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- The Coming of the Friars - 5/38 -


and presumably a priest of the diocese of Norwich. Of the five laymen one was a Lombard, who may have had some kinsfolk and friends in London, where he was allowed to remain as warden for some years, and one, Lawrence of Beauvais, was a personal and intimate friend of St. Francis, who on his death-bed gave him the habit which he himself had worn.

The whole party were hospitably entertained for two days at the Priory of the Holy Trinity at Canterbury. Then brother Richard Ingworth, with another Richard--a Devonshire youth conspicuous for his ascetic fervour and devotion, but only old enough to be admitted to minor orders--set out for London, accompanied by the Lombard and another foreigner, leaving behind him Agnellus and the rest, among them William of Esseby, the third Englishman, enthusiastic and ardent as the others, but a mere youth and as yet a novice. He, too, I conjecture to have been a Norfolk or Suffolk man, whose birth-place, _Ashby_, in the East Anglian dialect, would be pronounced nearly as it is written in Eccleston's manuscript. It was arranged that Richard Ingworth should lose no time in trying to secure some place where they might all lay their heads, and from whence as a centre they might begin the great work they had in hand. The Canterbury party were received into the Priest's House and allowed to remain for a while. Soon they received permission to sleep in a building used as a school during the day-time, and while the boys were being taught the poor friars huddled together in a small room adjoining, where they were confined as if they had been prisoners. When the scholars went home the friars crept out, lit a fire and sat round it, boiled their porridge, and mixed their small beer, sour and thick as we are told it was, with water to make it go further, and each contributed some word of edification to the general stock, brought forward some homely illustration which might serve to brighten the next sermon when it should be preached, or told a pleasant tale, thought out during the day--a story with a moral. Of the five left behind at Canterbury it is to be observed that no one of them was qualified as yet to preach in the vernacular. William of Esseby was too young for the pulpit, though he became a very effective preacher in a few years. He was, however, doing good service as interpreter, and doubtless as teacher of English to the rest.

Before long the cheerfulness, self-denial, and devout bearing of the little company at Canterbury gained for them the warm support and friendship of all classes. They had a very hard time of it. Sometimes a kind soul would bring them actually a dish of meat, sometimes even a bottle of wine, but as a rule their fare was bread--made up into _twists_, we hear, when it was specially excellent--wheat-bread, wholesome and palatable; but, alas, sometimes barley-bread, washed down with beer too sour to drink undiluted with water. Alexander, the master of the Priest's House at Canterbury, soon after gave them a piece of ground and built them a temporary chapel, but when he was for presenting them with the building, he was told that they might not possess houses and lands, and the property was thereupon made over to the corporation of Canterbury to hold in honourable trust for their use, the friars _borrowing_ it of the town. Simon Langton too, Archdeacon of Canterbury, the primate's brother, stood their friend, and one or two people of influence among the laity, as Sir Henry de Sandwich, a wealthy Kentish gentleman, and a lady whom Eccleston calls a "noble countess," one Inclusa de Baginton, warmly supported them and liberally supplied their necessities. It is worthy of notice that at Canterbury their first friends were among the wealthy, _i.e._, those among whom a command of English was not necessary.

While Agnellus and his brethren were waiting patiently at Canterbury, Ingworth and young Richard of Devon with the two Italians had made their way to London and had been received with enthusiasm. Their first entertainers were the Dominican friars who, though they had been only two years before them, yet had already got for themselves a house, in which they were able to entertain the new-comers for a fortnight. At the end of that time they hired a plot of ground in Cornhill of John Travers, the Sheriff of London, and there they built for themselves a house, such as it was. Their cells were constructed like sheep-cotes, mere wattels with mouldy hay or straw between them. Their fare was of the meanest, but they gained in estimation every day. In their humble quarters at Cornhill they remained preaching, visiting, nursing, begging their bread, but always gay and busy, till the summer of 1225, when a certain John Iwyn--again a name suspiciously like the phonetic representative of the common Norfolk name of _Ewing_--a mercer and citizen, offered them a more spacious and comfortable dwelling in the parish of St. Nicholas. As their brethren at Canterbury had done, so did they; they refused all houses and lands, and the house was made over to the corporation of London for their use. Not long after the worthy citizen assumed the Franciscan habit and renounced the world, to embrace poverty.

In the autumn of 1225 Ingworth and the younger Richard left London, Agnellus taking their place. He had not been idle at Canterbury, and his success in making converts had been remarkable. At Canterbury and London the Minorites had secured for themselves a firm footing. The Universities were next invaded. The two Richards reached Oxford about October, 1225, and as before were received with great cordiality by the Dominicans, and hospitably entertained for eight days. Before a week was out they had got the loan of a house or hall in the parish of St. Ebbs, and had started lectures and secured a large following. Here young Esseby joined them, sent on it seems by Agnellus from London to assist in the work; a year or so older than when he first landed, and having shown in that time unmistakable signs of great capacity and entire devotion to the work. Esseby was quite able to stand alone.

