18 September, 2008

Edward II and Langley Priory

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.


Jules Frusher said...

Really interesting to see how devoted he was to his priory there. I think part of him envied the simple lives of the monks - although I'm not sure if he had the right personality to make a good monk (not for long anyway).

Do you know what sort of building Little London was? Was it attached to the palace there or a building on its own?

It's so sad that what was Langley has now disappeared into practically nothing. I bet it was a beautiful place in its day. Are there any surviving descriptions do you know?

Also - thought it mildly amusing that my word verification has the letters qqeer!

Kathryn Warner said...

Lady D: exactly - there's that lovely quote about Ed staying at Bury St Edmunds in 1300, when one of the monks commented 'he became our brother in chapter'. I think he enjoyed the peace and solitude once in a while, but I can't see him enjoying the lifestyle for too long!

Little London was apparently some kind of lodge in the park at Langley. In 1305, Ed started to have a chamber built 'at the gate of Little London', but Ed I ordered him to stop the work and restore it to how it had been in Eleanor of Castile's lifetime.

The only quote I can remember seeing about the priory is that it rivalled Westminster Abbey (wow!)

LOL at word verif...;)

Anerje said...

Have done a bit of investigating myself regarding Langley Priory. Was hoping Piers' tomb had survived - and who knows, he may lie beneath the foundatons of the school. I gather Edmund, Duke of York's tomb survived because it was moved to the local church. With Piers' reputation, I guess nobody wanted to protect hs tomb (sigh).

Gabriele Campbell said...

Nay, I can't see Ed as life time monk, either. No pretty clothes and too many temptations. :)

Anonymous said...

The founding of all those religious institutions, chapels, and chantries to buy nobility and royalty out of purgatory and hell is fascinating (especially to a Protestant!). ..."for the safety of his own soul and those of his ancestors..."

That belief (big business for Rome!) in paying for sins in this life mostly excused immoral behavior of all sorts: lying, cheating, stealing, adultery, etc. Buy the indulgence now, and hellfire insurance for later by building or sponsoring a religious foundation.

Edward probably did lead a monastic life after his "death" and travels to Europe. It could not have been Plan A, obviously, but perhaps he found peace and respect in a structured, disciplined, cultured life. Maybe they let him cultivate the kitchen garden for jollies!

Susan Higginbotham said...

Pity that it made it through Henry VIII, only to be destroyed later. Oh, to see some of those lost buildings!

Kathryn Warner said...

Anerje: it's really sad, isn't it - if someone went to the trouble of rescuing Edmund's tomb, couldn't they have saved Piers' as well?! Maybe one day excavations will find it...I live in hope...

Gabriele: whatever can you mean by temptations?! *evil grin*

Christy: it's fascinating, isn't it? Love the thought of Ed later in life, officially dead, belatedly able to undertake all those outdoor tasks he loved!

Susan: it really makes me sad to think of all those wonderful buildings being demolished or left to collapse.

Anonymous said...

Too true Susan. I used to live a few miles from Kings Langley and sadly it's rather a dump nowadays. Ed would turn in his grave if he could see the place now; you would never know such a magnificent building had ever been there.

Kathryn Warner said...

That's so sad. :(

Carla said...

He might well have enjoyed the digging and thatching if they let him help the lay brothers :-) And at least the quarrelsome factions didn't kill each other. He might have enjoyed the comparative peacefulness, and perhaps looked forward to meeting Piers again in the next world.