • Floriloquium Philosophorum, Fratris Joannis Walensis[14].
  • Nicolaus Trivet super libros Augustini de Civitate Dei.[15]
  • Sermones festivales Holkoti, inc. Erunt signa in sole.
  • Collectiones Wallensis[16] super Mattheum, inc. Tria insinuantur.
  • Collectiones eiusdem super Leviticum[17], inc. Immolabit vitulum.
  • Sermones festivales fratris Thomas Winchelse, inc. Omnis qui audit.
  • Alexander de S. Albano,[18] cog. Necham, super Cantica Canticoum, sive in opus epithalamicum, inc. Humilitas vera.
  • Holcot super librum sapientiae.[19]
  • Notingham super unum ex quatuor,[20] inc. Da mihi intellectum.
  • Lathbiri[21] super Librum Trenorum.
  • Wallis[22] super Psalterium, inc. Beatus qui custodit.
  • Adam Wodham Franciscanus super Cantica Canticorum: vir scholasticus.
  • Costesey[23] super Psalmos usque ad Psalmum Nonne Deo 168.
  • Pastoralia[24] fratris Joannis Wallensis, doctoris Parisiensis.
  • Postillae Alexandri de Hales super Job, inc. Dicitur in Psalmos.
  • Expositio Wallensis[25] super Valerium ad Rufinum de non ducenda uxore, inc. Loqui prohibeor. [26].
  • Opera Reverendi inceptoris Ockam Franciscani.
  • Opinio Wiclivi de Universalibus.
  • Winchelsei[28] super Logicum stilo scholastico.
  • Rhetorica Aristotelis, Latine.
  • Wiford[29] de sacramento altaris, inc. Ratione solemnitatis.
  • Liber Rogeri Bacon Franciscani de retardatione accidentium senectutis et senii e conservatione quinque sensuum, inc. Cogito et cogitavi.
    • Antidotarium eiusdem.
  • Hic liber erat excisus, cum alio eiusdem autoris, ex cujus erasi tituli vestigiis suspicor fuisse de Universalibus.
  • Cowton[30] super Sententias, inc. Sic dicit beatus Ambrosius.
  • Bradwardein[31] de Caussa Dei.
  • Quolibeta Joannis Okam[32] inceptoris.
  • Idem de sacramento altaris.
  • Idem super Sententias.
  • Ware[33] super libros Sententiarum.
  • Peccham super Sententias.
    • Questiones Peccham de vanitate mundalium.
    • Itinerarium[34] eiusdem, non insulsus liber, inc. Confitebor tibi domine.
  • Suttoni[35] questio de unitate formae.
  • Ockami quaestio de pluralitate formae.[36]
  • Quaestiones Pecchami de sacramento altaris.
  • Holcoti lectura super Sententias.
  • Fizaker[37] super Libros Sententiarum.
  • Ricardus de Media villa super Sententias, inc. Abscondita produxit.


Plan of the Greyfriars in early 16th century. This is a reconstruction based on the article "The Church of the Friars Minors in London," The Archæological Journal 1902, by E. B. S. Shepherd, using the information contained in the first part of the Register

The site in 1238 would have had a narrow frontage on Stinking Lane, extending back some way westwards, with possibly an extension to the south onto Newgate Street. The original buildings probably stood on the ground given by Iwyn and Fitz Piers. Joyner's chapel ultimately became a great part of the Choir, probably standing where the All Hallows Chapel, on the north aisle of the eventual Choir, was built. The church was probably on the south-east corner of the site, and the other buildings at the north-west corner of the church, where the Cloisters were finally built.

The next purchases in 1251–1252 were of land and houses in Stinking Lane, valued at ten marks, and land with trees in St. Nicholas parish, valued at two marks. The following year, land in St. Ewen's parish was acquired for five marks. There were further additions of land in 1260-1 in Stinking Lane, including a donation of of land and houses from the Countess of Warwick.

In 1301 Queen Margaret acquired land and houses for them in St. Nicholas parish, valued at sixty marks, probably for the main site of the Choir of the church which she was preparing to build.


