This book is about women who had taken vows to live as nuns and who had, without canonical dispensation, abandoned their
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Table of contents :
List of Abbreviations xiii
Part I The Vowed Life
1 Spiritual Ideal and Legal Realities 25
Part II Casting Off the Habit of Religion
2 Force and Fear 45
3 Land, Lust, and Love 78
4 Diversions and Disasters 105
Part III Prodigals Return
5 Penitents and Penalties 137
6 Recidivists and Renegades 159
Studies in the History of Medieval Religion VOLUME XLIX
apostate nuns in the later middle ages
Studies in the History of Medieval Religion ISSN 0955–2480 Founding Editor Christopher Harper-Bill Series Editor Frances Andrews
Previously published titles in the series are listed at the back of this volume
apostate nuns in the later middle ages
the boydell press
© Elizabeth Makowski 2019 All Rights Reserved. Except as permitted under current legislation no part of this work may be photocopied, stored in a retrieval system, published, performed in public, adapted, broadcast, transmitted, recorded or reproduced in any form or by any means, without the prior permission of the copyright owner The right of Elizabeth Makowski to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 First published 2019 The Boydell Press, Woodbridge ISBN 978-1-78327-426-0 The Boydell Press is an imprint of Boydell & Brewer Ltd PO Box 9, Woodbridge, Suffolk IP12 3DF, UK and of Boydell & Brewer Inc. 668 Mt Hope Avenue, Rochester, NY 14620-2731, USA website: www.boydellandbrewer.com A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library The publisher has no responsibility for the continued existence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this book, and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate This publication is printed on acid-free paper Typeset in Minion Pro by Sparks—www.sparkspublishing.com
Preface vii Acknowledgements xi List of Abbreviations
Introduction 1 Part I The Vowed Life 1 Spiritual Ideal and Legal Realities
Part II Casting Off the Habit of Religion 2 Force and Fear
3 Land, Lust, and Love
4 Diversions and Disasters
Part III Prodigals Return 5 Penitents and Penalties
6 Recidivists and Renegades
Conclusion 183 Bibliography 201 Index 217
This book is about women who had taken vows to live as nuns and who had, without canonical dispensation, abandoned their cloister to return to secular life. It explores the way in which the developed canon law, incorporating principles articulated in the earliest monastic literature, sought to ensure adherence to religious vows, and how the resulting legal formulations impacted the lives of these female apostates. It spans the period from about 1300 to 1540, with both dates being significant. By c.1300, virtually all the major papal and conciliar legislation that would guide decision-making about religious life for the next two centuries, and much longer in the Roman Catholic Church, had been codified. Like so many other areas of Church discipline – from marriage law to the annual sacramental obligations of the laity – efforts to standardize monastic practice, especially the requirements for admission to an accepted order, began in earnest in the mid-twelfth century. From the time of Gratian’s Decretum, the process of systemization and rationalization of canon law, the efforts to harmonize conflicting ecclesiastical authorities and custom, continued apace. Academic commentary on the resulting law would continue into the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and it would guide jurists in coming to decisions on a case-by-case basis. Publication of the principal books that would constitute the Corpus Iuris Canonici however, signaled the conclusion of this classical, innovative age of canonical achievement. In conjunction with the trend to ensure uniformity of monastic practice generally – evidenced in legislation like the Fourth Lateran Council’s decree (1215) banning the proliferation of new orders and Boniface VIII’s vaunted effort (1298) to impose strict enclosure upon “all nuns of every order throughout Christendom” – rules for the recognition, return, and reintegration of apostate regulars were also
established. By the close of the thirteenth century, standardized norms had superseded (or as the canonists said, rationalized) more opaque, various, and sometimes conflicting general counsels and directives. The cases covered here were adjudicated according to these canonical norms; the petitions and appeals that these women filed, the dispensations they were granted, and even the narratives about their penitent return and reentry into community all reflect these norms. As the universal law of the Church, canonical regulations were applicable throughout Christian Europe, with the papacy acting as ultimate court of appeal. These regulations provided a uniform legal framework for all pragmatic applications of the canons as they related to apostate religious both in England and elsewhere in Europe. Records generated by the papal curia provide evidence about apostates from Aachen to Assisi, the dioceses of Utrecht and Constance to those of Langres and Autun, and I have included a substantial number of cases from the Continent for illustrative and comparative purposes. Sometimes the details of those cases will differ significantly from those found in English exemplars; more often, they will underscore the essential sameness of the dominant cultural values that shaped the developed canon law. Commonality of themes, and universally applicable procedures generally outweigh the impact of regional and even national variations in the manner with which offenders were to be dealt. Legal records exclusive to England, however, are particularly significant for this study because of the unique character of the common law, which accorded control of landed property to the king with disputes about holdings and tenure pleaded in the central royal courts. Judgments given in these courts were subsequently written down and entered into the public record, with copies obtainable to prove title to landed estates or a privilege attached to such title. Of benefit to the litigious landowners of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century England, these archived records unintentionally yield useful information about apostates, alleged or actual. In lawsuits regarding inheritance of property, of which there were a great many, allegations that a would-be heir was, or had been, a fully professed monk or nun needed to be dealt with formally before proceeding. Remanding such questions to episcopal investigation, the results of those inquiries, called certifications, became a part of the case record. An additional boon for the study of apostasy in England
is the writ system. Enlisting the cooperation of secular authorities for the return of an apostate regular was the desideratum throughout Western Christendom and we will find examples of its use outside of England. However, the writ de apostata capiendo was designed specifically to achieve that end in medieval England, and an extensive body of these warrants for the capture of apostates are still to be found in Chancery records. A source well exploited by F. Donald Logan in his pioneering study, Runaway Religious in Medieval England 1240-1540, I have often relied upon it as well. Finally, this book concludes c.1540, accommodating the dissolution of the monasteries because of yet another body of legal evidence specific to England. While the story of professed nuns forced to leave their suppressed communities is scarcely relevant to the topic of female apostasy, the mechanism employed to release those nuns from their vows of religion is. Cromwell’s indults or ‘capacities’ were patterned on nearly identical dispensations that the papacy had been issuing to male regulars since 1390. Previously granted by the pope to the king’s male subjects, the freedom to live outside monastic confines and free of the vows of poverty and obedience was now granted by the king to male and female regulars alike. Since such mandates of ‘exclaustration’ allowed nuns an option that in the Roman Church would be unavailable to them until the early modern era, their implications for late medieval female apostasy cannot be overlooked. The women featured in these pages acted, and were acted upon, by the law – alleged apostates petitioned for redress and actual apostates sought to extricate themselves, via self-help, petition, and litigation, from the moral and legal consequences of their behavior. In an important sense then, the case studies assembled here contribute to a growing body of research on gender, law, and female agency in the Middle Ages. That research in turn provides us with yet another lens through which we can view the actions of female apostates. For example, Cordelia Beattie’s observations about the gendered aspects of social classification in late medieval England, Medieval Single Women: The Politics of Social Classification in Late Medieval England, bring an added dimension to our discussion of the way in which canon law prioritized religious status (rather than gender) in its treatment of male and female apostates. Caroline Dunn’s study, Stolen Women in Medieval England: Rape, Abduction, and Adultery, 1100–1500, helps us to frame viable explanations for allegations of consensual abduction
of apostate nuns from their monasteries. And apostate nuns readily find a place within the larger narrative of female participation in medieval legal culture in light of work on married women and widows as litigants in the canon and common law courts. What legal sources can tell us about female apostasy then is considerable. By nature, however, these sources are terse, formulaic, legal instruments that seldom provide much detail about motives, circumstances or even outcomes in cases once a mandate had been delivered. To help shed light on issues about which documents produced to regulate, penalize, or absolve apostates remain mute, recent studies on topics that range from late medieval female spirituality and penitential practice, to the devastating effects of the plague on nunneries, have proven invaluable. I incorporate this secondary literature too, whenever possible.
I gratefully acknowledge the research opportunities and financial assistance afforded me by Texas State University, via Research Enhancement grants, throughout the years devoted to writing this book. I thank the dean of Liberal Arts, and fellow historian, Mary Brennen, for her friendship and her consistent support of this project. My colleagues in the History Department continue to inspire and to maintain the congenial ambience that has long been the hallmark of the Department. Particular thanks to Kenneth Margerison, for reading an early draft of this manuscript and offering many helpful comments, to Lynn Denton for sustained encouragement, and to Louie Dean Valencia and Adam Clark for generous technical assistance. Thanks to the expert and helpful library staff at the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, St. Michael’s College, Toronto; the British Library; The National Archives; and the University of Leeds; as well as to fellow participants at the Fourteenth International Congress of Medieval Canon Law in Toronto, August 2012. The proceedings of that conference have been published and include my presentation: “The Curious Case of Mary Felton,” Monumenta Iuris Canonici Series C: Subsidia 15 (Vatican City: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, 2016), 733–743. I also appreciate the input of panelists at the ICMAC (Iuris canonici medii aevi consociatio) session of the Leeds International Medieval Congress, July 2014, at which I delivered a version of what would develop into Chapter 1 of this book. Colleagues near and far have offered valuable insights, suggestions, and enthusiastic support, and I owe many long-standing debts of gratitude. Special thanks here to Susan Morrison, Elizabeth Marvel, Thomas Izbicki, Helen Lacey, Jennifer Kolpacoff Deane, and Sor Alexandra Martinez and the Benedictine sisters of the Monastery of the Ascension, Zamora.
I appreciate the informed criticisms of anonymous readers of drafts of this manuscript; they challenged me to rethink and to refine my original ideas for this book. Thanks to Rebecca Cribb and the other dedicated professionals at Boydell and Brewer, and once again, special thanks to the Editorial Director, Caroline Palmer.
BF Bullarium Franciscanum, ed. Konrad Eubel (Rome: Typis Vaticanis, 1898) BOP Bullarium ordinis fratrum praedicatorum, ed. E. T. Ripoll, 8 vols. (Rome, 1729–1740) BR Bullarium Romanorum, 25 vols. (Turin, 1857–1872) C Early Chancery Proceedings: Equity Suits before 1558 (London, The National Archives) CCR
Calendar of the Close Rolls Preserved in the Public Record Office. Henry VI, ed. William Henry Bird (Nendeln: Kraus Reprint, 1971)
CIPM Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem and Other Analogous Documents Preserved in the Public Record Office (London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1904) CJC Corpus iuris canonici, ed. Emil Friedberg, 2 vols. (Leipzig, 1879–1881; repr. Graz: Akademische Druck-u. Verlagsanstalt, 1959) CPL Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Papal Letters, ed. William Henry Bliss (London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1893) CPP Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Petitions to the Pope, A.D. 1342–1419, ed. William Henry Bliss (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1896)
CPR Calendar of Patent Rolls Preserved in the Public Record Office (London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1891–) DDC Dictionnaire de droit canonique, ed. R. Naz, 7 vols. (Paris: Letouzey et Ané, 1935–1965) DMA Dictionary of the Middle Ages, ed. Joseph Strayer, 13 vols. (New York: Scribner’s, 1982–1989)
E Records of the Exchequer, and its Related Bodies, with those of the Office of First Fruits and Tenths, and the Court of Augmentations (London, The National Archives)
GO Johannes Andreae, Glossa Ordinaria, in Corpus Iuris Canonici (Venice, 1584) ODNB Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004; online edition, 2008): http://www. oxforddnb.com/ RPG Repertorium Poenitentiariae Germanicum, ed. Ludwig Schmugge, Paolo Ostinelli, and Hans Braun [Verzeichnis der in den Supplikenregistern der Pönitentiarie vorkommenden Personen, Kirchen, und Orte des Deutschen Reiches] (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1996) SC Special Collections (London, The National Archives) VCH Victoria History of the Counties of England, online at: www.british-history.ac.uk VI Liber Sextus in Corpus Iuris Canonici (Venice, 1584) X Liber Extra in Corpus Iuris Canonici (Venice, 1584)
“The eternal law of righteousness ordains that he who will not submit to God’s sweet rule shall suffer the bitter tyranny of self: but he who wears the easy yoke and light burden of love (Matthew 11:30) will escape the intolerable weight of his own self-will.”1 Bernard of Clairvaux ultimately incorporated these words into his treatise On Loving God, but they were originally part of a letter sent to a group of Carthusians.2 Since the Carthusians belonged to one of the most austere religious orders of the day, these monks might have had a special need for the saint’s reminder that the tyranny of self-will exacted an even heavier toll than did the burdens imposed upon them by their monastic rule. But while religious in other orders did not subject themselves to anything like Carthusian rigors (the customs and constitutions of specific orders were not uniform; nor were requirements for male and female religious, even those belonging to the same order, identical), all would have needed encouragement to persevere in a vocation from which death alone afforded a legitimate escape. For medieval canon law insisted that monastic vows, taken 1 Hoc quippe ad aeternam justamque Dei legem pertinuit, ut qui a Deo noluit suaviter regi, poenaliter a seipso regeretur: quique sponte jugum suave et onus leve charitatis abjecit, propriae voluntatis onus importabile sustineret invitus. Bernard of Clairvaux, De Diligendo Deo. CAPUT XIII. De lege propriae voluntatis et cupiditatis, servorum et mercenariorum: http://www.pathsoflove.com/bernard/on-loving-god.html [accessed 13 November 2012]. 2 Giles Constable, “Liberty and Free Choice in Monastic Thought and Life, Especially in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries,” in La Notion De Liberté Au Moyen Age: Islam, Byzance, Occident, ed. George Makdisi, Dominique Sourdel, and Janine Sourdel-Thomine (Paris: Société ‘Édition Les Belles Lettres, 1985), 104.
apostate nuns in the later middle ages
freely, were never to be freely abandoned; as the Glossa Ordinaria, the standard commentary on medieval canon law, put it, “To make a vow is a matter of the will; to fulfill one is a matter of necessity.”3 Most, but not all, of the nuns treated in this book satisfied the first of these canonical dictates: They had professed their vows willingly and in so doing had created a legally binding commitment to the monastic life. They then failed, however, to fulfill that commitment. By virtue of leaving their religious houses and reentering secular society they became apostates, and although their motives were nearly as various as the individuals involved, the very act of abandoning the religious life gave them this uniform legal status. As the lay man or woman became an apostate by rejecting the Christian faith subsequent to baptism, so medieval religious became apostates when they rejected their freely chosen vowed life subsequent to formal profession.4 By the end of the thirteenth century, the point at which this study begins, the developed canon law had established some clear juridical standards when dealing with apostates. If religious women or men fled their monasteries after making solemn profession, and their departures were unauthorized, Church law automatically deemed them excommunicates. Consequently, if runaways could not prove that their vows had been coerced or otherwise invalidated, they might be forcibly returned to their communities; if they remained at large in the world, their prospects for legitimate marriage and family life would be seriously jeopardized. Unlicensed exit from a monastery, accompanied by a ‘casting off’ of the religious habit, was termed apostasia a religio and it entailed severe censures for both monks and nuns. Of course, not all vows of religious profession had been “taken freely” and so not all of the alleged apostates whom we will encounter actually proved to be apostates. Monastic superiors or local bishops 3 GO ad X 3.34.6. Peter of Blois expressed it eloquently: “It is unsuitable for the commitment to religious life to be imposed with force, especially since according to Scripture forced service is not pleasing to the Lord. If carnal marriage enjoys a recognized liberty, spiritual marriage is privileged with a fuller grace of liberty, for where the spirit is, there is liberty.” Epistle 54, as quoted in Constable, “Liberty and Free Choice,” 107. 4 DDC 1, 664–674 contains a detailed summary of the development of the canon law regarding apostasy from religion, in contrast to apostasy from the Christian faith.
might charge that a nun had fled her community without permission, taken off her religious habit, and in some instances even married, but the woman herself might counter such charges, claiming that she had never been a validly professed nun in the first place and so could not now be censured as an apostate. If her claim could be proven, she would be exonerated since by the close of the thirteenth century, the developed canon law had established norms for determining ipso iure profession, which jurists applied to such claims. The procedures for the application of these norms will be detailed in Chapter 2, but suffice it to say that if a woman had been forced to take vows, if she had been too young to make an informed free profession, or if she could prove other technical irregularities, she could file a petition to have her vows invalidated by canonical decree of nullification. Only upon receipt of such a decree would she would be free to leave her community and reenter secular society. In order to avoid being alleged an apostate nun then, the victim of such machinations would have been required to file her petition while still residing in, and wearing the habit of, the monastery to which she had been sent. For example, in 1289 Beatrice of Burgundy filed a petition for nullification claiming that, while still under canonical age for entry into religion, she had been unwillingly taken to the Benedictine monastery of Baume-les-Dames in the diocese of Besançon and there compelled “by force and fear sufficient to move the constant man” (vim et metum quod cadere poterat in constantem virum) to don the habit of the order. Pope Nicholas IV recognized the illegality of her profession and allowed her to freely reenter secular society. Then, and only then, did Beatrice leave Baume-les-Dames. Lacking the financial means and opportunity afforded Beatrice of Burgundy, some young women who had been similarly compelled ran away first and asked permission later, if at all. These women were consequently labeled apostates, since instead of filing petitions while still vested in the habits of their orders, they had fled their houses regardless of the immediate consequences. One such was Margareta de la Scarpa of Arezzo, whose 1481 petition to the Papal Penitentiary was filed only when, having fled her house of Poor Clares, she wished to remain in the world and freely contract a valid marriage. Like Margareta, other alleged apostates would have to prove that they had never in fact been legitimately professed nuns in order to rid themselves of the onus, and the penalties, attached to that label.
apostate nuns in the later middle ages
More rarely, but no less poignantly, we will also encounter quasi-religious women whose lifestyles so resembled that of professed nuns that when they left their communities they might be regarded by fellow religious and local laity alike as apostates, although they were nothing of the kind. Such was the plight of Alheydis Wnandi of Utrecht, whose 1472 Penitentiary petition asked for permission to leave a community of beguines and to live as a secular on the grounds that her mother had used various threats to compel her to enter that community. Since beguines were devout laywomen who lived chastely and in common but who were not bound by formal monastic vows (similar communities had arisen simultaneously throughout continental Europe), Alheydis need not have requested permission to leave; she had not taken solemn monastic vows of profession as a nun, and so her departure involved neither the penalty of excommunication nor the charge of apostasy.5 But by the time Alheydis had entered her beguine house, popular perceptions of beguines as nuns had been reinforced by Church law. There was an increased tendency to treat beguine and tertiary communities as monastic environs – the great closed complexes or curtis beguinages, built in response to ecclesiastical mandates, very much resembled monasteries – and the option for strict enclosure afforded tertiaries after 1476 would further obscure distinctions between nuns and quasi-religious women.6 To local people, unacquainted with the finer points of canon law, Alheydis’s departure might well have been seen as apostasy; no wonder that to live among them as a reputable laywoman she had felt required to have that papal determination to the contrary. Finally, we find nuns who by all canonical measures were technically apostates, yet who do not fit comfortably within that category. Apostasy implies a decision to permanently separate oneself from religious life and these women seldom appear to have made such a 5 Elizabeth Makowski, “A Pernicious Sort of Woman”: Quasi-Religious Women and Canon Lawyers in the Later Middle Ages (Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 2005), Introduction. See also Chapter 2. 6 Elizabeth Makowski, Canon Law and Cloistered Women: Periculoso and its Commentators, 1298–1545 (Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 1999), 127. This will be discussed as well in Chapters 2, 3, and in the Conclusion.
conscious choice. Their apostasy was almost unintentional. Some had received permission to leave their houses temporarily, to regain health or visit family, but once outside the confines of the cloister they chose never to return. Others had sought escape not from their vows but from threat of famine, war, or plague; they became apostates almost by default, finding the dislocations of natural or manmade disasters a solvent to resolutions made in gentler times. These women too, regardless of their circumstances, were considered to have abandoned the vowed life. They too were ‘runaway nuns.’ There is no dearth of stories about delinquent nuns in the Middle Ages. Popular literature abounds with tales of ‘wayward nuns’ and in fictions loosely stitched to the fabric of history, the sensational, salacious, or sectarian have pride of place. Until quite recently, even conventional scholarship betrayed similar, if more muted, biases.7 But the main reason why earlier generations of monastic historians seldom mentioned runaway nuns was that they seldom mentioned nuns at all. Female religious were given scant attention in the works of esteemed students of medieval monasticism like R. W. Southern, and nuns were underrepresented even in exhaustive overviews like those of Dom David Knowles and William Hinnebusch.8 With the appearance of Lina Eckenstein’s Women Under Monasticism, Eileen Power’s Medieval English Nunneries, Michel Parisse’s Les Nonnes Au Moyen Age, and other classics, nuns began to become the subject of scholarly attention in their own right; consequently, some examples of apostate nuns were included in the narrative.9 Eileen Power, for example, devoted an entire chapter (suggestively entitled ‘The Olde Daunce’) to the subject. Betraying both 7 For examples beginning in the Middle Ages themselves, see Graciela S. Daichman, Wayward Nuns in Medieval Literature (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1986). 8 David Knowles, The Religious Orders in England (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1948; 1959). William Hinnebusch, The History of the Dominican Order (Staten Island, NY: Alba House, 1966). 9 Lina Eckenstein, Women under Monasticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1896). Eileen Power, Medieval English Nunneries, c. 1275 to 1535 (New York: Biblo and Tannen, 1964). Anne Francis Claudine Bourdillon, The Order of Minoresses in England, British Society of Franciscan Studies 12 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1926). Michel Parisse, Les Nonnes Au Moyen Age (Le Puy: C. Bonneton, 1983).
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a cultural conservativism and a sectarian edge common to the era, Power’s work nevertheless remains a watershed in what has recently become a flood tide of scholarship on medieval women religious and their communities. Surveys of medieval monasticism now routinely include mention of female orders, both formal and informal, and more specialized studies proliferate.10 The international scope of this scholarly output, coupled with its chronological range – extending from the earliest monastic foundations to the end of the Middle Ages – makes even a cursory overview impossible within the limits of this Introduction. Focusing on English-language monographs alone, the task is still foolhardy, given the variety of approaches and topics. Alison Beach, for example, writes on Bavarian nuns as scribes and manuscript copyists, Anne Winston-Allen treats of the reform literature written by German nuns, and Daniel Bornstein’s contributions include an edition of a chronicle produced by a Venetian nun.11 Fiona Griffiths, Nancy Bradley Warren, Janet Burton, Sean Field, and Bernice Kerr, to name a very few, explore patterns of monastic religious observance and devotional practice, and the bonds of association forged and maintained both between nuns and their lay patrons, as well as nuns and the male religious who provided pastoral care.12 10 C. H. Lawrence, Medieval Monasticism: Forms of Religious Life in Western Europe in the Middle Ages (London and New York: Routledge, 2015). This fourth edition of a work published for the first time in 1984 is a fine example of the former. 11 Anne Winston-Allen, Convent Chronicles: Women Writing about Women and Reform in the Late Middle Ages (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004). Alison Beach, Women as Scribes: Book Production and Monastic Reform in Twelfth-century Bavaria (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004). Daniel Bornstein, Life and Death in a Venetian Convent: The Chronicle and Necrology of Corpus Domini, 1395– 1436 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000). 12 Fiona Griffiths and Julie Hotchin, “Partners in Spirit: Women, Men, and Religious Life in Germany, 1100–1500” (Turnhout: Brepols, 2014). Sean L. Field, Isabelle of France: Capetian Sanctity and Franciscan Identity in the Thirteenth Century. (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2006). Berenice Kerr, Religious Life for Women from the Twelfth Century to the Middle of the Fourteenth Century with Special Reference to the English Foundations of the Order of Fontevraud (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995). Paul Lee, Nunneries, Learning, and Spirituality in Late Medieval
Institutional and organizational distinctions among female monastic orders, canonical regulation of those orders, fiscal management of monastic resources, and the organic evolution of informal religious communities into the recognized orders, are among the topics that have engaged historians like Marilyn Oliva, Constance Berman, and Anne Lester.13 Nuns have now joined their widowed and married counterparts in scholarship focusing on gender and female agency in a legal context.14 Remarkable individual founders, and influential mystics, have been investigated by Bridget Morris, Elisabeth Lopez, Joan Mueller, and Mary Jeremy Finnegan.15 Crossing conventional disciEnglish Society: The Dominican Priory of Dartford (York: York Medieval Press, 2010). Nancy Bradley Warren, Spiritual Economies: Female Monasticism in Later Medieval England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001). Janet Burton and Karen Stöber, Women in the Medieval Monastic World (Turnhout: Brepols, 2015). 13 Anne E. Lester, Creating Cistercian Nuns (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2011). Constance Berman, The White Nuns Cistercian Abbeys for Women in Medieval France (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018). See also, Berman, The Cistercian Evolution: The Invention of a Religious Order in Twelfth-Century Europe (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2010); Berman, Women and Monasticism in Medieval Europe: Sisters and Patrons of the Cistercian Reform (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2002). Marilyn Oliva, The Convent and the Community in Late Medieval England Female Monasteries in the Diocese of Norwich, 1350–1540 (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 1998). 14 Elizabeth Makowski, English Nuns and the Law in the Middle Ages: Cloistered Nuns and their Lawyers, 1293–1540 (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 2011). Scholarship on laywomen as active agents at law includes Mavis Mate, Daughters, Wives, and Widows After the Black Death: Women in Sussex, 1350–1535 (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 1998). Emma Hawkes, “She will … Protect and Defend her Rights Boldly by Law and Reason: Women’s Knowledge of Common Law and Equity Courts in Late Medieval England,” in Medieval Women and the Law, ed. N. J. Menuge (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 2000). P. J. P. Goldberg, “Gender and Matrimonial Litigation in the Church Courts in the Late Middle Ages: The Evidence of the Court of York,” Gender and History 19, no. 01 (2007), 43–59. Cordelia Beattie, “Your Oratrice: Women’s Petitions to the Late Medieval Court of Chancery,” in Women, Agency and the Law, 1300–1700, ed. Bronach Kane and Fiona Williamson (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2013). 15 Bridget Morris, St. Birgitta of Sweden (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 1999). Elisabeth Lopez, Colette of Corbie (St. Bonaventure, NY: Francisan
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plinary and geographical boundaries, historians like Roberta Gilchrist have started to explore the female monastic experience from the bottom up, integrating archeology and studies of material culture.16 As will become evident in the following chapters, more than a little of this recent scholarship on nuns within their monasteries informs my treatment of nuns outside of them. Specialized contributions on aspects of late medieval monasticism are invaluable in explicating some of the norms and nuances of convent life that affected (and sometimes effected) apostasy in that same era. What Winston-Allen, Bornstein, and Bruce Venarde, for instance, reveal about admission criteria in late medieval nunneries – some admitted only women from the most privileged social classes – allows us to better understand why, for minor aristocrats in particular, the prospect of reclaiming an inheritance forfeited by monastic profession might tempt to apostasy.17 Caroline Bynum’s classic treatment of the distinctive, passion-oriented female piety of the late Middle Ages, provides context for coming to terms with the rigorous devotional and penitential practices commonly imposed on returning apostates;18 so too, Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski’s evocative look at the fourteenth-century visionary, Ermine de Reims.19 Studies of the strict regime prescribed for nuns by zealous reformers like Colette of Corbie can deepen our appreciation of the motives of some nuns who resisted, even to the point of apostasy, their imposition. Cordelia Warr’s work on the disInstitute, St. Bonaventure University, 2011). Mary Jeremy Finnnegan, The Women of Helfta (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1991). Joan Mueller, The Privilege of Poverty: Claire of Assisi, Agnes of Prague, and the Struggle for a Franciscan Rule for Women (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania State Press, 2008). 16 Roberta Gilchrist, Gender and Material Culture: The Archaeology of Religious Women (London and New York: Routledge, 1997). Roberta Gilchrist and Marilyn Oliva, Religious Women in Medieval East Anglia History and Archaeology c1100–1540 (Norwich: Centre of East Anglian Studies, University of East Anglia, 1993). 17 Bruce L. Venarde, Women’s Monasticism and Medieval Society: Nunneries in France and England, 890–1215 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997). 18 Caroline Walker Bynum, Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987). 19 Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski, The Strange Case of Ermine de Reims (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015).
tinctive habits worn by different orders of nuns, and the special significance of the veil in rites of profession, can clarify the rituals prescribed for readmitting repentant apostates and the penitential discipline to which prodigals were subject.20 Roberta Gilchrist’s examination of the forms and functions of monastic buildings can suggest reasons why a community might have found it difficult to isolate an unrepentant apostate from her sisters. All of this having been said, amid this rich and useful trove of current scholarship on nuns in community, the topic of nuns who leave their monasteries remains neglected. Historians of monasticism naturally and consistently focus on life within, not outside of, the cloister. They are properly concerned with institutional structures, devotional practices, dynamics of patronage, and the economic fabric of monastic life, rather than an individual nun’s rejection of it. Other than a few case studies, the topic of female apostasy has not been given the attention it warrants. When we turn to studies of the canon law of apostasy from religious life, the gap in scholarship becomes even wider. The law pertaining to monks has been surveyed, but as Laurent Mayali points out, even studies of the juridical status of male apostates are rare, and all of them are dated; with the exception of the catalogue of counciliar and pontifical sources that is A. J. Riesner’s 1942 dissertation, Apostates and Fugitives from Religious Institutes, such overviews are unavailable in English.21 And although much of the medieval canon law regarding apostate monks was applicable to nuns as well, much of it was not. The only full-scale study that even touches on this telling fact and teases 20 Lopez, Colette of Corbie. Cordelia Warr, Dressing for Heaven: Religious Clothing in Italy, 1215–1545 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2010). Cordelia Warr, “Religious Dress in Italy in the Late Middle Ages,” in Defining Dress, ed. Amy de la Haye and Elizabeth Wilson (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999). 21 Laurent Mayali, “Du vagabondage à l’apostasie. Le moine fugitive dans la société médiévale,” in Religiöse Devianz : Untersuchungen Zu Sozialen, Rechtlichen Und Theologischen Reaktionen Auf Religiöse Abweichung Im Westlichen Und Östlichen Mittelalter, ed. Dieter Simon (Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 1990), 121–142. Mayali references Albert Joseph Riesner, Apostates and Fugitives from Religious Institutes (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1942). See also: Anacleto Gurzó, De Apostasia a Religione Et De Fuga: Dissertatio Historico-Juridica. Claudiopoli (Turkey: Typis Typographiae S. Bonaventurae, 1943).
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out some of the gendered distinctions it implies is Donald Logan’s Runaway Religious in Medieval England.22 The reader will find many references to Logan’s seminal work here, since he sympathetically, if briefly, treats of both sexes when discussing religious apostasy, and includes several important case studies. As the title denotes, however, Logan confines himself exclusively to the English experience. There is then, a need to more fully understand the practical and legal problems facing women religious who chose to reject the terms of their profession as nuns. By looking at how the developed canon law was applied to apostate nuns not only in England but in late medieval Europe generally, I hope to address that need. And while this is far from an exhaustive overview, the cases presented here are representative of the broad spectrum of motives and means employed by late medieval nuns who felt that they needed to escape their cloisters. With the exception of cases used to illustrate the evolution of the law in Chapter 1, virtually all of the examples of female apostasy discussed here come from the period after 1300. I begin at this juncture for two reasons. First, although apostasy had been an issue acknowledged by monastic leaders since the earliest days of monasticism in the West – St. Benedict’s criteria functioned as a cornerstone of the evolved canon law – the hazy and even conflicting papal and counciliar legislation regarding runaways had not begun to be rationalized until the renaissance in jurisprudence of the twelfth century. And it was only as this classical period in the history of canon law drew to a close that the canonical status of apostate regulars, female as well as male, was clarified and, like so many other facets of Church law, codified.23 The legal revival was launched by Gratian’s Decretum, a systematic and authoritative, if unofficial, collection of earlier Church law which was included as the first book in the Corpus Iuris Canonici: the body of universal canon law that remained in place until a revision 22 F. Donald Logan, Runaway Religious in Medieval England, c. 1240–1540 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996). 23 James A. Brundage, Medieval Canon Law (London: Longman, 1950). This remains one of the few surveys of the era in English. The History of the Medieval Canon Law in the Classical Period, ed. Wilfried Hartmann and Kenneth Pennington (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2008), provides expert detailed information on the period from 1140 to 1234. Other volumes in that series are pending.
of the code in 1918. The second book, the Liber Extra, was published by Pope Gregory IX in 1234 and it extended Gratian’s range. It was an official collection of papal letters, called decretals, which had been edited to extract essential rules of law. The Corpus Iuris would be completed with the incorporation of four more decretal collections: the Liber Sextus, issued by Pope Boniface VIII (1294–1303) and including his decree on the universal cloistering of nuns, Periculoso; the Clementines, which included the decrees of the Council of Vienne as well as decretals of Pope Clement V (1305–1313); and two shorter collections published during the reign of Pope John XXII (1316–1334), known as the Extravagantes. The second reason for beginning in the later medieval period is that this veritable renaissance in legal compilation and rationalization was accompanied by the professionalization of practitioners of the law.24 Cases involving the canon law would more and more often be adjudicated by university-trained jurists and on the basis of developed, standardized law, as codified in the Corpus Iuris Canonici. In arriving at their decisions ecclesiastical officials, be they local ordinaries or lawyers in the Papal Penitentiary, were uniformly guided by the canons contained therein, as well as by the academic commentary that the Corpus generated. Papal bulls and indulgences, issued with greater frequency in the waning days of the Middle Ages, supplemented both case law and commentary, and often reflected the quotidian realities of a brutal era marked by the ravages of famine, plague, and war. By the start of the fourteenth century then, we see clearly the lineaments of canonical regulation of apostasy emerge, and they retain an essential stability and consistency well into the early modern period. This law was grounded in centuries of tradition, regulation and pious counsel about runaway religious which, theoretically, was gender neutral: Men as well as women were required to honor their vows, and monks as well as nuns were to be compelled to return to monastic life if they had attempted to escape it. In his fiat, Ut periculoso, Pope Boniface VIII prescribed automatic excommunication as a penalty for professed monks who ‘cast off their habits’ without permission in order to pursue legal or medical studies, and this ipso facto sentence
24 James A. Brundage, Medieval Origins of the Legal Profession: Canonists, Civilians, and Courts (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008).
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was extended to include nuns as well.25 If apostates, male or female, married subsequent to their monastic profession, the same canonical measures were applied to resolve the issue.26 It was generally accepted, furthermore, that runaway monks as well as nuns were to be compelled, with the aid of secular officials, to return to their communities; in England, standardized writs de apostata capiendo were filed by the head of a house or local monastic ordinary, enlisting the aid of the Crown itself in such returns. Gender is only one variable that those making decisions about who falls into what category might choose when attempting to classify individuals as members of a group, sharing an identity and a particular place in the legal or social structure.27 In the case of apostate religious, the canonists chose to prioritize the essential equivalence of the Christian soul in its stead. But if the canon law ignored gendered distinctions when it came to apostate religious, it certainly did not when it established the norms regarding the proper sphere of activity for women within the Church – norms which would in turn seriously limit the available options, short of apostasy, for disgruntled nuns, while broadening those options for monks. In the later Middle Ages, we witness an even more marked, gender-determined, tendency toward further restriction of female regulars. For example, Ut periculoso prescribed excommunication for monks who left their communities for university study without the permission of their superiors, but nuns would never have had that temptation since, like all women, they were simply barred from attending these new institutions. And after 1298, professed nuns would have still fewer opportunities to leave their cloisters even on a temporary basis. In that year Pope Boniface VIII published another cautionary mandate regarding monastic life, this time aimed exclusively at female regulars. The decree Periculoso, required strict enclosure of “nuns of every community or order, in every part of the world, both collectively 25 VI 3.24.2. See also Chapter 1 for an in-depth review of this important legislation. 26 Richard Helmholz, The Spirit of Classical Canon Law (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1996), 243–256. 27 For an excellent overview of the mechanisms of, and rationale for, late medieval classificatory schemes, see Cordelia Beattie, Medieval Single Women: The Politics of Social Classification in Late Medieval England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).
and individually.” It sought to restrict both exit from and entrance into monastic precincts – referred to respectively as ‘active’ and ‘passive’ enclosure.28 “Reasonable and obvious cause” might mitigate claustration, but only upon receipt of a “special license” granted by the “appropriate authority.” Boniface included Periculoso in his official compilation of canon law, the Liber Sextus. He then sent copies of his collection to the law faculties of universities throughout Europe, since it would be the job of academic canon lawyers to interpret and to clarify the laws it contained. In each instance, early commentators tended to a strict interpretation of the pope’s words. Only the local official, usually a bishop, who had jurisdiction over a monastery of nuns could grant licenses lifting enclosure. A professed nun might indeed be compelled to abide by Periculoso, even if that meant living under obligations stricter than those she had vowed to observe. Abbesses, as nuns, were bound by the rules of enclosure, so could not possibly conduct visitations of houses under their jurisdiction. The ecclesiastical sanction with which the pope had threatened violators was to be understood as excommunication.29 Nuns in traditional orders throughout Europe resisted the imposition of Periculoso, making a convincing case against enclosure on economic grounds. Without continued access to the larger world, they claimed, they would be impoverished. Were they to keep to their cloisters, they would not be able to oversee collection of rents, litigation over property, and sundry other business affairs crucial to the economic health of their houses. If fallen on hard times, they would no longer be able to go out to beg for alms or make visits to relatives and friends to ask for money. So too, they argued that they would not be bound by regulations stricter than those under which they had become professed nuns. According to the chronicler of Meaux Abbey, for example, all Yorkshire nuns remained uncloistered nearly a century after attempts to enforce Periculoso, since they said that they
28 Makowski, Canon Law and Cloistered Women, Chapter 2, for a full treatment of the circumstances of the decree’s composition. 29 Makowski, Canon Law, pp. 53, 60–61, 75–76.
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“refused to be bound by regulations stricter than those that they had undertaken to observe at their profession.”30 At length, legal consultants, sympathetic bishops, and subsequent popes responding to the arguments and actions of nuns in traditional open monasteries, all but undid the papal policy of enclosure that had been inaugurated by Pope Boniface VIII. Compromises between nuns, their diocesan overseers, and popes themselves soon became the norm.31 Licenses to leave cloister precincts on monastic business, for pilgrimages, and reasons of health, among other things, continued to be granted. Nevertheless, the normative principle that enclosure was appropriate for nuns and that it was the only clear proof of the chastity and piety of female religious had an impact. Some communities voluntarily attempted to comply with strict cloister regulations – those outlined in Periculoso or in the dictates of Observant reformers – while others had local ordinaries who insisted that they do so. A nun poised on the brink of apostasy in either of those circumstances would have needed no further inducement to take the final dreadful step. Finally, there is the significant fact that because religious women could not be ordained priests, unhappy nuns could not avail themselves of an option that by the close of the fourteenth century had become available to disaffected monks. Starting in the 1390s, and largely occasioned by the financial exigencies faced by popes during the Great Schism, male professed religious were routinely allowed to leave the monastic life yet avoid apostasy by means of papal dispensations to hold benefices – that is, positions in the Church, including the rectorship of parish churches and membership in cathedral chapters, that had endowed incomes attached to them. These papal dispensations allowed such men to leave their monasteries and to live as secular priests for life, free from the authority of abbot or prior and free to 30 John Tillotson, “Visitation and Reform of the Yorkshire Nunneries in the Fourteenth Century,” Northern History 30 (1994), 2. 31 Tillotson, “Visitation and Reform,” 20–21. Makowski, Canon Law, 115– 121. Katherine Gill, “Scandala: Controversies Concerning Clausura and Women’s Religious Communities in Late Medieval Italy,” in Christendom and Its Discontents, ed. Scott Waugh and Peter Diehl (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 177–203. Gill refers to the words which adorn so many fourteenth- and fifteenth-century papal exemptions – “notwithstanding the decisions of our predecessor Boniface VII” – as Periculoso’s legal solvent.
hold property; although they would have to remain chaste, they were no longer regulars and as secularized, ‘exclaustrated’ monks, subject neither to their vows of obedience nor poverty.32 In the Roman Church it would not be until the time of Pope Urban VIII (1623–1644) that the capacity to become a priest ceased to be crucial to such secularization. Only then were regulars who had made solemn religious profession, regardless of gender, finally able to be formally dismissed from their vows.33 In England, however, gender ceased to be a factor for formal exclaustration a full century earlier. This is a telling distinction and one that merits our examination even at the risk of violating the strict, although for students of monastic history, decidedly arbitrary, chronological limits of the Middle Ages. At the start of the English Reformation, hundreds of professed nuns, young and old, privileged and nearly destitute, ‘cast off the habit of religion’ and reentered secular society as laywomen. Although some simply left their cloisters, most did so only after they had been exclaustrated by decree; that is, after they had received formal license from the Crown invalidating their vows. Cromwell used the same dispensations that had been employed by late medieval popes to deal with the secularization of male regulars; he simply applied them to nuns as well. By extending the reach of this book to 1540, the era of the Dissolution, we have the opportunity to see canon law procedures crafted in the old regime applied to the exigencies of the new.
Sources The most important primary sources used for this book fall into roughly three categories. First, canonical rules and regulations governing apostasy – legislative and doctrinal material that became the formal, normative law. Second, case material and other documents of practice that tell us something about the implementation of that law. Third, contemporary narratives about apostates that provide 32 See Chapter 4 for more discussion of this option in the context of the dissolution in England when similar capacities are extended to nuns. 33 Helmholz, The Spirit of Classical Canon Law, 236. Pope Urban VIII (1623– 1644) is credited with promulgating the general rule, although canonists and theologians had been encouraging the use of the papal power to relax even monastic vows and allow for full reentry into the world.
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some insight into the lived experience of both apostate nuns and those charged with their return and reintegration to monastic life. While some of these original sources have been published – the defining books of the Corpus Iuris for instance – a great deal of other important prescriptive literature, such as consilia and commentary, many episcopal registers, episcopal commissary and audience court records, Chancery writs, and proceedings in royal or papal courts have not. All sources, even published chronicles such as Iohannes Busch, Chronicon Windeshemense Und Liber De Reformatione Monasteriorum, are generally untranslated, and with the exception of excerpts from them that appeared in, and are quoted from, secondary scholarship, all translations and paraphrases are mine. The Corpus Iuris Canonici along with books of commentary by some major jurists, and the papal bulls which supplemented both, form the backbone of prescriptive law that established norms for behavior.34 While consilia, or legal opinions written by academic canonists for use by court or client, still fall within the category of normative literature, they do hint at how successfully some laws were applied. Arguing for and against a particular interpretation of the canons, citations to which they strung together in configurations designed to astound judges, these academics ultimately concluded that one position was more compelling than the other.35 A few of these legal opinions by notable jurists like Francesco Zabarella appear in Chapter 1, but the miniscule number of such opinions relative to female apostasy make them of limited usefulness in this respect.36 One of the best sources for discovering how the canon law regarding apostasy was applied in practice are the reports generated by episcopal visitations of monasteries. Ever since the Council of Chalcedon (451) decreed it, monasteries in the West had been subject to the jurisdiction of bishops; bishops were duty-bound to supervise all the 34 Johann Friedrich von Schulte, Die Geschichte Der Quellen Und Literatur Des Canonischen Rechts Von Gratian Bis Auf Die Gegenwart, 3 Bde (Stuttgart, 1875), remains of major importance for details about the variety of this canonical literature. 35 A good survey of the types and uses of consilia can be found in the introduction to Peter Pazzaglini and C. Hawks, Consilia (Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1990). 36 Francesco Zabarella, Consilia (Venetijs: Apud Ioannem Baptistam à Porta, 1581).
religious houses in their dioceses and any conscientious prelate conducted periodic visits as part of that supervisory obligation. Ensconced in canon law from such an early date, the practical side of visitation was dealt with time and time again, and in some detail. Treatises like De visitatione espiscoporum, for example, written by the noted canonist and papal auditor, Joannes Franciscus de Pavinis, gave precise guidelines for the manner in which these episcopal visits should be conducted in houses of female as well as male regulars.37 Recorded visitations consequently betray a remarkable degree of uniformity across Christian Europe, containing standardized interrogatories for community members and formal decrees issued for the remedy of lapses in monastic discipline – including, if any be uncovered, apostasy. Monastic visitations from the late Middle Ages, in conjunction with bishops’ registers and the case law generated by episcopal commissary and audience courts, contain a wealth of information about the ways in which bishops dealt with issue of apostasy and with particular apostate nuns. Registers also contain warrants for the apprehension of runaways and sometimes include instructions about how prodigals were to be treated upon return. Episcopal records, however, have their limitations for investigating religious apostasy. As Charles Donahue and the working group on church court records graphically illustrate, the bulk of surviving continental visitation records, along with other records of the medieval Church that link canon law and practice, remain housed in archives.38 Runs of episcopal registers are incomplete, and the sheer number of dioceses, 139 in late medieval France alone, means that records are scattered in numberless repositories. Serial publications dedicated to regional study, such as Bulletin de la Société d’Histoire Vaudoise, provide some excerpted transcriptions, but they are often exclusively of episcopal visits to parish churches, not to monasteries at all. The situation in England is considerably different, and that difference is one of the reasons for the emphasis on English evidence in this book. Unlike their continental equivalents, many English visitation 37 Makowski, Canon Law, 95–99. 38 For the most extensive listing of archived episcopal records to date, see Charles Donahue and Working Group on Church Court Records, The Records of Medieval Ecclesiastical Courts, I: The Continent, and II: England (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1989–1994).
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records have survived and are generally found in episcopal registers, which are kept in diocesan record offices. They have been printed in considerable numbers by the Canterbury and York Society, and also in local record series such as those published by the Lincoln Record Society and the Surtees Society. Consequently, many cases emerging from English diocesan visits appear in these pages. But even in England, bishops could only make visits to monasteries that were not exempt from episcopal jurisdiction, and the numbers of those houses had vastly shrunk by the late Middle Ages. Begun in earnest by the Cistercians in the twelfth century, the trend toward monastic exemption from episcopal oversight continued apace in our era. Exempt houses were placed directly under papal supervision and could be inspected only by visitors appointed by Rome. Women’s communities were less clearly, or permanently, affiliated with the order than men’s throughout this era, and in England “quantifying Cistercian nunneries is problematic, a matter of definitions, since only two were officially recognized by the order, Tarrant Keynes (Dorset) and Marham (Norfolk).”39 Nevertheless, any nunnery that was strictly speaking an affiliate would be visited by the abbot of the Cistercian monastery to which it was affiliated.40 So too, all mendicant communities were exempt from episcopal jurisdiction, with friars appointed by provincial chapters to conduct and record their visits to Franciscan or Dominican houses within their dioceses. Thus, the episcopal visitation records that prove so valuable for the study of apostates from Benedictine or Augustinian nunneries are lacking for these orders. And although provincial records are sometimes extant, that is often not the case. For instance, visitation by provincials of the respective orders is scarcely mentioned in the annals of English Franciscans and all pre-Reformation records of the English Dominican province have been lost.41
39 Gilchrist, Gender and Material Culture, 39. See also the pioneering efforts of Sally Thompson, Brigitte Degler-Spengler, and Constance Berman on the ambivalent relationship between the Cistercian leadership and religious women who wished to emulate the Cistercian way of life, if not to live as Cistercian nuns strictly speaking. 40 Lawrence, Medieval Monasticism, 32,185, 228–229. 41 Bourdillon, Minoresses, 55. Oliva, The Convent and the Community, 8. Hinnebusch, The History of the Dominican Order, 393. No records of the
Another problem with evidence generated by episcopal oversight is that some bishops never conducted visits even if told to do so – the Bridgettine constitutions of Syon stated that “the bishop of the place be the visitor,” yet the registers of the bishops of London do not record any visitations having taken place.42 Finally, the sheer extent of some dioceses, especially in medieval Germany – that of Augsburg stretching 144 miles from north to south and 62 from east to west – meant that even the most conscientious shepherd made such visits infrequently. Considering all these difficulties with respect to regionally and locally generated ecclesiastical sources, records kept by central authorities competent to hear and deal with apostates, regardless of the status of their communities, become invaluable. For all medieval Christians, the ultimate central authority was, of course, the papacy. Papal registers and the collected letters of, and petitions to, popes are fundamental to this study, since they document the practical application of the canon law of apostasy. Popes invoked the power of secular government when needed to seek out vagrant religious, as did Urban V in the war-torn France of the Hundred Years War, and they granted dispensations allowing runaways who had been compelled to enter religion – runaways from both exempt and non-exempt orders – to fully regain their status as laywomen. Late medieval papal bulls like Benedict XII’s Pastor bonus (1335), aimed at reconciling apostates by extending broad powers of absolution and dispensation to monastic superiors across Christendom. Few papal records are more important, however, than those of that transnational curial clearing house, the Papal Penitentiary, which responded to petitions from every corner of Europe.43 While bishops and other ecclesiastics to whom the power had been delegated might absolve repentant apostates and render decisions about disputed religious status, some cases always required appeal to the highest court. In the course of the thirteenth century, the Penitentiary became the central office in charge of the granting English Dominican province are extant according to Jane E. Sayers, Law and Records in Medieval England (London: Variorum, 1988), 168. 42 James Aungier, History and Antiquities of Syon Abbey (London: J. B. Nichols, 1840), 245. 43 Kirsi Salonen and Ludwig Schmugge, A Sip from the “Well of Grace”: Medieval Texts from the Apostolic Penitentiary (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2009).
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of dispensations, absolutions, and licenses, for laity and religious, male and female alike. Penitentiary petitions number in the tens of thousands and remain, for the most part, untapped sources, available until recently only in the Vatican Secret Archives or in selected cases transcribed for specialized studies. I rely here on the transcriptions of petitions found in several of those specialized works, but to an even greater extent on the rich vein of Penitentiary material that has now been tapped by scholars like Ludwig Schmugge working in conjunction with the German Historical Institute in Rome. The published volumes of the Repertorium Poenitentiariae Germanicum (RPG) contain Penitentiary supplications relevant to the German-speaking lands in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and many of those came from runaway nuns.44 As in the case with recorded episcopal visitations, England once again provides us with an especially useful body of original sources, this time generated by the singular authority of the Crown. First and most useful, as Donald Logan recognized and fruitfully exploited in his study of apostates, are the royal writs de apostata capiendo. As mentioned above, these official interventions on behalf of the petitioning abbess, abbot, or other monastic ordinary for the pursuit and return of an apostate regular could be, and were, issued for exempt Franciscan and Dominican nuns, along with their sisters from traditionally non-exempt orders. They are consequently a very important resource for investigations of both. A second body of court-generated, public records is especially valuable when apostate nuns hailed from the English landed classes. The distinctive jurisdictional division in the common law reserved all landed disputes to the Crown. But before proceeding to trial, all questions of a litigant’s religious (versus lay) status were dealt with by being remanded to the ecclesiastical forum, usually the court of the local bishop. Thus, when investigating cases of apostasy motivated by the desire to inherit landed wealth, Chancery writs demanding such clarification can prove vital, since the details that they provide would otherwise be undocumented. With few exceptions, neither normative legislation nor legal documents of practice give us any details about the motives and circumstances of the apostates and runaways with which they are concerned. 44 Ludwig Schmugge, Paolo Ostinelli, and Hans Braun. Repertorium Poenitentiariae Germanicum (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1996).
While narrative primary sources dealing with female apostates are few, they can provide anecdotal descriptions of both, and offer a glimpse of the culture and even the character of some culprits. By turns risible, and tragic, the chronicle of the intrepid reformer, Johannes Busch, for example, vividly describes the two prodigal nuns from Saxony whose return he oversaw. Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of the Artists recounts the romantic tale of an artist and his model, Fra Filippo Lippi and Lucrezia Buti, both apostates and together living as man and wife in plain view of the Vatican.
