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The Grey Friars of Carmarthen

by Major Francis Jones
Wales Herald Extraordinary.
County Archivist of Carmarthenshire.

The Coming of the Grey Friars
On the 11th of September 1224 nine penniless men landed at the port of Dover. They came from France, their passage had been paid by the monks of Fécamp, and once they reached the English shore they had nothing to sustain them except the faith and belief that God would provide for them in their dedicated task of bringing the divine message to towns, villages, and hamlets, particularly to the poor, the sick, and needy.

Founded in 1209, this band of brothers vowed to poverty, sought only opportunities for serving their fellowmen and glorifying Almighty God. Among them was Lawrence of Beauvais, a personal friend of St. Francis of Assisi, who on his deathbed had presented him with the habit he himself had worn. They were the first of the Franciscans, named after their founder, variously known as the Mendicant or Preaching friars, or Minorites from their desire to be considered the least of the religious orders. In England they were known as Grey Friars, in Wales as Y Brodyr Llwyd, from the colour of their habit, which consisted of a coarse garment with a pointed hood of the same material, and a short cloak. They girded themselves with a knotted cord - the cordeliére - and went barefoot.

The nine brothers were hospitably received in the Priory of the Holy Trinity at Canterbury, and soon set up a modest establishment in that town. They were not a static folk, and went forth among the people as physicians, ministers, and educators, speaking words of hope to the poorest, preaching homely, emotional sermons in language that all could understand. They were the active exponents of a social service, ministering to broken bodies as well as to faltering minds. Soon they had established many houses and gained so much of the wealth and influence that had belonged to the regular monasteries that they sometimes incurred the displeasure of their less evangelical brethren. By administering the sacrament, contrary to the canon that each communicant should receive it at the hands of his own priest, they became involved in sharp tussles with the secular clergy. Nevertheless they pushed their way past obstacles and even invoked the aid of pious fictions in the furtherance of their aims.

They produced a “miracle” which few modern propagandists can equal. They told a tale of how some grey friars bound for Oxford, when overtaken by violent storm, turned to seek refuge in a Benedictine abbey. They were refused admittance by the abbot, whereupon a young monk out of pity gave them food and hid them in a hay-loft. The kindly monk retired to bed, and dreamt that the Lord and various saints appeared before him, severely censuring the abbot for his conduct and commanding that he should die; St. Francis also appeared and claimed the dreamer as his own. The monk awoke and hurried to tell the abbot of the vision, but found that dignitary and the rest of the monks lying strangled in their cells. The report of this prompt and apparently divine retribution circulated briskly through the land, and thenceforth the friars met with a bitter reception.

But the truth is more impressive than the fiction. The Grey Friars went on from strength to strength, and as their power and influence increased, they became celebrated for theological learning, and for a long time the most erudite members of the universities belonged to their Order. The Franciscans produced men of intellectual achievement like Roger Bacon, Duns Scotus, Dr. John Gwent, Occam, Lawrence Wallensis, and Roger of Conway. English kings and Welsh princes extended generous patronage to them. At the Dissolution they had about 66 houses in Britain. Generally speaking the rule of poverty was observed, they acquired no great estates like other Orders, and the commissioners of Henry VIII noted that the friary was usually the poorest of the religious houses of a town.

Periodic visitations were carried out by a superior officer of the Order, and the Grey Friars of Carmarthen and Cardiff come under the wardenship or custody of Bristol.1

Only three houses of Grey Friars were established in Wales. The first was founded at Llanfaes in Anglesey in 1237 by the Welsh prince Llewelyn the Great, in memory of his wife, Joan, who was buried there in that year. The second was founded in Cardiff in l280; the third, and richest, at Carmarthen about two or three years later. The precise date of the foundation at Carmarthen is not known, the earliest reference to it occurs in 1284, but it would seem that the Friars were there some time prior to that date. As we shall see later the Carmarthen friary was described as “of the King’s foundation,” and there is little doubt that the king in question was Edward I. In 1538 when the houses were dissolved there were four friars at Llanfaes, nine at Cardiff, and fourteen at Carmarthen.

Location of the Carmarthen House
The Grey Friars raised their house and church on a long slope on the western side of Carmarthen, outside the walled town. Agreeably situated, the lands and precincts comprised about five acres, bounded on the northern side by Lammas or Gell Street as it was variously called, on the west by a brook that ran by Heol y Morfa, on the east by another brook running through what is now Blue Street, both of which fed the river Towy that lapped the south side and provided the brothers with ample Friday fare. The main entrance was from Lammas Street, and outside the entrance, in the middle of that street, stood the friar’s preaching cross, marked on Speed’s map in 1610.

The buildings have vanished without trace, but from memoranda written in the late 15th and early 16th centuries we are able to recover their main outlines. These included a church some 70 to 80 feet long and 30 feet broad according to Archdeacon Yardley.2 Though small, the church was impressive and contained valuable treasures, for the friars did not build a church as a private church but as a temple to the glory of God to whose service they devoted their lives. They did not regard the church as an appendage of the friary, but the friary as an appendage of the church. The other buildings included the parlour, King’s chamber, three other chambers, lavery, hall (refectory), kitchen, buttery, and brew house.

Hardly any relics of the friary have survived. In 1917 a writer stated that a tenant, who came to live at the Friary in 1894, had come across “a beautiful square of tesselated pavement,” believed to have formed the floor of the church or the chapter house. It was again covered over and has not been located since.3 A section of Early English mullion of a window built into a wall on the site, and a section of a 14th century moulding of the jamb of a doorway, were found early in this century, and are now in the Carmarthenshire County Museum.4

The friars acquired a messuage in Quay Street, just outside the town walls, and this together with a little under 5 acres of land encompassing the Friary, seems to have been the extent of their temporal possessions in Carmarthenshire. They also owned a burgage in Bristol which they rented to a tenant.

