Early Plantagenet Times – Continued.
Let us descend for a minute in the scale of creation, and recall the wonderful Fish of Orford.
In the year 1180 … near unto Orford in Suffolk, certain fishers took in their nets a fish, having the shape of a man in all points, which fish was kept by Bartholomew (sic) de Glandevile in the castle of Orford six months and more ; he spake not a word ; all manner of meats he did gladly eat, but most greedily raw fish when he had pressed out the juice ; oftentimes he was brought to the church, but never showed any sign of adoration : at length, being not well looked to, he stole to the Sea, and never was seen after.
So writes Baker 66 , after Ralph of Coggeshall, and it would be negligent not to record the phenomenon, though it comes into the picture awkwardly. It is useless to try to harmonize it with its surroundings. The next topic is the Coming of the Friars, than which anything more real and less grotesque is not to be found in the nature of things, and even St. Antony’s Sermon to the Fishes is a feeble link between the two subjects.
The times were evil, and no better in England than elsewhere. In the Court, conjugal infidelity had been followed by parricidal rebellion. In the towns, filth and vice reigned supreme. In the country, the cry of the op pressed went up to heaven, for few on earth seem to have heard or heeded. Justice slumbered, and iniquity throve apace.
When the miserable Henry II. lay down in sorrow at the castle of Chinon, and his lion-hearted son succeeded him, things went no better. Richard was hardly ever in England. The Christian world was humbled to the dust by the fall of Jerusalem in 1187, and r efforts of the Crusaders availed for its recovery for more than forty years. The long interdict in John’s reign had only paralysed religion instead of terrifying the nation to proceed to the King’s deposition. No better description of the epoch can be given than in the words of Dr. Jessopp: 67
‘For eight years England had lain under a terrible interdict ; for most of the time only a single bishop had remained in England. John had small need to tax the people ; he lived upon the plunder of bishops and abbots. The churches were desolate ; the worship of God in large districts almost came to an end. Only in the Cistercian monasteries, and in them only for a time, and to a very limited extent, were the rites of religion continued. It is hardly conceivable that the places of those clergy who died during the eight years of interdict were supplied by fresh ordinations, and some excuse may have been found for the outrageous demands of the Pope to present to English benefices in the fact that many cures must have been vacant, and the supply of qualified English – men to succeed them had fallen short.’
The Dominicans, Black Friars, or Friar Preachers, who were instituted four years before the Franciscans, also preceded them in their appearance in England, 1221. As elsewhere, so in Suffolk, they threw themselves into the misery of the towns, standing between the poor man and the devil after the manner of the earlier days of John Wesley and his followers, of the Primitive Methodists, and of the Salvation Army. Their foundations were at Dunwich, Ipswich68 , and Sudbury. The first whereof being threatened and finally swallowed up by the sea, a design is mentioned for the removal of the convent to Blythburgh, but there is no hint of anything being really effected, and the Dunwich Black Friars probably died out without issue. We do not hear of any opposition to the Dominicans, but the Franciscans, Gray Friars, or Friars Minor, were as unwelcome to the Benedictines in Bury as ever an Evangelical of the earlier decades of this century could have been to an old-fashioned rector of the Nimrod, Ramrod and Fishing-rod type. For six years they hung on like bull-dogs, but the abbey won in the end, and procured an order from Pope Urban IV. for their removal, which was carried out on November ig, 1263, being the eve of St. Edmund’s Day. They retired to Babwell, just beyond the liberty of St. Edmund, where from time to time they received help from sympathizing friends – Clopton, Drury, Peyton, Howard, Bedingfeld, and others. So does persecution ever fail of its end. The Gray Friars’ Gate and part of the wall yet stands ou the north of the town. At Dunwich, too, much of the wall remains, and here one day when I was Roman-road-hunting, I became possessor of a Compostella cockle or shell of Galice, sign of a pilgrimage to Santiago ; but of their buildings at Ipswich, west of St. Nicholas’s Church, there is no vestige. The White Nuns of the Order of St. Clare, or Nuns Minoresses, had a small abbey at Rokehall in Bruisyard parish. The foundress was Matilda of Lancaster, a descendant of the well-known Edmund Crouchback, brother of our Edward I. On the death of her husband, the Earl of Ulster, she entered the Austin nunnery at Campsey, but obtained permission from Pope Urban V. to exchange for the Order of St. Clare, which at that time had no habitation in England. A small college of secular priests had been removed from Campsey to Bruisyard, but dissolved in 1366, and the buildings became the sole Suffolk house of the Minoresses.