Methodology The bulk of this study focuses on nuns who broke their vows and the ways that they effected those ruptures. But how did the developed canon law determine that women had freely professed vows in the first place, and that they had done so with forethought? These are questions that I deal with in Chapter 1, ‘Spiritual Ideal and Legal Realities’. Since the legal dimensions are complex, and the fact of profession central to the issue of whether a runaway nun might be charged with apostasy or not, most of Chapter 1 deals with these technical, juridical developments. It would be wrong, however, to detail the evolution of the canon law regarding apostasy without reference to the spirit that continued to animate that law. To gainsay the spiritual ideal behind the law risks misinterpreting and perhaps even falsifying the medieval experience. The teachings of the Church on the efficacy of the vowed life signified even for those who outwardly rejected that life, like the twice apostate Cistercian nun Sophie of Brunswick, who interpreted the evil that befell her as divine wrath for transgression. And there can surely be no empathy for canonical legislation designed to force the return of runaway religious if we lack that perspective. In the next three chapters, the investigative triad of motive, means, and opportunity informs my discussion of individual cases. Chapter 2, ‘Force and Fear’, features runaways motivated to leave their cloisters chiefly because they had been compelled to enter them. Although compulsion and other technicalities had compromised the legitimacy of their vows – giving them legal redress to petition for the nullification of those vows – these women left first, and filed such petitions later, if at all. Because they reentered lay society without license to do
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so, they ran the risks of being charged as apostates and of suffering the consequence of these allegations. Chapter 3, ‘Land, Lust and Love’, deals with apostasy which appears to have been motivated by love, whether of landed wealth or of the opposite sex. Economic, physical, and emotional lures sometimes proved strong enough to motivate professed nuns to become apostates, and notwithstanding the number of scandalous stories that found their way into later literature, money – particularly the prospect of a substantial inheritance – appears to have been at least as potent a temptation as love. In Chapter 4, ‘Diversions and Disasters’, we consider the risks run by nuns who fell prey to the positive attractions of pilgrimage travel, recreations, and the surcease from routine provided by visits with family; these temporary respites, even when taken with the leave of one’s superior, became for some restless souls a springboard for permanent abandonment of religious life. Also considered here are the negative effects of disasters and dislocations, including zealous monastic reforms, that threatened and sometimes uprooted whole communities of nuns. Once stability was threatened or became a mere chimera, some nuns were no longer willing to preserve in a lifelong commitment made in more irenic times. In the final section of this book, Prodigals Return, we look at scenarios featuring the reintegration of apostate nuns to their communities and also speculate about those who managed to evade efforts to compel their return. Chapter 5 illustrates the fate of some repentant apostates who returned to their monasteries, as well as the penitential regime imposed upon them. Chapter 6 deals with the unrepentant runaways who were either forcibly restored to their communities or who continued to elude apprehension. In the Conclusion I highlight the major issues that the cases presented here have raised, and the questions that remain for future scholarship to explore and perhaps to answer. I also examine the ideal of equivalency, and the limitations of that ideal; the reality of gendered application of the canon law to female petitioners and acknowledged apostates. I hope that this work will inspire further study of the medieval women who became disaffected with religious life. Given the number of untapped sources for such work, the future beckons.
The Vowed Life
It fitting and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks Lord God Almighty and eternal Father. Preface to the Canon of the Mass, Eucharistic Prayer II
Spiritual Ideal and Legal Realities
A clear reminder of the nexus between obligation and salvation, the Eucharistic prayer recited at every Mass is as familiar to Roman Catholics today as it would have been to their medieval counterparts. To “always and everywhere give thanks to God,” the fundamental duty of the faithful, demands actions as well as words and it is fulfilled by living a virtuous life.1 Salvation comes from that daily effort at fulfillment. But one’s state in life, married or single, clerical or lay, naturally determines its more precise requirements. While all believers theoretically resolve to remain faithful to God, those who marry or become professed religious do more than that; they formally assume some special obligations to Him when they enter into their chosen states. They articulate these duties by pronouncing solemn vows. These vows, in turn, add another variable to the equation of duty with salvation. Vows call upon God to witness one’s intentions; they signify a resolution to act in certain ways, and they obligate individuals to carry out their proposed actions. Hence, violating a vow freely taken has moral implications that relate directly to God and not just to one’s fellow men and women. In medieval Europe, there were practical, legal, and personal consequences for such violations as well. While the consequences for breaking solemn vows of religion in the late Middle Ages differed fundamentally from those imposed in the early medieval era, as well as from those that came to apply after the Council of Trent, the spiritual rationale for taking monastic vows in the first place remained surprisingly constant. Preface to the Canon of the Mass, from The Roman Missal (International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation, 2010). The Latin reads: Vere dignum et justum est, aequum et salutare, nos tibi semper, et ubique gratias agere Domine sancte, Pater omnipotens aeterne Deus.
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That rationale is part and parcel of a monastic ideal, born in Eastern antiquity and given concrete and lasting expression in the West by the Benedictine Rule. The Benedictine model presupposed individual perfectibility and employed vows to support the quest for personal spiritual advancement. Vows, therefore, imposed upon monastics demands that went well beyond those made of Christians generally. For example, all Christians were supposed to obey God, to dedicate their wills to his service rather than cling to the self-love that made it morally impossible for God’s grace to act upon the soul. Monks and nuns, however, sought not merely to diminish self-love, but to extinguish it. They were assisted in this endeavor by the vow of obedience, through which they irrefrangibly assigned their wills to a religious superior. In the standard Benedictine promise of profession: “Father, I promise to you and to your lawful successors obedience according to the Rule of St. Benedict until death,” a distillation of Chapter 58, initiates explicitly consecrated their wills to a superior, for life, as a check on selfishness and attachment to their own inclinations. They promised to sacrifice freedom of choice, in matters large and small, to the head of the monastery in imitation of Christ who freely and lovingly sacrificed his own will. As the great modern exegete of the rule, Thomas Merton, explained, “Just as Jesus made Himself indifferent to the wrongs that were done to Him and the violation of His rights, so in religious obedience we renounce our attachment to our own idea of what is best, most prudent, most wise, most expedient, and accept the judgment of another.”2 Bounded only by the requirement of moral rectitude, the request of one’s superior was to be construed as an order to be followed, and, without delay: “The first step of humility is unhesitating obedience, which comes naturally to those who cherish Christ above all. Because of the holy service they have professed, or because of the dread of hell and for the glory of everlasting life, they carry out the superior’s order as promptly as if the command came from God himself.”3
Thomas Merton, The Life of the Vows (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2012), 249. 3 St. Benedict, The Rule of St. Benedict in English, ed. Timothy Fry (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1982), Chapter 5. 2
spiritual ideal and legal realities
Similarly, the two other standard monastic vows of chastity and poverty aided in the achievement of spiritual perfection by enhancing moral obligations that bound Christians generally. Through their vow of chastity, professed religious obliged themselves to abstain not only from illicit sex, but also from all sexual pleasure. They promised to give up earthly love in order to surrender their bodies, as well as their souls, to Christ. For the young and healthy aspirant at least, continence of this sort required ascetic self-discipline for its achievement, and that discipline was an implicit part of the vow. Finally, poverty of spirit, that distancing of self from greed and over-attachment to possessions, was a standard counsel to all faithful Christians. Vowed religious, however, pledged to surpass this counsel too by promising to devest themselves of all personal property. They disenfranchised themselves of what they possessed at the time of profession, as well as anything they might have expected to inherit later. This renunciation included articles of clothing and other chattels, as well as land and rents. In his Prologue to the Rule, St. Benedict averred that it introduced “nothing harsh, nothing burdensome,” and, in contrast to the hair-raising asceticism of the Desert Mothers and Fathers of Eastern Antiquity, he was surely correct. But given the era with which the present study is concerned, not to mention its topic, the words of the late medieval spokesman Thomas à Kempis (1380–1471), who knew well of what he wrote, are apposite: “Here, then, men are tried, as gold in the furnace. Here no man can remain, unless he be willing with all his heart to humble himself for the love of God.”4 And a trial it was. Even for mature and thoughtful adults who had freely chosen the religious life and who saw their vows as an expression of the adage that in serving God one became master of self (Sevire Deo regnare est), observing them in the late Middle Ages was monumentally challenging at times. For professed religious who found themselves bound to a life that they had never, or no longer, wanted to live, keeping their vows was sometimes just impossible. Yet once professed, there were few acceptable options available for monks, and even fewer for nuns, to alter their situation. A number of specific legal Hic ergo probantur homines sicut aurum in fornace. Hic nemo potest stare nisi ex toto corde si voluerit propter Deum humiliare. Thomas à Kempis, De Imitatione Christi (Rome, 1925), Liber Primus, Cap. 17.
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developments during the period of canonical systemization begun in the twelfth and concluding at the end of the thirteenth centuries contributed to this. By the close of the thirteenth century, solemn profession had become a clear requirement for entrance into religion and once made, the obligation to honor it was rigorously enforced by the canon law. It had not always been so. Even as late as the twelfth century, entry into religion “implied a way of life more than a legal status; it was not entirely clear how someone became a monk or nun.”5 But within the next hundred years that vagueness had been, if not effectively removed, at least substantially diminished. Efforts to fully articulate and systematize the canon law regarding religious status began with a narrowing of acceptable orders into which an aspirant could be admitted. With the decree Ne nimia religionum, the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) forbade the founding of new religious orders, and henceforth anyone who wished to become a religious in strict canonical terms, had to enter one of the already approved orders.6 A decree of the Second Council of Lyon (1274), Religionum diversitatem, repeated the Lateran ban, adding that any new order that had arisen since 1215 without express papal confirmation was to be suppressed.7 Ne nimia was incorporated into the collection of canon law known as the Decretals of Gregory IX, or Liber Extra (X 3.36.9) and Religionum diversitatem found its way into the Liber Sextus (VI 3.17.1); medieval canonists would cite both decrees from these collections.8 As the number of acceptable orders was narrowed, so were the ways in which one could become a full-fledged regular. Prominent twelfth-century theologians had voiced objections to the practice of child oblation, commonplace in earlier times, and canonists soon joined the chorus.9 By the late thirteenth century, the notion that Giles Constable, The Reformation of the Twelfth Century (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 16. 6 Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, ed. Norman Tanner (London: Sheed and Ward, 1990), 242. 7 Tanner, Decrees, 326–327. 8 The Latin texts can be found in the standard modern edition of the body of medieval canon law: Corpus Iuris Canonici, ed. Emil Friedberg, 2 vols. (Leipzig, 1879; repr. Graz, 1959), at 2:607 and 2:1042–1043 respectively. 9 Giles Constable, “Liberty and Free Choice in Monastic Thought and Life, Especially in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries,” in La Notion De Liberté 5
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committing one’s child to the monastic life was an act of piety did not accord with the renewed emphasis on mature reflection and freedom of choice as preconditions for entry into religion. As far back as St. Benedict’s time, a year in the novitiate had been required before full monastic profession, but there had been no minimum age specified for the novice. By the close of the thirteenth century, canonists had also set a minimum age for entering this trial period: fourteen for boys and twelve for girls.10 If, for whatever reason, novices felt that the monastic life did not suit them they were free to leave. While underage children would continue to be admitted to religious communities for any number of reasons, by 1300 such actions violated the canon law and, as we shall see, might be grounds for subsequent appeal for release from one’s vows.11 According to the canon law in late medieval Europe then, the substantialia of monastic life were the three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. When those vows were freely embraced upon entrance into an approved religious order, one became ipso iure a fully professed monk or nun. Express pronouncement of the three vows, followed by the assumption of a habit distinctive of the professed monk or nun was the canonical desideratum; throughout the late Middle Ages, however, despite the trend toward greater legal clarity and specificity, it remained just that. Despite the evidentiary difficulties that it posed, tacit profession continued to be regarded by lawyers and theologians alike as effecting the same end. This meant that if monks or nuns continued to remain in their communities after completing the novitiate, and if they did so wearing the habit of the fully professed, Au Moyen Age: Islam, Byzance, Occident, ed. George Makdisi, Dominique Sourdel, and Janine Sourdel-Thomine (Paris: Société ‘Édition Les Belles Lettres, 1985), 106. Richard Helmholz, The Spirit of Classical Canon Law (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1996), 232–233. 10 St. Benedict, The Rule, Chapter 58. There are several references in the classical canon law, chief among them being X 3.31.8; VI 3.14.1. See also, F. Donald Logan, Runaway Religious in Medieval England, c. 1240–1540 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 12. 11 CJC, Decretum, C.20 q.3 c.4 and X 3.31.12 are two references that jurists commonly adduced to support this stance. The first involves an oblate released from his monastery because his father had placed him there against the boy’s will. The second released a girl who had been under twelve when she entered her community.
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the law regarded them as such, even if they had never expressly taken vows.12 Why did this continue to be the case? Given that the commitment to monastic life, what St. Benedict had termed a ‘conversion of life,’ meant a change in status signified by a change in dress, equating tacit with express profession made sense spiritually – we must never lose sight of the fact that canon law had spiritual as well as legal ends.13 And this equation also made sense to canon lawyers since it meshed with principles of the Roman law, especially property law, embraced by these jurists. Just as the passage of time could establish a proprietary right, the length of time one spent within the confines of a monastery, dressed as a professed monk or nun, was significant.14 If individuals and corporations could claim ownership of property because they had possessed it for a long time, how much more compelling would God’s claim be to one of His own. But arguments such as these aside, the canonical position regarding tacit profession would often pose practical problems, not the least of which involved proving that someone who had never formally articulated her vows might be an apostate. All the developments summarized above resulted in a formal, precise set of rules for determining religious status. Once fully professed, whether expressly or tacitly, regulars acquired a new legal as well as spiritual personality. They became what the canonists termed ecclesiastical persons, and so enjoyed certain legal privileges traditionally reserved for the clergy. These privileges usually included privilegium fori (forbidding the trial of a cleric in secular courts), and some form of the privilegium canonis (protection of the person of the ecclesiastic, via threat of excommunication, from violence at the hands of a layman).15 But by the same token, monks and nuns whose status as eccle X 3.31.22; Albert Joseph Riesner, Apostates and Fugitives from Religious Institutes (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1942), 11–12, 30; Logan, Runaway Religious, 19–21. See also subsequent treatment of this issue in what follows. 13 Barbara Harvey, Monastic Dress in the Middle Ages (Oxford: William Urry Trust, 1988), 10–11. 14 Helmholz, The Spirit of Classical Canon Law, Chapter 7 for examples of the canon law of prescription. 15 Elizabeth Makowski, “A Pernicious Sort of Woman”: Quasi-Religious Women and Canon Lawyers in the Later Middle Ages (Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 2005), 90, discusses the impor 12
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siastical persons rested on religious profession faced clear restrictions on actions in the secular sphere. The vow of chastity created what the canonists called a diriment impediment to marriage. This meant that a marriage contracted after religious profession was not only unlawful but also invalid.16 Monks and nuns who had taken solemn vows of poverty and obedience could not claim an inheritance or assume a worldly office or title that would have required them to wield power outside of the cloister – we even find canons denying them the right to fill the role of godparents, which entailed both social and legal obligations of some consequence.17 And finally, having professed solemn vows, the religious could never renege on them.18 As with the canonical requirements for entrance into religion, prescriptions concerning its unlawful abandonment had become standardized by 1300. In sum, apostate religious would incur ipso facto excommunication and could be forcibly returned to their monasteries where, should they remain unrepentant, penalties such as imprisonment might be imposed.19 The precision of the developed medieval canon law regarding the monastic state is reflected in the legal options available to those who were unhappy in it. Those options were few. First, if one’s profession was technically flawed – if minimum age standards, time in the novitiate, or freedom of choice were lacking – disgruntled religious could petition the papacy for a decree nullifying profession. Once granted, the secular status of the petitioner was fully restored and they were tance of these rights for women classified as ‘fully religious’ and their counterparts. 16 VI 3.15.1. CJC 2, 1053. Helmholz, The spirit of Classical Canon Law, 243–247, on monastic vows and subsequent marriage. See Ernest McDonell, The Beguines and Beghards in Medieval Culture (New York: Octagon, 1969), 129–131, discussing the distinctive consequences of simple and solemn vows with reference to beguines. 17 Eileen Power, Medieval English Nunneries, c. 1275 to 1535 (New York: Biblo and Tannen, 1922; 1964), 34–37 regarding inheritance. Refer also to Joseph Lynch, Godparents and Kinship in Early Medieval Europe (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1986) and Bernhard Jussen, Spiritual Kinship as Social Practice (Newark, DE: University of Deleware Press, 2000) for information on the legal ramifications of becoming a godparent. 18 Riesner, Apostates, 27–35 contains a concise overview of the developed law. 19 X 3.31.15, 24. X 5.9.5. VI 3.24.2.
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free to live in the world. If such technical violations did not exist, however, or if they could not be proved to the satisfaction of external examiners, transfer to another, stricter, order was the only other legally and morally correct option for nuns.20 Monks, on the other hand, might seek ordination with possible assignment to a benefice or cure of souls, or they might get licensed to study at universities or to serve in the household of a bishop or aristocrat.21 No matter how precise the law had become, however, it was meant to be applied to living people, and real life is anything but precise. A single, significant, but by no means isolated example of that ‘lived imprecision’ in late medieval monasticism was the variation in dress both within and among monastic communities. Unlike the ostentatious fur-trimmed hoods and ornate headdresses ceaselessly railed against by local bishops, these variations were not violations of monastic counsels to simplicity in dress. Nor did they violate late medieval canon law. Although religious orders founded subsequently to the 1215 Lateran dictates had to follow an already approved rule – that given to the Poor Clares, for example, was the Benedictine Rule, while Dominican nuns technically followed the Rule of St. Augustine – each order had its own constitutions as well. These guidelines expanded upon the rule and included details about the daily routine and expectations within a given community. They also allowed monks and nuns to differentiate themselves by their choice of religious habits, and they were often very imprecise about the color, cut, and even kind of dress to be worn within a community. As Cordelia Warr has observed for nuns in late medieval Italy, simplicity and utility based on climate and physical activity – in short, what had mattered most to St. Benedict – continued to be what mattered most to monks and nuns in this era.22
Kirsi Salonen and Ludwig Schmugge, A Sip from the “Well of Grace”: Medieval Texts from the Apostolic Penitentiary (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2009), 137–140 provides an example of a formal request to the Penitentiary for such a transfer license by Augustinian nun, Barbara de Rischach. 21 One such license, required by the decree Ut Periculoso, is discussed later in this chapter. 22 Cordelia Warr, “Religious Dress in Italy in the Late Middle Ages,” in Defining Dress, ed. Amy de la Haye and Elizabeth Wilson (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999), 79–92. 20
spiritual ideal and legal realities
As with tacit profession, these variations in practice were grudgingly accepted by canonists even after 1300, but the problems they presented soon became apparent. For instance, the developed canon law required express pronouncement of the three vows, followed by the assumption of a habit distinctive of the professed monk or nun or wearing the habit of the professed after completing one’s novitiate for full religious status. But what if one were entering a community in which the habit of the professed and that of the novice were indistinguishable? To a remarkable extent, the developed canon law tried to anticipate problems caused by situations like these. Popes and councils published decrees before conflict arose, not only to diminish diversity in monastic practice but also to address issues that resisted the trend toward uniformity. Pope Gregory IX (1227–1241) was one of those concerned lawmakers and he addressed the circumstance we have just alluded to in a pronouncement incorporated into the canon law at X.3.31.23. A novice who had not yet put on the religious habit was free to leave the monastery and resume his or her life in the world, he stated, and this held true throughout the probationary year unless the novice clearly made a vow to the contrary. However, to “completely eliminate ambiguity” in monasteries where the habit worn by the novice was indistinguishable from that of the professed regular, the pope continued, the habit of the novice should be blessed when he makes his profession since it is wise to differentiate the habit of the novice from that of the professed.23 Gregory IX had anticipated the problems that might arise in communities where novice and professed alike wore identical habits, but his lofty goal, to “completely eliminate ambiguity,” would have been difficult to achieve even if that had been the only sort of tolerated variation in practice. Unhappily, it was not. An additional complication presented itself, and it was addressed in turn by Pope Innocent IV (1243–1254). Included in the next official collection of papal decrees, the Liber Sextus, VI 3.14.1, the decree stated that if a candidate under fourteen (the canonical age for admission to novitiate for males is employed throughout the decree) entered a religious community he was free to leave it when he reached fifteen unless at that juncture he made his express profession, donned the distinctive habit of the professed, or CJC 578.
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ratified his express profession which he had made previously. If, however, the novice lived in a community in which novices and professed religious wore the same habits, and he continued to wear his habit throughout his fifteenth year, he would be considered fully professed, unless in that community the habits worn by all, novices, professed, and even lay brothers or sisters attached to the house, were indistinguishable. If a novice was over fourteen when he entered a community, no matter how indistinct their habits, the above exception would not apply since in that case the candidate was assumed to have already reached the age of discretion and could judge well what he desired to do.24 Innocent then concluded with Gregory’s directive that wherever novices and professed wore habits indistinguishable from one another, the habit of the novice should be blessed when he makes his profession. These two examples, coupled with the many pronouncements that preceded them, suggest that valiant papal attempts to provide legal solutions via systematic case-by-case lawmaking could never be entirely successful. While Innocent IV had elaborated on his predecessor’s decree, and mentioned specific age requirements, he had also introduced another exception to the rules, based on yet another variation in monastic custom. Furthermore, as legislation continued to accumulate, it could generate considerable confusion. Ecclesiastical officials charged with decision-making in specific cases were wise to seek guidance in order to come to sound judgments, and they found such guidance in the academic commentary that surrounded (sometimes literally as in the case of the Glossa Ordinaria) specific papal and counciliar decrees. One thing that academic jurists did in their glosses and commentaries was to integrate earlier and subsequent legislation on the same issue. A lengthy commentary on monastic profession by the preeminent canonist Johannes Andreae illustrates this technique. The decree of Innocent IV, along with much earlier and later legislation dealing with tacit and express profession was firmly in place when Johannes Andreae finished his Novella in Sextum in 1342.25 In glossing Innocent’s decree then, Johannes referenced older legislation, such as that concerning childhood oblation and the reception of a CJC 1050–1051. Elizabeth Makowski, Canon Law and Cloistered Women: Periculoso and its Commentators, 1298–1545 (Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 1999), 57–58, 73 details this and other work of Johannes Andreae.
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manumitted serf, to produce a summary of the canonical paths to full profession.26 He identified six ways in which a mature candidate – that is, a male novice who had completed his fourteenth year or a female who had completed her thirteenth, he was careful to note both age requirements – obligated himself to the religious life, and four paths to professed status when the candidate had not yet reached canonical age. A mature novice became a fully professed religious by making express profession, by putting on the distinctive habit of the professed, or, where the habits in a community were indistinct, by donning the habit worn by all members of the community after having completed the novitiate within that community. Less commonly, vowing to never leave and, if male, promising “to renounce the world its pomps and benefices” that secular clergy might still enjoy, also achieved this end. Finally, in accordance with more ancient prescriptions, if a novice had been manumitted from serfdom on condition that he or she become a regular, honoring that condition at this juncture signified for full profession as well. If a novice was underage when he entered a community, he became fully professed once reaching maturity if he made profession in that community, knowingly received the habit of the professed, ratified a previously made vow of profession, or, in a community which drew no distinctions in the habits that members wore, by completing an additional year – his fifteenth, her fourteenth – wearing the habit of the order. During that year, Johannes noted, the novice had additional time to consider the great commitment his undertaking required. In the foregoing, Johannes Andreae condensed legislation amassed over the centuries to produce a template that must have helped many a practicing lawyer. It was certainly widely circulated for years to come, making its way to England via the work of that country’s most influential canonist, William Lyndwood.27 But decision-makers relied on academic commentary for more than legislative summaries. Even when the wording of a specific canon appeared to be unambiguous, Johannes Andreae, Novella in Sextum (Venetiis: Philippus Pincius, 1499; repr. Graz: Akademische Druck-u. Verlagsanstalt, 1963), 220–221. 27 William Lyndwood, Provinciale (Oxford, 1679), 3.17.2. Lyndwood completed his Provinciale, a collection of glosses on English archiepiscopal statutes treated in conjunction with general canonical precepts, by 1430. It was an extremely useful aid for judges. Makowski, Canon Law and Cloistered Women, 105–106. 26
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as was seldom the case, laws were always open to interpretation, and commentators brought an arsenal of hoary scriptural and canonical authorities to bear as they teased out linguistic nuance and implication. An example of this type of exposition, and one that also speaks to monastic dress, surrounded the Bonifacian decree Ut Periculoso, which reads as follows. So that the dangerous matter of wandering by religious be eliminated, we strictly prohibit any tacitly or expressly professed religious from abandoning his religious habit in schools or elsewhere. Nor should any be admitted to the study of letters unless first receiving a license from his prelate, acting with the counsel of the convent or with the majority of its members. If, however, such a reckless violator does appear, he incurs the sentence of excommunication ipso facto. Also, doctors or masters who knowingly teach religious who have discarded their religious habits in order to hear lectures in the law or medicine, or who allow them to be retained in their schools, have the same sentence imposed upon them.28 This decree entered the Corpus Iuris Canonici in the Liber Sextus and was therefore commented upon by many important academic lawyers. Johannes Andreae’s teacher, Guido de Baysio, raised issues of interpretation that would engage all subsequent commentators, including, of course, his protégé.29 Guido began by noting that the religious habit referred to by Boniface VIII would have to be that of the professed religious; that is, one that generally included the black cowl with hood that could be brought forward, and was uniform in color, as prescribed by the canons. With this caveat, Guido underscored the fact that apostasy could occur only if full profession had already taken place. He alluded as well to the accepted variations in monastic dress that we have discussed above, and to the fact that the black cowl, or veil in the case of nuns, was the standard mark of the professed regardless of such variations.30 VI 3.24.2. CJC 1065–1066. Translation is mine. Guido de Baysio, Apparatus Libri Sextii (Mailand: Jacobus de Sancto Nazario et Bernardus de Castelliono, 1490), 100. 30 See above, Warr, “Religious Dress in Italy in the Late Middle Ages,” 82. 28 29
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Given the specifics of Ut Periculoso, commentators were naturally concerned about clarifying wording having to do exclusively with monks, since only male regulars would have had the option to study at university.31 Who qualified as the ‘prelate’ referred to in this decree? Could a monk legitimately seek a license to study from the local bishop if his abbot refused to issue it? To what extent did the material need of one’s community set limits on the number of such licenses? Were there types of schools or topics of study that were off-limits to regulars, regardless of whether they had permission to leave? What if the doctors and masters at a school did not know (because he was not wearing his habit) that they had an apostate in their midst? And so on. But it was in glossing the words in scholis vel alibi temere habitum religionis suae dimittat – “dare to abandon their religious habit in the schools or elsewhere” – that the potential of this canon was fully exploited and becomes very significant for our purposes. Once again, it was Johannes Andreae whose interpretation would prove crucial, allowing the sentence of ipso facto excommunication to be universally imposed on apostate religious regardless of the purpose for their unlicensed departure, and regardless of gender. Tying them to citations from Gratian’s Decretum, Guido de Baysio had made a few lofty remarks concerning these words – religious should always love the habit which symbolizes their state in life; if secular clerics are forbidden to go abroad without their priestly attire, how much more rigorously must the law apply to regulars. Johannes Andreae, however, began his gloss with a quip: If these words were applied literally, monks who took off their habits to bathe or lie down in the privacy of their cells would be included and scarcely any would escape this censure. This law applies to them only when they enter society and, casting off their habits, dress as the laity or as secular clerics without just cause. To wit, see the first words of this decree where he [the pope] said that he wished to remedy the dangers of wandering religious.32 Petrus Ancharano, Super Sexto Decretalium (Bononiensis, 1583), 374–376. Petrus posed a number of these questions in his lengthy gloss. He relied heavily on the Glossa Ordinaria and Novella of Johannes Andreae for his answers, as did all subsequent glossators. 32 Andreae, Novella in Sextum, ad VI 3.24.2 Ut Periculoso, 239. Non puto quod monachus in cella sua dimittens habitum vel dum balneum intrat in occult vel iacens sine habitu legitur hac constitutione alias pauci invenirentur non ligati. Sed quando exhibent se consumptibus hominum sine habitu in 31
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Johannes’s remark found its way into virtually all subsequent glosses and although, when abbreviated, it lost whatever humor it might have possessed, it consequently shaped later court decisions regarding apostate religious, female as well as male. The word used in Ut Periculoso, dimittat, did not mean merely taking off one’s habit; it meant discarding it, abandoning it, and with it the very practice of religious life itself. What mattered then was willful violation of the vows of profession as symbolized by jettisoning the habit of religion. So too, the words in scholis vel alibi referred to public places, places outside of the monastery, where one showed, or concealed, one’s status to the world by virtue of one’s dress. It was this fundamental interpretive chord that once struck allowed a mandate specifically directed to monks lured to university study to be used to support the sanction of automatic excommunication for all religious apostates, regardless of the rationale for unwarranted exit, and irrespective of gender.33 This is the way it was used by two of the most renowned jurists and legal consultants of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries respectively: Oldradus de Ponte and Francesco Zabarella. Many, if not most, esteemed doctors of the law were themselves practicing lawyers from time to time. Academic jurists often supplemented their teaching salaries with consultation fees. A thorny case would be presented to them by a judge or a litigant, and they would write a legal opinion or consilium in which they resolved issues with reference to their stockpile of canonical learning.34 Judges, like litigants, faced an ever more specialized and academically formed body of Romano-Canonical law, and an increasingly sophisticated court procedure. Requesting expert legal advice allowed a judge to achieve greater impartiality, expedite justice, and decrease the number of appeals from his court. Consilia started to be collected as their popularity increased. One of the earliest collections was made by an advocate at the papal court in Avignon, Oldradus de Ponte (d. 1337). He began to edit his more than three hundred consilia for publication in the early fourteenth habitu laicali vel secularis clerici sine iusta causa ligentur tunc ad hoc facit in principo quod vult ipsorum vagationibus providere. 33 Riesner, Apostates, 31. 34 See again the introduction to Peter Pazzaglini and C. Hawks, Consilia (Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1990).
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century and his collection was regularly consulted by practicing and academic lawyers well into the early modern period. Oldradus cited Ut Periculoso as a proof text in two of these opinions. In the first, a lengthy brief dealing with a contested election, one of the claimants was said to have incurred the sentence of excommunication for his unlicensed absence from the community, despite continuing to wear his habit beneath his outerwear.35 Oldradus concluded that because Ut Periculoso contained language specifically confining the sentence to one who willfully cast off his religious habit, the evidence did not support the charge. To proceed in banning the candidate from consideration, proof of the fact that he had either discarded his habit or that he intentionally wished to deceive by concealing it would be required. The second instance features a monk who had been excommunicated for “frivolously casting off his habit” but who had then repented, returned to his monastery, received absolution, and dutifully expiated his penance. He had lived thereafter an exemplary life and so was elected abbot, but apparently not with the unanimous consent of his fellows. Oldradus was now asked if the monk’s election had been canonical or if it was invalidated by his previous excommunication. Oldradus responded that according to Ut Periculoso excommunication did indeed attend the monk’s apostasy, but that excommunication had not created an irregularity, that is, an impediment to his election. The effects of formal disqualifying factors, such as illegitimate birth – canonically referred to as defects in person – could never be removed, but the effects of excommunication could be wiped away by absolution, and the sinner restored to his original condition, and that was what had happened in this case.36 Regardless of the reasons for the apostasy of these professed religious, Oldradus had cited Ut Periculoso as the relevant proof text for the penalty, excommunication. It was also cited as such regardless of the gender of the professed religious in question. A case in point was Consilium XLVI, written by the active diplomat and distinguished
Oldradus de Ponte, Consilia (Venetiis: Apud Franciscum Zilettum, 1571), CLXXXIII, 76–78; CCII, 86. 36 Helmholz, The Spirit of Classical Canon Law, 65, for irregularities invaliding ordination. 35
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lawyer Cardinal Francesco Zabarella (d. 1417).37 It is outlined below in some detail because it alludes as well to the separate, and decidedly gender-specific, ideal of strict enclosure. A professed Benedictine nun “about twenty-five years old” wanted to transfer to the monastery of Corpus Christi, an Augustinian house which came under Dominican supervision. When she asked her abbess for a license to do so, she was not only refused that license but also incarcerated. Along with the other nuns, the abbess conspired to deny the woman in question the right to make her petition to the pope for the transfer. They threatened her and tried to alter her decision by defaming the monastery of Corpus Christi. In response to these pressures, the nun swore an oath to remain where she was and to live under obedience to the abbess. But when, because of her oath, she was set free, she changed her mind and secretly left the Benedictine house to enter the monastery of Corpus Christi. Once she had taken up residence there, she decided to safeguard her new status by hiring a lawyer (procuratorem iuridicum) to act for her in obtaining the transfer license that she had requested from her former abbess. She requested one as well from the prioress, and from the ordinary of the Benedictine house, the bishop. The questions posed to Cardinal Zabarella – by a litigant or by the court, we cannot be sure – were two: Was the nun in fact a member of the Corpus Christi community, or was her petition to transfer there nullified by her oath to remain at the Benedictine house? By leaving her first monastery secretly without a license, had she incurred the sentence of excommunication? The first issue in this case was the one with which Cardinal Zabarella dealt extensively. As promises invoking God to witness, oaths were taken very seriously by medieval jurists. Perjury attended their violation, and the law concerning oaths, their consequences, and the circumstances in which they might be mitigated, was complex.38 Suffice it to say that he found the oath to be so mitigated because it was made under duress and on the basis of false information; that is, slanders against the community at Corpus Christi. He then turned his attention to the charge that by leaving her Benedictine monastery Francesco Zabarella, Consilia (Venetiis: Apud Joannem Baptistam a Porta, 1581), XLVI, 39. 38 Helmholz, The Spirit of Classical Canon Law, 167, 172–173. 37
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without authorization, she had incurred the sentence of excommunication. If she was guilty in this instance, her legal right to engage a proctor to secure her transfer licenses would be in question. “I am not about to run through all the instances of excommunication ipso iure,” Zabarella testily responded, “if, however, it is Ut Periculosa that is being alleged in this instance, it speaks in another case but does nothing [here]. Also, in Venice the nuns whose monasteries are open, and who do not observe the clause in the law concerning unlicensed exits, should not be called excommunicates since both their superiors and the Pope know about and tolerate the situation.”39 Because her right to retain a proctor was an underlying issue, the cardinal ended his consilium by stating that even if she were at present an excommunicate, she would be entitled to complete the legal actions she had previously initiated. It was clear from his earlier statements, however, that he was not inclined to view her as one.40 For our purposes, it is important to note that Zabarella cited Ut Periculoso in this case because the sentence of excommunication of a professed regular was at issue. He found that the decree did not apply because this nun was not an apostate. She had not ‘cast off’ her religious habit to wander in the world; she had left her community without permission, but she had done so to enter another. The gender of the litigant came into play only with reference to her unauthorized departure, which would have violated the strict enclosure regulations mandated in 1298. But Venetian nuns, like so many others throughout Europe, simply failed to comply with attempts to strictly cloister them, and as Zabarella concluded, non-compliance did not merit excommunication when Church authorities, including the pope himself, were fully aware of the situation and tolerated it.
Quod autem egrediendo fuerit excommunicata quia non dicitur quo iure, non curo discurrere per iura in quibus quis est excommunicatus ipso iure. Sed si pro hoc allegatur cap. Ut periculoso [tit] ne cler.vel monachi, lib 6. dico quod si bene suspicitur, loquitur in alio casu & nihil facit. Item maxime Venetiis non debet dici moniales fore excommunicatas cum pro maiori parte monasteria monialium sint aperta & non observent clausulam de qua iure disponitur quod superiores & Papa sciunt & tollerantur. 40 On the ability of the excommunicate to follow such a course of action, see Elisabeth Vodola, Excommunication in the Middle Ages (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), Chapter 4. 39
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The professed nun in this case was not an apostate because her actions did not stand the test of law to which Cardinal Zabarella subjected them. She had not willfully cast off the religious habit to wander in the world. But as we have seen, the developed canon law required the status, as well as the actions, of an alleged apostate be firmly established for the charge to be valid. Only when the substantialia of monastic life, the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, had been freely embraced upon entrance into an approved religious order, did one become ipso iure a fully professed monk or nun. And only the professed religious could, by willful abandonment of the vowed life, become an apostate. Bishops and their officials, papal auditors, legates, and other ecclesiastics charged with decision-making in specific cases involving apostate religious got some guidance from academic commentary. The work of Johannes Andreae, Oldradus de Ponte, Francesco Zabarella and other famous jurists, helped them to negotiate the accumulated papal and counciliar legislation which, although far more streamlined and systematic by 1300, would inevitably be unable to anticipate the nuances of individual cases. Consilia of the sort we have just examined, also helped judges apply the law on a case-by-case basis. In the next chapter we deal with some of those cases, beginning with women whose status as fully professed nuns had been compromised by factors which precluded the full, voluntary, mature consent that late medieval canon law determined to be vital. In short, they were alleged, not actual apostates; laywomen who would need the warrant of ecclesiastical authority to rid them of allegations to the contrary.
Casting Off the Habit of Religion
… having abandoned the habit of her order, she wanders about from place to place clothed as a secular woman, to the danger of her soul, scandal of her order, and manifesting pernicious example to others …. Writ De Apostata Capiendo
Force and Fear
Entrants into religious life were always presumed to have answered a call from God. Aptly termed a vocation, this call issued from the deep well-spring of the soul, and it led individuals to seek spiritual perfection via the ordered life of monastic ritual and routine. For them, the monastery was a structured environment within which to craft personal salvation, a school for the Lord’s service.1 The school was demanding, the lessons never fully mastered, and the routine penitential in its sameness as well as in its ascetic particulars, but for those called by God the monastery was a safe haven as well. It was a place to which one might become particularly attached, the ‘sweet and beloved dwelling’ immortalized by Alcuin, a refuge from which the monk or nun might never wish to be parted.2 When this presumption did not hold, when the summons to religion came not from God but from parents, relatives, or other interested parties, the story was completely different. For those compelled to enter, the monastery became a prison. And, like prisoners anywhere, those forced to enter were naturally keen to escape when and if the occasion presented itself. For victimized women with means, opportunity, the evidence to support their claims, and no small amount of persistence, escape came not by flight, but by filing a petition. As established in the previous chapter, late medieval canon law provided that if religious profession had been coerced, or was in some 1 Benedict, Rule of St. Benedict, Prologue. 2 Alcuin, “O mea cella,” in Oxford Book of Medieval Latin Verse, ed. F. J. E. Rabey (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1959), 107–108. Although Alcuin used the term to designate the palace school at Aix-la-Chapelle, from which he retired in 796, the poem’s content, Alcuin’s thoughts on the destruction of Lindisfarne by Vikings, and his own retreat to the Abbey of St. Martin of Tours, all suggest its appropriateness for inclusion here.
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other way technically flawed, it might be nullified upon petition to the papacy. If successful, the petitioner received a declaratory letter stating that the vows she had been forced to take were null and void. The secular status of the petitioner was thus fully restored, and she would be free to leave the confines of the cloister and return to society. The most common ground for petitions to nullify vows was the allegation of vim et metum, force and fear. In cases alleging force and fear, ecclesiastical decision-makers consistently cited a rule of law that had been derived from a decretal letter of Pope Alexander III (1159– 1181) which was included in the Liber Extra.3 When edited to fit into official collections like the Liber Extra, details of the circumstances that precipitated a papal response such as Alexander III’s were often abbreviated or entirely excluded. Fortunately, those details survive for this decretal, and they are worth examining before proceeding with our case studies for two reasons: first, because the jurists who will be deciding those cases considered Alexander III’s letter to have crucial bearing on petitions alleging coerced religious profession; second, because the decretal illustrates the connections that often existed between forced profession and alleged, versus certifiable, apostasy. The facts, in brief, are these. Pope Alexander III had been asked by the bishop of Huesca and the prior of St. Mary of Saragossa to advise them about an alleged apostate. She was a young wife whose husband, an influential nobleman, had suspected her of adultery and had ordered her to be killed. Having taken her into a forest to do so, his henchmen were moved by her entreaties and agreed to spare her life on condition that she enter a monastery. When the husband heard that she was still alive, he raged about it but then relented and sent for the bishops of Sarragossa and Tarazona to vest her in the religious habit. The bishops were ignorant of what had previously transpired, but because the wife was not only young but also the mother of an infant son, they decided to speak to her privately about her sudden desire to become a nun. They learned that she had no wish whatsoever to enter religion, that she did so only because she feared for her life, and that, at the first opportunity, she would leave the monastery. Because he knew of her husband’s reputation for cruelty, the bishop of Tarazona decided to simulate the young woman’s rite of admission to the monastery. She entered, and remained there until 3 X 1.40.1.
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her husband died, at which point she left and married again. Angered by her departure, the nuns in the community insisted that their bishop excommunicate her – a sentence subsequently confirmed by the bishop of Tarazona. Pope Alexander III was now being asked to settle the issue: Was the young woman an apostate nun or had her profession been invalidated by the fact that she feared for her life when she took her vows? The pope stated that if investigations proved that a nun had professed vows through fear of death (timore mortis), her status as a secular woman was to be restored; only if that nun had subsequently ratified her profession was she to be compelled to resume her habit. Although reminiscent of a Grimm’s fairy tale, this twelfth-century case was anything but. In fact, it poses numerous issues that continue to emerge in late medieval litigation about forced profession – ambiguity surrounding the rite of religious profession and the legality of marriage subsequent to it; collusion of the principals; and hostility of fellow religious, to name just a few. By the end of the thirteenth century, however, the rigorous standard applied by Alexander III to demonstrate that force had been exerted, timore mortis, had been replaced by a slightly more elastic legal formula. In the developed canon law of the late Middle Ages, the norm for invalidation of solemn vows on the grounds of coercion was the exertion of “force and fear sufficient to move the constant man” (vim et metum quod cadere poterat in constantem virum).4 Reverential fear occasioned by verbal abuse or the threatening demeanor of a parent or guardian did not normally meet this standard. Direct physical threats, beatings, and other violence including imprisonment, did. The degree of force did not have to be literally life-threatening; if it could inspire dread in all but the most hardened of hearts, it was viewed as sufficient to impede full consent. There were undoubtedly instances in which genuine, even life-threatening force had been brought to bear to compel unwilling candidates to enter religion. We should remember, however, that the proctors and notaries employed to craft petitions for nullification naturally knew, and used, language designed to illustrate that the level of coercion exerted upon their clients in such cases met juridical stand 4 Kirsi Salonen and Ludwig Schmugge, A Sip from the “Well of Grace”: Medieval Texts from the Apostolic Penitentiary (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2009), 55.
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ards for the invalidation of vows. Like the clerks in Chancery and Common Pleas, and those in the ecclesiastical courts of Canterbury and York, their task was to present information in a format that satisfied judicial requirements and, like them, they wanted to achieve results.5 Given these carefully shaped accounts, we can readily see why it became standard practice at the Papal Penitentiary to check the truth of the facts presented before granting the dispensation requested.6 When petitioners came to the curia personally, one of the minor penitentiaries in St. Peter’s or one of the bishops present when the supplication was made would evaluate the particulars of the case.7 In most of the instances dealing with female petitioners however, the accused was absent and a local authority, commonly the bishop of the diocese in question or his vicar, would be directed to verify the facts as presented by the supplicant. Only after the details were deemed accurate, when the coercion of a supplicant was demonstrable, would a declaratory letter become valid. Proof of force and fear was vital to the success of late medieval petitions to nullify vows of religion. These requests to the pope or agents empowered to act in his stead, generally bishops, were to be filed while petitioners were still vested in the habit of their order and still residing in the house into which they had been forced. For example, this was the course of action that Beatrice of Burgundy took, thereby avoiding allegations of apostasy. In 1289, while still residing at the monastery of Baume-les-Dames in the diocese of Besançon, she received a reply to her papal petition for nullification of reli 5 Narrative analysis of legal documents from a variety of venues confirms this observation. See for example P. J. P. Goldberg, “Echoes, Whispers, Ventriloquisms: On Recovering Women’s Voices from the Court of York in the Later Middle Ages,” in Women, Agency and the Law, 1300–1700, ed. Bronach Kane and Fiona Williamson (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2013), 31–42. Cordelia Beattie, “Your Oratrice: Women’s Petitions to the Late Medieval Court of Chancery,” in Women, Agency and the Law, 1300–1700, ed. Bronach Kane and Fiona Williamson (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2013), 17–29. 6 Salonen and Schmugge, A Sip from the Well of Grace, 76–77. 7 See for example the number of male religious who appeared personally, in Supplications from England and Wales in the Registers of the Apostolic Penitentiary 1410–1503, ed. Peter D. Clarke and Patrick N. R. Zutshi, 3 vols, Canterbury and York Society 103, 104, 105 (Canterbury: Boydell Press for the Henry Bradshaw Society, 2012), vol. 1, 1410–1464, xxxiii.
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gious vows pronounced because of coercion.8 In it she had claimed that while still under canonical age for entry into religion, she had been unwillingly taken to the Benedictine monastery and there compelled “by force and fear sufficient to move the constant man” (vim et metum quod cadere poterat in constantem virum) to don the habit of the order. As soon as she came of age, she said, she began to protest that her vows were not legitimate, that her profession had been coerced, and that she did not want to be a nun. Still, because she feared the wrath of her brother, Otto, count of Burgundy, she spent several more years in the monastery, all the while protesting that as soon as she no longer feared for her life she would leave to return to the secular world. To that end, she had even entrusted the administration of some of her holdings to the monastery and to other reliable people. She now petitioned Pope Nicholas IV to recognize the illegality of her profession, and to allow her to freely reenter secular society. Beatrice of Burgundy had been following the ordinary route to freedom used by those who alleged forced profession. She petitioned the papacy for a letter of declaration certifying that she was not a member of a monastic order even though she had lived as a regular for some time.9 In this instance, the pope too followed standard procedure. Nicholas IV referred the matter to the local ordinary, the Archbishop of Besançon, mandating careful inquiry into the particulars of Beatrice’s case. If she had indeed been compelled to take her vows, the bishop was to pronounce those vows invalid. Beatrice would subsequently be regarded as a secular person, completely absolved of any obligation to the religious life. Beatrice of Burgundy had not become a runaway, yet had, with apparent success, escaped the confines of the cloister. Not all women in her position had her resources, however, and petitions to the papacy required considerable financial means. Even before a petition reached the curia, money and effort had to be expended to get it into the hands of appropriate ecclesiastical authorities. Declaratory letters themselves were not cheap since “supplicants had to pay for the costs of preparing the letter, i.e., for the parchment, ink, and the material of the seal as well as for the work of the scribes and other officials of the Penitentiary 8 Nicholas IV, Les Registres de Nicolas IV, # 1350, 272; Michel Parisse, Les Nonnes Au Moyen Age (Le Puy: C. Bonneton, 1983), 245–246. 9 Salonen and Schmugge, A Sip from the Well of Grace, 49, 54–55.
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who participated in the preparation of the letter.”10 Coupled with the financial strain, there was the emotional cost. Petitioners might meet with the powerful counterweight of hostile relatives, intent on forcing them to retract their pleas or to endure years spent waiting for their cases to be resolved. They might also be surrounded either by ungenerous fellow religious to whom their actions represented an implicit critique of their own lives, or by equally unsympathetic religious superiors who resented all attempts to subtract a dowry from community coffers – some of those superiors were so intent on keeping dowries of alleged apostates that they launched their own counterclaims in the papal curia.11 These and other complicating factors help explain why some women who had been forced to enter religious life simply fled first, and filed later. Mention of “malevolent people” in Margareta de la Scarpa’s 1481 petition to the Papal Penitentiary hints that she had faced considerable hostility within her community, and that it prompted her to escape the cloister before the petition was filed.12 Born into a noble family in Arezzo, Margareta de la Scarpa claimed that while still a minor, her mother had compelled her “with threats and beatings” to enter the monastery of Pianta outside the walls of Arezzo, an order of Poor Clares. Although she made her profession there when of age, she did so acting in fear of her mother, and with expressed protests that she did not wish to be a nun. When she finally found an opportunity she left the monastery, abandoned her habit, and returned to secular life. Now, she said, she wished to marry but “malevolent people” were asserting that she was still a nun and could not freely contract mar 10 Ibid, 78. Ludwig Schmugge and Atria A. Larson, Marriage on Trial: Late Medieval German Couples at the Papal Court (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2012). Chapter 1 offers a detailed examination of the way in which petitions were processed by the Penitentiary. 11 Since greed was known to have enabled religious superiors to be complicit in a forced profession, such actions were far from rare. Eileen Power, Medieval English Nunneries, c. 1275 to 1535 (New York: Biblo and Tannen, 1922; 1964), 34–38 presents examples, and we shall deal with a protracted case here involving the nuns and canons of Sempringham and an alleged apostate nun. 12 Filippo Tamburini, Santi e peccatori: confessioni e suppliche dai registri della Penitenzieria dell’Archivio Segreto Vaticano (1451–1586) (Milan: Istituto de propaganda libraria, 1995), 159–160.
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riage; she begged the Apostolic See to declare her vows invalid and so allow her to remain in the world and freely contract a legal marriage. Of course, the path that she had decided to follow was fraught with its own set of difficulties. As a runaway, Margareta bcame an alleged apostate. If her petition to invalidate her vows proved unsuccessful, she would have to seek absolution from the dire sentence of automatic excommunication that apostasy entailed, as well as to expiate the sin committed by unwarranted exit from her monastery. Furthermore, there was absolutely no guarantee that a case for nullification would be successful, no matter how solidly grounded it appeared to be. The story of Clarice Styl provides an object example. Underscoring the evidentiary potential of English common law sources, the details of Clarice Styl’s story are embedded in a court of Common Pleas wardship suit, launched by her uncle in 1388.13 He argued that Clarice was not a professed nun since she had been the victim of a scheme to disinherit her. Taken under guard to Buckland Priory in Somerset when she was only eight years old, she had been told by two of the nuns that the devil would carry her away if she ever dared to step out the door of the house. Consequently, she remained and professed her solemn vows, albeit unwillingly and while still underage. Because she had been both compelled to enter, and underage at the time of her profession, her vows should be invalidated and her status as laywoman and heir confirmed. Since valid monastic profession was the key to determining whether Clarice could inherit property, the bishop of Bath and Wells was called upon to decide that issue. As we have already noted, establishing whether someone was a cleric, along with other matters referred to as causae spirituales, were consistently seen by the English Crown as pertaining to the Church and not the State. These matters included litigation about marriage and divorce, testamentary succession (to chattels but not to land), defamation, breach of faith or perjury, usury, tithes and other ecclesiastical dues with (exceptions), church property
13 David Seipp and Carol Lee, “Legal History: The Year Books. Medieval English Legal History: An Index and Paraphrase of Printed Year Book Reports, 1268–1535,” Boston University School of Law, at https://www. bu.edu/law/faculty-scholarship/legal-history-the-year-books/ [accessed 11 March 2019], # 1388.086. Power, Medieval English Nunneries, 36–38.