The Medieval Scene
The earliest reference I have found to the Grey Friars is in 1284 when Edward I on a visit to Carmarthen, gave the friars certain rights over a watercourse that supplied a royal mill and formed part of the outer defences of the castle.5 This may well have been the stream that now flows under the road in Blue Street. From the reference it is clear that the friars had already established their house at Carmarthen.

A decade later, the King granted to them a croft in Carmarthen and the right to bring a water-course across it.6 Royal favour was again shown in 1329-30 when we read that the Warden and the Friars Minor were to have a grant of land in Carmarthen from the King.7 Difficulties about water supply seems to have been a recurring item. On 28 June 1331, the King confirmed “for God“ the pious gift of Mariota Molle, late wife of Thomas Warewogyl, to the Friars Minor of Kaermerdy, of a spring, or the use of the water thereof, in her park called “Walter his Waseway “ on the slope of Mount Berwyn, to make an aqueduct to their use, and liberty to dig and search for the 'veins of water' of such springs, and to collect and conduct these by under-ground passages to a certain place in her land where the Friars may erect a little house of stone, either round or square, as they shall please, ten feet long and as many broad.8 To what use this "little house" was to be put can only be surmised.

In 1340 the church of the Friars became involved in an affair relating to sanctuary. Three felons, David Taverner, John Tredegolde, and Thomas Yonge had fled to the church of the Friars Minor of Carmarthen, and a thief, Thomas Sathavas, to the church of St. Peter; whereupon, Gilbert Talbot, Justiciar of South Wales, whose headquarters were in Carmarthen castle, levied a fine of £20 on the burgesses for their failure to perform custody. The burgesses hotly objected and sent a complaint to the King claiming they were liable to perform custody only within the town walls, whereas both the Grey Friars and St. Peter’s lay outside them. On 4 April King Edward directed the Justiciar to make enquiry to discover whether it had been customary for the burgesses to be responsible for such extra-mural activity.9 The inquisition, held on 7 August 1340 before Talbot’s deputy, Rhys ap Griffith, found that they had never been liable for such duty, and those responsible for the custody of robbers fleeing to churches outside the walls of Carmarthen town, were the communities of Elfed and Widigada who should there answer to the King for the escape of the said felons.10

As I have mentioned earlier, the friars sometimes came into collision with other religious houses and with secular clergy over pastoral matters. The question of mortuaries led to a serious quarrel between the Prior of Carmarthen and the friars. The Priory of St. John, situated at the eastern end of the town, was a much older foundation, and by virtue of a grant by Henry II in 1180, the Prior was the ruler of “Old” Carmarthen, that is the area outside the walled town. The dispute was finally settled on 1 December 1391, when Walter Taymer the Prior, John de Tyssynton, Minister of the Order of Friars Minor of Carmarthen, agreed that the remains of all parishioners of St. Peter’s, dying within the parish and desiring burial by the Friars Minor (the householders and servants of the Friars, dwelling within the precincts of their monastery, excepted) should have the ultimo vale mass in St. Peter’s church before being borne to the house of the Friars. The Prior and his convent were to have the canonical portion of the mortuaries and bequests, secret and open, made on the bodies of those desiring burial with the Friars. The bodies of all other parishioners of the Prior (those of St. Peter’s parish excepted) were to be conveyed directly to the house of the Friars who were to receive the usual dues without any interference from the Prior, reserving however to the latter the canonical share of all such profits. The seals of office of the Prior and the Warden were duly attached to the instrument.11 Despite these occasional conflicts the Grey Friars were much loved throughout the land, especially by the country clergy and lay-folk, as shown by the numerous testamentary bequests made to them, and the desire of many to be buried within the precincts of their house.

In 1394 the Friars desired to extend their “close,” probably the burial ground. On 20 September of that year, Richard II gave a licence for the Warden and Friars Minor of Kermerden, “whose house is of the King’s foundation,” to acquire in mortmain 3 roods of land adjacent to their house and held in chief as parcel of the town at a rent of 2s. 3d. yearly, for the purpose of enlargening their close.12

The friars were no cloistered recluses, replete with holiness and scholarship, seen only on high festivals and solemn occasions, clad in imposing vestments, and earning from congregations the awe that religious ceremonial always attracts and sometimes deserves. They were as much at home in the streets of the town as in the cottages of the countryside, in the hall of the noble as in the hovel of the peasant. They warned the haughty that a higher tribunal awaited them, before which an ermine robe was of no more account than the threadbare cloak of a pilgrim, told the burgesses of Carmarthen that the gold in their coffers was as nothing compared with the treasures laid up in Paradise, and taught husbandmen in the fields of Cantref Mawr that life was as fleeting as the crops they gathered in the autumn sunlight. If their sermons were full of admonitions, they also contained messages of hope and comfort; they succoured the infirm with comforting prayers and with healing herbs whose secrets they had mastered after long study and observation, while the final hours of repentant sinners were often solaced by a bestowal of the cowl of the Order of the saintly Francis.