The White Friars, or Carmelites, who took their name from an aggregation of hermits on Mount Carmel in the second Crusade, were never a power in England. They had but one convent in Suffolk, on a site in the parishes of St. Nicholas and St. Lawrence in Ipswich, of which a part was taken in after-days for a county gaol, the name being yet preserved in Gaol Lane.
Allusion has been made to the Austin Friars as distinguished from the Austin Canons. Clare is their earliest foundation, and Richard de Clare, Earl of Gloucester, is claimed as their founder, in the middle of the thirteenth century. Weever quotes a monument to the memory of his widow Maud :
Her lord and she with an holy entente,
Made up our chirche fro the fondament,
As shewith our wyndowes in housis thre,
Dortour, Chapiterhous and Fraitour, which she
Made out the grounde both plaunche and wal.
As compared with others, much of the building remains, and there used to be communication between the castle and the friary by a bridge over the moat. Of the Orford friary no detail can be given but the date, circa 1294, and the names of a few benefactors. Though the abode of these Hermit Friars at Gorleston has disappeared, it must have been a place of great importance in its day. The site was to the west of the high road near the junction of Gorleston and Southtown, where terra firma emerges from the marsh. Here was a church 100 feet long and 24 feet wide, with a fine tower which formed a sea-mark, and existed in a ruined condition till 1813, when the sole remaining wall fell in an easterly gale. The engraving in Palmer’s ‘Perlustration of Great Yarmouth’69 , shows that it was of the Perpendicular period. A small doorway of the same style, very late, may also be seen in a house hard by, the sole material relic of what was once a convent of the highest esteem; for here were interred three Earls of Suffolk (one Ufford and two De la Poles), Sir Robert Bacon, Richard de Clare, Earl of Gloucester, Roger Fitz-Osbert of Somerleyton, and many others of distinction. Three cartloads of encaustic tiles with armorial bearings, taken from these ruins, are said to have been broken up to mend the roads in 1800, and now and then one has been dredged from the bottom of the river70 . A cell to this priory existed in Yarmouth, the remains whereof may be seen at the back of the Star Hotel.
Last in this long list of mendicants come the Crutched Friars, who derived their name from the cross at the head of their walking-staff. They were rare in England, and we have no trace of them in Norfolk. In London their house, the mother-house of the Order, was near the Tower, where the name is not extinct. Great Welnetham, founded before 1273, their sole habitation in Suffolk, was at once subordinate to this, and had a cell at Bergham in Linton, in the county of Cambridge. It is remarkable that their principles admitted of landed possessions. Altogether they had, besides houses, not less than 350 acres in Welnetham, Cockfield, Linton, Waldingfield, and Acton, the last the gift of Sir Robert Bures, whose fine brass remains in that church.
From the friars to the Jews is nearly as abrupt a transition as from the fish to the friars at the beginning of this chapter ; but the time has come for some notice of the Chosen Race in Suffolk.
Considering their constant migrations and undoubted presence in all the great cities of the Roman world, there seems no reason to doubt the early appearance of the Jews on English soil, though direct evidence is not forthcoming. Mention is made of them in the Canonical Excerptions by Egbert, Archbishop of York, A.D. 740- We cannot rely on the Semitic extraction of Ithamar, Bishop of Rochester, A.D. 644-656, or afterwards on such names as Manasses de Gratis, Earl of Guisnes, the founder of the nunnery at Redlingfield. The Scripture narrative was sufficiently known for the names of Old Testament seers and monarchs to become ‘household words,’ and to be commonly used as Christian names.
The Norman Conquest would not be likely to work the Jews any harm. Indeed, to William Rufus all religions were much on a level, and that a very low one.