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(with exceptions), ecclesiastical pensions, and assaults on clergy.14 In the event, the bishop’s fact-finding revealed a very different version of the story, which was borne out by the certification he returned to the court in 1389. The bishop certified that Clarice Styl had indeed been underage when she entered the priory, but then he added an important clarification: He had found no proof of her current unwillingness to be there. She had remained “to see if the life would please her” and subsequently assumed the habit and made her profession “according to the manners and customs of the said house. She was now “more than fourteen years old, and well contented with the religious life.”15 Whether or not Clarice really was “well contented” with life as a nun at Buckland, she would at least not have the onus of alleged apostasy to further complicate it. Many other unwillingly professed nuns elected to avoid that risk as well, either by filing their petitions while still vested in the habit of their order or never venturing to file them at all. Others, however, like Margareta, found monastic life unendurable and so opted to leave their house regardless of the immediate consequences. This was the case with our next runaway, and alleged apostate, Ida Wynkens. In 1466, Ida petitioned the Penitentiary claiming that when she was only ten years of age, her relatives forced her to enter the Augustinian convent in Bronope in the diocese of Utrecht.16 There she reluctantly professed her vows as a conversa, or lay nun, since she felt she had no option but to resign herself to her fate. But when she finally saw an opportunity to escape, she did so, leaving behind her habit. She now intended to continue to lead a secular life and to marry, and so pleaded to have her profession invalidated on the grounds that she had been professed only “under force and fear that could overcome even the strongest.” The local ordinary was commissioned to ascertain whether Ida’s statements were true. If, as claimed, sufficient force and fear had been exerted, she would be declared free from any monastic commitment.
14 Richard Wunderli, London Church Courts and Society on the Eve of the Reformation (Cambridge, MA: Medieval Academy of America, 1981), 229; for probate restrictions, 387–388, 423. 15 E 135/6/73. 16 Ludwig Schmugge, “Female Petitioners in the Papal Penitentiary,” Gender & History 12 (2000), 693. RPG V, Paulus II 1464–1471, 237–238.
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Similarly, Georgine Cruseler of prominent family in the diocese of Cologne had been placed in the Augustinian convent of Marienthal at the age of four.17 When she was fourteen, she pronounced vows of profession in the order but only under duress and all the while saying that she had no desire to be a nun. Because of the parental pressure under which she had taken vows, she deemed them invalid and shortly after left the community to marry Johannes de Scheylberg in a public ceremony. To silence the objections of her erstwhile community she petitioned the papacy for a declaration that her vows were invalid and that she was indeed the lawful wife of Johannes. That petition was granted, on condition that the archbishop of Cologne confirmed the facts of the case. The story of Katherina of Truchsessen of Bamberg is very much like Georgine’s.18 She too had been brought to an Augustinian house, Frauenaurach, at a tender age and took the habit of a novice against her will. She then succumbed to the threats of relatives and made profession in the order, still protesting that she wanted to leave and get married. She did so at the first opportunity, when she was thirteen, and proceeded to marry a nobleman from Echstätt, Hadmar von Absberg. Her papal petition, like Georgine Cruseler’s, emphasized the need to quell objections to her marriage and to establish the fact that her forced, underage profession had been invalid; it too was granted upon episcopal confirmation of the facts of the matter. Like her Italian and German counterparts, Margaret Prestwich secured her confirmation of invalidity upon papal appeal.19 Bishop Robert de Stretton of Coventry and Lichfield was commissioned by the papacy to investigate the claim that Margaret had been compelled to enter Seton Priory, a Benedictine house in Cumberland, at the age of eight. There she wore the habit of the novice for years, while consistently protesting that she would never willingly become a nun. When the day of her profession came, she pretended to be sick but was carried into the monastery church and blessed as a nun despite 17 Schmugge and Larson, Marriage on Trial, 186. RPG VII, Innozenz VIII 1484–1492, 391. 18 Schmugge and Larson, Marriage on Trial, 192. RPG VI, Sixtus 1471–1484, 541, 552–553. 19 F. Donald Logan, Runaway Religious in Medieval England, c. 1240–1540 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 259. Power, Medieval English Nunneries, 35–36.
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her protests. When she finally saw her chance, she left the priory and publicly married a man named Robert Holland. In 1383 Bishop de Stretton ruled that Margaret’s case indeed satisfied the requirements for invalidating her monastic profession on grounds of force and fear. Thanks to the bishop’s findings, the legitimacy of her marriage, and of her secular status, would no longer be disputed. More often than not, parents or relatives were responsible for forcing young girls to profess vows, but in the case of Elisabeth Prick a very different set of circumstances arose; the nuns of the community in which Elisabeth had been placed for her education were the ones who exerted the pressure.20 Not content to relinquish control when she reached marriageable age – she had been in their charge since she was five years old – the nuns of Weißfrauenkloster in Aachen beat and threatened Elisabeth to make her profession before her fourteenth birthday. According to her papal petition, filed when she had finally escaped the monastery, married, and had children of her own, Elisabeth’s parents and friends had been unaware of her situation while inside the cloister. Her plea to have her secular status, and thus her marriage, recognized as canonically valid was granted pending the usual episcopal confirmation. The unsavory actions of some Augustinian nuns of Harrold Priory, in the Lincoln diocese, provide another example.21 In her supplication to the Penitentiary, filed in 1491, Margery Buck averred that as an impressionable, inexperienced girl, she had promised herself to the order in return for gifts or as a sort of joke (muneribus seu iocalibus sibi oblatis). She had then been persuaded by the nuns to don their habit. Ultimately, while still under fourteen years of age, they had forced her to make profession in their order. After two unsuccessful attempts, Margery had escaped the priory through a window, discarded her habit, and returned to the secular world where she now earnestly desired to remain. She consequently asked to have her vows declared invalid and to be allowed to contract a valid marriage. Her petition was granted, pending the standard injunction to the local ordinary to review the facts of the case as presented. 20 Schmugge and Larson, Marriage on Trial, 193. RPG V, Paulus II 1464–1471, 316–317. 21 Clarke and Zutshi, Supplications from England and Wales, vol. 2, 1464– 1492, # 3114.
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Popular supposition notwithstanding, forced profession was not an exclusively female problem. Young men were also cajoled and then coerced into monasteries, and they also sought relief from the Papal Penitentiary: Sixteen of eighteen such supplications filed from England and Wales between 1410 and 1503 for example, came from men.22 We shall have more to say about this phenomenon in the Conclusion, but whether boys or girls were placed in this untenable position, economics almost always figured in their stories of compelled entrance into, and subsequent abandonment of, the religious life. Relatives often sought to exclude a family member from inheriting cash or real property by forcing her into a monastery.23 Well-to-do young, and not-soyoung, heiresses were often at risk. The alleged apostate Magdalena Payerin was one of them, and her story is harrowing. Hailing from a knightly family in Constance, Magdalena claimed that her father had forced her to enter a house of Augustinian canonesses at Münsterlingen on Lake Constance when only seven years of age.24 Years later, when she discovered that he had done so to disinherit her in favor of her brother, she protested that she did not want to make her profession, and even filed a notarized document to that effect. Hearing of her contumacy, her father came to the monastery and “by beating and threatening her with prison or even death if she did not comply” pressured her to take her vows. Even as she did so, however, she told her fellow nuns that her profession was made only because of “force and fear of death”. At the first opportunity, Magdalena left Münsterlingen and her monastic habit behind with the intention of living in the world and marrying. She petitioned the pope, and in 1438 the bishop of Constance was ordered to fact-find and so to determine if the details of the case were as Magdalena had presented 22 Clarke and Zutshi, Supplications from England and Wales, vol. I, 1410– 1464, xxxii, xl. Sixteen specific supplications from monks are cited. For a later period, note Anne Jacobson Schutte, By Force and Fear: Taking and Breaking Monastic Vows in Early Modern Europe (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2011), 4. In her study of 978 petitions to the papacy for release from monastic vows filed between 1668 and 1793, Schutte found that 807 were made by men. 23 Power, Medieval English Nunneries, 33–34. Logan, Runaway Religious, 22. Schutte, By Force and Fear, 17. And the cases subsequently presented here. 24 Schmugge, “Female Petitioners,” 692. Schmugge and Larson, Marriage on Trial, 194–195. RPG I, Eugens IV 1431–1447, 1.
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them. She would be free to live a secular life and marry whomever she chose if they were. The bishop, however, was uncooperative, and Magdalena filed another supplication in 1439 and yet another in 1440. Ultimately, the invalidity of her monastic profession was confirmed in March 1442, at the Council of Basel. In this long and costly process, Magdalena’s considerable inner, as well as financial resources, were supplemented by the skill of the man she had married: Friedrich Heidenheimer, notary and scribe in the court of Otto III, bishop of Constance. A young noblewoman from Mainz, Ursula Schenkin de Erbach, apparently posed such a fiscal threat to her rapacious kin that, had she been less redoubtable, they would surely have prevailed. Forced to enter the Benedictine house of Frauenalb in the diocese of Speyer when underage, she was then pressured to take her final vows before completing her novitiate year, as required by law.25 Aware of this canonical irregularity, and protesting against it, she managed to escape the abbey, only to be caught and returned to it, this time by relatives who threatened to kill her if she left again. Next, again uncanonically and of course without her approval, they transferred her to a different Benedictine abbey, this time in Zurich. Having been there for four years, Ursula once again found a way out, this time it would appear, aided at last by an outsider. In her supplication to the Penitentiary she stated that having abandoned her monastic habit, she had been living with the cleric, Johannes Zacz, who was the father of her children and whom she wished to marry. Machinations such as these, designed to rid relatives of a female claimant to an inheritance, were often successful. But when outsiders interested themselves in the cause of an unwillingly professed heiress – no matter how self-serving their reasons for such interest – her chances of success increased exponentially; and the more influential the outside party or parties, the more likely the success of the petitioner. Magdalena Payerin certainly had the help of her new husband when it came to seeking redress, and an equally complex case, this time from England, highlights the importance of using connections within secular society to secure mutual advantages. It is also one of those rare cases in which court records, including those produced by 25 Schmugge, “Female Petitioners,” 693. RPG VI, Sixtus IV 1471–1484, 474–475.
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the local ordinary’s commissioners, allow us to follow the details to its resolution.26 On 16 November 1385, the writ de apostata capiendo was issued directing the king’s serjeant-at-arms to “arrest and deliver to the Sisters Minoresses, London, for punishment, Mary de Felton, an apostate vagabond sister,” who had left the Minories “against the will of the abbess [Eleanor Scrope].”27 The language was formulaic, and Mary was certainly not the first person to be targeted by this standardized writ used to enlist the aid of the secular arm in the arrest and return of runaway religious. It was less common, however, for the alleged apostate to respond to such a writ with a plea of non-profession, but that was precisely how Mary Felton responded. We know this because of yet another writ, entered in the register of bishop of London, Robert Braybrooke (1336/7–1404).28 Dated 8 November 1386, this writ was attested to by the Chief Justice of the court of Common Pleas, Robert Belknap.29 In the name of the Crown, Belknap required the bishop to submit the question of Mary Felton’s religious profession to a curial decision, and then to inform his justices of that decision so that Mary’s lawsuit, pending in the court of Common Pleas, might be concluded. In that suit, Mary contended that one John Sturmy had unjustly deprived her of profits from the manor of Kirbybiden, Norfolk. The defendant claimed the charge was untenable since Mary had been a professed nun of the order of St. Clare at the time. Mary, in turn, replicated saying that she had never been a professed nun; that she remained, as she always had been, a layperson.30
26 For a full treatment of this case see Elizabeth Makowski, “The Curious Case of Mary Felton,” in Proceedings of the Fourteenth Congress of Medieval Canon Law, Monumenta Iuris Canonici, Series C: Subsidia (Vatican City: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, 2016), 733–741. 27 CPR 1385–1389, 86. Some of the details of this case are recounted in Anne Francis Claudine Bourdillon, The Order of Minoresses in England, British Society of Franciscan Studies 12 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1926), 68–70. The original writ is not among those in The National Archives. 28 R. G. Davies, “Braybrooke, [Braybroke] Robert (1336/7–1404),” ODNB. 29 Registers of the Bishops of London, 1304–1660, Episcopal Registers Pt. 5 (Brighton: Harvester Press Microform Publications, 1984), Register of Robert Braybroke 1381–1404, 2:408. 30 Ibid. See also, SC8/146/7276.
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Mary Felton’s plea of non-profession, countering the charge that she was an apostate nun, was embedded in this common law suit for restitution of property. Like the judge in the case of Clarice Styl, Chief Justice Belknap was cooperating with the State by remanding a question of Mary’s religious profession to the ecclesiastical forum. But why did the alleged apostate, Mary, bring such a suit for restitution of property in the first place? The answer I think is that Mary was astute enough to know that she had a much better chance to establish her status as a laywoman if she had the endorsement of other members of secular society. In 1385, when Mary’s former husband Geoffrey Worsley died, leaving behind his second wife, Isabel Lathom, and her year-old daughter, Elizabeth, she finally saw her opportunity. Robert Worsley, a relative, acquired wardship of the infant Elizabeth with the intention of marrying her to his son and thus gaining the estate. But Geoffrey Worsley’s sister Alice and her husband set out to prove that Elizabeth was illegitimate, and thus unable to inherit, leaving Alice as the collateral heir instead. It was at this juncture that Mary Felton became very useful to them. Mary, they claimed, had been compelled to divorce Geoffrey Worsley and then compelled to enter religion – vis et metus nullifying both the divorce and her religious profession. Isabel, they averred, had never been Geoffrey Worsley’s lawful wife, so Elizabeth could not now be his lawful heir. When Mary became an alleged apostate, she did so with the support of Alice Worsley and her family since she would help them prove that Elizabeth Worsley was in fact illegitimate. The family, in turn, would help Mary prove that she had never been willingly professed and so might stake her widow’s claim against John Sturmy – Geoffrey Worsley had land around Kirby Bedon [Kirbybiden], in Norfolk.31 In this two-tiered process, Mary was soon further aided by a new husband, John Curson. A wealthy and socially influential Norfolk knight, Curson had probably come to know Mary while she was at Aldgate, since he had been obliged to pay his rents “in the presence of the abbess and of Mary de Felton”.32 In 1391, when her still unresolved suit against John Sturmy reemerged in the plea rolls it was now filed 31 See above, n. 22. It may be recalled that John Sturmy was among the recipients of Joan’s largess in 1384. Also, he is mentioned as holding the manor of Kirbybydon before 1394 and as the patron of the church there in 1393. 32 Makowski, “Curious Case,” 740.
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jointly, by Johannes Curson, miles et maria uxor eius.33 In this iteration of the complaint, husband and wife charge that, “with force and arms he [Sturmy] had taken away goods and chattels valued at 100 shillings,” from Kirbybiden; Sturmy’s counter claim now adds the note that Mary had been a professed nun “long before her marriage with the said John [ Curson],” adding an additional complication to an already complex case.34 The resolution of this court of Common Pleas case hinged on the findings of Bishop Braybrooke’s commission, and Braybrooke’s register shows that he lost no time in executing his initial charge from Westminster. On 5 December 1386, he had appointed John Appleby, Doctor of Laws and “dean of our church in London [St. Paul’s],” and William Sondeye, licentiate in the laws and “our commissary general,” to resolve the issue of Mary’s alleged profession as a nun.35 Since the deliberations of these learned practitioners, along with all the other records of the London commissary court for the fourteenth century are no longer extant, we can’t be sure what factors held up their decision-making. For it was not until 1392 that the episcopal findings in the case, along with the original royal writs, were finally issued. At long last Mary possessed Bishop Braybrooke’s certification, which clearly stated “that she was a secular and had never been otherwise.”36 Since Mary probably died in 1398 – John Curson took a second wife in 1399 – she would never receive her due as the daughter of Thomas Felton. Mary’s mother outlived her by more than ten years, and so held fast to Fordham manor, as well as to the rest of the Feltons’ estate. But Bishop Braybrooke’s certification did mean that Mary Felton’s son, John, would at length be able to inherit it. Returning to the Continent and the records of the Papal Penitentiary, we conclude with two more petitions for nullification of profession on the grounds of force and fear. Like the others we have looked at, they were both filed by alleged apostates, both of whom sought declaratory letters allowing them to take up secular life with its attendant rights. Unlike the other petitions, however, these requests need never have been made. The first was filed in 1472 by Gertrud 33 E 135/6/74, image # 2. 34 CP 40/523. 35 Cynthia J. Neville, “Appleby, John (d. 1389)”, ODNB. 36 E 135/6/74.
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Doven, whose mother had forced her to enter a house of Franciscan tertiaries in Cologne when she was just a girl.37 Gertrud had stayed there for some time against her will but finally left to secretly marry a certain Stephan de Walle. She wished to remain married to him and to have children, but “certain simple people” (a nonnullis tamen simplicibus asseritur) claimed that she was not legally wed to Stephan and that her children were illegitimate. Because of these assertions, she begged for a declaration to the contrary from the Holy See, which the bishop of the diocese was empowered to deliver if the particulars of the case were as Gertrud presented them. The second supplication, also filed in 1472, came from the diocese of Utrecht. In it Alheydis Wnandi alleged that her mother had used various threats to compel her to enter a community of women known as beguines, who lived like Franciscan tertiaries (donum in qua quaedam mulieres congregate begine nuncupate certum modum habent vivendi sub o. tert. Fr. min.)38 Alheydis donned the habit that these women customarily wore and lived with them for several years, intending to leave as soon as her mother died or some other opportunity presented itself. When her mother did die, she cast off her beguine habit and left the community. She now wanted to get married, but some people were saying that she was a professed sister and so could not remain in the world and contract a valid marriage (a nonnullis asseratur ipsam premissorum occasione sororem prof. esse et in seculo remanere ac matrim. contrahere non posse). Like Gertrud, she asked for a declaration to the contrary from the Holy See, which was granted contingent upon diocesan review of the case. What distinguishes these petitions from previous requests for dispensation to return to secular life is that in both instances the supplicants had entered quasi-religious communities. Formed by devout laywomen who lived chastely and in common but who were not bound by formal monastic vows, such communities had arisen simultaneously throughout continental Europe. Individually, their members might be called beatas in Spain; bizzoche, pinzochere, mantelle or sorores de poenitentia in Italy; and beguines, tertiaries or the Sisters of the Common Life in the North. Collectively, they were referred to 37 Schmugge, “Female Petitioners,” 693. RPG VI, Sixtus IV 1471–1484, 469–470. 38 Schmugge, “Female Petitioners,” 693. RPG VI, Sixtus IV 1471–1484, 470.
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as mulieres religiosae because of their humility, asceticism and chastity. These ‘religious women,’ however, lacked that status canonically.39 Because they had not taken solemn monastic vows of profession as nuns, canon law dictated that they could leave their communities incurring neither the penalty of excommunication nor the charge of apostasy. Why then had Gertrud Doven, and Alheydis Wnandi, felt the need to allege force and fear and to apply to the Penitentiary for a dispensation in order to return to secular life? This is not an insignificant question and the answer is relevant not only to these two cases but also to the outcome of Margareta Bartenbechin’s petition, treated in the next chapter. And because it could have influenced the decision-making process of apostates generally, it will be dealt with in the Conclusion as well. A few general comments are in order here, however, since without them we cannot appreciate the dilemma that Gertrud and Aldeydis must have faced. There is no little irony in the fact that while strict lines demarcating professed nuns – religious women, canonically speaking – had been drawn by 1300, the popular tendency to refer to members of informal, quasi-religious communities as mulieres religiosae remained undiminished. The twelfth century had seen a groundswell of female piety that resulted in precedented numbers of women espousing an ideal of spiritual perfection quite at odds with that of the cloistered nun.40 Convinced that the complete separation from the world demanded of professed nuns was not a prerequisite for sanctity, these women joined informal religious communities whose members were bound neither by solemn vows nor by an approved monastic rule. The women who lived in such quasi-religious communities continued to be regarded as “religious women” by their neighbors and relatives, even though they fell short of the formal requirements for that designation. Since they lived in common and wore distinctive habits, might not ordinary people be forgiven for thinking of them as nuns? Might those same people be scandalized if they saw one leave 39 Elizabeth Makowski, “A Pernicious Sort of Woman”: Quasi-Religious Women and Canon Lawyers in the Later Middle Ages (Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 2005), Introduction. 40 Caroline Walker Bynum, Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), Chapter 1, provides a superb overview of this phenomenon in the later Middle Ages.
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her community, get married, and start a family? Unaware of the technical requirements for full and irrevocable religious commitment, onlookers could certainly be confused, and by the time that Gertrud and Alheydis filed their petitions, such confusion had spread beyond just the “simple people.” Additional confusion was a consequence of the legal insecurity that all members of informal religious communities faced. Despite being lauded by many for their unconstrained piety, beguines, tertiaries, and, slightly later, the Sisters of the Common Life, occasioned blame, and even persecution as well. The well-documented persecution of beguines following the publication of a decree Cum de quibusdam issued by the Council of Vienne (1311–1312) is a case in point. Since certain women commonly known as beguines neither promise obedience to anyone, nor renounce personal property, nor profess any approved rule, they are by no means considered religious, although they wear a so-called beguine habit and attach themselves to certain religious to whom they are drawn by special affection. Reports have come to us from trustworthy sources that some of them, as if having been led into insanity dispute and preach about the highest Trinity and the divine essence and introduce opinions contrary to the catholic faith concerning the articles of the faith and the sacraments of the church. They lead many simple people who are deceived in such things into various errors, and they do and commit much else under the veil of sanctity which occasions danger to souls.41 Quasi-religious women fell short of the formal requirements for the designation ‘religious,’ and the existence of those formal, canonical requirements had implications for all devout lay women who did not meet them. Lacking formal ecclesiastical status, quasi-religious women possessed no canonical bulwark against the vicissitudes of popular and ecclesiastical opinion. In practice this meant that beguines in one region might enjoy many of the same privileges that were accorded nuns, and in another find themselves branded as heretics; that a female tertiary might be allowed to inherit property in one Italian town, but be forbidden to do so by the laws of another; 41 Makowski, Pernicious, 23–24.
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that Sisters of the Common Life might be required to pay taxes and to appear before secular magistrates during the tenure of one bishop, and find themselves exempt from both obligations by his successor. Attempts to standardize practice often led to more consistency in one area of the law, but only served to further blur the distinction between mulieres religiosae and nuns in another. For example, since 1289, the Third Order of St. Francis had been solemnly approved by Pope Nicholas IV in his bull Supra montem, which provided the brothers and sisters of the order of penitence, or tertiaries, as they were now explicitly designated, with an approved rule.42 The regula contained precise stipulations about admission to and government of the order, as well as the dress and comportment of its members. Prospective tertiaries were to be examined for evidence of good character and sound beliefs. Once admitted to the fraternity, members were bound to remain in it, save to enter an approved religious order. Originally designed to accommodate the laity whose family obligations kept them from becoming regulars, female tertiary convents soon emerged, and with them came considerable difference of opinion about the precise nature of the commitment that these sisters – for they were called sisters – had made upon entry. Jurists grudgingly granted religious status to members of the Third Order “broadly speaking,” while being careful to distinguish between monastic profession and the mere promise of obedience, such as is made by tertiaries. By the fifteenth century, legal opinion on this issue had become if anything even more various. In the absence of any explicit legislation on the topic, canonists were free to draw their own conclusions concerning the exact nature and extent of ecclesiastical privilege enjoyed by tertiaries, not to mention any number of other quasi-religious persons in late medieval society. Finally, and perhaps most troublesome from a canonical standpoint, were the structural alterations made in the later fourteenth and fifteenth centuries that turned beguine and tertiary communities into close approximations of monasteries. The great closed complexes or curtis beguinages, built in response to ecclesiastical mandates, very much resembled monasteries and the option for strict enclosure afforded tertiaries after 1476 further obscured dis 42 BR 4, 90–95. John Moorman, A History of the Franciscan Order (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968), 217.
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tinctions between nuns and quasi-religious women.43 By 1479, members of the Third Order of Franciscans and Dominicans who lived in these communities would, like apostate monks or nuns, incur excommunication if they left.44 In the case of Gertrud and Alheydis, adjudicated just prior to those additions to tertiary constitutions, the judges of the Penitentiary ultimately ruled in accordance with the principle governing all preceding cases of alleged apostasy. The perpetual obligation to observe the solemn vows that bind the regular – the obligation that was created by formal profession into an approved religious order – was simply not created by anything short of it. No profession, no apostasy. The full measure of secular status was, therefore, accorded them both. Little wonder, however, that these women should have felt required to have that papal determination put in writing. The use of force to extract vows of profession vitiated the prime requirement for religious profession: consent freely given. But there were two other canonical requirements, involving age and marital status respectively, that might also undermine the validity of monastic profession. As we have seen, several of the petitions filed for invalidation because of force and fear mentioned entrance into a community as a child or underage adolescent, with coerced profession taking place once the canonically recognized minimum age, thirteen for girls, had been reached. The case of Ursula Schenkin de Erbach of Mainz, and that of Katherina of Truchsessen, contained this complication along with others. But even if vows had not been compelled, evidence of underage profession provided grounds for nullification. As with requests for nullification of vows taken under duress, petitions alleging minority of the professed were to be filed while supplicants were still vested in the habits of their orders and still resident in the houses into which they had allegedly been forced. Countless such petitions regularly came into the offices of the Penitentiary, a surprising number from young men whom mendicant orders were reputed to recruit without regard to age requirements.45 Many of these prop 43 Elizabeth Makowski, Canon Law and Cloistered Women: Periculoso and its Commentators, 1298–1545 (Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 1999), 127. 44 BR 3, 173–176. Schmugge and Larson, Marriage on Trial, 164–165. 45 Logan, Runaway Religious, 12–16.
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erly filed supplications met with success. Nevertheless, as with those petitioning on the grounds of force and fear, some women were so unhappy living a life chosen for them by parents or guardians that they fled their communities first and asked pardon later. Not all were granted that favor. Agnes of Clivedon, daughter of Richard de la Ryver, ran away from Shaftesbury Abbey, Dorset, in 1374.46 Not coincidentally, this was the year in which her brother, Thomas, sole heir to her father’s considerable landholdings, died.47 We learn from the inquisition post mortem that Agnes then married Richard Clivedon and took the profits from one of Thomas’s manors. They did not do so without resistance, however, since Richard de la Ryver’s sister, Joan, and her husband also sought to live off the revenues from that manor. It was apparently when challenged by these two claimants that Agnes petitioned for a judgment on her status in 1392. In her petition she alleged that her entrance at the age of seven invalidated her monastic profession even though she had remained at the abbey for nine years afterward. It was not until 1406 that Joan’s son was declared lawful heir of Thomas de la Ryver, divesting Agnes and Richard Clivedon of any claims on the manor; one year later, Agnes received a judgment on her petition which was even more unwelcome. In 1407, the bishop of Salisbury formally certified that “Agnes, daughter of Richard de la Ryver, was a professed nun in the Abbey of Shaftesbury.”48 What that finding did to jeopardize her marriage we can only assume from the fact that she is styled “daughter of Richard de la Ryver” by the bishop. In cases such as this one, complications arose because of the customary practice of a specific religious community – nunneries like Shaftesbury allowed youthful profession despite the fact that it violated the canons. The developed canon law dealt with these traditional practices by applying regulations cited in Chapter 1: namely, that if a candidate had been admitted to a community while underage, wearing the habit of the professed for more than a year after reaching majority sufficed to establish professed status. It was apparently on this basis that Agnes of Clivedon’s case failed. But when coupled with other technical or juridical violations, pleas of underage profession 46 Ibid, 16. 47 CIPM 7–14 Henry IV 1405–1413, 16:64. 48 E 135/6/76.
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might succeed even under these circumstances. The success or failure of these more complicated petitions hinged upon the results of judicial review, which inevitably involved considerable expense especially if appeals to higher courts were involved; the corollary lapse of time as petitions were drafted and redrafted to move up the curial ladder was also a given. All these elements, and more, are showcased in the convoluted case of the alleged apostate, Alice of Everyngham.49 In December of 1366 a writ de apostata capiendo was issued by the Crown upon the request of the Master of the Order of Sempringham, William of Prestwold.50 It signified for arrest and return to the master or his attorney, “Alesia, daughter of John de Everyngham, nun of the priory of Haverholme [Haverholy], in the diocese of Lincoln, of that order, who has spurned the habit of that order and now is at large in secular habit.”51 But in May 1367, again by order of the Crown, that writ was stayed.52 After its issuance, Alice had appealed to Rome, filing a writ in Chancery for interim protection.53 William, the Master of Sempringham, who had charged her with apostasy, had consequently been ordered to appear in that court where Alice, via her attorney James Sothill [Suthulle; Huthulle], argued that she should not be arrested pending her papal appeal. Sothill alleged that Alice had never been a professed nun and that she would prove it in due course; Master William countered that she was indeed a long-time professed nun who had abandoned her vows and her house. Since both claims still lacked supporting evidence, the bishop of Lincoln, John Buckingham, was commissioned to call the parties before him, and to conduct an in-depth inquest into the matter. Brothers and sisters of Haverholme priory, as well as neighbors and others, were to be questioned and then an episcopal certification submitted to Chancery by the start of the Michaelmas term, which began at the end of September. Until such time, the Crown issued its command to stay execution of the writ for 49 A. K. MacHardy, Royal Writs Addressed to John Buckingham, Bishop of Lincoln: 1363–1398. Lincoln Register 12B: A Calendar, The Canterbury and York Society 86 (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 1997), xix–xx contains some of the details of this case. Logan, Runaway Religious, 24. 50 CPL “Lateran Regesta 150: 1410–1411.” CPR 1404–1415, 6. 51 C 81 1791/2. CPR 1364–1367, 369. 52 CCR 1364–1369, 379. 53 C 269/4/29. MacHardy, Royal Writs, 159. Both the writ, addressed to Bishop John Buckingham, and its return are in very poor condition.
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Alice’s arrest since James Sothill and one William Preston had posed bond of £100 assuring that she would appear before the bishop and be examined at the inquest. Two further stays of execution of the writ against Alice were subsequently granted, on grounds that the bishop of Lincoln had not yet sent in his certification on the issue; the last such extension taking the issue into February of 1368. The bishop met that last deadline, since on 12 February 1368 he certified “that Alesia is not a nun of that house [of Haverholme] nor professed in the same.”54 Consequently, the writ de apostata capiendo issued for her return to Haverholme was cancelled. On what basis did Alice of Everyngham counter the claim that she was an apostate nun, and how can we account for the success of that plea? Lacking full documentation of the episcopal inquest, we may never have fully satisfactory answers to these questions, but records that we do possess provide a good deal of information. Chief among those records is the papal appeal filed by the unrelenting Master of Sempringham only months after Alice had been absolved of apostasy by episcopal certification. In May 1368, Pope Urban V issued a mandate to the archbishop of York, John Thoresby, requiring him to review the case of William, Master General of the Order of Sempringham, versus Alice daughter of John of Everyngham, “nun of the monastery of Haverholme in the diocese of Lincoln.”55 According to Prestwold, Alice had willingly entered the aforesaid monastery chosen for her by her parents. There she received the habit and after reaching the age of eight, the designated age of consent in this particular order, remained, wearing the habit of the professed nun; in this manner, and as commonly occurred in this house, she was tacitly professed. Subsequently, however, she left the monastery, cast off her 54 CPR 1367–1370, 83. 55 Urban V, Lettres Communes: Analysées D’Après Les Registres Dits d’Avignon Et Du Vatican. Tome VIII, Bibliothèque Des Écoles Françaises D’Athènes Et De Rome, 3e Série Lettres Communes Des Papes Du XIVe Siècle (Rome: Ecole français de Rome, 1982), # 22025; Registers of Urban V 7:257, in Calendar of Papal Registers Relating To Great Britain and Ireland: Volume 14, 1484–1492, ed. J A Twemlow (London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1960), 34–39. British History Online, Bibliography accessed March 29, 2019, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-papal-registers/brit-ie/vol14/pp34-39. For a biography of the archbishop: Jonathan Hughes, “Thoresby, John (d. 1373),” ODNB.
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religious habit, donned secular clothes, and for a long time wandered about in society. Persisting in this behavior, she was signified by writ as a notorious apostate and commanded to return to her monastery and resume wearing her habit. Because she ignored that writ, she was excommunicated with her sentence announced publicly. She then started to live with one James de Suthulle, a layman of the diocese of York, to whom she said she was to be married. The Master took the matter to Chancery, where his attorney and hers made conflicting claims and Alice refused to appear, since she denied that the court had competence in this matter. The result was that the judge recused himself and referred the case to the dean of Lincoln. Two canons from the Lincoln diocese, Geoffrey Scrop and Raynald de Belvero, were commissioned to hear the cause and after examination they absolved Alice from excommunication. Since the Master General was now appealing this verdict, however, it was up to the archbishop to summon those concerned and resolve the contest. Prestwold’s account makes it clear that at least one of the grounds upon which Alice had rested her case for nullification of vows was minority at the time of profession. And even if his version of her willing acceptance of her fate varnishes the truth, Alice of Everyngham would seem to have more in common with Agnes of Clivedon than with a successful petitioner for nullification of vows. After all, she had remained at Haverholme for years after reaching the age of discretion and had worn the habit of the professed nun during such time. Urban V must have seen the matter as problematic since he entertained the Master’s appeal to have the case reopened. But the fact remains that the bishop of Lincoln had arrived at his determination that Alice had never been a nun via an inquiry conducted by two canons, at least one of whom, Geoffrey Scrop, held a bachelor’s degree in canon law.56 We are left to consider the grounds for this episcopal certification and we find them in the record of a long-standing jurisdictional dispute between Master Prestwold and the bishop of Lincoln – a dispute that directly affected the nuns of Haverholme.
56 H. P. F. King, “Prebendaries: Haydour-cum-Walton,” Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1300–1541: vol. 1, Lincoln diocese, British History Online, http:// www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=32627&strquery=Scrope [accessed 11 March 2019].
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In 1363, the bishop of Lincoln petitioned the papacy for redress in a matter regarding the nuns of the Order of Sempringham and the then prior of that order William Prestwold.57 It reads as follows. Whereas the prior of Sempringham, who has many houses of nuns to whom the bishop of Lincoln was used to give benediction, and to consecrate the said nuns, is endeavouring surreptitiously to obtain from the pope the right to bear the mitre, ring, and pastoral staff, and to consecrate the nuns, the bishop prays the pope to revoke whatever has been done; especially since it would be to the prejudice of the diocesan, and also other prelates without comparison greater than the prior, and peers of the realm, would disdain to take a lower place in congregations, and at burials of the dead. Let the cardinal of Terouanne Morin(en) hear the cause.58 These accusations appear well founded, since as early as 1345 Prestwold was present at the papal court in Avignon as a petitioner.59 They are confirmed when he begins to arouse the ire of the Crown, as well as the bishop. In 1366, the very year that Alice of Everyngham was signified for arrest as an apostate nun, the king issued a strongly worded injunction to Prestwold, who by this time had become the Master of the Order.60 It warns him under threat of contempt, “to desist from the further prosecution of proceedings begun by him without the realm, not departing for that purpose to foreign parts nor sending nor suffering messengers or others to be sent out of the realm without the king’s licence,” and to resolve the conflict “which was aroused between the said bishop [John of Lincoln] on the one part and the said master, the monasteries, priories, brethren and sisters to him subject on the other part.” William is commanded “to admit the said bishop as ordinary, at any rate in places within his diocese, to bless the nuns of that order and to exercise of other matters incumbent on his office in regard to 57 The Heads of Religious Houses England and Wales II 1216–1377, ed. David Smith (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 528. 58 CPP ‘Volume 36: 1 Urban V’, Petitions to the Pope: 1342–1419 (1896), 402–419. 59 CPP ‘Volume 9: 4 Clement VI’, Petitions to the Pope: 1342–1419 (1896), 92–105. 60 CCR 1364–1369, 227–228.
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persons of religion or the order aforesaid, suffering without resistance his jurisdiction and the execution of his said office.” William is not to pursue his latest appeals to the pope alleging episcopal interference when the bishop, “in accordance with the king’s said ordinance as he was bound to do, has blessed certain nuns of the order and monastery of Sempyngham.” As we have observed earlier, canon law (X.3.31.23 and VI 3.14.1) stipulated episcopal blessing of nuns tacitly professed to eliminate at least some of the ambiguity surrounding their status. Given the timing of the dispute between the bishop of Lincoln and the Master of Sempringham with respect to the bishop’s right as local ordinary to bless the nuns of that order, the latter’s charge against Alice might have lacked credibility in the eyes of the bishop; this jurisdictional conflict certainly colored the inquest into her status as a fully professed nun. Was William Prestwold’s appeal to reopen the case against her successful? Did the archbishop of York follow the papal mandate to review the dispute? The extant archiepiscopal registers give no indication of it. But even if the appeal was heard, the likelihood that it materially affected Alice of Everyngham, wife of James Sothill, the man who had served as her attorney, seems slim. William Prestwold had so alienated the Crown by his continued machinations at the papal court, that when Richard II wished to appoint a monastic superior to collect the clerical tenth in 1388, he categorically excluded any of the Order of Sempringham. For “all priors of that order in England are appointed and removed by the master of the order at the will of the master and his chapter,” to the possible disadvantage of the king.61 Aside from force and fear then, the minority of a candidate at the time of profession might (alone or in conjunction with that plea of coercion) be grounds for nullification of monastic vows. So too, marriage prior to profession might be alleged to invalidate vows and hence undermine any charge of apostasy made against a runaway. Married people might legally enter religious life if they satisfied certain canonical requirements, always including consent of a spouse; those men and women who had been validly married, however, could not simply overlay marriage vows with vows of religious profession.62 Without other complicating factors, a validly married person who had 61 CCR 1381–1385, 357–358. 62 Schmugge and Larson, Marriage on Trial, 160.
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also taken vows of profession would ordinarily not have needed to run away in order to leave the monastic life, since merely confessing the previous commitment would result in his or her ejection from the community. This was the case, for example, when John de Beverley of St. Mary’s Abbey, York, admitted to his abbot that he had contracted and consummated marriage before he entered the community.63 There were, of course, exceptions. According to a joint supplication to the Penitentiary filed in 1483, Jutta Bollen of Utrecht had left her lawful husband, Gottfried, and made profession as a nun.64 After some time, she fled her community, returned to her husband and raised a family with him. In their petition the couple sought confirmation of Jutta’s secular status, and hence the validity of their fruitful, if not always uncomplicated, marriage. Their request was granted. Parental pressure might also complicate the issue of prior marriage and the taking of vows. Among the aristocracy the cost of dowries befitting a girl’s social class far outstripped the entrance or annuity fees required by the most prestigious monasteries. If relatives had conspired to force a young woman who had clearly wanted to marry to become a nun, her only option might be to marry secretly, then counter allegations of apostasy with evidence of her prior marriage. Yda of Cologne, for example, had secretly married Gottfried against the will of her father and stepmother.65 When their marriage was discovered, her parents promised the abbess of the convent of Poor Clares in Wamell a portion of Yda’s assests and forcibly sent her under cover of night to the monastery. There she was keep under guard, since she continued to protest that she would return to her husband, and after a probationary year she was compelled to take her vows of profession as a Poor Clare. Since her husband ultimately used forced entry to free Yda, their papal petition, first filed in 1465, met with considerable delays. By 1467, however, with a suitable penance imposed on the determined Gottfried, their marriage was declared valid against all contrary claims, and Yda’s secular status, as well as the legitimacy of her children, secured. 63 Logan, Runaway Religious, 17. 64 Schmugge and Larson, Marriage on Trial, 193. RPG VI, Sixtus 1471–1484, 629. 65 Schmugge and Larson, Marriage on Trial, 189–191.
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Margery Hedsor also pleaded force and fear along with a prior marital commitment in her attempt to have her vows of profession nullified, but both that plea and the circumstances under which it was made were decidedly unusual.66 After twenty-three years spent as an Augustinian canoness at Burnham Abbey, Buckinghamshire, Margery left in 1311 and rejoined her husband Roger Blaket of Rickmansworth. The couple then brought a common law action claiming by writ of novel disseisin that they had been unjustly deprived of their freehold in Middlesex. The case is reported in full in the Year Books of Edward II under the rubric Blaket v. Loveday et al., affording us a unique insight into this intriguing story.67 Margery appeared in the king’s court in secular dress and appointed an attorney. Defense immediately objected, saying that Margery was unable to sue since she was in fact a professed nun and so dead to all property claims. Undeterred, her attorney replied that the court had already recognized Margery’s right to conduct the suit by allowing her to appoint counsel. The judge found that response unacceptable, saying that it was not the job of the court to divine whether someone who looked like a secular woman was in fact a nun, and that “if all the nuns in England had come in like fashion, we should have let them all appoint attorneys.” Margery’s attorney then pleaded that she was indeed a laywoman, and so not to be barred from her action, because prior to her religious profession she had married Roger Blaket, thus rendering her vows of religion null and void because of pre-contract. He would prove this by producing the testimony of the abbot of St. Albans, who apparently could certify that the marriage took place long before Margery’s entrance into religion. Attorney for the defense countered by insisting that the court also needed a certificate from the bishop of Lincoln, in whose diocese Burnham Abbey was situated, clarifying the matter and time of Margery’s religious profession. Allowing for time to secure this requisite evidence, the court recessed. When it reconvened, however, Margery’s suit was no longer 66 “House of Austin Nuns: The Abbey of Burnham,” A History of the County of Buckingham: Volume 1 (1905), pp. 382–384, British History Online, at http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=40316 [accessed 25 July 2014]. Logan, Runaway Religious, 264. 67 Year Books of Edward II: 5 Edward II, A.D. 1312, ed. W. C. Bolland, Selden Society 33 (London: Bernard Quaritch, 1916), xxxiv–xxxv, 211–214.
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tenable. With all parties and their attorneys present, letters patent from John Dalderby, bishop of Lincoln, were read out. They contained the bishop’s certification that Margery was a professed nun of Burnham and that by reason of her apostasy and her assumption of secular dress, she was now a publicly declared excommunicate. As such, she would be shunned by all and clearly deemed incapable of bringing any sort of action in a court of law. The case was dismissed. In his introduction to the Year Book volume containing this unique case, the editor laments its truncation by the action of Bishop Dalderby. The bishop summarily excommunicated Margery, “making it impossible for the Court any longer to recognize her or hear her either in her own defence or in any appeal for reparation for wrongs done to her by others, not even in any appeal against the Bishop’s excommunication of her.”68 While this is true enough as regards Margery’s common law action, it may be helpful to note that the bishop’s certification came with a disclaimer: his sentence of excommunication was to be lifted if, upon inquest, Margery’s plea of prior marriage proved to be true.69 Additionally, Dalderby’s action in this case was not a maverick response, but one that reflected a recent and important episcopal victory vis-à-vis the Crown. More about this victory in the next chapter, but suffice it to say here that in the Lenten Parliament of 1300, the Crown had promised the bishops to consistently allow objections to suits brought by alleged religious women, and to remand the matter of religious profession to the local bishop before proceeding further in the common law courts. If Margery Hedsor had hoped for a speedy resolution to her law suit by coming to court in the dress of a married woman, and so preempting the objection of apostasy by virtue of her attournment, she had miscalculated, or at least mistimed her move. Given the hard-won victory of the English bishops in 1300, we cannot fault John Dalderby for forcing the issue of Margery’s alleged apostasy to the forefront, requiring that it be resolved by ecclesiastical inquest before her property claim could be pursued; we can, however, lament the fact that we no longer know when, or if, that issue was ever resolved.
68 Ibid, xxxv. 69 Registers of the Bishops of Lincoln, Bishop John Dalderby, March 1300– August 1320, Reg. III, folio 214v.
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The runaways we have looked at in this chapter had, or claimed to have had, grounds for nullification of their vows of monastic profession. Accordingly, they should have filed a petition to the papacy for release from those vows and they should have done so while still garbed as nuns and living within their community. Instead, these women fled their monasteries without leave and by so doing risked allegations of apostasy and the sentence of excommunication that charge entailed. Once outside their monasteries, often assisted by men who were, or wished to be, their husbands, many of them did request official declaration that they had never been canonically professed religious.70 In fact, the stories of these runaways have often surfaced only because they subsequently petitioned for such decrees. And while historians take a variety of approaches when using legal records as sources for studying female agency at law, Cordelia Beattie’s observations seem to me particularly apposite. The petitioning subject that we find in a Chancery bill is a textual one but it gives us, in most cases, our only insight into the women who brought their complaints to Chancery. By understanding the process of petitioning Chancery we need not choose utterly between the ‘textual’ and the ‘social’ or ‘lived.’ A methodology that pays attention to this is revealing not only of gender ideologies but also of women’s experiences of and interactions with the law.71 If it is ill-advised to suggest that petitions for nullification faithfully record the voices of the women for whom they were crafted, it is equally cavalier to see them merely as formulaic process-specific constructs. The petitions referenced in this chapter reflect the input of the petitioners themselves, and so afford us significant information about their legal encounters.72 These encounters in turn raise several intriguing issues, not the least of which is the extent to which men were involved in them. Although fathers and brothers, along with female relatives, were sometimes instrumental in forcing inconven 70 I deal more with this and other sorts of collaboration in the Conclusion. 71 Beattie, “Your Oratrice,” 29. 72 This idea is well expressed by Goldberg, “Echoes, Whispers, Ventriloquisms,” 41.
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ient heiresses and sisters into the cloister, husbands often assisted them in petitioning for nullification of the vows that they had been compelled to take. Magdelena Payerin clearly benefitted from the expert advice and counsel of her husband, notary and scribe Friedrich Heidenheimer, when engaged in her complicated and costly supplication process; without the assistance of her lover, the cleric Johannes Zacz, the relentless machinations of her kin might surely have succeeded in keeping Ursula Schenkin de Erbach from freedom. It is also suggestive that many a petitioner, like Georgine Cruseler and Katherina of Truchsessen, filed petitions for the express purpose of silencing those who contended that their marriages were invalid. So too, some women had lived for years in secular society as alleged apostates, filing petitions only after they had become mothers. Securing the legitimacy of children might have been even more important at times than silencing the calumny of neighbors. We might also ask where the women in these cases met their future helpmates/husbands, the fathers of their children? As Janet Burton has observed for Yorkshire nunneries, the practice of monastic charity and hospitality enjoined on nuns as well as monks had the potential to increase encounters with laymen as well as secular women; bishops sought to limit, but certainly not to eliminate, the practice. The latter [contact with seculars] was very often the result of use of nunneries for purposes such as hospitality, and injunctions to nunneries to guard against seculars was often not an implication of abuse, but a case of prevention being better than cure. When [Archbishop] Wickwane reminded the nuns of Nun Appleton that “we by no means prohibit decent hospitality for a day or night … so that no sin or scandal might arise,” he was obviously worried about the effects which prolonged use of the nunneries as centres of hospitality and the consequent influx of secular visitors might have on the convent.73 Furthermore, in the later Middle Ages, monastic charity became an increasingly compelling ideal, central in fact to the spirituality of
73 Janet E. Burton, The Yorkshire Nunneries in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries. Borthwick Papers 56 (York: Borthwick Institute, 1979), 32.
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Cistercian nuns, increasing such opportunities for interaction.74 And regardless of the order to which they belonged, the absolute dependence of religious women on men who had been ordained priests to provide cura monialilum – the care of nuns and their souls via celebration of Mass and administration of the sacraments – continued to open the way for contact, warranted and otherwise, between the sexes; chaplains, in fact, will figure prominently in some of the cases that follow. Finally, financial as well as spiritual exigencies required contact with laymen, at least by abbesses, prioresses, and obedientiaries – monastic officeholders such as bursars and cellaresses. The exceptionally well-documented case of Mary Felton, for example, records the fact that she met her last husband and co-petitioner, John Curson, when he came to the Minories to pay rents owed to the abbess. This scenario would not have been at all uncommon in a late medieval London convent. As Nancy Bradley Warren points out, “London convents drew large portions of their income from money rents for streets of houses and shops,” and by the later fourteenth century all English nunneries derived the bulk of their incomes from the rents of landed tenants.75 Economic developments such as these had additional ramifications as well. Grants of rights and privileges, such as the right to collect rents or tithes, or the right to appoint a cleric to a local parish church, increased the opportunities for legal squabbles geometrically. The standard practice of ‘farming’ tithes and rents in return for a fixed annual fee – a fee which did not always materialize – added further opportunity for litigation. And then there was the overwhelmingly conditional and contingent nature of lay patronage. For instance, a testator might bequeath the proceeds from property in which a surviving spouse possessed a life interest, or order that his gift be paid out of the debts owed him,
74 See for example Anne E. Lester, Creating Cistercian Nuns (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2011), Chapter 4. 75 Nancy Bradley Warren, Spiritual Economies: Female Monasticism in Later Medieval England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), 59.
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leaving it up to the nuns he had endowed to successfully claim those debts.76 In such a litigious environment, nuns not only needed steward and notaries for their business transactions, they also needed lawyers. Professionalization of the practice of law had made personal attention to lawsuits by heads of houses, or the use of amateurs of any sort, be they servants, benefactors, or fellow religious, downright unwise. By 1300, litigation had become a job for professional, largely university-trained lawyers who, it goes without saying, were always men. Given these and other possibilities for interaction, one thing is clear: Women who would apostatize sometimes met the men who would influence their lives (for better or worse) while still living within the walls of their monasteries. In subsequent chapters we will get additional insights into the question of where and under what circumstances this might have occurred, but the answer will very often continue to elude us. Routinely, papal and episcopal directives, injunctions, and other documents of practice lack such details; sometimes we are left merely with a name. Who was that “certain man” Robert Holland, for instance, who became the husband of Margaret Prestwich? We now turn our attention from alleged, to actual apostates, to those who could adduce no evidence of force, minority, or prior marriage that would invalidate their vows or status as religious. They possessed no grounds to file petitions for nullification, either before or after taking flight from their monasteries, so that when they did so they became apostates. Their motives for abandoning religious life are often impossible to determine with certainty, and nearly as various as the individuals themselves, but given the seriousness of the consequences involved they were seldom frivolous. In the next two chapters we examine some of the most common reasons for, or justifications of (it is not always possible to distinguish between the two), female apostasy. Taken together, they give us an idea of why the ‘sweet yolk’ of religion could become an unsupportable burden.
76 Elizabeth Makowski, English Nuns and the Law in the Middle Ages: Cloistered Nuns and their Lawyers, 1293–1540 (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 2011), 1–2.
Land, Lust, and Love
Unlike the women with whom we have just dealt, whose vows had been coerced or otherwise technically invalidated, canonically professed nuns had no grounds to file petitions for nullification of vows and could not legally return to secular society. If a nun had freely, even if unenthusiastically, pronounced her vows, she had few options to alter her lot if she later became unhappy with it. She might request a transfer to another community, but that course of action presupposed dissatisfaction with a specific house and not with the overall constraints of religious life. Unlike her male counterparts, she could not aspire to ordination and the beneficed status that it often carried, nor could she enter university life.1 Yet the gulf that separated distaste for, or even loathing of, religious life from the abandonment of it was immense. For many apostate nuns that gulf would be bridged only gradually, by incremental ‘adjustments’ to cloistered life. This was particularly true for those whose apostasy stemmed from temptations against the vows of poverty and chastity. It suited the disaffected nun to strive to transform her environment into something akin to the one she would have enjoyed had she remained in secular society. The peaked headdresses, gold combs, slashed sleeves and pleated robes, adopted by nuns in imitation of fashionable matrons, and so often railed against by episcopal synods
1 Supplications from England and Wales in the Registers of the Apostolic Penitentiary 1410–1503, ed. Peter D. Clarke and Patrick N. R. Zutshi, 3 vols, Canterbury and York Society 103, 104, 105 (Canterbury: Boydell Press for the Henry Bradshaw Society, 2012), vol. 1, xxxii, gives examples of licenses requested by regulars both for university study and to hold a benefice with cure of souls.
