Brothers of Penitence

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The Brothers of Penitence or Friars of the Sack (Fratres Saccati) were an Augustinian order also known as Boni Homines, Bonshommes or Bones-homes, with houses in Spain, France and England.[1]


Little is known about how or when they were founded. They had a house at Saragossa (Spain) in the time of Pope Innocent III (d. 1216) and one about the same time at Valenciennes (northern France). Their rule was founded on that of St. Augustine. They had one house in Paris, in a street called after them the rue de Sachettes, and in 1257 they were introduced into England. Matthew Paris records under this year that "a certain new and unknown order of friars appeared in London", duly furnished with credentials from pope; and he mentions later that they were called from the style of their habit Fratres Saccati. Paris' notation about a "novum ordum" has led some to suggest that the Fratres Saccati were the order quite soon afterwards established at Ashridge and Edington, though this was repudiated in an article by Richard Emory in the journal Speculum (1943), who attributes the original connection to Helyot's Dictionnaire des Ordres Religieux, which was compiled in Paris in the mid-nineteenth century. There is in fact nothing to connect the Fratres Saccati with the Boni Homines of Ashridge and Edington. Pope Gregory X suppressed the order in 1274 leading to the closure of the European friaries of the order. Those in England, however, continued to operate without Papal legitimacy; some until the final dissolution of the monasteries under King Henry VIII.[2]

They were granted an Abbey at Ashridge in Hertfordshire. They followed the rule of St. Augustine. At the foundation Edmund gave the order a phial of the Sacred Blood Of Jesus Christ he had acquired while travelling in Germany. The order was intended to be 20 brothers, but rarely achieved this.

The Black Prince, a later lord of Berkhampstead castle, became interested in the College around the time of the Black Death around 1350. A second house of the Order was established at the prince's direction at Edington, Wiltshire in 1352 by taking over an existing secular college there. There is an effigy of a Bonhomme at the Priory in Edington today.

Another house is mentioned at Ruthin in Denbighshire but little is known of this.

In 1534 at the Dissolution of the Monasteries the house was peacefully dissolved and the brothers given pensions for life. The Provincial of the order Paul Bush became the first bishop of Bristol.


The priory was founded in 1283[1] and finished in 1285. The last rector was Thomas Waterhouse (1529), who surrendered the house to Henry VIII. The suppressed college was eventually granted to the Egertons, later created Earls and Dukes of Bridgewater. The church was destroyed under Elizabeth I.


Two other English houses of the Boni Homines appear to have existed, one of them at Edington in Wiltshire.[3] John de Aylesbury and another brother travelled from Ashridge to organise the new house, John becoming its first rector.[4]


There was a house in Leicester. The Leicester Friary was founded before 1283. The friary is thought to have been located just beyond the Western Gate of Leicester's old town walls. The friary was closed before 1295.


There is a solitary record of another house in Bishop's (now King's) Lynn. Walter Bette of South Clenchwarton, and Catherine his wife, made a grant to 'the brothers of penitence of Jesus Christ' of land with buildings in North Lynn.[5] No other reference survives.

Albigensian connection[edit]

There has been speculation that the order was in some way associated with the Albigensian heresy of southern France whose perfecti called themselves bonhommes. The evidence for this is circumstantial and the conclusion contested. Edmund's mother was the daughter of Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse, a protector of the heretical sect. Wall paintings in the college cloisters, now lost, were described in the eighteenth century as favouring the Albigensians. Wall paintings in a cottage at nearby Piccotts End discovered in 1953 have been similarly described.[6]

Cultural references[edit]

In the video game Drakkhen for Super NES, there are merchants called Bonhommes. They appear as friars dressed in green, accompanied with chanting voices.[7]


  • Douglas Coult (1980). "2-6". A Prospect of Ashridge. Chichester: Phillimore. ISBN 978-0-85033-360-2.


  1. ^ a b  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Boni Hominemes". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved 15 May 2016.
  2. ^ F.A. Gasquet, English Monastic Life, pp. 234-242.
  3. ^ Little, The Friars of the Sack, in The English Historical Review, 1894, 33, 121., cited in the referenced Catholic Encyclopedia article
  4. ^ "Victoria County History - Wiltshire - Vol 3 pp320-324 - House of Bonhommes: Edington". British History Online. University of London. 1956. Retrieved 23 November 2015.
  5. ^ NRO BL/MD 10
  6. ^ History of England Archived September 28, 2007, at the Wayback Machine - The Inquisition, Note 4; the Cathars movement did indeed come to England.
  7. ^ Drakkhen at