Moyses’ Hall at Bury St. Edmunds is regarded as a Jewish synagogue of the time of Henry I. The words of Mr. Hudson Turner, in his I Domestic Architecture of the Middle Ages,’ describe it thus :
In plan the building is nearly square, measuring in round numbers about 5o feet either way. The ground floor is vaulted and divided into three alleys, by ranges of three arches of stone, springing from either round or square pillars, having Norman capital bases. The arch ribs of the western alley are semicircular; in the others they are Early Pointed. The western division differs from the others, too, in being of greater width, the space be tween pillar and pillar being about 6 feet, while in the others it is less than i[ii feet. These differences in form and size, coupled with the fact that the western range has been in comparatively modern times dissevered from the others, and made to form part of the adjoining inn, have led some to suppose that they must have originally belonged to distinct, though conjoined, tenements ; but this notion was satisfactorily set aside a few years since by the discovery of the original staircase to the upper floor, in the first arch between the western and middle alleys, with its perfect well, lighted by two small aper tures, one pointed and the other square, and having a doorway in each alley. On the west side the vaulting was within the memory of persons still living 8 feet deeper than at present, and the descent was by a small staircase from the present staircase. It appears origin ally to have had no windows on the ground-floor.
On the upper stage, over the eastern vaultings, are two good Transition Norman windows, each of two lights, square-headed and plain, under a round arch, with moulding and shafts in the jambs, having capitals of almost Early English character. It is a good example of the external and internal details of windows of this date.
It will be observed that internally the masonry is not carried up all the way to the sill of the window ; by this arrangement a bench of stone is formed on each side of it. The other part of the house has a Perpendicular window, which may have replaced a Norman one.
The sculpture under this window, representing the wolf guarding the crowned head of St. Edmund, is worthy of notice. The upper part has been too much altered to enable us to make out exactly what it originally was ; it may have been a tower, of which the upper stage is destroyed, or it may have contained a doorway.
The fireplace is in the wall of partition on the first floor, and not towards the street, as in the Jews’ house at Lincoln ; but this fireplace is not part of the original work, though it probably replaced an older one. The principal entrance to the house would appear to have been on the east side.
We have seen in the previous chapter to what extent the Bury Benedictines borrowed from the Jews. The interest was outrageous, of course ; but the security was bad. The lenders might well have used the words which Sir Walter Scott puts into the mouth of Isaac the Jew: 71
I pray of your reverence to remember that I force my moneys upon no one. But when churchman and layman, prince and prior, knight and priest, come knocking to Isaac’s door, they borrow not his shekels with these uncivil terms. It is then, “Friend Isaac, will you pleasure us in this matter, and day shall be truly kept, so God sa’ me?” and “Kind Isaac, if ever you served man, show yourself a friend in his need.” And when the day comes, and I ask my own, then what hear I, but “damned Jew,” and “The curse of Egypt on your tribe I” and all that may stir up the rude and uncivil populace against poor strangers ?
Bury St. Edmunds took a share in a general assault made on the children of Israel in ii9o, John Taxster mentioning the place in connection with the massacres at Norwich and at Stamford Fair, and their slaughter of one another at York, when England
Learn’d by proof, in one wild hour, how much the wretched dare.
Many Jews were here killed on March 18, which was Palm Sunday, says Taxster, writing in the reign of Edward I., and the rest were banished for ever, by the procuration of Abbot Sampson. They had thriven under no loving rule, as my old friend the author of the ‘Perlustration of Great Yarmouth’ used to say, whereas in an open town like Yarmouth they could not earn a living. Perhaps they found those burgesses as hard as Yorkshiremen, one of whom is said to be a match for six Jews.
It is impossible to prevent the Burgh of St. Edmund from usurping a very large space in this part of the county history. The character of King John needs no comment, and the part played by Archbishop Langton will never be forgotten. The judicial restlessness which was the outcome of a wicked conscience at one time drove John up and down England, after the manner of gadfly-stricken Io. From Windsor to Tollard Royal in Cranborne Chase, back to Windsor, to York, north, south, east, west, anywhere, and all in vain, to be quit of the ghastly presence of Arthur – this was the manner of his torment.