A record of the early fifteenth century suggests that there were occasional lapses from those virtuous standards normally associated with the Order. In this case, however, we have only the view of the complainant. It is a remarkable story. In February 1411, the Pope issued a Mandate to the Bishop of Exeter to enquire into a petition he had received on behalf of Henry, donzel,13 eldest son and heir of John Witberi of the diocese of Exeter. This petition stated that when the donzel was in his eleventh year, his father handed him against his will to the Friars Minor in the suburbs of Exeter, in order to exclude him from his paternal inheritance. Fearing his father, Henry unwittingly assumed the habit and tonsure of the friars before he had completed his eleventh year. The friars, suspecting that he intended to escape, took him about the country for over six months “like a vagabond” in order to confuse him. They took him to remote places, now secular, now belonging to the Order, through towns, cities, and castles, and devious parts of England, until at length “they brought him against his will to Wales and placed him in the Friars Minor’s house at Keymerthyn in the diocese of St. Davids”. “Thus amongst unknown friars, and in a foreign land he vainly supplicated the Warden to restore his secular garments and give him leave to return to the world, or at least permit him to depart naked,” but “the Warden, a Welshman moved with anger, caused him to be kept close,” and at the end of the year urged him to make his regular profession, which he declined to do, repeating his request to be allowed to return to the world. “The Warden again refused, and threatened him with formidable punishments (cruciatibus) if he did not remain in the Order, and caused him to be kept more diligently, and strove by threats and terrors to extort by some means or other his said profession; that he handed the profession written in Latin to Henry to read, who did not understand it, and had not yet been instructed in the rule, and compelled him to read it; that the Warden and friars cunningly assuming that he had thereby made his profession, subsequently, when in his fifteenth year, by formidable threats of prison and corporal punishment, and various other penalties, compelled him to take the order of sub-deacon, and occasionally to minister therein, but he then and subsequently, as often as he dared, protested that he would not remain in the said religion and subdiaconate, but seize an opportunity to return to the world, as he had before protested; and that he did so escape, and never afterwards administered in his sub-deacon’s orders.” The Pope ordered the Bishop to examine the matter, and, if true, to declare that it had been lawful for Henry to return to the world, and that he could contract marriage.14

Poor donzel! What became of him I wonder. The story has a Kafkaesque quality which lends itself to dramatic conjecturings.

The religious houses were also a source of recruitment of clergy men for the various Welsh dioceses, and from time to time friars left the convent and took orders as secular priests. In 1401 the Bishop of St. Davids ordained four friars minor, David Sylly, Thomas Golld, John Rok, and Richard Flory as acolytes; in 1486 William Court “of the Order of Minors, Carmarthen,” was admitted by the Bishop on the title of letters by the Guardian of the Friary; in 1490 Hugh Richardes, friar "of the Order of Minors, Carmarthen" was admitted Deacon, and Priest in the following year; in 1491 Friar John Thomas "of the Order of Minors, Carmarthen," was admitted sub-deacon, and subsequently deacon; in 1496 Lewis ap Rees of the same order was admitted acolyte; in 1502 John Lewis "of the Order of Friars Minor, Carmarthen," and Friar Abraham Ugge "of the Order of the Preachers of Carmarthen," were admitted priests.15

The Bishop of St. Davids held celebration of Orders in various places within his diocese, such as the cathedral of St. Davids, the Chapel in Lamphey palace, Brecon Priory, Swansea, Carmarthen Priory and Friary, and occasionally in the chapel of his palace in London. For instance on 3 November 1490 in “the house of Friars Minor of Carmarthen” the Bishop collated Lewis ap Jankyn, chaplain, to the living of Aberyscir in Breconshire, and on the following day collated William Clement to Pencarreg, and Hugh ap Thomas, chaplain, to Llanybydder.16

We know little of the sources of revenue of the Friars, but it is clear that they received numerous gifts from the community among whom they laboured. They certainly derived benefit from testamentary bequests. Thus William Maliphant of Tenby, by his will dated 26 February 1344, bequeathed the sum of one shilling to the Minorite brothers of Carmarthen to pray for his soul.17 By a codicil to his will, dated 14 June 1531, Sir Mathew Cradock of Swansea, bequeathed 20 shillings to the Grey Friars of Carmarthen. Griffith David Ddu, a West Wales priest, by his will dated 28 September 1537, proved in London 26 March 1538, made these bequests: To the grey friars of Carmarthen 20 shillings, they ‘to keep my father, mother, and brother Llewys ap Reynall is obite solemphye by note the next Lent’ in the presence of my friend Thomas Bruyn: and to a friar observant at Karmerdin 53 shillings and 4 pence to sing masses daily for my soul.”18 This was one of the very last bequests to the house for it was surrendered in the following year.

Many distinguished men were buried in the Grey Friars church, and doubtless all of them made suitable gifts for the upkeep of the fabric and for masses for the dead. Among them we find William de Valence, son of Earl of Pembroke, slain near Llandilo on 17 July 1282, and Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond, ‘father and brother to kings’ who died in November 1456, and was buried in the middle of the choir. After he ascended the Throne, Henry VII. made a grant of £8 yearly to the Carmarthen Friars for keeping a daily mass and perpetual anniversary for his father’s soul, and for his own soul after death.19 Also buried there were Sir Thomas Rede, knight, on the south side of the choir,20 and Sir Rhys ap Griffith who died at Carmarthen on 10 May 1356.21

Several members of the family of Sir Rhys ap Thomas, K.G., were borne to the Friary. Griffith ap Nicholas who died about 1456-8, was buried "in a Tombe of Allabastre before ye image of St. Francis;“ the said Griffith’s son and grandson, Rhys ap Griffith and Sir Rhys ap Thomas respectively; Sir Rhys’s mother, Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of Sir John Griffith of Abermarlais; Sir Rhys himself in 1525 and his wife Janet, daughter of Thomas Mathew of Radyr in Glamorgan, who died at Picton Castle, Pembrokeshire, on 5 February 1535; and an ancestor of Sir Rhys' mother, Sir Rhys ap Griffith of Abermarlais, who died at Carmarthen on 10 May 1356.

