Medieval chronicles of the London Grey Friars


The Grey Friars were Franciscans who had a strong presence in London with a large friary near Newgate in the ancient City of London – now occupied by an office building housing investment bank Merrill Lynch.  The friary was eventually closed down in the sixteenth century by Henry VIII during the dissolution of the monasteries throughout England.  But for three hundred years, the Franciscans had chronicled events in London – particularly during the Templar period.

So the friars note the crowning of Richard the Lionheart in 1189: “Kynge Rychard the Furst surnamed Cure de Lyon was crownyd the iijde daye of September, the yere of our Lorde God Mclxxxix, the furst yere of hys rayne”.   They also witnessed the terrible pogroms against the Jews in certain English cities, notably London and York, which heralded the crusades.  “And this yere the Jues ware commandyd owte of Ynglonde.”  In fact, it would be Edward I who would successfully command that the Jews leave England but these were grim decades for a faith blamed for many ills by ignorant people.

We should remember that religious dogma was rigorously guarded and those who defied the church’s teachings could expect a fatal response.  So a chap called William who apparently had distinguishing facial hair was taken out of Bow church, in the City of London, and dealt with:  “In this yere was one William with the long berde taken out of Bowe churche and put to dethe for herysey”.

King John succeeded his brother Richard the Lionheart and while enjoying cordial relations with the Templars, had a pretty rocky reign.   He lost his ancestral lands in modern day France, his kingdom was placed under a papal ‘interdict’ (basically excommunicated en masse), the barons rose up in revolt and the King of France had the audacity to try and conquer England – oh, he also lost the crown jewels in a swamp.  The Grey Friars could see the portents in the unusual weather conditions accompanying his coronation.

“Thys yere felle gret raynes, and gret thunder, lytenyng, and hayle-stones as grete as eggys, that dystroyd cornes [and] fruttes; and fowlles seying flyeng in the eyer berynge burnynge coles, and brent many huses. And that yere the londe was enterdyted.”

As we know, King John was forced to sign Magna Carta by the barons beginning a long and slow process towards parliamentary democracy.  The England grand master of the Templars was present at that signing on the island of Runnymede.  But things didn’t get better for King John and he was forced to flee eventually, according to the friars, succumbing to poison.  “Thys yere this king John was powsynd at Worster; and whane he hade raynyd xvij. yeres he dyde, and is burryd there in the monkes before the hye auter.”

Henry III followed John.  More bad weather in his reign, this time a very strong wind and the friars had been told that dragons had been seen in the air, as well as other creatures:  “And this yere, on sent Lewys daye, was soch a stronge wynde in the north-est that it overturnyd houses, toweres, trees, and in the ayre was sene fyere draggons and sprettes flyenge.”

One curious story involves a Jewish man who had an accident but refused to be rescued because it was the Jewish sabbath.  The following day, the local lord refused to help the unfortunate Jew because it was now Sunday, a Christian day of observance.  And so he died.

“Thys yere a Jew felle in to a drawte on a satorday, and he wolde not be draune owte that day for the reverens of hys sabbot day, and sir Richard Clare, that time tyme beynge erle of Gloucseter, seynge that he wolde not be drawne owte that day, he wolde not suffer hym to be drawne owte on the sonday, for the reverens of the holy sonday, and soo thus the false Jue perished and dyde therein.”

Then during the reign of Edwardus Primus Rex – Edward I – the momentous news for the Knights Templar, recorded faithfully by the Franciscan friars:  “This yere the order of the Templers ware dystroyd thorowte alle cristyndome in one daye”.

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