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and monastic visitors, attest to this effort.2 So too the keeping of pets, relaxation of liturgical duties, and the acceptance of clandestine gifts from, and visits with, outsiders, all of which eroded barriers between the monastery and the larger world. Once those barriers were sufficiently worn down, however, temptations of a more serious type presented themselves. Sexual liaisons begun within a monastery for example, and the consequences of these clandestine unions, often made escape look like the only option for a miscreant. So too, incremental erosion of cloistered routine and departure from monastic ideals acted as solvents to the equally binding, and scarcely less appealing, vow of poverty. The desire for land, as much as for love, could and did lead nuns into apostasy. In the later Middle Ages, observance of the vow of poverty in communities throughout Europe was neither strict nor uniform. In late medieval Spain heritable chattels and even revenues from land were allowed to the professed at times.3 Pronouncing that vow did, however, effectively prohibit fully professed regulars from inheriting land or chattels. When there was much to gain, the motivation to leave one’s habit behind and attempt to grasp that inherited wealth might be compelling. And in the later Middle Ages many professed nuns would have had very much to gain by doing so, since they came from prominent and wealthy families. In the late medieval German empire for example, up to 35 percent of daughters from noble families became nuns – monastic entrance fees (‘requested’ rather than demanded, after the Fourth Lateran Council’s prohibition of the latter as simony) paled by comparison to the cost of an aristocratic daughter’s dowry.4 And while affluent non-nobles began to be accepted in many houses by the latter half 2 Eileen Power, Medieval English Nunneries, c. 1275 to 1535 (New York: Biblo and Tannen, 1922; 1964), 585–587 provides a good summary of some of the consistent attempts to curb such excesses in England. Episcopal censures issued after visitations are similarly found in continental sources for both monks and nuns, and in more universal decrees such as CJC, Clem 3.10.1, the decree of the Council of Vienne, Ne in agro dominico. 3 Elizabeth Lehfeldt, Religious Women in Golden Age Spain: The Permeable Cloister (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2005), 94–95. 4 Ludwig Schmugge and Atria A. Larson, Marriage on Trial: Late Medieval German Couples at the Papal Court (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2012), 184–185.
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of the fourteenth century, more exclusive communities continued to exist. According to regulations issued in 1500, Rijnsburg Abbey carried on admitting only those women who could identify noble ancestors on both paternal and maternal sides for at least four generations.5 The situation differed little elsewhere on the Continent. Bruce Venarde observed that in French and English convents the very need to collect entry fees, long after the Lateran Council’s ban, reflected “that nunneries were becoming a preserve of the aristocracy and that houses needed the income an entry gift from a noblewoman could provide.”6 Listing the family names of the nuns who made up the Venetian community of Corpus Domini in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries has been compared to reading “a roll call of Venice’s ruling elite, resonant with wealth and glory.”7 Late medieval French nunneries, like those studied by Anne Lester, attracted well-to-do bourgeois women and the daughters of knights, while continuing to house aristocratic recruits, and far-flung Cistercian foundations, such as Vreta and Alvastra in Sweden, and Santa Maria de las Huelgas and San Quirce in Spain, were places of refuge for high nobility and even royalty.8 Even in the newer mendicant and Bridgettine orders, life was still geared to women of some considerable wealth and social standing. Isabelle, sister of King Louis IX of France, founded the 5 Anne Winston-Allen, Convent Chronicles: Women Writing about Women and Reform in the Late Middle Ages (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004), 31–36. 6 Bruce L. Venarde, Women’s Monasticism and Medieval Society: Nunneries in France and England, 890–1215 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997), 174. 7 Daniel Bornstein, Life and Death in a Venetian Convent: The Chronicle and Necrology of Corpus Domini, 1395–1436 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 16. 8 Michel Parisse, Les Nonnes Au Moyen Age (Le Puy: C. Bonneton, 1983), 131–134. Anne E. Lester, Creating Cistercian Nuns (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2011). Constance Berman, The White Nuns Cistercian Abbeys for Women in Medieval France (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018), 73–75. New Trends in Feminine Spirituality: The Holy Women of Liège and their Impact, ed. Juliette Dor, Lesley Johnson, and Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, Medieval Women 2 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1999), 165. Elizabeth Lehfeldt, “Discipline, Vocation, and Patronage: Spanish Religious Women in a Tridentine Microclimate,” Sixteenth Century Journal 30, no. 4 (Winter, 1999), 1009–1030.
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elite Franciscan abbey of Longchamp outside of Paris, King Sancho IV favored the earliest female Franciscan convent in Spain, and the remarkable fifteenth-century expansion of the Bridgettines from Scandinavia to Germany, Poland, the Netherlands and Italy was made possible because foundations were financed by, and drew their members from, the highest nobility.9 Although there was considerable regional variation in England, English nunneries too housed the socially privileged. Traditional Benedictine foundations like Easebourne, Romsey, Minchin Barrow and Barking, remained the preserve of the well-born.10 The daughters of knights and country gentlemen found homes in the more recently established mendicant houses like the London Minories, Denny, and Bruisyard, and the nuns in Henry V’s Bridgettine foundation of Syon were almost exclusively aristocrats.11 Even convents like those in the diocese of Norwich, which housed relatively few aristocratic nuns, attracted both upper and lower gentry with wealth in estates or agriculture.12 A nun need not be an aristocrat to hail from a family that possessed heritable properties, and it is this fact that concerns us here. The prospect of reclaiming an inheritance, even if that did not denote a vast estate, could lead one into apostasy.
9 Sean L. Field, Isabelle of France: Capetian Sanctity and Franciscan Identity in the Thirteenth Century. (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2006). Elizabeth Lehfeldt, Religious Women in Golden Age Spain: The Permeable Cloister. Women and Gender in the Early Modern World (Aldershot, UK and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2005), 20. Bridget Morris, St. Birgitta of Sweden (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 1999), 160. Auke Jelsma, “The Appreciation of Bridget of Sweden (1303–1373) in the 15th Century,” in Women and Men in Spiritual Culture XIV–XVII Centuries, ed. E. Schulte van Kessel (The Hague: Netherlands Government Publications Office, 1986), 163–175. 10 Power, Medieval English Nunneries, 4. 11 Elizabeth Makowski, English Nuns and the Law in the Middle Ages: Cloistered Nuns and their Lawyers, 1293–1540 (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 2011), 22–23. 12 Marilyn Oliva, The Convent and the Community in Late Medieval England Female Monasteries in the Diocese of Norwich, 1350–1540 (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 1998), 53–61, identifies five social groups to which nuns in the diocese of Norwich, 1350–1540 belonged, parish gentry being at one end of the spectrum and aristocrats, a tiny percentage of the whole, at the other.
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That prospect appears to have catalyzed even some of the women in the previous chapter, women who, though capable of seeking legal redress for their forced profession, were reluctant to do so. Magdelena Payerin of Constance seemed resigned to her circumstances until receiving news that she had been a victim of a scheme to disinherit her. This motivated Magdelena to reclaim her secular status for the sake of a family fortune. And so too, even validly professed, but disgruntled nuns might grasp at the potential for independence represented by a sizeable inheritance. Judging from a complaint to the Crown lodged by the bishops at the Lenten Parliament of 1300, that certainly seems to have been the case in England. On that occasion the bishops demanded that the king address the manner in which petitions from apostate nuns were being handled in the common law courts. They alleged that both expressly and tacitly professed nuns (moniales vere vel interpretative professe) who were legally prohibited from owning or suing for possession of property had been casting off their religious habits, leaving their monasteries, donning secular clothes, and claiming inheritances in the king’s courts. Furthermore, these courts were admitting the claims “to the peril of souls and the disadvantage of lawful heirs.”13 The Crown promised a speedy and firm remedy to this grievance: all exceptions (legal objections lodged in court) based upon religious profession were to be admitted and the issue submitted to the local ecclesiastical ordinary for a ruling before any further common law action commenced. Mention in the complaint of ‘donning secular clothes’ puts us in mind of Margery Hedsor’s ill-timed bid for the right to file a writ in the king’s court; it also underscores the distinctive jurisdictional division in the common law that makes late medieval England an especially fertile ground for investigating cases of apostasy motivated by the desire to inherit landed wealth. As we already know, common law reserved all landed disputes to the Crown, making for exacting documentation of court activity, and that after 1300 that activity included Chancery writs remanding determination of religious status to the ecclesiastical forum before proceeding to trial – again, as with Margery 13 F. M. Powicke and C. R. Cheney, Councils & Synods: With Other Documents Relating to the English Church, 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964), 2:1215. F. Donald Logan, Runaway Religious in Medieval England, c. 1240–1540 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 22.
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Hedsor. Indeed, writs were sometimes executed and returned by local bishops even when apostasy was not at issue. The stakes in any inheritance battle could be high. Consequently, a nun’s legal incapacity to inherit any portion of family wealth would be a crucial fact for legitimate heirs to establish. For example, when Christina Gascelyn’s father Geoffrey died in 1375, he left behind the manor of Great Chiverel along with several other properties in the same county. Christina’s younger sister inherited them all but not before Chancery made absolutely sure that Christina had forfeited her right to inherit by virtue of religious profession. A certificate of the bishop of Bath and Wells, sent into Chancery at the king’s command, confirmed “that Christina the elder has entered the order of nuns in Minchin Barrow priory and has there taken the habit of religion, being therein professed at the age of fourteen and upwards, and has there publicly worn the habit of nuns professed for five years, and that she has left no heir of her body begotten before such entry into religion.”14 In this case, episcopal confirmation of religious status had been requested prior to eliminating Christina as co-heir, although there is no evidence that she begrudged her sister the inheritance or that she had tried in any way to undermine the younger woman’s claim. More often bishops were only asked to confirm a woman’s religious status when disputants in a battle over inheritance demanded it to counter the actions of a would-be heir. Was the claimant’s status dubious; that is, was she indeed a laywoman or an apostate nun posing as one? Apparently, Joyce Hywyssh was one of the latter. A certificate by Robert Braybroke bishop of London, issued in 1384 for instance, confirms the fact that Joyce Hywyssh was a validly professed nun of St. Helen’s, Bishopsgate, London.15 The certification had been required because of a common law contest in which Joyce was one of the litigants. The bishop’s register for that year contains a writ from the Crown directing the bishop to inquire into the status of Joyce, plaintiff in two cases pending in the Court of Common Pleas.16 And in this 14 CCR 1374–1377, 132. 15 E 135/6/71. 16 Registers of the Bishops of London, 1304–1660, Episcopal Registers Pt. 5 (Brighton: Harvester Press Microform Publications, 1984), Register of Robert Braybroke 1381–1404, 2:403.
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instance, both are fully, and fortuitously, reported in the Year Books of Richard II.17 Joyce entered both her claims in the Court of Common Pleas via John Tregos, her guardian. The first alleged that John Ude and John Tregorrek had unlawfully seized a portion of land in Porthpere, Cornwall that rightfully belonged to her as the daughter of William de Hywyssh. Recently deceased, William had been the sole remaining heir of Richard de Hywyssh, knight. The defendants contested Joyce’s claim not on the facts of the case but on the grounds that Joyce was a professed nun and so incapable of asserting any right to an inheritance. In the second petition, entered the same day, Joyce pleaded for restitution of an outstanding debt and attendant damages for non-payment, in the amount of £100. She alleged that on 7 January of the previous year she had loaned John Andrew, a London clerk, £20 on condition that he repay the sum in two installments. He had refused to do so despite repeated requests. The promissory note outlining the terms of repayment, signed by both parties, and duly witnessed, was then produced for the court. Like the defendants in the first case, Andrew argued that Joyce could not bring this action for repayment of a debt as she was a professed nun. Joyce responded in both instances saying that she should not be barred from her actions by the objection of religious profession since she was a secular person and not a nun, and that she was prepared to verify that fact for the court as required. The bishop of London was ordered to inquire into the issue of alleged profession and return the results of his inquiry by Hilary term, a day given to all parties to come to court to hear them. Bishop Robert’s certification, returned with great rapidity, was read on that day in court; it contained a curious addendum. Enclosed is the royal writ with other documents which we recently received with the appropriate respect, by the force of which writ, having called before us all those who shold be called, we have made diligent inquiry in lawful manner into the truth of the matter upon the premises, all and singular contained in the said writ according to the order and tenor of the 17 Year Books of Richard II: 8–10 Richard II (1385–1387), ed. L. C. Hector and Michael E. Hager, Ames 77 (Cambridge, MA, 1987), 77–80.
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said writ through which inquiry we have clearly discovered that the said Joyce was and is a professed nun in the conventual church of the house of nuns of the Holy Cross and St. Helen of the Benedictine order within Bishopsgate in our city of London, and in order to reinforce belief in the evidence as to what has occurred, on 9 October in the year of our Lord 1384 by the authority entrusted to us in this respect we veiled the said Joyce with the holy veil in the said conventual church, gave our blessing, and received her profession as the order of law required. These matters all and singular we cause to be made known to you all and to each of you and we certify by our present letters, open and close, confirmed by our seal. Dated at our manor of Wickham on the 29th day of said month of October in the aforesaid year of our Lord  and the 3rd year of our consecration.18 When the parties to these suits were then asked whether they had any evidence that would contradict the said certification and inquisition they answered in the negative. Consequently, the cases were both dismissed, Joyce being fined for her false claim against John Andrew. Why did Joyce Hywyssh enter these common law contests for land and money, declaring herself a secular person, if she could so easily be proven to be a professed nun? And if proof of that status had really been as cogent and easily obtainable as the bishop of London averred in his certification, why did he feel it necessary to veil her and receive her promise of profession himself in October 1384? We can assume that Joyce had merely made tacit profession before that formal episcopal reception; we know that subsequent to it she was still unreconciled to her status. In October 1388, Joyce Hywyssh was reported as having apostatized from Bishopsgate and attempted marriage.19 Unfortunately she then vanishes from the record. Tacit rather than expressed profession was also an issue in the case of two sisters, Grace and Agnes Nowers. When their brother Amery [Almaricus; Emery], son and heir of the knight John Nowers, died 18 E 135/6/71. 19 Logan, Runaway Religious, 260. The ‘Joyce’ listed is indeed the same, but I have been unable to obtain a copy of the Royal Commission report Logan cites in the footnote and hence to follow the saga any further.
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in in 1409, Grace and Agnes were listed as his heirs.20 They stood to gain both Gothurst and Golding manors in Buckinghamshire as a consequence, and apparently had attempted to make good that claim by asserting it as laywomen.21 Confirmation of their religious status was, however, swift in coming. A post mortem inquisition of the same year lists them as “Grace, sister of Amery Nowers, nun of St. Giles in the Wood, Flamstead, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire; Agnes, sister and heir of Amery Nowers, professed in the same abbey at the same time as her sister Grace.”22 And the register of the bishop of Lincoln at the time, Philip Repingdon, sheds more light on the maneuvers that quashed their attempts to rejoin secular, landed, society. On 18 April 1409, the bishop commissioned his suffragan, Richard of Dromore, to receive the express profession of a number of nuns, who had “already and for some years been living as regulars;” among them were Agnes and Grace.23 As Repingdon required detailed reports from his episcopal helpers to ascertain whether the delegated duties had been carried out, Bishop Richard noted that he had received their solemn profession of vows at Flamstead Priory on 21 April, in the presence of William Burton, canon of London, and other witnesses. In addition, he reported that his action had been certified by the notary public, Thomas Hyll, and that all the nuns professed that day had been well above the age of consent, had successfully passed their probationary year in their respective convents, and had freely given their consent to his formal veiling.24 Would that Bishop Richard’s note had revealed something about what motivated the Nower sisters to give that consent. So far, we have dealt with cases in which professed nuns made up their minds to risk apostasy for the chance to gain an inheritance and then proceeded freely, if not advisedly. Yet in this, as in the matter of profession itself, compulsion was not unheard of. Greed might motivate a man to force a professed nun to abandon monastic life and lay 20 CIPM 3:323. 21 C 269/9/24. Logan, Runaway Religious, 260. 22 C 137/73/43. 23 The Register of Bishop Philip Repingdon, 1405–1419, ed. Margaret Archer, The Publications of the Lincoln Record Society 57, 58, 74 (Hereford: Printed for the Lincoln Record Society by the Hereford Times Ltd, 1982), 1:146. 24 Register of Bishop Philip Repingdon, 1405–1419, 1:xxiv–xxv.
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claim to an inheritance by posing as his wife. What a purported husband had to gain with such a maneuver might be obvious; what is not always apparent is the fact that force had been employed in the first place.25 When mention is first made of Maud Huntercombe “sister and heir of Elizabeth daughter of John Huntercombe” for instance, it is a straightforward reference to her as a blood relative claiming her due. In June 1391, she was allowed to do homage to the Crown for lands held by her childless deceased sister, thereby establishing herself as lawful heir.26 On 9 July, however, Bishop John Buckingham of Lincoln received a writ ordering him to inquire into Maud’s alleged religious status, and just a day later, long before any inquiry could have been begun much less concluded, the abbess of Burnham Abbey, Buckinghamshire, signified Maud for arrest as an apostate nun.27 Stays of execution on both writs were ordered, but soon the process of inquiry began again, with the matter coming before Parliament via petition.28 That petition was forwarded to the Chancery and it is the Chancery suit, filed by Elizabeth’s three aunts (the rightful heirs) and their husbands, that finally gives us a clearer picture of what was going on in this case.29 The suit alleged that one Giles Frensh, a yeoman in the service of the king and a resident of the parish of Burnham, had, with his henchmen, “by force of arms [vi et armis], ravished and carried away [rapuerunt et abduxerunt]” the said Maud, aged twenty-four and a professed Augustinian nun of Burnham Abbey. The petitioners said that he had done so in order to claim the two-thirds of Huntercombe manor left by the death of Maud’s sister, Elizabeth. Giles, represented by his attorney, responded to these charges by stating that Maud was Elizabeth’s rightful heir whom he had married, that she was a secular 25 Logan, Runaway Religious, 265. For example, Logan states that Maud Huntercombe, whose case follows here, left to claim an inheritance, but does not mention the circumstances of that apparently involuntary departure. 26 CCR 1389–1392, 363. 27 C 81/1789/31. A. K. MacHardy, Royal Writs Addressed to John Buckingham, Bishop of Lincoln: 1363–1398. Lincoln Register 12B: A Calendar, The Canterbury and York Society 86 (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 1997), xx–xxi. 28 SC 8/97/4804. 29 CCR 1392–1396, 70–71.
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woman and never a professed nun. The petitioners, in turn, denied this, saying that Maud had entered the religious life and had been a professed nun for a full seven years before her sister’s death. Since the matter of Maud’s religious status was in question, the suit was not concluded until 1393 when Bishop John Buckingham returned his certification. Having made diligent enquiry, at great trouble and expense, about the truth of the matter we find that Maud Huntercombe, sister of the late Elizabeth who was the wife of Robert de Cherlton formerly justice of the Bench entered into a religious house of nuns of the order of St. Augustine of Burnham at the age of discretion, and is legitimately a member of that order, and Maud is a professed nun and was for a long time before the death of Elizabeth wife of Robert Cherlton.30 A writ to the sheriff of Buckingham, issued a few months later, restored the claimants to their rightful inheritance, and Maud to religious life. Maud, unlike most apostate nuns, might have welcomed this fate – if, that is, she had in fact been sexually assaulted and brutally carried off against her will by Giles. It seems likely, given the facts subsequent to her abduction, that Maud Huntercombe had been coerced into apostasy and that she had then posed as a married laywoman at the behest of her abductor, who could benefit from her inheritance. But were we to rely exclusively upon the wording used in the Chancery petition filed by her aunts, we could not draw even this conclusion with confidence. Lacking further clarification by Maud herself, or additional evidence from witness testimony, her raptus – ravishment – might just as easily have denoted voluntary abandonment of her vows as sexual violence and forceful seizure. In her examination of over one thousand allegations of ravishment in the legal records of late medieval England, Caroline Dunn highlights the ambiguity of this term, which was used by scribes and lawmakers to mean both rape (sexual assault) and abduction, forced or consensual. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, it became part of the formula to initiate a case in civil and criminal courts.
30 MacHardy, Royal Writs, 167.
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In civil lawsuits the aggrieved party began by purchasing a writ from the royal Chancery that allowed the case to proceed. The standardized formula of the writ, which stated that a named offender had “seized and abducted” (rapuit et abduxit) a wife or a ward, was recorded by scribes in the legal record, and hence the language of the writ leads directly to the preponderance of the “rapuit et abduxit” phrase in complaints.31 To complicate matters further, despite the characterization of a woman’s seizure as being “by force of arms” (vi et armis) this formulaic phrase found in Chancery writs envelopes as much circumstantial variation as that of the “force and fear” (vim et metum) formula used in the petitions for nullification treated in the preceding chapter – use of the phrase in a writ merely allowed that an abduction allegation could be heard before royal justices. “Even though civil writs allege that offences occurred vi et armis, the allegation was part of the formula, and used in cases when a woman clearly wished to depart from her husband’s household, even if no force was used at all.”32 In cases involving the abduction of nuns, the ‘brides of Christ,’ prospects for collusion appear to have been accentuated, and we cannot gainsay Donald Logan’s findings. When one speaks of the abduction of nuns, the word “abduction” here does not necessarily imply that the nuns in question were snatched from their nunneries against their wishes: the word has the meaning merely of “taking away” and is neutral regarding consent. In fact, if the nun was accomplice to the abduction, she was clearly apostate.33 Even if an escape plan was hatched by someone other than the apostate herself, collusion can seldom be entirely excluded from the equation. For example, the conduct of Joan Bruys after an alleged
31 Caroline Dunn, Stolen Women in Medieval England: Rape, Abduction, and Adultery, 1100–1500 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 5. 32 Dunn, Stolen Women, 51. 33 Logan, Runaway Religious, 85.
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abduction suggests that she had been more than willing to leave her community of Nuneaton Priory far behind. It all began – or rather, the facts of Joan’s past began to emerge – when Hugh Wesenham and his wife Agnes laid claim (in February 1359) to lands left by Agnes’s brother Bernard, who had died in infancy.34 Bernard had inherited all the lands that their father, John Bruys, had held as tenant in chief, and when Agnes stated that she was Bernard’s sole heir and of legal age (she was nineteen), the couple was permitted to swear fealty for all those lands. Further inquisitions into the death of John, however, disclosed that Agnes had lied about being sole heir. Joan, wife of Nicholas Grene, aged seventeen, and her two older sisters, Elizabeth and Ellen, were also daughters of John Bruys and therefore heirs apparent as well. Consequently, Bernard’s lands were taken back by the Crown and yet another inquisition conducted. Since that inquiry disclosed that Elizabeth and Ellen had been professed nuns at the Gilbertine priory of Bolington [Bullington; Bolynton], for the last seven years, Hugh and Agnes were notified to appear in Chancery to show cause why Bernard’s lands should not be divided into two parts, one going to them and the other to Joan and Nicholas Grene. A wardship dispute (which need not concern us save as evidence of the litigious penchant of both parties in this case) next ensued, and just as it was concluded Hugh and Agnes tried another approach. They now claimed that Joan and Nicholas could not inherit any portion of Bernard’s lands, since at the age of eleven Joan Bruys had entered the priory of Nuneaton, Warwickshire. They swore that she had stayed there until she was over sixteen and since she had worn the habit of a nun for more than a year after her twelfth birthday, she was clearly professed according to the rule of this house – a house that as a cell of the monastery of Fontevrault in Normandy was exempt from all but papal jurisdiction. Joan, together with Nicholas Grene, countered this claim of tacit religious profession with evidence that allows us to see something of the couple’s long-term relationship. They swore that on an earlier occasion (1358) when they had sued a certain Robert Baldewyn (accusing him of taking goods and chattels of Joan’s valued at £20), 34 CIPM 1352–1361, 383–385. The case is more fully described in CCR 1354– 1360, 667–670.
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the defendant had countered by lodging the same exception of religious profession. Like Hugh and Agnes now, he too had claimed that Joan Bruys could not sue because she was a professed nun and he had even “pretended to verify this” claim. Indeed, Grene might have had recourse for that verification to the bishop of Lincoln, since there is mention in a memo of Bishop Gynewell (1347–1362) that Joan Bruys, nun of Nuneaton, was abducted by Nicholas Grene and that they had contracted a species of marriage in his diocese where the facts of the case were unknown.35 In any case, when “on that earlier occasion” Joan and Nicholas denied the apostasy assertion, the bishop of Coventry and Lichfield had been ordered to inquire further into the matter. The bishop had then returned a certificate stating that Joan was not, and had never been, professed at Nuneaton. Joan and Nicholas now offered this 1358 episcopal certificate, which had, not incidentally, brought the couple victory in their case against Robert Baldewyn, to substantiate Joan’s right to inherit. They also challenged Hugh and Agnes to gainsay that certification. Hugh and Agnes, or rather their attorneys, obliged; they did try to undermine the bishop’s certification by claiming that the bishop of Coventry and Lichfield did not have jurisdiction over an exempt monastery like Nuneaton. But after taking that argument too into consideration, the Chancery justices found no reason to exclude Joan and Nicholas Grene from their half of the inheritance. Once again, the Grenes, if I might refer to them as such, had won their case. And if Joan Bruys had technically been a sixteen-year-old nun, and then an apostate because of her abduction, she comes into clear focus for the historian only as a married woman, and quite the redoubtable half of the spousal team. The prospect of inheriting great wealth by renouncing one’s religious status was a compelling lure for some, but romantic love, lust, or a combination of both, motivated far more professed nuns to become apostates. As noted earlier, the steady, sustained erosion of monastic discipline in some communities could pave the way. Carnal temptations made inroads because a nun had already disregarded barriers 35 Postmodum se in nostram diocesim divertentes matrimonium de facto in eadem nostra diocese scienter invicem contraxerunt et incestum ibidem commiserunt et in ea cohabitant indies vir et uxor. Power, Medieval English Nunneries, 441 n. 1.
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between the monastery and the larger world – by receiving clandestine gifts and visits from outside admirers, or by lingering ‘after hours’ in the presence of a monastery chaplain. And in many cases, the consequences of an illicit liaison could, and did, tip the balance in favor of apostasy. In relatively few of these cases, however, do we learn anything about the circumstances surrounding a nun’s actions. The language of writs for the return of these apostates, episcopal mandates and Penitentiary dispensations, is formulaic and repetitive; lapsed nuns are ‘deceived by the allurements of the frail flesh’ and wandering ‘in great peril of soul;’ if their lovers are cited at all, they remain mere names.36 Since the particularly edifying nature of a penitent’s return, or the protracted litigation involved in dealing with recidivists, could result in more substantially documented cases, we will often encounter nuns and their lovers again in subsequent chapters. But here I will treat a few cases that illustrate the norm by being exceptional; in one case, unique. Episcopal visits to nunneries involved, among other things, questioning individual members of a community regarding mortality and the general running of the house. When recorded depositions are preserved, as is the case in Bishop Story’s visit to Easebourne Priory, Sussex in 1478, a reasonably detailed picture of an apostate’s circumstances can be pieced together.37 An aristocratic community, poorly endowed from its mid-thirteenth-century foundation, the nunnery had been in debt and badly run for some years.38 When Edward Story became bishop of Chichester in 1478, he heard reports of an ever-worsening situation there and resolved to remove the prioress, Agnes Tauke, if his visit should confirm them; it did. 36 S. J. Chadwick, “Kirklees Priory,” The Yorkshire Archaeological Journal 16 (1902), 350–354. This series of extracts from episcopal registers is a good indication of the formulaic wording found in continental as well as English sources. 37 William Henry Blaauw, Episcopal Visitations of the Benedictine Nunnery of Easebourne (London: John Russell Smith, 1857), 16–19. Power, Medieval English Nunneries, 453–454. Logan, Runaway Religious, 265–266. Dunn, Stolen Women, 122. 38 “Houses of Augustinian Nuns: Priory of Easebourne,” in A History of the County of Sussex, vol. 2, ed. William Page (London: VCH, 1973), 84–85, at https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/sussex/vol2/pp84-85 [accessed 3 June 2015].
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Agnes was the first to be summoned before the bishop’s commissioners and in her sworn testimony reported that Johanna Portsmouth and Philippa King, professed nuns of the house but “not of good conversation or disposition, had withdrawn from the said priory for their health without a license, and are so abroad in apostasy at present, but in what place she knows not, as she says.” With the testimony of the next nun, Mailda Astom, more details emerge. She averred that John Smyth, chaplain, and N. Style, bond-servant to Lord Arundel, and a married man, had “great familiarity with the said priory, as well as elsewhere, with the said Johanna Portsmouth and Philippa King,” although Mailda was uncertain about whether the men had abducted the nuns or not. The next deponent, Johanna Crackelynge, however, was quite certain that the two men had “caused the said Johanna and Philippa to withdraw from the said priory and apostatize, and one of her fellow nuns, Johanna Stevyn, added that “the withdrawal and ruin of the Ladies Johanna and Philippa might be attributed to their having had, each of them, long before their withdrawal, children, or a child.” Another nun testified that John Smyth “much frequented the priory, so that during some weeks he passed the night, and lay within the priory or monastery every night.” She added that she thought him the cause of Joan’s ruin and a corrupter of Philippa, to whom he gave many gifts. Finally, it emerged that another man, a purported religious no less, had aided and abetted the apostasy of these two nuns. Brother William Cotnall publicly confessed that he had used the seal of the convent to seal a quittance for John Smyth, protecting him from any legal action the community might take against him (including any about the house jewels, which Smyth absconded with as well). Cotnall also admitted that he had signed and sealed a license for Johanna Portsmouth to leave the priory, and that he had had sexual relations with Philippa King before her own departure. It would be difficult to ignore just how significantly the ‘adjustments’ to monastic discipline alluded to at the beginning of this chapter had here been allowed to multiply until virtually nothing of that discipline remained, at least for these two apostates. And while the case of Easebourne is sensational, it is not the only instance of apostasy occasioned by weak or demoralized leadership. As the bishop of Chichester and his confreres well knew, when an entire commu-
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nity lived a disordered life, under lax rule, this situation was likely to repeat itself. Relatively lax regulations regarding the admission not only of clergy but also of laymen into cloister confines tempted fate in a Milanese convent of Poor Clares. In 1476 a professed nun, known only as Battistina, petitioned the Papal Penitentiary for absolution both from censures incurred by her violations of the vow of chastity and from the sentence of excommunication that she had ultimately incurred by her apostasy.39 Battistina had slept with a Milanese layman, Giovannangelo Mantegazza, who convinced her to leave her convent and come home with him. She did so and lived with him for some time and subsequently bore children. She now wanted to return to religion, although in another Poor Clare convent in Tortona, and sought absolution. Callow youth, as opposed to lax administration, accounts for a more unusual case of apostasy. Margareta Bartenbechin, a runaway Dominican tertiary from the diocese of Constance, made a poignant plea to the Papal Penitentiary in 1481.40 Years ago she had ‘carelessly’ thrown off the habit of her order and left the tertiary community where she had been professed as a simple, unveiled sister (soror simplex non velata). She then lived with, and shared the bed of, a certain secular cleric by whom she had children. Now, having had a change of heart, repenting fully and promising to emend her life, she petitioned the Penitentiary for a special dispensation. She begged for full absolution from the sin of apostasy and the sentence of excommunication it brought with it, as well as the right to remain in the world in order to care for her children as only a mother could – in the words of the petition, “to rear them at her breasts and with her own hands” (mammillis et manibus propriis enutrire). Given the terms of her petition, the fact that it was granted in full is remarkable. While the ruling in this instance shows admirable clemency toward children who might otherwise have suffered on account of their mother’s indiscretion, it is definitely not typical, even for the papacy. The discovery that one was with child might trigger apostasy, and the death of a child might spur an apostate to repentance – as with 39 Filippo Tamburini, Santi E Peccatori: Confessioni E Suppliche Dai Registri Della Penitenzieria Dell’Archivio Segreto Vaticano (1451–1586), “Il Sestante” (Milan: Istituto di propaganda libraria, 1995), 151–153. 40 RPG VI, 3139.
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the recidivist Sophie of Brunswick, whom we shall meet in a subsequent chapter – but the fact of apostasy was not altered in the least by motherhood. Becoming a mother while living as a runaway nun did not undercut the canonical requirement to leave the world wantonly entered and return to religious life. Petitions to the Penitentiary made at roughly the same time as Margareta’s provide ample evidence of this fact. Barbara Kespenbach, a Cistercian nun from the diocese of Constance (1456), Dorothea Biczlin, Benedictine nun from Augusburg (1457), Margaretha Horim, from the Augustinian monastery of St. Katherine in the diocese of Constance (1456), Margarita Homoden, an Augustinian nun from Mainz (1456), and Margarita Gorne, also from Augusburg (1463), had all borne children as apostates and yet in all cases their petitions for absolution were contingent on return to their original monasteries or to another receptive community.41 Arrangements were surely made for the children’s upbringing in these instances, but they were also, surely, left behind.42 How then do we account for Margareta Bartenbechin’s special dispensation, which allowed her to expunge her sin of apostasy (if indeed it was apostasy) and yet still remain in secular society to raise her children? The answer hinges less on the special circumstances of this petitioner than on the maddeningly amorphous nature of her status as a soror simplex non velata domus seu congregationis in Stetten Constant dioc. ordo tertia frater predicatorum. We will have more to say about the vagaries of this status, and that of pious women in other quasi-religious communities, in the Conclusion; it is an issue pertinent to the question of why a women might have left her house without permission in the first place. A few particulars, however, can help us come to terms with Margareta’s case. Dominican tertiaries, like their Franciscan counterparts came into existence as congeries of devout laity who lived chastely and in common. However, bound by no formal monastic vows, members were able to leave their communities without incurring the charge of apostasy or suffering the concomitant penalty of excommunication. But, as Maiju Lehmijoki-Gardner notes, by the later fifteenth century there was not only an increased tendency to treat tertiary communities 41 RPG III, 299, 433, 218, 87. RPG IV, 1633. 42 Power, Medieval English Nunneries, 450–451, gives a good summary of how children of nuns might be dealt with.
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as monastic institutions, but options for enclosure were also extended to congregations of female tertiaries that further blurred juridical lines between these religious women and professed nuns.43 Throughout the Middle Ages and well into the modern era in fact, the status of the Third Order monasteries was anything but uniform. Some communities took religious vows, others did not; some were incorporated into the Order and were under the jurisdiction of the master general, others remained under their bishop … At times the masters general issued directives for Third Order communities. Salvo Cassetta ruled in 1482 that sisters might not return to the world and marry. In 1491 Joachim Torriani promulgated ordinances for German tertiaries living in community, regulating their habit, the reception of candidates, and their work. The 1498 general chapter exhorted third Order communities wanting to live a more regular life to follow the Rule of Third-Order enclosed communities.44 In Margareta Bartenbechin’s case there was more than a little ambiguity about her status as an apostate in the full sense of the term. First, she had run away from a community of tertiaries and not from a Dominican nunnery. Second, she had made her profession there, but only as soror simplex non velata. Among Dominican nuns, a similar distinction was drawn between conversae and choir nuns and it was a difference that had juridical consequences. In a constitution issued in July 1480 for instance, Pope Sixtus IV had made it clear that even if a woman who entered and professed as a simple illiterate sister (conversa) had subsequently learned to read, she would not be able to join the ranks of white-habited and veiled choir nuns, without express papal license.45 Margareta’s children seem to have benefitted both from their mother’s humble status while within her community of tertiaries, and the residual resistance, at least at the highest levels, to
43 Maiju Lehmijoki-Gardner, Worldly Saints (Helsinki: Suomen Historiallinen Seura, 1999), 146–154. 44 William Hinnebusch, The History of the Dominican Order (New York: Alba House, 1966), 403–04. 45 BOP 3:590–591.
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regarding her departure from that community as apostasy in the strict sense of the term. There was no ambiguity about the status of the apostate in our next case, but there was resistance and of a sort that led a beleaguered monastic superior to have recourse to the pope, not once, but on two separate occasions.46 In June 1369, Urban V commissioned the archbishop of Benevento to resolve the hotly contested issue of Francisca Mangiaserpe’s alleged apostasy and her subsequent marriage. According to the petition filed by the abbess, Francisca had been a professed nun in the Benedictine monastery of St. Anthony of Eboli, in the diocese of Salerno, for twenty-five years before Marinus Buczutus, a citizen of Naples who had been staying nearby, came to the convent. Under cover of night and with the aid of a forged key, he led Francisca willingly and with her consent (volentem et consentientem) from the monastery to his own home. A short time later, the couple publicly pronounced marriage vows, and consummated their union. Because of this notorious action, the archbishop of Salerno, to whom the abbess and convent had recourse, placed the pair under sentence of excommunication. A definitive judgment about the case was now needed, but since the abbess was convinced that it could not be handed down impartially, or even safely, inside the city of Salerno, she appealed to the pope for a change of venue. The abbot of the monastery of S. Marie de Capella in Naples was therefore charged to bring the parties before him, but after several exchanges between the syndic, the agent acting for the abbess, and Marinus and Francisca, some of Marinus’ powerful relatives intimidated that syndic with threats of violence. Even the abbot commissioned to hear the case was pressured into declaring the archbishop of Salerno’s sentence of excommunication invalid, admitting of no further actions on his part. Responding to the abbess who styled herself, and in fact appears to have been, ‘defenseless,’ Urban V issued his mandate to an official suitably removed from the immediate vicinity. The archbishop of Benevento was ordered to duly investigate the entire matter and if he 46 Urban V, Lettres Communes: Analysées D’Après Les Registres Dits d’Avignon Et Du Vatican. Tome VIII, Bibliothèque Des Écoles Françaises D’Athènes Et De Rome, 3e Série Lettres Communes Des Papes Du XIVe Siècle (Rome: Ecole français de Rome, 1982), # 24637.
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found that Francisca had indeed made monastic profession, tacitly or expressly, he was to compel her return to the monastery and to declare her marriage to Marinus null and void. We can only speculate about the results of that order, even if the archbishop managed to fulfill it and even if Francisca was found to be an apostate. For the protections afforded by powerful friends and influential patrons could be remarkable deterrents to effective legal censure in late medieval Italian cities; when deployed by the great, they could insulate couples whose dubious unions might have otherwise been censured or dissolved. Our final case, involving a famous pair, vividly illustrates this fact. In outline at least, their story is far from unique: After their father’s death, a greedy brother sends a young Florentine woman and her sister to an Augustinian monastery. The young woman goes on to profess her vows but is then seduced by a chaplain of the monastery, becomes pregnant, and runs away to live with her lover. Within three years she returns to her community and renews her vows, but then leaves again to join her lover, with whom she has another child. This time she never returns. The young apostate in this story is Lucrezia di Francesco Buti (b. 1433) and if she became arguably the most famous apostate nun in fifteenth-century Italy, it was not so much because of what she did, but because of whom she did it with.47 Her lover was the artist, Fra Filippo Lippi (1406–1469), whose monumental tomb, commissioned by Lorenzo de’ Medici, bears an equally grandiose paean to his memory: “All know the wondrous beauty of my skill. My touch gave life to lifeless paint, and long deceived the mind to think the forms would speak. Nature herself, as I revealed her, expressed wonder that I could match her arts.”48 Testifying to the reverence that painters of Lippi’s talent were afforded in fifteenth-century Italy, this epitaph goes far to explain the ways in which this wayward Carmelite friar managed to capture, and to keep, the love of his mistress in clear violation of the vows of both parties. The fact that both Filippo and his son, Filippino, were artists, gives us the unprecedented opportunity to see the faces, or at least the likenesses, of the protagonists in this sensational romance. That romance was first recorded by 47 Catherine Lawless, “Women on the Margins: The ‘Beloved’ and the ‘Mistress’ in Renaissance Florence,” in Pawns or Players, ed. Christine Meeks and Catherine Lawless (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2003), 120–121. 48 Gloria Fossi, Filippo Lippi (Florence: Scala, 1989), 19.
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Giorgio Vasari in his 1550 edition of Lives of the Artists. The inconsistencies and even distortions of the story stem from the author’s Counter-Reformation reluctance to divulge ecclesiastical missteps, coupled with his general carelessness about dates and details unrelated to art. Nevertheless, Vasari’s account remains essentially correct, and it is the place to begin when dealing with this romantic scandal. In Prato, near Florence, where Fra Filippo had some relations, he took up his abode for some months and there executed various works for the whole surrounding district, in company with the Carmelite, Fra Diamante, who had been his companion in novitiate. Having then received a commission from the nuns of Santa Margherita, to paint a picture for the high altar of their church, he one day chance to see the daughter of Francesco Buti, a citizen of Florence, who had been sent to the Convent, either as a novice or boarder. Fra Filippo, having given a glance at Lucrezia, for such was the name of the girl, who was exceedingly beautiful and graceful, so persuaded the nuns, that he prevailed on them to permit him to make a likeness of her, for the figure of the Virgin in the work he was executing for them. The result of this was, that the painter fell violently in love with Lucrezia, and at length found means to influence her in such a manner, that he led her away from the nuns, and on a certain day, when she had gone forth to do honour to the Cintola [girdle] of our Lady, a venerated relic preserved at Prato and exhibited on that occasion, he bore her from their keeping. By this event the nuns were deeply disgraced and the father of Lucrezia was so grievously afflicted thereat, that he never more recovered his cheerfulness, and made every possible effort to regain his child. But Lucrezia, whether retained by fear or by some other cause, would not return, but remained with Filippo [Filippino Lippi 1457–1504] to whom she bore a son, who was also called Filippo, and who eventually became a most excellent and very famous painter like his father.49
49 Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, trans. Mrs. Jonathan Foster (London: G. Bell, 1895–1904), 2: 79–80.
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Vasari would have liked his readers to believe that the whole incident was less scandalous because Fra Filippo was a friar in name only; that upon “hearing himself so highly commended by all [as an artist] he formed his resolution at the age of seventeen and boldly threw off the clerical habit.”50 So too, he claims that at the time of her seduction Lucrezia had only been “a novice or a boarder” at Santa Margherita. Neither assertion proves to be correct. Beginning with Gaetano Milanesi’s annotated and corrected edition of The Lives (1878–1881) scholars have used notarial documents, account books, property records and those of the monasteries of Santa Maria del Carmine, and Santa Margherita to clarify aspects of Filippo and Lucrezia’s biographies.51 Consequently, we can now summarize the details of their love affair with reasonable accuracy. Filippo Lippi had been placed with the Florentine Carmelites as a young orphan, went through the novitiate and professed his vows as a friar in 1421. He would be ordained as a priest within a few years and because of his evident gifts as a painter, after 1437 he no longer lived in the Santa Maria del Carmine convent. His clerical status was an asset to his peripatetic artistic life since he could be, and was, beneficed. As we explore in some detail later this book, to be the recipient of an ecclesiastical office with attached income essentially freed such monks and friars from monastic vows (save for that of chastity), as such individuals were providing cure of souls via an income-producing posting. Fra Lippo’s appointment in 1456 as chaplain of a small Augustinian nunnery in Prato, Santa Margherita, would give him the opportunity to violate his remaining vow.52 Lucrezia Buti, a professed nun in the monastery, had been placed there at the age of sixteen by her brother after her father’s death. Both she and her sister, Spinetta, had taken their final vows on 8 April 1454.53 In 1456 Fra Filippo, chaplain of Santa Margherita was also painting the altarpiece for the monastery church. He asked the abbess, Bartolemea de Bovacchiesi (whose portrait is included, as kneeling patron, in the resulting painting), if he could use a strikingly beautiful young nun, 50 Ibid, 2:75. 51 Megan Holmes, Fra Filippo Lippi (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), 10–16. 52 Ibid, 106, 246. 53 Ibid, 264.
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Lucrezia Buti, as a model for the Virgin Mary, and was given that permission. Hence the first likeness of Lucrezia that comes down to us is that of the Virgin in Madonna Giving her Girdle to St. Thomas, now in the Galaeria Communale de Plazzo Pretorio, Prato. Shortly after becoming the artist’s model, Lucrezia left the monastery and went to live in Lippi’s Prato house. Interestingly, her sister Spinetta and three other nuns accused of illicit relations with men also left about the same time. Lucrezia gave birth to her son, Filippino (1457–1504), but then, a notarial entry dated 23 December 1459 records the renewal of her vows, along with the other apostate nuns. Whatever her rationale for this temporary return to the fold, Lucrezia was not happy with the life that had been chosen for her and just as clearly the celebrated Florentine artist would not be happy without her – a 1461 complaint to monastic officials charged that Fra Filippo continued to visit the mother of his child. By 1465 a second child, Alessandra, had been born to Lucrezia and Filippo, who were living as man and wife. Vasari had claimed that Pope Eugenius IV, one of Lippi’s famous patrons, had offered the couple a dispensation so that they might legitimize their union, “but Fra Filippo, desiring to retain the power of living after his own fashion and of indulging his love of pleasure as might seem good to him, did not care to accept that offer.”54 Milanesi correctly noted that since Eugenius IV had died long before, Pius II would have to have made the offer, and he hinted that Lippi had not refused it. [The pope] moved by the warm recommendations of Cosimo [de Medici], and perhaps because he was a great supporter of virtuous men, and also in consideration of the excellence of Fra Filippo Lippi in his painting, conceded, in order to remove every scandal, the possibility of having Lucrezia as his legitimate wife, releasing them both from their monastic vows, and granting the friar a dispensation from the restrictions of his Order.55 Milanesi’s account, in turn, was refuted by Padre Paolo Caioli, a Carmelite whose archival research into the records of Santa Maria 54 Vasari, Lives, 2:86. 55 Holmes, Fra Filippo Lippi, 11, 246 n. 17.
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del Carmine confirmed Lippi’s profession as a friar and ordination as a priest.56 Caioli averred that it was therefore unlikely that the pope, any pope at the time, could have not only released both from vows of profession but also allowed them to marry. Unlikely, perhaps, but not impossible given the acknowledgment by noted canonists in the fifteenth century that there were no vows, not even those of religious profession, from which the pope could not dispense.57 The claim that Pope Pius II did, on 8 May 1461, grant such a dispensation to Lippi and Buti is still debated, as is the documentary evidence from the papal registers.58 In the event, there is certainly no evidence that Lucrezia and Filippo ever married. After the death of her lover, however, Lucrezia was well provided for by her son. In 1488, Filippino executed his last will and testament in preparation for a prolonged stay in Rome, leaving two of his houses in Prato to his sister and mother respectively, and a third in Florence for Lucrezia’s use. His “beloved mother, daughter of the late Francesco Buti of Florence,” was to get regular supplies of oil, wood, and salt meat throughout the rest of her life.59 Throughout her life with Lippi, Lucrezia Buti served as the artist’s model for at least two more of his paintings of the Madonna.60 And while Fra Filippo’s self-portrait is not particularly flattering, that of his son, Filippino, captures some of his mother’s nearly angelic grace and beauty. Nor does the visual documentation of their relationship end in the sixteenth century. Vasari’s depiction of their passion and sensuality heedless of pious restraint made the tale of Fra Lippi and Lucrezia Buti extremely popular among artists in the nineteenth century, beginning with the French Salon. By mid-century, as many as twenty examples of paintings concerning the lives of the old masters were produced in any given year, and of particular interest were the lives of Italian masters mentioned in Vasari. The Romantic fascination with artistic license and the transporting power of desire found per 56 Paolo Caioli, “Un altro sguardo sulla vita di fra Filippo Lipppi,” Carmelus 5 (1958), 30–72. 57 James Lowry, Dispensation from Private Vows (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1946), 48–56. 58 Lawless, “Women on the Margins,” 121 n. 64. 59 Katharine Neilson, Filippino Lippi (Connecticut: Greenwood, 1972), 80. 60 Dictionary of Artists’ Models, ed. Jill B. Jiminez (Dearborn: Fitzroy, 2001), 94–96.
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fect expression in paintings of the Lippi/Lucrezia affair.61 While wildly anachronistic, works such as Paul Dearoche’s Filippo Lippi Falling in Love with his Model (1822), Antonio Gualdi’s Fra Filipppo Lippi and Lucrezia Buti (1855), and Gabriele Castagnola’s Filippo Lippi and the nun Lucrezia Buti (1860, see cover image), testify to the continuing resonance of this tale, now transmuted into a story about artistic sensitivity to female beauty, and about the triumph of sensuality over bleak (and monochromatic) religious strictures. Very few runaway nuns were as famous, or as fortunate in their later secular arrangements as Lucrezia Buti, but some do seem to have been responding to a similar siren song of love denied them. Others, like Maud Huntercombe, may have been used by men as pawns in a bid to garner landed property and status. Still others, like Joan Bruys, appear to have colluded with their lovers and to have become as adept as they in achieving courtroom victories and augmenting their fortunes. It should be noted that the variations that persisted in monastic practice from house to house contributed to the plight of a few of these women, such as Joyce Hywyssh. Despite efforts by local ordinaries to impose consistent canonical practice with respect to veiling, episcopal visitation returns show that distinctions between fully professed choir nuns and novices continued to be blurred. Sometimes even lay sisters, as in the Yorkshire nunnery of Swine, had been allowed to wear the black veil reserved as a sign of full profession.62 It was because of such continuing problems regarding consistent standards that Joyce Hywyssh appears to have felt confident in her claim to have been a laywoman, and secure enough in her purported secular status to put forth that claim in a court of law. Her subsequent apostasy after the bishop’s certification to the contrary, underscores this point. While appreciating the multiplicity of factors that might have accounted for their actions, the apostate nuns dealt with in this chapter were generally far from committed to the religious life and displayed a 61 Jenny Graham, “Amorous Passions: Vasari’s Legend of Fra Filippo Lippi in the Art and Poetry of the Nineteenth Century,” Studi di Memofonte rivista on-line semestrale 12 (2014), 187–210, at http://www.memofonte. it/home/files/pdf/XII_2014_STUDI_DI_MEMOFONTE.pdf [accessed 15 March 2019]. 62 Janet E. Burton, The Yorkshire Nunneries in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries. Borthwick Papers 56 (York: Borthwick Institute, 1979), 31. See also examples in Power, Medieval English Nunneries, 302.
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gradual disregard for, and disengagement from, religious restrictions even while still living within their communities. When, as in the case of Easebourne Priory, community members themselves deposed that lax observance and regular association with men was tolerated, the final departure of a nun from monastic life must have seemed less like a leap over the cloister wall than a step over the rubble of its ruins. There are many other cases of apostasy, however, occasioned neither by love of man nor money. In some instances, the apostates in question did not really envision a permanent departure, a full ‘casting off of the habit of religion,’ physical separation from their monasteries having preceded their apostasy. In these cases, nuns sent away by necessity, or who had been allowed to leave on a temporary basis for reasons of health or spiritual renewal, found that the passage of time had unanticipated consequences. We now turn to some example of those nuns for whom absence failed to make the heart grow fonder.
Diversions and Disasters
Nuns are people too, and like people everywhere they need to take the occasional break from routine; when they do, they enjoy some of the same pleasures and pastimes as the rest of us. When medieval nuns selected their diversions, they too chose from the common store, which in their case consisted of universal restoratives like visits with family and friends, as well as those of a more peculiarly medieval stamp, like pilgrimages. Whatever their character, these respites from religious routine supplied an essential component of a balanced life and injected the stimulus of variety into communal regularity. For a few nuns however, diversions became substitutes for that regularity, and so for the vowed life. Any enjoyment, even of an elevated sort, might become something more than an innocuous interlude. Few stories can rival the one from an era outside of our purview: that of Sister Christina Cavazza, the seventeenth-century Bolognese nun who, disguised as an abbot, left her monastery on three separate occasions (she was apprehended on her fourth attempt) in order to attend the opera.1 But music, or at the very least the musician, does seem to have been a deciding factor in the choices made by a fifteenth-century Benedictine nun from the priory of St. Michael’s, Stamford, Agnes Butler.2 When Bishop Alnwick visited the house in October of 1440, Prioress Dame Elizabeth Weldone deposed “that one Agnes, a nun of that place, has gone way in apostasy, cleaving to a harp-player; and
1 Craig Monson, Nuns Behaving Badly (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), 153–196. 2 Eileen Power, Medieval English Nunneries, c. 1275 to 1535 (New York: Biblo and Tannen, 1922; 1964), 310, 449.
