Leadership in Medieval English Nunneries (Studies in the History of Medieval Religion) 1843831503, 9781843831501, 9781846154089

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Leadership in Medieval English Nunneries (Studies in the History of Medieval Religion)
 1843831503, 9781843831501, 9781846154089

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Studies in the History of Medieval Religion VOLUME XXIV

LEADERSHIP IN MEDIEVAL ENGLISH NUNNERIES The position of an abbess or prioress in the middle ages was one of great responsibility, with care for both the spiritual and economic welfare of her convent. This book considers the power wielded by and available to such women. It addresses leadership models, questions of social identity and the varying perceptions of the role and performance of the abbess or prioress via a close examination of the records of sixteen female houses in the period from 1280 to 1540; the large range of documentary evidence used includes selections from episcopal registers, account rolls, plea rolls, Chancery documents, letters, petitions, medieval literature and comparative material from additional nunneries. The theme of conflict recurs throughout, as religious women are revealed steering their communities between the directives of the church and the demands of their budgets or their secular neighbours. The Dissolution and its effects on the morale and behaviour of the last superiors conclude the study. VALERIE G. SPEAR is a Visiting Fellow at Australian National University, Canberra.

Studies in the History of Medieval Religion ISSN 0955–2480 General Editor Christopher Harper-Bill

Previously published volumes in the series are listed at the back of this volume

LEADERSHIP IN MEDIEVAL ENGLISH NUNNERIES

VALERIE G. SPEAR

THE BOYDELL PRESS

© Valerie G. Spear 2005 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 Valerie G. Spear 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 2005 The Boydell Press, Woodbridge ISBN 1 84383 150 3

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, USA website: www.boydellandbrewer.com A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication data Spear, Valerie. Leadership in medieval English nunneries / Valerie G. Spear. p. cm. – (Studies in the history of medieval religion, ISSN 0955–2480 ; v. 24) Summary: “Examination of the role of the convent superior in the Middle Ages, underlining the amount of power and responsibility at her command” – Provided by publisher. Includes bibliographical references (p. ) and index. ISBN 1–84383–150–3 (hardback : alk. paper) 1. Abbesses, Christian – England – History – To 1500. 2. Abbesses, Christian – England – Social conditions. I. Title. II. Series. BX4209.S64 2005 255’.9’009420902–dc22 2005002078

This publication is printed on acid-free paper Typeset by Pru Harrison, Hacheston, Suffolk

Printed inDisclaimer: Great Britain by Antonyversion Rowe of Ltd, Some images in the printed thisChippenham, book are not Wiltshire available for inclusion in the eBook. To view these images please refer to the printed version of this book.

Contents List of illustrations Acknowledgements Abbreviations Glossary Introduction 1 The Meaning of Leadership in the Medieval English Nunnery

vi vii ix xi xiii 1

2 Leadership and Lineage

20

3 Guardians of the Brides (care of the female religious by bishops, archbishops and their representatives)

41

4 The Lady and the Monarchs (the relations of the abbess or prioress with king and pope)

59

5 The Distaff and the Crosier (balancing financial and spiritual responsibilities)

91

6 The Clerical View (interpretations of episcopal reports)

116

7 Shifting Perspectives (secular views of the nunnery superiors)

137

8 Epilogue (preparations for the Dissolution and reaction to its demands)

169

Conclusion

186

Appendix A: Appendix B: Appendix C: Appendix D: Bibliography Index

List of nunneries and incomes List of nunnery superiors Election procedures at Wilton Eulogy for Euphemia of Wherwell

193 197 215 217 219 233

List of Illustrations Figure 1: Female superior’s power network (hierarchical view)

12

Figure 2: Female superior’s power network (from her own perspective)

13

Plate 1:

The abbess’s squint at Lacock Abbey (15th century)

17

Plate 2:

Author’s photograph of the abbess’s chapel at Godstow Abbey (16th century)

51

Plate 3:

Reredos at Romsey Abbey (c. 1525), photographed by Brian Edgley

135

Plate 4:

Fifteenth-century effigy of an abbess of Wherwell, now in Wherwell parish church, photographed by Brian Edgley

145

Plate 5:

Portrait of Abbess Avelina Cowdrey, abbess of Wherwell 150 1518–29, photographed by Brian Edgley (private collection)

Disclaimer: Some images in the printed version of this book are not available for inclusion in the eBook. To view these images please refer to the printed version of this book.

Acknowledgements This book has evolved slowly, beginning with a PhD project and developing during my years as a Visiting Fellow in the History Section of the Arts Faculty of The Australian National University, first under the aegis of the School of Humanities and, subsquently, the School of Social Sciences. In this environment I have found intellectual stimulation and kindness from scholars with a wide range of interests. Special thanks are due to John Tillotson, my former thesis supervisor, who has been a source of inspiration and advice over many years. I owe a significant debt of gratitude also to Linda Rasmussen, who formerly shared an office with me and has contributed ideas and resources in addition to assisting in numerous practical ways. Other members and visitors of the School, including Merridee Bailey, Robert Barnes, Darren Buck, Tania Colwell, Bill Craven, Janet HadleyWilliams, Julie Hotchin, Libby Keen, Yvonne Parrey, Barbara Ross, Stephanie Tarbin and Dianne Tillotson, have shown interest in the project and provided technical help, suggestions, challenges and congenial company. Dianne kindly re-drew my leadership diagrams, which was much appreciated. I am very grateful to The Australian Academy of the Humanities for the grant which has helped to finance this book. A number of medievalists outside Australia have assisted my efforts, and I would like to mention in particular Virginia Bainbridge and Claes Gejrot, who supplied me with additional information about Syon Abbey from their impressive database. Indeed, the sum of contributions by friends and colleagues is considerable; however, any errors occurring in the book are exclusively mine. Sincere thanks go to Diana Coldicott, who has not only been extraordinarily helpful in answering enquiries by mail, but has also given photographs included in her own book for use in mine. Brian Edgley, Diana’s brother, took these photographs, and it is a pleasure to thank him too for allowing the images to be reproduced here. I also wish to express my appreciation to the owners of Avelina Cowdrey’s portrait for permitting the painting to be featured in this study. The librarians at ANU have provided unfailing support during my time at the university, as have those serving in the Petherick Room at the National Library of Australia and in the microform section of the Baillieu Library, University of Melbourne. I thank them heartily. The contributions of staff at numerous record repositories in England have been similarly valued, as has the patience and tact of Caroline Palmer, who has guided me through the intricacies of publishing. Finally, I must thank my family for their forbearance and encouragement, particularly my husband Ray, to whom this book is dedicated.

Abbreviations ABBREVIATIONS

Aungier

G.J. Aungier, The History and Antiquities of Syon Monastery (London, 1840) BI Borthwick Institute BL British Library Bodl. Bodleian Library Bowles & Nichols W.L. Bowles & J.G. Nichols, Annals and Antiquities of Lacock Abbey (London, 1835) CCR Calendar of Close Rolls Ch charter Coldicott D. Coldicott, Hampshire Nunneries (Chichester, 1989) CPL Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland, Papal Letters CPR Calendar of Patent Rolls Cross & Vickers C. Cross & N. Vickers, eds, Monks, Friars and Nuns in the Sixteenth Century,Yorkshire Archaeological Society 150 (1995) CUL Cambridge University Library Dioc. Vis. A. Hamilton Thompson, ed., Visitations in the Diocese of Lincoln, 1517–31, 3 vols, Lincoln Record Society 33, 35, 37 (1940–7) DNB Dictionary of National Biography Dugdale, Mon. W. Dugdale, Monasticon Anglicanum, 6 vols in 8 (London, 1846) EETS Early English Text Society Eklund S. Eklund, ed., Sancta Birgitta Opera Minoris I. Regula Salvatoris (Stockholm, 1975) es extra series GL Guildhall Library Heads D.M. Smith & V.C.M. London, Heads of Religious Houses, England and Wales ii (Cambridge, 2001) HRO Hampshire Record Office JEH Journal of Ecclesiastical History Knowles & Hadcock D. Knowles & R.N. Hadcock, Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales (New York, 1971) Kock E.A. Kock, ed. & trans., Three Middle-English Versions of the Rule of St Benet, EETS os 120 (1902) l. line

x

ABBREVIATIONS

LAC LAO Linc. Vis. Liveing L&P LPL McCann, RB m os PRO Reg. RP Sharpe, Wills SS Sturman TE Test. Ebor. TNA: PRO VCH VE WAM WRO YAJ YAS

K.H. Rogers, ed., Lacock Abbey Charters (Devizes, 1979) Lincoln Archives Office A. Hamilton Thompson, ed., Visitations of Religious Houses in the Diocese of Lincoln [1420–49], 3 vols, Canterbury & York Society 17, 24, 33 (1969) H.G.D. Liveing, Records of Romsey Abbey 907–1558 (London, 1912) Great Britain Public Record Office, Letters and Papers Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII (1862–1932) Lambeth Palace Library J. McCann, ed. & trans., The Rule of St Benedict (London, 1963) membrane old series Great Britain Public Record Office register Rotuli Parliamentorum R. R. Sharpe, ed., Calendar of Wills Proved and Enrolled in the Court of Husting, 2 vols (London, 1889–90) Surtees Society W. Sturman, ‘The History of the Nunnery of St Mary and St Michael Outside Stamford’, unpublished MA dissertation, University of London (1945) Taxatio Ecclesiastica Angliae et Walliae, Great Britain Record Commission (1802) J. Raine et al., eds, Testamenta Eboracensia, 6 vols, SS 4, 30, 45, 53, 79, 106 (1836–1902) The National Archives: Public Record Office Victoria County History Valor Ecclesiasticus temp. Henry VIII, 6 vols, ed. J. Caley, Great Britain Record Commission (1810–34) Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural Historical Magazine Wiltshire and Swindon Record Office Yorkshire Archaeological Journal Yorkshire Archaeological Society

Glossary GLOSSARY

Benefice: (in ecclesiastical context) A living endowed to an individual serving the church in some manner. Comperta: The summary of the findings of an ecclesiastical visitor assessing a religious establishment. Convocation: An assemblage of the clergy. Corrody: Provision for personal maintenance, often in the form of a retirement ‘package’, either bought in advance from the host establishment or provided free of charge (often in response to the request or demand of the monarch). Crosier: The staff of office carried by a religious leader such as a bishop or head of a monastery. Custos: An official appointed to assist with the administration of the house as a custodian. Detecta: Faults detected in the course of an assessment of a religious establishment. Devise: To bequeath. Distaff: A simple tool used for spinning. The distaff has become a symbol for feminine industry and responsibility. Distrain: To constrain or force a person by the seizure of property to perform some obligation, or to punish by such a seizure for non-performance of an obligation. Excommunicate: To exclude by an authoritative sentence from the communion of the Church, or from religious rites. Frankpledge: The system by which every member of a tithing was answerable for the behaviour of any one of the other members. View of frankpledge: Inspection of a gathering of the citizens in the group of ten (tithing). In cases where the tithing attendance was incomplete, a penalty was exacted by the person in authority over the group. In chief: Applied to a tenancy held immediately from the Lord Paramount. (In medieval England, usually referred to property held directly from the king). Inspeximus: Literally, ‘We have inspected’. Commonly used by the monarch in relation to charters. Heads of religious establishments often requested the king to inspect charters made by his forebears and vouch for their continuing validity.

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GLOSSARY

Interdict: A restraint issued by a person in authority against doing or using something, or exercising a customary right. Messuage: Portion of land intended as site for a dwelling house and its outbuildings. Mortmain: Literally, ‘dead hand’. A legal term derived from the French. The condition of property held in perpetuity by an ecclesiastical or other corporation. Amortisation: the act of alienating lands in mortmain. Nolumus (clause): Literally, ‘We do not wish’. Usually, a royal statement. Novice: One who has entered a religious house and is under probation. Oyer et terminer: A legal term for a writ of commission directing royal officials to hear and determine indictments on treasons, felonies, etc. Postulant: A candidate for admission into a religious house. Prebend: Pension, pittance or church living. Procuration: The provision of entertainment or a fee, for a bishop or other ecclesiastical visitor by a religious establishment. Quitclaim: The renunciation of a right or claim. Reredos: An ornamental screen covering the wall at the back of an altar. Scutage: A tax levied out of knight’s fees; but commonly a tax paid in lieu of military service. Temporalities: Temporal or material possessions.

Introduction INTRODUCTION

This book is an examination of the medieval English nunnery superior as a power broker. It addresses questions of social identity, models of leadership, and perceptions of the role and performance of the abbess or prioress in secular and religious spheres.1 Although several historians have studied English medieval nunneries in various contexts, there has been no attempt as yet to focus specifically on the individual elected to lead her house. The role of the medieval abbess or prioress allowed the exercise of independent authority by a woman, in an era noted for its subjugation of females and for its schizoid view of them as either temptresses or saints. This woman, whether in an abbey or priory, bore responsibility not only for spiritual leadership, but also for the maintenance and exploitation of convent property.2 The image of the worldly and ineffectual medieval nun, deliniated progressively by Eileen Power in Medieval English Nunneries and Medieval People and recycled by later historians, has been challenged directly or implicitly by a number of scholars.3 John Tillotson’s pamphlet on Marrick Priory, for example, reveals careful and, perhaps, sacrificial management of resources by the community during a period when reduced demand for land meant declining income for many monasteries.4 Catherine Paxton’s dissertation on London nunneries not only questions the negative stereotype of the nun per se, but also argues convincingly that secular folk valued the London nuns for their intercessory function.5 In addition, Joan Greatrex and Yvonne Parrey provide insights into the devotional life of convents and the use made of formational texts which were often donated by pious secular folk and later shared with their sisters in the community. These studies reveal aspects of

1

2 3 4 5

The head of a female abbey was referred to as ‘abbess’; that of a priory or smaller nunnery, a ‘prioress’. The latter term is also applied to the superior’s deputy in an abbey. For a summary of duties performed by nunnery superiors see M. Oliva, The Convent and the Community in Late Medieval England (Woodbridge, 1998), pp. 76–9. E. Power, Medieval English Nunneries c. 1275–1535 (Cambridge, 1922); Medieval People (New York, 1924). J. Tillotson, Marrick Priory: A Nunnery in Late Medieval Yorkshire, Borthwick Paper 75 (1989). C. Paxton, ‘The Nunneries of London and its Environs in the later Middle Ages’, unpublished DPhil dissertation, University of Oxford (1992). See pages 103–35 for a detailed discussion of legacies to nuns and also chantry foundations administered by nunneries.

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convent management which suggest alternative views of the nunnery superior.6 Recent feminist literature has examined the social parameters which helped determine the level of autonomy achieved by medieval women, addressing the broad question of female power and external attitudes to such power during the Middle Ages. These studies provide useful background to the leadership question. Susan Stuard identifies a change in collective attitudes to female authority from the twelfth century, when the exercise of power by women began to be termed ‘manly’ or ‘exceptional’.7 This attitudinal shift is explained in terms of a re-awakened notion of polarity between the sexes, promoted by scholars influenced by Galen and, later, Gratian.8 Further, it is argued that such a notion of polarity had become by the fourteenth century a hardened assumption, manifested in the exclusion of females from educational institutions which would otherwise have given them a forum for attacking beliefs of this kind.9 Roberta Gilchrist contributes evidence which lends further support to feminist theories on the repression of women exercising authority in the public sphere. These data include a set of charts showing population and annual income calculated in 1535 and revealing that fifty percent of all English Benedictine nuns in that year had a total net income of less than £5 per head, while only about five percent of male religious from the same order lived at that level.10 Such figures give a clear indication of priorities in a society whose males controlled the bulk of property. Caroline Barron and Anne Sutton have studied urban widows in medieval London, another discrete group of women.11 Their work brings together a number of essays examining the challenges met by individuals, mainly from the mercantile class. These discussions offer insights not only into female power, but also into aspects of piety, educational aspirations, patronage and the surveillance of late medieval women. In her examination of fourteenthcentury conventual life at Dartford Priory, Nancy Bradley Warren remarks 6

7

8 9 10 11

J. Greatrex, ‘On Ministering to ‘‘certayne devoute and religiouse women’’: Bishop Fox and the Benedictine Nuns of Winchester Diocese on the Eve of the Dissolution’, in Women in the Church: Papers Read at the 1989 Summer Meeting and the 1990 Meeting of the Ecclesiastical History Society, Studies in Church History 27, eds W.J. Sheils and D. Wood (Cambridge, 1990), pp. 227–8; Y. Parrey, ‘ ‘‘Examples and Instrumentes of Vertues’’: Vernacular Books and the Formation of English Nuns’, unpublished PhD thesis, The Australian National University (Canberra, 1996), p. 332. S.M. Stuard, ‘The Dominion of Gender: Women’s Fortunes in the High Middle Ages’, in Becoming Visible, 2nd edn, eds R. Bridenthal, C. Koonz & S. Stuard (Boston, 1987), p. 158. Ibid., p. 163. Ibid., pp. 165–9. R. Gilchrist, Gender and Material Culture: the Archaeology of Religious Women (London, 1994), p. 44. C.M. Barron & A.F. Sutton, eds, Medieval London Widows 1300–1500 (London, 1994), pp. xxxiii, xxxiv.

INTRODUCTION

xv

on the nuns’ experience of both constraint and empowerment: a reminder of the delicate balance demanded of the nun and thus, the superior.12 There is no doubt that all nunnery histories reflect to some extent the service of abbesses and prioresses, who were held ultimately responsible for all areas of life in their houses. Indeed, blame was attributed to superiors when problems surfaced, though praise was routinely denied. However, many sources which describe convent activities fail to divulge the nature and extent of personal involvement by individual women, whether in business transactions, management of staff, formulation of petitions, litigation, discipline of the community, or worship. Documentary evidence of all these areas of the superior’s life and work offers clues to the attitudes and initiatives of the one in charge. Such evidence does not yield up its secrets readily; indeed, in many cases it is necessary to read the material both at its face value and also ‘against the grain’ to arrive at some understanding of the challenges faced by the women and their manner of wielding power. While nunneries were in general poorer than the male monasteries, there were considerable variations between individual female houses in terms of finance, location, level of community support and secular pressures. All of these factors influenced the nature of the superiors’ leadership responsibilities and helped determine outcomes. In order to ground this study on a firm base offering potential for comparison and contrast, a core of material drawn from the records of sixteen nunneries has been used. Data relating to several convents outside the core group have also been consulted for additional comparison. The term ‘leadership’ is modern rather than medieval; nevertheless, it is a word which resonates with today’s scholars and describes clearly the role of the convent superior. All but one of the selected nunneries were subject to the Benedictine or the Augustinian Rule.13 Syon Abbey functioned under the Rule of St Augustine with the Rule of St Saviour as its constitutions. The Brigittine Rule was created primarily for women, though it also provided directions for the male religious who supported the needs of the abbey while functioning in a physically separate area of the monastic complex.14 12 13

14

N.B. Warren, Spiritual Economies: Female Monasticism in Later Medieval England (Philadelphia, 2001), p. 3. The core group whose superiors offer the main focus of this study are Canterbury St Sepulchre (Kent); Clementhorpe (Yorkshire); Clerkenwell (Middlesex); Davington (Kent); Esholt (Yorkshire); Godstow (Oxfordshire); Kington St Michael (Wiltshire); Lacock (Wiltshire); Marrick (Yorkshire); St Helen’s (London); St Mary’s Winchester (Hampshire); Romsey (Hampshire); St Michael Stamford (Northamptonshire); Stratford at Bowe (Middlesex); Syon (Middlesex); Wilton (Wiltshire). See Appendix A for further information on the nunneries selected. The main texts used for this purpose are J. McCann, ed. & trans., The Rule of St Benedict (London, 1963); E. Kock, ed., Three Middle-English Versions of the Rule of St Benet, EETS os 120; Bodl. Arch. A.d. 15; The Rule of Seynt Benet, trans. Bishop Richard Fox,

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The raw materials from which the model of the ‘ideal’ female superior can be constructed are to be found within these rules; from these the basic ‘duty statement’ of the abbess or prioress can be discerned. It becomes clear that the Rule of St Benedict required that the female superior follow a model incorporating the attributes of both authoritarianism and submission, normally regarded as opposite extremes. Similar requirements were set out in the Rule and constitutions guiding the superior of Syon.15 This model was demanding enough but, given the additional expectations introduced by the secular world and sanctioned informally or otherwise by the church, it became both complex and onerous. While the early monasteries functioned as isolated, simple units, sufficiently funded (paradoxically) to allow their religious to engage in voluntary poverty and contemplation, the monasteries of the later period were subject to decisive changes. Political and social pressures forced religious to take responsibility for keeping their houses afloat financially, manage property, sue the recalcitrant, engage in building programs, and serve the secular community in a number of new areas including chantry management and teaching of the young. Thus the role of the convent superior was increasingly weighted with additional responsibilities which became virtual accretions to the Rule over time. The women’s performance of these tasks was assessed by the episcopal authorities. The male religious also found himself carrying an increasing burden of responsibility in the later Middle Ages, but his house was typically betterfunded and he was less subservient and vulnerable to the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Important distinguishing features of the male and female roles appear when the status of the superiors is compared, as Warren points out.16 Not the least of these differences is apparent in the diffusion of spiritual authority through the appointment of a male chaplain for the nunnery community. Since this individual performed a function which was denied to the abbess or prioress, his place in the power network had a significant effect upon the ethos and function of the nunnery. The complex power structure in which the female superior was placed is illustrated by two diagrams in Chapter 1, firstly drawn from an hierarchical perspective (fig. 1) and secondly (fig. 2) from the perspective of the female superior. These show the relative importance of the various authority figures, individuals and pressure groups, as well as the areas of activity governed by the Rule to which a given community adhered. As the double-pointed arrows

15

printed in 1517 by R. Pynson; S. Eklund, ed., Sancta Birgitta Opera Minora I. Regula Salvatoris (Stockholm, 1975); G.J. Aungier, The History and Antiquities of Syon Monastery (London, 1840). For ‘Additions to the Rules’ see Aungier’s Appendix, pp. 249–404. Syon Abbey functioned somewhat differently, being subject to both the Augustinian and Brigittine Rules, the latter supplying the practical guidelines for the house. The Brigittine system effectively gave Syon’s abbess greater autonomy than that enjoyed by her counterparts in the other orders, but the diocesan still wielded considerable power over her. See Victoria County History of Middlesex i, pp. 182–5.

INTRODUCTION

xvii

indicate, the prioress or abbess not only exerted power but experienced pressure from groups and individuals both within and outside the convent. Her perceptions of the varying levels of such power were not necessarily identical with those in authority over her. The task of analysing and assessing the phenomenon of leadership and the execution of the superior’s multi-faceted role has demanded a longitudinal approach, to observe the effects of social and religious changes. Since the bull Periculoso of 1298 proved a key determinant in the life of the female houses,17 its date of promulgation offered a possible starting point for the project. However, the study reaches back to 1280 to establish the background to ‘reform’ legislation and thus include the period of Archbishop John Pecham’s service, in view of his significance as a reformer. The year 1539 marks the conclusion of the book, signalling the end of official monastic life for the English nuns, though not necessarily the end of their commitment to religion. The availability of records is obviously a key determinant. Since most earliest surviving episcopal registers of the medieval period date from the second half of the thirteenth century, it would be difficult to find an adequate collection of sources to illuminate the period before 1280. Some of the primary source material cited here has been used by other scholars; however, this study calls for a different treatment of the evidence, with an emphasis on cause and effect rather than relative ‘worthiness’ of individuals or institutions. While tracing the outline of the model or models placed before the convent superior there has also been a search for answers in several other areas, including identity, social status and personal attributes brought to the leadership role. The popular notion that nuns were typically drawn from the ranks of the ruling class is re-examined: an exercise already begun in recent works by historians including Marilyn Oliva, John Tillotson and Paul Lee.18 In this context, the interpersonal relations within the house and links with the secular or religious community outside the convent are assessed, bearing in mind that these are issues which affected the shape and style of leadership within the convent. Testamentary material, particularly from the London area, offers important additional clues.19 Evidence of election procedures also 16 17

18

19

Warren, Spiritual Economies, pp. 6–7, 14–23. Warren also compares the gendered implications of the application of the Benedictine, Franciscan and Brigittine Rules. See J.H. Tillotson, ‘Visitation and Reform of the Yorkshire Nunneries in the Fourteenth Century’, Northern History 30 (1994), pp. 1–21, for a discussion on the implications of this bull in a local context. M. Oliva, The Convent and the Community, pp. 52–60; Tillotson, Marrick, pp. 6–8; P. Lee, Nunneries, Learning and Spirituality in Late Medieval English Society (York, 2001), pp. 57–67. The following printed sources have been used to supplement testamentary material found in episcopal registers: J.W. Clay, ed., North Country Wills i, SS 116 (1908); C.W. Foster, ed., Lincoln Wills registered in the district probate registry at Lincoln A.D. 1271–1526, 3 vols, Lincoln Record Society 5, 10, 24 (1914–30); N.H. Nicolas,

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adds perspective on the question of family links and the vicarious benefits sought by relatives of the superior. Another area of investigation concerns the church’s perception of the female superior’s role and the level of support given by the religious hierarchy and, in particular, the local bishop. The inherent stresses of the relationship between the abbess or prioress and her ordinary are highlighted, together with evidence of mutual expectations. This sets the scene for a later discussion concerning some outcomes of this relationship and of the relationship between the superior and the spiritual and temporal monarchs, namely king and pope. Obviously, the king was accorded a far more dominant role in the administration of a royal house, with royal demands for special favours such as corrodies and pensions occurring as part of the normal interaction between monarch and abbess.20 Responses to applications of this kind are studied, in order to identify the attitudes of the women concerned. Comparisons are drawn between the king’s and pope’s relations with the poor and the more affluent houses. Not surprisingly, the theme of conflict is a thread which runs through the whole of this study. The task of balancing distaff and crosier in the day-today management of convents reveals superiors forced to compromise between the dictates of the church and the demands of their budgets or their secular neighbours. A range of evidence including episcopal registers, account rolls, plea rolls, Chancery documents, letters and petitions is used to highlight the efforts of individual women striving to fulfil their financial responsibilities against daunting odds. It has been important in this investigation to determine how the observers and critics of the female superior viewed her role and service; not surprisingly perhaps, the records show that perceptions of the female superior as spiritual guide, economic manager and disciplinarian varied according to the perspective of the onlooker. Since the male ecclesiastical fraternity monitored and assessed the women’s service, their writings are examined for

20

Testamenta Vetusta, 2 vols (London, 1826); J. Raine et al., eds, Testamenta Eboracensia, 6 vols, SS 4, 30, 45, 53, 79, 106 (vol. 106 ed. J.W. Clay) (1836–1902); G.H. Fowler & H. Jenkinson, eds, ‘Some Bedfordshire Wills at Lambeth and Lincoln’, in Publications of the Bedfordshire Historical Records Society 14 (1931); R.R. Sharpe, Calendar of Wills Proved and Enrolled in the Court of Husting, 2 vols (1889–1900); R.R. Sharpe, Calendar of Letter Books Preserved among the Archives of the Corporation of the City of London at the Guildhall, Books A–L (1899–1912); J.R.H. Weaver & A. Beardwood, eds, Some Oxfordshire Wills Proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, 1393–1510, Oxford Record Society 39 (1958). A corrody was a living allowance, in cash, kind, or both. In practice it usually involved a retirement plan. Some corrodial contracts guaranteed full board and lodging for the applicant, with additional benefits negotiated according to the needs of the retiree and the resources of the house. Many corrodies were supplied without charge in response to special requests, usually by the king; others attracted fees which were paid in advance to the monasteries concerned.