Sir Rhys ap Thomas had a special affection for the little church within which mouldered the remains of so many of his kinsfolk. In his 70th year, stricken by a fatal illness, Sir Rhys left the pomp of his mansions and castles, and came to die in the modest abode of the sons of St. Francis. There he made his will on 3 February 1525, expressing a desire to be buried "in the chauncell of the gray freres of Kermerdyn whereas my mother lyeth, and whansoever it please God to call my wife out of this transitory lyfe my will is that she be buried by me“ and bequeathed (inter alia), £20 to the "Freres of Kermerden;" and "I will that fyve pounds of lands be surely founded to the Gray Freres of Kermerdyn for a chauntry there, to fynde two priests to pray for me and my wife for ever." The first witness to the will was "Doctour David Mothvey, wardeyn of the gray freres of Kermerdyn." Sir Rhys died on Thursday, 9 February 1525, and his body lay in state until it was placed in a grave within the quire on Friday, the 24 February. He had been patron of the bard, Tudur Aled, who died at the Friary in 1526, and was buried in the churchyard in the habit of a grey friar which he had assumed on his death-bed, as described in several elegies written on him by his fellow-bards.

Another hand who stayed at the Friary was William Egwad who flourished during the years 1450-1500. Probably hailing from the nearby parish Llanegwad, he composed a poem of praise to "Cwrt y Brodyr, Caerfyrddin," from which we learn some interesting facts about the church (Appendix A). He names a "Syr Rys Griffith" as the builder — perhaps a re-builder — of the Friars' house, maker of the chancel, and friend of St. Francis, being probably the man of that name I have mentioned above, who died in 1356 and was buried in the church. The bard also mentions "gwely Emwnt" — the tomb of Edmund Tudor.

Among the manuscript treasures of the Grey Friars was a fine vellum roll of arms compiled about 1340, now known as "Cooke's Ordinary."22 Mr. (later Sir) Anthony Wagner, bought this roll at a sale of some of the Middle Hill manuscripts. On the back of the first membrane were words written in an early 16th century hand, and I was asked to give an opinion on them. I recognized the following Welsh words "Rowch honn y gwrtt brodyr Kaer Verdinn" (give this (roll) to the Court of the brothers of Carmarthen). This in itself provided a thrill for me, but there was more to come, for I found that the roll had been repaired with a piece of vellum stuck to the back, which turned out to be a fragment cut from the 15th century accounts of Villa de Drusselyn (Dryslwyn) and Villa de Kerm'd belonging to someone entitled to hold tourns and sessions in Carmarthenshire. Above the section relating to Carmarthen town are the words "Compotus Resi ap Thomas," who may have been Rhys ap Thomas of Newtown (afterwards created a Knight of the Garter) who died in 1525, or possibly the Rhys ap Thomas sheriff of the county of Carmarthen in 1413. The armorial roll had strayed far from the Friary and no doubt many other manuscripts were dispersed during the suppression of the house. Another of their literary possessions was a manuscript of the works of Grosseteste.23

The Time of Dissolution
When Henry VIII ascended the throne in 1509 no churchman had cause to think that here was other than a staunch upholder of the established religious order, and in due course the King's book refuting the doctrines of Martin Luther was to earn him the title of "Defender of the Faith" from an appreciative and grateful Pope. He was well disposed towards the monasteries, especially the Franciscans, in whose favour he wrote to Pope Leo X in 1513 emphasising his "deep, devoted affection to them, and admiring their holiness of life, Christian poverty, sincerity, and charity; their lives are devoted to fasting, watching, praying; and they are occupied in hard toil by night and day to win sinners back to God."24

The royal admiration was not to last, and the conduct of the divorce proceedings in 1532 brought matters to a head. During this affair Henry had been resolutely opposed by three friars, Peto, Elstowe, and Forest, two of whom he silenced by the simple expedient of carting them off to prison. Two years later Henry had completely broken with Rome and made himself supreme head of the Church in England. The dissolution of the religious houses, last strongholds of papal authority within the realm, followed, and early in 1540 not a single monastery remained.

As they were a preaching Order, continuously moving about the country, with scant property to lose in case of non-compliance, the Friars were considered to be more dangerous than the monastic and secular clergy. The turn of the Grey Frairs of Carmarthen soon came. In 1535 they surrendered their house, and three years later all their goods were received into the King hands and they themselves turned adrift.

The instrument of surrender dated 30 August 1538 provides us with information of the composition and contents of the Friary at that date.25 The inventory "of all the stuffe of the Grey Freeris of Karmardein" delivered to the King church was particularly well appointed, containing vestments and sacred vessels, while the domestic quarters were not devoid of luxury. It was certainly the richest of the three Welsh Franciscan houses. The roof of the choir and part of the church was covered with lead, also the chapel, diverse great gutters and conduits, and there was a leaded pane in a window of the cloister. The Sacristy26 contained a large number of beautiful vestments, among them "a sute of blake welvit purpulleid with the apostelles on the backe," a "sute of redde welvit with redde offeras (orphreys) of flowers," and "a paule of clothe of tussey for the Erle of Richemuntes tumbe." The Choir27 contained, among other things, mass hooks, crosses, candle-sticks, a "goodly tumbe for Sir Ryse ap Thomas, with a grate of yron abowthe him, a stremar banner of hys armys with his cote armor and helmit," and many other items. The Chirche (nave) contained five altar tables of alabaster, two sacry bells28, and "a frame of iron thorow all the chirche, before the auterys for taberys (tapers)." In the stepill (steeple) was a clock and two bells. 29

The details given in the Inventory (Appendix B) are sufficient to show that in its full glory the little church must have provided an impressive atmosphere for worship—incense clouds from swinging censers, wax tapers burning night and day before the altars throwing a flickering light on crucifixes and jewelled plate, rich vestments adorning the images of Our Lady and the saints, monuments of nobles ablaze with heraldry and panoply of knighthood, dancing colours of blue, red and gold in armorial windows, and the tinkling of the angelus bell summoning the faithful to devotional exercise at morning, noon, and sunset.