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that they dwell together, as it is said, in Newcastle-on-Tyne.”3 We learn a little further on in the detecta that this was not Agnes’ first unwarranted departure. The subprioress Dame Agnes Multone told the bishop that “sister Agnes, named Butylere or Pery or Northamptone, who is now an apostate, was led into apostasy at another time for a day and a night by brother John Harryes of the Augustinian order but that now she has been away for a year and a half.” The harp-player’s appeal, initially perhaps only a lovely diversion from routine, seems to have been more lasting – Agnes had returned from her tryst with Friar John after just one night – but Bishop Alnwick was nevertheless dutybound to try to stop the music they were making together. Although the couple was now reportedly living together within the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Durham, Alwick enjoined the prioress “to bring back as conveniently as she can the said apostate, who has gone away, as is foresaid, with a harp-player by name Robert Abbot.”4 Whether Prioress Weldone was able to accomplish this task at all, much less ‘conveniently,’ remains a mystery, but at least the bishop’s investigations had provided her with the names of both parties. Trips to visit friends and relatives or to regain health had always been respites that professed nuns who possessed the appropriate permissions could legitimately enjoy. As discussed earlier, even the 1298 publication of Periculoso, Pope Boniface VIII’s attempt to cloister all nuns and so end departures for such reasons, did little to curtail the traditional practice. Excursions for business or pleasure continued to be approved by local ordinaries and subsequent popes all but vitiated the pope’s sternly worded mandate.5 Papal and episcopal registers testify to the practice of granting indulgences for temporary leaves of absence. Even the rigorous Archbishop Greenfield of York, for example, allowed nuns to visit their parents or friends stipulating only that they be required to return within fifteen days.6 And although bishops 3 Visitations of Religious Houses in the Diocese of Lincoln, 1436–1449, ed. A. Hamilton Thompson (Lincoln: Printed for the Lincoln Record Society by J.W. Ruddock, 1929), 3:2:348. 4 Ibid, 3:2:350. 5 Elizabeth Makowski, Canon Law and Cloistered Women: Periculoso and its Commentators, 1298–1545 (Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 1999), 114–119. 6 From injunctions issued after a visitation of the Cistercian nunnery of Rosedale in 1315. See below.
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decried the practice, the license of an abbess or prioress was equally efficacious in many communities. Before, as well as after Periculoso then, professed nuns continued to obtain permission from local ordinaries or superiors to take vacations. Stays with friends or relatives might last for weeks or even months, but if the nuns who took such extended leave had either secured a superior’s approval beforehand or had gone out of their monasteries still clothed in their religious habits – both gestures signaling that they intended to return – they were not considered apostates. When even that was lacking, however, the charge of apostasy might be leveled. Barbara Seckendorfferin, a Premonstratensian nun from Sulz, Würzburg, provides a case in point. Barbara’s 1457 petition to the Papal Penitentiary asked for absolution from the sin of apostasy incurred by a temporary but unsanctioned departure from her house. She confessed that she had gone to visit friends and relatives and then elected to stay with them for some time (consanguinis et amicis suis per certum temporibus stetit), and that furthermore she had done so without wearing her religious habit and without the license of her superior.7 So too Margareta Coerin, a professed nun of the Order of St. Jerome, Passau diocese, who in 1458 sought absolution directly from the curia in Rome for absenting herself without leave from her monastery in Vienna.8 And when the unfortunate nun Magdalena Moserin, a Poor Clare from the diocese of Constance, was caught by superiors shortly after she had secretly left her monastery, she had been consigned to perpetual imprisonment.9 Only after she petitioned the Penitentiary in 1464 was she granted the freedom to transfer to another (and one hopes more tolerant) monastery, in addition to absolution for her apostasy. What a professed nun might have originally intended as a shortterm break from community life could turn into something quite different, and the farther away she traveled, the more likely it was that it would. That was one reason why Church authorities took such a dim view of regulars, whether monks or nuns, going on pilgrimage.10 7 RPG III, Calixtus III 1455–1458, 356. 8 RPG III, Calixtus III 1455–1458, 560. 9 RPG V, Paul II 1464–1471, 1058. 10 Dee Dyas et al., Pilgrims & Pilgrimage: Journey, Spirituality & Daily Life through the Centuries (York: University of York; Nottingham: St. John’s
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Arguments against monks and nuns involving themselves in ‘place pilgrimage,’ that is, traveling to holy sites associated with Christ and the saints, had sound spiritual underpinnings. Religious profession was a total commitment with every aspect of the vowed life designed to lead one closer to God. Consequently, whether at work or prayer, whether reading or eating, regulars were already directing their attention toward the source of all holiness; there was no need to trade the solitude and silence of the inner journey for the bustle of an outward one, and there were many reasons, especially for female religious, to actively avoid doing so. Brawls and improprieties around shrines themselves were far from uncommon. Pious women, especially, were subject to insult when visiting shrines, and even great pilgrimage churches occasionally had to be reconsecrated because violence, even rape or bloodshed, had occurred within them. Christian writers railed against the depredations of the Saracens on Holy Land pilgrimage, but lawlessness and brigandage, much of it perpetrated by individuals and groups who eluded the control of public authority, were a perennial hazard for the pilgrim within Europe.11 Perils of travel by land or sea, threat of robbery, molestation, and violent death in a far-off land were all very real hazards for medieval pilgrims, making group travel the only sensible option. And since financing a long pilgrimage to Rome or the Holy Land was not within the ability of the average person, lay or religious, such ventures were generally restricted to the upper classes. Consequently, the laywomen who went on pilgrimage were most often wealthy wives in the company of husbands and retainers, or well-to-do widows with their own bands of companions and servants. So too, a majority of nuns who received permission to go on pilgrimage were religious women of some considerable standing, abbesses or prioresses most often.12 College, 2007), CD-ROM. See especially the sections that deal with monasticism and pilgrimage. Power, Medieval English Nunneries, 371–375. 11 Diana Webb, Medieval European Pilgrimage (Houndmills: Palgrave, 2002), 39. 12 Webb, Medieval European Pilgrimage, 89–92.
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Indeed, Chaucer’s Madame Eglentyne, traveling in a party of social equals and subordinates, both secular and religious, and herself a prioress of some breeding and status, is representative of the historical pilgrim nun in this era.13 When royal license was required for travel abroad from England, for instance, the abbess of Elnstowe (1329), the prioress of Clerkenwell (1331), and the abbess of Barking (1350) are the only nuns named, along with abbots, priors, and the widows of knights and earls.14 Such restrictions must have galled nuns whose requests to make long-distance pilgrimages had been denied. Yet as bishops and monastic superiors knew well, there could be complications whenever regulars were permitted such extended holy travel. In 1466 Pope Paul II responded to a petition from one such monastic pilgrim. After getting permission from her local ordinary, Agnes Cauod, an Augustinian nun (medieval records tend to use the designation ‘nun’ rather than ‘canoness’) from St. Mary Graces, Dublin, visited the shrines of SS. Peter and Paul in Rome but never returned to Dublin. Instead, finding herself very much attracted to the Benedictine order, she had entered a community of nuns in Coventry, Lincoln, where she wished to remain. Because she feared that she had incurred excommunication as a result of her decidedly irregular, and unlicensed, transfer, she begged the pope for absolution, which he granted by issuing a mandate to the bishop of London.15 Rome was a destination that had appealed to pilgrims throughout the Middle Ages and its lure was never greater than in the period following the papal institution of Jubilee years. In 1300, Pope Boniface VIII proclaimed the first Holy Year or Jubilee, making a plenary indulgence available to visitors to the basilicas of the apostles. What Boniface VIII had imagined taking place once a century, his successors allowed to occur first at fifty, then thirty-three, and finally, by 1475, at twenty-five-year intervals.16 For male religious particularly, the prospect of a full pardon for all earthly mandated punishments 13 Graciela S. Daichman, Wayward Nuns in Medieval Literature (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1986), 137–164. 14 Susan Morrison, Women Pilgrims in Late Medieval England (London: Routledge, 2000), 157,160. 15 Morrison, Women Pilgrims, 50, 164. 16 Webb, Medieval European Pilgrimage, 26–27.
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due to sin, coupled with a chance to visit the incomparable churches of Rome was an opportunity simply too good to ignore, and unlicensed pilgrimage by professed monks resulted in many instances of apostasy. In Pope Clement VI’s Jubilee year of 1350, for example, there were eighteen monks from England alone whose pilgrim status also classified them as apostates.17 While far fewer in number, professed nuns too became apostates in order to make the journey to the Holy City. Katherine Thornyf, for one, “seduced by the Angel of Darkness,” set off on pilgrimage to Rome without leave of the local ordinary, or even of the prioress, of her Cistercian community at Wykeham, Yorkshire.18 Although she had departed with another nun, that companion had subsequently died. Left alone in the world, Katherine had then gone to live with a married man in London. According to Archbishop Kemp’s letter to the prioress in 1450, Katherine had finally repented her apostasy and sought readmission to the house, a request which he strongly approved.19 As the cases of Agnes Cauod and Katherine Thornyf suggest, a nun’s decision to leave her monastery on a temporary basis might have unintended negative consequences. When such temporary departures were dictated by circumstances rather than individual decision – when, in fact, the nuns in question did not even want to leave – the consequences could still be very similar. Whether manmade or natural, disasters impacted monasteries with savage regularity in the later Middle Ages, and devastation or the prospect of it sometimes forced nuns to leave their established communities and to fend for themselves as best they could until their monasteries were once again safe havens. Disaster drove survivors to leave familiar surroundings behind and for some it was an exile from which they never returned. One of the greatest scourges of the era, the plague that visited and revisited Europe, needs no introduction; it is useful, however, to be reminded of its unique effects upon religious men and women living in community.
17 F. Donald Logan, Runaway Religious in Medieval England, c. 1240–1540 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 29–31. 18 Logan, Runaway Religious, 264. 19 York, Borthwick Institute for Archives (University of York), Archbishops’ Registers 19 (Register of John Kempe,1425–1452), fol.72r.
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If there were eighty million inhabitants of Europe in 1346, on the eve of the Black Death, it is plausibly estimated that twenty-five million died in the pandemic of 1347–51 … recurrent visitations of the plague, and the effects of war and of other diseases, which seem to have increased in infectiousness and virulence, continued to prevent the population from recovering to its pre-plague levels … the demographic crisis was horrendous for the Church. In the first place, the communities in which monks, canons, nuns and cathedral and collegiate chapters lived were particularly vulnerable to the spread of disease. The fleas on the cooling body of one dead monk who succumbed to the pestilence found ready hosts in the members of the community who gathered to wash his body, pray, sing psalms, and otherwise prepare the dead for burial. As evidence accumulates, it becomes clearer that these communities suffered higher rate of mortality than the population at large. No generalizations are possible as yet, but a number of religious communities lost as many as 60 per cent of their members or more.20 In her study of female monasteries in the diocese of Norwich, Marilyn Oliva tabulated the decline in the numbers of nuns that resulted from recurring plagues during the years from 1350 to 1400. In this fifty-year interval the number of nuns in the diocese dropped from 179 in 1350 to 113 in 1400. While all of the houses suffered losses of between three and five nuns each in this plague period, numbers at Blackborough, Bungay, Campsey Ash, and Shouldham fell more dramatically: Blackborough and Bungay lost eight nuns, Campsey Ash ten, and Shouldham nineteen.21 From the 1347–1350 registers of John Gynewell, bishop of Lincoln, comes a compelling story of one nun caught up in the horror of the great pestilence.22 As so many of the clergy in his diocese had died in the plague, Bishop Gynewell traveled tirelessly to see to installing 20 William Chester Jordan, Europe in the High Middle Ages (London: Penguin Books, 2002), 297. 21 Marilyn Oliva, The Convent and the Community in Late Medieval England Female Monasteries in the Diocese of Norwich, 1350–1540 (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 1998), 38–39. 22 A. H. Thompson, “Registers of John Gynewell, Bishop of Lincoln, for the Years 1347-1350,” Archaeological Journal 68 (1911), 300–360.
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replacements and to filling the needs of monastic houses suffering the effects of this deadly cycle. The Cistercian nunnery of Coton was one such devastated house, and as a consequence one of its nuns, Ella de Mounceaux, had obtained a leave of absence. Instead of returning at the designated time, however, she had stayed away and eventually become the mistress of one John Haunsard. When Haunsard died in 1349, likely of the plague, she came before Bishop Gynewell and tearfully sought readmission to Nuncoton. Convinced of her repentance and good resolve, he ordered the prioress to receive her graciously.23 An equally moving story involves a nun from the Northampton priory of Worthorpe.24 All of the members of this Benedictine community save one, the prioress Agnes Bowes, had died or left after 1349, and the Black Death had such a ruinous effect on the finances of the priory that in March 1354, the patrons Sir Thomas Holland and Joan his wife, daughter of Edward of Woodstock earl of Kent, obtained Crown license to annex the house to the nearby nunnery of St. Michael, Stamford. The royal grant reads as follows. On the petition of Thomas de Holand and Joan, his wife, the king’s Westminster, kinswoman, patrons of the house of nuns of Wyrthorp, in the diocese of Lincoln, praying that, whereas the house is slenderly endowed, and by the pestilence lately prevailing as well as by other adverse fortunes is brought into so great poverty that all the nuns of the house with one exception are dispersed on account of the penury and the house of itself cannot rise again, the king will grant licence for the diocesan of the place to unite it to the priory of the nuns of St. Michael by Staunford with the consent of all interested; the king has granted licence for the bishop of the said place to annex the house of Wyrthorp, with its rights and possessions and the church of Wyrthorp appropriated to the house, to the priory and to transfer the said nun to stay there under a regular habit. He has granted licence also for the petitioners to transfer to the prioress and nuns of the priory that which pertains to them of
23 Thompson, “Registers of John Gynewell,” 331. 24 Logan, Runaway Religious, 259.
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the house of Wyrthorp and the things and possessions of the same.25 The bishop of Lincoln confirmed this annexation in June, detailed the portioning out of revenues to St. Michael’s, which had also suffered severe diminution of its resources. At the same time, he approved the transfer of the now ex-prioress, Agnes Bowes. Once there, however, she could not find contentment, or perhaps she simply couldn’t muster the humility required to now live as an ordinary nun. In the event, the demoted prioress was indicted as an apostate in 1359, and a commission was appointed to find and return her to St. Michael, Stamford. We do not know if that commission succeeded. War, another profound bane of late medieval European existence, also threatened to destroy the lives and livelihood of nuns. It led to many petitions to the Sacred Penitentiary styled after that submitted by two professed Premonstratensian nuns, Adelheit and Behmyn of Helmstat. In October of 1453 they petitioned Pope Nicholas V to allow them to transfer to the Benedictine monastery in Speyer since they could no longer abide in good conscience and peace of mind in their Würzburg community, so depleted and diminished had the resources of that monastery become as a consequence of warfare in the region.26 The ravages of war also led to unauthorized departures and even apostasy. The Hundred Years War left scarcely any fourteenth-century French monastery, hospital, or church untouched by “either the devastation of its goods, or the theft of its movables, or the reduction of its revenues or the diminution of its alms, or a general disorder.”27 And, as the French Benedictine pope, Urban V (1362–1370) knew well, it was not only whole-scale warfare that took its toll on monastic life. Much of Urban’s papacy had been devoted to diplomacy aimed at the pacification of Italy as well as France, since both countries were overrun by mercenary bands known as the Free Companies. When he left Avignon for Rome in 1367, Italy was in fact so unsettled that he could
25 CPR 1354–1358 Edward III 10:27–28. 26 RPG II, Nicholas V 1447–1455, 1044. 27 John Aberth, From the Brink of the Apocalypse (New York: Routledge, 2010), 66.
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only enter the Holy City with an army of his own and escorted by the count of Savoy and other powerful secular lords. Although Urban V returned to Avignon in September of 1370 when war once again broke out between France and England, it was while he was still in residence in Rome that this pope so well acquainted with the horrors of warfare responded to a petition involving nuns who had been caught up in it.28 It was presented to him in 1368 by a monk from Clairvaux, in the diocese of Langres [Lingonensis], acting at the behest of the Cistercian procurator general, and it involved a community of Cistercian nuns from the same diocese. Although the community is unnamed in the supplication, it must have been either Tart, the first Cistercian monastery for women, or one of its filiations in Langres, such as Belmont, Coulonges, or Vauxbons.29 Because the open countryside surrounding this community had become a battleground the nuns fled for safety, either to the homes of their parents or to other protected venues. Some went to the city of Avignon and others as far as Provence. Now, however, although the fighting was over, the nuns who had scattered were not interested in returning to their monastery (quamvis dicta guerrarum cessent discrimina, ad earum monasteria redire non curant). The pope responded to this report of large-scale apostasy with remedies equal to the problem. In his order to the official in Avignon, he required that these vagrant nuns be compelled to return to their monastery via capture and even imprisonment, using the aid of secular forces if needed. Countless regional battle and border skirmishes, whether between Italian city states or Swiss mercenaries and Austrian freebooters, were potentially productive of similar results. Most often it was a question of one or a few individuals, rather than an entire community, failing to return once hostilities in the region had ended. In some cases, confusion and a desire for sanctuary led to apostasy of a merely technical sort. For instance, Barbara Voegtin, a professed Augustinian nun from St. Katherine’s in the diocese of Constance, sought abso 28 Urban V, Lettres Communes: Analysées D’Après Les Registres Dits d’Avignon Et Du Vatican. Tome VIII, Bibliothèque Des Écoles Françaises D’Athènes Et De Rome, 3e Série Lettres Communes Des Papes Du XIVe Siècle (Rome: Ecole français de Rome, 1982), # 24768. 29 Constance H. Berman, The White Nuns: Cistercian Abbeys for Women in Medieval France (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018), 7.
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lution from the Penitentiary in 1460 for a sentence of excommunication incurred when she took it upon herself to leave her monastery in a war-torn region.30 She did not take to the high road, however, nor did she entirely rid herself of the habit of religion. Barbara went to another, unnamed, house where she did little worse than wear the habit of the nuns of that order. She stayed in that community for some time, although without making her profession in the new order. Her petition asked not only for absolution but for the dispensation to return to St. Katherine’s, which she very much desired. In fourteenth-century Yorkshire, the Scottish Wars of Independence so severely disturbed monastic life that Archbishop William Melton (1317–1340) dispersed two female communities for a time to keep members from the depredations of raiding parties.31 These were the convents of Moxby and Rosedale, and it is from the sad event of these dispersions that two more stories of apostasy emerge. The nunnery of Moxby [Molseby] was an Augustinian house that had been in existence since the mid-twelfth century. In November 1322, owing to the raids of the Scots, Archbishop Melton sent the nuns off to other monasteries: Sabina de Apelgarth and Margaret de Neusom were sent to Nun Monkton, Alice de Barton, the prioress, to Swine, Joan de Barton and Joan de Toucotes to Nun Appleton, Agnes de Ampleford and Agnes de Jarkesmill to Nunkeeling, and Joan de Brotherton and Joan Blaunkfront to Hampole.32 The majority of these nuns seemed to regroup after the worst threats were over, but for both of the women sent to the Cistercian priory of Hampole, the journey back home would be a complicated one. Joan Brotherton was perhaps the least prepared to endure such an unsettled situation and relocation, since she had only just returned to Moxby. In February of 1322, Archbishop Melton had sent a letter to the prioress instructing her to receive Joan, whom he had absolved of apostasy, and requiring her to impose the appropriate penance as prescribed by their order.33 Indeed, part of that penance was that Joan 30 RPG IV, Pius II 1458–1464, 1155. 31 John Tillotson, “Visitation and Reform of the Yorkshire Nunneries in the Fourteenth Century,” Northern History 30 (1994), 9. 32 Logan, Runaway Religious, 140. 33 The Register of William Melton, Archbishop of York, 1317–1340, vol. 2, ed. David Robinson, Canterbury and York Society 101 (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell for the Canterbury and York Society, 2011), 172.
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be confined to the inner precincts of the house and that she not even be allowed to send or receive letters from the outside world. While the transfer to Hampole within months of the imposition of this penitential regimen might not directly account for Joan’s recidivism – she would be the focus of Melton’s attention again in July of 1328 – it was surely not a palliative for a troubled soul.34 And then there was Joan’s companion on the journey to Hampole, Joan Blaunkfront [Blankefronte]. It is not clear whether Blaunkfront ever got to her new temporary home, since the extent of her time as a runaway nun is not mentioned in the pope’s mandate for her reconciliation. On 17 July 1345, Pope Clement VI stipulated to the priors of Kirkham and St. Andrew’s in York, and to a canon of Bangor, that they were “to carry out the ordinances touching apostates in regard to Joan Blankefrontis, Augustinian nun of Molseby, in the diocese of York, who, having left her order desires to be reconciled to it.”35 Similar complications attended the archbishop’s relocation of the Cistercian nuns of Rosedale. On 21 November 1322, most of the nuns of that monastery, which had been severely damaged by Scottish raids, were sent away for what would be more than half a year. Nunburnholme was to take in Alice de Rippinghale, Sinningthwaite to receive Avelina de Brus, and Thicket to accept Margaret de Langtoft, while Joan Crouel was to take up temporary residence at Wykeham and Eleanor Dayvill, Hampole. Such upheavals and temporary arrangements challenged even those nuns who were most committed to maintaining monastic ritual and routine in the teeth of them. Then we hear of others, from this same ravaged house of Rosedale, who were less capable of, or inclined to, endurance. Just a little earlier in the year, on 18 May 1322, Archbishop Melton had sent a letter to the prioress of the nearby Cistercian convent of Handale, ordering them to receive Isabella Dayvill, apostate nun from Rosedale. She had repented, and Melton had absolved her from excommunication; he now sent her to Handale to serve out the penance prescribed for her sin.36 On 14 June 1322, he wrote to the prioress and convent of her motherhouse, Rosedale, stating that “since 34 This episode will be dealt with in the final chapter, which addresses repeat offenders. 35 CPR Regesta 3 168: 1345–1346, 185–195. 36 Register of William Melton, 181.
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a change of heart often followed a change of scene,” he was sending Isabella away to Handale to help her amend her spirit. Within three days the prioress was to get together the necessities to send with her to that house.37 As we shall see in the next chapter, it was not uncommon to impose this sort of banishment on penitent prodigals. The harshness of fasting, prayers and other penances enjoined upon the runaway was thereby compounded by an ignoble position in an alien house. The stigma for females was further reinforced by the fact that they would not be allowed to wear the black veil during their time of exile, which might last for some years. But the expectation, at least in times of peace, was that this penitential banishment would end – that either at the conclusion of the time enjoined or via mitigation of the bishop, the contrite and shriven nun would return to her ‘sheep fold,’ her familiar community. Was Isabella Dayvill able to temper her suffering and humiliation with such hope? What could she expect to find upon her return to Rosedale, if in fact the motherhouse was still standing? Devastating natural or man-made scourges such as pestilence and war could wreak havoc and destabilize communities of nuns, paving the way for apostasy; human action of a more limited sort might also lead to deracination, and potentially have similar consequences. Carmen Florea recorded one such intriguing case from the very fringes of Latin Christendom, the diocese of Transylvania. In 1406, Innocent VII issued a letter to the archbishop of Esztergom. According to the papal bull, Elizabeth, Margaret, another Elizabeth, Gertrud, and Catherine – Cistercian nuns in the monastery from Braşov (Kronstadt, Brassó) – had complained about the difficulties they had to face and appealed to the papal curia for a solution. Because they wished to embrace religious life, from their own income and with the help of other pious people, these women built a house next to the chapel of St. Catherine, entered into the Cistercian Order, and lived in that house under the supervision of the abbot of a nearby Cistercian monastery. After a while, however, the abbot, some of the Cistercian monks, and the parish priest of the town had started to offend them. The women were forced to leave the 37 Register of William Melton, 182.
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house they had built, some of their belongings were confiscated by their persecutors, and the abbot even took away the Order’s habit from them. All of this happened because they did not want to cook for the monks or take care of their gardens; as the letter describes they did not want to do such work appropriate only for those engaged in domestic service. Because they did not want to live in apostasy, they took the habit of the Benedictine nuns. A solution was found to their complaint, as a papal envoy was sent to settle the affair. The women were received back into the Cistercian Order and the abbot from the nearby monastery of Cârţa (kercz) was obliged to appoint a monk to take care of them ‘in spiritualibus et in temporalibus’. Finally, the pope confirmed the restoration of their status, and the women returned to their house and to their lives within the Cistercian Order.38 This case illustrates many things, not the least of which is the ongoing reluctance of some male religious to accept – much less provide materially and spiritually for – female religious associated with their order, and papal determination to require it. A most telling aspect for our purposes, however, is the grounds upon which these five nuns left behind the house that they themselves had built. They did not want to cook for the monks, they said, or be their gardeners, since such work was “appropriate only for those engaged in domestic service.” By requiring them to perform such labor, the monks were demeaning them, violating customary expectations regarding their social class. The reorientation of values and expectations envisioned by late medieval reformers, particularly those implementing Observant reform of traditional communities throughout Europe, could provoke similar resentment. If war and pestilence threatened life and limb, zealous monastic reformers threatened a way of life, undermining comfortable routines and in some cases overturning centuries of tradition. Vigorous reform too might be perceived as a species of disaster and it also had the potential to trigger apostasy. Like the nuns from Braşov, some religious would simply not accept reforms that appeared
38 Carmen Florea, “‘For They Wanted Us to Serve Them’: Female Monasticism in Medieval Transylvania,” in Women in the Medieval Monastic World, ed. Janet Burton and Karen Stöber (Turnhout: Brepols, 2015), 211.
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to compromise their dignity, and, importantly, to ignore their legal, customary rights. Not surprisingly, in an era engulfed in the Schism, with calls for renewal and anxiety about spiritual leadership at its height, movements to reform religious life in both male and female communities were everywhere visible. One of the most sweeping, earliest, and most successful of these for women was the Observant reform of Colette of Corbie (1381–1447). Colette founded or reformed seventeen Poor Clare monasteries in France, Burgundy and Savoy; after her death, the reformed order had monasteries throughout southern Europe and even as far away as Sweden and Denmark.39 Before and during Colette’s lifetime, separate Franciscan Observant movements originating in Italy, France and Spain were also responding to the mediocrity, if not decadence, into which the Franciscan order generally had lapsed. For monasteries of Clarisses, it should be noted, such “decadence’ was often no more than a relaxation of the Rule of Urban IV, which provided that Second Order monasteries be allowed to hold and administer considerable property. The reform of the monastery of St. Apollinarus of Milan between 1470 and 1472, illustrates the tremendous difference between Urbanist and Observant constitutions. Inspired by the preaching of Bernadino of Siena to embrace the latter, the nuns of this large, generously endowed monastery, who had been used to a comfortable existence, committed themselves to renouncing all possessions, keeping austere fasts, sleeping on beds of straw, and to maintaining strict discipline, silence, and full enclosure.40 Fervently embraced by some, Observant reforms were just as fervently rejected by others, and the nature of the resistance offered by communities of nuns in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries often mirrored that which they had shown a century earlier in the teeth of Pope Boniface VIII’s attempt to make strict enclosure the norm in all nunneries. Marshalling the aid of powerful relatives and patrons, they had offered passive and active resistance to that ruling and even belligerently confronted those hapless messengers obliged to publicize it. Fourteenth-century opponents to strict cloistering had also solicited 39 Elisabeth Lopez, Colette of Corbie (St. Bonaventure, NY: Franciscan Institute, St. Bonaventure University, 2011). 40 Lopez, Colette of Corbie, 391.
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legal advice and garnered judicial opinions that successfully employed the counterweight of customary usage against restrictive innovation. Slowly but surely, sympathetic bishops and subsequent popes responded to their arguments and actions, all but undoing the papal policy of enclosure that had been inaugurated by Pope Boniface VIII.41 Observant reform programs not only reintroduced the Bonifacian ideal of strict enclosure for nuns, but also called for a complete reorientation of life within those cloister walls. The Observant reform advocated, on the one hand, a return to the strict piety practiced by the founders of the orders and, on the other, a new spirituality similar to that of the devotio moderna or Common Life movement (which was spreading at the same time from the Netherlands across northern Europe). Having begun in the 1330s among Franciscans in Italy, the reformed piety was promoted among Augustinians in the 1380s, Dominicans in the 1390s and reached the upper Rhine valley by the turn of the century. From there the movement spread in the 1400s throughout the German-speaking territories.42 But although they were much broader in scope, Observant reform ideals were also promulgated more effectively than Boniface VIII’s mandate because they were born of intense religious fervor and had champions at all levels within the Church. Their spread was directly related to zealous leadership from within monasteries themselves. John of Capistrano (d. 1456) and Bernadino of Siena (d. 1444) spread the Colettine reform in fifteenth-century Italy; the Benedictine monk Johannes von Minden (d. 1439), joined by the Carthusian Johannes Rode (d. 1439), arduously put together the reformed congregation of Bursfeld that ultimately included one hundred and thirty-six monasteries of men and sixty-four of women religious.
41 Elizabeth Makowski, “Canon Law and the Spirituality of Cloistered English Nuns,” in Canon Law, Religion, and Politics: Liber Amicorum Robert Somerville, ed. Uta-Renate Bluemental and Anders Winroth (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2012). 42 Anne Winston-Allen, Convent Chronicles: Women Writing about Women and Reform in the Late Middle Ages (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004), 6.
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Many aspects of the ascetic regimes that reformers enjoined upon nuns were not alien to late medieval, particularly female, spirituality. Stress on the imitation of Christ, living in conformity with his poverty and humility, clearly inspired some of the communal actions we have, or will have shortly, observed. These included the explicit rejection of large endowments in mendicant communities, harkening back to Clare of Assisi’s demand for the privilege of poverty for her nuns of San Damiano, and a willingness among Cistercian nuns to deflect material resources from physical comfort, and even the daily needs of a community, toward charitable initiatives among the sick and poor. So too, patterns of female devotion mirroring the suffering humanity of Christ, observed with such originality by Caroline Bynum and documented by a generation of scholars, were also evident. In her recent study of the fourteenth-century mystic Ermine of Reims, Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski put it succinctly. Endless prayers and fasts, copious tears and intense sufferings imitating Christ’s Passion, an almost frenzied devotion to the Eucharist, hair shirts and hard beds, self-inflicted torments with chains and nettles, fights with demons and angelic visions – these were some of the hallmarks of late medieval piety and devotion as practiced by the most fervent women and men.43 But although penitential practices, like monasticism itself, were features of late medieval religiosity, their efficacy, just like that of monastic vows, hinged upon individual freedom to commit to them. Even when employed to punish, as in the case of the returning apostates we will encounter in the next chapter, their application was intended to be medicinal, and they acted as a true remedy for sin only if embraced as such by the sinner. In other words, the prodigal had to become a remorseful penitent to be cured of sin. Monastic reforms worked in a similar way. They could only bear fruit if accepted willingly by members of a community. Reformers thus had to find ways to encourage, to model behavior, and to otherwise elicit that assent; to impose
43 Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski,.The Strange Case of Ermine De Reims: A Medieval Woman between Demons and Saints (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015), 58.
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a reformist agenda upon the unwilling could, they realized, only have negative consequences. The influential reformer Johannes Busch (1399–1480) was keenly aware of this, since he had been schooled in the ideals and aims of Geert Grote (1340–1384), founder of a movement of general religious renewal known as the Devotio Moderna, New Devotion. The Brothers and Sisters of the Common Life as Grote’s earliest followers were called, had been unwilling to accept a designation that would set them apart from other pious lay men and women. They dressed simply but did not wear a distinctive habit. They supported themselves by manual labor and they made no irrevocable vows. They lived communally but remained lay people subject to the secular courts. In other words, they continued to embody the ideal of lay piety, attempting to transform the mundane rather than retreat from it. The institutional structures which supported their spiritual life were not prescribed by any monastic rule.44 Almost from the first, the sisters not only predated the brothers but also outnumbered them. Their first community was founded by Grote himself and most of the subsequent foundations of the New Devout were made for women – thirty-two houses of sisters in the Netherlands by 1460, compared to eighteen occupied by the brethren. Thanks to his early training as a canon lawyer, Geert Grote himself recognized the legal vulnerability of these lay communities and on his deathbed recommended that some of the brethren should adopt the rule of an approved order.45 Florence Radewyns, his successor, sent six of the brothers to a nearby monastery to learn the customs of the Augustinian canons regular. In part to counter claims by their adversaries that the Brethren and Sisters of the Common Life were hostile to taking vows of profession in approved monastic orders, and in part to provide support for their more vulnerable and informally constituted communities, they founded the monastery of Windesheim, north of Deventer. It was here that Johannes Busch took his vows in 1419. 44 Elizabeth Makowski, “A Pernicious Sort of Woman”: Quasi-Religious Women and Canon Lawyers in the Later Middle Ages (Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 2005), 116–118. 45 Johannes Busch, Chronicon Windeshemense Und Liber De Reformatione Monasteriorum, ed. Karl Grube (Halle, 1886; repr. Farnborough, England: Gregg International, 1968), 263.
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As a professed member, and then prior, of Windesheim, Johannes Busch was perfectly equipped to recognize the virtues of informal expressions of reform piety while trying to inculcate similar expressions in traditional monastic communities. It was a consequence of this acceptance of both formal and informal pious communities, and his willingness to champion reforms at all levels of the hierarchy of secular clergy as well, that would allow him to be such an effective force for Observant renewal: He was credited with having a hand in the reform of no fewer than forty-three monasteries. So too, because he was fully committed to the efficacy of formal, binding vows of monastic profession for male and female regulars – the Windesheim Congregation included sixteen houses of nuns by the close of the fifteenth century – he would be responsible for the successful return of two of the apostate nuns we will shortly encounter. Johannes Busch persuaded convents to alter their liturgical, economic, and practical routines to conform to a reformist agenda by inducing high-ranking princes and prelates to assist him; he also convinced nuns from communities that had already accepted Observant reforms to act as his agents of change in others. Nuns from the reformed house of Derneburg, for instance, were installed at Wienhausen when the abbess and convent refused to conform to the rule of St. Benedict, as strictly interpreted by Busch. The nuns at Neuwerk were tutored in the finer points of restored religious discipline by nuns from the reformed community of Heiningen, who stayed with them for three years, and the abbess of the wealthy Benedictine nunnery of Fischbeck welcomed nuns from a reformed house into her community to serve as teachers as well.46 Johannes Busch would have success with nuns in other instances too – he even persuaded more apostates to return – but entire communities could and did resist him, sometimes with an obduracy that forced him to settle for less than he had hoped to attain. Nor was Johannes Busch alone in this regard. The most high-ranking of reformist prelates, Cardinal Legate Nicolas Cusanus (d. 1464), struggled with the abbess and nuns of Sonnenburg in the Tyrol, the wealthiest and most influential Benedictine house in the region, for six long 46 Lina Eckenstein, Woman Under Monasticism: Chapters on Saint-Lore and Convent Life between A.D. 500 and A.D. 1500 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1963), 415–417.
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years, and his efforts to force the abbess of the Poor Clares at Brixen to resign were thwarted by an appeal to Rome. Ultimately, Cusanus was told to drop the matter and hand over any reform plans to the Franciscans at Nürnberg, whom the nuns of Brixen found much more congenial.47 Communities of religious women that resisted Observant reforms most often did so because these reforms imposed strictures that the nuns had never agreed to follow when they had entered their traditional, usually patrician, convents.48 Every statement of monastic profession included the standard vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, but except for the vow of chastity, these statements were not inelastic. The particular words spoken, precise interpretation of those words, and the attendant rituals of profession as outlined in constitutions and house charters, all reflected an order’s characteristic vision of itself.49 That vision, in turn, was colored by the desires of founders, patrons, and the families of the women who entered each house. Consequently, when Johannes Busch told the elderly abbess of Wienhausen that her house would henceforth be obliged to follow a reformed rule, she replied: “I found this way of life kept in this monastery forty years ago; this way have I served during as many years and this way and not otherwise will I continue to serve.”50 Similarly, the Cistercian nuns of Rechentshofen objected to proposed cloistering on the grounds it went against the wishes of the founders, and the Benedictine nuns of Rijnsburg claimed that even Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa could not impose upon them a stricter rule than that which they had followed “as far back as human memory could recall.”51 To successfully transform a community of women who had no experience of, nor particular desire for, the strictures of rigorous enclosure, absolute personal poverty, and austere fasting, required that individual nuns who strenuously objected to such a reform program be able to find alternative ways in which to live out their vowed 47 Eckenstein, Women under Monasticism, 423–425. 48 Winston-Allen, Convent Chronicles, 129–132. 49 Nancy Bradley Warren, Spiritual Economies: Female Monasticism in Later Medieval England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), Chapters 1 and 2 deal with such distinctions among Benedictine, Franciscan, and Bridgettine nuns. 50 Power, Medieval English Nunneries, 676. 51 Winston-Allen, Convent Chronicles, 137.
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life. Using the power of their mandates, reformers sometimes facilitated the transfer of nuns like these from the houses in which they had made their profession to less demanding communities. When twenty-four nuns from the austere community of Foligno came to the monastery of Monteluce of Perugia in 1488, several of the nuns there refused to accept their strict observance and were permitted to join the neighboring community of Santa Maria degli Angeli instead.52 So too, records of the Papal Penitentiary are full of licenses allowing such transfers. In 1450 three professed Cistercian nuns of Mainz, Mechlegen de Bebarden, Fia de Cultz, and Elsa de Lombostel claimed that they could not in good conscience (cum animi quiete) remain in their current community. They therefore begged Pope Nicholas V to grant them license to transfer to another – any other – convent.53 Perhaps this trio was counting on the fact that by leaving the choice of alternative housing up to the papacy, they stood a much better chance of a favorable outcome; and in this they were correct. Other nuns who could not tolerate wholesale restructuring of their lives, however, could not wait to go through channels and so became, at least temporarily, apostates. We might fault some – like the unnamed nun from the Dominican convent of Kirchheim who simply climbed over the wall of the monastery one day – with impatience, but other apostate nuns clearly struggled with their consciences as well as with those attempting to reform their houses.54 The Cistercian nun Mechtild de Mülhofen was one of those. For over forty years, her petition to the papacy attested, she had faithfully observed her vows in her monastery of the Virgin Mary Pons Salutis, in the diocese of Speyer.55 Then, some Observant Dominican nuns entered the community and introduced their reforms. While some of her fellow sisters subsequently left the community, Mechtild stayed because she wanted very much to try to live up to the rigorous new standards, but at the age of fifty-six, it proved too much for her and she petitioned her abbess for permission to transfer to another house. Only when her petition was denied did Mechtild leave, with 52 Lopez, Colette of Corbie, 387. 53 RPG II, Nicholas V 1447–1455, 392. 54 Winston-Allen, Convent Chronicles, 142. 55 Ludwig Schmugge, “Female Petitioners in the Papal Penitentiary,” Gender & History 12 (2000), 691–692. RPG VI, 2314.
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out permission, to stay with relatives. Once more, however, this time pressured by her kin, she returned to Pons Salutis and tried to make a go of it; she failed again. But it was only after her irritated abbess “ignobly chastised her and even tore the veil from Mechtild’s head” that she made a final unlicensed exit. She then sought, and received, papal absolution of the excommunication incurred by her apostasy, as well as permission to transfer to the Benedictine order. Another compelling story of reluctant apostasy in reaction to the rigors of reform was that of Anna Secclern and Elizabeth Hueberin, both professed Augustinian nuns in the diocese of Konstanz. Their petition to Pope Innocent VIII in 1490 explained that responding to persuasion and reverential fear of parents and relatives, they professed their vows and were received into the “elegant and splendid” (delictum et splendid) monastery of Hirstall, where they remained for several years.56 But then because of discord among the nuns an Observant reform was instituted, the requirements of which were very harsh and rigorous and not at all suited to Anna and Elizabeth. The pair reasoned that since they had vowed to live as nuns, but that they had never vowed to live under a rule that was so much stricter, they would not in good conscience be abandoning the vowed life if they left, intending to find a more acceptable community in which to live it out. Consequently, they had come in person to the Roman Curia, dressed in their habits, petitioning for the right to transfer to another house with a milder rule (mitiorem religionem), one in which they would be kindly received. Faced with this rather rare in-person appeal from a pair of nuns, the pope decided to err on the side of caution. Anna and Elizabeth were runaways, but not apostates, or not yet apostates, since they were still wearing their habits. To ensure that they continued to do so, and to avoid giving them “any occasion to become vagabonds,” they were instructed to go to live with their parents or relatives, until a suitable and religious community could be found to accept them. For the duration, they were to continue to always wear their religious habits. As an incentive to the relatives lodging them, the pope directed that any goods, clothing or other valuables which the nuns had brought with them when they entered Hirstall, and which they subsequently left behind when they left the monastery, be returned. 56 RPG VII, Innocent VIII 1484–1492, 2150.
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Not many cases of apostasy on the grounds of reforming zeal yield this much detail. Inference has to suffice in reading petitions such as that of the professed Franciscan nun, Barbara Lengin of St. Clare monastery in the diocese of Würzburg, for whom life became untenable. We have already seen that Colettine reform championed a lifestyle very different in its particulars from that allowed Clarisses under the Urbanist Rule. Barbara might have left illicitly and even cast off her habit, but according to her 1464 petition, she did so because she could no longer live in her community with a peaceful spirit, not because she wanted to live a secular life.57 Indeed, Barbara asked for absolution from the sentence of excommunication incurred by her apostasy along with license to transfer to another monastery, a Cistercian house this time. Both parts of her petition were granted. Zealous monastic reform, albeit resulting in something far different from that engineered by Observants, preceded the dissolution of the monasteries in England. And while pre-dissolution policies and visitations paved the way for the demise of English nunneries, they were well grounded in the same medieval canon law that had normalized their institutional existence. Female religious were uniquely affected by such pre-dissolution policies, the suppression of small and/or derelict communities being the first of these. We have seen that in the context of famine, war and plague, bishops had routinely responded to the impoverishment or decimation of nunneries by combining houses, or altogether eliminating them while making alternative living arrangements for any displaced regulars. It was the ruinous effect of plague on Worthorpe Priory that led the bishop of Lincoln to annex it to the nearby nunnery of St. Michael, Stamford. In England, at least since the mid-fifteenth century, this trend had accelerated because of the desirability of transforming small and supposedly defunct monasteries into the more fashionable academic colleges. For instance, in 1496 Bishop Alcock of Ely dissolved the Priory of St. Radegund, Cambridge, a house of religious women. Through “negligence and thoughtless and dissolute conduct and incontinence, by reason of the closeness of the university of Cambridge of the prioresses and religious women of the aforesaid house,” the priory had become so dilapidated and diminished that the remaining two nuns
57 RPG IV, Pius II 1458–1464, 1730.
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residing there could not support themselves. The pair was to be relocated, the site cleared, and a college erected in its stead.58 As they moved toward suppression of all religious houses in England, Cromwell and his commissioners deployed these traditional measures, but they did so in unprecedented ways. It was because of their procedural successes that the decade of the 1530s became one of troubled consciences, blurred distinctions, and a severely challenged and ultimately defunct monastic order. Given the long tradition of episcopal intervention in the event that a monastery became destitute or disreputable, the statute of 1536 suppressing small religious houses with annual incomes of less than £200 might be seen as an ordinary consolidation effort; that statute contained, however, an extraordinary proviso. Professed monks and nuns within these communities were to have dispensations or ‘capacities’ issued them. Consequently, by authority of the Crown, disaffected female as well as male religious were permitted to live a life extra claustrum, while avoiding the charge of canonical apostasy. It was as much because these dispensations were gender-neutral as that it was the king and not the pope who issued them, that made them so revolutionary. The consequences of their deployment for nuns was profound. As we already know, by the final decades of the fourteenth century male professed religious had been able to leave the monastic life yet avoid apostasy by means of papal dispensations in substance no different from that used by Cromwell. Largely a consequence of the increasingly materialistic and bureaucratic tendencies of the Avignon papacy, compounded by the rivalry for support during the Great Schism, hundreds of privileges were granted to individual monk-petitioners to hold benefices – positions in the Church, including rectorship of parish churches and membership in cathedral chapters, which had an endowed income attached to them. Notwithstanding a decree by the Third Lateran Council (1179), along with English legatine restrictions against monks serving parish churches, the practice was definitely common enough in England as well as on the Continent.59 And these grants were issued with greater frequency throughout the fourteenth 58 Martin Heale, Monasticism in Late Medieval England, c. 1300–1535 (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2009), 166–167. 59 Alfred H. Sweet, “Papal Privileges Granted to Individual Religious,” Speculum 31, no. 4 (1956), 602–10.
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and fifteenth centuries – Pope Eugenius IV issuing sixty-one, Nicholas V seventy, and Pius II (1458–64) ninety.60 The dispensation allowed such men to leave their monasteries, and to live as secular priests for life, free from the authority of abbot or prior and free to hold property. Although they would have to remain chaste, they were no longer regulars, and as ‘exclaustrated’ monks they were subject neither to their vows of obedience nor poverty.61 The grant to a Benedictine monk by Pope Paul II, in 1468, is a typical example. To John Stangrond alias Bailand, a monk of St. John’s, Colchester, O.S.B., in the diocese of London. Dispensation to receive and retain for life any benefice with cure, wont to be governed by secular clerks, even if it be a parish church or its perpetual vicarage, or a chantry, or annual service, or a free chapel, or a hospital wont to be assigned to the same clerks as a title of a perpetual benefice, [and be of lay patronage], and to resign it, simply or for exchange, as often as he pleases.62 By being granted a benefice, male members of religious orders could live as secular priests, rather than as monks, free from vows of poverty (receiving income from the property) and obedience to a monastic superior (as a rector or a vicar, a beneficed monk was subject only to the bishop). They could not be recalled to their monasteries after receiving such dispensation and left the way of life with which they had become discontent without becoming apostates. Since women could not be ordained priests, the discontented nun had never had such an option; beginning in 1534, she did. Domesticating the dispensation process, legislation in that year mandated that capacities formerly sought from Rome would henceforth be issued by the king’s authority through the archbishop of Canterbury, and that English subjects were forbidden to seek them from the pope. In short order, Archbishop Cranmer’s Faculty Office 60 David Knowles, The Religious Orders in England, vol. 2 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1959), 172. 61 Logan, Runaway Religious, 157. Fra Filippo Lippi, as we saw in the previous chapter, obviously felt himself freed from the vow of chastity as well. 62 CPL 12 667, 627–633.
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dispensed several monks to live as secular priests and then devised a form of the dispensation to offer to professed nuns as well. It allowed them to live in the world, without habit or veil, albeit chastely and as a celibate woman. “The earliest such reference is to Prioress Alice Cranmer and ten nuns of Minster Thanet in Kent, who were dispensed ‘to go into the world and there, from henceforth, to live without the veil and habit of their religious profession.’”63 Were those who took advantage of this dispensation apostates? It would be foolish to think of them as such in anything but the most technical sense of the term. Granted, the king and not the pope was the issuing authority, but royal authority had been uniformly substituted for papal in the national Church. And not only were these dispensations close at hand, they also were offered by commissioners whose aim was to have them speedily and readily accepted. The men who came to ‘visit’ the monasteries in 1535–1536 had little sympathy for any nun who wished to continue in her “bondage.” In the words of one royal commissioner, Dr. Thomas Legh, the nuns at Denny Abbey “were better to be at large and dismissed from their bondage than so unreligiously remain against their conscience.” Legh’s colleague, ApRice, added: Though it were well done that all were out, yet to avoid calumny it were well they were dismissed upon their own suit. They will all do this if they are compelled to observe these injunctions, and the people shall know it the better that it cometh upon their own suit that they be not straight discharged while we are here; for then the people will say that we came for no other cause except to expel them.64 When even the overseers of monastic dissolution were unsure of precise procedure, many nuns must have questioned the need for any dispensation. How could the inconsistency and insecurity of the 63 Logan, Runaway Religious, 159. 64 Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII, Preserved in the Public Record Office, the British Museum, and Elsewhere, ed. J. S. Brewer, Robert Henry Brodie, and James Gairdner (London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1886; repr. Vaduz: Kraus Reprint, 1965), 9:231–248.
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times not affect those who were neither politicians nor theologians, but young women? Such were Jane Gowrying, Frances Somer Mary Philbeam, and Barbara Lark, all professed nuns in their twenties who, in 1535, had just taken off their habits, put on secular clothes, and left their London house of Poor Clares. All were cited as wandering about in secular clothes, without benefit of any dispensation, royal or otherwise.65 Then there were those nuns who wanted to remain true to their professions and to their communities, but who could not. In the first decades of a newly riven Christian Europe, we find more than one sadly ironic example of forced ‘apostasy.’ From the monastery of St. Nicholas-in-Undis, Strasbourg, Anna Wurm wrote to her brother not to follow through on his decision to remove her from the cloister: “I am in a good, pious, blessed, honorable, free, spiritual estate, wherein both my body and soul are well cared for … I want to stay here … I have never asked you to take me out of the cloister, and I am not asking you to do so now.”66 She was removed despite her best efforts, in 1525. So too, three nuns of the Poor Clare community of Nuremberg were physically dragged out of the cloister by their relatives, an episode described in painful detail by the abbess of that community, Caritas Pirckheimer (1467–1532).67 It is fitting to note that Caritas herself lived out her life in the depleted and doomed monastery, but only because of her valiant resistance to mandates from city officials and church leaders combined. At this stage in our survey of runaway nuns one thing, and perhaps one thing only, can be said with certainty: professed nuns became apostates for myriad reasons. Unfortunately, as that consummate historian of medieval English apostates Donald Logan reminds us, motives are the most intractable arena for historical exploration. No area of past human conduct presents such difficulties for the historian as individual human motivation. The difficulties in understanding the motivation of one’s own contemporaries and, indeed, even of one’s self, are greatly compounded here by the distances of time and the exiguity of sources … 65 Logan, Runaway Religious, 162. 66 Silvia Evangelisti, Nuns (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 34–35. 67 Ibid, 35.
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What impelled a specific Cistercian monk to flee his monastery in remotest Yorkshire on a winter’s night or what impelled a specific nun to flee her nunnery in Sussex ten years after her profession – we may never know with the degree of historical certitude with which we know broader policies of the church or religious orders.68 In the cases presented so far, motives do sometimes emerge – an unhappy nun discovers that she was sent to the convent merely to be deprived of her birthright, another has a passionate encounter that awakens her sexual desires, another cannot endure the stigma of pregnancy, or a superior’s arbitrary use of force to reform or to punish. Dislocation occasioned by war, disease, and, in the waning days of monasticism in England, unprecedented uncertainty about the future and the ease of egress in the present, all these things could and did trigger apostasy. Nor can that besetting curse of monastic life, accidia [acedia], be disregarded as a factor in the flight of some professed nuns. This terrible ennui and melancholy so well-known and inveigled against by spiritual counselors since the beginnings of monasticism, has never been better described than by the fourth-century cenobite, St. John Cassian. Our sixth combat is with what the Greeks call a0khdi/a, which we may term weariness or distress of heart. This is akin to dejection, and is especially trying to solitaires, and a dangerous and frequent foe to dwellers in the desert; and especially disturbing to a monk about the sixth hour, like some fever which seizes him at stated times, bringing the burning heat of its attacks on the sick man at usual and regular hours. Lastly, there are some of the elders who declare that this is the “midday demon” spoken of in the ninetieth Psalm. And when this has taken possession of some unhappy soul, it produces dislike of the place, disgust with the cell, and disdain and contempt of the brethren who dwell with him or at a little distance, as if they were careless or unspiritual. It also makes the man lazy and sluggish about all manner of work which has to be done within the enclosure of 68 Logan, Runaway Religious, 74.
