In December 1308, at the age of twenty-four, Edward II founded a Dominican priory at (Kings) Langley in Hertfordshire, "in fulfilment of a vow made by the king in peril," whenever that was - probably on one of his sea crossings.
Edward granted the Dominicans (or Black Friars, or Friars Preacher) of Langley £100 annually from the Exchequer, and on 20 December 1308, "for the safety of his own soul and those of his ancestors," gave them "his garden adjacent to the parish church of that place [Langley], with two plots of land next to the garden." From other references, it's clear that the priory was built in Edward's park. On 21 December, he gave them his building of Little London (Little Loundr') to live in "until the place granted to them be built."
On 24 October 1311, in the middle of Edward's struggles with the Ordainers, who were trying to force Piers Gaveston into exile for the third time, the king found time to remember his foundation, and gave them another £50 a year on top of the £100 he'd already granted them. On 28 March 1312, Edward granted them 700 marks for building expenses, stating that the priory was a place "in which to celebrate prayers daily for the souls of his ancestors, and for himself and his state." On 20 September that year, he upped the Dominicans' annual allowance to 500 marks (£333). By now, there were probably forty-five friars at Langley. Although Edward intended the priory to hold a hundred friars, it's doubtful that it ever achieved this number.
The beginning of 1315 saw the funeral of Piers Gaveston at Langley, a magnificent and, for Edward II at least, deeply emotional occasion. Sadly, Piers' tomb disappeared at the Dissolution, though the tombs of Edward's grandson Edmund, duke of York, and his wife Isabel of Castile, also buried at Langley, survive. Five months after Piers' funeral, Edward granted the Dominicans "the dwelling-place of the king's manor of Langele, with its closes, to hold in frank almoin to them and their successors celebrating divine service for the souls of the king's progenitors, the king's soul, and the souls of all Christians. Further grant to them of the vesture of the king's wood which is called 'Chepervillewode' to take at will for firing and other necessaries."
In the spring of 1318, Edward began to go ahead with plans to found a house of Dominican nuns at Langley, and wrote to the pope asking his permission. He probably intended to make his foundation independent of his own grants of money from the Exchequer, and as the Dominicans were not allowed to own property, he planned for the nuns to hold lands in trust for them. This matter may have been on Edward’s mind for some time, as in October 1316, he sent Robert Duffeld, his confessor and prior of Langley, to see Brother Berengar, master of the Order in England, and asked the Order to treat Duffield’s requests favourably. Although Edward wrote again to John XXII in October 1318 and January 1319 asking him to appropriate the church of Kingsclere for the sisters and to expedite the process, and wrote to the master of the Dominicans asking him to have seven sisters ready to send, his plans foundered. It wasn't until 1349 that the foundation finally went ahead.
Langley Priory existed for 230 years, until Prior Richard Yngworth surrendered it to Henry VIII's commissioners at the end of 1538. Although Queen Mary and King Philip (of Spain) refounded it in June 1557, as a house of Dominican sisters, it didn't survive Elizabeth I's first parliament. There's more information about the priory here, here and here, and this is the website of a school which now stands on the site (which incorrectly says that Edward I founded the priory).
- Calendar of Patent Rolls 1307-1313, pp. 95, 96, 148, 397, 453, 515.
- Calendar of Patent Rolls 1313-1317, p. 295.
- Calendar of Close Rolls 1313-1318, p. 438.
- Foedera, II, i, pp. 359, 360, 361, 375, 384.
- Calendar of Papal Petitions 1342-1419, p. 187.
- Friaries: King's Langley priory', A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 4 (1971), pp. 446-451. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=37971. Date accessed: 17 September 2008.