INTRODUCTION

xix

attitudes to the role and performance of abbess and prioress. Attitudinal shifts are also traced with respect to discernible changes in disciplinary recommendations, particularly in the area of enclosure and personal property. A wide range of sources has been used in this study, with particular emphasis on the episcopal registers, since they contain both internal and external evidence in the form of visitation reports, letters, wills, and assorted administrative notes including lists of clerical appointments. While information supplied to the bishop or his representative by the nuns is an important key to the attitudes and performance of the abbess or prioress it must be evaluated cautiously, since interviewees appear to have been encouraged to voice complaints rather than expressions of satisfaction. External evidence is understandably more readily available than internal data; indeed, the enclosed nature of the community was meant to minimize secular contact. It has been useful to compare the clerical view of the female superior with the perspective of her secular observers, in the light of popular literature and private documents from the period. Chapter 7 of this book acknowledges the changing social climate of the later Middle Ages and comments upon the manner in which such changes affected the shape and direction of the female superior’s ‘portfolio’. The differences between the views of secular and ecclesiastical observers become more acute as the drama of the Dissolution unfolds. An assessment of the responses of female superiors to the draconian measures of Henry VIII in the late 1530s occupies the final chapter of the study. That such responses were far from universal is another indication that the idea of a ‘typical’ abbess or prioress is an illusion. The fear and confusion of the pre-Dissolution years tested female superiors to their limits. Some rebelled, others submitted quietly after doing what they could to secure pieces of real estate; some set up alternative religious communities either at home or overseas. Official reports, real estate transactions, wills and personal letters combine to tell a story of women under threat gathering whatever resources, spiritual and material, that were at hand. The model of leadership evolved over time, some of its features becoming more sharply etched as the period wore on, others smoothed over. Emerging from the study are women responding with varying degrees of intelligence, nobility, piety, stubbornness and commonsense to the demands of the model on which they focused, in a period remarkable for its instability.

1 The Meaning of Leadership in the Medieval English Nunnery

THE MEANING OF LEADERSHIP

The broad topic of leadership and the related issues of power and authority have attracted vigorous and fruitful debate, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s. During this time, academics and their contemporaries in business strove to express in both popular and academic language a concept which was and is widely understood but difficult to analyse. In 1961 Tannenbaum defined leadership as ‘an interpersonal influence exercised in a situation and directed through the communication process towards the attainment of a specific goal or goals’.1 Burns some seventeen years later perceived it to be inextricably linked with authority, observing that such authority was [in the distant past] ‘legitimated by tradition, religious sanction, rights of succession and procedures, not by mandate of the people . . .’2 These are useful insights for the contemporary scholar seeking to understand the intricate social dynamics of the medieval nunnery. The term ‘leadership’, though modern rather than medieval, is entirely appropriate for describing the status and function of the medieval prioress or abbess. Tannenbaum’s emphasis on goals fits the paradigm well, given some extension of his argument; and Burns’ specific reflections on authority can also be extended to focus on the nunnery community and its function. It is clear that the authority of the prioress or abbess was legitimated by religious sanction, notably by the church, via the monastic rule which determined the pattern of her service. However, such authority was also legitimated by the people, the believers who accepted the religious as role models and intercessors, and also the community of nuns responsible for electing their superior. There is no doubt that the medieval abbess or prioress stood out as an authority figure in a society which permitted such status to few other females. In general, though authorised by the church to administer a religious house, she remained under the jurisdiction of male ecclesiastical figures. The abbess or prioress was nominated and elected by the nuns, and 1 2

R. Tannenbaum et al., Leadership Organization (New York, 1961), p. 24. J.M. Burns, Leadership (New York, 1978), p. 24.

2

LEADERSHIP IN MEDIEVAL ENGLISH NUNNERIES

in most cases either held or lost her leadership role on the basis of the convent community’s perception of her life and work and the supervisory bishop’s view of the nunnery’s spiritual and economic condition. The exercise of power in her administration can be seen to some extent in Foucauldian terms, that is, occurring via a ‘chain’ or ‘net-like organization’ in which individuals were both ‘targets’ and ‘elements of its articulation’.3 This image expresses the transactional nature of the monastic superior’s role, given that the abbess or prioress was required to respond to the needs of the group just as the members responded to her initiatives. Of course, changes related to famine, war, trade, spiritual aspirations and social attitudes required constant adjustment to the outer edges of the guidelines on the part of the superior, while she strove to retain the essential elements of the religious life. Indeed, it might be said that ‘leadership’ in the context of a medieval female religious house might be defined as an interactive situation in which the elected woman was permitted or required by her community to direct its energies towards an agreed goal or range of goals. The style or model of leadership prescribed for the medieval abbess or prioress can be traced through studying a range of ecclesiastical documents including monastic rules, which offer evidence of the elements from which the model’s main features can be identified.

Women and Monastic Rules The Rule of St Benedict, now available in several forms, was created in the sixth century for the guidance of Benedict’s monastery of male religious at Monte Cassino and became dominant in Western Europe as the Middle Ages progressed. According to Justin McCann, the document draws upon a number of sources including the writings of St Augustine, St Jerome, St Cyprian, St Leo and John Cassian of Marseilles, the latter a particular admirer of Jerome.4 There is evidence that St Basil was also a source of inspiration, since Benedict’s recommendations on the supply of food and on the attributes required of the cellarer of the monastery are clearly derived from the shorter Rule of St Basil.5 There is no indication that St Benedict ever considered writing a 3 4

5

M. Foucault, Power/Knowledge, Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972–1977 (New York, 1980), p. 98. J. McCann, Saint Benedict (London, 1979), p. 130. The completion date of Benedict’s Rule is subject to a vigorous debate, which focuses on the Rule’s chronological position relative to that of the Rule of the Master. See M. Dunn, ‘Mastering Benedict: monastic rules and their authors in the early medieval West’, The English Historical Review 416 (July 1990), pp. 567–94. For a discussion on Cassian see O. Chadwick, John Cassian (Cambridge, 1968). E.F. Morison, St. Basil and his Rule (Oxford, 1912), p. 115, citing Reg. Brev. 147.

THE MEANING OF LEADERSHIP

3

monastic rule specifically for women. Indeed, the Rule in its original form ignores females completely, despite the fact that they had already been living as cenobites for more than two centuries, and some, like Macrina, sister of St Basil, were highly influential in the establishment of new female communities.6 The pattern of women’s involvement in such projects continued after the introduction of the Benedictine Rule.7 The dramatic resurgence of monasticism after the Norman Conquest saw a significant increase in the number of nunneries founded in England.8 While mixed rules were probably used in English female houses before then, it is clear that by the thirteenth century the great majority of nunneries were being governed by either the Benedictine or Augustinian Rule.9 The Rule of St Benedict is more detailed than that of St Augustine, giving specific instructions on modes of behaviour in various circumstances, as well as providing general comments about the religious life itself. For this reason it was probably used widely as an additional set of guidelines by various non-Benedictine monasteries. Lacock Abbey, an Augustinian house, was dedicated to both the Virgin Mary and St Bernard. It appears likely that Ela Longespee, the founder, was intending to create a Cistercian community, since she obtained letters of confraternity for herself and her community from Citeaux on taking office.10 Given Ela’s aspirations, it is probable that the more detailed Rule of St Benedict was considered more suitable for the needs of her nuns than that of St Augustine. Syon Abbey, founded in the fifteenth century, also functioned under the Augustinian Rule, but practical, day-to-day guidance was drawn from the 6

7

8 9 10

W.K.L. Clarke, The Ascetic Works of Saint Basil (London, 1935), pp. 37–8. St Basil’s community emulated to some extent the pattern already developed by Pachomius, the author of the first extant monastic rule. The sister of Pachomius led the female community housed on the opposite side of the river from the male quarters. See A. Veilleux, ed. & trans., Pachomian Koinonia i, Cistercian Studies Series 45 (1980), p. 50. Other women believed to have influenced brothers or sons in this way include St Perpetua, the sister of St Augustine, who formed a community of women at Hippo, and Caesaria, the sister of Caesarius of Arles. Caesaria is given credit for ensuring that her nuns received a rule especially formulated to serve their needs in about 513 A.D. For an English translation of the Rule of St Caesarius see M. McCarthy, The Rule for Nuns of St Caesarius of Arles (Washington DC, 1960). St Scholastica, reputedly the sister of St Benedict, is also said to have taken a leadership role with nuns. See O.J. Zimmerman, ed. & trans., Life and Miracles of St. Benedict (Westport, Conn., 1980), p. 67. In the first half of the seventh century, the mother of St Donatus obtained from her son a set of guidelines for her nuns, combining elements from the precepts of St Benedict, St Columbanus and Caesarius. See J.-P Migne, Patrologia Latina 87 (Turnhout, U.D.), cols 267–96. R. Graham, ‘Monasticism’, in Mediaeval England, ed. H.W.C. Davis (Oxford, 1924), p. 371. For the text of the latter, see R. Canning et al., ed & trans., The Rule of St Augustine (London, 1984). VCH Hampshire ii, p. 303.

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LEADERSHIP IN MEDIEVAL ENGLISH NUNNERIES

constitutions attached to St Bridget’s Rule of St Saviour.11 It is conceivable that the Benedictine Rule was also given a place in the devotional life of the abbey as an additional resource, since it was adopted by nuns from other orders, therefore including religious from the five English convents of the Order of Fontevrault, and the Cistercian and Gilbertine nuns.12 (Female religious of the Franciscan order adhered to their own guidelines as set out in ‘The Thirde Order of Seynt Franceys, for the Brethren and Susters of the Order of Penitentis’ and ‘The Rewle of Sustris Menouresses Enclosid’;13 the Dominican nuns were subject to the Augustinian Rule).14 The Syon nuns were required on admission to vow obedience to the Augustinian Rule, with St Bridget’s Regula Salvatoris as its constitutions. The ‘Additions to the rule’ drafted by St Bridget provided additional guidelines.15 Syon’s abbess was charged with the responsibility of ensuring that the two rules were read aloud to the community in the vernacular every week at mealtimes. This task was facilitated by Richard Whytforde, one of the Syon brothers, who translated both The Rule of St Augustine and the abbey’s Martyrology into English for the women. Additional guidance was available to the women in the form of The Myroure of oure Ladye by an unknown author: first as a manuscript and later a printed book. This work contained ‘A Devotional Treatise on Divine Service’ with a translation of the offices used by the Syon sisters.16

The Psychological Environment The demand for clear directions for the religious life had come from both men and women in an environment notable for its blend of religious fervour, misogyny and benevolent paternalism.17 The writings of successive generations 11 12

13 14 15 16

17

VCH Middlesex i, p. 182. D. Knowles & R. Neville Hadcock, Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales (New York, 1971), pp. 104, 283, 285. C.f. R. Graham, ‘Monasticism’, in Mediaeval England, p. 371. See W.W. Seton, ed., ‘Two Fifteenth Century Franciscan Rules’, in A Fifteenth Century Courtesy Book, Early English Text Society 148 (1914), pp. 45–59, 63–119. H.M. Colvin, The White Canons in England (Oxford, 1951), p. 335; c.f. Knowles & Hadcock, pp. 283, 285. VCH Middlesex i, p. 182; Aungier, pp. 248–404; J.B. Severs, ed., A Manual of the Writings in Middle English 1050–1500 (ii) (Hamden County, Conn., 1969), pp. 464–5. See J.H. Blunt, ed., The Myroure of our Ladye, EETS es 19 (1873), also F. Procter & E.S. Dewick, eds, The Martirologe in Englysshe after the use of the chirche of Salisbury and as it is redde in Syon with addicyons, Henry Bradshaw Society 3 (1893). B. Radice, ed. & trans., The Letters of Abelard and Heloise (Harmondsworth, 1974), pp. 131–2. C.f. C.S.B. Muckle, ‘The Personal Letters between Abelard and Heloise’, Mediaeval Studies 15 (1953), pp. 47–94 for Latin text and commentary. There is still considerable debate about the authorship of the letters attributed to Heloise; the documents remain historically useful as an indicator of social attitudes, as do the

THE MEANING OF LEADERSHIP

5

of clerics reveal a struggle with the conflicting images of immaculate Virgin and ‘daughter of Eve’, as seen in numerous examples of visual arts. While woman was regarded as a possible candidate for sainthood after the model of the Virgin Mary, she was also seen as overwhelmingly vulnerable to a deadly spiritual affliction threatening all women, the ‘weaker vessels’ of the human race.18 The perceived female weakness was identified as a physical, mental, or spiritual attribute, and, at times, all three. It implied not only an inferior form of spirituality, but also an orientation towards active evil in both word and deed; hence the widespread labelling of woman as temptress and gossip.19 A baffling feature of medieval spirituality is that the Marian cult peaked in the thirteenth century at almost precisely the same time in which controls were beginning to tighten on female religious.20 The chain of developments surrounding the life of Birgitta of Sweden serves to illustrate the repressive nature of the environment in which women sought means of religious expression. Although Birgitta in the writing of her own rule (which she saw as a divine revelation) chose to focus on the Virgin Mary at a time when such a focus was a well-developed and ‘popular’ convention, she was unsuccessful in having her original rule approved by the papal curia. Pope Urban V insisted on extensive revisions which effectively reduced the authority of the abbess over the male population of the abbey.21 Rejection of the initial draft was justified on the grounds that the fourth Lateran Council of 1215 had decided not to allow new orders to be formed, due to the need for a period of consolidation after the hectic activity of the previous century.22 However, the fact that officialdom in western Europe was bent on exerting increasing pressure to limit the autonomy of religious women suggests a different motive, though one which does not necessarily ‘fit’ the environment of growing devotion to Mary. Idung, the German Cistercian, had written in the twelfth century: ‘It is not expedient for that sex to enjoy the freedom of having its own governance – because of its natural fickleness and also because of outside temptations which womanly weakness is not strong enough to resist.’23

18

19 20 21 22

23

fictional accounts of various figures in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, L.D. Benson, ed., The Riverside Chaucer, 3rd edn (Boston, 1987), pp. 3–328. One of the earliest uses of the term ‘weaker vessels’ in the monastic period can be found in reference to the nuns of the Pachomian communities of fourth-century Egypt. See Veilleux, Pachomian Koinonia ii, p. 154. G. Duby & M. Perrot, eds, A History of Women In The West II: Silences of the Middle Ages (Cambridge, Mass., 1992), p. 360. M. Warner, Alone of All her Sex (New York, 1985), p. 147. Eklund, pp. 24–5. K. Borrenson, ‘Birgitta’s Godlanguage’ in Birgitta, ed. T. Nyberg (Uppsala, 1990), p. 56. Note also F. Johnston’s article ‘St Bridget of Sweden and the Order of the Holy Saviour’, Monastic Studies 1 (1990), pp. 196–202. Idung of Prufening, Cistercians and Cluniacs, Cistercian Fathers Series 33 (Kalamazoo, 1977), p. 176.

6

LEADERSHIP IN MEDIEVAL ENGLISH NUNNERIES

Notwithstanding the inroads made by the papacy into St Birgitta’s proposals, the Brigittine order achieved a remarkably feminist thrust in England as well as overseas. This was due in part to the formulation and implementation of ‘Additions’ to the Rule, which not only affirmed the abbess as the representative of the Virgin Mary as Birgitta had envisioned, but placed her in some contexts on an equal footing with the bishop, rather than under his full disciplinary authority.24 According to the customs of Syon Abbey, the ordinary when making his official visit took his seat next to the abbess rather than being set apart as a ‘judge’ (as was customary at his visitations of most houses). Another unique feature was the restriction of the ordinary’s disciplinary powers, by virtue of a papal bull which placed the responsibility for correction of abuses squarely in the hands of the abbess, even to the point of barring the visitor from invoking excommunication.25 The history of the later Middle Ages shows no mitigation of the discomfort and disapproval exhibited by male officials faced with the exercise of power by religious women. Women, both religious and secular, were frequently exhorted by clerical writers to ‘rise above’ their gender to heights normally accessible to men only. This form of spiritual pressure is reflected in a statement from the eulogy for Euphemia of Wherwell dated 1257.26 After praising the abbess’s numerous achievements and her devoted care to the nuns of the community the author remarks that Euphemia ‘seemed to have the spirit of a man rather than a woman’.27 Barbara Newman, in exploring views of this kind, comments on a letter of Osbert of Clare, prior of Westminster Abbey, to Ida of Barking, whom he exhorts: ‘Do not let lascivious mirth reduce you to your sex. Conquer the woman . . .’28 She remarks that ‘Osbert’s praise of the virago or femina virilis relies on the straightforward androcentric notion that maleness is normative humanity and femaleness a defect . . .’29 As clerics who held anti-feminist views also tended to be highly-respected figures and prolific writers, it was inevitable that their views would be handed down as authoritative statements to successive generations. Hence, their prejudices were perpetuated by the very officials charged with the evaluation and supervision of women’s religious lives. The result was a repressive environment in which surveillance of females escalated. Nunnery superiors

24 25 26 27 28

29

Warren, Spiritual Economies, pp. 10–12. Ibid., pp. 22–3. See Appendix D. The document was written by an individual with inside knowledge of the abbey. VCH Hampshire ii, p. 133. B. Newman, ‘Flaws in the Golden Bowl’, Traditio 45 (1989–1990), p. 116; E.W. Williamson, ed., The Letters of Osbert of Clare (London, 1929), letter 40, pp. 135–40 for full text. For Osbert’s letter to Adelidis, abbess of Barking, see letter 42, pp. 153–79. Newman, ‘Flaws’, p. 121.

THE MEANING OF LEADERSHIP

7

were certainly the recipients of support from various quarters; but at the same time found themselves primary targets for ecclesiastical denunciation. The nuns and their superiors were evaluated on the basis of their adherence to the rule adopted by their order, the ‘Institutes’ of that order and the customs of the house. In addition they were required to conform to a growing number of guidelines imposed by several authority sources including patrons, the bishop of the diocese, the king and the papal court. The total weight of the above expectations amounted to a significant burden for women occupying positions of spiritual leadership in their local community, and in some cases, inhibited their administrative function.

The Prescribed and Implicit Leadership Model The demands of the church upon their enclosed religious were differentiated on the basis of gender, and to some extent are encapsulated in the particular rules which governed the different orders. Yet, aside from the Franciscan and Brigittine orders there is little indication of attempts to interpret rules specifically for female communities until the fifteenth and early sixteenth century. There were several unglossed translations made for women before that period, including a ‘feminine’ version featuring parallel Latin-English text of St Benedict’s Rule at Wintney Priory in the early thirteenth century.30 Three Benedictine Rules for English nuns survive from the fifteenth century, and all are of unknown origin. The ‘Northern Prose Version’ begins by addressing male superiors and subsequently directs its remarks to females, although there are some lapses where masculine pronouns have not been substituted consistently.31 The ‘Northern Metrical Version’ from the same period is ostensibly ‘feminine’; however, when it is compared with the Rule as transcribed by McCann it can be seen to adhere firmly to the structure of the original version. There are some exceptions to be found, including rearrangement and summarising of the section on the Opus Dei, and a few instances of slight alterations in meaning appearing in short passages.32 ‘The Caxton Abstract’, dated as late fifteenth-century, is addressed to ‘men and wymmen’ and is, as its title suggests, a précis of the Rule. It makes no textual concessions to women, except in lines 1 to 10, after which the pronouns are consistently male.33 Like the version published by Kock, the translation presented by Bishop Fox to the Winchester nuns in 1516 is close (though not identical) to the original male form of the Benedictine Rule, apart from what Joan Greatrex terms ‘homiletic insertions’, designed either to ensure that the women understood fully the extent of the requirements, or to 30 31 32 33

Kock, p. x. Ibid., pp. 1–47. Ibid., pp. 48–118. Ibid., pp. 119–40.

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indicate occasionally where gender differences called for variation in interpretation.34 Many female superiors, lacking significant direction, were left to interpret the male-oriented rules and constitutions as they saw fit.

Shapes of Leadership The Northern Metrical Version describes the status and function of the female superior thus: A priores aw for to be Pricipall in gude degre Both in the abba & with-oute Whar so sche ganges or rides o-boute, And to be honored euer hir aw; Bot in her-self sche sal be law, Pryde in hert for to haue none, Bot loue god euer of al his lone35

This text also states that the superior bears ‘the charch (charge) of a hird-man’ (herdsman), and all possible responsibility for her community’s spiritual welfare, adding that she must chastise sharply where her nuns prove intractable.36 At another point the author indicates that the female convent’s head is the nuns’ ‘sufferane’ (sovereign).37 Bishop Fox’s sixteenthcentury version, like the earlier female Rule, places emphasis on humility, on ‘rule and governance’, and also on the superior’s role as a shepherd of ‘sheep’. It focuses as well on the ‘mother’ image denoted in the term ‘abbess’, which is interpreted as the obverse of ‘abbot’.38 Thus, it states that the abbess ‘occupieth the place of almighty god [sic]: in the monastery, insomuch as she is named after him’ – a statement which is similar, but not identical, to the corresponding section in the original male form.39 In the case of Brigittine 34

35 36 37 38 39

Bodl. Arch. A.d. 15 The Rule of Seynt Benet, 1516, printed by Richard Pynson in 1517. This volume was discovered at St Michael’s priory, Stamford. C.f. J. Greatrex, ‘On Ministering to “Certayne Devoute and Religiouse Women”: Bishop Fox and the Benedictine Nuns of Winchester Diocese on the Eve of the Dissolution’, in Women in the Church, Studies in Church History 27, p. 228. Greatrex points out that, in reiterating St Benedict’s ruling on hospitality, Fox concedes the original injunction would need reinterpretation to make it applicable for the female community (‘On Ministering’, p. 227). Kock, pp. 56–7, ll. 323–30. Ibid., pp. 57–9, ll. 358, 363–5, 433–45. Ibid., p. 62. Bodl. Arch. A.d. 15, fol. 1. [The folios are not numbered in the volume, but for the purposes of this study the first page of the text is cited as folio 1]. (‘Abbas, qui praeesse dignus est monasterio, semper meminere debet quod dicitur, et nomen majoris factis implere. Christi enim agere vices in monasterio creditur . . .’) McCann, RB, chapt. 2, p. 16.

THE MEANING OF LEADERSHIP

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houses the identification is quite different, the abbess described as acting on behalf of the Virgin Mary.40 The fifteenth-century Northern versions for females also express the concept of the superior as one who interprets the divine will to her convent.41 According to the Fox version, the head of the nunnery is seen as the representative of God, while the original Rule has the male superior as that of Christ; but the reasons for the apparent distinction are not stated. It is possible that the Benedictine female superior, one of the brides of Christ (who was in turn described as the bridegroom of the church universal),42 could not then be identified logically as his representative. Kock’s translation of the Rule states clearly that the superior is required to exact obedience from her nuns and expend her energies in securing the salvation of all in her care.43 She is called upon to exercise hospitality, care for any sick members of the house, and treat all members alike, regardless of age or rank.44 While responsible for the spiritual well-being of the community and while ensuring that the Holy Offices are kept, the abbess or prioress is also entrusted with the maintenance of the convent property. She is expected to consult with the other religious on all matters, while accepting ultimate responsibility for the decisions taken.45 In all her service to the community she and her nuns must seek supernatural aid.46 The Brigittine guidelines provide for a similar level of spiritual and physical responsibility on the part of the superior and treat conventual elections procedures in like manner; however, the Additions to the Brigittine Rule give particularly long and detailed instructions on the methods by which discipline is to be maintained by the superior.47 At first glance, the task of identifying a leadership model from the apparently heterogeneous collection of directives in the monastic rules for women seems impossible; however, on close inspection of the text a pattern can be discerned. Through the process of election the nuns of the community select the leader most likely to direct its energies appropriately.48 The leader, having been duly elected and affirmed as a legitimate authority figure, monitors the nuns’ response to her spiritual and physical directions under the guidance of the Rule, thus nurturing them towards their ultimate goal. The power process embodied in the prescribed sequence is unique and complex. Ideally, the members of the group are empowered by the relin-

40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48

Eklund, p. 120. Kock, p. 57, ll. 340–1. Revelation 19:7–9, 21:2 (the Bible). Kock, p. 57, ll. 343–56, pp. 61–2, ll. 470–514. Ibid., p. 59, ll. 408–9. Ibid., p. 62, l. 524. Ibid., p. 49, ll. 41–2. Aungier, pp. 268–72. Kock, pp. 110–13, ll. 2219–326.