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his dormitory. It does not suffer him to stay in his cell, or to take any pains about reading, and he often groans because he can do no good while he stays there, and complains and sighs because he can bear no spiritual fruit so long as he is joined to that society; and he complains that he is cut off from spiritual gain, and is of no use in the place, as if he were one who, though he could govern others and be useful to a great number of people, yet was edifying none, nor profiling any one by his teaching and doctrine. He cries up distant monasteries and those which are a long way off and describes such places as more profitable and better suited for salvation; and besides this he paints the intercourse with the brethren there as sweet and full of spiritual life. On the other hand, he says that everything about him is rough, and not only that there is nothing edifying among the brethren who are stopping there, but also that even food for the body cannot be procured without great difficulty. Lastly, he fancies that he will never be well while he stays in that place, unless he leaves his cell (in which he is sure to die if he stops in it any longer) and takes himself off from thence as quickly as possible. Then the fifth or sixth hour brings him such bodily weariness and longing for food that he seems to himself worn out and wearied as if with a long journey, or some very heavy work, or as if he had put off taking food during a fast of two or three days.69 Who might not be tempted to reject a way of life that had become a dull, repetitive and empty formality? No matter how freely a girl or woman might have taken up the ‘light burden’ of monastic life, there was no guarantee that her resolve would endure, and more than one nun might have been driven to apostasy almost solely by “the destruction that wasteth at noonday.” In the end, the motives of many medieval female apostates must remain little more than informed conjectures; their actions, however, and the consequences of their 69 A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Church Second Series, ed. Philip Schaff (New York: Eerdmans, 1979), 11: 267–275. In addition to this lengthy discussion in Book X of The Twelve Books on the Institutes of the Cœnobia, and the Remedies for the Eight Principal Faults, accidia is treated again by Cassian in The Conferences, Book V, Chapter 3.
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actions, can be more securely documented and commented upon. We may never know exactly why a woman chose to abandon religious life, but we can know if, and when, she chose to return to it. We can also get a reasonably sound idea of the nature and duration of the penance imposed upon returning apostates, and of the warmth, or coldness, of the reception they got from community members and superiors, most of whom had never strayed. All these things will be treated in the next chapters.
Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, “Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.” He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, “Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.” Luke 15:25–30
Penitents and Penalties
Abraham, a play by the tenth-century canoness Hrotsvit of Ganders heim, is the story of the fall and repentance of the wayward anchoress, Mary. Prompted by her uncle and spiritual father, the hermit Abraham, Mary enters her anchor-hold at the tender age of seven. Twenty years of model behavior follow, but when she is seduced by a false monk she runs away and despairing because of her lost virginity, prostitutes herself. The catalyst for her early dedication to God, Abraham remains steadfast in his resolve to return Mary to His service. Having failed to engineer it at a remove, he forces himself to leave the peace of his hermitage, travel to a teeming city, and even enter a brothel disguised as a potential client, in order to do so. Mary is overwhelmed by his devotion and Abraham is rewarded with her penitent promise, made as she is led back to her cell, “Out of my own free will I shall remain contrite, I shall persist in my penance with all my might, and even if I lose the ability to perform the act, the will to it shall never lack. Let us return and hurry our way, let us hurry, I am weary of delay.”1 Like Mary, some apostate nuns actually welcomed return to their monasteries. After years spent wrestling with an uneasy conscience, a prodigal might cooperate fully with efforts to bring her back to her community. When a repentant runaway found herself at a considerable distance from that community, an effort akin to Abraham’s might be required to effect it. In Johannes Busch’s long, detailed, mildly amusing and blatantly self-congratulatory account of one such return, the journey appears to have been more daunting for the shepherd than
Hrotsvitha, The Plays of Hrotsvit of Gandersheim, ed. Katharina M. Wilson (New York: Garland Publishing, 1989), 89.
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for the lost sheep.2 A detailed summary of this narrative follows, since it contains observations about the reintegration of penitent apostates relevant in a number of other cases. Gertude Gensen, a young well-born nun from the Augustinian house of Marienwerder, just north of Hanover, fled her monastery in the middle of the night. Donning secular clothes of the same sort she used to wear at home in her castle, and leaving her habit behind in the choir, she traveled far; first through Westphalia and then all the way to Deventer in Utrecht. Once there, however, she had a change of heart. Meeting some devout women attached to the Windesheim congregation, she admitted that she was an apostate nun from Marienwerder and expressed her desire to return if she could only find a way to do so. One of the women allowed Gertrude to stay in her house for a few months, until the scheduled chapter meeting at Widesheim. She reasoned that the canons from Saxony who would come for the meeting could help Gertrude to return to her own monastery. Johannes Busch, at that time prior of Sülte, was among those attending the chapter meeting: however, on this occasion he had come alone, in a modest wagon drawn by two horses. Regardless of the fact that this might make for an awkward travel situation, he was immediately asked to take Gertrude with him and return her to Saxony, first by two brothers attached to the nunnery of Diepenvene, then by the confessor of the Deventer beguines, and finally by the woman who was sheltering Gertrude as well as all the other brothers and sisters who were with her. Even after the devout women with whom Gertrude had been staying assured him that the wayward Gertrude was not pregnant, and was in fact still a virgin, Busch remained most unwilling to take her with him. After all, he kept protesting, he was travelling alone, and she was young, not even thirty years old. But his Windesheim brethren were adamant, as well as importunate. Returning a lost sheep to the fold was a good work of such magnitude, they said, that it should not be shirked out of concern for what people might think; it was God’s work that involved an endangered soul. Chastened, Busch finally acquiesced, and made preparations to set off to Saxony with his charge. Johannes Busch, Chronicon Windeshemense Und Liber De Reformatione Monasteriorum, ed. Karl Grube (Halle, 1886; repr. Farnborough, England: Gregg International, 1968), 664–669.
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Gertrude sat a little behind him in the wagon, since she needed space for the clothes and jewels she had brought with her, and when they arrived for their first night’s stay Busch made sure not only that she sat at the head of the table for dinner, as befitted her social status, but also that she had a private room, as befitted her status as a virgin. Indeed, he says that if he could not have secured a private room he would have gone off to sleep elsewhere, “because holy virginity is a precious treasure, a thing with which nothing in the world can compare.” The need to make proper sleeping arrangements for Gertude at each stop along the way home is a recurring theme in the narrative and the confrontation Busch next relates underscores the rationale for such repetition. While settling his charge with some nuns at Vreensweghen the next day, he encountered Egbert, rector of the Deventer congregation, and Albert, rector at Zvolle, who were on their way to a chapter meeting in Munster. Egbert reported that Dom Albert had privately told him that “It would be unconscionable for a man of religion to accompany a nun alone on such a long journey, were that man not Johannes Busch.” Then he had added the exclamation, “Lord create in me a pure heart!” When they reached Munster, Gertrude was ensconced in a house of nuns while Busch made plans to dine and spend the evening with the master of the canons of St. Martin, the former rector of the school at Hildesheim. But when the master’s sister heard that he had a Saxon nun in his charge, she insisted that he send for her so that they could all dine together – alternative, and precise, sleeping arrangements were then made, Gertrude’s bed being in the room of “the old and devote virgin sister.” At their next stop, the Cistercian monastery of Marienvelde, Busch again met with incredulity at his daring feat of pastoral care. The old abbot, Henric Haghen, told him that he would not do what Busch was doing even for a hundred florins, since there would be a general outcry if he were to be the sole companion of a nun for such a long journey; no one, however, had any evil suspicions about Busch. “I did not in fact have a single temptation on this whole journey,” Busch informs his readers at this point, “and felt only great compassion for her. And as others told me later she herself said that she would have not have believed this possible for any man in the world save that her experience with Father Johnnes of Sülte had taught her it could happen.”
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Both parties would be tested on a less lofty plane, however, when having traveled about a quarter mile toward their next stop, the city of Bylvelde, one of the traces on the wagon broke. Luckily, they were accompanied on this leg of the journey by Abbot Haghen’s brother, a “good, devote, and hard-working man” well-known to Johannes, since he had personally invested him as a conversus years earlier. Since the road was rutted and muddy, Busch asked the lay brother to go ahead with the cart by an alternative road while he and Gertrude stayed on the well-trodden path, adding that whoever got to the nearest fortification should wait for the others. But when the pair made it up an incline to the fort, they heard that the conversus had gone ahead without them. For more than a mile, through dense forest, Johannes and Gertrude struggled on alone, Gertrude in tears saying that she couldn’t go on anymore. They trudged along anyway, asking those they met if they had seen their wagon. People said that it had passed by, so after Gertrude – who insisted that she was too weak to continue – had rallied, they went on their way again. Meanwhile, the lay brother had reached a tavern where he left the cart, and taking one of the horses went back to look for them. When the companions finally found one another, the trio continued to Molenbeke, averting yet another crisis when the cart almost overturned. Once Gertrude was housed with some sisters there, and after she had rested, Busch announced that since they were so close to returning her to her monastery it would be a good time for her to make her confession. Having incurred excommunication for her apostasy she also needed to be absolved of this sentence, and Busch, acting with papal authorization, did so, “restoring her to Holy Mother Church and enjoining salutary penance upon her.” The next day, the three made their way to Fischbeck in the diocese of Minden, Saxony. Busch left Gertrude and the lay brother just outside the town with the carriage, while he went on to the Augustinian nunnery – a community that he himself had been responsible for reforming – to see the abbess. Since she was not then at home, he called on the nun next in rank and told her that he had brought an apostate with him all the way from Deventer, and asked her to take that penitent to the abbess. At first, the nun said no because the abbess had already accepted many such (quod tales plures iam suscepisset), but when Busch suggested that she should not refuse him since he had done much good for the convent in the past, she relented. Returning
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to Gertrude, he said that the abbess had consented to receive her but that first she had to exchange her secular garb for her nun’s crown and simple tunic, which she did with a great show of modesty. Greeted by an elderly nun from the community, Gertrude went into the monastery. Apparently, Busch’s reminder that the community owed him a favor was not lost on the nuns who took Gertrude in. Ultimately, and with the blessing of Busch’s most influential lay supporter, Duke William of Brunswick, Gertrude never went the eight miles further to her former monastery; at the request of the Fischbeck sisters, she remained there, as a fully professed nun, devoting herself to her community by serving as infirmarian. Busch’s story is more than a tale of repentance and return. It is crafted with particular care, underscoring those elements that would have had special importance for his largely clerical, reform-oriented readers – his descriptions of Gertrude’s sleeping arrangements, for instance, his own unblemished reputation (as attested by himself and others), and his extraordinary pastoral powers, granted by papal mandate. Other aspects of this story have special importance for us. Gertrude’s tale illustrates that there were more than a few ways for apostate nuns to begin the process of reintegration into religious life; it also highlights the fact that repentance was just the first, and sometimes the easiest, step. We have already read about repentant apostates like Barbara Seckendorfferin, the Premonstratensian nun from Sulz, Barbara Kespenbach and Margaretha Horim, both of Constance, and others who had begun their journey back to religious life by petitioning the Papal Penitentiary for readmission to their former convents. Katherine Thornyf, apostate from the Cistercian priory of Wykeham, Yorkshire, on the other hand, had first approached Archbishop Kemp for the same purpose. Other penitents whom we will meet in this chapter started by contacting, or being contacted by, their local ordinaries, be they bishops or abbots or priors. Gertude Gensen, however, had begun by divulging her apostasy to some pious laywomen, who just happened to know that the prior-cum-reformer, Johannes Busch, was in the vicinity. But if her story shows us that there was no standard mechanism for beginning the return journey, Gertrude’s next steps prove that spontaneous outpourings of remorse were insufficient to bring that journey to a successful conclusion. In order to be forgiven, the sin
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of apostasy like all serious sin required a penitent’s contrition, but unlike other serious sins, not all priests were empowered to absolve it. Absolution from apostasy and the penalty of excommunication that it carried were reserved to the papacy or an agent to whom that power had been extended. Bishops were routinely so empowered. Abbots and priors might have that right as well, but only by virtue of a special privilege, as for example the papal bull Pastor bonus. It was Gertrude Gensen’s good fortune to find in Johannes Busch a prior who, as papal legate, had the dual right to absolve her of sin and to expunge her sentence of excommunication. Not many contrite apostates would have a papal legate like Busch at hand to absolve them, but more than a few would have found the frosty reception accorded him by the nuns of Fischbeck all too familiar. Even when the way back was paved by an advocate as amazingly well respected as Johannes Busch, reintegration of an apostate was seldom easy. Like Gertrude, other returning nuns might have their hopes to renew ties to their former communities sorely tested, or even dashed – recall that although Gertrude returned to religious life she did not return to it at Marienwerder. Driven by guilt, worn down by trials in the outside world, or spurred into action by tragedy or fear, apostates might want to return but their fellow religious were not always sure that they wanted them back. Members of the community to which a penitent wished to return, nuns who had remained steadfast in their commitment to the religious life and who had never wavered in their vows, might feel resentment similar to that expressed by the Prodigal Son’s elder brother. They might, in turn, make any possibility of a joyous homecoming difficult, or even impossible. Barriers to community assimilation of apostate nuns are most obvious in cases in which the pope and local ordinaries had to intervene to produce some reasonable, if not ideal, outcome for penitent and fellow nuns alike. Reintegration of an apostate often required delicate and far from trouble-free negotiation with former superiors and community members alike. We have, for example, the case of Suor Paolina di Cola di Luca, who petitioned the pope in 1492 not only for absolution for her sin of apostasy but also for the opportunity to find a home again.3 Having Filippo Tamburini, Santi E Peccatori : Confessioni E Suppliche Dai Registri Della Penitenzieria Dell’Archivio Segreto Vaticano (1451–1586), “Il
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“abandoned her modesty and her religious habit,” Paolina had fled the Poor Clare monastery of San Lorenzo in Panisperna, Rome, where she had made her profession. She had lived “for a long time” in the world before finally having a change of heart and deciding to return to the vowed life, within the community of San Lorenzo. But this decision was proving very difficult to effect since her co-religious objected to Paolina’s return and refused to receive her. Even her immediate superior had neglected to intervene or try to find another monastery willing to accommodate her. Consequently, Paolina asked the pope for a special dispensation, namely, that she be granted permission to remain “in some honest home, wearing her religious habit, and living out her vows according to the institutes of her order.” The Penitentiary issued such a dispensation. The registers of Philip Repingdon, bishop of Lincoln from 1405– 1419, give us more detailed information about another instance of a reluctant reception, and they even include mention of the consequences for a religious superior who chose to be complicit. In June 1414, the bishop ordered the prioress of the Augustinian convent of Rothwell to readmit Joan Horncastle, demanding that the prioress also respond to a contempt citation for having previously disobeyed his instructions in the matter.4 As bishop of Lincoln, Repingdon had a geographically far-flung diocese, which he nevertheless actively and conscientiously administered personally or via a core of select agents whom he commissioned because of their legal and administrative expertise. Fully a year earlier, while Repingdon was about one of his diocesan visitations, Joan Horncastle had been brought before him in the parish of Conyngesby.5 A professed canoness from Rothwell Priory, Joan confessed that she had become an apostate, leaving behind her habit and rejecting her vows entirely, and that, persuaded by the devil, had lived wickedly unremorseful for three years with a certain William Luffewyk. With bitter tears she had begged the bishop to forgive her and set her a penance for the good of her soul. Sestante” (Milan: Istituto di propaganda libraria, 1995), # 38 187. The Register of Bishop Philip Repingdon, 1405–1419, ed. Margaret Archer, The Publications of the Lincoln Record Society 57, 58, 74 (Hereford: Printed for the Lincoln Record Society by the Hereford Times Ltd, 1982), 3:6–7, # 15. 5 Ibid, 2:361. 4
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The bishop judged that Joan was indeed genuinely sorry for her grave offense. Consequently, he absolved her from the sentence of excommunication incurred by apostasy, and assigned her condign penance as demanded by canon law. That penance was to be performed within the confines of Rothwell Priory, and he had remanded her to the prioress there, firmly enjoining her to readmit Joan Horncastle to atone for her sin. The bishop’s letter was sent, but the prioress clearly disregarded its intent: that Joan be confined within cloister walls to live out her penitential life. Instead, within a day after her return to the priory, she had been allowed to go out freely, and so tempted, had left again “for distant places;” furthermore, she had stayed away. An entire year passed before Repingdon learned of the insubordination of the prioress and the consequent repeated apostasy of Joan. As was his duty, he sought Joan out and sent her back to Rothwell to serve out a penance made more rigorous by the neglect of the prioress. Then he dealt with the prioress herself, unable, as he put it, to leave her previous negligence and disobedience unpunished. She was ordered to appear before the bishop’s official, either Thomas Brous, or David Pryce, when they next held commissary court in the church of Buckden – a traditional episcopal residence and one often used by Repingdon.6 Both of these officials were trusted and competent canons of the Lincoln cathedral chapter, members who formed Bishop Repingdon’s inner circle and whose legal and administrative experience was distinctive.7 Since the prioress would be obliged to answer the charge of contempt occasioned by failure to perform her duty before a doctor and a bachelor of laws, Brous and Pryce respectively, it was more than a gesture of disapproval. Unfortunately, existing runs of cause papers for the Lincoln commissary court postdate her scheduled appearance, so we do not know what penalty was imposed on the prioress.8 Her motives too, remain “Parishes: Buckden,” in A History of the County of Huntingdon, vol. 2, ed. William Page, Granville Proby and S Inskip Ladds (London: VCH, 1932), 260–269, at http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/hunts/vol2/pp260-269 [accessed 26 August 2015]. 7 Register of Bishop Philip Repingdon, 1xx. 8 Charles Donahue and Working Group on Church Court Records, The Records of Medieval Ecclesiastical Courts, I: The Continent, and II: England (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1989–1994), 2:175. 6
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unclear. Did she allow Joan to leave the confines of Rothwell cloister a second time because this woman posed a threat to the rest of the nuns under her care? By balking at Repingdon’s directive to readmit a woman who had spent over three years living with her lover, had she acted to uphold the moral tone of her community, “to preserve her flock from contagion?”9 Joan had convinced Bishop Repingdon of her penitence with her tears, but hadn’t the skepticism of the prioress been shown to have merit? Hadn’t Joan leapt at the opportunity to flee a second time? Or perhaps the prioress wearily knew that while the bishop could direct her to confine a sinner, she and her sisters would have to execute that directive daily, deploying resources of both time and energy if the penitent proved intractable in the long run. Whatever her motives, the prioress in this case was definitely not alone in her quandary. Numbered among those who fled their houses were undoubtedly troublemakers, whose absence was not lamented by their community and whose departure was greeted with relief. When they reappeared at the monastic gates, avowing contrition and promising amendment of their ways, many a superior, his idealism tempered by healthy cynicism, sent the returning apostate away, judging the peace of the house preferable to the doubtful conversion of a single member. And, in any case, if they followed the rule of St Benedict, they would feel no obligation to readmit a returning apostate more than three times.10 If St. Benedict himself had limited the number of times an apostate might be readmitted, could superiors like the prioress of Rothwell not have a legitimate basis for their reluctance to take back an apostate about whose character they harbored serious suspicions? Were heads of houses acting contrary to the canon law by refusing to readmit a wayward member? Monastic superiors in this period who balked at episcopal orders to readmit an apostate to their community might in fact find some Eileen Power, Medieval English Nunneries, c. 1275 to 1535 (New York: Biblo and Tannen, 1922; 1964), 445. 10 F. Donald Logan, Runaway Religious in Medieval England, c. 1240–1540 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 136–137. 9
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support for their position; they could even cite canonical commentary that justified their reservations. We have already established that legislation dealing with the reintegration of apostates, like that which outlined canonical policy for compelling their return, had been systematically organized by the middle of the fourteenth century, but it remained for commentators on the canons to explicate the laws. Commentary provided guidance for those charged with implementing the decrees of popes and councils in their own dioceses, and sometimes in strained circumstances. It was up to academic commentators then to expand upon bare-bones directives, like the ones contained in Gregory IX’s crucial decretal Ne religiosi vagandi. In his decree, Pope Gregory underscored the obligation of religious superiors to conduct annual and vigorous searches for professed members who had abandoned their communities, and under pain of their own excommunication to readmit them once returned. But Gregory IX’s demands were followed by the words salva ordinis disciplina, “saving the discipline of the order.” Working on the well-founded assumption that some returning apostates might so disrupt the good order of their monasteries that regular life might be compromised, the Benedictine Rule, as noted, had prescribed that apostates be allowed to return no more than three times. Outstanding legal commentators like Hostiensis (d. 1271), Joannes Andreae (d. 1348), Antonio de Butrio (d. 1408) and Nicholas de Tudeschi (d. 1445), fleshed out the implications of St. Benedict’s prescription for the decree Ne religiosi vagandi. Hostiensis averred that if it should happen that all the members of a religious community decided that they would rather all leave that community than live with a returning apostate, that house would be excused from readmitting the prodigal. Later glossators reiterated Hostiensis’ opinion and Antionio de Burtrio went even further; he buttressed the theoretical with the actual. In a recent case, de Burtrio said, all the nuns of a Florentine convent simply refused to remain within the walls of their monastery if a certain apostate nun, formerly one of their community, was compelled to be readmitted.11 Johannes Andreae added his approval to the position held by these two glossators, and, ever practical, appended a discussion of the fate of the rejected religious. As a professed regular, the monk or nun could Ibid, 122–123.
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not be left standing outside the gates. Refused admittance to his or her former community, the prodigal could not be left to roam the world lest scandal ensue. The exiled regular would have to be found a place in another house. In a down-to-earth way, Johannes Andreae therefore concluded his comments with some speculations about which monastery – the apostate’s original home or that of his or her exile – would be legally responsible for the individual’s upkeep. He concluded that the motherhouse, the relict’s former community, should bear that financial burden.12 We can assume that sometimes the head of a motherhouse, like the prioress of Rothwell, might even welcome that fiscal burden, seeing it as a fitting price to pay for communal peace. And those superiors would certainly welcome the comments of yet another jurist, Nicholas de Tudeschi, who put the matter squarely, and in language that the prioress and other superiors would definitely have understood. There are certain cases, he said, in which fugitives ought not be received again into their communities. According to the Rule of St. Benedict, the house from which they had fled was not allowed to readmit them more than three times. In order to avoid vagrancy and scandal, however, a community might place the fugitive religious in another nearby house, providing for his upkeep, or they might lodge him away from the rest of the community, in a workroom/prison, or in solitary confinement (in arco loco ut in ergastulo seu in arca camera).13 Ultimately, both the options proposed by Nicholas de Tudeschi for reintegration of a recidivist or otherwise troublesome apostate would have posed difficulties for monastic superiors, whether male or female. However, recent studies in the spirituality of late medieval nuns as it was mirrored in the endowments on which they survived, and the very buildings in which they lived in, indicate that both these canonical directives might have proven uniquely challenging for heads of female houses to implement. Naturally, if the finances of a mother GO to X 3.31.24. Corpus juris canonici emendatum et notis illustratum. Gregorii XIII. pont. max. iussu editum (Romae: In aedibus Populi Romani, 1582), 3 parts in 4 volumes. Electronic edition: UCLA Digital Library Program, Corpus Juris Canonici (1582), at http://digital.library.ucla.edu/ canonlaw [accessed 22 March 2019]. 13 Nicolas de Tudeschi, Lectura super quinque libros Decretalium (Venice, 1492), III:clii. Bayerische StaatsBibliothek MDZ Munchener DigitalisierungsZentrum Digitale Bibliottheck. 12
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house, the community from which an apostate had fled, were already tenuous, paying another house to take in, and then provide bed and board for, a prodigal would be very difficult. But for many nunneries across Europe, slender resources – endowments meant to establish no more than sufficiency – far from being lamented, were actually desirable reflections of the apostolic spirt of renunciation that the nuns had vowed to live out. The self-denying ideal of that ‘privilege of poverty,’ requested of the papacy by Clare of Assisi for her Poor Ladies of San Damiano, continued to resonate for late medieval nuns, and not only of the mendicant orders. For example, Roberta Gilchrist and Marilyn Oliva, studying female houses in late medieval East Anglia, suggest that relative communal poverty was achieved by design rather than, as has often been suggested, by mismanagement of limited resources. Poverty and isolation, therefore, were not necessarily considered negative attributes by patrons of female monasticism. Women’s religious houses were founded on marginal land or outside town walls not simply as a reflection of their founders’ finances, or as previous historians have suggested, because nuns were valued less by society than monks and canons. Rather, female monastic sites reflected the nature of the piety expressed within and by the houses. Located at the physical and psychological fringes of medieval society, these monasteries for women represented poverty and physical separation from society, both vital aspects of female piety.14 In a similar way, the plain, unadorned simplicity of female monastic architecture often reflected ideals of asceticism and poverty, as documented in pioneering regional, archeologically based, studies such as those conducted of Cistercian nunneries in France, Germany, and the Low Countries.15 Speaking of the foundation of new convents in thirteenth-century Champagne, Anne Lester aptly describes the phenomenon. The majority of Cistercian convents in Champagne were Roberta Gilchrist and Marilyn Oliva, Religious Women in Medieval East Anglia History and Archaeology c1100–1540 (Norwich: Centre of East Anglian Studies, University of East Anglia, 1993), 25. 15 Cistercian Nuns and Their World, ed. Meredith Parsons Lillich, Studies in Cistercian Art and Architecture 6 (Kalamazoo, MI: Liturgical Press, 2005). 14
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places where one went to be humbled, to renounce one’s former status in the world, and to be transformed. It was in the physical fabric of the Cistercian houses that the apostolic ideal of poverty persisted in its studied simplicity. The small buildings and chapels, which often accommodated no more than twenty professed nuns, were not meant to be places that glorified God in a precious opulence, but rather were deliberately left as places where one might encounter Christ. They retained their quality as mangers, granges and hospices for the poor and sick, embellished perhaps by the occasional lancet window and flash of color, hard won from the alms of the faithful.16 Whether attempting to financially support an unwelcome returning member of their community in another nunnery or following the second canonical option of confining the said member within the motherhouse, heads of female houses might be harder pressed than their male counterparts because of material, as well as spiritual, considerations. Judging from structural remains examined in Gilchrist’s, Gender and Material Culture, nunneries might depart from prototypical monastic building plans, favoring secular manor house models suitable to the gentry. While these models would accommodate ordinary domestic arrangements and service activities such as brewing and baking – activities that were emphasized more and more at the close of the Middle Ages – the buildings themselves would hardly have served to ensure limited exposure of the community to a single detainee.17 The developed canon law and commentary was not dismissive of harsh realities and practical considerations like these. Jurists therefore tried to deal with them by integrating, but also adding to, the teaching of St. Benedict on the matter of returning apostates. They agreed with the saint that the internal discipline of a monastery might require that an unwelcome prodigal be kept from contact with other community members; they glossed that, however, to mean that he or she be isolated from those members or provided for in another house, but not barred from admittance to that community after a third (or even fourth or fifth) departure. Under no circumstances, said the canonical commentators, were apostates to be left to wander about. Vagabond Anne E. Lester, Creating Cistercian Nuns (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2011), 101–102. 17 Roberta Gilchrist, Gender and Material Culture: The Archaeology of Religious Women (London and New York: Routledge, 1997), 117, 127. 16
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regulars imperiled their souls and caused great public scandal. Church law absolutely required that religious superiors do their upmost to seek out and to ensure the return of all apostates from their communities. Even in Pastor bonus, Pope Benedict XII’s 1335 constitution meant to provide more effective and compassionate provisions for the return of apostates, the wording remained the same – even if a community did not want the prodigal back, they were to be required to facilitate a return to religious life, and uncooperative superiors would risk ecclesiastical sanctions, imposed by agents of the pope himself.18 Pastor bonus did more than reiterate the provisions of Gregory IX’s decretal (Ne religiosi vagandi) that heads of religious houses should strive by annual inquiries to restore apostates to the religious life. It went beyond: if after inquiry and urging, the apostates refuse to return, then the superior should have them seized and forced to return … The pope ordered religious superiors to take back even the unwanted religious, those apostates whose houses were pleased that they had left and did not want them back. Papal deputies were to enforce this even to the extent of imposing ecclesiastical penalties on reluctant superiors, from which there could be no appeal.19 Penalties like these would never have been required of course if the heads of religious houses had always, happily or grudgingly, complied with orders to readmit an apostate. Recognizing this fact, and designed to pave the way for reentry, episcopal mandates often contain wording addressed to a potentially reluctant abbess, prioress and/or community. Bishop William Gray’s injunctions to the nuns of Markyate Priory, Lincoln following his visitation of 1432 provide a good example. Katherine Tyttesbury, a nun “moved by the devil” and unconstrained by the prioress, who in Gray’s words “observes not our injunctions nor causes them to be observed by the others her sisters but herself scorns them,” had apostatized. The bishop now enjoined a “salutary and condign penance upon her, proportional to her fault,” which apparently had included sexual misconduct. He also turned BR 4, 326–328. Logan, Runaway Religious, 124–125.
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his attention to the community to which Katherine would be returning, commanding the prioress and nuns “that they admit and receive among themselves with kindness the said sister Katherine, thus by our authority absolved by you from her transgressions and henceforth treat the same with the kindly affection of perfect love.”20 Perhaps counsels to perfection, pleas for kindly affection, and reminders of general human frailty did work at times to reconcile otherwise unwelcoming superiors to the presence of a penitent runaway. But whether a superior and the members of a community were hostile or not, repentance, return, and readmission of an apostate were only preliminaries – crucial first but not final steps in the journey back to grace. Theologically, sin involved guilt (culpa) and punishment (poena). An apostate could be released from the legal sanction of excommunication and absolved from the guilt of her sin, but the penalty for committing it remained. Saying that you were sorry was not enough. Violation of one’s vows of religious profession was a serious sin and expiation entailed serious punishment. Like virtually everything else related to monasticism in the West – including the policies for return and reintegration just covered – the Rule of St. Benedict was a foundational document for the development of the canon law dealing with punishment of apostates. In his commentary on Ne religiosi vagandi, Johannes Andreae acknowledged that fact by enumerating the punishments listed there: Following the rule of Blessed Benedict, there are seven types of discipline reserved for delinquent regulars, the first is private warning, second, public correction, third, simple or minor excommunication, fourth, imposed fasts, fifth, beating with a whip, sixth, prayers additional to those ordinarily required by the rule, and seventh, forced expulsion from the monastery (secreta monitio, publica correctio, simplex vel minor excommunicatio,, ieiunii afflictio, flagellorum vapulatio, ad deum oratio, de monasterio expulsio).21 Visitations of Religious Houses in the Diocese of Lincoln, 1436–1449, ed. A. Hamilton Thompson (Lincoln: Printed for the Lincoln Record Society by J.W. Ruddock, 1929), 1:83. 21 Johannes Andreae, In tertium Decretalilum librum Novella Commentaria (Venice, 1612), 3:159. 20
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Once again, St. Benedict had set down the parameters of monastic life for centuries to come. While the particulars of penitential regimes would vary from order to order, Benedict’s seven forms or grades of punishments continued to be applied to returning apostates in the late Middle Ages. Mandates for readmission and punishment most often contain words like ‘condign’, ‘salutary’, and the standard phrase, “in accordance with the discipline of the order” (secundum regularum disciplinam injungatis penitenciam salutarem). In these cases, there would be a standard regime of fasting, and prayer, often coupled with some form of periodic beating. When detailed penalties are outlined in episcopal registers, there are variations of, but no egregious departures from, this standard triad. There is another form of punishment that was occasioned either by necessity or the pastoral judgment of a sentencing bishop. Referred to as exsilium it was in and of itself not an additional penitential rite, but it had the effect of enhancing their humiliating effects. By the late medieval period, exsilium consisted of banishment to a neighboring monastery of the same order as the apostate’s motherhouse. Exsilium was not, despite the name, permanent. Unlike the ‘bed and board’ alternative prescribed as an alternative to readmission of a troublesome apostate to the motherhouse, it was merely a temporary separation from fellow religious prescribed as a penance and designed to be a kind of spiritual medicine. We have already had an example of exsilium in the case of Isabella Dayville, apostate of the war-ravaged Cistercian priory of Rosedale. In William Melton’s letter to the prioress of Handale, the community to which she was sent to atone for her sins, he specifically mentions the practical rationale for his decision: change in spirit often accompanies change in scene. In that same missive, he then describes the penitential regime that the nuns of Handale were to impose upon Isabella for a period of seven years or until they were advised otherwise, based on his reassessment of her level of contrition. She is to take the last place in the convent whether in choir, cloister, dormitory or refectory unless impeded from doing so by infirmity, she is to take no part in discussions about the business of the house nor is she to send or receive letters, speak with anyone whether secular or religious, or leave the monastery for any reason. Every Friday she was to fast on bread and water and
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on Wednesday was to abstain from fish. On those Wednesdays and Fridays the president was to administer the discipline to her in chapter. She was prohibited from wearing the black veil of the professed nun and was everywhere to affect the demeanor of the humble penitent.22 With one exception, a round of penance such as Isabella was slated to endure might be enjoined upon male as well as female runaways. That exception involves a symbol of profession exclusive to women religious, the veil. Like Isabella, runaway nuns were not permitted to wear the veil while undergoing their penance, whether in the motherhouse or in the house to which they had been sent for the duration. This might have been a particularly onerous and humbling restriction given the important symbolism attached to it, and the uncovered head of the penitent nun was just one more distinguishing mark of her fault. As with Isabella, exsilium might last for a fixed period of years, commonly from three to seven, or until mitigated by the bishop. The prospect of banishment might also be held in reserve by a bishop as an additional means of persuading less than tractable penitents. For a prodigal who knew of its humiliations first hand, this must have been a most effective deterrent. Certainly, Archbishop Melton had wished it to be when he readmitted Isabella de Stodley as a nun in good standing to her motherhouse, the Benedictine priory of St. Clement in Yorkshire. Years earlier, Isabella had apostatized from that house, and when she returned, penitent, had been sent to Yedingham Priory to atone for her sin. In 1331 when Archbishop Melton readmitted Isabella to St. Clement, his mandate contained the caution that should she prove disobedient to the prioress, blasphemous, or quarrelsome with the other nuns, he would transfer her again, this time to remain away permanently.23 Whether within her own community or in exile, the penitent apostate would make satisfaction for her grave sin by fasting, praying, and enduring some form of corporal punishment. She would be unveiled The Register of William Melton, Archbishop of York, 1317–1340, vol. 2, ed. David Robinson, Canterbury and York Society 101 (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell for the Canterbury and York Society, 2011), 181. 23 Apb. Reg. 9A fol. 231v. See also Logan, Runaway Religious, 258. 22
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and out of contact with anyone outside of the monastery and indeed with most of her fellow nuns. Within these general parameters, variations in detail abound. Penalties generally grew harsher if an apostate had relapsed or proved recalcitrant, and we treat of both these eventualities in the next chapter, but a particularly lengthy period of apostasy might also seem to call for the application of more rigorous ‘medicinal’ remedies. Although not a recidivist, Maud de Tyverington of Keldhome Priory in Yorkshire had definitely been away a long time.24 She had left that Cistercian house in 1287, and for long after had led a debauched life in the world. When she had contritely, tearfully, and earnestly entreated Archbishop William Melton in 1321, he absolved her of her sin, then sent a lengthy letter to the prioress and convent to which she was being readmitted. In the letter he noted the dissolute life Maud had lived while abroad, detailed the penance he prescribed in consideration of it, and specified the particulars of its performance. Forgetful of her vows of profession and the stability she had promised, she abandoned her habit, left behind the rule, defamed the honesty of religious life and stained her purity by committing various sacrilegious acts … nevertheless, recalling that the Redeemer desires not the death of a sinner but that he be converted and live we commend her to you for readmission, and if the aforesaid penitent can in a spirit of humility mortify her body via penance and beat at the door of His mercy, devotedly seeking and imploring him, confessing her sin, showing compunction, and subjecting herself to the corrections which the bonds of her profession require … she will redress the deformation of her life. We therefore firmly order the following: that Maud be held in solitary confinement where she might contemplate and weep over her grave offense against God, that she be prohibited from talking with or receiving letters from seculars, wearing the black veil, and, for the remainder of her life, from wearing a night “Houses of Cistercians Nuns: Priory of Keldholme,” in A History of the County of York, vol. 3, ed. William Page (London: VCH, 1974), 167–170, at http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/yorks/vol3/pp167-170 [accessed 2 January 2016].
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shirt (camisia pro vite sue residuo). That she fast on bread and porridge on Wednesdays and on bread and water on Fridays, and that she go about the cloister barefoot on these days, and in the presence of the whole community, receive two beatings (duas fustigationes). On other days she should receive the discipline once, privately in the chapter house, at the hand of the president. Twice each week she is to recite the entire psalter, with the exception of the Placebo and Dirige for the dead which we wish her to say daily, for remission of her sins. She is also to have no say in discussions about the business of the house, when in choir, to prostrate herself in front of the whole convent to be trodden upon by the other nuns if they so wish, so that in this way, through penitential practice and your prayers and petitions to God, she will be granted the grace of reconciliation as we sincerely desire, and that seeing the rigors of her penance others might hold themselves in check and not fall prey to similar sins.25 Referencing the double purpose that he hoped the penance he had outlined would serve did little to make things less horrible for Maud, but it surely suggests that Archbishop Melton had his doubts both about the tractability of the penitent and the willingness of the prioress of Keldholme to oversee its imposition. That suggestion is confirmed by the way that he concluded his letter: He wished to be informed, he told the prioress, through signed and sealed letters, just how well Maud was submitting to her regimen. If, “scandalously and to her shame,” the penitent should rebel and become contumacious he would revoke the penance he had ordered and substitute a harsher one. When all was said and done, a penitential sentence imposed was not the same as a penitential sentence served, and the best chance of reintegration of a prodigal came when she, along with the bishop and the head of her monastery, cooperated in the endeavor. Just a few pages ago we saw the result of a lack of such cooperation. The bishop of Lincoln, Phililp Repingdon, had readmitted the apostate Register of William Melton, 2:157. Janet E. Burton, The Yorkshire Nunneries in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries, Borthwick Papers 56 (York: Borthwick Institute, 1979), 34. John Tillotson, “Visitation and Reform of the Yorkshire Nunneries in the Fourteenth Century,” Northern History 30 (1994), 9.
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Joan Horncastle to Rothwell Priory, mandating that she be confined within cloister walls to serve out her penance. The prioress received the order but was so unconvinced of Joan’s resolve to truly repent that she disregarded it; within a day after her return to the priory, she had allowed Joan to go out freely, and so tempted, the would-be penitent had become, once again, an apostate. The wise bishop, then, might seek to ensure cooperation with the head and community to which he returned a penitent apostate. He could, for instance, end his injunction for readmission with the commonly employed reminders about the importance of showing charity and filial love to the lapsed; he could include a request for updates on the spiritual progress of the prodigal, in the manner of Archbishop Melton; or, again like Melton, he might promise reassessment of an imposed penance on the condition of good behavior. The wisest ordinary encouraged compliance with an injunction to reintegrate a runaway nun by recognizing his own limitations. No bishop or legate knew the particulars of community dynamics as well as the head and members of that community. If a late medieval bishop was to be an effective and practical pastor, he would have to know how to make compromises when he ordered the readmission of an apostate nun, since he had to consider what was best for both the penitent and the community that was required to receive her. Episcopal compromises might be the result of personal insight but they were most effective when they were the result of collaboration with a monastic superior, whose informed judgments about the character of a returning nun proved invaluable. At the request of the prioress and nuns of Fischbeck, for example, Johannes Busch allowed his charge, Gertrude, to stay with them rather than insisting that she return to her motherhouse. The case of Alice Darel gives us a superb example of episcopal receptivity to the perceptiveness of an abbess, or in this case prioress.26 In 1302, Archbishop Thomas Corbridge responded to a letter from the prioress of Thicket, a Benedictine house in Yorkshire. The prioress told him that an apostate of their order, the professed nun Alice Darel, had recently come to the monastery gates, begging to be taken back. “Houses of Benedictine Nuns: Priory of Thicket,” in A History of the County of York, vol. 3, ed. William Page (London: VCH, 1974), 124–125, at http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/yorks/vol3/pp124-125 [accessed 3 January 2016].
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Although Alice pledged to undergo penance for sin, the prioress had her doubts. We think, or rather know well (set conjicimus, immo bene scimus), that she will not perform the penance that she deserves and that we intend to impose upon her to expiate her sin. And so we told her that we would have an answer for her before Wednesday week since we need to confer with our friends before we responded. We implore you, merciful father, humbly and on bended knee to advise us about how we should receive this nun, and what form of penance to impose upon her. We fear that judging from her words and demeanor, her pride will not permit a change of heart and that we will not be able to live with her in peace. Hence for the love of the cross and for uniform peace, we ask you if you are able to find another way to do this, another place for her to go, although we realize that what we seek is grace rather than justice. (… vos rogamus ut si hoc fieri posset via aliqua, ipsam alibi dignemini collocare. Graciam petimus non justiciam bene scimus.) We also believe that if she was placed in our house in solitary confinement that such conditions would make her worse rather than better and that when she would be released from it she would be in greater danger than she is now.27 To this thoughtful and psychologically astute plea, the bishop responded quickly, just a day later in fact. If Alice Darel will return to you humbly and submit to the penitential discipline that your order requires, you are to admit her. If she rejects the said penance, however, then to avoid scandal to your order and danger to her soul which would attend her wandering about in the world, you should admit her but keep her in custody to serve out her penance whether she is willing to do so or not, until such time as by her devotion she merits our grace, which we are mindful to send to you, prioress. We The Register of Thomas of Corbridge, Lord Archbishop of York, 1300– 1304, ed. William Brown and A. Hamilton Thompson, Publications of the Surtees Society 138, 141, 2 vols. (Durham: Andrews & Co, 1928), 2:506.
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cannot, however, because it would be injurious to others, grant you that grace which you specifically request in this case. If we lack the details, we can still be sure that the level of collaboration identified in this instance was not unique, given the fact that bishops and even their deputies were scarcely in a position to monitor the everyday goings on within the monasteries under their purview. If it was to be successful, readmission of a penitent apostate would require the best efforts of all of the principals. More often than they would have admitted, however, nothing could effect a change of heart. Because the canon law which they were pledged to obey required that rehabilitation be attempted at any cost, tragedy sometimes resulted.
Recidivists and Renegades
This final chapter is devoted to apostate nuns whose return to monastic life was compromised either temporarily or permanently. The peripatetic and persistent reformer Johannes Busch once again provides us with the first, and the most colorful, story of such a woman – Sophie, daughter of Duke William of Brunswick and Lüneburg, Lower Saxony.1 Sophie had been professed in magnificent ceremony at the unreformed Cistercian monastery of Mariensee, where she had then lived for years as a lukewarm follower of an undemanding routine. As if to provide an object lesson in the route taken by temptation in such lax circumstances, an unscrupulous chaplain assigned to provide spiritual care for the nuns found the lovely young Sophie a prime candidate for deception. He slept with her on many occasions in the monastery itself and she sometimes crept away to meet him in his own rooms. When Sophie became pregnant, her lover counseled her to don men’s clothes (Busch itemizes the apparel: trousers, cloak, boots, and even arrows in a quiver), make her escape by night, and meet him in a nearby forest. After spending three days and two nights together, he left Sophie on the pretext of getting more supplies, and never came back. Finally realizing that he was not going to return for her and fearing what her father and brothers would do if they discovered her plight, she made her way to a neighboring district where she took refuge with a woman who let her stay until the birth of her child. Afterwards, however, Sophie was returned to Mariensee and imprisoned, either as penance for her apostasy or because the community Johannes Busch, Chronicon Windeshemense Und Liber De Reformatione Monasteriorum, ed. Karl Grube (Halle, 1886; repr. Farnborough, England: Gregg International, 1968), 659–664.
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realized that she had not come back willingly. In these harsh circumstances, continually tempted and convinced that she could no longer observe monastic discipline, she decided to hang herself in her cell using her nightshirt as a noose. Only the chance intervention of the priest who was celebrating Mass at the monastery that day saved Sophie from suicide and won her freedom from prison, a freedom which she soon used to put her salvation on an even more fragile footing. Escaping from Mariensee, she proceeded to spend more than seven years wandering from this city and town to the next and taking lovers along the way. Ultimately, she found herself pregnant again, and gave birth to a son in the city of Hildesheim, where she was working as a wet nurse. When Johannes Busch (who had visited and reformed Sophie’s monastery of Mariensee) heard about her, he sent one of the brethren to ask her to come to him at the nearby priory of Sülte – an offer that she emphatically refused. She declared that the whole of Hildesheim could go up in flames before she would visit Busch, since he would surely return her to her own monastery. Only an act of God, it seemed, would alter her steely resolve. And so it was, that when Sophie’s son, a deaf mute, died, “he acquired the power of clear and intelligent expression that he had lacked in life.” Appearing to her in a dream, the boy promised her that he was in heaven and that he would prepare a place for her there too if only she would return to her reformed monastery and persevere as a good nun. Terrified, and chastened, Sophie finally came to Sülte and begged to confess all her sins to Busch. He heard her lengthy confession and then did something unusual. He told her that as a papal emissary he had the power not only to absolve her sins but also to lift the sentence of excommunication incurred by her apostasy, but that he could not in good conscience do so at that moment; he wished to be sure, he added, that this time she would persevere in her good resolve. Although still unwilling to return to her own community at this point, Sophie did agree to go to the recently reformed monastery of Derneburg, and Busch sent ahead to the abbess, asking permission to bring her there. Then he sent for a wagon for the journey and arranged for Sophie to eat lunch with the nuns of St. Katherine’s. When he arrived at the cloister to pick her up, however, the distraught nuns told him that Sophie had gone deaf. Busch proceeded to meet with her and tell her that he was ready to take her to Derneburg but she was unre-
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sponsive, “her ears stopped up by a dense vapor.” The weeping nuns suggested that they hang a copy of the gospel of St. John around her neck to cure her, but Busch replied that that would not be necessary.2 If the devil had done this to Sophie, he would not dare to come into the wagon with Busch there, and indeed, after Sophie had been put into it, and after Busch and one of his brothers had kept a long vigil in prayer, her hearing returned. She immediately asked to be taken to the monastery, and Busch happily complied. When they reached Derneburg, Johannes told the abbess that he had arrived with the daughter of the duke and asked her when he should come to her. The abbess replied, whenever you wish, a response that greatly pleased the reformer. He arranged to bring Sophie into choir after vespers, where she would be interrogated about her intentions in front of the assembled community; but first he called her to him privately. Reminding her that he had not yet given her absolution, and with her assurance that she had committed no sins since her confession at Sülte, he formally absolved her before leading her into the church. Here, before the entire community, Busch asked if Sophie, a vagrant and transgressor of her vows, was now willing to live according to the Rule of St. Benedict, just as she had promised God. Sophie fervently confirmed her decision to do so, after which Busch pronounced the following words: “By the power vested in me by the pope, I absolve you from all your sins and crimes, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.” Sophie next prostrated herself at the feet of the abbess, who received her graciously, with all the nuns exclaiming, “Rejoice this day choirs of angels because the coin that was lost is now found; we praise, exalt and give glory to you, God of all power and might.” Busch himself, overcome by this show of compunction and charity, shed tears. But the saga of Sophie’s return was still not quite at an end. The next morning, Johannes was pleased to hear the abbess say that her fellow nuns heartily welcomed having Sophie among them, and that he could not have pleased them more if he had sent them a thousand florins. And when he questioned Sophie about how she had This semi-magical use of John’s gospel persisted well into the early modern era, as we see in its use by Jesuits for example in the seventeenth century. John O’ Malley, The First Jesuits (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993) 268.
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spent her first evening there, she told him of their warm welcome as well, of how they had called her “beloved sister” and how she had gone to sleep thinking that she had not been a good sister to them, but that it is necessary that she become one. Then she told Busch of her dream: The abbess was in the choir surrounded by a great flock of white sheep all happily bleating, when a lay sister came out of nowhere holding a grey one which she placed at the feet of the abbess, saying “It is fitting that this sheep be white just like the rest of them.” Then all the white sheep came up and joyfully stripped off all the wool from the face and feet of the grey sheep. The lay sister then told the abbess that since the sheep was still not completely white, it should be taken to the chapter house where, thorough discipline, it might be fully cleansed and so become pure white. Then, Sophie continued, she herself came into the choir and saw there, just in front of a window where the books and priestly vestments were laid out, a man as black as an Ethiopian, who cried out: “Give me back that sheep, it is mine!” She went up to the window and stuck her fingers in the horrible man’s eyes, saying that he was not going to get that sheep; she continued to battle with the man, verbally and physically, all night. When Busch heard this report, complete with dream, he was glad since it meant that all was well with both nun and community, and that the devil had been vanquished in their midst. A little later, the reformer completed his task by taking Sophie from Derneburg to Neustadt, site of her family’s castle, and only a mile from Mariensee, whence she was sent, and where she remained “in peace and under the rigorous discipline of the cloister.” Not incidentally, and quite ironically, Sophie’s father, Duke William, had been an avid supporter of Busch’s monastic reform movement and had even lent armed support to his crusade when moral persuasion alone had proven inadequate.3 This fact helps to account for the reformer’s special concern that Sophie be returned to her vows even when her earlier lapsed resolution made the prospect appear dubious at best. It may also be a factor in the merciful, loving reception she was afforded both at Derneburg and ultimately by the nuns of her own community – a reception starkly contrasting with that given some of the returning apostates we have already encountered. In this case, as with his recounting of the arduous journey of Eileen Power, Medieval English Nunneries, c. 1275 to 1535 (New York: Biblo and Tannen, 1922; 1964), 672.