In A.D. 1214 his ill-devised military operations on the Continent, resulting in defeat and disgrace, undid what credit he had obtained from the revocation of the Interdict and the Excommunication.
In the previous year, at a great assembly at St. Paul’s, Langton had produced a charter of Henry I., the observance of which would have had the effect of depriving the nation of the far greater blessings of the Great Charter. Now (November 20, 1214) Bury witnessed, under colour of a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Edmund, that great gathering of prelates and nobles at which a general oath was taken to continue in arms till the King should grant a charter confirming these ancient rights, embodied in the laws of Edward the Confessor.
The year was waning, the “brief November day” sinking on heath and woodland, when the Bury assembly broke up. The new year had just commenced, when the barons’ demands were presented to the King, and, in spite of temporizing and intriguing, the Great Charter was signed on June 15, and broken, so to speak, before the ink was dry on the parchment. Civil war broke out, the barons holding London, and exacting large sums of money from Yarmouth, Ipswich, Colchester, and other towns, while John ravaged the North. Louis, the Dauphin of France, landed at Sandwich on May 21, 1216, to help the barons. John marched southwards to Lynn, retraced his steps, and died at Newark, October 19, leaving his nine-years-old son to inherit his crown and its troubles. It is at this point that the alleged removal of St. Edmund’s body to Toulouse took place.
For the abstraction of the body there is only the general language of Matthew Paris, that Louis the Dauphin despoiled the cities and villages of Essex, Suffolk, and Norfolk, and the mention of the body of “Aymund”, King of England, in an inventory at St. Sernin, Toulouse, bearing date 1489. Further evidence may exist at Seville, as suggested.
On the other side, there is a total silence in the chronicles of that time as to the alleged robbery, and, indeed, with the exception of Matthew Paris, a total silence as to the operations of Louis and his merry men in East Anglia. We turn in vain to Thomas Walsingham, Roger Hoveden, Peter of Langtoft, Thomas Wykes ; to the Life of St. Hugh of Lincoln, a chronicle which is continued beyond his death ; to the royal letters of Henry III., which begin December 27, 1216 ; as well as to the annals of Evesham, Dunstable, Winchester, Waverley, Tewkesbury, and Burton.
Then there is the expressed belief at Bury that the body of St. Edmund was still there.
Florentius was under the impression that in 1296 he was visiting the place where the body lay. Lydgate, to whom the epithet ‘most authentic’ is applied, says nothing about the removal of the body. The fifteenth-century letters of affiliation call St. Edmundsbury `monasterium in quo gloriosissimus Rex et Martir Edmundus corporaliter et in corrupte quiescit;’ and it is not satisfactory to refer these words merely to common form.
To many readers these considerations will outweigh the 1489 inventory at Toulouse, especially when the items of some of these inventories are borne in mind. If we are to accept inventory evidence, we are confronted with unum jocale, cum petio digiti Adae,’ and much else. The stirring events of the latter part of the reign of Henry III., and the wars of Edward I. in Wales and Scotland, only touch our county by the draughts made on the able-bodied male population to fill up gaps in the rank and file. We have no Cressinghams and Ormesbys to speak of, like our Norfolk neighbours. Nor do the miserable errors and horrible fate of Edward II. affect us locally.
