The mendicant orders first arrived in England in the thirteenth century and the number of adherents rapidly grew. Two of the four principal orders – the Friars Preachers (Dominicans or Black Friars) and the Friars Minor (Franciscans or Grey Friars) – quickly became integral in the life of universities and commercial centers in the country, the Franciscans producing the remarkable theologians Roger Bacon, John Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, and John Pecham. Both orders also established houses for women, which flourished in the fourteenth century. Along with the remaining two orders – the Augustinians and the Carmelites (White Friars) – the four mendicant orders had their maximum number of followers (in approximately 190 houses) in the early fourteenth century before the pestilence.
Friars ideally gave up permanent residence in one locality and material possessions; maintained contact with communities through preaching, confessions, and burial of the dead; and were obedient to provincial superiors and ultimately the pope. Anti-fraternal criticism began almost with the inception of the mendicant orders because of their real or perceived competition with parish priests and other secular clergy over the offices of preaching, confession, and burial as well as the income derived from these sources. Reproof and satire gained additional impetus from William of St. Amour, a master at the University of Paris, who wrote De periculis novissimorum temporum (On the Perils of the Last Times) in 1256, a work that questioned the fraternal orders’ very right to exist as true apostolic functionaries and that was sharply critical of fraternal hypocrisy, in particular the desire for material gain despite claims to poverty. Petrarch, Boccaccio, Jean de Meun, William Langland, Geoffrey Chaucer, and John Gower all satirize the friars, a practice which came to have additional significance in England because of Lollardy, new developments in the debates among clergy members, and Richard Fitzralph. Richard FitzRalph (ca. 1300–60), archbishop of Armagh and primate of Ireland, was, until the 1350s and 1360s, best known in his role as a refuter of Armenian heresies for the pope in Avignon and as a preacher and theologian in England. Either coming upon or partially instigating an anti-mendicant controversy in London and elsewhere in 1356–7, FitzRalph proceeded to preach a number of anti-fraternal sermons in the vernacular, which led the four orders to respond, in turn requiring the archbishop to defend his position in front of the papal court.
On November 8, 1357, he preached before Innocent VI what became known as Defensio curatorum, which outlined his objections to the friars, a text that survives in over seventy manuscripts. John Trevisa (ca. 1342–1402), having attended Oxford, became a priest and vicar for Thomas, fourth Lord Berkeley, for whom he completed six translations of Latin texts, including Ranulf Higden’s Polychronicon (see “The English and England,” p. 50 and “The English Language,” p. 259), Batholomeus Anglicus’ De proprietatibus rerum (see “Humors,” p. 13), and two original works in English on translation.
The date of his translation of the Defense of the Curates is unknown. The translation survives in six manuscripts.Y seide, and efte y seye, if me axeth what persoon is most worthi to be chose for singuler1 of parischons,2 a frere or the ordynarie, y say that the ordynarie is more worthi to be chose for schrifte than eny frere. For he is more profitable, and schrifte that is schewide singulerliche to hym voydeth mo desavauntes3 and damages. First y saye that the ordinarie is the more siker4 persone, for . . . he is y-fonge5 a persoon of God and of holy chirche and of the comyn lawe, and the frere is forbode by the lawe. Thanne the ordynarie is the more siker persone. Also, the ordinarie is more y-bounde to his parischons than is a frere. Thanne the parischon may verreilich and more sikerliche triste that the ordynarie wole more bisiliche ordeyne for his savacioun than wole eny frere that is a straunge persoone, as a bodiliche leche6 that is prevy and y-knowe is more y-holde to the seke man than a straunge leche. Also, by the comyn cours, the parischon douteth nought nother schal doute of his ordinarie, wether his power to assoile his sugetis7 be y-bounde other no, but of freres he may have verreiliche suspecioun and trowe that her power is y-bounde for diverse cursyngis, and with oute eny doute hit is more siker to be schryve to hym that hath fre power than to hym that his power is y-bounde. Thanne the ordinarie is the more siker persone and the more certeyn. And that me may trowe that freres beth acursed, hit is preved, first by the decretal in Clementinis de decimis. There it is seide that “Alle men of religioun that haveth no benefice beth a-cursed if thei withholdeth, other withdraweth, other fondeth to appropre to hem without a laweful cause, by any maner, colour, other sleighthe,8 rightes other tethinges that beth dewe to holy chirche.”9 And it semeth no dowte, by Goddes owne lawe, that tethinges of byqueestes and of fre giftes is detty10 and dewe to parische chirches and to curatours therof.