Once more the two Richards moved on to Northampton, where an "opening from the Lord" seemed to have presented itself. By this time the whole country was on the tip-toe of expectation and crowds of all classes had given in their adhesion to the new missionaries. No! it was _not_ grandeur or riches or honour or learning that were wanted above all things--not these, but Goodness, Meekness, Simplicity, and Truth. The love of money was the root of all evil. The Minorites were right. When men with a divine fervour proclaim a truth, or even half a truth, which the world has forgotten, there is never any lack of enthusiasm in its acceptance. In five years from their first arrival the Friars had established themselves in almost every considerable town in England, and where one order settled the other came soon after, the two orders in their first beginning co- operating cordially. It was only when their faith and zeal began to wax cold that jealousy broke forth into bitter antagonism.

In no part of England were the Franciscans received with more enthusiasm than in Norfolk. They appear to have established themselves at Lynn, Yarmouth, and Norwich in 1226. Clergy and laity, rich and poor, united in offering to them a ready homage. To this day a certain grudging provincialism is observable in the East Anglian character. A Norfolk man distrusts the settler from "the Shires," who comes in with new-fangled reforms. To this day the home of wisdom is supposed to be in the East. When it was understood that the virtual leader of this astonishing religious revival was a Norfolk man, the joy and pride of Norfolk knew no bounds. Nothing was too much to do for their own hero. But when it became known that Ingworth had been welcomed with open arms by Robert Grosseteste, the foremost scholar in Oxford--he a Suffolk man--and that Grosseteste's friend, Roger de Weseham, was their warm supporter, son of a Norfolk yeoman, whose brethren were to be seen any day in Lynn market--the ovation that the Franciscans met with was unparalleled. There was a general rush by some of the best men of the county into the order.

Already St. Francis had found it necessary to include in the fraternity a class of recognized associates who may be described as the _unattached_. These were the _Tertiaries_--laymen who were not prepared to embrace the vows of poverty and to surrender their all--but well-wishers pledged to support the Minorites, and to co-operate with them when called upon, showing their good-will sometimes in visiting the sick and needy, sometimes in engaging in the work of teaching, or accompanying the preachers when advisable, and bound by their engagement to set an example of sobriety and seriousness in their dress and manners.

Up to this time the word _religious_ had been applied only to such as were inmates of a cloister. Now the truth dawned upon men that it was possible to live the higher life even while pursuing one's ordinary vocation in the busy world. The tone of social morality must have gained enormously by the dissemination of this new doctrine, and its acceptance among high and low. It became the fashion in the upper classes to enrol oneself among the Tertiaries, and every new enrolment was an important accession to the stability, and, indeed, to the material resources of the Minorites; and when, apparently within a few days of one another--no less than five gentlemen of knightly rank, of whom at least one, Sir Giles de Merc, had only recently been employed as an envoy by the king to his brother Richard in Gascony, and another, Sir Henry de Walpole, was amongst the most considerable and wealthy men in the eastern counties, Henry the Third spoke out his mind and showed that he was not too well-pleased. Really these friars were going on too fast-- turning men's heads! At Lynn the Franciscans were specially fortunate in their warden, whose austerity of life, gentle manners, and profoundly sympathetic temperament obtained for him unbounded influence. Among others Alexander de Bassingbourne [Footnote: The name is again changed into _Bissing_burne by Eccleston, who writes it as he heard it from Norfolk people.]--seneschal of Lynn for Pandulph, Bishop of Norwich, and, as such, a personage of importance, became his convert and joined the new order; but the number of Norfolk clergy and scholars who actually became friars must have been very large indeed; they were quite the picked men among the Franciscans in England. Of the first eighteen masters of Franciscan schools at Cambridge, at least ten were Norfolk men, while of the first five Divinity readers at Oxford whose names have been recorded, after those of Grosseteste and Roger de Weseham, four were unmistakably East Anglians. No one familiar with Norfolk topography could fail to be struck by this fact, and the queer spellings of some places, which puzzled even Mr. Brewer, are themselves suggestive. [Footnote: _E.g._, Turnham represents the Norfolk pronunciation of _Thornham_. Heddele is _Hadleigh_, in Suffolk spelt phonetically ; Ravingham is _Raveningham_, Assewelle is _Ashwell_ [cf. p. 93, Esseby for Ashby], Sloler is _Sloley_, Leveringfot is _Letheringset_.]

St. Francis died at Assisi on October 4, 1226. With his death troubles began. Brother Elias, who was chosen to succeed him as Minister General of the Order, had little of the great founder's spirit, and none of his genius. There was unseemly strife and rivalry, and on the Continent it would appear that the Minorites made but little way. Not so was it in England; there the supply of brethren animated by genuine enthusiasm and burning zeal for the cause they had espoused was unexampled. Perhaps there more than anywhere else such labourers were needed, perhaps too they had a fairer field. Certainly there they were truer to their first principles than elsewhere.

Outside the city walls at Lynn and York and Bristol; in a filthy swamp at Norwich, through which the drainage of the city sluggishly trickled into the river, never a foot lower than its banks; in a mere barn-like structure, with walls of mud, at Shrewsbury, in the "Stinking Alley" in London, the Minorites took up their abode, and there they lived on charity, doing for the lowest the most menial


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