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the penitent Gertrude Gensen, Busch kept his largely monastic readership in mind. He included numerous miraculous interventions and endearing details to keep his readers interested, commented on the nuances of exculpatory power and papal mandates, and reinforced the idea that reformers were obliged to concern themselves with the practical as well as spiritual consequences of recidivism – Busch reserved his final absolution for the fully contrite and resolute Sophie. Contrite and resolute and indomitable as she was (who would doubt her capable of vanquishing the devil himself in a fight?), Sophie, the recidivist, finally returned to Mariensee ready to accept the penalty attached to her infractions. She had, in fact, dreamt about it, seeing herself as the returning sheep that was “still not completely white,” but that would become so through penitential discipline. It could certainly be argued, however, that the merciless punishment inflicted on her for her initial apostasy actually contributed to her second escape. After being seduced and abandoned, she had been forced to return to Mariensee and was there imprisoned. Desolate, and suicidal, Sophie had become determined to flee when presented with the chance, and until the death of her son remained adamant never to return to the site of her incarceration. But while we have seen other instances of such pitiless treatment of a first-time runaway – the unfortunate nun Magdalena Moserin, Poor Clare from the diocese of Constance, for example, who when caught by superiors shortly after she had secretly left her monastery was not merely penalized but consigned to perpetual imprisonment – they seem to be exceptions rather than the norm. Monastic ordinaries as well as abbesses and prioresses were well versed in the biblical counsels discouraging overly harsh discipline of the sinner. Rather than risk “breaking the neck” of a first-time runaway, they were usually careful not to impose penances that could produce an effect that was precisely the opposite of the one desired. When Joan Horncastle first returned to Rothwell Priory, for instance, Bishop Repingdon had ordered a penance that satisfied canon law and accorded with the institutes of her order. Penance as prescribed by Benedictine, Augustinian or Franciscan institutes, while quite burdensome, was designed to be medicinal; it was meant to humble and not to ostracize or completely demoralize the penitent. It is also worth reiterating that so many of the penances mandated for apostate nuns were closely allied to the rigorous practices of self-denial more generally enjoined upon monks and nuns and
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embraced by pious laity in this era. A spirit of detachment from worldly concerns was fostered by daily prayer, which might consist of hundreds of Pater Nosters and Ave Marias. Repentance for sin was facilitated by meditations on the passion and suffering of Christ, and aids to such meditations included prayer books and tablets bearing the arma Christi, the instruments of the Passion. These representations of nails, hammer, pinchers, crown of thorns and scourges, often bordered the image of the bloodied and wounded Man of Sorrows, and were immensely popular in monastic and lay society alike.4 Nor were flagellation, frequent fasts, and the wearing of hair shirts practices used only as punishments for serious sin.5 Within this context, local ordinaries and monastic superiors can be seen to temper justice with mercy. Only when apostasy occurred a second (or even third) time would those distinctions be tested and the line between correction and punishment sometimes be crossed. When Joan Horncastle apostatized the second time, for example, Bishop Repingdon ordered that her recidivism be penalized in the following manner: because she had wandered, she was now to be bound by iron chains and kept in safe and secure custody within the priory; to chastise the flesh she was to fast on Wednesdays on bread, beer, and porridge, and on Fridays on bread and beer alone; and since those in the outside world had had a bad influence on her character, she was not to be permitted to visit or speak with secular people except in the company of the prioress and two other nuns. This expiation was to continue for three years unless he issued instructions to the contrary.6 Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski, The Strange Case of Ermine De Reims: A Medieval Woman between Demons and Saints (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015), 67–70. 5 Carmen Florea, “For They Wanted Us to Serve Them,” in Women in the Medieval Monastic World, ed. Janet Burton and Karen Stöber (Turnhout: Brepols, 2015), 222–223. Caroline Walker Bynum, Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), 37–47 summarizes developments in the practice of fasting from the early years of the Church to the later Middle Ages, which underscore the differences in the latter era, particularly among pious women. 6 The Register of Bishop Philip Repingdon, 1405–1419, ed. Margaret Archer, The Publications of the Lincoln Record Society 57, 58, 74 (Hereford: Printed for the Lincoln Record Society by the Hereford Times Ltd, 1982), 3:15.
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Absent the chains, Joan de Crakenholme of Thicket Priory, Yorkshire, met a similar reception. Archbishop Zouche mandated her return to her Benedictine community in 1344. Since Joan had laid aside her habit and run away ‘frequently’ and had committed other unspecified sins, the archbishop included details of her penance in his order for readmission. In addition to her private penance, Joan was not to wear the black veil, or speak to any secular person of either sex, or with her sister nuns, except by leave of the prioress. She was not to go out of the cloister into the church, but was to be confined in a secure place near the church in such a way that she could attend Matins and Masses celebrated there. She was not to dispatch any letter or receive any sent to her. Each Wednesday and Friday she was to have bread, vegetables and light ale, and was to eat and drink on the bare ground, and on each of those days was to receive a discipline in chapter from the prioress and each of the nuns. She was to take the last place in quire, and not to enter the chapter except to receive her discipline and was to retire immediately afterward. Two nuns were to be appointed by the prioress as her guardians, to see to the execution of the archbishop’s orders, and the prioress was to have all carried out as a somber warning to other members of the community.7 Once more in Yorkshire, we hear of Margaret de Tang, professed nun in the Cluniac priory of Arthington, who in 1312 had left the house along with the prioress, Isabella de Berghby. Eighteen months later, both she and Isabella returned, and Archbishop Greenfield absolved them from the sentence of the greater excommunication that they had incurred and provided a penance involving suitable humiliations, such as taking the last place in the choir, cloister, dormitory, and refectory, as well as prohibiting them from going outside the cloister.8 Unfortunately, Margaret failed to profit from those injunctions. On 7 April 1319, a new ordinary, Archbishop Melton (1317–1340), sent her into exile for her repeated immoral behavior. She was to be taken to Nunkeeling to do penance; again, to no avail, since she ran away
York, Borthwick Institute for Archives (University of York), Archbishops’ Registers 10 (Register of William Zouche, 1342–1352), fol. 154r. 8 The Register of William Greenfield, Lord Archbishop of York, 1306–1315, Canterbury and York Society 145, 149, 151–153 (London: Quaritch, 1931, 1940), 2:957. 7
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from that house too.9 Finally, in May 1321 Archbishop Melton wrote to the prioress and convent of Arthington saying that although she had apostatized and committed serious excesses, he had again absolved Margaret de Tang. The prioress and convent were to put her in some secure place, and no secular person was to be permitted to see her. She was to say the whole of the service as a nun, and two nocturns of the psalter, and if her case required it, she was to be bound by the foot with a shackle (ad modum compedis), but without hurting her limbs or body. When the prioress was assured of Margaret’s contrition, she was to inform the archbishop. He would then restore her to the communal life of her monastery. Even then, however, Margaret was to be the last in church and refectory, was not to enter the chapter house, and would still be excluded from interacting with all secular people. The prioress was to keep the archbishop updated on her behavior.10 The long-term effects of such a penitential regime on a recidivist, the very thing that the not-to-be-envied Melton wished to be kept abreast of in Margaret’s case, were unpredictable. If the desired result of reintegration of a penitent apostate into her community was achieved, we hear no more about the case. Documented evidence of the failure of a regime to engender a change of heart – that is, one that instead resulted in more attempted escapes – suggests that penance worked best on those whose hearts were already changed. Apostates like Sophie of Brunswick, who were truly ready to accept their penance as a means of expiation, were successfully reintegrated into religious life, but we cannot be confident that Archbishop Melton received favorable reports about Margaret de Tang. Unpredictable too are the factors that led nuns to repeatedly apostatize. For a nun who was already on less than firm footing with respect to her religious commitment, dislocations caused by natural or man-made disasters might lead her to a repeated rejection of that commitment. We encountered Joan Brotherton, for example, in the context of the Scottish Wars that forced Archbishop William York, Borthwick Institute for Archives (University of York), Archbishops’ Registers 9A (Register of William Melton 1317–1340), fol. 333r. 10 “Houses of Cluniac Nuns: Priory of Arthington,” in A History of the County of York, vol. 3, ed. William Page (London: VCH, 1974), 188, at https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/yorks/vol3/pp187-190 [accessed 17 October 2018]. 9
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Melton to temporarily disperse two female communities (Moxby and Rosedale) to keep members from the depredations of raiding parties.11 Joan was among the nuns of the Augustinian house of Moxby whom Melton sent to the Cistercian priory of Hampole, in November 1322. While the majority of these nuns would regroup after the worst threats were over, Joan Brotherton was perhaps the least prepared to cope with such precipitous resettlement; not even a year earlier, in February of 1322, Archbishop Melton had sent a letter to the prioress of Moxby instructing her to receive Joan, whom he had absolved of apostasy. He commanded the prioress to impose the appropriate penance as prescribed by their order. Joan was once again the object of Archbishop Melton’s attention in July of 1328. Cited as an apostate from Moxby who had for the third time returned penitent, he directed the prioress of the convent of Nunkeeling to receive her.12 There she was to do penance commensurate with her triple defection. It was a prescription essentially the same as that given her Yorkshire contemporary – also thrice apostate – Joan de Lelom, when she returned to her Cistercian priory of Baysdale in 1319.13 For seven years, or until mitigated, they were not to wear their black veils, leave their cloisters, nor have any letters from or visits by laity. They were required to take the last place in all community gatherings and to have no voice at all in communal decision-making. Fasting on bread and water, they would be called to chapter to be physically disciplined on Fridays; on Wednesdays, they could have bread, legumes and beer, but neither meat nor fish. They were also enjoined to pray the entire psalter each week. Joan, as well as all the Yorkshire nuns just mentioned, had repeatedly rejected religious life, but just as repeatedly returned to it. Perhaps they, like Sophie of Brunswick, had had a wrenching experience that made the cloister appear more protective than prison-like. Perhaps they had simply been worn down by scruples, or were incapable of surviving life outside. Whatever their reasons, they returned See Chapter 4 and Janet Burton, “Medieval Nunneries and Male Authority,” in Women in the Medieval Monastic World, ed. Janet Burton and Karen Stöber (Turnhout: Brepols, 2015), 136. 12 The Register of William Melton, Archbishop of York, 1317–1340, vol. 2, ed. David Robinson, Canterbury and York Society 101 (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell for the Canterbury and York Society, 2011), 316. 13 Ibid, 172, 77. 11
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to their communities as penitents. Other apostates would not follow suit. They would choose instead to remain in the secular world into which they had fled. That choice was often understandable in times as severely troubled as the late Middle Ages. As with the houses of Moxby and Rosedale during the Scottish wars, regional conflicts could force whole communities to be dispersed. Nuns were also forced to flee the ravages of famine and plague. Rather than reenter and attempt to rebuild derelict or war-torn communities, some simply chose to remain with relatives or others who had sustained them in their plight. As we have seen in a previous chapter, this was the case with the group of Cistercian nuns about whom the procurator general of the order petitioned Pope Urban V in 1368.14 The open countryside surrounding this community (Tart or one of its filiations) had become a war zone, and the nuns had fled for safety either to the homes of their parents or to other protected venues. Some went to the city of Avignon and others as far as Provence. Although the fighting was over, the nuns who had scattered were reportedly not interested in returning to their monastery (quamvis dicta guerrarum cessent discrimina, ad earum monasteria redire non curant). The pope responded to this report of large-scale apostasy by informing his official in Avignon that these vagrant nuns be compelled to return to their monastery via capture and even imprisonment, using the aid of secular forces if needed. Famine as well as war could degrade monastic resources to the extent that nuns simply quit their houses and returned to secular society. The famine that struck northern Europe between 1315 and 1322 was “easily one of the most severe subsistence crises of the late Middle Ages – and perhaps in all of medieval history.”15 Statistics based on testamentary evidence, burial payments, and records of death taxes yield sobering data on mortality rates during the three worst years of this disastrous famine, with one set of particular relevance here. Documented heriots (death taxes) paid by peasants on various manors in Hampshire, Berkshire, and Somerset, reveal a death rate of 10 percent between 1315 and 1318.16 See Chapter 4. John Aberth, From the Brink of the Apocalypse: Confronting Famine, War, Plague, and Death in the Later Middle Ages (New York: Routledge, 2000), 16. 16 Ibid, 17.
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Until the year 1316, one Hampshire community, the Cistercian priory of Wintney, had managed to endure the effects of the famine decimating their region. The house was modest in size, only about ten professed members, and save for some standard episcopal injunctions about stricter observance of the rule, life within it had run smoothly and been of little concern to ecclesiastical authorities. But all had changed by the time the diocesan ordinary, Bishop Woodcock, received an urgent letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury. On 14 May 1316, he was told to act promptly to save what remained of the community of Wintney, many members of which were returning to secular society because the monastery had scarcely any food left, and no provisions were being made to get any.17 The archbishop claimed that this mass exodus was exacerbated by the administrative negligence of the prioress, but regardless of whether that had contributed to the wretched state of the nunnery, the situation now required immediate intervention. To his credit, the bishop very promptly intervened. Only two days after having received the archbishop’s injunction, Woodcock commissioned three officials: Master Gilbert de Middleton, canon of St. Paul’s and vicar-general of the diocese; Master Andrew de Bruges, canon of Chichester, who frequently acted as bishop’s official; and Master Stephen de Dene, rector of Abbotstone. These men were to visit Wintney, with full power to correct and to amend whatever was amiss in the house. When Bishop Woodcock died a month later, however, his episcopal commission lapsed, and the archbishop himself was forced to intervene to prevent further apostasy at Wintney. On 20 July 1316, the archbishop reissued the commission to Andrew de Bruges and three others with full powers to visit the nunnery and to inquire, correct, reform and, it is worth noting, to punish those who had taken unlicensed leave. Considering the terrible circumstances driving the nuns of Wintney out of their community, it seems plausible that those who had run away might not have remained apostates. Instead of becoming renegades, they might have returned, once some provision had been made to feed them that is. The same cannot be said for other apostate nuns, whose motivations were less clear but whose “House of Cistercian Nuns: Priory of Wintney,” in A History of the County of Hampshire, ed. H. Arthur Doubleday and William Page (London: VCH, 1903), 149–151, at http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/hants/vol2/pp149151 [accessed 2 July 2016].
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resolve to stay in the world was totally unambiguous. Constance de Daneport of Pontefract fits perfectly within that category, and her resolution to follow her course would present a challenge that even the most dutiful and determined of superiors found daunting.18 The struggle to lure Constance back to the vowed life started in November 1303 when Archbishop Corbridge wrote to the dean of Pontefract prescribing a penance (fustigationes, “beatings,” according to the marginal memorandum) for a returning apostate monk named John Metal.19 Metal confessed that both before and subsequent to his apostasy he had had sexual relations with Constance de Daneport of Pontefract, a long-time professed nun in the Cluniac house of Arthington, Yorkshire. That nun, however, unlike her chastened lover, remained unrepentant and at large in society. A month went by and then the archbishop wrote again to the dean of Pontefract, telling him that although Constance de Daneport had been counseled to return to Arthington and to undertake penance for her sins, she had still remained an apostate. Consequently, he now ordered that the dean warn her that she must return by the feast of St. Hillary, 13 January 1304, or be denounced formally as an excommunicate. At the same time, apparently quite confident that the threat of excommunication would undermine her resolve, Archbishop Corbridge wrote to the prioress of Arthington requiring that when (not if) she readmitted the apostate Constance, she was to treat her with gentleness and mercy while assigning her condign penance. The feast of St. Hillary was fast approaching when Corbridge wrote yet again to the dean of Pontefract. On 10 January, just three days before the deadline that he had previously fixed for Constance’s return or citation as excommunicate, he extended the deadline, this time to 16 February. Again, the archbishop obliged him to publicize her impending fate in no uncertain terms. Then, on 16 February, when Constance had still not returned to Arthington, Corbridge finally enjoined his official to formally excommunicate her for her contu The Register of Thomas of Corbridge, Lord Archbishop of York, 1300–1304, ed. William Brown and A. Hamilton Thompson, Publications of the Surtees Society 138, 141, 2 vols. (Durham: Andrews & Co, 1928), 101–17. F. Donald Logan, Runaway Religious in Medieval England, c. 1240–1540 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 78, 141. 19 The Register of Thomas of Corbridge, 255. 18
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macious behavior. There is no record of Constance ever having been reintegrated with her community. Nevertheless, in a final letter to the prioress of Arthington, Corbridge reminded her that if (not when) the apostate nun should return to them humble and contrite, she was to be received without demur.20 Could it be that even the optimistic archbishop was having serious doubts about this eventuality by then? The story of Constance de Danport’s resolute apostasy is outstripped by the painfully drawn-out saga of the equally obdurate, but far more flamboyant, Agnes of Flixthorpe. Because of its sensational nature, Agnes’s story has been told before, principally to depict the clichéd ‘relentless pursuit’ of a troubled woman by rigid, unfeeling, Church authorities.21 It bears retelling here for a different reason: Attempts to reconcile an apostate who truly did not want to reenter religious life would be futile, no matter how zealously those attempts were made – the determination of the churchman in this case, Bishop John Dalderby, was even greater than that of his contemporary, Archbishop Corbridge, yet the outcome was the same in both cases. Agnes of Flixthorpe’s drama extended over a period of nine years during Bishop Dalderby’s episcopate (1300–1320).22 A unique individual, the bishop remained virtually unconcerned with affairs of state when he rose to the episcopal honor and was first and foremost a pastor. He dedicated himself to providing for the spiritual welfare of laity and clergy alike, and acted to prevent abuses at the parish level, supporting efforts to provide more education for parish priests as well. He was also firmly and unquestioningly committed to monastic discipline, asserting his visitation rights over the many houses in the diocese of Lincoln. It was at one of these houses, the nunnery of Markyate, that he braved the wrath of the nuns to whom he had announced Boniface VIII’s new policy of strict enclosure – they threw a copy of the papal decree at him as he left.23 Dissuaded by little in his reform efforts, Dalderby’s registers reflect his zeal to achieve a morally satisfying result when in 1309 he excommunicated for apostasy the Benedictine nun, Agnes de Flixthorpe Ibid, # 266. Power, Medieval English Nunneries, 443–445. 22 Nicholas Bennett, “Dalderby, John (d. 1320),” ODNB. 23 Elizabeth Makowski, Canon Law and Cloistered Women (Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 1999), 114–115. 20 21
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(alias de Wissenden), of the house of St. Michael, Stamford. Since she was now leading a secular life, he warned all persons not to receive her into their houses nor give her aid or counsel, threatening any who did so with a citation to appear before his court. In 1310 the bishop sent a letter to royal authorities asking for the arrest of Agnes, an apostate.24 She was then believed to be living in Nottingham, and the archdeacon there was instructed to warn her to return to her monastery, resume the habit, and submit to discipline. In the same year, the bishop made a general proclamation of Agnes de Flixthorpe’s status as excommunicate, and he also wrote to the abbot of Peterborough asking him to see to her return to her monastery, and imprisonment there. Agnes was finally caught and brought back to Stamford. Bishop Dalderby then followed through and ordered the prioress to confine her in a room with stone walls, and to shackle each of her legs (utramque tibiam) until she consented to resume her habit. But the redoubtable Agnes was not yet defeated in her efforts to escape, this time by having recourse to the ecclesiastical courts. As we know, proof of marriage prior to profession, like evidence of forced profession, were canonical grounds for the nullification of religious vows.25 Agnes now invoked the former defense against the charge that she was technically an apostate nun. In August 1311, the bishop once again evinced his thoroughness and issued a mandate to the official of the archdeacon of Lincoln, the rector of Barnack, and one of his colleagues, to go to Stamford and to interrogate Agnes and the other nuns, concerning the truth of her claim: That she was never legitimately professed, since she had been married before she entered religion. Unfortunately, the fact that Agnes refused to name her alleged husband would not make this claim a persuasive one. The precise findings of this commission were not entered into the diocesan register, but their substance can be gathered from a letter addressed by the bishop of Lincoln to the bishop of Exeter in November 1311. The letter states that Agnes Flixthorpe had been a fully professed nun at St. Michael’s for twenty years before she ran away. When she was finally found, she was wearing a man’s gilt embroidered gown. She had been brought back to her house and kept in solitary confinement, since she remained an obstinate excommunicate who refused to put on her religious habit. Logan, Runaway Religious, 257–258. See Chapter 1 and examples in Chapter 2.
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After her attempt at using the legal system to obviate her situation had failed so definitively, we might expect Agnes to have reconciled herself to her fate. She did not. Bishop Dalderby consequently decided to use the expedient of a change of venue – this was the same approach used by William Melton in the case of Isabella Dayville, apostate from the Cistercian priory of Rosedale, whom he sent to the community of Handale. In this instance, Dalderby removed Agnes from the diocese, sending her via his clerk, Peter de Helewell, to the Augustinian priory of Cornworthy, Devon, in the diocese of Exeter. There she was to undergo penance, once again in solitary confinement. This time, the regime appeared to work. By December 1312, Agnes claimed that she was now penitent. The bishop of Exeter would now be able to absolve her. For whatever reason, however, Agnes continued to be kept in solitary confinement at Cornworthy until August 1314, when Peter de Helewell was commissioned to bring her back to Stamford. Perhaps it was this continued merciless confinement that led Agnes Flixthorpe to try once more for release from the bonds of religious life. This time she succeeded. The register of Bishop Dalderby contains one final entry relative to this sad case, and it is a telling one. A letter to the prioress of Stamford written in September 1318, mentions Agnes Flixthorpe as an apostate once again. Having left the monastery nearly two years ago, she continued to be at large, her whereabouts unknown. Incredibly, Dalderby nevertheless ordered that under pain of excommunication, and without any dissimulation, the prioress try to find the obstinate apostate and bring her back to Stamford. Once again, he ordered that when found and returned, Agnes be kept in solitude, receive no letter or messages, and undergo the discipline. When Bishop Dalderby died about a year after this injunction it remained unfulfilled; there is no more information about Agnes in the record. Bishop Dalderby’s final directive to the prioress of Stamford, although more arch, sounded the same chord as that of Archbishop Corbridge’s injunction to the prioress of Arthington. Corbridge had ordered the prioress to receive Constance de Daneport without demur, should the runaway ever return to them contrite; Dalderby threatened excommunication should the prioress of St. Michael’s fail to readmit the intractable Agnes Flixthorpe. In an earlier case, Bishop Rempingdon had cited the prioress of Rothwell for failure to comply with his injunction to recall the apostate Joan Horncastle. Every one of these ordinaries had been doing their job, as canonically required;
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none of them could have expected anything like full cooperation from the heads of house in question. And why would monastic superiors cooperate? We have already seen that abbesses and prioresses could be loath to take back an apostate because her motives for returning were dubious. As the prioress of Thicket put it in the case of Alice Darel, “We fear that judging from her words and demeanor, her pride will not permit a change of heart and that we will not be able to live with her in peace.” How much more might the head of a house begrudge the return of a repeat offender. Why would an abbess or prioress be quick to seek out a nun who had fled her house more than once, whose character was suspect or who was obviously and wholly unsuited to monastic life? Why would superiors welcome the presence of a recidivist who had been compelled to return and whose confinement might sap the energies and undermine the morale of other, valued, members of her community? Monastic ordinaries, like Archbishop Corbridge and Bishop Dalderby, struggled to achieve the reintegration of runaways despite what they observed of this reluctance on the part of superiors, and the only way that they could do so effectively was by balancing appeals for cooperation with threats of ecclesiastical censure. And the threats included in episcopal letters recapitulated at the regional level those which the higher clergy and popes had been issuing for generations. By the start of the late Middle Ages, the constitutions and statutes of all the major monastic orders obligated superiors to seek out and return any fugitive members.26 This trend had in fact begun some fifty years earlier. In 1242, the General Chapter of the Cistercians had already ordered abbots and priors to compel the return of apostates, using secular help when necessary.27 With increasing clarity and insistence, individual popes, ecumenical councils and national synods reiterated these directives. Outlining them here illustrates that steady drive to fulfill canonical requirements for the return of all apostate religious regardless of the challenges.
Anacleto Gurzó, De Apostasia a Religione Et De Fuga: Dissertatio Historico-Juridica (Claudiopoli, Turkey: Typis Typographiae S. Bonaventurae, 1943), 45–46. 27 Statuta Capitulorum Generalium Ordinis Cisterciensis, ed. J. M. Canivez, 8 vols. (Louvain: Bureaux de la Revue, 1933–1941), 2:247. 26
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With the issuance of Pope Gregory IX’s landmark decree, Ne religiosi vagandi, the papacy required monastic superiors to search annually for apostates and to receive them back or face sanctions. Popes attached bulls of confirmation to the constitutions of individual orders that underscored this responsibility, and they also granted privileges to established orders that allowed for additional coercive powers. In 1244, for instance, Pope Innocent IV approved the right of Franciscan superiors to incarcerate recalcitrant runaways.28 Councils like those of Mainz (1259), Salzburg (1274), and Vienne (1311–1312), and synods like those of Salisbury (1219) and Lambeth (1281) to name just a few, reiterated the fact that monastic superiors were bound to seek out and to return apostate regulars.29 The most far-reaching late medieval attempt to reconcile apostate religious to their communities, however, was that undertaken by Pope Benedict XII (1334–1342). “The good shepherd is diligent, painstaking and always vigilant lest his straying and wandering sheep be devoured by wolves”: so begins the bull Pastor Bonus (1335), which, as we already know, sought to solve the problem that the pope had visible evidence of in the Holy City.30 The details of this bull warrant scrutiny in the present context. From all parts of Europe, Benedict said, apostates came to Rome claiming that they had left their houses without permission because they could no longer remain within those religious communities. He therefore proposed to use a mixture of force and clemency to effect a permanent change in this situation, and he offered a multi-tiered solution that addressed the differing situations and anxieties of apostates in ways that no previous papal pronouncements had done. First, Benedict XII repeated the strict injunction that the heads of all houses, exempt and non-exempt, of every order, seek out, find, and return runaway members. Superiors should initially urge apostates to return, but if individuals remained unwilling, they needed to force them to do so. He would illustrate this point by having all the obdurate apostates
BF 1:349. Albert Joseph Riesner, Apostates and Fugitives from Religious Institutes: An Historical Conspectus and Commentary, The Catholic University of America. Canon Law Studies 168 (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1942), 32. Logan, Runaway Religious, 131–132. 30 BR 4:326–328. 28 29
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who were in the vicinity of the papal curia seized by the auditor of the apostolic camera and returned to their religious houses. Second, those apostates who had left to join other religious orders were to return within three months to the order in which they had been originally professed. Third, religious superiors were bound to take back even unwanted apostates, those whose absence from their community was not mourned, “saving the discipline of the order” – that is to say, with those alternative housing arrangements that canonists allowed for truly rebellious runaways. Papal deputies were empowered to impose penalties, from which there could be no appeal, on uncooperative religious superiors who did not want to welcome returning, penitent runaways back into their houses. Only mendicant friars, given the peripatetic nature of their vocations, were permitted to return to the vowed life in houses other than the one in which they had made their profession; it being incumbent on the house superior of whatever community to which they returned to receive them, as per the foregoing. Fourth, to make reentry of apostates as easy as possible, heads of houses were to keep in mind the frailty of human nature. Extremely severe penalties discouraged sinners from being reconciled, and the pope favored penitential regimes that were healing and medicinal, even in cases in which individuals had been guilty of serious sins while living as seculars. Religious superiors were also given the powers to absolve from the sentence of excommunication that apostasy carried with it, and, in the case of male religious who had been ordained, to dispense from any irregularities, such as those contracted by saying Mass while apostate. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Benedict XII provided a practical means of expediting the entire process of return and reentry of apostates. Upon request, he would issue papal letters of reconciliation containing a sweeping non obstantibus clause that would override all customs and statues of religious orders. Consequently, those customs and statutes that normally served to structure regular life in a specific house would not be allowed to impede the reintegration of wayward religious. This would be an essential solvent to the resolve of any monastic superior tempted to resist the return of an unwanted member of her community. Papal letters of favor, as they were called, were subsequently requested by and granted to numerous apostates. Most of the recipients were male religious, but more than one wayward nun whose absence,
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like that of her male counterparts, was not necessarily mourned by a religious superior, was awarded one as well. In 1337, the pope granted a letter of reconciliation in favor of Gutta of Schefeverin, Cistercian nun of Heilsprucken, commissioning the abbot of Otterburg and two of his colleagues to ensure that she be accepted back into her community according to the terms outlined in Pastor Bonus.31 Because she had committed “excesses,” the abbess of Heilsprucken had fully approved of her leaving, albeit still wearing her habit; Gutta had subsequently abandoned that habit and was now living in secular society. A year earlier, the archbishop of Lyon had been commissioned to act in favor of the apostate nun, Guillelmetae Guillelmonae, who had run away from the Poor Clares of Brienne, Lyon.32 In 1340, letters of reconciliation were granted to two more runaway nuns, Emengard Strolunz, apostate from the Augustinian house of Penitents of Mary Magdalene, Trier, and Greda Wintertur, of Strasbourg. The latter fit into the category of apostates mentioned in the second section of Pastor Bonus, since she had left her Dominican community without permission, to live as an Augustinian nun in the monastery of St. Elizabeth.33 In the wake of Pastor Bonus, there was still more legislation. Reforming constitutions issued by the Cistercians (1335), Benedictines (1336), Franciscans (1336), and Augustinian canons (1339), all contained stern reminders to superiors of their obligations to compel the return of apostate regulars.34 Even after the pontificate of Benedict XII, the papacy would continue to attempt to reduce the problem of vagabond religious. In 1371, Pope Gregory XII extended the accessibility of papal letters of reconciliation by allowing the papal legate in England to issue them – the result no doubt of the considerable number of English apostates reconciled via these letters in the preceding thirty-six years: 103 male religious and one Augustinian canoness.35 While the heads of religious communities were repeatedly threatened with canonical penalties if they failed in their duty to seek out and Benedict XII, Analysées D’Après Les Registres Dits dAvignon Et Du Vatican. Tome VIII, Bibliothèque Des Écoles Françaises D’Athènes Et De Rome, 3e Série: Lettres Communes Des Papes Du XIVe Siècle (Rome: Ecole français de Rome, 1982), 1:439–440, # 4670. 32 Ibid, 1:301, # 3309. 33 Ibid, 2:264, # 7921, # 7922. 34 Logan, Runaway Religious, 131. 35 Ibid, 127. 31
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return apostate members, the apostates themselves became increasingly susceptible to forced return. In his bull of 1374, Pope Gregory XI enhanced the powers of Dominican superiors to excommunicate and capture runaways, and Pope Eugenius IV granted similar faculties to the Hermits of St. Jerome in 1441. Julius II (1503–1515) directed superiors of the reformed Benedictines of St. Mary Olivet to threaten wandering monks with spiritual as well as physical punishments, and leveled reserved excommunication upon any who harbored such runaways.36 This increased emphasis on forced returns accounts for the steady trend of Church officials to depend on civil authorities to help carry out those returns. Ecclesiastical reliance on the assistance and intervention of kings, princes and their agents in the retrieving of apostates became far more common by the close of the Middle Ages. As we well know, the English Crown had developed a systematic method for empowering civil authorities to find and bring back apostate religious much earlier. The royal writ de apostata capiendo, issued out of Chancery at the request of a head of house and sent to sheriffs empowered to arrest and forcibly return a runaway, had no parallel on the Continent, but the procedure was gradually approximated throughout Europe. By the close of the fourteenth century, monastic superiors throughout Europe were being encouraged by popes and bishops to make direct pleas to local justices, provosts or bailiffs when necessary for the retrieval of wandering regulars. Importantly, this normative use of civil officials to aid in the pursuit of runaway religious reflects the shared interest of Church and State in solving what had become a general societal problem of vagabondage. These were perilous times when the disasters of famine and epidemic undermined economic, familial and political stability, and desperate wanderers were joined by those displaced by endemic warfare. Vagabondage during the famine that struck northern Europe between the years 1315 and 1322 posed problems to authorities seeking to stem the tide of migrants from rural areas who hoped to beg or steal food in the cities; in the wake of the Black Death, landlords desperately competing for scarce labor contributed to peasant itinerancy.37 While canon law had been addressing the issue of vagabond religious for Riesner, Apostates and Fugitives, 30–33. Aberth, From the Brink of the Apocalypse, 24–25, 201–202.
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generations, it had treated it principally as a spiritual threat – to the individual religious who risked his or her eternal soul, and to laity who would be scandalized. Civil law in its turn addressed vagabondage as a societal problem, undermining orderly government. Runaway religious contributed to that growing problem, which both English (1349) and French (1350) law now dealt with severely.38 Not incidentally, the Synod of London (1399) asked that the king delegate similar coercive power to bishops so that they could, on their own recognizance, capture and imprison recalcitrant apostates within their dioceses. The inclusion of apostates in the broader category of vagrants facilitated the use of secular force by religious superiors throughout Europe; those, that is, who were intent on compelling the return of one of their wayward sisters or brothers. Heads of houses may have had more opportunities to solicit and receive such assistance, but many continued not to want it. Concerns about the integrity and good order of their communities – concerns like those harbored by the prioress of St. Michael’s, charged to readmit the intractable Agnes Flixthorpe, or the prioress of Rothwell, similarly ordered to welcome Joan Horncastle – continued to influence their decisions to refrain from looking for renegade religious. At other times the issue was exacerbated by lax, irresolute, or unmotivated abbesses and prioresses, who had no desire to call attention, secular or otherwise, to the internal affairs of their houses. In fact, some superiors felt it in the best interests of the community to keep defections a secret even (or especially) from local ordinaries. In episcopal registers and visitation dectata we continue to find mention of those erstwhile members of a community whose absence had been unremarked, but who were still at large in the world. During the 1441 visitation of the Benedictine priory of Ankerwyk, conducted by the bishop of Lincoln, for example, Dame Isabel Standente, the sub-prioress deposed that “in the prioress’ default six nuns have now left the house in apostasy.” She added that “many nuns have left, yet
Laurent Mayali, “Du vagabondage à l’apostasie. Le moine fugitive dans la société médiévale,” in Religiöse Devianz: Untersuchungen Zu Sozialen, Rechtlichen Und Theologischen Reaktionen Auf Religiöse Abweichung Im Westlichen Und Östlichen Mittelalter, ed. Dieter Simon (Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 1990), 141.
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without her knowledge.”39 Yet when previously questioned herself, the prioress, Dame Clemence Medforde, had made no such admission to the bishop, claiming instead that all was well in her house. At a much later visit to this same priory (1519), Bishop Atwater’s interrogation brought to light another case of unreported apostasy. It was not until he questioned the nuns that he discovered the absence of Alice Hubbart, who had left after four years and was living as a married woman.40 When he visited the Benedictine house of Farewell in 1331, Bishop Roger Northburgh found that two nuns, Alice de Kynynton and Cecily Gretton, had left without being reported as apostates. His injunctions to the prioress Margaret de Muneworth requiring her to find and return them were written in French this time, since she claimed that it had been her faulty Latin that kept her from fully obeying his previous directives.41 We recall that at St. Michael’s Stamford, Agnes Butylere (Perry) had been gone for a year and a half before the bishop discovered her apostasy in his visit of 1440.42 For reasons that will be discussed in the Conclusion, the problem of unreported apostasy appears to have been even more pronounced among male religious. For instance, restricting ourselves to Bishop Alnwick’s last Lincoln visits 1439–1447, we find five undisclosed apostates at Humberstone Abbey, one at Nutley named Thomas Ewelme, who had been living for nearly a year with a married woman, and at St. Neot Priory, Brother Robert Byllyng “was believed to be at Winchelsea.”43 Some runaways, then, stayed away because nobody came looking for them. Despite the censures imposed upon unresponsive heads of Visitations of Religious Houses in the Diocese of Lincoln, 1436–1449, ed. A. Hamilton Thompson (Lincoln: Printed for the Lincoln Record Society by J.W. Ruddock, 1929), 2:1, 3. 40 “Houses of Benedictine Nuns: The priory of Ankerwick,” in A History of the County of Buckingham, vol. 1, ed. William Page (London: VCH, 1905), 355–357, at https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/bucks/vol1/pp355-357 [accessed 14 July 2016]. 41 “Houses of Benedictine Nuns: The Priory of Farewell,” in A History of the County of Stafford, vol. 3, ed. M. W. Greenslade and R. B. Pugh (London: VCH, 1970), 222–225, at https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/staffs/vol3/ pp222-225 [accessed 16 July 2016]. 42 Visitations of Religious Houses, 3:2, 348. 43 Ibid, 2:140, 257, 322. See also, Logan, Runaway Religious, 203, 79, 195. 39
recidivists and renegades
houses, some would continue to be uncooperative. But even when monastic superiors and local ordinaries truly strove to find and return apostates – and we have seen several examples of such determination – their efforts could be impeded. A common impediment, more common than one might think given the very real hardship of medieval travel, was distance. The words ‘whereabouts unknown’ occur frequently in reports filed by monastic visitors, and an apostate might stymie attempted return efforts by keeping a good bit of space between herself and her monastery. Finally, the most conscientious abbess or abbot, one who seriously tried to retrieve a lost sheep, was no match for a fugitive who had the protection of a well-placed member of secular or ecclesiastical society. Few apostates would have the sort of charmed existence of Lucretia Buti, who thanks to the patronage enjoyed by her extremely talented lover (a talent share by their son) lived out her life as mistress and mother in comfort, security, and plain view. Others, however, had a measure of protection that allowed them to hide in plain sight, barring intervention at the highest levels. So it was with the unnamed sister of Alice Fyshill (herself abbess of Wintney Priory, Hampshire), whose return the pope himself had been called upon to effect, and who responded on 17 September 1405. To the archdeacon of Taunton and Ralph Canon, canon of Wells. Mandate to go in person to the Benedictine monastery of Wynteney [Wintney Priory, Hampshire] in the diocese of Winchester, and to visit the same in head and members, the pope having recently heard that Alice, who has been its prioress for about twenty years, has so dilapidated its goods, from which the prioress for the time being is wont to minister to the nuns their food and clothing, that it is reduced to poverty and is about 200 marks in debt; that she especially cherishes two immodest nuns, one of whom, her own (suam) sister, had apostatized and left the monastery and, remaining in the world, had had children, the other, like the first in evil life and lewdness, but not an apostate, and feeds and clothes them splendidly, whilst she feeds the other honest nuns meanly, and for several years past has not provided them with needful clothing; that she has long kept and keeps Thomas Ferring, a secular priest, as companion at board and in bed (in commensalem et sibi
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contubernalem), who has long slept and still sleeps, contrary to the institutes of the order, within the monastery, beneath the dormitory, in a certain chamber (domo) in which formerly no secular had ever been wont to sleep, and in which the said priest and Alice meet together at will by day and night to satisfy their lust (pro explenda libidine), on account of which and other enormous and scandalous crimes which Alice has committed and still commits, there is grave and public scandal against her in those parts, to the great detriment of the monastery. If they find the above, or any of them sufficient for the purpose, to be true, they are to deprive Alice, and in that event to grant that the convent may, for this time only, elect another prioress, and are otherwise to reform the monastery. Inter solicitudines.44 What conclusions can we draw from this snapshot of runaways who opted for permanent absence from their communities and vowed life? Renegade nuns like Agnes Flixthorpe were recidivists who had finally succeeded in evading their forced return. But not all apostates who opted for permanent fugitive status had run away repeatedly. Constance de Daneport left once, and definitively, even though her lover, the monk John Metal, had returned, penitent, to his vows. Nuns like Joan de Crakenholme of Thicket Priory, Yorkshire, however, had run away frequently but only to return in the long run. The imposition of hard penances upon the first-time apostates like Sophie of Brunswick may have led to recidivism, but not necessarily to permanent apostasy. In the end, the record allows us to make only one generalization about professed nuns who became permanent apostates – that is, who never returned to their communities and never rekindled their religious commitment but instead lived as seculars. Most of the women who fell into this category had no desire to return to their monasteries or priories. Often, these apostates had married, had families, and been secularized in all but the legal sense. Despite the best efforts of popes, bishops and other officials, some nuns continued to remain apostates rather than to unwillingly return to religious life, and monastic heads continued to resist the reintegration of troublesome, troubled, and especially recidivist runaways. CPL 6 “Lateran Regesta 122A, 46–60.
Even a modest survey of case studies, such as the one just concluded, demonstrates how inadequately the popular trope of the wayward nun reflects historical reality. The individuals seen here left their monasteries for a striking variety of reasons, utilized any number of different means to do so, and frequently sought to return, penitent, to those same communities. Neither uniformly venal and lustful, nor categorically victimized, some apostates were reluctant renegades set adrift by war and disaster, lapses in judgment, or religious reforms that consigned them to a life much more rigorous than they had ever promised to live. Some broke with the vowed life suddenly, others strayed from it by degrees. Those who returned, voluntarily or under duress, could suffer at the hands of former superiors and fellow religious, or they could feel the joy of reconnection even while undergoing condign punishment. Some runaway nuns, like Katherina Truchessen, had been bullied into the cloister by their fathers, and others had been coerced by greedy brothers or cousins, as was the case with the heiress, Magdalena Payerin. Some nuns were seduced and then abandoned, others found lovers like Fra Lippi, who treated them fully as spouses. Alleged apostates often found in their husbands the support they needed to finally seek exoneration – witness the skill that Friedrich Heidenheimer, notary, scribe in the court of the bishop of Constance, and the man that Magdalena of Münsterlingen had married, brought to her process. Penitent apostates might be treated with cold indifference by clerics charged with their reintegration or they might find themselves in the hands of shepherds like Johannes Busch, who seemed almost in awe of his elite charges. But as diverse as they were individually, all the women we have encountered here were a product of their time. The choices that they
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made (or that were made for them), and the options that they subsequently exercised, were colored by the changing, challenging era in which they all lived. Placing these women in historical context helps us to understand their individual actions, as well as to assess those of the ecclesiastical officials tasked with the regulation of monastic communities. While major crises of the late Middle Ages – famine, war, and plague – affected lay and religious, male and female alike, even these natural and man-made disasters sometimes had a distinctive impact on religious women. Late medieval expectations regarding the social status of nuns, as well as the steady erosion of the principle of gender equivalence between nuns and monks, certainly did. I will say something about each of these in turn. Since many fully professed nuns in the late Middle Ages hailed from the upper strata of late medieval society – traditional Benedictine and Augustinian nunneries having become the preserve of the privileged and the newer mendicant and Bridgetine houses following suit – virtually all of the runaway nuns we have dealt with came from the propertied classes, and some even hailed from the aristocracy. The wealth and social prominence of these women made them likely targets for compelled entrance into religious life. Relatives were keen to quash their claims to an inheritance, were unable or unwilling to pay the sums required for a dowry, or were merely availing themselves of the only alternative to marriage suitable for a woman of their class. Even when not actually forced to enter, girls might do so only out of a sense of obligation or filial piety. Either way, women in these circumstances often had no true vocation to the vowed life in the first place, making it much more likely that they would be tempted to leave that life behind. And although their social clout also seems to have helped them when it came to redress forced profession – via costly papal petitions for example – it may not have been a desirable trade-off. The relative uniformity of the social status of late medieval nuns was mirrored by their canonical status as religious, vis-à-vis monks; that status too had ramifications relevant to apostates. Theoretically, fully professed nuns were spiritually on a par with male regulars and gender equality continued to exist in medieval monasticism, even late medieval monasticism. The impetus to restrict professed nuns to their cloister precincts, renewed with vigor by Pope Boniface VIII at the end of the thirteenth century, had considerably altered the eloquent statements of spiritual equivalency found in earlier eras. Nevertheless,
those who dedicated themselves to the vowed life lived under similar legal and moral restrictions, regardless of gender. So too, monks and nuns who decided to shirk their vows could expect similar consequences, provided of course that they had taken those vows, and then abandoned them, with the full intention of doing so. When determining the canonical status of a fugitive monk or nun, the same essential tests regarding intentionality were applied to both. Forced profession, as we know, vitiated the binding power of monastic vows and so made charges of apostasy in the case of runaways untenable. Unsurprisingly, force and fear of paternal wrath was linked to many a young girl’s successful plea for nullification of vows, several of which have been catalogued in this book. Whether it was a mother, a stepfather, a brother, guardian or other interested party who had forced them to profess their vows, women who chose to escape the monastery and file pleas of coercion to counter allegations of apostasy appear to have been very successful.1 But coercion was also claimed in many a petition filed by male regulars. Young men too were cajoled and then coerced into monasteries, and they too sought relief from the Papal Penitentiary: Sixteen of eighteen such supplications from England and Wales filed between 1410 and 1503, for example, came from men.2 Carolly Erickson has observed that throughout Europe, fourteenth-century critics of the mendicants claimed that Franciscan friars in particular tried to win over very young students at university, and accused them of ‘steal-
Ludwig Schmugge and Atria A. Larson, Marriage on Trial: Late Medieval German Couples at the Papal Court, Studies in Medieval and Early Modern Canon Law 10 (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2012), 94 and 197 respectively, where a stepfather is named in the petition of Barbara Roderin of Bamberg, and a brother, in Countess Guta von Wertheim’s plea. 2 Supplications from England and Wales in the Registers of the Apostolic Penitentiary 1410–1503, ed. Peter D. Clarke and Patrick N. R. Zutshi, Canterbury and York Society 103, 104, 105 3 vols. (Canterbury: Boydell Press for the Henry Bradshaw Society, 2012), 1:xxxii, xl. Sixteen specific supplications from monks are cited. For a later period, note Anne Jacobson Schutte, By Force and Fear Taking and Breaking Monastic Vows in Early Modern Europe (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2011), 4. In her study of 978 petitions to the papacy for release from monastic vows filed between 1668 and 1793, Schuute found that 807 were made by men. 1
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ing’ boys too young to fully consent to religious commitment.3 And Marilyn Oliva has noted a similar trend in late medieval England. Despite the prohibitions of the general chapters, the Franciscans accepted boys as young as five, and Dominican houses admitted novices as young as fifteen. The practice of accepting novices at a younger age than was permitted seems to have been a chronic problem in the male houses but not in the female ones. In 1366, the Commons petitioned the Crown to disallow anyone under the age of twenty-one from entering any of the four orders of friars; the king refused. Instead he issued an order that prohibited friars from accepting any child under fourteen without the consent of parents or guardians. Nevertheless, the last prior of the Carmelite priory in Ipswich joined the order in Norwich at the age of twelve.4 In 1430 Pope Martin V felt compelled to condemn the acceptance of underage boys into mendicant communities, a practice that apparently continued to be a real problem since monastic superiors might insist upon the validity of such childish promises.5 This was the case with John Sillow, lured at the age of seven into a Franciscan community from which he had a great deal of trouble extracting himself. John’s petition to Pope Innocent VIII in 1490 recounts his story, which, since it was far from unique, bears scrutiny. To John, bishop of Nocera (Nucerin.), residing in the Roman court. Mandate, as below. The petition of John Sillow, scholar, of the diocese of York, lately set forth to the pope that when he was in his seventh year or thereabouts, and under the rule of his stepmother, he, induced by the persuasions of a certain friar of the conventual order of Friars Minors, assumed with childish levity the habit which is wont to be worn by the friars of the said order, and which was given to him by the said friars, but without any intention of remaining in or making his profession of the said or any other religion, and wore it until his fourteenth Carolly Erikson, “The Fourteenth-Century Franciscans and their Critics,” Franciscan Studies 35 (1975), 112–113. 4 Marilyn Oliva, The Convent and the Community in Late Medieval England: Female Monasteries in the Diocese of Norwich, 1350–1540 (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 1998), 46–47. 5 BR 4, 737. 3
year; that after reaching the said age of fourteen years, he told the said friars over and over again that he would not remain in the said religion or order, but that, when below his fourteenth year, he was forced by the threats and blows of the said friars and by natural fear to make his profession of the said order; that at the first opportunity he left the said order, as he was always minded to do, threw off the said habit, put on a secular habit, and had remained in it for fourteen years or thereabouts, as he was still then doing; and that he had remained in the said order after reaching years of discretion against his will and inclination, being kept back by the said friars, and had made the said profession by force, through threats and blows, and not intentionally, as aforesaid. The pope therefore, ordered James Caccia, archpriest of the church of Novara, I.U.D., a chaplain of the pope and a minor penitentiary in the basilica of the Prince of the Apostles, Rome (de Urbe), to absolve the said John from all sentences of excommunication, etc., contracted through the foregoing, decree that he was not bound to the observance of the religion and profession made by him as above, and dispense him to be made a clerk and be promoted to all, even holy and priest’s orders, and remain in a secular habit like secular priests, as is more fully contained in the signed petition in the matter, of which the pope willed that his signature alone sufficed, and to the execution of which the said James is said to have proceeded. At the petition of the said John, the pope now orders the above bishop to confirm the said absolution, decree and dispensation by the pope’s authority, and, as far as concerns them, all the contents of the process of the said James, and not to allow the said John to be molested against the tenor thereof and of the present letters.6 Even those mature individuals, female or male, who had freely entered religious life did not automatically become apostates by leaving it. Intention was crucial not only for entry into, but also for exit from, a religious community. Fugitive regulars could be considered apostates only if they left planning never to come back. This resolution was indicated most clearly when a monk or nun ‘cast off the habit of CPL 14 “Vatican Regesta 687, 1489–1491”.
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religion.’ Additionally, extenuating circumstances could mitigate the charge of apostasy, even if a runaway had jettisoned his or her habit. In 1365, for example, Pope Urban V responded favorably to a supplication from Friar Jacob Grunte, order of Valle Scolarium, Lyon, who ran away from his monastery because he was afraid of being punished for playing dice (ludum taxillorum) but who did not leave with the intention of apostatizing (egrediens, non tamen animo apostantandi).7 And we will recall that when the Augustinian nuns Anna Secclern and Elizabeth Hueberin arrived at the papal court in 1490 requesting that they be allowed to enter an unreformed community, they were called fugitives, but not apostates; their status was confirmed by the fact that they came to Rome still dressed in their religious habits.8 Throughout the later Middle Ages, these canonical stipulations applied equally to women and to men, and only the freely professed regular who had unambiguously rejected the religious life (by discarding the habit with intention to leave religious life forever) could be classified as an apostate. Throughout the later Middle Ages, the requirement to return an apostate, willingly or not, to his or her community also remained constant. Various mechanisms might be employed to this end, but the following petition for the capture of an English apostate provides a template that might be, and was, applied to retrieve apostates of both sexes. Petition for the Arrest of an Apostate 15 May 1403 We, your humble and devout servant Robert Chambeleyn, Guardian of the order of friars Minor of your city of London present this petition with all reverence and honor to his most excellent highness, lord Henry, by grace of God King of England and France and lord of Ireland. Brother Robert Haunton, professed monk of our house, having cast off the habit of his order unmindful of his salvation and against his vow, profession, and obedience, departed from our house without license, and wanders from country into country, vagrantly, posing a danger to his soul, and becoming a manifest scandal to the whole of this order. Since we are not able to bring him back without Urban V, Supplications 1522:573–574. See Chapter 4 for this case.
the aid of the secular arm, we humbly implore your excellent majesty with pious and devote prayers, on account of reverence of God and honor of the order of saints that you deign to write to the sheriff of Essex, and that he, thorough his ministers, capture the said Robert, thus wandering, and return him to his house and his order, so that a seedling (shoot) not be deprived of divine cultivation. In testimony of which present thing and for the eyes of his royal majesty we affix our seal. Dated London, the fifteenth day of May in the year of our Lord 1403.9 The petition’s evocative language illustrates the rationale for forced return of all apostates. The ‘seedling’ must not be deprived of divine cultivation; vowed regulars, once fully committed to the service of the Lord, must not be permitted to imperil their own souls and to scandalize others by their breach. That breach would require expiation once an apostate returned, and here too, the procedure was essentially gender-neutral. Episcopal injunctions for the readmission of penitent runaways are nearly identical in wording, whether for nuns or monks. Time and again abbots and abbesses, priors and prioresses were counseled to accept the prodigal and to treat the repentant sister or brother “Excellentissimo principi domino suo Henrico, dei gratia Regi Anglie et Francie et domino Hibernie, servus humilis et devotus Robertus Chamberleyn, Gardianus ordinis fratrum Minorum civitatis vestre Londonie, oracionum suffragia cum omni reverencia et honore. Quia frater Robertus Haunton, confrater noster et domus nostre professus, spreto habitu ordinis sui, illius et salutis sue immemores (sic) contra votum, professionem, et obedienciam suam a domo nostra sine licencia recedens, de patria in patriam vacabundus (sic) discurrens vagatur in anime sue periculum, tocius ordinis eiusdem scandalum manifestum; ipsumque Robertum sic erraneum ad finem debitum non valemus sine adiutorio bracchi secularis, excellenciam regiam piis precibus et devotis humiliter imploramus quatenus ob reuerenciam Dei et sancti ordinis honorem scribere dignemini Vicecomiti vestro Essex., ut ipse per ministros suos dictum Robertum sic vagantem capiat et domui sue et ordini restituat, ne pareat plantacio divino cultui mancipata. In cuius rei testimonium presentibus his patentibus Regie Majestati directis sigillum nostrum apposuimus. Datum London. die xva mensis Maii, Anno domini Millesimo cccc° tercio. [The seal is gone.]” From: C. L. Kingsford, “Appendix: Petition for the Arrest of an Apostate,” in The Grey Friars of London (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1915), 207, at http://www.british-history.ac.uk/brit-franciscan-soc/ vol6/p207 [accessed 12 July 2018].