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quishment of property to focus on spiritual aspirations; 49 their obedience to the superior in turn empowers her to achieve harmony in the convent, as she directs the group towards performing the tasks which are the means of grace.50

The Wielding and Denial of Power There is a paradox at work, in that there must be a denial of power at some points, lest it should become an obsession and thus subvert the fundamental spiritual goals. Kock’s version of the Rule admonishes superiors: Al if scho be hig?est in degre in hir-self lawest sal scho be.51

St Benedict, like other authors of monastic rules, leaves no doubt that some members of the house will display a lower level of commitment than others; accordingly, there is provision for discipline to be administered by the leader, and meted out with reference to the gravity of the offence and at the leader’s discretion.52 While it is necessary for the abbess or prioress to be severe and punitive at times, even to the point of inflicting blows, the superior is called to discipline herself to the point where her actions are motivated by love.53 The normal sentence for physical punishment of Syon nuns was five ‘moderatly scharpe’ lashes on bared shoulders; in extreme cases the number was greater, according to the judgement of the abbess.54 Although there is a clear prescription for authoritarianism in the figure outlined in the Rule, there is also a demand that the superior manifest humility.55 The recurring theme of humility together with the injunction that the leader should be both herdsman and steward suggest indeed the opposite of the authoritarian model, in other words, a servant.56 There is no doubt that that both of these apparently opposing sets of attributes are demanded. Thus, the Rule enjoins that the female superior should act with the assurance of one given the mandate to command obedience but also place herself at the disposal of those in need. The nunnery then presents itself as an interactive group, led by an individual who is strong, but also sympathetic and servant-like in the manner of

49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56

Ibid., p. 93, ll. 1615–18. Ibid., pp. 89–91, ll. 1491–1552. Ibid., p. 111, ll. 2263–4. Ibid., pp. 82–3, ll. 1241–68. Ibid., p. 111, l. 2270. Aungier, pp. 254–5. Kock, p. 57, l. 329 (‘Pryde in hert for to haue none’). Ibid., p. 57, l. 358; ibid., p. 113, l. 2318.

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Christ, prepared to wash the feet of the disciples on one occasion57 and fling unwelcome traders out of the temple on another.58 The quality of obedience is clear also: personified by Mary, whose response at the Annunciation was ‘Behold the Handmaiden of the Lord . . .’59 The rule adopted by the convent is designed to control and direct power appropriately, through the firm leadership of a superior who keeps the right balance between the twin models of authoritarianism and servanthood. When the physical needs of the group are being supplied by the house as prescribed, the members are freed to pursue their shared and unvarying spiritual goals. Although different perceptions of the meaning of the religious life are to be expected among the nuns, the spiritual nature of the goals offers the basis for a stable environment, at least in theory.

Additional Demands The very fact that a rule was considered necessary to guide the religious is an admission that they would find their service challenging. The directives provided in The Rule of St Benedict are, for the most part, practical and reasonable; however, in the late medieval environment the superior was required to deal with a number of additional demands which had extremely tenuous links with her spiritual responsibilities, and only a small part of the power network in which she functioned was prescribed by the Rule. Figures 1 and 2 below illustrate the relative importance of various elements, including the Rule itself, with arrows indicating the interaction of the nuns with their superior and of the superior with key figures and groups. There are different ways of expressing power relations in the context of the nunnery, depending on the perspective of the viewer. Figure 1 represents an hierarchical view of the dynamics involved. The papal curia assumes very large proportions here, which was not necessarily the case from the superior’s perspective, as indicated in Figure 2. It is important to note that the Rule covers the abbess or prioress and her nuns but not all those who live within the precincts of the convent. Given the complex nature of the female superior’s role in the later Middle Ages, there was considerable potential for conflict in several areas of her leadership. The hierarchical diagram represents the poor outside the convent as impinging noticeably on the community, but they are scarcely seen by the superior herself in Figure 2 (below, p. 13). This is a reminder that most nunneries were themselves too poor to provide alms to the needy outside their walls.

57 58 59

John 13:5 (the Bible). Matthew 21:12–13 (the Bible). Luke 1:38 (the Bible).

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Figure 1: Female superior’s power network (hierarchical view). *Sometimes the king was the patron. # Many nunneries were too poor to give alms.

THE MEANING OF LEADERSHIP

Figure 2: Female superior’s power network (from her own perspective).

13

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Conflicting Demands One source of potential conflict was the Benedictine injunction dealing with hospitality. This injunction was apparently designed to address the needs of pilgrims and poor people, stating: A Priores aw to be prest Forto resaue ilka gude gest And at hier myght tham mere make Soueraynly for godes sake . . .60

The provision of hospitality was a potential source of anxiety, not only in regard to discipline, but in terms of simple economics, since superiors were hardly in a position to send away would-be guests of any rank, and high-born visitors were apt to demand the kind of comforts which they enjoyed in their own homes. Tension of this kind was probably felt in male houses also, but the majority of these were in a better position to deal with the financial strains inherent in the provision of hospitality. The ideal of voluntary poverty proved unrealistic for many nuns. The fifteenth-century female version of the Rule states that no religious is to have any item of personal property: In relegion, als it es knawn, Sal thai haf no thing of ther awn, Ne no thing clame the propirte, Bot al thing sal in comun be.61

The same section then enlarges on the ideal of sharing all things equally, implying that there will be sufficient for all. However, the female religious enjoined to minister to the poor were the poor; indeed, it is clear from numerous visitation reports that in a number of nunneries the women were dependent for a significant proportion of their supplies from people outside the convent. Circumstances of this kind rendered the ideal of voluntary poverty irrelevant, and even a possible source of resentment, since imposed poverty robs the would-be giver of the opportunity to approach the ideal of self-denial so basic to the Benedictine Rule. In the case of an unusually wealthy female house such as Syon, the nuns were freed from the need to struggle for what St Benedict would have regarded as basic provisioning. But on the whole, nuns in England were significantly poorer than male religious. It is certainly possible to find impoverished male houses also, but research into Benedictine monastic incomes reveals clear evidence that women were on the whole far more deprived than their male counterparts.62 60 61 62

Kock, p. 102, ll. 1925–8. Kock, p. 93, ll. 1615–18. Gilchrist, Gender and Material Culture, p. 44.

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15

Social customs which grew alongside and around the Rule introduced additional burdens for prioresses and abbesses in their leadership role. Stewardship of property was an accepted part of the superior’s portfolio and, as originally intended, meant taking responsibility for tools and other items owned by the monastery.63 For later medieval superiors it also involved collecting rents, prosecuting recalcitrant tenants and sorting out all manner of maintenance problems, particularly if the house was poorly-endowed and there was no custos to assist. There is a reference to rents in the fifteenth-century Northern verse for nuns, which places the responsibility for such moneys, as well as the belongings of the chapel, in the hands of the prioress and sacristan.64 Sophisticated economic management is understandably not foreshadowed in the original Rule, yet balancing the budget proved to be an abiding concern for nearly all of the late medieval nunnery superiors in the houses studied. Had female superiors received the same educational benefits as their male counterparts they would have been in a more favourable position for discharging their financial responsibilities. An inadequate grasp of Latin, in which most legal documents were framed, was a disadvantage to nuns in leadership roles. This educational gap is confirmed in the remark that the Godstow records and charters were translated into English in the fifteenth century to protect the women from exploitation as a result of their lack of expertise in Latin.65 Some customs perpetuated in the later medieval period can be traced back to the Regularis Concordia, the result of an ecclesiastical council called at royal command in Winchester some time between 965 A.D. and 970 A.D. Bishops, abbots and abbesses conferred and drew up regulations which became a book of customs.66 The liturgies for the dead as set out in the Concordia67 were extended in later periods to serve religious and secular alike. As attention became more intently focused on the perceived need to take spiritual responsibility for the deceased, there was increasing pressure for the monks and nuns to perform lengthy obits or to set up chantry foundations. The details of these were frequently prescribed in later medieval wills. It was common for the foundation and celebration of chantries to be funded through the sale or leasing of property bequeathed to the religious, which meant that monastic budgets, through the acceptance of such commitments, were vulnerable to a fluctuating real estate market. For female religious the burden was heavier since nuns could not celebrate masses and were consequently obliged to pay a male celebrant as part of the initial agreement, a responsibility which was perhaps viewed with mixed feelings by 63 64 65 66 67

McCann, RB, chapt. 32, p. 85. Kock, pp. 88–9, ll. 1472–90. A. Clark, ed., The English Register of Godstow Nunnery, EETS 142 (1911), p. 65. T. Symons, ed. & trans., Regularis Concordia: The Monastic Agreement (London, 1952). Introduction, p. xxiv. Ibid., pp. 65–8.

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superiors. William Thorneye, an ex-sheriff of London, added the following proviso to his will proved on June 20th, 1349: ‘If the aforesaid prioress and nuns should decline to accept the above tenements subject to the charges the same are to be sold for pious uses to be performed by the four orders of friars.’68 Papal edicts took their place in the web of regulations and demands surrounding female religious superiors. One in particular became a virtual accretion to the Rule, despite protests that it was an inappropriate addition to the list of guidelines to which the women were already sworn. Whereas the early medieval period is noted in retrospect for its varied forms of religious expression among women,69 there is evidence in later years of a growing concern to place stricter limits on their activities. The bull Periculoso, promulgated in 1298, signalled a lack of confidence in female leadership, decreeing that: . . . in whatever part of the world they might be, [nuns] ought henceforth to remain perpetually cloistered in their monasteries, so that none of them, tacitly or expressly professed, shall or may for whatever reason or cause, (unless by chance any be found to be manifestly suffering from a disease of such a type and kind that it is not possible to remain with the others without grave danger of scandal) have permission hereafter to leave the same monasteries; and that no persons, in any way disreputable, or even respectable shall be allowed to enter or leave the same unless a reasonable and obvious cause exists, for which the appropriate authority may grant a special license so that [the nuns] be able to serve God more freely, wholly separated from the public and worldly gaze and, occasions for lasciviousness having been removed, may most diligently safeguard their hearts and bodies in complete chastity.70

The promulgation of Periculoso, in itself, suggests a view that women had become indifferent to the spirit of monasticism. This notion is discernible in evidence of some individuals and groups, though there is no reason to suppose that such indifference was widespread.

Surveillance The increasing emphasis on claustration, as illustrated in Periculoso, may have been due in part to the dawning realisation that western nuns were determined to claim a significant role in the shaping of their vocation. It

68 69 70

Sharpe, Wills i (London, 1889), p. 603. S. Elkins, Holy Women of Twelfth Century England (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1988), p. 150. E.M. Makowski, ‘The Canon Law and Cloistered Women: “Periculoso” and its Commentators’, PhD thesis Columbia University (1993), p. 64. (from A. Friedberg’s Corpus Iuris Canonici II, Sexti Decretal Lib. 2, TIT xvi, Boniface VIII).

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Disclaimer: Some images in the printed version of this book are not available for inclusion in the eBook. To view the image on this page please refer to the printed version of this book.

Plate 1. The abbess’s squint, Lacock Abbey. This device, used for observing the movements of the nuns from an upper storey room, was accessed via stone steps.

may also be attributed partially to the growing body of literature on consecrated virginity, which, in the clerical view, implied the need for stringent protective measures. It is clear from the architecture of Lacock Abbey that the monitoring of the nuns’ movements was considered extremely important, hence the ‘squint’ from which the abbess could observe the cloister while hidden from view herself (see Plate 1). The surveillance and controls which were increasingly imposed on female religious were devised not only to prevent misconduct of various kinds but

18

LEADERSHIP IN MEDIEVAL ENGLISH NUNNERIES

also to place the religious beyond suspicion and secular interference. There was undoubtedly an element of genuine concern for physical protection behind the measures, in addition to the abiding concern about the preservation of virginity (and the commitment to chastity on the part of those who were no longer virgins). The turbulence of the Middle Ages meant that the safety of the women could not be guaranteed by the distinctive clothing of their profession, as reports of violence against nuns show.71 However, it can be argued legitimately that Periculoso was not appropriate for the English situation, in which nuns were expected to care for the poor, negotiate property deals, collect rent, prosecute delinquent tenants and accommodate royal demands. It was probably not long after the Norman Conquest that a process of erosion began on the authority of the abbess and prioress. Some agents of this process were secular, making various demands which ultimately threatened the spiritual and temporal balance of conventual life. Others were ecclesiastical: a small number of officials who denied the pastoral support due to their charges. A key factor in the relational breakdown which resulted was the relentless devaluation of women expressed in the media of the day. The dual model of leadership outlined in this chapter has been conceived through the study of monastic rules together with additional ecclesiastical prescriptive literature and modern writings on power and authority. Clearly, the model calls for the attributes of both authoritarianism and submission, which are normally regarded as opposite extremes. This is and was a particularly complex and demanding prototype to place before a convent superior. Adding to the burden of the demands implied by the original leadership model was a growing tangle of secular expectations. Some caused tensions and threatened the balance of conventual life by compromising the nuns’ separation from the world and eroding the authority of the superior. The increasing emphasis on prayers for the dead resulted in an increasing burden as superiors accepting funds from testators were required to maintain obits and pay priests to perform prescribed rituals in exchange. Since chantry arrangements were often tied to property rental, the fluctuations of the real estate market made it difficult for superiors to maintain the promised spiritual services. A persistent undercurrent of negativism towards females (and thus female religious) was most palpably manifested in the promulgation of the bull Periculoso. This bull not only demonstrated a lack of confidence in nuns and therefore, their leaders, but also threatened to

71

See, for example, H. Maxwell, ed. & trans., The Chronicle of Lanercost (Glasgow, 1913), p. 23, where the destruction of the nunnery of Lambley-on-Tyne and the rape and murder of nuns and boarders in 1297 is described. There was also violence at Goring in 1304 (Power, Nunneries, p. 423); Heynings in 1414 (Calendar of Patent Rolls, 1413–16, p. 265); Hinchinbrooke in 1425 (CPR, 1422–9, p. 303).

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compromise the women’s stewardship of convent property through the implied restrictions on their movements. Thus, the later Middle Ages saw an increasing load of tasks incorporated into the leadership portfolio for women as well as men. Due to the greater poverty of the nunneries, the greater restrictions on their movements and the poorer level of support, the modified model placed before the abbess or prioress became onerous in the extreme.

2 Leadership and Lineage

LEADERSHIP AND LINEAGE

The election and retention of an abbess or prioress depended to a large extent on the interaction of numerous factors including social class, networks of supporters, secular attitudes to the role and religious conventions. Also of considerable significance was the nunnery superior’s relationship with the outside world. Investigations into this area demand attention to a range of data, including wills, letters, and selected documents from the royal and papal courts.

Election of the Convent Superior The Benedictine Rule, like others of its kind, provides advice for the election of a monastic superior. The male Benedictine version states that the abbot may be chosen ‘unanimously’ by the whole community, or a minority, however small, if its counsel ‘be more wholesome’. It also requires that the nominee be selected on the basis of personal wisdom and quality of life, regardless of seniority in the monastery. Where an unsuitable candidate is selected, the local bishop and ‘neighbouring abbots of christians’ are to take action and choose another, when the situation becomes known.1 The ‘Northern Metrical Version’ for nuns includes a similar prescription; the only significant variation from the early form is the direction that the nuns are to elect their new superior in consultation with the whole community rather than by a select committee.2 Of course, the very fact that the late medieval monastery superior was appointed by vote indicates that differences of opinion were not uncommon; indeed, canon law made provision for alternative methods to cover this contingency.3 Three different methods of voting are outlined in the ‘Additions’ to the Brigittine Rule: ‘the wey of the holy-goste, the wey of scrutyny, and the wey of compromys’.4 The Brigittine recommendations for general procedure are similar, but more detailed than 1 2 3 4

McCann, RB, chapt. 64, p. 145. Kock, pp. 110–11, ll. 2219–40; McCann, RB, p. 145. See B. Dobson, Durham Priory (Cambridge, 1973), pp. 86–7. Aungier, p. 288.

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those surviving from other orders of English nuns.5 The fact that a new General Confessor was voted in on the same occasion as that of the abbess’s election made the whole process more cumbersome. For a royal convent it was mandatory, during the period under review, to obtain the bishop’s consent (or the pope’s consent if exempted from episcopal jurisdiction) and also to advise the king of a vacancy and secure his permission to elect a new head. The bishop, if satisfied with the outcome of the election, was required to inform the monarch of his confirmation and ask him to restore the temporalities6 which had been under royal control during the vacancy. After this, the monarch received the homage of the new superior and alerted the tenants of the house. Finally, the bishop installed the new head, enjoined obedience on the part of the community and gave his benediction.7 Susan Wood points out that the non-royal patron’s rights were in fact very similar to those of the monarch in regard to the issue of assent in monastic election, except that more formalities were required by the king and thus more travelling and expense for those seeking his affirmation of the steps taken.8 That the lesser patron did enjoy essentially the same privileges as the monarch in the election is confirmed by an entry in Archbishop Corbridge’s register, which notes in 1303 that Corbridge refused to accept the resignation of Juliana, the retiring prioress of Esholt, ordering her to continue in office until he had visited and discussed the situation with Esholt’s patron, Simon Ward.9 This incident could be interpreted as evidence of a strong bond between the convent and the local upper-class families, as H.E. Bell observes.10 However, it could equally be seen as an illustration of the importance and power of the secular patron. Another such illustration can be seen in the record of a ceremony formulated for the first reception of the hereditary patron at Marrick in the fifteenth century. The document states that the founder’s representative ‘shal be mett att the utter yate with solempe procession, with crosse, tabers, and encens and holy water, wher a seit shal be provided . . .’ The ceremony proceeds with a greeting delivered by the prioress: Syr ye be right hertely welcome unto uns, and in as muche as we have assuryd knowledge that you maistershippe by liniall dissent have come of the honor[able] stoke whose predecessours have optenyd and enjoyd by 5 6 7 8 9 10

Ibid., pp. 286–91. For ‘temporalities’ see Glossary, p. xii. S. Wood, English Monasteries and their Patrons in the Thirteenth Century (Oxford, 1955), pp. 43–4. Ibid., p. 46. W. Brown, ed., The Register of Thomas Corbridge, Lord Archbishop of York, 1300–1304, SS 138 (1925), part I, item 241, pp. 92–3. H.E. Bell, ‘Esholt Priory’, Yorkshire Archaeological Journal 3 (1939), pp. 5–33.

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right title to be fownders of thys place . . . In consideracion whereof we granntt unto you thys [i.e., the request to enjoy the spiritual benefits of association with the house], so that your maistershippe make promes unto us to defende, mantene, and help us in al besyness, trobbles, unquyettness, and just causes ayenst owr gyffyng butt as well in effect and dede, according as you annceitours have done here before . . .11

This greeting is followed by a ritual in which the patron is directed to lay his hand on ‘thys boke’ and to kiss it. He is then promised spiritual benefits accruing not only from the prayers and good deeds of the Marrick nuns, but also of all those belonging to its order. This was a formidable commitment and one which was valued highly in the secular community, judging by the sentiments found in numerous wills of the period. Where a nunnery was subject to another house, as in the case of St Michael’s Stamford, the election was supervised by the head of the parent monastery.12 Essential components of any election process included notification of the date chosen, the securing of the nominee’s (or nominees’) permission, and official approval of the results, which were finally announced externally. The official record of the election proceedings at Wilton in 1485 makes the point that the result was published ‘to the clergy and people in vulgar tongue’ before the abbess-elect, Cecily Willoughby, gave her official consent.13 Ideally, only one nominee for the office of superior would emerge from the community as the obvious successor of the last abbess or prioress, an outcome which would presumably be more likely in a small house. With the nomination formalities over, the convent ‘under the guidance of the Holy Spirit’ selected and appointed their superior ‘by acclamation’.14 In practice, there were sometimes two or more nominees for the position, which implied selection by ballot, and therefore the potential for rivalry, which occasionally provoked sufficient dissension to require the assistance of the diocesan. Oliva identifies in her study of houses of Norwich diocese a trend towards electing as superior a nun who had come up through the ranks and proved her administrative ability.15 There is some evidence to suggest the same approach in other counties. In 1299, Agnes Ashley, one of the Winchester nuns who informed the king of their abbess’s death in January of that year, was later elected as abbess of St Mary’s. According to custom this nun would

11 12 13

14 15

Bodl. Ms. Ch. Yorks. a 1. 26b R (John Tillotson kindly made this document available from his database). In the case of St Michael’s, Stamford, it was the Abbot of Peterborough. D.P. Wright, ed., The Register of Thomas Langton, Bishop of Salisbury 1485–93, Canterbury & York Society 74 (1985), item 412, p. 48. See Appendix C for the full text of this account. Power, Nunneries, p. 45. M. Oliva, Convent and the Community, pp. 38–41. C.f. Oliva’s article ‘Aristocracy or Meritocracy . . .’, in Studies in Church History 27, pp. 197–208.

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have been an office-holder, and possibly the prioress. The prioress of Godstow in 1445 is named in Bishop Alnwick’s report as ‘Alice Lumley’, who succeeded to the office of abbess on the death of Elizabeth Felmersham in 1446. Similarly, a former prioress of Syon, Margaret Ashby, was elected abbess in 1447.16 It is unusual for the name of the superior’s deputy to appear in the records of the selected houses, except occasionally in visitation reports or incidental documents; this makes it difficult to determine how common it was for such deputies or other office-bearers to be elected eventually as head. But in many cases, particularly in relation to the poorer houses, the names of the obedientiaries are not recorded, and even the superior remains anonymous. Bishops seldom intervened in conventual appointments except in response to news of a crisis; indeed, only three such instances have been found in core group houses during the nominated period and one case in which cathedral officials acted for the bishop. At Canterbury St Sepulchre in 1368, the archbishop dismissed and replaced the prioress for poor governance and indiscipline resulting in scandal.17 The same occurred in 1492 at the small community of Kington St Michael, after a debacle in which the nunnery rebelled against the authority of the diocesan.18 Alice Lawrence, deposed for her alleged complicity in the preparation of a forged papal bull (which will be discussed in the next chapter), was replaced by Katharine Moleyns, a nun from Shaftesbury.19 Another dismissal and replacement implemented by the bishop occurred in 1528 at Stratford.20 It may be significant that the houses represented in these incidents were small; no evidence of such episcopal action has been found in relation to the royal nunneries from the core group. In 1316 during a vacancy (both of the York see and the convent of Clementhorpe) trouble arose over the selection of a candidate to replace Custance Basy, the prioress. Since one party elected Agnes de Methelay and the other Beatrice de Brandesby, the dean and chapter, deputizing for the future archbishop-elect, were forced to take charge and eventually elected Agnes.21 In 1470 at Godstow Abbey, the bishop was only one of five parties disputing an election over the candidates Margaret More and Alice Nunny, 16

17 18

19 20 21

CPR, 1288–96, pp. 393, 394. C.f. A.H. Thompson, ed. & trans., Visitations of Religious Houses in the Diocese of Lincoln ii, Canterbury & York Society 24 (1919), p. 114; also CPR, 1447–54, p. 2; Aungier, p. 59. LPL The Register of Simon Langham (1366–8), fol. 76v. The deposed prioress was Joan Chiriton. In the episcopal register Alice Lawrence is said to have ‘resigned’. This was probably the usual term applied when a vacancy occurred in circumstances other than the death of the incumbent. Wright, Reg. Langton, pp. 69, 86. TNA: PRO E315/91, fol. 5v. The Register of William Greenfield (1306–15) v, SS 153, item 2802, p. 249.

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the other parties being two groups of nuns, the king, and the pope.22 The bishop of Lincoln confirmed the election of Margaret More in April of the following year, and the king ordered that her fealty be taken by the abbot of Oseney.23 Then in October 1471 the king issued a document stating that Margaret’s rival, Alice Nunny, had been elected by royal licence, but added that her election had been confirmed (in an irregular fashion) by the pope rather than himself. Despite the confusion, the house was pardoned for its lack of courtesy to the king, and full restitution of the abbey’s temporalities granted to Alice instead of Margaret.24 However, the crisis was not over. In November, Margaret More appealed to the pope against the election of Alice Nunny. She asserted that on the day of the scheduled event, but before the appointed hour, ‘the greater part of the nuns’ elected Alice as their abbess, whilst afterwards, on the same day, and without the first election having been annulled, the ‘minor part’ elected Margaret herself.25 Eventually, the bishop of Lincoln’s commissaries confirmed the latter decision, thus enabling Margaret to take possession of the house. On learning of this development, Alice Nunny appealed to Rome alleging that the diocesan had been out of order in refusing to confirm her election. After the exhaustive local enquiries recommended by the pope were completed, Alice was judged in 1474 to be the rightful holder of the office and duly confirmed as such.26 By this time the nuns were becoming restive. A prioress elected during this period of uncertainty (Elizabeth Hiltun) feared that the outcome of the case pending before a papal auditor might affect her own appointment. The pope was called upon to ensure that her position remained secure, and assurance was accordingly given that she would remain prioress for life.27 In 1481 Alice Nunny resigned.28 This was a remarkable event at Godstow, where abbesses typically retained office until death. A cryptic note in the Patent Rolls at about the same time is also unusual, the document stating: ‘General pardon to Margaret More, alias Moor late of Godstow, alias “gentilwoman”, alias late abbess of Godstowe’. This looks like a general pardon to Margaret for any perceived discourtesy to the king in submitting her case to the jurisdiction of the pope in 1471. The conflict at Godstow described above presents the antithesis of the leadership scenario outlined in earlier discussion of the recommended protocols. It serves as a reminder of the ideal of harmonious unity of purpose, with

22 23 24 25 26 27 28

VCH Oxfordshire ii, p. 74. CPR, 1467–77, pp. 241, 278. CPR, 1467–77, p. 278. Ibid. (TNA: PRO), Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland, Papal Letters xiii (i), pp. 32–3. Ibid., p. 431–2. Ibid. (ii) pp. 633–4. This document is dated March 2, 1478 [–9]. CPR, 1476–85, p. 228.