Leaving the church, we enter the domestic quarters. First, we come to the King's Chamber with its featherbed, bolster, blankets, sheets, and coverings, and other bedroom furniture: then the Inner Chamber, the Chamber next to the "Laverys," and the Chamber next to the parlour door. These were the bedrooms, containing featherbeds and appurtenances, betokening a measure of luxury. Then came the kitchen with its "gret range of iron to make in fyer," the Brewhouse, the Buttery, the Hall (refectory) with two tables, forms, and trestles for the friars, and "a gret chayer of timber" for the Warden.

Not all the furniture and goods were in the covent. Some had been loaned to various people in the town, and among the items "abrode" were 3 brass pans and a brass pot, a coffer, while a vestment and two alter-cloths were on loan to the chapel in Carmarthen castle.

Despite this apparent indication of wealth the Friary had found it difficult to make both ends meet.30 The King’s visitor noticed the following articles lay in pledge — the Cross (for £20), a bason, ewer, and best chalice (£14), beside other plate; and recorded a claim of 20 marks for the table of the high altar, and six copes. These the Visitor redeemed.

Nevertheless the Visitor netted a fair haul—a goodly cross "with Mary and John,” two chalices all gilt, a bason, and ewer, three cruets, a pax, a paten of a chalice, other pieces of a cross, a pix all gilt and with a crystal. The Friars had lost some articles through burglary, and the Visitor left a cope to satisfy the losers. The Visitor also left the food in the house and 6s. 8d in money for a poor friar that lay sick.

The inventory was signed by the Bishop of St. Davids, Thomas Prichard, Vicar of St. Peters, and Martyn Davy, Mayor of the town. The Friars then put their names on the instrument that took from them all they had held dear—John Trahern, S.T.B., Warden, Lewis Richard, Richard Gr(iffith), Morgan David, Richard Ph(ilip), Thomas Makesfyld, Res Ord, Evan Phylyp, William David, Henry Morgan, Bernardin Blackburne, John Geffre, and John Brygon. Then the Visitor gave "every freere 12 pence and their own stuffe, & so departeid.” And so the brothers were turned adrift to the mercy of the world without grant or pension, and became exiles in a land where they had long been servants of God.

The real property of the friaries was usually placed in the hands of men called firmarii (farmers) or computators, responsible for collecting rents for the Crown. Such men often held part of the property themselves. In charge of the realty of the Carmarthen house was one John Lloyd, and his accounts at the end of the year immediately following the surrender show that the tenants were all in arrears with their rents. His account for the year ending Michaelmas 1539, shows that the property was held as follows:— by himself, the site of the friary and demesne, garden, cemetary, stable, and other buildings, attached, at 5 shillings a year, the Great Park (about 3 acres), at 10 shillings, a small close called Park Cyrill31 (about 1 acre) at 4 shillings, a small close called the little Park (about half an acre) at 2 shillings : by Lewis Hopkyn, a burgage in Kaystrete outside the walls of the New Town, at 5 shillings : James Williams, a tenement next to the door of the friary, at 3 shillings and 10 pence. The house of the Friars was then vacant.32

Like all religious houses, the Friary of Carmarthen had its conventual seal. It is mentioned in the agreement between the friars and the Priory in 1391 quoted on a previous page, and again in 1508-9, when the Warden and Friars Minor leased a burgage in Quay Street outside the walls of the town to Lewis Hopkin of New Carmarthen, merchant, for 99 years at a rent of 5 shillings per annum, to which was attached the conventual seal33. No matrix or impression of the seal has survived, but it may have been based on the cognisance of the Franciscan Order, namely argent, a cross of Calvary, traversed by two human arms in saltire (sometimes issuant from clouds in base), the one naked representing the arm of Our Lord, the other vested in the dress of St. Francis, and both hands bearing the Stigmata.34

At the time of the Dissolution, or very soon afterwards, the remains of Sir Rhys ap Thomas and his lady were translated to the church of St. Peter, Carmarthen, and those of Edmund Tudor to St. David’s Cathedral.

The tomb of Sir Rhys, despite the restorations and repairs to which it has been subjected, still retains many of its original features. There is some reason for believing that the design may have been the work of the Italian sculptor Mazzoni or perhaps Torregiano, both of whom were concerned with the design and execution of the monument of Henry VII and his Queen in Westminster Abbey. Sir Rhys’ tomb was placed in the North side of the Chancel of St Peter, and remained there until 1865 when it was moved to its present site and restored at the costs of Lord Dynevor, lineal descendant and representative of the knight. On the covering slab lies the effigy of Sir Rhys, dressed in plate armour marked with his heraldic cognizance, his sword, and cloak of knighthood; above his head is the helmet and torce from which the crest has long been lost. At his side is the effigy of his lady. A number of sketches made by John Carter in 1803, and a description by Donovan in 1805, enable us to imagine what the monument had looked like in its pre-restoration days.35

The Fate of the Friary
With the departure of the sons of the Blessed Francis, the history of the Friary enters on a new phase. Church and conventual buildings empty and forlorn, remained, and the question arose in men's minds, what should be done about them.

Bishop Barlow, who heartily disapproved of St. Davids as the seat of his see, desired to establish it in a more central spot, and saw in the Grey Friars an ideal place for the purpose. Accordingly, in 1536 he petitioned the authorities to that effect. He wrote from Carmarthen to Thoma Cromwell on 31 March 1536, praying that a grant be made to him of "the Grey Friars place at Kermerddyn," where the King’s grandfather lay buried, and where the collegians and canons could be accommodated and do much more good than in "a desolate corner at St. David"; he prepared to provide for every one of the friars competent to minister, and would settle his consistory at Carmarthen, the most frequented place in the middle of the diocese; and, further, would maintain there a free grammar school and a daily lecture of Holy Scripture “which would civilize the Welsh rudeness."36