And so seyn the doctors Innocencius and Hostiensis.11 Thanne alle freres that bynymeth12 parische chirches the tethinge of that is y-geve hem other biquethe, beth acursed. For thei payeth nevere tethinge of siche byquystes and giftes, as it is comynliche seide . . . Also, that the ordynarie is more siker to the paryschon, hit is preved other wise in this maner: for the parischon may skilfulliche deme that his ordynarie is a juge lasse suspect and more skilful13 for to enjoye14 hym skilful penaunce and profitable for his synnes. For he schal nought suppose nother have suspecioun that his ordynarie hereth his schrifte for covetise of getyng and of wynnyng of bodilich help and socour, for the ordynaries liflode15 longeth to his offys by lawe of God and of holy chirche. Of freres thei may suppose and wene that thei doth hit for to have socour and help of her liflode, for in here appele that thei made agenes me in Engelond hit is conteyned that by her fundacioun thei beth y-bounde to beggerie and to the heighest poverte, nought with-stondyng that thei tellith that thei haveth powere to here the schriftes of alle men that wole be schryve to hem. Therfore, the parischen may skilfulliche suppose and have suspecioun that, bycause of getyng somme releve of her beggerie, thei beth so busy to here schriftes. Thanne may the parischon skilfulliche argue in his herte why wolde this begger sitte and here my schrifte and leve his beggyng and getyng of his liflode but he hope to have of me siche maner help, and nede driveth to synne, by the which synne the nede myght be releved, as Proverbs 30,16 Salomon, seith and prayeth: “Geve me nother beggerie nother riches, but geve me onliche what is nedeful to my liflode lest y be excited to denye and saye who is oure Lorde, and conpelled by nede for to stele and forswere the name of my God.” Thanne hit folewith that for all maner synnes, he wole joyne me almes dede for to releve his owne beggerie, and so y schal nought be cleneliche by-quyt of my synnes. Therfore, whanne hise disciples axide of oure Lord, “Why myght we nought cast hym out?” and spake of a fende, oure Lord answerde and seide: “These manere fendes beth nought cast out but with bedes and fastyng,” Matthew 16.17 Of this worde hit is y-take that as for evereche diverse sekenesse of body diverse medicyns helpith, so for evereche gostlich seknese most be ordeyned his propre medicyn. And this begger that is bisy about his beggerye wole nought with-out suspecioun ordeyne me siche medicyns for my synnes . . .
Curatours haveth another grete damage by cause of mysuse of privyleges: that freres haveth touchyng18 the thre quarters of alle profites that fallith to hem, other wise of biquyst other of gifte, distinctliche other indistinctliche,19 and al maner mysuse that thei useth of that is conteyned in the chapitre dudum,20 and touchyng the ferthe part that is i-graunted to curatours and y-taxed there, the whiche ferthe part of many biquystes, offryngis, and giftes freres payeth nought to curatours, but freres appropreth hit to hem-silf with many cautels and wyles as curatours tellith so that bitwene hem and freres as it were in evereche place among Cristen men is ple21 and strif withoute ende. So that in many placis charite is fer, and after wordes cometh strokes . . . Thanne hit folewith that these of the ordres of beggers multeplieth hem in this maner agenus the ordenaunce of God almyghtyes witt and his wisdom, and bynymeth therby the fleece of the peple and of the clergie, and chargith hem in everech place. For now unnethe may any grete men other smaal, lewed or lered, take a morsel of mete but siche beggers come unbede and begge nought as pore men schuld atte gate other atte dore, axing almes mekelich as Fraunces taught and hoteth22 in his testament,23 but thei cometh into houses and courtes, and beth y-harberwide,24 and etith and drynketh what thei ther fyndeth unbede and unprayed. And notheles thei bereth with hem corn,25 other mele, brede, flesche, other chese; though there be but tweyne in the hous, thei bereth with hem that oon. And no man may hem werne but thei put of 26 al kyndeliche schame.
And it is wonder that thei dredith nought the sentence of Pope Gregorye that writeth in a comyn privelege to prelates of holy chirche in this maner: “For ofte vices of privy riches entreth, and Sathanas his angel degiseth27 hym in the liknesse of an angel of light. By this present auctorite, we comaundeth and hoteth that if eny that tellith that thei beth of the ordre of frere prechours precheth in yowre contrayes and turneth hem to begging of money wharby the ordre of hem that haveth made professioun to povert myght be diffamed, take ye hem as fals faytours28 and dampneth hem.”29 Thei beth now so sotyl in this crafte of beggerie that pore vikers and persons and al the peple pleyneth therof, neigh in everech place. This semeth a wonder maner lyvyng in hem that seyn, that thei mot holde the gospel by her professioun and doth agenus Cristes owne sentence that sente his disciples to prech the gospel and seide: “Passe ye nought from hous to hous,” Luke 10.30 Also thei doth agenus another scripture that seith: “Voide and war that thou be noght herberwed from hous to hous,” Ecclesiasticus 29.31 Bot thei goth so about from court to court and from hous to hous, for her cloystre schulde nought be her prison. Ys nought this grete damage to the clergie and to the peple also? Sothlich hit semeth so to many men, and al hit hath occasioun of the mysuse of pryvyleges, for thei tellith that thei useth so the privyleges of prechyng and of heryng of schriftes, neigh everech man schameth to werne hem other to put hem of. And also these privyleges and other thingis that schal be touched withynne doth freres many damages. For hit semeth that these privyleges infecteth hem with many maner synnes: with the synne of injurie and of wrong, with the synne of unbuxomnesse,32 with the synne of covetise, and with the synne of pride . . .
Also, Seynt Fraunceys in his rule hoteth in this maner: “Ich hote heighlich alle freres that thei have noon suspect company as counseil of wymmen; also, that thei come nought in abbayes of monchons33 out-take34 thilke freres that have special leve of the court of Rome; also, that thei be nought gossippes to men nother to wymmen leste sclaundre arise by occasioun therof among freres.”35 And freres procureth the contrarie for to here the privyeste counseile of wymmen, of queenes, and of alle othere, and leggeth36 hed to hed. With grete obedience thei folewith Seynt Job that seide: “Ich have made covenaunt with myn eighen that y wolde thenke of a mayde.”37 And so now by sich company thei disputeth with ladyes in chambre; therfore, in al the worlde wide sclaunder springeth of freres, the wiche sclaundre y wole nought reherse at this tyme. Of many hit semeth openlich that thei infecteth hem-silf with the synne of unobediens and unbuxumnesse by the mys-use of siche privyleges and of her owne reule by occasioun of siche privyleges.