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individual community members freed from personal strivings through obedience to the Rule. Failure to follow the prescribed pattern could therefore be expected to result in confusion and loss of purpose. There is an illuminating account of an election from Stratford at Bow recorded in 1520, by Dame Margaret Brewster, who refers to herself as one of the ‘presidents’ of the community. Margaret states, in a narrative which alternates between English vernacular and Latin, that the election involved two stages. The first resulted in a spread vote, which signalled a process of negotiation prompting two or three of the nuns to change their ‘voices’. This enabled the final selection of Dame Helen Hyllard as prioress. Dame Brewster observes that Helen was: chosyn priorisse . . . by the way of scrutenye . . . expressly professide the order of sanct Benedicte and sister of that hose being of lawfull [obscured] and in lawfull matrimony borne in to priorisse of this seide howse and priory.29

(The reference to legitimacy here is a reminder that canon law required religious born out of wedlock to procure a dispensation to cover this defect in the event of election to office).30 A later section of the document gives an unusual example of the first person singular: And now ladies because dame Margaret dovyne president hath also given hur voice to the seide dame Elene Hillarde so I the said dame Margaret Bruster declar and showe . . . unto yowe my sisiters that the said dame hyllerd is namede of ij parts of our convent.31

Two features of the document contrast strikingly with earlier accounts of nunnery elections, namely, the large number of male officials mentioned as participants, and the detailed nature of the reportage, which covers six closely-written folios.32 This can be seen as an example of the increasing sophistication of record-keeping in general. Diana Coldicott has remarked on similar evidence of increased bureaucratic activity at that time in Hampshire nunneries.33 Under normal circumstances, the appointment of the superior was a lifetime commission, although either advanced age or infirmity could precipi-

29 30

31 32 33

GL, MS 9531/9 The Register of Richard Fitzjames (1506–22), fol. 157v. A papal document dated 1432 states ‘To Alice Burton, nun of the Augustinian priory of St Margaret, Bramhall [sic], in the diocese of Salisbury. Dispensation to her, the daughter of an unmarried noblewoman, to hold any benefice wont to be held by nuns of her order, even if a priory . . . and to be elected to any abbatial dignity of the said order.’ CPL viii, p. 443. GL Reg. Fitzjames, fol. 157v. Ibid., fols 157–59v. D. Coldicott, Hampshire Nunneries (Chichester, 1989), p. 46; c.f. M.T. Clanchy, From Memory to Written Record (London, 1993), pp. 124–8.

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tate resignation or deposition. Since the nuns faced the prospect of being under a single abbess or prioress for many years, it was in their interests to exercise caution in nominating a candidate. However, small nunneries necessarily offered a limited pool of contenders, which placed a significant burden of responsibility on the community to choose a woman capable of maintaining harmony and steering the convent away from economic and moral dangers.

Age, Infirmity, and Deposition Impaired administrative function of any kind risked dismissal proceedings by the ordinary, given a reliable network of information. In situations where bishops or their representatives were not kept up to date, the initial problems were likely to escalate and become more complex. Bishop Alnwick discovered in 1440 that the prioress of Stamford, Elizabeth Weldon, ‘propter impotenciam’ had been unable to attend to her duties for some time; moreover, it was found that the general state of the house had become run-down, both materially and morally.34 The prioress was then suspended by Bishop Alnwick from all administrative duties and two nuns given the responsibility of the house in regard to both temporalities and spiritualities. There is no mention of appointing a steward or a confessor, despite the reported absence of staff serving in these roles.35 A further visit some two years later found Elizabeth Weldon continuing in office as prioress, although still described as ill and admitting to be incapable of controlling her nuns.36 It is odd that the bishop did not recommend at the earlier visit that the prioress should retire completely from the leadership position and make way for another, given her infirmity and inability to function appropriately. However, a suitable retirement ‘package’, which would in that case have been required, might have made unrealistic demands on the convent’s finances. As already mentioned, surviving documentation of episcopal activity in London diocese reveals little evidence of bishops’ contact with the nunneries; nevertheless, the removal of the prioress Eleanor Sterkey from office at Stratford in 1528 and the appointment of a successor was the work of the ordinary. It appears that the frail health of the former prioress had been affecting her management, since a note stating ‘the said Elianora is very aged blynde and impotent of her body’ is appended to the record of her pension prepared by the Court of Augmentations after the suppression of the house eight years later.37 Her successor’s oath of obedience included an undertaking that she would: ‘not grante any pensions annuities, corrodies or 34 35 36 37

Linc. Vis. iii, pp. 351–2. Ibid, p. 352. Ibid., p. 355. TNA: PRO E315/91, fol. 5v.

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27

fees to any person ffor any tyme. I shall make . . . a faythfull inventory of all and singles ornamente jewellys and goodys what so ever they be of the same priory . . .’38 The records indicated that the bishop had made an unpopular choice in replacing Eleanor with Sybil Kirke, former head of Kilburn; clearly, the imported candidate was regarded as an interloper by some of the nuns and their secular supporters. (A similar reaction occurred at Keldholme in Yorkshire, as we shall see.)39 It is likely that the ordinary would have met with community support had the candidate been chosen from amongst the Stratford nuns. Certainly, given the availability of a suitable person within the small priory of ten nuns, such an appointment would have met the requirements of the Rule and the model implied therein. Since the evidence is incomplete on this case it is difficult to judge whether the bishop was justified in his action; but whatever the situation, the convent was divided as a result. A letter to Cromwell drafted in 1533 by a party of the Stratford nuns, including the retired prioress, begs Cromwell to remove the new appointee, Sybil Kirke, complaining: Since our petition to the King we have been worse entreated than ever, for meat and drink, and threatening words; and when we ask to have anything remedied, she bids us ‘go to Cromwell and let him help us’. The old lady who is the rightful Prioress is like to die for want of sustenance. She can get neither meat nor drink, nor money to help her.40

In closing, the nuns complain: The Chancellor of the bishop of London was with us yesterday, and says that the Prioress shall continue in spite of our teeth and theirs that say nay. He has commanded her to ascite [sic] and punish us for an example. We pray you, for the honor of God and Our Lady, to assist us . . .41

The bishop of London is believed to have been patron of Stratford priory. If so he was acting within the normal supervisory rights in this situation. Nevertheless, the former prioress emerges from the record as an aggrieved figure, dissatisfied with the standard of provision for her retirement; and the nuns clearly shared her resentment. The Rule’s prescription for deposition cites only corruption of the election process as justification for a superior’s dismissal, and makes no provision for removal on the grounds of illness or incompetence. Possibly, some bishops took the opportunity to consult with female religious concerning Eleanor’s 38 39 40

41

GL 9531/10 The Register of Cuthbert Tunstall (1522–30), fol. 119. Reg. Greenfield iii, SS 151, item 1221, pp. 42–4. The resignation of Eleanor Sterkey and the appointment of her successor is recorded in GL Reg. Tunstall, fols 117–19v. This letter to Cromwell occurs in Letters and Papers Foreign and Domestic of the Reign of Henry VIII (vi), item 1692, p. 677. Ibid., item 1693, p. 677.

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position and to advise taking the option of a graceful retirement, but given the nature of the records such information is typically hidden. Also typical of the registers is the term ‘free resignation’ applied to the withdrawal of the incumbent, whatever the level of external pressure applied.

Kinship, Candidature and Social Class The strong secular links between the nunnery and the outside world saw a proprietorial attitude developing in the local community, particularly in the case of the smaller, more close-knit groups. This occasionally led to external factions which promoted rival candidates for nunnery elections and caused considerable disruption to convent life. At Keldholme in Yorkshire, Archbishop Greenfield demanded a penance of Nicholas de Repinghal for impeding the installation of the new prioress, Joan de Pykeringge, who had been brought from Rosedale to adminster the priory of Keldholme in 1309.42 There seems no doubt that the local opposition stemmed from a view that Joan was an outside intruder taking a position coveted for local women. A similar identification with the nunnery housing family members can be discerned in a letter from Anthony Fitzherbert in 1530: I beseech you be good master to the prioress of St. Eleyns in London who is a near kinswoman of my wife. Last term I had a brother in law’s daughter ‘to be put in the habit there which is there now in the habit, and he is my wife’s sister’s daughter and if this prioress should be removed thence it would be a great discomfort to many of my friends’. Nothing can be justly proved against her and I doubt not but with your favour she shall do well and your goodness be considered.43

The tension of the pre-Dissolution period obviously favoured initiatives of this kind, as those fearing for their positions, and even their lives, sought protection by ingratiating themselves with the king and his advisors. The total number of female superiors in charge of the sixteen nunneries under review between 1280 and the date of their suppression is roughly 240.44 Most, but not all, are identified by both surname and given name, there being about twenty who either appear only under first names or who are lost from the records, as in the case of at least one abbess of Lacock between the years of 1483 and 1516.45 Tracing family links with medieval religious is notoriously complex and difficult. Firstly, in addition to the problem of incomplete names, surnames 42 43 44 45

Reg. Greenfield iii, item 1221, pp. 42–4. L&P Addenda i (i), item 691, pp. 234–5, dated July 8, 1530. See Appendix B. It is not possible to be precise, since not all names of the superiors have survived. VCH Wiltshire iii, p. 316.

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29

found during the period under review are frequently place names, which may be meaningless for genealogical purposes. Secondly, any list of ‘real’ names which seems to offer possible links to the women represents overwhelmingly the wealthier segment, since poorer members of society left few records of their existence. Poll tax returns provide valuable insights into the world of the less-affluent, as all but the most indigent were taxed. While they contain promising data, such material cannot of itself establish absolute proof of kinship, particularly in view of the significant mobility of the later medieval population following the first wave of Bubonic Plague. John Tillotson and other scholars have discussed Eileen Power’s assertions that late medieval nunneries were ‘essentially aristocratic institutions’ and that nuns were ‘drawn from no lower class’.46 Tillotson argues that ‘the relatively high visibility of the upper classes in surviving sources that allows members of prominent families to be identified, particularly through wills, should provide grounds for caution in applying this generalization without qualification’.47 Catherine Paxton, in her study of London nunneries, sounds a similar note of caution, as does Barbara Harris, whose examination of the female monastic scene of the Tudor period has convinced her that ‘very few aristocratic women’ were entering convents by this time.48 Marilyn Oliva’s prosopographical studies on Norfolk nunneries also present evidence which suggests a significant percentage of nuns from less privileged classes holding office in that county, although it is not clear how many such obedientiaries were elected as superior.49 Findings in the present study tend to agree with these.

Standards of Living The income levels of the nunneries under scrutiny vary considerably, even for those in the same or adjacent counties. Kington St Michael, a short distance from Lacock, had a net annual income of £25 in 1536, compared to £210 available to Lacock; similarly, the net income of Godstow in Oxfordshire was calculated as £275 in 1539, in contrast to the sum of £65 for Stamford in Northamptonshire in 1536.50 In regard to the latter two houses, the difference in income may be accounted for in their proximity or otherwise to towns and urban wealth; but the kind of patronage involved, and the

46 47 48 49

50

Tillotson, Marrick, p. 6; Power, Nunneries, p. 4. Tillotson, Marrick, ibid. Paxton, p. 20; B. Harris, ‘A New Look at the Reformation: Aristocratic Women and Nunneries’, Journal of British Studies 32 (ii) (1993), p. 91. Oliva, Convent and Community, pp. 38–41. C.f. ‘Aristocracy or Meritocracy . . .’, pp. 197–208. Oliva argues here that ability and application were more important than social class in candidates for monastic office in Norwich nunneries. See Appendix A.

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relative material advantages accompanying such patronage are also very significant. Not only did the income levels differ markedly, but the lifestyle and status of the nunneries offer some stark contrasts – a reminder that secular expectations of superiors from diverse social groups differed considerably. The feast given to mark the installation of Emma la Blounde as abbess of Wilton on September 13, 1299 would have paid for the entire household expenses of a poorer nunnery for many months, given that the provisions listed for the occasion included sixty gallons of milk, two casks of wine and 2550 eggs.51 Many of the provisions came from the convent store, which makes it difficult to estimate the total cost; however, three of the sixteen swans cooked for the feast were bought for fifteen shillings, which makes the value of swans alone to be £4 at that rate. Other meat supplies used for the occasion were 11 carcasses of beef, 27 carcasses of mutton, 19 pigs, 189 chickens, 256 geese, 166 capons, 106 doves, 13 peacocks, and 3 deer. Since 800 dishes and another 800 bowls were purchased for the occasion, there were probably several hundred guests served. Marrick’s special Easter breakfast to break the Lenten fast cost the convent a total of 4s. 9d. according to the sacrist’s account: a modest celebration which places Wilton’s banquet in high relief.52 The examination of social status produces some puzzling data. Wilton Abbey was of royal patronage, and the second wealthiest nunnery of the group under scrutiny, yet the list of abbesses does not suggest that the women were from noble households, though some were probably from the upper echelons of the gentry. Emma Blounde, mentioned above, may have been an earlier member of the family of Lady Alice West, whose sister, Thomase Blounde, was a nun at Romsey in 1395, and another sister, Lucy Fitzherbert, was abbess of Shaftesbury at that time.53 But, on searching different classes of records it becomes clear that Blounde (or Blount) was a common name at the time, with individuals so named representing a range of social classes.54 51

52 53

54

H. Crittall, ‘Fragment of an account of the Cellaress of Wilton Abbey, 1299’, in Collectanea, Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society Records Branch 12 (1956), p. 145. Tillotson, Marrick, pp. 16, 33. F.J. Furnivall, Fifty Earliest English Wills, EETS os 78 (1882), p. 6. Lady Alice, who was from Hinton, Hampshire, states in her will that her ancestors were buried in ‘the priorie of the Chanones in Hamptschire, by the Newe forest . . .’ Furnivall notes that Lady Alice was the daughter of Reginald Fitz-Piers and widow of Sir Thomas West, knight, who died in 1386 (p. 135). Although the nuns of Wilton are remembered in the above testament, there is no evidence that a member of the Wilton community was related to the testator. Sir Walter Blount (d. 1403) was a companion in arms of the Black Prince and John of Gaunt. Walter’s relatives became Barons Mountjoy in the fifteenth century (Dictionary of National Biography) Also, a ‘Walter le Blunt’ is listed as the doorkeeper in the household of Eleanor of Castile during 1290. See J. Parsons, The Court and Household of Eleanor of Castile (Toronto, 1977), p. 158; and ‘Thomas Blount’ is recorded as

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Thus, despite the splendid feast for Emma’s installation, which would seem to indicate patrician tastes and connections, there are no firm leads as to her rank in society. The abbess of Wilton, like other superiors of large royal houses, was officially of baronial class, since through ancient custom she held of the king in chief. Nevertheless, it seems that such status was not required of later medieval superiors to qualify them for nomination to the office, though it may have still been considered an advantage. Juliana Giffard, who held office between 1271 and 1296, is known to have been related to Bishops Walter and Godfrey Giffard, the sons of Hugh Giffard of Boyton.55 Thomas Giffard served as a member of Parliament for Wiltshire in January of 1306 or 1307, another possible kinship link with Juliana.56 The family was an important one in Wessex, but did not represent the ruling class. It is likely that other Wilton superiors had relatives who were members of parliament. Robert de Popham was summoned to the Parliament of October 1342, to represent Southampton County; perhaps he was related to Robergia de Popham, elected abbess of Wilton in 1344; but that is impossible to verify. And of course, ‘Popham’ is a place name.57 The abbesses of Lacock Abbey are difficult to place on the social ladder. This convent enjoyed the patronage of the Longespee family for several generations after the death of Ela Longespee, the founding abbess and sole heiress of William, Earl of Salisbury (also daughter-in-law of Henry II). Katherine and Lorica, daughters of Ida Longespee, became nuns at Lacock, but it is not known if either was elected as convent head.58 Thus, it is possible that notwithstanding the presence of patrician nuns in the house, there were no noble abbesses after Ela’s retirement. The Montfort family supplied three abbesses, Joan, Matilda and Elena, between 1303 and 1403.59 The latter superior was a relative of John Montford, a minor in the wardship of Sir Walter (afterwards Lord) Hungerford, Treasurer of England.60 Elena may also have been related to Reginald de Montford, Lord of Wellow, who appears in quitclaim deeds from the Bath district in 1319;61 such connections would not give her status above the high gentry level. A later abbess, Agnes Draper (1445–1473) bore a name suggesting earlier links with commerce, and the last abbess, Joan Temmse, was daughter of William

55 56 57

58 59 60 61

mayor of Bristol in 1417. B.R. Kemp, ed., Medieval Deeds of Bath and District, Somerset Record Society 73 (1975), item 66, p. 40. Power, Nunneries, p. 463. Great Britain House of Commons, Members of Parliament Part I, Parliaments of England, 1213–1702 (New Haven, 1955), p. 26. Ibid., p. 137. Other Pophams are listed for Southampton in later years, between 1353 and 1383. See pp. 154, 185, 189, 200, 215 of the above. Only one of these is listed as having a title, Philip Popham being cited as ‘chivaler’ in 1378 (p. 200). VCH Wiltshire iii, p. 310. Ibid., pp. 315–16. Ibid., p. 306. Shorrocks, Medieval Deeds of Bath and District ii, p. 191.

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Temmse of Rood Ashton and sister of Thomas Temmse, representative of Westbury in the Reformation Parliament.62 On the whole, the available evidence on Lacock suggests that women of high birth were not seeking admission in the later period. This provisional finding resonates with Barbara Harris’s assertion that high-ranking women chose to express their spirituality in forms other than those of enclosed religious communities in the period just prior to the Dissolution.63 In regard to the Syon nuns it has been asserted that their social standing was exceptionally high, with the choir sisters ‘drawn from the nobility, the gentry, and London merchant families’.64 Nevertheless, on examination of a list of nuns present at the abbey in 1428, there is only slight evidence of patrician families represented. Joan North, the abbess at the time, is an unknown quantity, while Juliana Sukelyng, the prioress, probably represents the ancient family of Suckling, which would have held gentry status in the early fifteenth century due to its extensive land-ownership.65 It is likely that Margaret, Katherine and Joan Sukelying whose names also appear on the 1428 list were relatives of the prioress. The other nuns listed, with the possible exception of two Fishbourne women and Philippa Arundell, are almost impossible to identify socially. The only unequivocal evidence of nobility among the Syon nuns is that of Margaret Wyndesor, prioress between 1518 and 1539 (and probably, before 1518), who has been identified as the sister of Andrew lord Windsor.66 The history of Romsey, another of the wealthier female houses, provides evidence of upper-class women elected as superiors at only infrequent intervals in the late Middle Ages. Alice Walerand, serving between 1290 and 1298, was the daughter of William Walerand and Isabella, co-heir of Hugh de Kilpek, Lord of the Castle and Manor of Kilpek, Hereford County.67 Alice de Wyntershull, who reigned briefly in 1315 until her untimely death in suspicious circumstances the same year,68 appears to have been related to the family of that name which produced one sheriff of Southampton in 1259 and another in 1270.69 This family was obviously influential, but not strictly upper-class.

62 63 64

65

66 67 68 69

VCH Wiltshire iii, p. 313; P. Hughes, The Reformation in England i (London, 1950), p. 236. Harris, ‘A New Look at the Reformation . . .’, p. 103. VCH Middlesex i, p. 187. This statement cites Aungier, p. 51. C.f. R. Ellis, ‘Further Thoughts on the Spirituality of Syon Abbey’, in Mysticism and Spirituality in Medieval England, eds W.F. Pollard & R. Boenig (Cambridge, 1997), p. 223. F.R. Johnson, ‘Joan North, 1st Abbess of Syon 1420–33’, London & Middlesex Archaeological Society (1995), p. 53. Thanks are due to Dr Virginia Bainbridge and Dr Claes Gejrot for alerting me to this reference. Aungier, pp. 81, 89; N.N. Harris, ed., Testamenta Vetusta ii (London, 1826), p. 699. H.G.D. Liveing, Records of Romsey Abbey 907–1558 (London, 1912), p. 84. CPR, 1313–18, pp. 327, 403. Liveing, p. 93.

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Alice Walerand, who died in 1298, was almost certainly of the same family as ‘Adam Walrand’, listed as a member for Wiltshire summoned to the Parliament of 1306 or 1307 and later sessions until 1325.70 Another member for Wiltshire, William Gerveys, was possibly an ancestor of Joan Gerveys, who died in 1352.71 These parliamentarians appear not to have attained status above gentry level.

Concessions for Nobility Isabel de Camoys, abbess of Romsey after Joan Gerveys, was of higher rank than her predecessor, being the daughter of Ralph de Camoys, Governor of Windsor, and the granddaughter of Hugh le Despenser, Earl of Winchester.72 Another abbess of higher rank was Elizabeth Brooke, described in a papal letter as ‘of a race of barons’.73 She appears to have been the last of the patrician abbesses of Romsey, so the indications are that at Romsey, as at Lacock, the upper-class element disappeared over time. Romsey’s sub-prioress and sexton, Katherine and Jane Wadham, who appear in documents of 1538, were cousins of Sir Thomas Seymour, the brother of the late Queen Jane; but the fact that Jane later married John Foster, a chaplain of Romsey, suggests that these nuns should be classified as ‘high gentry’ rather than as members of the aristocracy.74 Whether their upper-class connections influenced their appointment to the above offices by the abbess in unclear (and the Wadham and Seymour influence will be discussed in Chapter 8 of this book). High social status was certainly exploited by the relatives of Elizabeth Brooke, during the previous century, in a bid to preserve her office amongst circumstances which might otherwise have been expected to end in her dismissal from the leadership office.75 The case of Elizabeth Brooke raises the question of social acceptability versus competence. Dame Elizabeth’s retention of office despite several offences including sexual misconduct, perjury and mismanagement of convent finances, seems unaccountable. At Romsey, there should have been enough women from whom to choose an alternative candidate. It would 70 71 72

73 74

75

Members of Parliament Part I, pp. 26, 45, 61, 71, 72, 75. William is listed as serving in 1306 or 1307; ibid., p. 26; CPR, 1349–54, p. 348. C. Luce, ed. & trans., ‘Injunctions made and issued to the Abbess and Convent of the Monastery of Romsey after his Visitation by William of Wykeham, A.D. 1387’, Papers and Proceedings of the Hampshire Field Club and Archaeological Society 17, part I (1949), p. 32. CPL xiii (2), p. 803. Liveing, pp. 251, 259. The latter page of Liveing sets out a pedigree of the Wadham sisters; however, Diana Coldicott (n. 30, p. 214) points out that Liveing has misinterpreted some of the information (though the Wadham sisters are confirmed as cousins of Sir Thomas Seymour). See revised pedigree, Coldicott, p. 137. For a chronological account of Elizabeth’s history see Liveing, pp. 211–18.

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seem that the answer to such a riddle lay in a perception by the community that her connections were advantageous to the house. Indeed, the papal letter of 1482 states that several nobles requested her reinstatement.76

Shifting Fortunes For Godstow and St Mary’s, Winchester, the other houses under royal patronage, there is little evidence that nobility continued to be represented among the superiors in the later Middle Ages. Sutton’s register reveals that a certain Godstow nun, kinswoman of the Countess of Warwick, was abducted in 1290,77 though whether the social level of the reigning superior Mabel la Wafre was similarly elevated, is doubtful. The name Wafre suggests that the family had links with trade, possibly as pastrycooks, since a ‘wafie’ denoted a thin cake.78 The social class of the remaining Godstow superiors is not identifiable from the available data. St Mary’s, Winchester, whose boarders included in 1536 twenty-six children ‘of lordys, knighttes, and gentylmen’ probably had an abbess of gentle, but not necessarily noble, birth at the time. Elizabeth Shelley, the last abbess, writes in a deferential manner to Lady Lisle, the stepmother of Bridget Plantagenet, which could indicate that the writer of the letter was of a lower estate than the recipient.79 A letter from ‘William Shelley’ to Thomas Cromwell appears in 1526, with the salute to ‘My loving friend, Mr Cromwell’; there is also a reference to ‘Mr Shelley, the justice at Westminster’ in 1534.80 This was probably Sir William Shelley, who was made a Justice in the Court of Common Pleas in 1529.81 In addition, the certificates recording the value of goods and other fiscal details from St Mary’s, Winchester at the Dissolution offer the information that Richard Shelley, brother of the abbess, was accepting responsibility for any debts of the house.82 Paxton concludes in her study of London nunneries that the only patrician nuns in that region were to be found among the minoresses at Aldgate. These findings largely agree with the observations made here.83 Isabel

76 77 78 79 80 81

82 83

CPL xiii (2), p. 804. R.M.T. Hill, ed., The Rolls and Register of Bishop Oliver Sutton, 1280–1299 3, Lincoln Record Society 48 (1954), pp. 22–5. Oxford English Dictionary. The abbess addresses Lady Lisle as ‘your ladyship’, or ‘good madam’ in M. St Clare Byrne, ed., The Lisle Letters iii (Chicago, 1981), pp. 91–3. L&P Addenda i (1), item 953, p. 334. A. Shaw, The Knights of England ii (London, 1906), p. 47. Some twelve years later the names ‘Sir William Shelley’ and ‘Sir Richard Sherley’ (perhaps a corruption of ‘Shelley’) appear among the signatories to depositions in connection with the murder of Richard Bullokherd (L&P Addenda i (1), item 479, p. 160; item 1899, p. 620). TNA: PRO E315/494, fol. 15; c.f. Coldicott, p. 140. Paxton, p. 20.