The Bishop received no response to his plea, but the Precentor of St. Davids, although less ambitious in the scope of his desires, met with more success. This was Thomas Lloyd who deserves a few words to himself. He was a Carmarthenshire man, probably from the county town, but nothing is known of his parentage, apart from his father's Christian name, David. His parents must have been people of substance for he received a University education, entering All Souls College, Oxford, in 1510, and later admitted Bachelor of Civil Law there. It is believed that he was a Fellow of the college.37 He took Holy Orders, and in 1529 attended Convocation, being then described as Precentor of the cathedral church. When he subscribed to the King Precentor of the collegiate church of Llanddewibrefi, rector of six churches and vicar of two more. In March 1537, indicted as an accessory to acts committed by pirates, he was arrested and gaoled by Bishop Barlow, and detained under sureties. However he got over that little difficulty without prejudice to his position. He acquired a great deal of wealth, and in 1544 paid an ‘aid' of £100 to Sir John Williams, Treasurer of Augmentations.38 He died between December 1546 and 4 September 1547, and was buried in the south aisle before the altar of the Innocents in St. Davids Cathedral with a marble stone over him, as directed in his will.39 His coat of arms was placed in window of that aisle, namely gyronny of eight, argent and azure, on a cross quarterly counterchanged argent and azure, five crescents or, but this had disappeared when Archdeacon Yardley compiled Menevia Sacra.

Thomas Lloyd had long considered founding a Grammar School at Carmarthen and in this received the support of the Corporation. On 18 January 1536,40 the King by Letters Patent licensed him to proceed with his plan, the school to be known as “Thomas Lloyd his skole.” However nothing seems to have been done in the matter until 1543 when supported by the Mayor and Aldermen he petitioned the King for the purchase of the dissolved Friary and its adjoining land for £40, and offered a tidy little bribe of £20 to the Lord Privy Seal for his "good mediation and travaile to bringe it to passe."

The Petition read as follows : "To the righte honourable Lorde Privie Seale. Pleaseth it your Honor to be advertised that the Cite and Mansion of the Graie Freres in the Kinges town of Caermarthen in South Wales, was of late surrendride into the Kinges handes and is and haithe ever sence been voide and dessolate, runnynge dayelye in contynnuall ruyne and decaie; for there is no fote of lede upon anie part thereof, and it were pitie that suche buyldinge, in seuche a baron contrie, shulde not be convaide to sume lawful and convenient use, for the maintenance of the common wealthe. Wherefore if it maye please your lordshipe to be a meane to the Kinges Majestic that the Mayre and aldermen of the said towne have and enjoye forever, to them and theyre successors, the same Cite and Mansion with thre medoes of pasture grownde, with a grazing and orchaerde at the backside, to the same belonginge, being the annuall rent 18 shillings in the hoole, so that they may have a Grammer Scoole at the coste and charge of Mayster Thomas Lloyd, chauntier of Sainte David, there mayntyned, and otherwise the same to bestowe for the common wealthe and commoditie of the same towne ; the said Mayre and Aldermen, nowe there, for the time beinge, will give his Majesties 40 pounds sterlinge for the same Cite and Mansion with the appurtenancis as is aforesaide, and to your good Lordshippe 20 pounds for your good mediation and travaile to brings it to passe, over and besides the contynuall praier and service not only of the saide Mayre and Aldermen now beinge, but also of all the hoole inhabitants of the same towne, and the whole countrie thereaboute. As knowes oure Lord God who preserve your Honor longe to his pleasure. Amen."

Accordingly the earlier Letters Patent were cancelled, and new ones granted on 30 January 1543, when the King ordained that the school was now to be known as "The King's Scole of Carmarden of Thomas Lloyd's fundacion." It was to be kept in the former house of the Friars "with its gardens, etc, closes called Great Park (3 acres), Park hill (½ acre),41 and little Park (½ acre), and shops (a messuage and garden) in Kaystrete without the walls of Carmarden in tenure of Lewis Hopkyn, merchant, and the tenement of James Williams beside the gate of the same house, all which are in St. Peters parish in Carmerden, and belonged to the said late hospital or house; annual value 29 shillings 10 pence; to hold in fee simple as one-sixtieth of a knight's fee by rent of 3 shillings and 4 pence a year with the intention that the profits be applied to the use of the foresaid school."42

A master and an usher were appointed. The benefits of the school were not restricted to the town, but contributed "to the greate advancement of vertue and learning, and to the good education and erudicion of schollers and yong children in the said countye of Carmarthen and to the great convenience and comodytie of all the inhabitants of the same Towne and of the country theretoe adjoining." The school flourished until a few years after the founder's death in 1547.

Thomas Lloyd made a further endowment charged on property owned by him in the hundred of Dewsland, Pembrokeshire. By his will, dated 21 December 1546, he gave "the situation of the late Gray Fryers in the town of Carmarthen, with all lands and leases etc. in the country of Dewsland" to his executors Mr. David Howell and Thomas Howell, they "fynding the Kings Grammar Scole at the said towns of Carmarthen, namely, twenty marks to the master and twenty nobles to the usher"; and appointed the Right Worshipful Mr. Dr. Olyver, Mr. Dr. Lyson, Sir Thomas Jones, Knight (of Abermarlais) and Mr. John Philipps, esquire, to be overseers of the will. He bequeathed valuable plate to the Cathedral, and appointed two priests to pray for him at his grave for two years who were to receive £3 yearly each, and further directed that £6 be given on a like occasion at Carmarthen where the master and scholars of the school were to attend his mass.

