Friars Lane, TW9

Place Name

In 1499 Henry VII founded six English houses for Friars Observant, a Franciscan Order that adhered to a life of extreme poverty requiring them to beg for a living. One of which was in Richmond just outside the palace walls on “a lane leading to the river from the Green”. The name The Friars was used for both the site itself and the immediate surrounding area. One of the order’s biggest – and most surprising – fans was Henry VIII, who wrote to Pope Leo X several times in favour of the Observants, especially those of Greenwich and Richmond, declaring his deep and devoted affection for them, and saying that it was impossible to adequately describe their zeal night and day to win sinners back to God, and that they presented the very ideal of Christian poverty, sincerity and charity. Henry on several occasions gave special alms to the Richmond friars, who possessed no property except for the site of their house, although they were often remembered in wills. This respect lasted until the Order began to criticise the king as he sought to divorce of his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Things took a turn for the worse when Father Hugh Rich, a friar at Richmond and a passionate supporter of Catherine, encouraged her to meet Elizabeth Barton, a former servant turned nun who had received divine revelations that predicted events after falling ill. The Queen sensibly refused as she feared she would be accused of being involved in a conspiracy against the King. Alison Weir has argued that Barton was “fortunate that for the time being the authorities were prepared to dismiss her as a harmless lunatic; nor did they molest her when she persisted in repeating her prophecies and threats.” This was a change of tact by the authorities, who had once taken her very seriously. Thomas Cromwell had actually arranged for the king to meet her following reports of her supposed powers. This meeting is said to have left a powerful impression on the monarch who put off his divorce on the basis of what she had told him. Barton’s popularity made her, for a time at least, untouchable even by the monarch, even though she spoke out about breaking from Rome. Eventually though the spell she held over the king was broken and his agents began to spread rumours that she was engaged in sexual relationships with priests and that she suffered from mental illness. As the state moved against her Father Hugh was also taken into custody. In early November 1533, following a full scale investigation, Barton herself was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Soon after she confessed, probably under torture, that her revelations had been a charade. Friar John Laurence of the Observant Friars of Greenwich gave evidence against Barton and Father Hugh among others. On April 20, 1534 Barton was hanged at Tyburn for treason. She was 28 years old. Five of her chief supporters including Hugh were executed alongside her. The Richmond Order was dissolved shortly afterwards and the house was knocked down sometime after 1562, the land reverting back to the Crown. Following the English Civil War developers began to take advantage of the hiatus in monarchy and during the Commonwealth began to develop on either side of the lane. In the 1730s the 3rd Earl of Cholmondeley built a large house on land, that although outside the palace walls took in the old Privy Gardens. The first mention of it by name as a separate entity was on the Manor Map of 1771. By now it had been diverted from its original straight path after the Earl acquired the adjoining land. In 1780 the house was sold to the 4th Duke of Queensbury. What remained of the Crown property, to the east of Friars Lane, was sold in 1833 to allow further development to take place.


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