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Sackville of Clerkenwell, prioress from 1526 to the dissolution of the house, appears to have been from the family which produced Thomas Sackville, the son of Pritchard Sackville, a first cousin of Anne Boleyn.84 The above connection, if confirmed, would place Isabel Sackville in the category of ‘rising gentry’ rather than the nobility. The social rank of St Helen’s last prioress, Mary Rollesley, is well established, thanks to a surviving indenture for a conventual lease arranged in 1535 between Mary and John Rollesley, who is classified therein as ‘gentleman’.85 Also, the letter mentioned earlier from Sir Anthony Fitzherbert to Cromwell in 1530 appears to confirm that Mary was indeed within the gentry category. Fitzherbert’s letter is particularly interesting, not only for its social indicators, but also for the insight it offers into matters of family pride and reputation invested in the links between secular people and nunnery superiors and the religious under their care. The impression given by Sharpe’s collection of abstracts of wills from successful merchants provides strong indications of a homogeneous group representing gentry status. Many of these testators were close relatives or friends of female religious in London houses; indeed, there is also evidence in that source that some such merchants or other members of their class preserved links with relations in nunneries located far away from the capital as well.86 William Organ, a clerk, willed in 1394 that one-third of his father’s goods should go to his sister, a nun of Amesbury, Wiltshire;87 another testator, John Payn, a grocer, mentions Joan his daughter, a nun of Wilton in 1467.88 John Godyn, also a grocer, states in a will enrolled at the end of 1465 that his daughter, Amy, is a nun at Sopwell in Hertfordshire.89 Examples of this kind illustrate again the mobility of the later medieval population. They also raise the possibility that daughters of more affluent citizens may have

84

85

86

87 88 89

W. Dugdale, Monasticon Anglicanum iv, p. 78. Note also that Margaret Sackville was the last prioress of Easebourne (1521–1536) and another Sackville, Joan, is listed as a novice in the episcopal visitation of 1521 (VCH Sussex ii, p. 85). For the indenture between Mary Rollesley and John Rollesley see TNA: PRO E303/8, m. 9. The document records a lease of property including shops and tenements, both in St Helen’s and in Middlesex, with rent of £8 15s. 8d. to be paid at four terms of the year, and a distraint clause to ensure adequate maintenance and prompt payment of rent. Unlike most St Helen’s leases examined, this one does not mention the number of years allotted before expiry of the contract. For an analysis of social class in later medieval England see M. Keen, English Society in the Later Middle Ages (London, 1990), pp. 8–13. Keen uses the Sumptuary Laws of 1363 to illustrate the class boundaries, pointing out that ‘merchants, citizens and artificiers of London and elsewhere, with chattels worth £1000 or above . . . [were] to observe the same limitations as the richer esquires, those with chattels worth £500 or above the same as lesser esquires and gentlefolk’ (p. 10). This probably places most prominent London merchants in Sharpe’s collection at gentry level. Sharpe, Wills ii, p. 326. Ibid., p. 557. Ibid., pp. 564–5.

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entered nunneries further from their immediate family than did their poorer counterparts. Perhaps, in the pre-plague times at least, the crowded nature of the nunneries forced postulants to go to convents which had not been their first choices. Few of the wills in Sharpe’s collection name superiors of the houses receiving bequests. However, two documents – a testament proved in 1392 and another appearing later – reveal that Margaret Holbech, widow of William Holbech, a draper, first nominated the nunnery of Cheshunt for a bequest of ten marks, then offered twenty marks to her daughter Amy, said to be ‘living in the convent of Stratford’, provided that she ‘take the veil’.90 Amy was probably a pupil-boarder at the time; whether she complied with her mother’s wish is not clear, but a certain ‘Margaret Holbeche’ is named as prioress of the house in 1436, which may indicate a blood relationship between Amy and Margaret, or that ‘Margaret’ was an alias for ‘Amy’.91 Several documents attest to the decision of some families to place their female kinfolk in different convents; this was not universal, since relatives are also found to have served in the same house. The latter option would seem to make more sense than the former, unless those placing women relatives in different nunneries were attempting thereby to maximise the spiritual benefits sought. For the poorer nunneries and those of the middle income group, the general picture of social class represented by convent superiors is particularly cloudy. However, Esholt, believed to have been a foundation of the knightly Ward family, and supported consistently by the Wards as patrons,92 presents a fairly straightforward pattern. Women from the Ward family were elected as prioress several times until 1497.93 The surnames of other prioresses occur frequently in charters relating to their respective houses, among those identified as either donors or witnesses. The de Calverleys, who produced a prioress elected in 1315, are represented as signatories in documents between 1349 and 1361. John Calverley is entered on 1349 documents as ‘milit’ or ‘cheval’, or knight.94 The name of another de Calverley, Walter, appears next to that of Simon Ward in 1361, though without an added title.95 Elizabeth Pudsay, the second last prioress, is believed by H.E. Bell to have come from the noted Pudsay family of Yorkshire.96 In the Pudsay Deeds it is reported that ‘An Elizabeth Pudsay was prioress of Esholt in 1510’;97 but there is no clue given as to which particular Elizabeth Pudsay out of the many appearing in the deeds under that name 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97

Ibid. i, p. 303. VCH Middlesex i, p. 159. Dugdale, Mon v, p. 469. See also Bell ‘Esholt Priory’, pp. 5–33. VCH Yorkshire iii, pp. 162–3. BL Add. Chs 16808, 15655. BL Add. Ch. 15657. Bell, ‘Esholt Priory’, p. 8. R. Littledale Pudsay, ed., Pudsay Deeds, Yorkshire Archaeological Society Record Series 56 (1916), p. 40.

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was the one. At all events, it is clear that Esholt Priory was administered for much of its history by women from prominent local families of the gentry class. Marrick presents a similar picture of local support from a close-knit secular community, though the social origins of its superiors are not defined clearly, partly because several of the women bear place names which may or may not have become distinctive family surnames by that time. The last prioress, Christobel Cowper, was possibly a relative of the Margaret Cowper appearing in the 1533 rental as a tenant in Fremington; she may also have been of the family of the John Cowper, whose name occurs on a lease of Rerecross Hospital in 1538.98 However, this information does little to establish the social class and family connections of Marrick’s prioresses in general, and indeed, ‘Cowper’ may be a form of ‘Cooper’ or ‘Couper’, both of which represent a trade name. Cecilia Metcalf or Metcalfe, the prioress whose death is recorded in 1502, was very likely one of the family which prospered in York at the time and produced a High Sheriff in 1555, but again the link cannot be firmly established.99 As Tillotson remarks, What is known about the Marrick nuns is consistent with a recruitment pattern from among the lesser landowners of the area, but the information is drawn from very infrequent, scattered references. For no year before the Suppression in 1539 do we have a list of the members of the convent.100

The modest income and living standard of Marrick priory as revealed in the account rolls of 1415–1416 suggest that its nuns, including their superiors, were not given to entertaining patrician guests with expensive tastes.101 The Askes, founders and patrons, who continued to be commemorated in almsgiving as required by the early charters,102 leave behind no record of demands in this area. Also, the Earl of Richmond, who in 1318 proved a valuable mentor in assisting the nuns to secure pardon for unpaid taxes amounting to over £83, does not appear in the extant records as one demanding the hospitality of the house.103 The indications are that Marrick, 98

99

100 101 102 103

Tillotson, Marrick, pp. 6, 39 (n. 40). Clare Cross observes that Christabel received a bequest from a certain Christopher Thormonby, gentleman, ‘who may have been her nephew as his uncle was Edward Cowper, B.D’. See C. Cross & N. Vickers, eds, Monks, Friars and Nuns in the Sixteenth Century, YAS 150 (1995), p. 525. Redmonds notes that ‘Patronymics and occupational names are the most prolific names in York [in the first quarter of the sixteenth century]. In fact, there is only one distinctive name which is prolific, i.e. Metcalfe, for all the others listed above could have multiple origins.’ (He adds that the name ‘Metcalfe’ ‘. . . first appeared in York in the early fifteenth century, and yet was among the twenty commonest York surnames in 1524’.) See G. Redmonds, Yorkshire West Riding (Chichester, 1973), pp. 127, 128. Tillotson, Marrick, p. 6. Ibid., p. 31. Valor Ecclesiasticus v, p. 237. CPR, 1318–23, p. 223.

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founded by gentry, was led by women of a social class no higher, and possibly lower, than gentry in some cases. The poorly-endowed house of Davington, which is recorded as functioning with a net annual income of forty-one pounds in the early sixteenth century, appears to have struggled to survive for most of its history, though episcopal visitation reports find little fault with its overall administration, except for concern about correct procedures for security and effecting the removal of secular people from the convent in 1326.104 Two of Davington’s prioresses, Lucy de Apuldrefeld and Margaret Borstall, may have been related to members of Parliament.105 Thomas Apuldrefeld served as a Member for Kent in 1371.106 Given the date, it is tempting to consider that there was a blood relationship between Thomas and the prioress Lucy de Apuldrefeld, who resigned in 1350, and was replaced by Margaret Borstall.107 Another possible relationship is suggested by the recurrence of the latter surname in the Kent taxation list of 1381.108 The document lists three individuals under that name: Alicia Borstall, William Borstall (Webbe) and Matilda his wife, who may well have been close relatives of the prioress Margaret Borstall.109 Clearly, they were not wealthy members of society; and, according to the above list, the two shillings paid by William Borstall falls within the middle range of amounts paid by pardoners, summoners and hostlers in 1379.110 Canterbury St Sepulchre functioned at a financial level marginally lower than that of Davington, being credited with an annual net income of only twenty-nine pounds in 1535.111 The list of prioresses leading the convent in the 1360s included Agnes Broman, who was elected in 1368 and died the following year.112 If the Robert Bromman listed in the Kent Poll Tax returns of 1377 as paying one shilling at that time proves to be a relative, it suggests that Agnes at least represents a socio-economic level somewhere in the range of richer peasants or craftsmen rather than gentry.113 Many of the documents mentioned above give no evidence of familial links, though in terms of statistical probability, there seems a greater bias towards social groups lower on the scale than might have been expected. There are also grounds for assuming that the more poorly-funded nunneries 104 105 106 107 108 109 110 111 112 113

LPL The Register of Walter Reynolds (1313–27), fols 273–3v.; The Register of William Warham (1503–32), fol. 40. See Appendix B. Members of Parliament, Part I, p. 186. VCH Kent ii, p. 145. C. Fenwick, The Poll Taxes of 1377, 1379 and 1381, Part 1, Bedfordshire to Leicestershire (Oxford, 1998), p. 419 (from TNA: PRO E179/123/50, m. 2, c. 1). LPL The Register of Simon Islip (1349–1366), fol. 30v. Fenwick, Poll Taxes i, pp. xv–xvi. VE i, p. 29. VCH Kent ii, p. 144. Fenwick, Poll Taxes i, p. 412 (from TNA: PRO Ext 6/99/136/1).

LEADERSHIP AND LINEAGE

39

contained religious from a less-privileged group than their sisters enclosed in the large and prestigious convents, since the evidence on smaller nunneries is consistent with class homogeneity. Much of the evidence relating to the social class of the superiors under review is shadowy and scattered, which makes generalizations unwise. Nevertheless, the impression gained from the material discussed above is firstly that superiors roughly matched the house of their profession in terms of social status. Thus, abbesses of the richer southern houses can be found representing upper-gentry, or, in a few cases, patrician families, while prioresses of some poorer nunneries are shown to be drawn from the ranks of mid-gentry or even below that level. No evidence has been found of upperclass nuns elected as superiors of poor female houses, nor poor nuns in the wealthier establishments; though the fact that the evidence is extremely patchy must leave open the possibility that this may have occurred in isolated cases. Material from wills, charters and letters suggests that relatives and friends of the nuns identified strongly with the convents housing their women, not only supporting them with gifts of money and property, but also promoting them as candidates for election as superiors, seeking vicarious spiritual benefits from the women’s service and sometimes exerting influence on elections or on the superior’s administration, by various means for less than spiritual reasons. Those who could claim a close relationship with a nunnery superior appear to have valued such an association for the kudos it brought, as well as for the spiritual benefits accruing, while feeling free to intervene in convent affairs when family interests were threatened. Evidence of nunnery elections reveals significant tensions among the candidates and the electors, which indicates the importance of the office in their eyes. Surviving documents suggest not only that the consensus ideal presented in the Rule was difficult to achieve, but also that increasing numbers of male officials were appearing and participating, as if ecclesiastical authorities felt uneasy about leaving the administrative functions of this kind predominantly in female hands. Much about the convent’s perception of the superior’s role remains hidden and thus there is little evidence about the degree of importance given to the spiritual calibre of the women considered for the role of superior. As already remarked, many of the later medieval convents had small populations of religious. Lacking personal records from the nuns, we cannot know to what extent such small numbers proved a serious constraint in finding a leader with the appropriate attributes for the task. There are certainly indications that the nuns were ill at ease when discipline faltered, but whether this apparent preference for firm control actually determined the selection of a candidate is unclear. Although some women rose to the position of superior after serving as important obedientiaries, there are isolated cases where they were brought in from another house. Often, there is no information as to the level of prior admin-

40

LEADERSHIP IN MEDIEVAL ENGLISH NUNNERIES

istrative experience of the women at their election. Respectability and ‘good breeding’ appear to have been considered in the choice and retention of abbesses and prioresses, reflecting standards which were important to the patrons and other supporters of the convents.

3 Guardians of the Brides

GUARDIANS OF THE BRIDES

The bishop, like his superior, the archbishop, was answerable to both the papacy and his provincial convocation as shown in Figure 1. Prelates in this position thus found themselves acting in relation to the nuns as enforcers of legislation, as well as disciplinarians, pastors and protectors. The manner in which they discharged their responsibilities to the convent superiors and their nuns is highly relevant to the history of female leadership.

Social and Religious Background Among the list of ordinaries1 serving the nunneries in the core group there is a striking diversity. This is partly due to differences in social origins, historical periods and religious affiliations. Monks or friars represented a small percentage of those appointed to sees. Archbishop Pecham, serving between 1279 and 1292, was a Franciscan and Archbishop Langham, from 1366 to 1368, a monk from St Peter’s, Westminster.2 Henry Woodlock, bishop of Winchester between the years 1305 and 1316, also served as a Benedictine monk, the only prior of the cathedral monastery to be promoted to a see.3 The rest of the bishops and archbishops who bore responsibility for the nuns of the core group represented various rungs of the social ladder. Diversity of this kind held the potential for differences of opinion and practice between contemporaneous prelates. The majority of bishops and metropolitans served the king or his nobles as Chancellor, Treasurer or Keeper of the Privy Seal at some stage of their careers. Many, like Bishop Fox of Winchester and

1 2

3

This term is used to indicate bishops, archbishops and any officials who acted on their behalf in relation to the nunneries. For a discussion on Simon Langham see D. Knowles, The Religious Orders ii (Cambridge, 1950–9), pp. 54–6, 355; for John Pecham see D. Douie, Archbishop Pecham (Oxford, 1952). According to A. Hamilton-Thompson, the DNB is incorrect in stating that Bishop Alnwick of Lincoln had been a monk of St Albans. See Linc. Vis. i, pp. xviii–xvix. H. Johnstone, ‘Henry Woodlock, Bishop of Winchester, and His Register’, Church Quarterly Review 140 (1945), pp. 154–64.

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Archbishops Morton and Reynolds of Canterbury, retained their secular positions while functioning as spiritual pastors; others relinquished such responsibilities immediately on election as bishop or archbishop. The balance of numbers between secular and regular candidates shifted over the period.4 Some of these prelates were of humble parentage, as in the case of Archbishop Melton of York and Walter Reynolds, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was reputedly the son of a baker;5 the origins of several remain uncertain. The remarkable rise to power of men known to have come from lower ranks of society reflects considerably on the educational opportunities which were available to capable and ambitious scholars, including Archbishops Pecham and Corbridge.6 Opportunities like those enjoyed by such officials were, of course, a by-product of the patronage system, which was in some respects inimical to spiritual endeavours of the kind expected of religious, both regular and secular. Most had attained their positions after a period of determined benefice-accumulation and were accustomed to the hurly-burly of competition from their peers. Indeed, there seems to have been no sense of embarrassment in the general scramble towards the top of the ecclesiastical ladder.7

The Bishop’s Workload Rosalind Hill remarks: ‘Anyone who studies the records of the medieval church cannot fail to be impressed by the amount of sheer hard work demanded of the clergy, and especially of those in whose hands lay the task of diocesan administration.’8 Hill draws attention to the varied demands of the office, stressing the constant travel involved, the danger of the routes, particularly near the northern borders, and the unremitting and tedious clerical functions which required the bishop’s or archbishop’s attention.9

4

5

6 7

8 9

For a discussion on the episcopal hierarchy in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, see J.R.H. Moorman, Church Life in England in the Thirteenth Century (Cambridge, 1946), pp. 158–64 and J.R.H. Highfield, ‘The English Hierarchy in the Reign of Edward III, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th ser., 6 (1956), pp. 115–38. For further information on Melton, see R.M.T. Hill, The Labourer in the Vineyard. The Visitations of Archbishop Melton in the Archdeaconry of Richmond (York, 1968). Reynolds’ background is discussed in W.F. Hook, Lives of the Archbishops of Canterbury iii (London, 1861–75), p. 456. Douie, Archbishop Pecham, pp. 35–6 and DNB iv, p. 1137, for Corbridge. For background information on the struggle for social benefits on the part of such officials, see A.H. Thompson, ‘Registers of John Gynewell, Bishop of Lincoln, for the Years 1347–1350’, The Archaeological Journal 68 (1911), pp. 305–6 and W.A. Pantin, The English Church in the Fourteenth Century (Toronto, 1980), p. 13. Hill, The Labourer in the Vineyard, p. 1. Ibid., pp. 2–5.

GUARDIANS OF THE BRIDES

43

Although an archdeacon had wide powers and could carry out supplementary visitations on behalf of his bishop or archbishop, it was expected that the archbishop would carry out at least one visitation of his province during his primacy and that a bishop should cover his diocese once every three years. An archbishop, in addition to functioning as a diocesan, had to oversee the work of the bishops appointed in his province and be prepared to reverse decisions which he considered inappropriate.10 The spiritual oversight by archbishop or bishop and his deputies meant supervision of all non-exempt institutions, and jurisdiction over appointments, which involved enquiry into the conduct of clergy and people, the state of church buildings and appurtenances, the payment of tithes and offerings and a range of complaints which poured in from various sources.11 Since most bishops and archbishops were heavily engaged in royal service and often required to act as diplomats, they occasionally travelled overseas. Episcopal itineraries certainly reveal crowded schedules.12

Records and Responsibilities The episcopal registers especially contain a wealth of detail on diocesans’ relations with religious houses, particularly in visitation reports. There are of course inherent difficulties in using such material, including the fact that the extant reports do not record all the formal visits to nunneries by the bishop or his representative. There is also the problem of language, since episcopal writings tend to follow certain formulae which effectively mask the emotions and personal views of the author. It is acknowledged that some reports may never have been committed to writing. J.H. Lynch observes that visitation of religious houses was essentially a secret procedure, the findings of which were hidden from outsiders as a protection from scandal.13 It is possible also that records filed immediately after visitations were destroyed later when considered no longer relevant. From the perspective of nunnery superiors, one of the most significant initiatives arising from the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 was the resolution to introduce systematic visitation of religious institutions.14 This was to be a vehicle for correction used regularly and conscientiously by the diocesans, charged with the responsibility for the souls under their care. The

10 11 12

13 14

Ibid., p. 2. Hill, Labourer, p. 3. See Bishop Adam Orleton’s diary of visitation in R.M. Haines, The Church and Politics in Fourteenth Century England (Cambridge, 1978), Appendix, pp. 238, 239, ff., and Bishop Longland’s schedule in A. Hamilton Thompson, ed., Visitations in the Diocese of Lincoln 1517–1531 ii, Lincoln Record Society 35 (1944), pp. 197–8. J.H. Lynch, Simoniacal Entry into Religious Life (Columbus, Ohio, 1976), p. 182. C.R. Cheney, Medieval Texts and Studies (Oxford, 1973), p. 144.

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visitation process, recommended in the Third Lateran Council15 and confirmed as a canon in the Fourth, represented an important part of the episcopal brief, which by this time already encompassed a number of customary tasks, as noted above. Were it not for the convention of interviewing nuns at episcopal visitations, there would be little extant evidence of the interaction between ordinaries and their female charges. Indeed, this is the case in relation to Syon Abbey, over which the bishop had little jurisdiction. Visitation records, consisting of the bishop’s or archbishop’s report of his visit and his response to the comments of the religious interviewed, are mostly third-hand accounts of the perceived situation in nunneries. Some records include the actual remarks made by the nuns, together with the ordinary’s ensuing injunctions if given; others provide the detecta (findings), the comperta (remarks, including recommendations), bare injunctions, or a combination of two or three of these elements. A few sets of ‘visitation articles’ used to assess the quality of religious life in various institutions survive, though it is not clear how widely they were used.16 Extant visitation reports indicate that the assessment procedure was a formal process in which members of the convent were questioned individually and confidentially. The task of isolating objective comments from personal opinions, impressions and complaints of the religious was far from trivial. There were occasions on which the bishop needed to discount certain remarks as indicative only of personal squabbles, and others where ‘omnia bene’ hid some uncomfortable realities. Thus, sensitivity, a certain level of local knowledge, and the ability to listen to silences as well as words would have been desirable tools for assessment procedures, which were by nature stressful. Regardless of the purposes for which it was designed, the diocesan’s visitation was regarded by nunnery superiors (and probably, their male counterparts) as something of a trial. This can readily be understood, not only in the light of cultural and religious customs of the time, but also by the nature of the power relations between the superior and her episcopal mentor. There is

15 16

J. Alberigo et al., Conciliorum Oecumenicorum Decreta (Bologna, 1973), p. 213, ll. 9–14. Sets of articles can be found in W. Brown, ed., The Register of William Giffard, Lord Archbishop of York, 1266–1279, SS 109, pp. 266–8 [Giffard’s list consists mainly of articles designed to assess the performance of secular clergy]; also, The Register of William Wickwayne, Lord Archbishop of York, 1279–1285, ed. W. Brown, SS 114, pp. 116–19. A list of articles for the visitation of nuns is contained in the register of John Thoresby, who served as archbishop of York during the period 1353–73. See BI Reg. 11, Thoresby (1353–73), fols 396–7. For a similar list of questions designed for monks, see TNA: PRO DL 42/8; Duchy of Lancaster Records, Misc. Bks 8, Register of Abbot Geoffrey de Gaddesby (1342–68), fol. 4. A translation of the latter questions occurs in in Appendix to C.C. Hodges, ed., The Coucher Book of Selby Abbey ii, Yorkshire Archaeological Society 13 (1893), pp. 367–9. [This was part of visitation papers for August–September 1343.]

GUARDIANS OF THE BRIDES

45

no doubt that it is, and was, easier to detect a lack of religious fervour than signs of its existence; and it is likely that visitors considered it more practical in the limited time available to seek and attack faults than to explore the trail of piety, whose signs have always been far more subtle. Certainly, the assessment process was organized in a manner which provided maximum potential for complaint and minimum opportunity for offering tributes. The surviving visitation records have a terseness in tone and content which is consistent with the official emphasis on detecting faults and administering discipline. A number of issues emerging from the collected material are discussed in a later chapter. However, it is appropriate to mention here the kinds of questions which were put to the nuns. Those appearing in John Thoresby’s register are very comprehensive,17 and it is clear from the documentary evidence that other ordinaries used similar formulae for questioning the women, since the points covered show concerns shared between the various diocesan officials. Thoresby’s articles consist of thirty five questions. Those which inquire directly into the leadership of the superior are concerned with the preservation of the Rule and its observance within the community, the superior’s attendance at Divine Service, her discipline, efficiency, level of consultation with the nuns, and the moral record of the community. Other inquiries are designed to identify a number of faults, including simoniacal entry, unsuitable clothing, disunity among the nuns, distractions to the Opus Dei, unnecessary absence from the Offices, the presence of seculars (particularly men) in the house, disobedience, incontinence, custody of keys, leaving the cloister without permission, inappropriate involvement of relatives, personal property and betrayal of convent secrets. The few questions framed in a positive manner inquire into care of the sick, visits of the archdeacon’s Official, the selection and function of confessor or confessors, the Holy Offices, and the keeping of silence.18 It is interesting to note also that the archbishop was anxious to determine whether the archdeacon’s Official had been going beyond his portfolio, or if he had caused trouble for the nuns.

Contentious Issues One obvious subject for assessment of the superior’s leadership was the nuns’ performance of the Opus Dei; in this area it is clear that there was some disagreement between ecclesiastical officials about changes which had been made by some of the abbesses and prioresses. In a letter dated 1284 17 18

BI Reg. 11, Thoresby, fols 396–7. Thanks are due to John Tillotson for making available a transcript of this document. Thoresby questions 34–5.

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Archbishop Pecham castigated the abbess of Godstow for condensing the services in the manner of the monks of Abingdon.19 Although his rebuke may appear reasonable at first glance, it effectively ignores both a recent decision by the Benedictine Chapter to institute a change like that made at Godstow and the continuing debate on the issue among the religious community.20 Pecham’s stand on this matter may have related as much to his current antipathy towards some of the Benedictines and Dominicans as to real misgivings about the modified liturgy followed at this house.21 Later bishops also expressed concern about the length or manner of recitation of the Office. In 1397 Bishop Erghum of Salisbury enjoined the abbess of Wilton ‘que loffice de sainte esglise soit fait duement devoutement attretenient & entierment sanz abbreggement com en aunciene temps soleit estre fait.’22 Ten years earlier William of Wykeham had exhorted Winchester nuns that Masses be ‘celebrated at proper times and hours with moderate pauses . . .’23 While the paring down of certain liturgies could be seen as stemming from an unwillingness to strive for ascetic heights, or even a casual attitude to the Offices, it could also be explained in terms of the increasing pressure for religious to engage in prayers for the dead: a feature of the devotional program which would have added considerably to the periods spent in the convent chapel. The London material of the late medieval period includes many requests for various intercessory functions to be performed by the nuns on behalf of testators. A London parishioner, Johanna Vyel, willed to the prioress and convent of Stratford various rents in 1294 with ‘. . . a pittance on the day of her anniversary and that of her father, so that they perform the service for the dead on the day of receiving the pittance’.24 The will of John Coraunt, goldsmith, proved in 1388–9, states: . . . to Johanna his wife he leaves all his tenements . . . a tenement in the parish of S. Mary Magdalen near Oldfisshstret, to the Prioress and Nuns of Clerkenwell, on condition that they keep his obit solemnly as directed with Placebo and Dirige and office for the dead.25

Several additional examples of these specific requests for prayers which the superiors were expected to incorporate into their liturgical calendar are extant.26 19 20 21 22

23 24 25 26

C.T. Martin, ed., Registrum Epistolarum Fratris Johannis Pecham, Archiepiscopi Cantuariensis iii, Rolls Series 77, p. 846. See W.A. Pantin, ed., Documents Illustrating the Activities of the General and Provincial Chapters of the English Black Monks, 1215–1540, Camden 3rd ser. 45, pp. 102–5. Douie, Archbishop Pecham, pp. 166–7. WRO Register of Ralph Erghum (1375–88), fol. 33v. My own translation renders this ‘that the Office of Holy Church should be followed duly, devotedly, wholly and entirely without abridgement, as it used to be done in ancient times’. Luce, ‘Injunctions’, p. 33. Ibid., p. 111. Sharpe, Wills ii, p. 287. Discussion on this point will be re-opened in Chapters 6 and 7 of this book.