After Lloyd's death in 1547 troubles arose. The properties that were to have supported the foundation were seized by John and William ap Harry (also described as ap Parry) and John David of Trevine in Dewsland, so that "Syth the death of the saide Thomas Lloyde there hath ben no scole kepte in the saide Towne of Carm'then to the great decaye of learning and good education of youth in the said town" contrary to the Letters Patent of Henry VIII, the last will and testament of Thomas Lloyd, and the goodwill and desire of the widow Gwenllian verch David, sister and heir of the founder. Whereupon the Mayor, aldermen, bailiffs, and commonalty of Carmarthen exhibited a Bill of Complaint, in the High Court of Chancery to enforce the provisions respecting the school.43

In their Bill the Plaintiffs recited the Letters Patent of 18 February 1543 and Thomas Lloyd's will, and prayed that a writ of summons be issued commanding the three defendants to allow the Mayor and his fellows to receive the issues provided for the school, and ordering the said defendants to appear in Court to answer to the premises. They added that Gwenllian verch David, testator's sister was "a very poore, aged, and impotent woman."

The defence was a denial of the charges. William ap Harry said that the lands in question descended to Lloyd's sister, Gwenllian, who assigned them to him so that he was now lawfully seized of them. An action respecting these lands had been brought against him in 1547-48, but the court dismissed it "to the Common Law." Acting on legal advice, and in order to avoid expence, he surrendered the premises into the hands of King Edward VI, who granted the properties to Sir Thomas Tresham, Knight, George Tresham Esq., and their heirs. The Treshams upon the suit of defendant, demised the properties to the said defendants William and John ap Harry by indenture under seal of the Court of Augmentations on 7 February 1550 for 21 years at a yearly rent of 29 shillings and 10 pence, since which time he had enjoyed them.44 John ap Harry stated that the Bill had been brought against them by "malicious people" of the town, with the object of impoverishing them, and denied that he had forcibly entered the site and the late house of the Friars. John David of Trevine43 also denied entering the lands in Dewsland. This latter property has not been identified, but it had been bought by Thomas Lloyd from Griffith Broughton by way of mortage to found a free school at Carmarthen for the education "of young men and children in Gramer," and is described as 130 acres "in the lordship of Penbedyauc," probably in Llanrhian parish. The transaction with Broughton took place in the years 1533-38.46

Evidently the Mayor failed in his object "to revive the saide ffree scoole of the saide Towne," for there is no further mention of the case.

A Carmarthen merchant, Humphrey Toy of St. Mary Street tried to stimulate educational interest, and by will, dated 1 March 1575, he bequeathed "Towards a free school, and for the use thereof, one yearly rent of three pounds out of the great close called the Friars Park which I stand and remain presently seized of, the yearlie rent being paid to such persons as shall happen to be founders according to the tenor of the foundation."47 In the following year a school was founded "to be called the Free Grammar School of Queen Elizabeth of the foundation of Walter (Devereux) Earl of Essex," but its site was elsewhere than the Friary.

To the litigousness of former burgesses, Carmarthen people must be profoundly grateful, and a Star Chamber48 action in 1598-99 provides us with some interesting details about the Friary. A Bill of Complaint exhibited by Thomas Parry of Bristol, gentleman (son and heir of old William ap Harry whose acquaintance we have already made) stated that he inherited from his father, a house being a capital messuage with certain buildings, yards, etc, adjoining, called "the Ffryers which was late the seat of Friars dissolved." On 28 October 1598, John Mores, Walter Lawrence, John Prichard, and others, numbering ten in all, envious of Parry's possessions, assembled in Carmarthen, riotously entered the yards of the Friary and assaulted one of the gates of the house "then being an utter great gate of a house of fair stone and building fortified with iron bars and fences," and with iron bars and crows, broke down and utterly defaced this gate, to the wrong of compainant and great terror of his servants. This was the old gatehouse of the Friary on the south side of Lammas Street, where the entrance to Friars Park still is.

The Star Chamber issued a writ to John Owen, William Thomas, and Ieuan Thomas to examine John Morryes in the matter, and to report back to the Court in due course.

In his answer sworn on 13 April 1599, John Morryes alleged that the Bill of Complaint was untrue, and that it had been made in order to put him to costs in law, living as he did in Carmarthen, 140 (sic) miles from London. He admitted that Thomas Parry was seized in fee of the following properties-

  1. A house or stable, and garden belonging adjoining the backside of defendant's house on the north, and the site of the church, "sometime of Grey Friars " on the south. The garden measured 60 yards by 14; the stable had been lately built by, and at the cost of defendant.
  2. All the old wall called "the Outward Gate" of the site of the Friary, leading from Gell Street, between defendant's house on the east, and complainant's house on the west.
  3. A small parcel of void ground adjoining the said wall, 20 yards by 10 in area.

On 28 March 1591 Thomas Parry granted a lease of the above properties to John Mores, and his children, John Mores the younger, and Saige Mores, for their lives at a yearly rent, with condition that lessees should build a house on the plot of void ground by an old wall within five years of the commencement of the lease. This was done, at a cost of over £50. In the structure defendant made a great gate for complainant, his servants, and undertenants of the Friars, to pass to and from Gell Street into Grey Friars and the yards there, and also for defendant to pass from Gell Street to the said stable and garden at will.

However, Thomas Parry afterwards locked the gate built by defendant, debarring access to him and his children. He denied riotous assembly, but admitted that one of his servants, without his knowledge, opened the gate on one occasion in order to go into the stable, and that was all. He added that Rees Parry, complainant's brother, since the exhibition of the Bill, had pulled and broken down one side of the said gate and removed hooks from the stone wall that held up the gate, much to defendant's damage and loss.

Modern Times

In the early part of the seventeenth century, the property passed from the Parrys, and by 1632 belonged to a Mr. Walton. On 24 November of that year, Lewis Walton of the city of Worcester, saddler, and Anne his wife, granted to the Rt. Hon. Richard Vaughan, Knight of the Bath, Lord Vaughan, of Golden Grove, in consideration of £595, "all that the scite and precincks of the late dissolved Monastry and howse called by the name of Gray Ffryers," near Gelstreete also Gerstreete, alias Lama Streete, and all houses, edifices, buildings, orchards, gardens, barns, stables, pigeon houses, hedges, and ditches, adjoining the said premises; also that close, park, and parcell of lands called The Greate Parke alias Parke y Skeebor with a barn built thereon; and park and parcel of lands called the Park Hill alias Parke yr hill a close or park called Parke y Clomendy ; and a close, called the Little Parke alias the ffryers Parke ; all then in the tenure and occupation of Henry Vaughan, esquire, his assigns or undertenants.49 The grantee, Lord Vaughan, succeeded his father as second Earl of Carbery in 1634. The property remained part of the vast Golden Grove estate until 1912 when it was sold to a local doctor.