The architecture of the time has suffered much at the hands of all following generations. Fashion changed, and for the worse, as often in other matters. The lofty purity of Early English gave way to the flowing curves of the Middle-pointed style, and both had to strike their colours to the imperious demands of the Perpendicular. Hence, comparatively little of Early English is left. A fine tower was evidently planned for Rumburgh, but never carried beyond the first floor. At Mildenhall, a beautiful chancel, with vaulted roof and pilasters of Purbeck marble, is used as a vestry ; a new chancel, built by Richard de Wycheford, Vicar, .’qui fecit istud novum opus,’ with a perfectly unique seven-light east window, the lights being of graduated width, threw the older chancel into the shade in the first years of the fourteenth century ; and in repairing the Perpendicular tower large masses of fine dog-tooth work were discovered, mouldings inside, serving to form the buttresses. In the smaller towns and villages there is more remaining of the Decorated or Middle-pointed work, sometimes with pretty fragments of glass with black and yellow ribbon, which has escaped the hands of the restoring nineteenth-century destroyer. We have at Acton a fine brass of the complete chain-mail style, before plates came in, and at Gorleston, fixed in the wall, a later specimen to the memory of the Sir John Bacon whose name occurs in the Inquisition Rolls of 1292. Very likely this is one of those mentioned by that miserable fanatic, William Dowsing of Laxfield, as being torn up in the course of his Puritan vagaries. It was purchased by Mr. John Gage Rokewode at Mr. Craven Ord’s sale in 1830, and by the kind care of Mr. Dawson Turner replaced in its original matrix.
Two names, both connected with the Franciscan Order, must not be passed over in this chapter : Bishop Robert Grosseteste and Friar Thomas Bungay.
In the middle of the “Bissopes Hundred” is the parish called Stetebroc in Domesday Book, now Stradbroke, where the great opponent of Papal usurpation in his day first breathed the air of this world in some obscure cottage, such as little farm-houses then were. He had a brother, of whom he said, “A farmer you are, and a farmer you will be.” 72 We know little of his boyhood, but from the proximity of Stradbroke to Hoxne, he very probably fell under the notice of John Oxford, Bishop of Norwich, as a bright and promising boy. At Oxford he studied Greek, Hebrew and physics, and at Paris he pushed these studies further, and added French. In 1235 he became Bishop of Lincoln, and, as we learn from his letters73,’ he had occasion twelve years afterwards to resist the very same Franciscans by whom he had been taught. With their vows of poverty on them, they were exacting money all over England, and required 6,000 marks from-his diocese. The resistance offered by him to this claim, and subsequently to Pope Innocent IV. himself, when he demanded a Lincoln canonry for his boy-nephew, can only be glanced at here. He died in 1253 at his palace at Buckden, in the county of Huntingdon.
Like Grosseteste, Friar Bungay was regarded as a magician, and like his friend and contemporary, Roger Bacon, he got into trouble through his reputation. ‘Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay’ were a well-known pair, and afterwards formed the title to the best known of Greene’s plays. Whence that inventive genius got his ideas it is hard to say ; but the story is a pretty one, with a strong local flavour.
The scene is laid mainly in East Suffolk. Prince Edward is hunting the hart in the Forest of Framlingham, and comes to ‘merry Fressingfield’, where at the Hall he becomes enamoured of a simple rustic beauty, the ‘fair Margaret of Fressingfield’. Henry III., however, summons his son to himself, having other views for a matrimonial alliance, and the Prince deputes the Earl of Lincoln to look after his interests. Margaret, apparently without intent, captivates not only the Earl, but two stout yeomen, Sersby of Cratfield and Lambert of Laxfield, who slay each other in single combat. This tragic event Friar Bungay exhibits in his magic glass to the sons of the combatants, students at Oxford, who are not backward to follow their fathers’ examples, and the simple Margaret, after unwillingly causing this quadruple devastation, becomes Countess of Lincoln. The fair at Harleston, and the conversation about a horse which had been sold by the father of one of Margaret’s many admirers to a man at Beccles, are described in very lively dialogue, and if the time is not accurately represented, the same may be said of the greater part of Shakespeare’s historical plays. Friar Bungay, like other magicians, had a dog, and ‘dog Bungay’ was a name not unknown, though not so common as ‘dog Toby,’ of apocryphal fame. Sir John Harington had a dog of the name. 74
- Chronicle, P. 58.
- ‘The Coming of the Friar’ P. 31.
- The Grammar School occupies the site.
- III. 324.
- Palmer, ‘Perlustration of Great Yarmouth’, iii. 326-328.
- ‘Ivanhoe,’ chap. xxxiv.
- Howell’s ‘Letters’, p. 406.
- Epp. cxiii., cxiv.
- Grosart’s ‘Sir John Davies’, p. 348.