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47

It would have been difficult for most ordinaries to comprehend the range of challenges faced by nunnery heads. However, one which received official recognition on a number of levels was the constant pressure exerted by secular people. Diocesan concern on this matter manifested itself in repeated bans on the issuing of corrodies, pensions and places for pupils without episcopal licence. Such disquiet stemmed not only from the conviction that interaction with secular people could threaten the purity of religious life, but also that there were significant economic risks involved in accepting secular corrodians and other boarders. It is doubtful that nunnery superiors relished the prospect of bringing secular folk in to raise additional funds; nevertheless, the alternatives may have seemed even less enticing. At all events, most diocesans appear to have offered few practical suggestions for solving the existing problems. The records reveal that some bishops took an extremely hard line with nuns who transgressed their Rule. In spite of the ‘hearty repentance’ of Maud of Terrington, an apostate nun of Keldholme in Yorkshire, William Melton ordered severe penances including regular beatings to be administered by the prioress.27 Bishop Dalderby was similarly punitive, showing an attitude less than compassionate in his dealings with an apostate nun from Stamford, despite clear signs that she was deranged rather than wilfully disobedient.28 Archbishop Lee’s sentence of imprisonment for two years meted out to Joan Hutton of Esholt, who had borne a child, also seems unnecessarily harsh.29 There is no doubt that the Benedictine Rule allows for strong physical measures to be employed as punishment.30 The fifteenth-century ‘Northern Prose Version’ deviates little from the original rendering of the section on discipline without making allowances for the ‘weaker sex’, stating that a persistent female offender should be disciplined ‘wyd smerte beting’ and Syon’s guidelines even specify the number of lashes to be delivered.31 Nevertheless, the Rule also states that justice should be tempered with mercy.32 In the Esholt case above, it is likely that Lee’s impulse to punish harshly was governed largely by a perceived need to limit scandal. Since most ordinaries had little contact with the women in their care, there would have been scant opportunity to identify the social dynamics operating within and around the nunnery. Convents tended to be particularly close-knit communities and often contained women of high standing in 27 28 29

30 31 32

D. Robinson, ed., The Register of William Melton Archbishop of York 1317–1340 (ii), Canterbury & York Society 71 (1978), pp. 71–2. Lincoln Archives Office Episcopal Register II, John Dalderby (1300–20), fols 206, 235, 272, 274v. W. Brown, ed., ‘Visitations in the diocese of York holden by Archbishop Edward Lee (A.D. 1534–4), YAJ 16 (1902), p. 452. [The injunctions are translated into English in this source.] McCann, RB, chapt. 28, p. 79. Kock, p. 22, ll. 32–4; Aungier, p. 255. McCann, RB, chapt. 27, p. 77; Kock, p. 22, ll. 3–25.

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the secular community, who may or may not have been relatives of the patron. In some cases, more than one member of a given family was professed in the house. There were probably times when a superior ordered to punish severely felt obliged to ignore the injunction, for fear of offending prominent secular folk who might respond by withdrawing their support. The fact that bishops and archbishops were busy, harassed, and constantly on the move made it difficult for them to empathize significantly with unfamiliar groups, especially those composed of women. Given the level of poverty experienced at Davington in the time of Edward III, for example,33 Archbishop Reynolds’ injunctions to its prioress in 1326, as in several other post-visitation remarks, reveal little appreciation of the struggle in which the nuns were engaged. On the basis of his commissary’s visitation report, Reynolds ordered the superior to remove all seculars including children from the priory within the next month, on pain of excommunication. He also forbade the sale of further corrodies without his express permission.34 Ordinaries frequently objected to the methods employed by abbesses and superiors in raising needed cash, but in doing so were not necessarily able to appreciate the extent of the problem causing the shortfall in the first place. This was, for many nunneries, basic underfunding. The demands of Reynolds to the Davington prioress are not accompanied by suggestions for alternative means of raising the required funds to relieve the situation. It is worth noting too that the archbishop, on his accession to the archiepiscopal position, had made a point of nominating a novice to the Davington community, despite its poverty.35 Such apparent insensitivity to the plight of the convent would be difficult for the superior to ignore or forgive. Indeed, it is conceivable that this prioress participated in the framing of a formal complaint which will be discussed shortly.

Aid and Diversity There is clear documentary evidence of sympathetic and helpful dealings with the women on the part of various diocesans, as pointed out by Oliva.36 However, the history of relations between superiors and their spiritual guardians reveals recurring tensions in some quarters, with outcomes which highlight the difficulties imposed by the power structure in which the superior was placed. 33

34 35 36

See J. Lewis, The History and Antiquities of the Abbey and Church of Faversham in Kent, of the Adjoining Priory of Davington and Maison Dieu of Ofspringe and Parish of Bocton (London, 1727), p. 78. LPL The Register of Walter Reynolds (1313–27), fols 273–3v. Ibid., fol. 105. This occurred in the year 1314. The nominee was Joan de Aylmersh. M. Oliva, The Convent and the Community, pp. 166–8.

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In uncomplicated cases of financial need, several diocesans showed a readiness to help abbesses and prioresses. The registers record numerous appropriations of churches and vicarages to the nunneries, as superiors encountered difficulties arising from the effects of plague, famine and wars. (As Paxton states, the rectories were the most important of the holdings appropriated, since the monastery concerned acted as rector and collected the tithe and some of the offerings and fees.)37 The appointment of custodians was another common device to help a superior in financial straits. Davington’s prioress was assisted thus by Archbishop Pecham in 1279 at a time when the house was in particular need, and the vicar of nearby Faversham chosen for the appointment.38 While there are several instances of custodians brought in to help superiors in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries there is little indication that this continued into the later medieval period. The evident change may have been due to the general dislocation caused by the first and subsequent waves of plague occurring in England.39 Bubonic Plague claimed a number of victims among the nuns, as well as their male counterparts.40 Abbesses and prioresses were faced with a sharp decline in income through the death of tenants and the inevitable reduction in their prospects of finding others to replace them. Some nunneries experienced such severe difficulties after an outbreak of plague that surviving members of the community were reduced to begging, either personally or by proxy. Bishop Edington took pity on the Romsey nuns who were found to be begging secretly in 1351; and in 1359 Bishop Gynewell allowed the prioress of St Michael, Stamford, to employ a ‘questor’ who could offer short-term indulgences for those giving alms to the nuns.41 Episcopal records for the period between 1348 and 1350 are limited, which is not surprising, since the epidemic period must have caused serious dislocations in clerical procedures as scribes and other administrative assistants succumbed to the disease. There is a similar lack of material representing the year 1361, another epidemic year. Some bishops were sufficiently concerned about the difficulties faced by nunneries under their care to provide emergency aid from their personal resources. Bishop Wykeham forgave the Romsey nuns a debt of forty pounds provided earlier as a loan to meet repair costs and Michael de Northburgh, elected to the see of London in 1355, left bequests to Lesnes, Cheshunte, 37 38 39

40 41

Paxton, p. 173. For further discussion on the issue of appropriation in this dissertation, see pp. 174–7. Reg. Epist. Pecham i, p. 72. LPL The Register of William Warham (1503–32), fols 154v., 158, 158v. See Warham’s visitation of Davington of 1511, when the only complaint made was the fact that revenues had decreased (Reg. Warham, fol. 40). For a discussion on the death of nuns due to the ravages of the 1349 epidemic see Power, Nunneries, pp. 180–1. Liveing, p. 146; LAO Episcopal Register VIII, John Gynewell (1347–62), fol. 117.

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Wykes, Stratford, Berdene and Thele in his will of 1361.42 Non-judgemental advice was given on occasions. In 1326 Bishop Stratford directed the abbess of St Mary’s Winchester to involve the prebendaries under her patronage in the financial planning at the Chapter House meetings,43 and at Stamford in October, 1440 Bishop Alnwick recommended measures which might strengthen the priory’s economic base.44 A willingness to listen and respond to the comments of the nuns is also evident in the report of Alnwick’s visit to Markyate earlier in the same year; though his insistence that the prioress should hire a washerwoman immediately seems to ignore the fact that there was no money to pay her at the time.45 One of the most useful forms of assistance provided occasionally by the diocesan was the temporary removal of disobedient nuns to other convents for periods of penance. This offered firm support to the superior’s discipline without eroding her authority. It appears to have been a strategy used more commonly in the north of England. In most cases the suspended nun was accommodated at a house in the same county as her own; however, one Yorkshire nun was sent to Godstow in the 1520s and was still there in 1535, functioning satisfactorily in an environment enriched by the recentlyconstructed chapel at the abbey (see plate 2).46 Some of the personally-funded gestures of good will were probably founded on kinship. Since medieval England had a high percentage of religious in its population, it would not be surprising to find several instances of family ties between the superiors from the core group and their ordinaries; but only a few signs of such associations have emerged. William of Wykeham bequeathed five pounds to his niece, Felicia Aas, who later became abbess of Romsey.47 William Edingdon, who died in 1366, singled out the abbess of Romsey as the recipient of a ruby ring and twenty pounds to pray for his soul – a possible indication of some personal link, either through family or friends.48 One of the London bishops, Robert Braybrook, appears to have had a close relation in Clerkenwell, his register recording the death of the prioress Katherine Braybrook, in 1381 or 1382.49 A further note in a partly-obscured portion of the register mentions an obit for Katherine.50 It is possible that other family ties of this kind existed but were not made known.

42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50

D. Smith, Guide To Bishops’ Registers of England and Wales (London, 1981), p. 136, n. 3; Sharpe, Wills ii, p. 61. HRO A1/5 The Register of John Stratford (1323–33), fol. 176v. Linc. Vis. iii, pp. 350–1. Ibid., p. 230. L&P ix, item 457, p. 148. VCH Wiltshire iii, p. 124. A.C. Wood, ed., Registrum Simonis Langham, Cantuariensis Archiepiscopi (1366–8), p. 319. GL MS. 9531/3 The Register of Robert Braybrooke (1382–1404), fol. 267. Ibid., fol. 271.

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Disclaimer: Some images in the printed version of this book are not available for inclusion in the eBook. To view the image on this page please refer to the printed version of this book.

Plate 2: Ruins of abbess’s chapel, Godstow. This is considered to be an early 16th century construction which may have been attached to the lodging of the superior. See Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the City of Oxford (London, 1939), pp. 155–6.

The Power of Negative Thinking Despite the demonstrable goodwill of some diocesans over the years, there is a noticeable chill and negativity in much of the language and initiatives of the cura monialium. This is evident not only in the framing of the visitation questions, but also in bishops’ injunctions. To some extent, the formulaic phrases employed by ecclesiastical officials are responsible; however, traces of encouragement to strive for spiritual growth are hard to find. Fear of scandal clearly acted as a strong motivational factor in the episcopal visitation scheme, as seen in Bishop Gray’s hasty journey to Godstow Abbey in 1432 in response to ‘common rumour and . . . loud whisperings . . .’ against the abbess and her community.51 Preoccupations of this kind were to be expected in the prevailing psychological climate. Indeed, the promulgation of the bull Periculoso,52 with its implied contempt for the nuns’ level of religious discipline is a clear example of attitudes inherited from earlier times and the documents they generated. The canon of the Fourth Lateran Council regarding simoniacal entry of nunneries appears to have influenced in particular the selection of visitation questions by Archbishop Thoresby 51 52

Linc. Vis. i, p. 65. See Chapter Two for a discussion of Periculoso and its implications.

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for use at nunneries. An English translation of canon 64, which follows the introductory remarks of number 63 on the subject of simony, states: The stain of simony has discoloured many nuns to such an extent that they admit scarcely any as sisters without payment – wishing to cover this vice with the pretext of poverty. We absolutely forbid this to happen in future and ordain that whoever commits such wickedness in future, both she who admits and she who is admitted, whether she is just a nun or in authority, shall be expelled from her convent without hope of reinstatement and thrust into a house of stricter observance to do perpetual penance. As to those who were admitted in such fashion before this conciliar decree we have thought fit to provide that they be removed from the convents they entered wrongly and placed in other houses of the same order. But if perchance there are too many of them to be conveniently placed elsewhere they are, by dispensation, so as not to roam about and perhaps imperil their souls in the world, to be admitted afresh to the same convent, with a change of superior and of the inferior officers of the houses . . . we command diocesan bishops to have this published all over their dioceses each year.53

No query about simoniacal entry appears in a list applied to male houses of York diocese during roughly the same period.54 The pointed addition to the questions applied to female religious implies an assumption that women were prone to enter religion through improper means, as asserted in canon sixty-three. Lynch, in discussing the implications of the canon dealing with simoniacal entry, argues that the poorer conditions of the nunneries had created a situation where entry fees were sought to help keep the convent solvent, adding that the stricter enclosure rules governing the female houses had intensified financial constraints, since women thus enclosed were unable to support themselves in the manner customary for monks.55 It is probable that bishops tried to distinguish freewill gifts from simoniacal payments and could accept the nuns’ need of the former.56

53 54

55 56

D.C. Douglas et al., eds, English Historical Documents iii (London, 1953), pp. 670–1; J. Alberigo et al., Conciliorum Oecumenicorum (Bologna, 1973), canons 63–4, p. 264. Question 27 in Thoresby’s list of visitation articles focuses on entry into the convent through improper means, i.e., money payments or through unlawful agreements. See BI, Reg. 11, John Thoresby, fols 396–7. In the list of visitation questions for monks from the Register of Abbot Geoffrey de Gaddesby, Selby Abbey [1342–1368] the subject of simoniacal entry is not mentioned. See Appendix to Coucher Book of Selby Abbey II, YAS 13 (1893), pp. 367–9. J.H. Lynch, Simoniacal Entry into Religious Life (Columbus, Ohio, 1976), p. 194. For a discussion of entry gifts versus dowries see J. Burton, ‘Yorkshire Nunneries in the Middle Ages: Recruitment and Resources’, in Government, Religion and Society in Northern England 1000–1700, eds J.C. Appleby & P. Dalton (Stroud, 1997), p. 109.

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Women Scorned Most nuns appear to have adjusted to the imposition of Periculoso and other repressive measures with little overt resistance, but there were some notable exceptions. Bishop Dalderby, left with the task of explaining and defending the tightened enclosure regulations in the nunneries of Lincoln diocese, was struck (perhaps literally) by the outrage of some Markyate religious. The women, quick to recognize an impending infringement on personal rights outlined at the time of their profession, threw the offending explanatory documents after the bishop as he left the house.57 While the nuns concerned may have been particularly recalcitrant it is also possible that the bishop’s demeanour had been less than tactful in his attempts to interpret the bull. Another dramatic episode of resistance by nuns to the authority of their local bishop occurred at Kington Priory, Wiltshire. In 1490 the nuns acquired from an Irish friar a forged papal bull purporting to exempt them from diocesan authority (and thus place them under the sole jurisdiction of the abbot of Glastonbury). The offence was soon exposed and the prioress, who apparently devised the scheme, summarily removed from office.58 The account does not explain the reason for the antipathy of the women towards Bishop Langton their diocesan. It must be concluded that the superior, foolish as she was, had found it easier to deal with the abbot of Glastonbury who was their capital lord.59 The full story of neither episode is likely to emerge. Each of these scenes is fraught with anger or distrust on the part of the women towards their spiritual guardians, though the full apportioning of blame cannot be achieved on the existing evidence. Other anecdotal records perhaps indicate more clearly how attitudes and strategies adopted by some bishops and archbishops offered fuel for the fires of resentment and protest.

A Question of Consistency Ordinaries were prepared on occasion to disregard their own previouslyexpressed principles. William of Wykeham’s injunctions to the abbess of Romsey in 1387 state: ‘We strictly forbid you, Lady Abbess, to sell or grant a vacant corrody or pension to any person either for a term of life or for any period, unless urgent need demands it, and the consent of the Diocesan agrees. . .’60 However, Wykeham had, in 1372, sent letters to Romsey and Wherwell to urge one of these houses to receive Lady Elizabeth Berkele, a relative of the earl of Pembroke, as a boarder, during the absence overseas of 57 58 59 60

Power, Nunneries, p. 352. Wright, Reg. Langton, pp. 69, 86. VCH Wiltshire iii, p. 260. Luce, ‘Injunctions’, p. 37.

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her husband, Sir Maurice Wytht.61 Such concessions invited other relaxations of regulations, resulting not only in the accommodation of single boarders or corrodians, but also their servants and various pieces of property. John Mathews Manly cites an anecdote describing the visit of the Countess Elizabeth of Ulster to Stratford Priory, complete with retinue, bed and personal cook.62 One of the more familiar anecdotes in this context is that of Margery Paston, whose defiance of her mother’s demands on the subject of matrimony was met by Margaret’s refusal to receive her again at home. Margery, thus deprived of accommodation, was allowed to stay at Blackborough nunnery, as was the man to whom she was betrothed. This was arranged by the bishop of Norwich.63 Some diocesans were inclined to be high-handed about their rights or assumed rights in the appointment of new nuns.64 Archbishop Islip insisted that his nominee, Cecilie le Hett, should be admitted by the abbess of Lacock, on pain of excommunication.65 In some cases where names of postulants were put forward by the bishop or metropolitan there was considerable pressure to override earlier decisions. John Pecham, in proposing a candidate for Stratford, Isabella Bret, made it clear in 1282 that he intended to press his claim regardless of the support given by the bishop of London to the prioress’s earlier refusal to admit Isabella. The bishop had evidently accepted her reasoning that a deformed girl would not be suitable as a nun.66 Pecham justified the reversal of his predecessor’s decision on the grounds that the candidate’s youth would make her tractable and her parents would bring in useful assets for the nunnery. In his letter to the bishop of London the archbishop expressed the opinion that deformity would be a desirable and salutary attribute for all the nuns of Stratford, given their demonstrably worldly inclinations.67 His emphasis on cash is striking, as is the waspish aside, which was hardly an elevating example to the London diocesan or to the nuns. Later demands of places for aspiring nuns were sometimes motivated by a desire to please friends, patrons, or former employees. The Canterbury registers contain several names of individuals who initiated the archbishops’ requests for the admission of candidates to various nunneries. A recurring phrase accompanying such demands by Archbishop Courtenay in 1381 was ‘ad instanciam’ followed by the name of the individual promoting the 61 62 63 64

65 66 67

T.F. Kirby, ed., Wykeham’s Register ii, Hampshire Record Society 11 (1899), pp. 162–3. [Bishop Wykeham served during 1367–1404.] J.M. Manly, Some New Light on Chaucer (New York, 1926), pp. 204–5. Power, Nunneries, pp. 411–12; J. Gairdner, ed., The Paston Letters v (London, 1904), pp. 37–40. See Janet Burton’s comments on the imposition of additional burdens in some cases by archbishops putting forward their own candidates in The Yorkshire Nunneries in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries, Borthwick Papers 56 (1979), p. 25. LPL Reg. Islip, fol. 32. Epist. Reg. Pecham i, pp. 356–7, 366–7. Ibid., pp. 366–7.

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would-be novice.68 Lacock received a similar request four months later.69 A letter dated 1358 in Bishop Edington’s register requests the abbess and convent of St Mary’s Winchester to receive as a nun Joan, daughter of Thomas de Coleshull, the bishop’s former valet, again a demonstration of external pressure transferred from the bishop to the abbess.70

An Appeal to the King There is evidence that the activities or demands of certain officials provoked a petition to the king by resentful nunnery superiors from the Southern Province around the second quarter of the fourteenth century.71 Perhaps the most striking feature of the document is the fact that the grievances expressed are directed against bishops and archbishops, ostensibly the protectors and nurturers of religious women. Although the writer claims to represent prioresses and abbesses of Canterbury Province, or, in other words, those administering nunneries within the many dioceses outside York Province, the claim is patently extravagant. True representation of that kind would involve interaction with women from about a hundred and forty nunneries: an impossible feat, particularly in view of enclosure regulations. The authors were probably a small number of female religious intent on righting a perceived wrong or series of wrongs via a well-worn path to the good graces of the monarch. The complaint states that archbishops and bishops at the time of their consecrations had been imposing unjust burdens upon all the abbesses and prioresses by insisting that each nunnery should accept a novice, despite the fact that the convents in the region are already over-populated under the terms of their charters. It is also stated that the procurations charged at the prelates’ visitations are double the agreed amount. This imposition, according to the petitioners, has not only contravened the intention of their founders but also caused loss and distress. The hand in which the document is written is typical of some English manuscript material surviving from the first half of the fourteenth century; indeed, it is strikingly similar to that of the scribe who recorded Archbishop Reynolds’ injunctions to religious houses including Davington during the year 1326; hence the suggestion that the prioress of Davington may have been privy to the letter. Precise dating is challenging, since this particular

68 69 70 71

See LPL The Register of William Courtenay (1381–1396), fol. 5v., Jan. 26 (1381). Ibid., fol. 17. S.F. Hockey, ed., The Register of William Edington, Bishop of Winchester, 1346–1366 (ii) (1986), p. 47. TNA: PRO SC8/104/5190, m. 41.The document is undated. For a fuller discussion of this document and its implications see V. Spear, ‘A Canterbury Lament’, Parergon, New Series, 18, iii (2001), pp. 15–36.

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document has not been included in the Rotuli Parliamentorum,72 and the Public Record Office catalogue reveals little of its origin. Neither does any clue appear in the printed royal or papal records. However, given the textual allusion to overcrowded nunneries (l. 5), it can be suggested with reasonable confidence that the petition appeared before the first epidemic of Bubonic Plague in England.73 Thus, as suggested, the letter could well have occurred between the years 1300 and 1350. Palaeographic evidence from these decades is consistent with concerns at home about procurations. Pope Benedict XII published in 1336 a highlydetailed set of directions aimed at moderating the charges placed upon secular and regular institutions by various grades of visiting prelates. It is clear from the context that this bull was promulgated in response to requests by the clergy for relief from allegedly unjust financial exploitation. The edict of 1336 survives as one piece of evidence witnessing to a wider reform movement administered by Benedict.74 William Thorne, the Chronicler of St Augustine’s Abbey, refers to the new regulations being applied in England alongside material dated 1346, in a section headed ‘Edward III’.75 This evidence would support the view that the petition occurred within that particular reign. The amounts set out as maximum sums to be charged in various establishments in different provinces and by different levels of officialdom are suprisingly high, which seems to indicate that the pope’s information on the financial organization of religious communities was limited. Nevertheless, this is the only piece of evidence found in the search for records of papal action aimed at correcting abuses of the procuration system during the fourteenth century. It certainly suggests a response to complaints among the religious, and offers a logical context for the petition under discussion. Consultation between nunnery heads was probably difficult to achieve during a period in which the curia was seeking to tighten controls on the enclosure of female religious under the terms of the bull Periculoso, and the nunneries of the Southern Province were scattered. Nevertheless, female religious could leave the cloister under certain conditions, even after the promulgation of the 1298 bull. Annual holiday permits continued to be 72 73

74

75

Great Britain Record Commission, Public Record Office, Rotuli Parliamentorum (London 1767–). It is clear that the monasteries never recovered the population levels of former days, though there was an appreciable increase from 1360 to 1500. By this time, according to David Knowles, three-quarters of the maximum capacity of the houses had been reached. (Knowles & Hadcock, p. 47.) See A. Friedberg’s Corpus Iuris Canonici ii (Graz, 1959), Tit. x [‘De Censibus, Exactionibus et Procurationibus, 1280–1284’] for a comprehensive record of Benedict XII’s reform program; also P.C. Schmitt, Un Pape Reformateur et un défenseur de l’unité de l’église: Benoit XII et L’Ordre des Frères Mineurs (Florence, 1959). A.H. Davis, ed., William Thorne’s Chronicle of Saint Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury (Oxford, 1934), p. 509.

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issued to the nuns throughout the late Middle Ages, with at least one bishop allowing leave from the house for a maximum of three weeks.76 During this time the women could visit their families and presumably see other relatives who came to the family home to exchange news. Some nuns had relations in houses other than their own, which may reflect official policy, since one prelate took care to avoid overloading convents with more than three members of the same family.77 It is likely that these kinsfolk received overlapping periods of leave when special family events occurred. Some female religious acted as godmothers in the fourteenth century and also at the end of the monastic period.78 The women concerned may have met and conferred with other religious at the baptism of a child of upper-class parents. Funerals lent themselves to socialisation and discussion, and there is little doubt that fourteenth-century female superiors participated legitimately on occasion, as did some of their successors.79 Weddings offered similar opportunities, though it appears that it was not easy for nuns to obtain permission from the bishop to attend such festivities.80 At all events, the circumstances in which the petition was drafted will probably remain obscure. Assuming that more than one person was responsible, physical consultation between nunnery superiors could have been achieved, albeit with some difficulty; it is equally possible that the document was completed by correspondence. Surviving confraternity and mortuary lists demonstrate that an information communications network serving various religious houses remained active throughout the later medieval period. While designed primarily for disseminating information about recent deaths among incumbents and reminding surviving communities of their intercessory obligations, the lists were capable of serving other purposes. The letter goes so far as to name such practices as ‘oppressionns’ and ‘extorsionns’ and concludes with a plea for the king’s help in remedying the situation. (Here there is a clear indication that the monarch is petitioned to remedy a situation in a way which is open only to him.)81 The present author has found no other evidence from later years of objections to ecclesiastical

76 77 78

79

80 81

LAO, Reg. VIII Gynewell, fols 100v.–101. BI Reg. 9, William Melton [1317–40], fol. 132 (new no. 161). Luce, Papers and Proceedings, p. 39. The will of Elizabeth Shelley, last abbess of St Mary’s, Winchester, mentions her godchildren (HRO 1549B/078). That of Philippa John, the last prioress of Canterbury St Sepulchre, also mentions a godchild who was named after her (centre for Kentish Studies PRC 17/26/27). The prioress of Swine witnessed the codicil to the will of Walter Skirlaw, Bishop of Durham, in 1410 and Sir Thomas Cumberland indicated in his will of 1451 that he expected a number of religious at his funeral. The prioress of Carrow attended the funeral of John Paston in 1466 (Power, Nunneries, pp. 72–3). Ibid., p. 377. See Chapter 5 of this study for further discussion on the relationship between superior and king.