From 1634 onwards the Friary had a succession of tenants. The older buildings disappeared over the years, and the dwelling house was adapted to suit changing fashions so that no features of the original structure may be recognized today.

The church was still standing in the early half of the eighteenth century, when Archdeacon Yardley commented — "to this Priory (read Friary) Church it was that Bishop Barlow attempted ye Removing ye See, tho' but a small Building of a single Isle, and without a Steeple or Pillars; it is in length about 70 or 80 feet, and in breadth 30 feet."50 Thus the steeple, specifically mentioned in 1538 had been taken down by 1700 or so. Buck's view of Carmarthen from the South East, engraved in 1748, shows "Friers Park," on a long slope with some trees growing on the Lammas Street side, and some buildings, details of which are obscure. According to Spurrell, writing in 1879, the remains of the monastery "are to be seen in Friars'-park. The tower of the church was pulled down within the memory of some of the inhabitants of the town. Part of the walls are incorporated with houses in the neighbourhood."51 The dove-cot that stood in Park y Clomendy had disappeared long since, and no tradition of it remains today.

Two plans have survived which show in detail the area occupied by the Friary. It is fortunate that the whole area has continued as an open space since medieval days, and apart from the present Friary house no new buildings have been erected on the actual site. During the Civil War, earthworks consisting of a deep ditch protected by banks, were raised to protect the western side of the town, parts of them passing the south and west of the friary. They are still to be seen, known as The Bulwarks. Towards the end of the last century a row of houses, called Morfa Lane, was built on the western fringe of the area, and in 1956, the headquarters of the Carmarthenshire and Cardiganshire Joint Police Authority were built on the field known in 1786 as Lover's Walk. Fortunately none of these intrusions interferes with the actual area of the old friary.

The burial ground was immediately to the east of the church, and occupied an area now cultivated as a garden, and part of it extended to the adjacent enclosure once used by Mr. Phelps the florist for his conservatories. Human remains are said to have been found on the site, and the spot where a Warden - alleged to have broken his neck by falling down some stairs — lies buried, is pointed out on the southwest side of the present house. Generally, there has been no significant disturbance of the area around the house, and excavation would be likely to uncover the earlier foundations and also the graveyard.

The two plans of the town mentioned above and now preserved in the County Record Office, were made in 1786 by Thomas Lewis, land surveyor, one of which shows the property of John Morgan, the other the property of John Vaughan of Golden Grove. The Morgan plan shows only the outline area of Friars Park, while the Vaughan plan contains details of the actual fields and buildings. From this latter we learn that the whole area owned by Vaughan contained 13 acres, while the land owned by the friars amounted to only some 4½ to 5 acres in the immediate vicinity of the Friary, mainly the southern and westerly part of the sloping feature, and marked on the map by the numbers 1 (actual site of the main buildings), 2 (garden), 3 (fore-court), 4 (Park Dam Street), 5 (Park y Berllan, a square field enclosed by a brick wall), 6 (Park Cyrill), and 9, (Park y Ddeintir), plus the land and cottages formerly called Friars Court on either side of the lane leading into Lammas Street.

Friars Park House has always been a superior residence, situated in a charming spot, sheltered by good timber, and enjoying an attractive southerly prospect. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, it made a fleeting re-acquaintance with religious activity, for when the Reverend Peter Williams, of "Bible" fame, was expelled from the Methodist Association in 1791 the Society left the Water Street chapel, and conducted its meetings in Friars Park.52 In the early part of the nineteenth century it was the home of Mrs. Anne Philipps, widow of John George Philipps of Cwmgwili, some-time Member of Parliament for the borough. In 1819 the tenant was one John Edwards, the property being then assessed at £45 by the rating authority. In 1837 the tenant was William Philipps esquire, a member of the Cwmgwili family, the house and field being assessed at £37 10 0.

Towards the middle of the nineteenth century Friars Park was the home of Dr. John Morgan Hopkins, M.D. On 4 May 1894, Earl Cawdor granted a lease of The Friary with the three cottages and gardens adjoining, and also a garden and field, to Thomas Jenkins of Lammas Street a corn merchant, for 21 years. This lease was later assigned to Dr. Lloyd Middleton Bowen Jones, a medical officer of health, to whom it was sold by Lord Cawdor's executors on 24 December 1912. On the death of Dr. Jones, his executors sold the property to Mr. David Harold Lloyd, surgeon, on 1 June 1936. On 15 April 1954, Mr. Lloyd sold (following a compulsory purchase order) part of the demesne, namely the field formerly called Lovers Walk, comprising some 7 acres, to the Carmarthenshire County Council for building the Police Headquarters mentioned earlier. In 1965, Mrs. Lloyd, widow of Mr. D. H. Lloyd, sold Friars Park House and the surrounding land to the Carmarthen Corporation for £17,000, intended to he used as administrative offices.

The story of Friars Park spans more than six and a half centuries — a medieval religious house, the pangs of Dissolution, Grammar School, afterwards a private residence, which has become in our day the property of a local authority devoted to the government and good ordering of the townsfolk of Carmarthen.

I am extremely grateful to my friend Lt.-Col, Kemmis Buckley, M.B.E., M.A., for reading this essay in typescript and for his valuable suggestions and advice.

See also:

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