  • Simon Bradley, Nikolaus Pevsner, London: The City Churches, Architectural Guides: Buildings of England,Yale University Press 1998.
  • Charles Lethbridge Kingsford, The Grey Friars of London: their history with the register of their convent and an appendix of documents, Aberdeen University Press 1915 [1], hosted by British History online)
  • Leland, "List of manuscripts in the Library of the Grey Friars", Collectanea, iv., 49–51.
  • William Page(ed), "Friaries: The grey friars", in A History of the County of London: Volume 1: London within the Bars, Westminster and Southwark, 1909 [2], hosted by British History online
  • History of Newgate



  1. Christs Hospital, English Heritage
  2. Page pp502–507
  3. Kingsford p15
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Kingsford pp27–52
  5. Bradley/Pevsner, London: The City Churches p. 53.
  6. The letter of submission British History Online
  7. Kingsford pp15–27
  8. Trollope, History of Christ's Hospital, pp. 10, 105 (with illustration); Transactions of London and Middlesex Archæological Association, iv., 423.
  9. Collectanea, iv., 49–51
  10. Ivo of Chartres. The short chronicle generally ascribed to Ivo of Chartres, probably by Hugh of Fleury; see e.g. MSS. Merton College, 88, Magd. Coll. (Oxford) 84.
  11. Sigebert of Jembloux.
  12. Martinus Polonus (Martin of Troppau), Chron. Pontificum et Imperatorum.
  13. A popular work, interesting for mediaeval notions of natural science: printed in Rolls Series.
  14. Little, Greyfriars, 145: i. On philosophy in general; ii. On the name and profession of philosophers; iii. On the succession of illustrious philosophers and their life; iv. On the life and maxims of some less famous philosophers; v. Of divers philosophic perfections; vi. On the four principal sects of philosophers peripatetics, stoics, academicians, and epicureans; vii. On the seven liberal arts; viii. Poets and authors of apologues; ix. On the abuses of philosophy; x. On the places where philosophic studies have been most honoured (e.g. Paris and Oxford mentioned).
  15. Trivet's commentary was printed five times in the fifteenth century.
  16. Thomas Walleys the Dominican, id., lix., 122.
  17. In MSS. Merton College, 196, and New College, 30, the incipit of Thomas Wallensis, super Leviticum, is " Masculum (et) immaculatum".
  18. Tanner, Bibl. Brit., 540, gives several MSS.
  19. Printed in 1480, and many times afterwards.
  20. A Concordance of the Gospels by William of Nottingham the Provincial see p. 193 above.
  21. John Lathbury (fl. 1350), a Franciscan; see Little, Greyfriars, 236.
  22. Thomas Walleys, whose commentary on the Psalms was printed at Venice in 1611.
  23. Henry de Costesey (ft. 1336), a Franciscan; see id., 234. (See M. R. James, Cat. of MSS. in Christ's Coll., Cambridge, no. 11.)
  24. Formerly in Harley, 632
  25. John Walleys The incipit is that of the work itself, so does not help to identify the commentary.
  26. According to Little: "The ‘Expositio Wallensis super Valerium ad Rufinum de non ducenda Uxore,’ seen by Leland in the Franciscans' Library, London, may be Ridevall's".
  27. Leland distinguishes this from the Defensorium Logices, with which Tanner identified it. But it is known only from this reference (Little, Greyfriars, 233).
  28. Probably Thomas Wynchelsey
  29. William Woodford; see Little, Greyfriars, 247.
  30. Robert Cowton (fl. 1300), a Franciscan whose Commentary on the Sentences was very popular; see Little, Greyfriars, 222.
  31. Thomas Bradwardine (d. 1349), archbishop of Canterbury; his De Causa Dei was edited by Sir Henry Savile in 1618.
  32. almost certainly William or Nicholas Ockham; see Little, Greyfriars, 158, 227, 228.
  33. William Ware (fl. 1250), Franciscan; there are numerous MSS. of his Commentary. (Id. 213.)
  34. The Canticum Pauperis; see Bibliography, u.s., p. 6.
  35. Possibly Henry Sutton the Guardian; see p. 55 above; but more probably Thomas Sutton, the Dominican; see Quetif and Echard, Script. Ord. Præd., I., A. 64; but the work is not otherwise known.
  36. Said to be "contra Sutton"; but it is an unknown work; see Little, Greyfriars, 233.
  37. Richard Fishacre (d. 1248), Dominican; see Dict. Nat. Biog., xix., 53.
  • [[]]
Personal tools