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actions of the kind described, apart from the Kington episode cited above. The petition is unlikely to have drawn a response from the king, since his involvement would have provoked a hostile response at the encroachment on ecclesiastical jurisdiction. It is possible that the perceived abuses continued, but that female superiors decided it was fruitless to pursue their cause further.82 Certainly, the advent of the first Bubonic Plague epidemic removed the problem of overcrowding which was an important element in the complaint. It is obvious from the evidence cited that some female superiors harboured grievances against diocesans during the period under discussion, though the grounds for complaint and the extent to which their resentment was justified are not clear. In examining the contribution of bishops and archbishops as spiritual mentors to the female superiors, it is not difficult to find fault with the attitudes and actions of some. Nevertheless, they, like the women, were locked into a system which functioned according to strict guidelines. This environment not infrequently disadvantaged the female superiors and their charges, though it must be conceded that the closer supervision of religious houses demanded by the Fourth Lateran Council brought some positive effects for monastic houses, including the removal of grossly unsuitable superiors. There is little evidence of attempts by diocesans to build up the faith of their female charges, except through disciplinary action. Some official correspondence with the nunneries also suggests a failure to grasp the extent of the burden carried by the female superiors, who had to contend not only with problems similar to those faced by male superiors, but also the conflicts arising from demands of importuning secular supporters whose contributions were needed for economic survival. Many diocesans and metropolitans were constrained in their service to convents by heavy involvement with political and diplomatic responsibilities. Given such constraints, an apparently ad hoc approach to visitations was perhaps to be expected, particularly in the case of religious houses which were less accessible or less likely to offer congenial circumstances. The evidence suggests that bishops and archbishops gave an uneven level of support to their female charges over the period in question. Some provided sound direction drawn from administrative experience and others even gave material assistance; still others, while concerned about financial viability and moral rectitude, incurred significant displays of resentment and, in isolated cases, outright rebellion.

82

It is noteworthy, for example, that Archbishop Warham charged £1 at the visit to Davington in 1511, despite the fragile state of the priory’s economy. Being aware of this situation, he could have waived the fee. See Reg. Warham, fol. 40.

4 The Lady and the Monarchs

THE LADY AND THE MONARCHS

This chapter examines the relations of the abbess or prioress with her spiritual and temporal monarchs, whose separate, and sometimes intersecting, spheres of authority both supported and restricted the scope of her leadership. As indicated by Figure 2, the female superior’s perspective on some individuals and pressure groups did not necessarily match that of those in authority over her. Hence, the boarders, whom the ecclesiastical authorities strove to keep at a distance, loom much larger in this diagram than in Figure 1. Since the abbess or prioress saw the papacy as a somewhat remote entity, the pope appears in Figure 2 as less significant in the general scheme of things than in the previous representation of the power network. The king, unlike the pope, functioned on a number of levels in his relationships with the female superiors. For some he was a patron and therefore exercised the traditional patronal rights. These included access to the spiritual services of the nuns, influence over the outcome of monastic elections, and the right to claim the temporalities of the house in a vacancy. As in the case of other patrons, his help and protection were expected in times of need. Unlike other patrons, the king was in a position to request material assistance from monastic resources; accordingly, successive kings prevailed upon royal houses for benefits to favoured ex-employees, in the form of corrodies and pensions, throughout the late medieval period. Also, in time of war, there were successive purveyancing demands of religious houses, in addition to ad hoc tax levies. For the superiors of non-royal foundations, the king was still available as a source of relief for those suffering wrongs or applying for licences to protect their property in a number of transactions. In some cases, the king or queen happened to be a close relative or friend of a certain abbess or prioress, a situation which naturally gave the royal family an added interest in her house. Since kings held ultimate authority over all land in the kingdom, it was prudent for abbesses and prioresses (as in the case of their male counterparts) to maintain cordial relations with their monarch. His actions as supreme landlord could affect significantly the economic health of their houses. There were several recorded occasions when a nunnery superior approached the queen for a favour on behalf of her convent; this occurred in relation to both

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royal and non-royal monasteries. The support of lesser secular patrons was also crucial in this context. The source material presents certain problems for those seeking evidence on the activities of individual women serving in leadership roles. Firstly, as noted earlier, many of these women remain anonymous. Secondly, printed documents, being calendared versions, are cryptic, and lack details which would help in evaluating the attitudes and initiatives of the protagonists. The incomplete nature of the evidence becomes a particular problem when one analyses the available material from the period of the Great Schism in the Papal Letters, as Boyle remarks.1 Nevertheless, the available data are sufficient to allow an informed discussion on the nature and extent of the support given to the nunnery superior by the two monarchs during the period under investigation. Royal patronage had its pros and cons; so too did papal patronage. The first section of this chapter will be addressed mainly to negotiations between superior and king; the second will examine some aspects of her relations with the papal court.

Royal Favours As Susan Wood points out in her study of thirteenth-century patronage of English monasteries, it was the right (as well as the obligation) of the patron to protect his or her monastic house, since it was, after all, the preservation of property which was involved.2 There are numerous examples of abbesses and prioresses from nunneries of both royal and non-royal foundation seeking and receiving from the king relief from both trouble and expense. The total available material suggests that it was overwhelmingly the royal foundations which received the greatest share of royal largesse; although it is worth remembering that the administrative machine of the crown was more likely to preserve its records than less highly-organized bodies. A number of records show that nunnery superiors requested from the king provisions for the day-to-day necessities of their nuns. It was not unusual for the heads of royal foundations to apply for primary produce from the king’s estates and there are, for example, several references to situations in which the monarch was persuaded to supply wood for fuel, or for construction projects, or farm produce from his lands. Agreements for the supply of wood from the royal forests for religious houses can be traced to ancient charters, with which the current monarch may or may not have been familiar. It is clear that nunnery superiors frequently found it necessary to remind successive kings of long-standing obligations by requesting a review and confirma-

1 2

L.E. Boyle, A Survey of The Vatican Archives and of its Medieval Holdings (Toronto, 1972). See p. 114 et seq. re the Avignon Registers. Wood, Patrons, p. 159.

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tion of these contracts. Thus Godstow’s abbess, Rose de Oxeye, sought and received an acknowledgement of the present king’s inherited contract in 1279, when the keeper of the forest in Whichewode was subsequently ordered to ‘cause the abbess of Godestowe to have in the clearings of that forest four leafless oak-trunks for fuel, of the king’s gift’.3 In 1285 Lacock’s abbess, whose house had not yet obtained official recognition as a royal foundation, received the grant of ten oaks in the forest of Melkesham from Edward I, for extension work on her abbey.4 In 1260, part of the same forest had been made available to Lacock for the collection of firewood, the king granting Abbess Ela, the original patron of the house, a designated area of forty acres, which she was to be allowed to enclose with hedge and ditch to keep out game. This was recorded in June 1260.5 Ela is named in the above document as a ‘kinswoman’ and she obviously initiated the grant by requesting at first ‘a daily cartload of the dead or dry wood or green wood in the forest . . .’ The king, acknowledging Ela’s patrician status, and perceiving through an inquiry that the ‘dead or dry wood would not be sufficient for a daily cart load’, made a more generous grant than that originally requested.6 Similarly, in March 1299 Hugh le Despenser, Justice of the Forest ‘this side Trent’, was ordered to ‘cause the abbess of Wilton to have in the forest of Chuet twenty oaks fit for timber for the construction of the houses of the abbey, which were lately burned by mischance, of the king’s gift.’7 The king also granted permission for her to fell fifty oaks in the forest of Savernake for the same purpose. All of these examples describe reasonable requests from abbesses and equally reasonable responses expected of a royal patron with a stake in valuable property. There are isolated instances of non-royal houses receiving material aid from the king. Stamford’s prioress, for example, was favoured with confirmation of her convent’s right to receive a regular weekly supply of three cartloads of fuel wood in 1290 and given reassurance in regard to this and other charter agreements dated 1413 and 1463.8 In the documents relating to the 1413 grant, Agnes Leek clearly wished to begin her term as prioress by tidying some administrative loose ends and accordingly had the terms of a

3 4

5 6 7

8

Calendar of Close Rolls 1272–9, p. 537. Ibid., 1279–88, p. 311. Alice’s name is found in both a deed of June 1283 and in a fine of 1286. See R.B. Pugh, ed., Abstracts of Feet of Fines Relating to Wiltshire for the Reigns of Edward I & II, 1272–1327, Wiltshire Archaeological Society Records Branch 1 (1939), p. 28. C.f. VCH Wiltshire iii, p. 315. K.H. Rogers, ed., Lacock Abbey Charters (Devizes, 1979) p. 16. Ibid. Calendar of Close Rolls, 1272–9, p. 238. The abbess mentioned was probably Parnel/ Petronilla de Vaux, who appears to have died soon after the fire, since the voidance of the abbey was exploited by the king in April and the next abbess elected in May. CPR, 1292–1301, pp. 191, 411, 412, 415, 417. CCR, 1288–96, p. 101; CPR, 1399–1401, p. 39; ibid., 1461–7, p. 28.

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charter relating to firewood checked. The note in the Patent Rolls for that year explains in detail the destination of the wood supplies in question: one cartload for the bakery, another for the brewery and the third for the kitchen, while eight dead trees were provided as additional fuel, probably for heating. The precision and formality of such later documents reflect the vigorous written culture of the time. In the above case, Agnes obviously felt confident that the king, while not answerable to her house in terms of patronage, was nevertheless prepared (when prompted) to honour a charter originating from one of his forebears. If one accepts J.A.F Thompson’s assurance that ‘Behind all giving in the Middle Ages lay one basic motive, the good of the donor’s soul’, it is reasonable to assume that the king, sensitive to contemporary attitudes, was hopeful of spiritual benefits accruing from his charity.9 Although there is sound evidence for such a view, the motive of simple generosity should not be ruled out automatically. In 1333 the Close Rolls reveal information on several gifts of wheat provided to northern houses and also to a secular family which had suffered destruction to their lands and goods by the Scots.10 In this case Edward III is fulfilling the role expected of a monarch in times of national trauma; the needs which were met in these circumstances provided opportunities for the king to reinforce his image as a generous and pious lord. Among a number of measures employed by abbesses and prioresses to augment their incomes were various concessions, including granted rights for the superior to hold fairs and markets on stipulated days in the year. Bolton asserts that there were about 2800 grants of markets made by the crown between 1198 and 1483, more than fifty percent being given in the thirteenth century. By this time the crown had begun to insist that such granting away of what amounted to valuable royal property would henceforth be obtainable only by royal charter.11 While these concessions constituted further displays of goodwill and concern for the welfare of establishments under the monarch’s patronage, there was probably a shrewd profit motive as well. An entry in the Lacock charters mentions that in 1306 the abbess secured permission to hold a fair in her own village at the feast of St Bartholomew.12 The convent already held such rights, from the reign of Henry III, for such an event to be held in 9

10

11 12

J.A.F. Thompson, ‘Piety and Charity in Late Medieval London’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History 16 (1965), p. 194. C.f. A.H. Thompson, The English Clergy and their Organization in the Later Middle Ages (Oxford, 1947), p. 132. CCR, 1330–3, p. 70. This document names the male houses of Blanchland, Alnewyk and Newminster as the recipients, together with ‘Margery, late the wife of Roger Corbet’. J.L. Bolton, The Medieval English Economy 1150–1500 (London, 1980), p. 119. LAC, p. 17. The fair is said in this calendared document to have been held on 14 July, although Cheney gives the usual date for this feast as August 24. See C. Cheney, A Handbook of Dates for Students of English History (London, 1945), p. 44.

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July on the vigil, feast, and day following the Translation of St Thomas of Canterbury.13 Also, there were long-standing rights for an annual fair to last eight days on the eve and feast of Saints Peter and Paul and for six consecutive days afterwards.14 The latter grant was preceded by a charter giving the abbess and nuns the right to hold each Tuesday a market at Lacock.15 St Helen’s prioress, at the request of Queen Margaret, Edward I’s second wife, was granted rights in 1307 to both a market and a fair at the convent’s manor of Braynford, on the ‘vigil and the feast of St Laurence and the four days following’.16 Soon after her election in 1316 Godstow’s abbess, Margery Dyve (or Dyne) received a charter publishing the monastery’s granted privilege of a fair lasting three days at Godstow at the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist.17 This appears to have been part of an effort to lift the abbey’s dwindling finances to a more viable level. From the community’s perspective the securing of the grant would have enhanced Margery’s reputation as an effective, and therefore, virtuous, leader. Romsey’s abbess was already exercising rights for an annual fair at the manor of Romsey on the feast of Saints Philip and James and throughout the three days following the latter feast.18 Markets and fairs were, as Diana Coldicott notes, modest sources of revenue, providing rents from stall-holders’ booths, toll money and fines from courts of Pie Powder – the latter meeting on fair days.19 E.W. Moore asserts that the fair court was ‘both a privilege and an obligation of holding a fair’.20 While the administration of such courts may not have been remunerative in itself, there were important spin-offs for the fair keeper. Wilton, which also received a grant for a fair, reputedly netting an annual total of £4 4s. 0½ d. from perquisites and tolls during the period 1361–1374,21 is mentioned in a late medieval Chancery document from the abbess’s ‘court de pypoudre’. This fifteenth-century document records a dispute in which Henry Dyer charges the bailiffs of the abbess with false

13 14 15 16 17

18 19

20 21

VCH Wiltshire iii, p. 305. The feast of the Translation of St Thomas of Canterbury was held on July 7 (Cheney, Handbook, p. 62). LAC, p. 70. Cheney, Handbook, gives the date as June 29 (p. 58). Cal. Charter Rolls, 1257–1300, p. 274. Ibid., 1300–26, p. 81; August 10 is cited as the date (Cheney, Handbook, p. 65). Cheney, Handbook, p. 330. Margery was elected in 1316 and the charter was issued on Dec. 27 the same year (LAO Reg. II Dalderby, fol. 166). The feast day for St John the Baptist is given as June 24; Cheney, Handbook, p. 53. Cal. Charter Rolls, 1257–1300, p. 179. The charter is dated February 1272. The feast day would have been normally held on May 1 (Cheney, Handbook, p. 58). Coldicott, p. 113. W. Addison explains that the ‘Pie powder’ courts were so named after a corruption of the old French term ‘pied-pouldre’ for pedlar. Thus, such courts were conducted informally at fairs. See W. Addison, English Fairs and Markets (London, 1953), pp. 11–12. E.W. Moore, The Fairs of Medieval England (Toronto, 1985), p. 165. VCH Wiltshire iii, p. 234.

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imprisonment for debt.22 The dispute is a reminder of the diverse secular entanglements which could result from grants of this kind. Permission for St Mary’s Winchester to have a regular fair came late in the period, the charter being secured in 1499 by its abbess Joan Legh from Henry VII.23 There is a notable absence from the Charter Rolls of royal grants such as fairs and markets to small and struggling female houses, and no evidence of non-royal houses favoured in this way has appeared in the database collected for this book. The remote location of many convents of low income clearly made it impractical for superiors to seek such rights. Also, those representing poorly-endowed houses with access to town trade may not have been in a position to lobby for the privileges received by their wealthier sisters. Lacking significant royal assistance, the prioress of a slenderly-endowed nunnery needed to remain on good terms with her secular supporters. Since these were, as we have seen, drawn mainly from the gentry class, there were few lavish gifts to be expected. Of all the nunneries in the select group, Syon appears to have benefited most from royal largesse. On founding the house, Henry V assured the nuns that they were to retain custody of their possessions on the loss of any abbess and also to be exempted from royal taxes. His successor, Henry VI, granted Syon exemption from the widely-applied tax of two shillings in the pound in 1450 and while his son’s agreement over custody of possessions lapsed for some years, it was renewed in 1461.24 Another important favour at the time of foundation was the undertaking that the finances of the abbey would be made up to 1000 marks per year, with subsidies from the Exchequer where necessary.25 In 1448, the monarch had authorised the abbess to hold all courts on her estates and take ‘all profits of justice, whether administered in her own or in the royal courts, if any of her own tenants was concerned’.26 Other favours granted to Syon included the right to hold two annual fairs in Somerset, the right to appoint a coroner in the Hundred of Isleworth and various pieces of property in mortmain.27 An important source of income granted by the king to some female superiors was the right to view of frankpledge and assize of bread and ale with waifs and strays.28 Agnes Denham, abbess of St Mary’s Winchester, succeeded 22 23 24 25 26 27

28

TNA: PRO C1/7/84. The PRO catalogue places the document either late in the reign of Richard II, or Henry VI. Cal. Charter Rolls, 1427–1516, p. 273. CCR, 1447–54, p. 185; Aungier, p. 68. RP iv, pp. 141, 243. Aungier, p. 60. Rights to hold fairs were granted in 1487 (CPR, 1485–94, p. 209). Rights to appoint a coroner were given by the same king in 1492 (ibid., p. 382). For grant of property in mortmain see ibid., p. 207. D. Sutherland clarifies the benefits of possessing the frankpledge franchise, stating: ‘A franchise of view of frankpledge usually applied to a single vill or a single manor. Men under the franchise came twice a year to their lord’s view of frankpledge and saw their

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in gaining both view of frankpledge and assize of bread and ale for her house in 1443 from Henry VI.29 An identical entry in 1468 signals the granting of the same concession for Agnes Buriton, her successor, from the court of Edward IV.30 The repetition of a grant which would normally be provided in perpetuity is puzzling until one recalls the increasingly severe Acts of Resumption brought in as a result of Henry VI’s mental degeneration and the subsequent accession of Edward. Hence the judicious move by the abbess to clarify her rights.31 Occasionally a nunnery superior received from the king one-off gifts as an investment for the convent’s future. One chronicle reports that Edward I personally delivered to St Helen’s in 1285 a piece of the ‘True Cross’, and presented it with some ceremony, accompanied by earls, barons and bishops.32 The motivation behind the gift or the circumstances which prompted the unusual delivery of a royal relic to a non-royal foundation remains a mystery, although Green notes that the Princess Mary entered Amesbury Abbey that year as a nun, at the age of seven. Thus the timing may have been determined by Mary’s birthday celebrations and profession.33 The relic was obviously designed to draw pilgrims bent on worshipping at the shrine for which it would be the main focus. Such pilgrims would have not only been hopeful of a miracle, but also disposed to give alms and thank-offerings at the site of the holy object. The same king provided in 1297 a gold clasp to be given to Wilton Abbey by Princess Mary.34

29 30 31 32 33

34

lord’s bailiff conduct there all or some prescribed part of the business of a turn [sic]. Since certain customary dues were payable when the view was held, and since the pleas of the sheriff were offences punishable by money penalties, the lord could make a profit out of his court.’ D. Sutherland, Quo Warranto Proceedings in the Reign of Edward I, 1278–94 (Oxford, 1963), p. 4. (Non-appearance at a view was also a source of revenue, since a fine was levied for such a default.) The franchise for waifs and strays involved a claim on stray animals which became the property of the licensed landholder on whose land they were found, provided the finder had allowed a fixed period to elapse and had given appropriate notice. CPR, 1441–6, p. 153. Ibid., 1461–7, p. 138. For an authoritative discussion with documentary evidence illustrating this situation see B. Wolffe, The Crown Lands (London, 1970), pp. 24–7, 92–3, 102–3. W. Stubbs, ed., Chronicle of the Reigns of Edward I and Edward II, Rolls Ser. I (1858), p. 93; c.f. VCH London i, p. 457. Green observes that Mary was professed then also, at the insistence of her grandmother, Queen Eleanor, and veiled by the king, her father. Green (Wood), Lives of the Princesses of England ii, p. 409. VCH Wiltshire iii, p. 234; c.f. Green, Lives of the Princesses ii, p. 420. This clasp may have been used to enrich a cope to be worn on special feast days at Wilton. One such garment survives at Romsey, thought to have been embroidered by the nuns and has been displayed at the abbey at various times.

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The Statute of Mortmain Grants of land and the licences which were later required to ratify acceptance of such gifts from supporters figure prominently in the documents. The Statute of Mortmain, promulgated by Edward I in 1279, was an expression of the monarch’s increasing concern (and that of his greater lay subjects) at the amount of property passing irretrievably into ecclesiastical ownership, and it forbade from that time the alienation of land to such ownership without the licence of the king and of the chief lord concerned.35 There are many instances of nunnery superiors applying for and receiving licences to receive grants of land and other property in perpetuity after the statute became law. By 1299, fees for mortmain licences had been introduced and it is unusual to find references in the Patent Rolls to alienations in mortmain for small houses after that year.36 Therefore it would seem to have been a relationship between the apparent failure of superiors from small and struggling nunneries to attract significant real estate grants and the cost of applying to the king for a licence of this kind. Clearly there was expense involved in having a commission appointed to investigate the legalities of a proposed transaction, as well as the cost of securing the document itself. Heads of wealthier nunneries, which attracted more affluent supporters, were obviously in a better position to pay the required fines. Research in this area is hampered by the lack of available detail regarding the extent of the fines, which, in Wood-Legh’s view, ‘seem to have borne no fixed proportion to the value of the alienated property’.37 This opinion is shared by Sandra Raban, who concludes that their imposition ‘appears quite haphazard, with the amount charged dependent upon royal vagary and upon the price each recipient was prepared to pay. . .’38 Clementhorpe’s prioress paid a fee of twenty shillings for a grant in 1314 to the house of a total of two messuages and seven acres in York.39 Seventy-eight years later the same house received a licence, at a fee of forty shillings, to accept in mortmain six acres of land and one messuage in Thorp.40 In 1392 Constance Somerset, the prioress of St Helen’s, paid a fee of five marks to secure a licence for an alienation in mortmain of a messuage, four shops and five acres of meadow to her house.41 In many cases the

35 36 37 38 39 40 41

I. Ruffhead, The Statutes at Large, from Magna Carta to the End of the Last Parliament, 1761 (i) (London, 1763), pp. 72–3; 7 Edward I, statute 2. S. Raban, Mortmain Legislation and the English Church 1279–1500 (Cambridge, 1982), p. 55. K.L. Wood-Legh, Studies in Church Life in England under Edward III (Cambridge, 1934), p. 62. Raban, Mortmain Legislation, p. 60. CPR, 1313–17, p. 173. (For ‘messuage’, see Glossary.) Ibid., 1391–6, p. 174. Ibid., p. 156.

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amount charged for the fee is not recorded in the calendared documents, though it may appear on the rolls themselves. Raban remarks that in the conveyancing of land, ‘as far as the costs of amortisation were concerned, the procedure involved in securing a licence necessitated much travelling, negotiation and bribery’.42 She further maintains that the statute probably inhibited land grants. Andrew Clark, on the other hand, asserts that the flow of land continued unimpeded by the statute (also denounced by Clark as a cynical, money-making scheme). He argues: the one effect of the statute was to increase the expenses of land-transfer by the costs of the cumbrous procedure required under the statute . . . there was no diminution in the amount of land which passed into ‘the dead hand’.43

However, those intending to endow chantries in nunneries may well have been deterred by the costs imposed by the new legislation, given that they represented on the whole a less affluent group of citizens. It is demonstrable that ways could be found to circumvent some of the trouble and expense attendant on the mortmain legislation; one example can be found in a document which describes a land transaction as valid for a term of 300 years only.44 This arrangement does not seem to have been sought by the nunnery superiors of the houses studied. Nevertheless, those representing London houses were placed in a more favourable position for acquiring property, being allowed to claim exemption from amortisation in the case of devises in 1327, after the overthrow of Edward II. The charter granting such rights confirmed the Londoners’ claim that it was their customary right to bequeath property in mortmain.45 Clerkenwell’s prioress, Joan Vian, appears to have received on behalf of her house a bequest from Thomas Noket in 1396 without a mortmain licence.46 It is demonstrable that such a licence was subsequently required when the endowment was later alienated to the chantry chaplains responsible for performing the prayers which were the original object of the bequest, as Catherine Paxton notes.47 Despite the success of the Londoners in acquiring immunity to the mortmain legislation in regard to their right to bequeath property, there remained a degree of nervousness about the validity of land and property bequests in mortmain to London religious houses until 1434. At that point the Common Council undertook the responsibility of verifying that all such

42 43 44 45 46 47

Ibid., p. 180. Clark, The English Register of Godstow Nunnery, p. xxxix. CCR, 1377–81, p. 335. J.M. Jennings, ‘London and the Statute of Mortmain . . .’, Mediaeval Studies 36 (1974), p. 175. CPR, 1381–5, p. 316, c.f. Paxton, p. 109. Paxton, p. 109.