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in such a way that they would have never have cause to leave again. Bishops ordered superiors to correct the penitent nun “in sisterly wise and with motherly pity so that not her fault, but her punishment, may abide as an example to others.” Likewise, they asked that “mingling the oil of mercy with the wine of correction,” communities embrace the wayward monk “in such wise that he may have joy of his return to the fold of the Lord, and you of your son who was lost and now found.”10 Once apostate monks and nuns returned, or were returned, to their monasteries, their penitential regimes were comparable. With the obvious exception of unveiling, the penalties were common to both: fasting, corporal punishment, rounds of prayer, humiliation before the community, and being excluded from participating in its affairs. So too, both women and men might hope to have those penances relaxed by episcopal fiat. In his mandate regarding Isabella Dayville, apostate of the war-ravaged Cistercian priory of Rosedale, William Melton imposed a penance of seven years, or until he prescribed leniency; Archbishop Thomas Corbridge told the prioress of Thicket that the apostate Alice Darel was “to serve out her penance whether she is willing to do so or not, until such time as by her devotion she merits our grace, which we are mindful to send to you.”11 Roger of York, apostate canon of the Augustinian Priory of Healaugh, Yorkshire, was sentenced (as Joan Horncastle had been) to be placed in irons as part of his penance for apostasy, but was released from them by the bishop within a year.12 Whether they had served out their penances fully or had them truncated by benevolent ordinaries, penitent apostates might aspire to and achieve full status again, and even hold offices within their communities. Johannes Busch reported that the penitent runaway Gertrude Gensen had not only been reinstated to fully professed status at Fischbeck but also held the office of infirmarian. Sabina de Apelgarth, an apostate whom Archbishop Greenfield had ordered to
Christopher Harper-Bill, “Monastic Apostasy in Late Medieval England,” The Journal of Ecclesiastical History 32, no. 01 (1981), 7. 11 Chapter 5 details both of these cases. 12 F. Donald Logan, Runaway Religious in Medieval England, C. 1240–1540 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 154. 10
be readmitted in 1310, became prioress of Moxby by 1328.13 Bishop Atwater of Lincoln restored the apostate George Adderbury to full status at Eynsham, pointedly underscoring Adderbury’s right to be heard in chapter.14 And in 1349 at the Cluniac nunnery of Arthington, Yorkshire, Isabella de Berghby, was elected prioress although she had apostatized in 1312.15 These examples serve to underscore the fact that when classifying and regulating apostate regulars, canon law continued to regard male and female miscreants as spiritual equals to be dealt with accordingly. If we begin to look at some of the reasons why religious men and women might break their vows of profession, however – at their ostensible motives for apostasy – some gendered differences emerge. Decisions about whether or not to leave one’s community could be tremendously influenced by a consideration of the consequences (both legal and spiritual) of one’s actions; for pious women in the later Middle Ages, the increasing variety and complexity of modes of religious life made it difficult at times to know, much less evaluate, those consequences. We have seen, for instance, that women like Gertrud Doven and Alheydis Wnandi had been convinced that by leaving their quasi-religious communities they had become apostates. Their friends and neighbors concurred, and neither woman could find peace without appealing to the Apostolic Penitentiary for absolution from what they believed might be their grave sin, and the elimination of the stigma of excommunication that it carried with it. According to the canonists, both Gertrud and Alheydis had been wrong; they had not become apostates, and so excommunicates, by taking leave of their quasi-religious communities. In these two instances, extenuating factors of minority and possible force and fear bolstered the juridical finding, but by the end of the Middle Ages it would be hard for anyone “Houses of Austin Nuns: Priory of Moxby,” in A History of the County of York, vol. 3, ed. William Page (London: VCH, 1974), 239–240, at https:// www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/yorks/vol3/pp239-240 [accessed 25 March 2019]. 14 Visitations of Religious Houses in the Diocese of Lincoln, 1436–1449, ed. A. Hamilton Thompson (Lincoln: Printed for the Lincoln Record Society by J.W. Ruddock, 1929), 2:144. 15 Eileen Power, Medieval English Nunneries, c. 1275 to 1535 (New York: Biblo and Tannen, 1964), 469, 598–99. 13
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who was not a canon lawyer to have been secure in that assessment, even absent those circumstances. A case involving the Sisters of the Common Life, provides additional evidence of this fact. By the last half of the fifteenth century, there were some sixty houses of the sisters in northwest Germany and their proliferation raised new challenges to their right to exist as informal groupings of pious women. In 1393, an inquisitor assigned to the imperial territories of western Germany and the Netherlands, Jacob von Soest, had begun an investigation of the congregation of Swestriones, who lived in Utrecht and Rhenen. His observations and conclusions, drawn from “the sworn testimony of several reliable persons,” were contained in a complaint that he had forwarded to Rome. His criticisms illustrate just how much quasi-religious communities of women had come to resemble their vowed counterparts, professed nuns, by this time.16 The complaint proper makes oblique references to unorthodox practice among the sisters, but above all else they are indicted for their quasi-monastic lifestyle, and a variety of specific examples are used to support that indictment. For instance, the superior leads the sisters in saying the blessing and thanksgiving at meals, which are taken in a refectory while books are read aloud – all clearly monastic customs. The superior convenes a chapter of faults during which the sisters confess their sins. Sisters are not allowed to hear Mass or sermons, to go to confession or communion, without license of the superior, and she even assigns confessors who are well acquainted with the house ordinances. Those ordinances, in turn, are obeyed by all sisters under pain of expulsion from the community. Finally, and for our purposes, tellingly, although the sisters make no profession, those who leave a house are referred to as “apostates” just as if they had been regulars. Similar stipulations that narrowed the gap between nuns and their quasi-religious contemporaries included those regarding the physical space in which pious women lived – the beguinages and Third Order enclosed communities for example. In all, these stipulations contributed to blurring distinctions about female apostasy, and they make the confusion among quasi-religious women – the erroneous belief that Elizabeth Makowski, “A Pernicious Sort of Woman”: Quasi-Religious Women and Canon Lawyers in the Later Middle Ages (Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 2005), 121–133 gives a full account of the incident.
by leaving their houses they could become apostates in the same way that professed nuns did – comprehensible. But might a professed nun who really had apostatized hold a contrary erroneous belief? Could a professed nun leave her monastery and religious habit behind, honestly believing that she was free to do so? Could she think herself at liberty to return to secular society without stigma? The answer to these questions, I think, is yes. As committed as late medieval popes, bishops, and canonists had been to standardizing monastic practice, variations among monastic orders, and indeed within the same order in different regions, could not be entirely suppressed. For example, we have seen bishops pointing out instances in which the black veil symbolic of profession was not being reserved for the fully professed, where the garb of lay sisters was indistinguishable from that of choir nuns, and where tacit profession, not followed by the episcopal blessing which would have clearly marked the transition from novice to nun (and which had been mandated by canon law), continued to be the norm rather than the exception. Sometimes a case illustrates virtually all these departures from the canonical norm: Grace and Agnes Nowers had been only two of the many women at St. Giles whom Bishop Philip Repingdon had ordered to be solemnly professed and formally veiled after they had “already and for some years been living as regulars.” Added to these variations in custom were the inevitable failures on the part of some superiors and local ordinaries to enforce standards when they did exist. Long-standing jurisdictional disputes, like that between the Master of Sempringham and the bishop of Lincoln, also had a direct bearing on whether or not ceremonies surrounding, and sacralizing, the profession of the nuns would take place. Given these factors, it is no wonder that determinations about the religious status of a woman who had been in a nunnery but who claimed that she had never been a professed nun were not easy to make. If they had been, English courts of the Crown would not have enlisted the aid of the Church before issuing verdicts in such cases, and the number of surviving episcopal certifications of a litigant’s lay or religious status demonstrates just how often they did enlist that aid. Ultimately, it is logical to think that women like Alice of Everyngham, Joyce Hywyssh, and Margery Hedsor apostatized believing, or willing themselves to believe, that they had never been professed nuns in the first place.
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We are on firmer, less speculative, ground when turning to apostasy triggered by love or the fulfillment of sexual desire. As with feelings of exclusion from family wealth or power, these motives were scarcely gender-specific. But although both male and female regulars were sometimes tempted to seriously violate their vows of chastity, only women ran the risk of having to deal with the incontrovertible proof that they had done so. Pregnancy and motherhood had implications for female apostates with respect to decisions to leave their nunneries, as well as whether to permanently stay away from them. The harsh canonical reality was that if an apostate nun had borne children, and subsequently wished to repent and to return to the vowed life, she would be forced to return to that life without them. This fact, seemingly at odds with the spirit of the post-classical canon law, was fact nevertheless. The opportunity to personally care for one’s illegitimate child rather than to consign that child to relatives or strangers might seem like the greater good, yet I have discovered only one instance of a papal dispensation allowing a religious woman to do so, and it did not involve a professed nun. Only Margareta Bartenbechin, a runaway Dominican tertiary from the diocese of Constance, was granted her plea to the Papal Penitentiary to remain in the world in order to care for her children, “to rear them at her breasts and with her own hands”.17 Apostate nuns who had become mothers would have to choose to leave their children behind if they wished to be forgiven; some apparently could not do this. Constance de Daneport’s lover had returned, penitent, to his monastery at Pontefract Priory but she remained at large; Lucrezia Buti had made an attempt to recommit herself to religious life after the birth of her son, but left again, for good, soon after. Battistina, professed nun who had fled her convent of Poor Clares to live for years with, and have children by, a Milanese layman, begged the Sacred Penitentiary for absolution and the opportunity to return to religion only after her children were grown; and it was not until after the death of her son that Sophie of Brunswick reconsidered her resolve to remain in the world. It could be argued that these women might have remained outside of the cloister even if they had not become mothers, or that they remained fugitives merely because they feared the punishments that would befall them if they returned. But perhaps what they feared was Chapter 3 contains details of this and related cases.
that their children would bear the brunt of that punishment if they did; that sin would be expiated, but not just by the sinner. Nuns might become mothers; they could never become priests, and this fact too had gendered implications when it came to apostasy. Every nunnery, regardless of the order to which the nuns belonged and regardless of its location in Western Europe, was dependent upon ordained clergy to celebrate the Mass and to administer the sacraments on a regular basis. Proximity to male religious as spiritual directors, monastic visitors, and chaplains was therefore inevitable, and could result in unmonitored and unwarranted relationships. Fra Filippo Lippi had been the chaplain of Santa Margherita when he met, and became enamored of the nun Lucrezia Buti, and Sophie of Brunswick had been seduced by the chaplain of her Cistercian monastery of Mariensee. Nuns might therefore meet the men for whom they would break their vows while still living within the confines of their cloisters and while, at least initially, discharging the spiritual obligations that they relied upon priests to assist them to fulfill. Furthermore, since they could never be ordained, nuns were deprived of an opportunity, available to male regulars since the fourteenth century, to leave monastic life permanently and yet avoid becoming apostates. As discussed earlier with reference to the Dissolution in England, monks, canons, and friars, unlike disaffected nuns, could opt to be ordained and then beneficed clergy. Papal dispensations allowed individual monk-petitioners to hold positions in parish churches and memberships in cathedral chapters that had endowed income attached to them. Such grants increased in frequency throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, with Pope Eugenius IV issuing sixty-one, Nicholas V, seventy, and Pius II (145864), ninety. These grants allowed male regulars to leave their monasteries and to live as secular priests for life, free from the authority of abbot or prior. They would be free to hold property as well and although they would have to remain chaste, they were no longer regulars. Free from vows of poverty (receiving income from the property) and obedience to a monastic superior (as a rector or vicar they were subject only to the bishop), they could not be recalled to their monasteries after receiving such dispensation. Thus, fully professed male regulars could leave the way of life with which they had become discontent without becoming apostate.
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Dispensation to hold a benefice came as close to formal exclaustration as medieval canon law would get, and it was a dispensation reserved exclusively for men. In addition, male regulars had vastly more opportunity than nuns when it came to short-term stints away from monastic routine. Visits with family and friends, and licensed pilgrimages exhausted the list for nuns, and obtaining permission to make long, costly pilgrimages was difficult to secure. For a few nuns, like the apostate Cistercian Katherine Thornyf, who had been “seduced by the Angel of Darkness,” the lure of Rome became more powerful than their vows. Incomparably more professed monks, however, found the prospect of going on pilgrimage to Rome so compelling that they apostatized rather than be denied it. In the Holy Year of 1350, for example, Rome ‘welcomed’ eighteen male pilgrim-apostates from England alone.18 Male regulars became apostates despite the fact that they had several other legal ways – ways not allowed women religious – of temporarily or even permanently absenting themselves from monastic routine. As papal fiats like Boniface VIII’s Ut periculoso and John XXII’s 1325 constitution attest, monks needed permission to attend university or to travel abroad, to preach in distant countries or to go to the Holy Land.19 They could, however, apply for and get such permission for any and all such endeavors.20 These varied legitimate options allowed male regulars considerable latitude to move about in the secular world. Theoretically then, religious men had far fewer reasons than nuns to illicitly abandon their vows. The number of men who did so, however, suggests that such opportunities were double-edged swords. Perhaps providing monks, canons, and friars with the chance to stretch the tether that secured them to their vows increased the likelihood that, weakened, that bond would break. For male regulars the road to apostasy was often paved if not with good intentions, then with good opportunities. Logan, Runaway Religious, 29–31. Albert Joseph Riesner, Apostates and Fugitives from Religious Institutes: An Historical Conspectus and Commentary, The Catholic University of America. Canon Law Studies 168 (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1942), 31. 20 Anacleto Gurzó, De Apostasia a Religione Et De Fuga: Dissertatio Historico-Juridica (Claudiopoli, Turkey: Typis Typographiae S. Bonaventurae, 1943), 52–53. 18 19
The trajectory from the permissible to the prohibited is perfectly traceable in the career path of Friar Walter Durant, a Dominican from Dartford Priory, Kent. In 1367, Durant appeared as an attorney representing his religious superior, the prior of Dartford, in a London debt case.21 While canon law prohibited regulars from studying and practicing law, an exception was made if a man did so for the benefit of his religious community and at the behest of his superior. Durant therefore was acting within the law when he went on to represent the prioress and nuns of Dartford in Chancery and became general counsel for the house. Apparently, however, he gradually stopped caring about that technicality. In 1399, the provincial of the London Dominicans, Prior William Pickworth, took out a writ de apostata capiendo, petitioning the Crown for the arrest of Brother Walter Durant who, having discarded his habit and left Dartford, was now an apostate at large in the city of London. Walter Durant was not alone in finding life in the secular sphere, which his duties had permitted him to sample, preferable to life in community. In 1328, John XXII charged Bishop Bartholomeo of Friuli to take action against those Cistercian monks in his diocese who lived as if they were secular merchants, empowering Bartholomeo to take away the money and property that they had accumulated in defiance of the canons and statutes of the order.22 The registers of Benedict XII contain mandates for dealing with two regulars who, having been sent away on monastic business, remained fugitives. Joannes de Camporiano, professed monk of the order of Hospitalers of St. Jerome, was not only an apostate but was known to have embezzled funds, changed his name, and married using the alias; the apostate friar Raymond Amelii, of the monastery of St. Polycarp, Narbonne, was said to have put on many different habits and to have lived for eight years as a member of the heretical sect of beghards.23 Finally, unlike that of nuns, male apostasy could feature extreme violence in the context of monastic power plays. By decree of the Elizabeth Makowski, English Nuns and the Law in the Middle Ages: Cloistered Nuns and their Lawyers, 1293–1540 (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 2011), 61–63. 22 John XXII, Pope and Auguste Léonel Coulon, Lettres Secrètes Et Curiales Relatives À La France (Paris: A. Fontemoing, 1906), 1328, 3732:17. 23 Benedict XII, Letterae Communes 1337, 5031:470; Benedict XII Bullarii 1338, 6512:126. 21
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Council of Vienne (1311–1313), Pope Clement V had excommunicated a number of Benedictine monks who had become apostates and who were “frequenting the courts of princes.” With the support of these powerful lay lords, the fugitives had succeeded in extorting money and valuables from their former superiors by threatening them with imprisonment and by actually burning monastic buildings.24 In 1350, the abbot of Winchcombe Abbey, Gloucester, took out writs for the arrest of Simon de Lega and Thomas de Malmeshull, two apostate monks who had attempted to ambush him and his servants.25 Between 1363 and 1366, the Benedictine community of Whitby was split into two factions, with the head of the opposition, the apostate Thomas Hawksgarth, leading an armed gang against the abbot.26 And in 1340, Benedict XII directed the bishops of Tournai and Thérouanne to proceed against the apostate Cistercian monk, Peter Peit, who had been condemned to prison by the General Chapter but whose various supporters had stormed the monastery, then beaten and ejected the abbot when he resisted their attempts to pillage the house.27 While these cases are among the more sensational, they illustrate that both in terms of their numbers and their character, male apostates posed an especially thorny problem for ecclesiastical authorities in the later Middle Ages. Legislation by late medieval popes designed to redouble efforts to restore apostates to their communities, episcopal sanctions, and synodal directives were supplemented by mechanisms put into place by Provincial Generals. In 1363, for instance, the Chapter of English Benedictines appointed a proctor to be permanently stationed in Rome. His salary was paid by contributions from individual houses and his exclusive special mandate was to arrange for the forcible capture and return of any Benedictine monk who had come unlicensed to the papal curia.28 Whether repentant or not, the mortal danger to the soul of the apostate monk or nun coupled with scandal to the Christian community, still justified their forced return. Whether monastic superiors were welcoming or whether they sternly opposed it, official Church policy still held; but still, the Riesner, Apostates and Fugitives, 31. C 81/1786/54. Logan, Runaway Religious, 190–191. 26 Harper-Bill, “Monastic Apostasy,” 12. 27 Benedict XII, Letterae Communes 1340, 8221:293. 28 Harper-Bill, “Monastic Apostasy,” 14–15. 24 25
problem of vagrant regulars persisted. When Bishop Alnwick visited Wellow Abbey, Lincoln, in 1440 his interrogation of the abbot revealed the following about a wayward member: “Brother Henry Suttone, the abbot, says that Brother William Elkyngton, who had leave to journey to the court [of Rome], came back again and [was] admitted. Going forth a second time without leave and coming back again, he was admitted; and the third time he went forth in apostasy and never returned, but still abides continually in apostasy.”29 What was the abbot of Wellow to do if the twice-apostate Brother William should come back yet again? If he were to follow the counsel of that most influential exponent of humane monastic practice, St. Benedict, he would give him one, and only one, more chance to return to his community. According to the Benedictine Rule, if a monk’s resolution failed him, and he abandoned his monastery, he had only to repent, promise amendment, and reenter at the lowest rank “so his humility may be put to the test.” If that same monk should fail again, and leave again, he was to be readmitted a second time, in like fashion since “the abbot must take care, with diligence and cautious practical wisdom, not to lose any of his flock … remembering that he has undertaken the care of sick souls, not the repression of healthy ones.” But Benedict also recognized that such efforts at re-integration and restoration, of endeavoring to bring the apostate back to his promise, had their limits. Abbots were to make them no more than three times; after that, the apostate’s burden of sin would be his alone to carry and the erstwhile regular would be “forever forbidden re-entry.”30 The theoretical purity of Benedict’s template for the vowed life well lived probably corresponded to practice as little in his own day as in the late Middle Ages. In both eras, however, the saint’s high standards regarding free-choice entry into religious life were held dear and acknowledged both morally and canonically. Not so his standards with respect to defaulting on one’s vows, to leaving religious life. When dealing with monks and nuns who broke their vows and became runaway religious, the late medieval Church parted ways with St. Benedict. There were dissenting voices of course. There were those like Prior Wessington of Durham, who admitted that he didn’t even Visitations of Religious Houses, 2:391. St. Benedict, The Rule of St. Benedict in English, ed. Timothy Fry (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1982), Chapters 58 and 29 respectively.
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try to get apostates back for fear of what malcontents might do to the morale of his community.31 There were superiors like the prioress of Rothwell, who despite a bishop’s mandate, allowed a superficially penitent but feckless apostate to slip out of her confinement and back into the world.32 There were canonists, like Niccolas de Tudeschi, who averred that all vows, even solemn vows of religious profession, might be dispensed from for the sake of a greater good.33 But the full articulation of that argument, and the formal mechanism for exclaustration, were the products of the early modern and not the medieval Church. Known, revered, and cited by virtually every late medieval commentator on monasticism, the Rule of St. Benedict was, in this respect, disregarded. When discussing legislation that compelled all apostate religious to return to the vowed life, the canonists began with the Rule, but did not end with it. Perhaps they should have.
Harper-Bill, “Monastic Apostasy,” 17. See Chapter 5 for details about Joan Horncastle and the prioress. 33 James Martin Lowry, Dispensation from Private Vows; a Historical Synopsis and Commentary (The Catholic University of America Press, 1947), 48. 31 32
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abbesses: bound by rules of enclosure 13 abduction 88–90 Adderbury, George 191 Adelheit (of Helmstat) 113 Agnes of Clivedon 65, 68 Albert, rector of Zvolle 139 Alcock, John, bishop of Ely 127 Alcuin 45 Alexander III, Pope 46–7 Alice of Everyngham 66–70, 193 Alnwick, William, bishop of Norwich 105–6, 180, 199 Alvastra, Sweden 80 Amelii, Raymond 197 Ampleford, Agnes de 115 Andreae, Johannes 146–7, 151 Andrew, John 84–5 Ankerwyk: Benedictine priory 179 Apelgarth, Sabia de 115, 190 apostasia a religio 2 apostasy and canon law 16, 31–2 men and women 12, 195–8 and motherhood 95 motives for 77, 131–4 and rejection of vowed life 2, 31 repeated 166 triggered by love or sexual desire 194 unreported 180 apostate nuns cases, viii compromised returnees 159 consignment to perpetual punishment 163 and contrition 142
diverse reasons for apostasy 183– 4 enforced return 174, 178–9, 189 freedom to leave monastic life 193 and invalidation of profession 3 legal sources, x permanent 182 protected 181 punishments and penances 151– 7, 163–7, 190 remain in secular world 168 return to monasteries and reintegration 137–41, 146–7, 150–1, 156–8, 175–8, 188–90 vagabond 149–50 ApRice (Price), Sir John 130 arma Christi 164 Arthington priory, Yorkshire 165– 6, 170–1, 173, 191 Astom, Mailda 93 Atwater, William, bishop of Lincoln 180, 191 Augsburg 19 Augustine, St: Rule 32 Augustinian Order and enforced enclosure 52–4 Observant reforms 120, 177 penances 163 visitations 18 Avignon 113–14, 168 Baldewyn, Robert 90–1 Barking, abbess of 109 Bartenbechin, Margareta 61, 94–6, 194 Bartholomeo, bishop of Friuli 197
Bartolomea de Bovacchiesi, abbess of Santa Margherita 100 Barton, Alice de, prioress of Moxby 115 Barton, Joan de 115 Basel, Council of (1442) 56 Battistina (Poor Clares nun) 94, 194 Baume-les-Dames monastery, Besançon 3, 48 Beach, Alison 6 Beatrice of Burgundy 3–5, 48–9 Beattie, Cordelia: Medieval Single Women: The Politics of Social Classification in Late Medieval England, ix 74 Bebarden, Mechlegen de 125 beguines 4, 60, 62–3 Behmyn (of Helmstat) 113 Belknap, Robert 57–8 Belmont monastery, Langres 114 Belvero, Raynald de 68 Benedict, St on apostasy 10 on commitment to monastic life 30, 199 penances 163 reforming constitutions 177 Rule 27, 145, 151–2, 199–200 Benedict XII, Pope 197–8 Pastor bonus (bull) 19, 142, 150, 175–7 Benedictine Order aristocratic women in 81 English proctor in Rome 198 monasteries 56 readmission of apostates 199 Rule 26, 32, 146–7, 199 visitations 18 Berghby, Isabella de 165, 191 Berman, Constance 7 Bernadino of Siena 119–20 Bernard of Clairvaux: On Loving God 1 Beverley, John de (of St Mary’s Abbey, York) 71 Biczlin, Dorothea 95 bishops examine petitions for invalidation of vows 48, 73 and inheritance disputes 83
and readmission of apostate nuns 156 and supervision of monasteries 16–17, 19, 70, 92 Black Death 111–12, 178 Blaket, Roger (of Rickmansworth) 72 Blaket v. Loveday et al. 72 Blaunkfront (Blankefronte), Joan 115–16 Blumenfeld-Kosinski, Renate 8, 121 Bolington (Bullington; Bolynton) priory 90 Bollen, Gottfried 71 Bollen, Jutta (of Utrecht) 71 Boniface VIII, Pope decree on enforcing strict enlosure of nuns (1298), vii, 11–14, 106, 119–20, 171, 184 proclaims Holy Year or Jubilee (1300) 109 on wearing monastic dress 36 Bornstein, Daniel 6, 8 Bowes, Agnes, prioress of Worthorpe, Northampton 112–13 Braşov (Kronstadt, Brassó) monastery, Transylvania 117–18 Braybrooke, Robert de, bishop of London 59, 83–4 Bridgettine Order constitutions of Syon 19 wealthy women in 80–1 Briges, Andrew de, canon of Winchester 169 Brixen monastery 124 Bronope: Augustinian convent (Utrecht) 52 Brotherton Joan de 115, 166–7 Brous, Thomas 144 Brus, Avelina de 116 Bruys, Bernard 90 Bruys, Elizabeth and Ellen 90 Bruys, Joan 89–91, 103 Bruys, John 90 Buck, Margery 54 Buckingham, John, bishop of Lincoln 66–70, 87 Buckland Priory, Somerset 51–2 Buczutus, Marinus 97–8
index Bulletin de la Société Vaudoise 17 Burnham Abbey, Buckinghamshire 72, 87 Bursfeld 120 Burton, Janet 6, 75 Burton, William, canon of London 86 Busch, Johannes 21, 122–4, 183 accompanies Gertude Gensen on return to monastery 137–42, 156, 190 and Sophie of Brunswick 159–63 Chronicon Windeshemense Und Liber de Reformatione Monasteriorum 16 Buti, Francesco 99 Buti, Lucrezia: liaison and children with Fra Lippo Lippi 21, 98–103, 181, 194–5 Buti, Spinetta 101 Butler (Butylere), Agnes 105, 180 Butrio, Antonio de 146 Byllyng, Brother Robert 180 Bynum, Caroline 8, 121 Caccia, James 187 Caioli, Padre Paolo 101 Camporiano, Joannes de 197 canon law adjudication by jurists 11 practical application regarding apostasy 16 and religious status 28 Canon, Ralph, canon of Wells 181 canonical regulations: applied throughout Europe, viii 157 Canterbury: ecclesiastical court 48 Canterbury and York Society 18 Carthusian Order: austerity 1 Cassetta, Salvo 96 Cassian, St John 132 Castagnola, Gabriele: Filippo Lippi and the nun Lucrezia Buti (painting) 103 Cauod, Agnes 109–10 causae spirituales 51 Cavazza, Sister Christina 105 certifications, viii Chalcedon, Council of (451) 16 Chambeleyn, Robert 188
Champagne: Cistercian convents founded 148 Chancery 48, 74, 82, 87, 89 chastity: vow of 27, 29, 31 Chaucer, Geoffrey 109 Cherlton, Robert and Elizabeth de 88 children: commitment to monastic life 28–9, 34, 186–7 Cistercian Order asceticism 121, 148–9 attracts aristocratic women 80 charity 76 and compulsory return of apostates 174 exemption from episcopal oversight 18 reforming constitutions 177 Clairvaux (Langres) 114 Clare of Assisi 121, 146 Clement V, Pope 11, 198 Clement VI, Pope 110, 116 Clementines 11 Clerkenwell, prioress of (1331) 109 Clivedon, Richard 65 Coerin, Margareta 107 Colette of Corbie 8, 119, 127 Common Life, Brothers and Sister of the 62–3, 122, 192 Common Pleas, court of 48, 57, 59, 83–4 consilia (legal opinions) 16, 38–9, 41–2 Constance, bishop of 55 convents aristocratic women in 79–81 entrance fees 80 material conditions 149 rental incomes 76 Corbridge, Thomas, archbishop of York 156–7, 170–1, 173–4, 190 Cornworthy priory, Devon 173 Corpus Christi (Augustinian convent) 40 Corpus Iuris Canonici, vii 10, 16, 36 Cotnall, Brother William 93 Coton nunnery (Cistercian) 112 Coulonges monastery, Langres 114 Crackelynge, Johanna 93 Crakenholme, Joan de 165, 182
Cranmer, Alice, prioress of Minster Thanet, Kent 130 Cranmer, Thomas, archbishop of Canterbury 129 Cromwell, Thomas 15, 128 Crouel, Joan 116 Cruseler, Georgine 53, 75 Cultz, Fia de 125 Cum de quibusdam (decree) 62 cura monialilum 76 Curson, Sir John 58–9, 76 Cusanus, Cardinal Legate Nicolas 123–4 Dalderby, John, bishop of Lincoln 73, 171–4 Daneport, Constance de (of Pontefract) 170–1, 173, 182, 194 Darel, Alice 156–7, 174, 190 Dartford priory 197 Dayvill, Eleanor 116 Dayvill, Isabella 116–17, 152–3, 173, 190 de apostata capiendo (writ), ix, 12, 20, 57, 66–7, 178 Dearoche, Paul: Filippo Lippi Falling in Love with his Model (painting) 103 decretals 11 Dene, Stephen de, rector of Abbotstone 169 Denny Abbey 130 Derneburg, Netherlands 123, 162 Desert Mothers and Fathers 27 Devotio Moderna (New Devotion) 122 Diamante, Fra 99 Dominican Order nuns follow Augustinian Rule 32 Observant reforms 120, 125, 178 and penitentiary petitions 20 Third Order 64, 95–6 visitations 18 Donahue, Charles 17 Doven, Gertrud 59–62, 64, 191 dowries 71 dress (monastic) discarding and resuming 39 as sign of commitment 29–30, 34–5
variation 32–3 wearing enforced 36–9 Dunn, Caroline: Stolen Women in Medieval England: Rape, Abduction and Adultery, 1100–1500, ix 88 Durant, Friar Walter 197 Easebourne Priory, Sussex 92–3, 104 ecclesiastical persons 30 Eckenstein, Lina: Women Under Monasticism 5 Egbert, rector of Deventer 139 Elkyngton, Brother William 199 Elnstowe, abbess of (1329) 109 England enforced return of apostates 178–9 and inheritance claims by nuns 82–3 legal records of apostasy, viii 17– 21 monastic visitations 17–18 socially privileged convents 81 Ergham, Ralph, bishop of Bath and Wells 51–2 Erickson, Carolly 185 Ermine de Reims 8, 121 Eucharistic prayer 25 Eugenius IV, Pope 101, 129, 195 Ewelme, Thomas 180 excommunication of apostates 2, 13, 73–4, 170 for discarding habit 39 for unauthorised transfer to another monastery 41 exsilium (banishment to neighbouring monastery) 152–3 Extravagantes 11 famine: effect on religious houses 168–9, 184 Farewell: Benedictine monastery 180 Felton, Mary de 57–9, 76 Felton, Thomas 59 Ferring, Thomas 181 Field, Sean 6 Finnegan, Mary Jeremy 7
index Fischbeck nunnery, Netherlands 12, 156, 190 Flixthorpe, Agnes of (alias de Wissenden) 171–3, 179, 182 Florea, Carmen 117 Foligno nunnery, Italy 125 Fontevrault monastery, Normandy 90 France and enforced return of apostates 179 war in 168 well-born women in convents 80 Franciscan Order incarcerates recalcitrant runaways 175 Observant movements 119 penances 163 and penitentiary petitions 20 persuasive recruiting powers 185 reforming constitutions 177 Third Order 63–4 visitations 18 Frauenalb: Benedictine monastery 56 Free Companies: depradations 113 Frensh, Giles 87–8 Fyshill, Alice, abbess of Wintney priory, Hampshire 181–2 Gascelyn, Christina 83 Gascelyn, Geoffrey 83 Gensen, Gertrude: Busch accompanies on return to monastery 138–42, 163, 190 Germany daughters from nobility become nuns 79–80 Penitentiary supplications 20 Gilchrist, Roberta 8, 9, 148 Gender and Material Culture 149 Glossa Ordinaria 2, 34 Golding manor, Buckinghamshire 86 Gorne, Margarita 95 Gothurst manor, Buckinghamshire 86 Gottfried of Cologne 71
Gowryng, Jane 131 Gratian: Decretum 10 Gray, William, bishop of Ely 150 Great Schism (papal) 128 Greenfield, William of, archbishop of York 106, 165, 190 Gregory IX, Pope on monastic habit 33–4 publishes Liber Extra 11, 28 Ne religiosi vagandi (decretal) 146, 150, 175 Gregory XI, Pope 178 Gregory XII, Pope 177 Grene, Joan 90 Grene, Nicholas 90–1 Gretton, Cecily 180 Griffiths, Fiona 6 Grote, Gewert 122 Grunte, Friar Jacob 188 Gualdi, Antonio: Fra Filippo Lippi and Lucrezia Buti (painting) 103 Guidardi, Ugone, archbishop of Benevento 97 Guido de Baysio 36–7 Guillelmonae, Guillelmetae 177 Gutta of Schefeverin 177 Gynewell, John, bishop of Lincoln 91, 111–13 Hadmar von Absberg 53 Haghen, Henric 139–40 Hampole priory, Yorkshire 115–16, 167 Handale convent, Yorkshire 116–17, 152, 173 Harrold priory, Lincoln 54 Harryes, John 106 Haunsard, John 112 Haunton, Brother Robert 188–9 Haverholme (Haverholy) priory, Lincoln 66–8 Hawksgarth, Thomas 198 Healaugh priory, Yorkshire 190 Hedsor, Margery 72–3, 82–3, 193 Heidenheimer, Friedrich 56, 75, 183 Helewell, Peter de 173 Henry IV, King of England 81 Hinnebusch, William 5 Hirstall monastery, Konstanz 126 Holland, Robert 54, 77
Holland, Sir Thomas and Joan, Lady 112 Homoden, Margarita 95 Horim, Margaretha 95, 141 Horncastle, Joan 143–5, 156, 163–4, 173, 179, 190 Hostiensis 146 Hrotsvit of Gandersheim: Abraham (play) 137 Hubbart, Alice 180 Hueberin, Elizabeth 126, 188 Huesca, bishop of 465 Humberstone abbey 180 Hundred Years War (1337–1453) 19, 113 Huntercombe, Elizabeth (de Cherlton) 87–8 Huntercombe, John 87 Huntercombe, Maud 87–8, 103 Hyll, Thomas 86 Hywyssh, Joyce 83–5, 103, 193 Hywyssh, Sir Richard de 84 Hywyssh, William de 84 inheritance laws and issues 51, 79, 82–7 Innocent IV, Pope 33–4, 174 Inocent VIII Pope 126, 186 Ipswich: Carmelite priory 186 Isabelle, Princess of France 80 Italy: unsettled state 113 Jarkesmill, Agnes de 115 Joannes Franciscus de Pavinis: De visitatione episcoporum 17 Johannes Andreae: Novella in Sextum 34–5, 37, 42 Johannes de Scheylberg 53 Johannes von Minden 120 John of Capistrano 120 John XXII, Pope 11, 37, 197 Jubilee years 109–10 judges 38, 42 see also consilia Julius II, Pope 178 Keldhome priory, Yorkshire 154 Kemp, John, archbishop of York (and of Canterbury) 110, 141 Kempis, Thomas à 27 Kerr, Bernice 6
Kespenbach, Barbara 95 King, Philippa 93 Kirbybiden, Norfolk 57–9 Kirchheim convent 125 Knowles, Dom David 5 Kynynfield, Alice de 180 Langtoft, Margaret de 116 Lark, Barbara 131 Lateran Council, Third (1179) 128 Lateran Council, Fourth (1215), vii 28, 32, 79 Lathom, Elizabeth 58 Lathom, Isabel 58 lay orders and communities (mulieres religiosae; quasireligious communities) 60–3 Lega, Simon de 198 Legh, Thomas 130 Lehmijoki-Gardner, Maiju 95 Lengin, Barbara 127 Lester, Anne 7, 80, 148 Liber Extra 11, 28, 46 Liber Sextus 13, 28, 33, 36 Lincoln diocese 72 Lincoln Record Society 18 Lippi, Alessandra 101 Lippi, Filippino 98, 101–2, 183 Lippi, Fra Filippo 21, 98–103, 195 Madonna Giving her Girdle to St. Thomas (painting) 101 Logan, F. Donald: Runaway Religious in Medieval England 1240–1540, ix, 10, 20, 89, 131 Lombostel, Elsa de 125 London, Synod of (1399) 179 Longchamp abbey, France 81 Lopez, Elizabeth 7 Luffewyk, William 143 Lyndwood, William 35 Lyon, Second Council of (1274) 28 ‘malevolent people’: oppose petitions for release 50 Malmeshull, Thomas de 198 Mangiaseroe, Francisca 97–8 Mantegazza, Giovannangelo 94 Margareta de la Scarpa of Arezzo 3, 50–2
index Marham (Norfolk) 18 Mariensee monastery, Brunswick 159, 162–3, 195 Marienthal Augustinian convent (Cologne) 53 Markyate priory, Lincoln 156, 171 marriage: and religious profession 31, 53–4, 64–5, 68, 70–5 Martin V, Pope 186 Mayall, Laurent 9 Meaux Abbey 13 Medforde, Dame Clemence 180 Medici, Cosimo de 101 Melton, William, archbishop of York 115–16, 152–3, 155–6, 165–7, 173, 190 men and boys: coerced into monasteries 55 mendicant friars 176 Merton, Thomas 26 Metal, John 170, 182 Middleton, Gilbert de, canon of St Paul’s 169 Milanesi, Gaetano 100–1 Minchin Barrow priory 83 Minoress Sisters 57 monasteries and contact with laymen 75–6 destitute 128 dispensations to leave 45–6, 48, 129 dissolution (England), ix, 15, 127–31 entrance fees 79 as prison for non-vocational entrants 45 under jurisdiction of bishops 16, 18–19 unlicensed exit 2 visitations 17–18 monastic life: commitment to 29– 30 monastic practice: established, vii monks candidates under fourteen 33 capacity to be ordained as priests 14–15, 32, 129, 195 studying 37–8 Monteluce monastery, Perugia 125
Morris, Bridget 7 mortality rates: in times of famine 168 Moserin, Magdalena 107, 163 motherhood: and apostasy 95–6 Mounceaux, Ella de 112 Moxby (Molseby) nunnery, Yorkshire 115, 116, 167–8 Mueller, Joan 7 Mülhofen, Mechtild de 125–6 Multone, Dame Agnes 106 Muneworth, Margaret de 180 Münsterlegen, Magdalena of see Payerin, Magdalena Münsterlingen Augustinian house, Lake Constance 55 music: as diversion 105–6 Narbonne: St Polycarp monastery 197 Netherlands: New Devotion in 122 Neusom, Margaret de 115 Neustadt 162–3 Neuwerk, Netherlands 12, 123 Nicholas IV, Pope 3, 49, 63 see also consilia Nicholas V, Pope 113, 129, 195 Northburgh, Roger, bishop of Lichfield 180 Norwich: social composition of nuns 81 novel disseisin (writ) 72 novitiates age 33–5 dress 33–4 probationary period 29 Nowers, Amery (Almaricus; Emery) 85–6 Nowers, Grace and Agnes 85–6, 193 Nowers, Sir John 85 Nun Appleton priory, N. Yorkshire 75 Nuneaton monastery 91 Nunkeeling convent, Yorkshire 165, 167 nunneries contacts and hospitality 75–7 dissolved 127–8 episcopal visits 92 visitation 18
nuns abduction 88–90 aristocratic 79–82 Boniface VIII enforces strict enclosure 11–14, 106, 119–20, 171, 184 breaks and diversions 105–7 clandestine modifications of behaviour 79 deaths from plagues 111 disaffected 78 disruptive effect of war on 113–15 dress adaptations 78 financial means and deliberate poverty 147–8 forcibly removed from convents 131 granted extra claustrum right 128–30 inheritance claims 81–4 licences to leave cloisters 14 motives for apostasy 77, 131–4 need for legal support 77 Observant reforms 119–25, 127 social status 184 as subject of study 5–9 transfer to other monasteries 40–2 unable to become priests 14–15, 195 without grounds for renouncing vows 78 Nutley abbey 180 obedience 26, 29 Observant reform 119–24, 127 Oldradus de Ponte 38–9, 42 Oliva, Marilyn 7, 111, 148, 186 Otterburg abbey 177 Otto III, bishop of Constance 56 Paolina di Cola di Luca, Suor 142–3 papacy as central Christian authority 19 and enforced return of apostates 175 papal letters of favor 176 Papal Penitentiary 11, 19–20, 48, 50, 52, 55, 59, 94, 125, 141, 185 Parisse, Michel: Les Nonnes au Moyen Age 5
Paul II, Pope 109 Payerin, Magdalena (of Münsterlegen) 55–7, 75, 82, 183 Peit, Peter 198 penances 163–7, 170 penitential practices 121, 163 Periculoso (papal decree) 11–14, 106–7 Peter of Blois 2n3 Philbeam, Mary 131 Pianta monastery, Arezzo 50 Pickworth, William 197 pilgrimages 105, 107–10, 196 Pirckheimer, Caritas, abbess of Nuremberg Poor Clare convent 131 Pius II, Pope 101–2, 129, 195 plague, the: effect on nuns and convents 110–13, 117–18, 184 Pontefract priory 194 Poor Clares 32, 94, 119, 127 Poor Clare community, Nuremberg 131 Poor Clares convent, Wamell 71 Portsmouth, Johanna 93 poverty: vow of 27, 29, 79, 82 Preston, William 67 Prestwich, Margaret 53–4, 77 Prestwold, William of, Master of Sempringham 66–70, 193 Prick, Elizabeth 54 priests male regulars as 195 monks ordained as 14–15, 32, 129 privilegium canonis 30 privilegium fori 30 profession: forced 47, 54–5 promises and oaths 40 property: inheritance lawsuits, viii Pryce, David 144 quasi-religious women see lay orders and communities Radewyns, Florence 122 raptus (ravishment) 88–9 Rechentshofen 124 recidivists 159–63, 166, 174 reform see Observant reform
index Reformation: professed nuns reenter secular society in England 15 Religionum diverstitatem (decree) 28 Repertorium Poenitentiariae Germanicum (RPG) 20 Repingdon, Philip, bishop of Lincoln 86, 143–5, 155, 163, 193 Richard II, King of England 70 Richard of Dromore, bishop 86 Riesner, A.J.: Apostates and Fugitives from Religious Institutes 9 Rijnsburg Abbey 80, 124 Rippinghale, Alice de 116 Rode, Johannes 120 Roger of York, canon of Healaugh 190 Rome: pilgrimages to 109–10, 196 Rosedale priory, Yorkshire 115–17, 152, 167–8, 190 Rothwell: Augustinian convent 143– 4, 147, 163, 179, 200 Ryver, Joan de la 65 Ryver, Richard de la 65 Ryver, Thomas de la 65 St. Albans, abbot of 72 St. Anthony of Eboli monastery 97 St. Apollinareus monastery, Milan 119 St. Clement priory, Yorkshire 153 St. Helene’s convent, Bishopsgate, London 83 St. Jerome, Order of 107 S. Marie de Capella monastery, Naples 97 St. Mary Olivet: Benedictine monastery 178 St. Mary of Saragossa priory 46 St. Michael’s nunnery, Stamford 112–13, 127, 172–3, 179 St. Neot priory 180 St. Nicholas-in-Undis monastery, Strasbourg 131 St. Radegund Priory, Cambridge 127 Salerno 97 San Damiano convent, Italy 121, 148
San Lorenzo: Poor Clare monastery 143 San Quirce, Spain 80 Sancharano, Petrus: Super Sexto Decretalium 37n31 Sancho IV, King of Spain 81 Santa Margherita monastery, Prato 100 Santa Maria de las Huelgas, Spain 80 Santa Maria degli Angeli monastery, Perugia 125 Santa Maria del Carmine monastery 100–2 Schenkin de Erbach, Ursula (of Mainz) 56, 64, 75 Schmugge, Ludwig 20 Scotland: wars of independence (14th century) 115 Scrop, Geoffrey 68 Scrope, Eleanor, abbess 57 Secclern, Anna 126, 188 Seckendorfferin, Barbara 107, 141 Sempringham, Master of see Prestwold, William of Seton Priory, Cumberland 53 sexual liaisons 79, 93–4, 98–103 Shaftesbury abbey, Dorset 65 Sillow, John 186 Sixtus IV, Pope 96 Smyth, John 93 Soest, Jacob von 192 Somer, Frances 131 Sonnenburg, Tyrol 123 Sophie of Brunswick: apostasy 21, 95, 159–63, 166–7, 182, 195 Sothill (Suthulle; Huthhulle), James 66–8, 70 Southern, R.W. 5 Spain:, heritable chattels and land revenues 79 Standente, Dame Isabel 179 Stangrond, John (alias Bailand) 129 Stodley, Isabella de 153 Story, Edward, bishop of Chichester 92–3 Stretton, Robert de, bishop of Coventry and Lichfield 53–4 Strolunz, Emengard 177 Sturmy, John 57–9
Styl, Clarice 51–2, 58 Style, N. (servant) 93 Sülte priory, Brunswick 160 Supra montem (papal bull) 63 Surtees Society 18 Suttone, Henry, abbot of Wellow Abbey 199 Swestriones 192 Swine nunnery, Yorkshire 103 Syon monastery 81 Tang, Margaret de 165–6 Tarazona, bishop of 46–7 Tarrant Keynes (Dorset) 18 Tart monastery, Langres diocese 114, 168 Tauke, Agnes 92–3 Terouanne Morinen, cardinal of 69 tertiary communities (Third Orders) 4, 60, 62–4, 95–6 Thicket priory, Yorkshire 156, 165, 174, 182, 190 Thoresby, John, archbishop of York 67, 760 Thornyf, Katherine 110, 141, 196 timore mortis (fear of death) 47 tithes 76 Torriani, Joachim 96 Tortona: Poor Clare convent 94 Toucotes, Joan de 115 travel: dangers of 108 Tregorrek, John 84 Tregos, John 84 Trucessen, Katherina of (of Bamberg) 53, 64, 75, 183 Tudeschi, Nicholas de 146–7, 200 Tyttesbury, Katherine 150–1 Tyverington, Maud de (of Keldhome priory, Yorkshire) 154–5 Ude, John 84 Urban V, Pope 19, 67–8, 113–14, 168, 188 Urban VIII, Pope 15, 15178 Ut periculoso (papal fiat) 11–12, 36–9, 41, 196
vagabondage 178 Vasari, Giorgio: Lives of the Artists 21, 99–102 Vauxbons monastery, Langres 114 Venarde, Bruce 8, 80 Venice: aristocratic nuns 80 Vienne, Council of (1311–12) 11, 62, 198 vim et metum (force and fear) 46–9, 58–9, 89 violence: at shrines 108 Virgin Mary Pons Salutis monastery, Speyer 125–6 vocation 45 Voegtin, Barbara 114–15 vows enforced 64, 185 invalidation on grounds of coercion 47–9 and marital status 64 nullification of 78 of profession 35, 42 rationale and nature 25–7, 29 as requirement for entrance into religion 28 underage 53–4, 64, 68 Vreta, Sweden 80 Walle, Stephan de 60 war: effect on nuns and convents 113–18, 168, 184 Warr, Cordelia 8, 32 Warren, Nancy Bradley 6, 76 Weissfrauenkloster, Aachen 54 Wellow Abbey, Lincoln 199 Wesenham, Hugh and Agnes 90–1 Wessington, John, prior of Durham 100 Whitby abbey 198 Wickwane, William, archbishop of York 75 Wienhausen 123–4 William, Duke of Brunswick 141, 159, 162 Winchcombe Abbey, Gloucester 198 Windesheim monastery, Netherland 122–3
index Winston-Allen, Anne 6 Wintertur, Greda 177 Wintney priory, Hampshire 169, 181 Wnandi, Alheydis (of Utrecht) 4, 60–2, 64, 191 Woodcock, Henry, bishop of Winchester 169 Worsley, Alice 58 Worsley, Geoffrey 58 Worsley, Robert 58 Worthorpe priory, Northampton 112, 127 writ system: in England, ix
Wurm, Anna 131 Wynkens, Ida 52 Yda of Cologne 71 York: ecclesiastical court 48 Yorkshire nuns transferred during Scottish war of independence 115–16 nuns uncloistered 13 Zabarella, Cardinal Francesco: legal opinions 16, 38, 40–2 Zacz, Johannes 56, 75 Zurich: Benedictine monastery 56
Other volumes in Studies in the History of Medieval Religion Details of volumes I–XXIX can be found on our website.
XXX: The Culture of Medieval English Monasticism Edited by James G. Clark XXXI: A History of the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds, 1182–1256: Samson of Tottington to Edmund of Walpole Antonia Gransden XXXII: Monastic Hospitality: The Benedictines in England, c.1070–c.1250 Julie Kerr XXXIII: Religious Life in Normandy, 1050–1300: Space, Gender and Social Pressure Leonie V. Hicks XXXIV: The Medieval Chantry Chapel: An Archaeology Simon Roffey XXXV: Monasteries and Society in the British Isles in the Later Middle Ages Edited by Janet Burton and Karen Stöber XXXVI: Jocelin of Wells: Bishop, Builder, Courtier Edited by Robert Dunning XXXVII: War and the Making of Medieval Monastic Culture Katherine Allen Smith XXXVIII: Cathedrals, Communities and Conflict in the Anglo-Norman World Edited by Paul Dalton, Charles Insley and Louise J. Wilkinson
XXXIX: English Nuns and the Law in the Middle Ages: Cloistered Nuns and Their Lawyers, 1293–1540 Elizabeth Makowski XL: The Nobility and Ecclesiastical Patronage in Thirteenth-Century England Elizabeth Gemmill XLI: Pope Gregory X and the Crusades Philip B. Baldwin XLII: A History of the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds, 1257–1301: Simon of Luton and John of Northwold Antonia Gransden XLIII: King John and Religion Paul Webster XLIV: The Church and Vale of Evesham, 700–1215: Lordship, Landscape and Prayer David Cox XLV: Medieval Anchorites in their Communities Edited by Cate Gunn and Liz Herbert McAvoy XLVI: The Friaries of Medieval London: From Foundation to Dissolution Nick Holder XLVII: ‘The Right Ordering of Souls’: The Parish of All Saints’ Bristol on the Eve of the Reformation Clive Burgess XLVIII: The Lateran Church in Rome and the Ark of the Covenant: Housing the Holy Relics of Jerusalem, with an edition and translation of the Descriptio Lateranensis Ecclesiae (BAV Reg. Lat. 712) Eivor Andersen Oftestad