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bequests were from legitimate London residents, rather than from outsiders attempting to capitalise on local regulations.48

Crises A number of superiors from both wealthy and poorly-endowed nunneries found it necessary to seek special assistance from the monarch in periods of financial crisis, at which time it would have been important to draw upon their existing links with powerful friends. A recurring entry in the Patent Rolls, and a further example of the king’s readiness to extend his aid to stem the regular chain of events in financial crises, is the royal nolumus statement. This reads typically as: ‘Protection with clause nolumus’. When addressed to a monastic superior the agreement typically lasted for one year.49 The clause appears in relation to St Helen’s, Clementhorpe, Clerkenwell, Godstow, Marrick, St Mary’s Winchester and Romsey. Notably, St Mary’s Winchester is singled out for this form of protection at least four times during the first half of the fourteenth century.50 John Tillotson notes the evolution of the nolumus clause, from an initial ‘concern to protect houses from the burden of hospitality’ to a specific statement which effectively prevented unwanted individuals, including sheriffs and bailiffs, from lodging in a house placed under royal custody.51 He observes that later there was a sharper focus on the responsibility of custodians in administering the revenues of the house and settling its debts.52 Tillotson also draws attention to the situation at St Mary’s Winchester in 1364, when an unusually long statement on the circumstances prompting the abbess’s request for protection appeared in the Patent Rolls. The following statement responds to a plea from Christina Wayte, the abbess: Out of compassion for the state of the abbey of St Mary, Winchester, wherein dwell a great number of nuns, under religious discipline but very poor, which by pestilences prevailing in those parts and by misrule of its presidents in time past, is now so depressed in the manors, lands, rents and faculties pertaining to it and so heavily charged with corrodies and sustenances that the dispersal of the nuns is probable, the king has taken

48 49

50 51 52

See Jennings, ‘London and the Statute’, pp. 175–7. Wood-Legh, in Church Life . . ., pp. 25–6, gives the full text of the clause, which reads ‘Nolumus etiam quod de bladis fenis equis carectis carriagiis victualibus, aut aliis bonis et catellis ipsius [A] contra voluntatem suam ad opus nostrum aut aliorum per baillivos seu ministros nostros aut alterius cuiscumque quicquid capiatur.’ CPR, 1313–17, p. 606; ibid., 1317–21, p. 422; ibid., 1321–4, p. 204; ibid., 1330–4, p. 527. J. Tillotson, ‘Clerical Petitions 1350–1450’, unpublished PhD thesis, ANU Canberra (1969), p. 93. Ibid., p. 95.

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the abbey and the corrodies and sustenances charged on it into his hand and committed the keeping of the abbey and its lands, rents, and faculties to William, bishop of Winchester, the diocesan, for him to rule the same and apply the issues beyond necessary sustenance of the nuns and those in their service in a moderate number in the relief of the house; and all corrodies & c. are to cease until the house be relieved and the king give other order touching them, and all men and women dwelling in the abbey whose stay there is not necessary expelled. The king has further taken the abbey and its possessions into his protection, and the bishop is not to be impleaded in respect of the cessation of corrodies and expulsions.53

It is important to note here that Christina is allowing her authority to be overridden by royal experts in the ultimate interests of her house. The king in this case goes further than the initial spirit of the nolumus clause, being persuaded to give protection not only from the seizure of St Mary’s property and the unwanted presence of various officials, but also to provide a guaranteed moratorium on costly litigation which might otherwise occur as a result of withdrawal of corrodies. It seems likely that the king was referring to corrodians who had paid their own retirement fees to the house, rather than his own nominees, whose position will be discussed in more detail shortly. Marrick’s prioress, though not representing a royal foundation, sought and received assistance through the nolumus clause for one year in 1325.54 The reason for Marrick’s financial distress is revealed in the earlier document from the Patent Rolls, which refer to the destruction of the house by the Scots and the successful plea of the prioress and the earl of Richmond to secure exemption from various taxes, both royal and papal. 55 Here there is no mention of a custodian being brought in to take over the administration of temporalities.56 The earl of Richmond, John de Bretagne, duke of Brittany, was a powerful figure, having accompanied the king and queen to France in 1313. He was appointed a commissioner to open Parliament at Westminster the same year, and elected a member of the council under the treaty of Leake in August 1318.57 Protection given to the abbess of Godstow had preceded the application of the nolumus clause. In the record of this agreement, published on March 30, 1316, it is stated that she and her nuns had requested the king to appoint 53 54

55

56 57

CPR, 1361–4, p. 485. Ibid., 1324–7, p. 14. The earl of Richmond was Ambassador Plenipotentiary to the King of France in March 1324/5, according to G.E. Cockayne’s The Complete Peerage . . . (London, 1910–59) x, p. 817. The Earl of Richmond was the landlord of the Askes, who were patrons of Marrick. Tillotson remarks: ‘Marrick’s patron was well placed to secure the Earl’s influence for the house’ (Tillotson, Marrick, p. 4). CPR, 1317–21, Nov. 20, 1318, p. 223; ibid., 1324–7, Aug. 16, 1324, p. 14. Complete Peerage x, p. 815. On the duke’s death in 1333/1334 the barony of Brittany became extinct, and the earldom of Richmond is thought to have reverted to the crown. Ibid., p. 818.

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keepers to the abbey. The king, noting that he had taken the house ‘with its lands, rents and all its possessions’ into his protection, adds that he has appointed the prior of Bicester and the abbot of Eynsham as keepers.58 Godstow at this point is described as being poverty-stricken and in a ‘miserable state’, its new keepers being provided with a clear mandate: After a reasonable allowance has been made for the sustenance of the abbess and nuns, and their men, the rents, issues and profits are by view of some of the more discreet of the abbey and with the assistance and advice of the keepers to be applied to the discharge of the debts of the house. So long as the abbey shall be in the custody of the keepers, no sheriff, bailiff or minister of the king or other person shall be lodged there without their licence.59

It must be noted again, however, that the abbess, in accepting the above conditions, was automatically surrendering a significant degree of her authority. A subsequent document published on March 30 of the same year promises: ‘Protection, with clause nolumus, for one year, for the abbess and nuns of Godestowe, who hold the churches of Great Tue and Wycombe in the diocese of Lincoln, to their own uses.’60 The enlistment of custodians in times of financial crisis for nunneries was not uncommon during that period, being a strategy employed by bishops as well as kings. Margery Dyve (or Dyne), elected after Maud Upton’s death, appears to have exerted herself to improve the financial base of the abbey, securing the right to hold a fair at Godstow in December of that year. To what extent the custodians were instrumental in this initiative is unclear.61 Given the disastrous legacy of the various plague epidemics, it might have been expected that superiors would cite this disaster as the main cause of their convents’ distressed state in applications for assistance; yet it is only one among many factors nominated as responsible. It appears that St Mary’s Winchester was the only one of the monasteries requesting royal protection (in 1364) on the grounds of losses resulting from the pestilence. Wood Legh observes that superiors typically avoided attributing their financial problems to plague, in the belief that the citing of more specific causes of their poverty would be more likely to attract the aid of the king.62 Heads of nunneries applied frequently for relief from royal taxes which were granted by (wholly male) representatives of the clergy in their provincial convocations. Tillotson observes that during much of the fourteenth century these convocations were summoned by the archbishops almost exclusively for the grant of taxes.63 Subsidies paid by the clergy to the crown 58 59 60 61 62 63

CPR, 1313–17, p. 391. Ibid. Ibid., p. 446. Cal. Charter Rolls, 1300–26, Dec. 27, p. 330. Wood-Legh, Church Life, pp. 18–19. Tillotson, ‘Clerical Petitions’, p. 329.

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were received almost every year from the beginning of the French war to the peace of Calais in 1360,64 imposing a level of taxation too burdensome for the poorer nunneries. Most of these were exempted under terms set out by Convocation,65 and the poorly endowed houses in the select group appear to have applied successfully for such exemptions to the end of the period. Dugdale notes that the prioress of Davington petitioned Edward III for relief from royal imposts in 1344, and was granted such an exemption after due enquiries were made.66 Several of the more affluent nunneries in the group obtained, like Syon, concessions of this kind at certain points in their history. Godstow’s abbess was granted an exemption from a tax of a twentieth in 1307;67 Elena de Montfort of Lacock applied successfully for an exemption in 1403 and Agnes Draper of the same house was similarly successful in 1447. The latter grant was given on the basis of financial difficulty after serious losses caused by fire.68 Stratford’s prioress received an exemption in response to her application for tax relief in 1359, citing the flooding of the priory’s lands by the river Lea as responsible for her financial woes at the time.69 The abbess of St Mary’s Winchester received such an exemption in 1360.70 It is difficult to trace records of applications for tax relief by the abbesses of Romsey, but there is certainly evidence in the account of 1412–1413 that the sum of £40 13s. 4d. was paid by Felicia Aas to the king in royal taxes that year.71 Since the account shows only a minor deficit, there appears to have been little difficulty about the payment. There is evidence of applications by superiors of wealthier houses to obtain relief from scutage and similar charges. The abbess of Wilton was acquitted of forty marks for one knight’s fee in 1299 and 1304.72 At about the same time she was granted acquittance of £10 normally exacted for scutage.73 The available evidence suggests that she paid the required contribution to the clerical subsidy, but had difficulty in finding the extra cash for the feudal charges still being imposed at the time.

64 65

66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73

W.E. Lunt, Financial Relations of the Papacy with England, 1327–1534 (Cambridge Mass., 1962), p. 95. For example, Archbishop Chichele’s register records an approved grant of two-tenths to Chancery in 1416, on the understanding that poor nunneries should be exempted. See E.F. Jacob, ed., The Register of Henry Chichele, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1414–43 (iii), Canterbury & York Society 46 (1945), p. 26. (For ‘convocation’, see Glossary.) Dugdale, Mon iv, p. 288. CCR, 1313–18, p. 17. CPR, 1401–5, pp. 223, 241; ibid., 1446–52, p. 527. Ibid., 1358–61, p. 175. Ibid., pp. 344, 483. See Coldicott’s edited version of the account roll for that year in Hampshire Nunneries, p. 127. CCR, 1296–1302, p. 275; ibid., 1302–7, p. 150. Ibid., pp. 264, 296.

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Hidden Costs While it is clear that the king was often amenable to requests for assistance of various kinds, royal patronage also had disadvantages. One was the expectation that the royal convents at least would supply the monarch with a ‘loan’ of cash or goods when he should be faced with an urgent need, regardless of their financial status at the time. In 1310 the king contacted a number of nunnery superiors requesting that they supply him with victuals for his Scottish campaigns. Among those selected were St Mary’s Winchester, Romsey and Wilton.74 An extremely onerous demand was made by Henry VIII in 1522, when he sought extra cash to cover his expenses incurred at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in June 1520. The abbesses of St Mary’s Winchester, Romsey and Wilton were required to contribute the significant sums of £200, £133 6s. 8d. and £333 6s. 8d. respectively.75 Another drawback for nunneries under royal patronage was the right claimed by successive monarchs to seize and exploit temporalities of religious houses at the death of a superior. A long vacancy, potentially lucrative for a patron, could have serious effects on the monastery concerned. Although royal exploitation during voidances had become much less of a problem after the first decade of the thirteenth century, due to successful ecclesiastical lobbying for legislation to correct abuses, the royal documents reveal a number of attempts by prioresses and abbesses to defend their property during vacancies. This was attempted either by citing old charters or by paying substantial fees to secure exemptions.76 As indicated earlier, Syon Abbey was not importuned by the monarch in vacancies. Philippa Stokes, abbess of Romsey, procured in 1307, some years before her demise, ‘insurance’ from Edward I against the loss of revenues of her house at her death.77 This suggests that she had reason to be apprehensive about royal liberties taken during voidances. Philippa had been fulfilling her duties with difficulty for some years before she died, and was obliged through ill health to have Roger Bandet and Roger de Presland appointed as her attorneys from February, 1305. The document recording this arrangement is somewhat cryptic, stating in an entry dated February 19, 1305: ‘Letters for the abbess of Rummeseye [sic], by reason of her infirmity, nominating Roger Bandet and Roger de Presland her attorneys for 3 years.’ It is possible that the appointment of attorneys may be a case of illness used as an excuse to avoid personal appearance in litigation; but the fact that Philippa died two years after the appointment was finalised suggests that the request for assistance was prompted by genuine need. It may have been on the advice of the attorneys that she took the initiative in seeking to retain her convent’s 74 75 76 77

Power, Nunneries, p. 186, citing CCR, 1307–13, pp. 262, passim. L&P iii (2), item 2483, pp. 1047–8. Tillotson, ‘Clerical Petitions’, pp. 24–30. CCR, 1307–13, June 8, 1307, p. 527.

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assets. Edward II confirmed the grant, with the order ‘not to intermeddle’ with the temporalities during the voidance occurring as a result of Philippa’s death.78 No specific fee is mentioned. This may have been an oversight, but may also indicate the lobbying power of the officials chosen as attorneys. Liveing contends that the crown agreed to allow later prioresses to maintain custody of the property on the death of their superiors, provided they paid a fine of £20 for the first month of the vacancy and further charges on a pro rata basis for voidances extending past one month.79 It is recorded that in 1444 the abbess, Maud Lovell, paid £40 in advance to the king’s Exchequer to preserve her temporalities, as did Christine Doulre, the abbess of Wilton in 1432.80 An earlier Wilton superior, Constance de Percy, clearly distrusted the king’s proposal of an agreement in 1340 that she should pay £40 per month for her convent’s retention of custody, and struck an alternative bargain for a flat fee of £60 paid in advance.81 This arrangement was repeated until 1385 and thereafter the payment appears to have been made at the rate of £40 per month.82 These examples suggest considerable prudent forethought by the abbesses responsible, together with a genuine concern to ensure that the finances of their houses should remain under conventual control while other adjustments were being made. The available documentation indicates that vacancies in nunneries of royal patronage could be expected to last for about one month in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, which represents a vastly different picture from that of the days when monasteries were cheerfully exploited by kings in deliberately prolonged vacancies.83 Despite a history of ‘average’ voidance periods, the abbess of St Mary’s Winchester complained of poverty in 1343 and 1346, giving the royal administration of its temporalities during the previous decade as a significant cause of such distress.84 Whether this was a convenient excuse or an expression of genuine frustration is difficult to gauge. Wilton experienced a voidance period from November 20th, 1321 to February 14th, 1322, though the reason for this hiatus is not clear.85 Romsey was also vacant for three months in 1315. This may be partly explained by

78 79

80 81 82 83 84 85

Ibid., Sept., 1307, p. 1. Liveing, p. 96. Clementia de Gildeford, the next abbess, apparently had poor health also, since a document dated September 3, 1311, states that she too was forced through illness to apply for permission to appoint attorneys for the next three years (CPR, 1307–13, p. 387). CPR, 1446–52, p. 232; ibid., 1429–36, p. 244. CPR, 1338–40, p. 545. VCH Wiltshire iii, p. 238. See, for example, Tillotson’s discussion of attitudes common among royal patrons in the earlier period; ‘Clerical Petitions’, p. 24; also Wood, Patrons . . ., p. 75. Calendar of entries in the papal registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland. Petitions to the Pope i, p. 56; ibid., p. 123. CPR, 1321–4, pp. 36, 43, 70.

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the fact that its abbess, Alice de Wyntereshull, died under suspicious circumstances in that year after a short period of office.86 The report of the ensuing commission of oyer and terminer is not extant, but the letters patent cite the cause of death as ‘intoxicatione’.87 There is no evidence to confirm the suspicion that the poisoning was deliberate, but given the upheaval caused by the tragedy, it is not surprising that the vacancy was longer than usual.88 Official documents relating to the 1361 voidance at Wilton reveal that despite its relatively short duration of three weeks the king managed to take advantage of the situation by presenting five clerks to benefices normally in the gift of the abbess.89 The fifth nominee, John Sylvestre, was presented to the church of Fouleston after the restoration of the temporalities to the new abbess, Sibyl Aucher (though the king probably was within his rights in this case, provided that the vacancy and the ensuing appointment process occurred within the voidance period).90 Concern about the preservation of temporalities continued to be felt by later abbesses of the same house, including Felise Lavington and Joan Beauchamp, both of whom gained assurance from the king that the nuns would have control of Wilton abbey temporalities at their respective deaths.91 Joan Beauchamp died late in 1416, approximately two years after procuring an inspeximus and confirmation of the above rights.92 Corrodies and pensions continued to be negotiated by nunnery superiors throughout the period. These arrangements were effectively retirement plans or short-term salaries, providing accommodation, food, and a certain amount of care for corrodians, and, for pension-holders, an annual income. In the case of royal houses, it was customary for medieval kings to exploit both male and female houses for corrodies to reward former employees of the court, or for pensions to royal clerks waiting in line for benefices. Tillotson observes 86 87

88 89

90 91 92

The news of Alice’s death was brought to the king by Alice de Roffa and Margaret de Middleton, according to CPR, 1313–17, p. 281. The document is dated May 11, 1315. Ibid., July 12, p. 403. The word is interpreted by Dugdale as ‘forced inebriation’ (Dugdale, Mon. ii, p. 507). This rendering is suspect, given Latham’s definition as drugging or poisoning. See R.E. Latham, Revised Latin Medieval Word List (London, 1994). C.f. VCH Hampshire ii, p. 128. Dugdale, Mon. ii, p. 507. C.f. CPR, 1313–17, pp. 327, 340, 403 and VCH Hampshire ii, p. 128. CPR, 1358–61, p. 116; ibid., pp. 113, 114, 128, 135. A plague occurred in 1361, which probably explains the multiple vacancies. P. Ziegler, The Black Death (London, 1982), p. 242. The heads of St Mary’s Winchester and Wilton, Christina Wayte and Lucy Loveney, died that year. Lacock also lost its abbess, Agnes de Brymesden, who died in October 1361, possibly as a result of plague as well. CPR, 1358–61, p. 83; ibid., p. 93; Great Britain Record Commission, Register of the Black Prince iv (London, 1933), p. 400. CPR, 1361–4, p. 116; ibid., pp. 113, 114, 128, 135. CPR, 1399–1401, p. 239. Ibid., 1416–22, p. 56.

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that records of requests for pensions were infrequent during the time of Edward I, but became more numerous after the accession of his son, in whose reign there are about fifty recorded requests (some of which were refused).93 By this time, the claim by the king of the right to provide pensions for nominated clerks had become a customary accompaniment to the election at a royal foundation of a new convent superior.94 A pension varied in value, according to the finances of the monastery concerned and the status of the candidate.95 The escalation of demands for pensions caused strong reactions among the clergy, to the point where the 1315 Articles of the Clergy promised relief from unreasonable demands. This undertaking was apparently more honoured in the breach, since Edward III on his accession had to be pressured to adopt a more moderate approach in future.96 Royal corrodies and pensions were cost-free to the monarchs concerned. War veterans tended to be offloaded to male monasteries; but male corrodians did appear at nunneries from time to time. The records indicate that royal nunneries in the south were prevailed upon repeatedly for such services, with pensions demanded for favoured clerks at the installation of a new abbess, and corrodies at the king’s pleasure. Romsey’s abbesses received demands for at least three corrodies and four pensions in the fourteenth century.97 Edward II’s curt note in 1310 stating that the abbess, Clementia de Gildeford, was to receive Juliana le Despenser and her maid as corrodians ‘for fitting maintenance in food and clothing’,98 was clearly met by a refusal from Clementia. Forty-seven days later, a more civil note was sent from the king on behalf of Juliana to the abbess of Shaftesbury. The latter communication explained that Juliana was the niece of the ‘late John of London . . . whom the king sends to them as he wishes to provide her with suitable maintenance out of charity and for the good service that the said John rendered during his life’.99 The reason for the refusal of Romsey’s abbess to receive 93

94

95

96 97

98 99

J.H. Tillotson, ‘Pensions, Corrodies and Religious Houses: An Aspect of the Relations of Crown and Church in Early Fourteenth-Century England’, Journal of Religious History 8 (1974), p. 129. Susan Wood remarks that royal custody during a vacancy was often accompanied by the claimed right to nominate a candidate for a pension, and this observation is borne out by the history of the nunneries studied. Wood, Patrons, p. 114. Edward II demanded a pension of five pounds per annum for his ‘bien amez’ Geoffrey de Stokes at Wilton in 1315, supporting an earlier request made by the queen for the above clerk. TNA: PRO SC1/1/49, m. 57. Tillotson, ‘Pensions’, p. 128. For references to the corrody demands in the fourteenth century at Romsey see CCR, 1307–13, p. 267; ibid., 1318–23, p. 494. [The latter document mentions the presence of an earlier corrodian, William Weston, whose death is perceived by the king as an opportunity for a further demand.] Pension demands by the same monarch are noted in CCR, 1313–18, p. 210; ibid., pp. 2, 312; ibid., 1323–7, p. 509. CCR, 1307–13, p. 267. Ibid., p. 328.

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Juliana is not stated, but the fact that John de London had been in control of the temporalities of Romsey for the king during the vacancies that occurred between 1297 and 1298 may have some bearing on the case.100 It is possible that this official’s style of management proved unsatisfactory at the time. By the fourteenth century the language used to convey demands for corrodies and pensions was becoming peremptory. In 1315 one royal application to the abbess of Romsey reads: To the abbess and convent of Romeseye. Order to assign a fitting yearly pension to the king’s clerk Richard de Ayreminn until they provide him with a benefice, they being obliged to grant a yearly pension to one of the king’s clerks on account of the new creation of the abbess.101

At this time it was being assumed by the monarch that once a pension (or corrody) had been granted by a particular royal house the privilege would be extended to further candidates on the death of each incumbent. In 1328 a further entry in the Close Rolls of Edward III states: ‘To the abbess of St Mary’s, Winchester and to the nuns of the house. Request that they will grant to Roger atte Bedde, the king’s yeoman, who served Edward I and Edward II, such allowance and maintenance in their house as James le Porter, deceased, lately had therein.’102 There was considerable pressure on Lacock’s abbesses for provisions of this kind, despite the fact that the latter house was not officially a royal house (and was not formally recognized as such until 1399).103 The king did undertake, in his letter acknowledging the convent’s acceptance of his nominee Margery de Attforton as a corrodian, that ‘this shall not prejudice the house as a precedent’.104 However, a note in the Close Rolls of 1381 indicates that at least one corrodian followed the above lady, since the entry states: ‘Gerard Martyn yeoman of the king’s chapel is sent to the abbess and convent of Lacock, to take for life such maintenance of that house as Margery atte Milne in her life time had at the late king’s command.’105 Edward II had requested that Cassandra, the wife of Walter de Roos, be given ‘covenable sustenance solum la demannde de son estaat’ in St Mary’s Winchester,106 but in 1318 the abbess, Maud de Pecham, wrote a reply in 100

101 102 103 104 105 106

See TNA: PRO SC6/983/34 for an account roll bearing the name of John de London of Alton, Wiltshire, recording income drawn from the abbey’s manors during the vacancy. A roll for Wherwell Abbey (also vacant during that year) accompanies the Romsey material. C.f. Coldicott, p. 126. CPR, 1292–1301, p. 347 includes a mandate to ‘John de London, king’s clerk’, for the restoration of the temporalities of Romsey to Philippa de Stokes. The date is April 28, 1298. CCR, 1313–18, Oct. 12, 1315, p. 312. Ibid., 1327–30, June 14, 1328, p. 393. VCH Wiltshire iii, p. 308. CPR, 1330–4, p. 322. Ibid., 1381–5, p. 90. TNA: PRO C270/6, m. 40.

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which she begged to be excused from such an imposition.107 The demand of Richard II for a corrody in 1378 at Wilton must have been resisted with some vigour by the abbess, Maud de Bokeland, since the Court of Chancery was employed to settle the dispute, which was recorded in a document classed as ‘Ecclesiastical Miscellanea’.108 Despite the resistance of the abbess, the nominee, John Killesby, senior, was eventually admitted as a corrodian to the abbey, as a ‘replacement’ of the deceased John Odiham, so the king’s defence of his position on the grounds of an established precedent was successful.109 At least one later ultimatum delivered to Wilton was similarly resisted, as further documentation dated 1467 indicates.110 The final outcome of this conflict over Edward IV’s demand that the abbess, Edith Barough, supply a corrody for John Bagot, is not clear. Corrodians and other lay residents were a significant drain on the house, both financially and in terms of community discipline. It was not unusual for a retiree to have in his or her company an attendant and perhaps a horse or two to be accommodated as well. Such additional recipients of care meant further management challenges for the superior. Godstow’s abbesses, though called on at least once for a pension on behalf of a king’s clerk, appear not to have been required to provide corrodies for royal protegees.111 There are indications that paying boarders and corrodians had been accepted, since Bishop Alnwick warned the abbess in 1445 about making such contracts in future;112 but the indications are that the convent was not sought as a retirement home for royal nominees in the late Middle Ages. Indeed, the royal documents as a whole suggest that it was the large monasteries, and particularly those in the south, which attracted the greatest number of requests for both corrodies and pensions. It is difficult to know if the more temperate climate of the region was the factor which made the southern houses more attractive to retirees, or whether it was simply that these houses were considered more socially desirable and more lavish with their hospitality. Certainly, the catering arrangements for the feast ushering in a new abbess at Wilton in 1299 suggest a scale of entertaining likely to please prominent lay people.113 The calendared material from the Close Rolls suggest a slackening of demand for corrodies at nunneries from the second half of the fifteenth century. Nevertheless, two pensions and a corrody were demanded from the

107 108 109

110 111 112 113

Ibid. TNA: PRO C44/9/18 and C270/6, m. 29 [the latter class was formerly C47/17]. Copies of the letters patent and the writs relating to this and other corrodies are now held at the Wiltshire and Swindon Record Office (WRO 1422/83). C.f. CCR 1377–81, pp. 129, 360. TNA: PRO C270/6, ms 30, 41. L&P ii (2), item 3228, p. 1038. Linc. Vis. ii, p. 115. See previous chapter of this study.

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newly-elected abbess at Wilton in 1471 and another pension in 1520.114 As pensions were also demanded from Romsey in 1462 and 1472 it could be concluded that there may have been further requests later in the period that simply were not recorded in the rolls, or failed to survive from other collections.115 Three corrodians were found at St Mary’s Winchester in the year 1537, out of a total population of 102 people living in the precincts.116 It is not known whether any of these was a royal nominee. Abbess and king differed sharply on occasions, not only on the issue of corrodies and pensions, but also about some ecclesiastical appointments. Of course, when it came to a contest between king and abbess over such favours, the odds were heavily weighted against the abbess. The prebend of Chalk in Winchester proved to be the object of a struggle of this kind, in a situation which developed at Wilton in 1299 and dragged on until the middle of the next century. The king claimed Chalk for his nominee, but Robergia de Popham, the reigning abbess, challenged the appointment at the King’s Bench in 1344 and 1346.117 At Robergia’s death her wishes were overruled and the prebend went to John de Wyvil ‘by reason of the late voidance of the abbey of Wilton’.118 The next abbess, Lucy Loveney, pursued the case and managed to harness county support strong enough to require the intervention of the Sheriff of Wiltshire and five deputies for bringing the dissidents before the king and council.119 The fact that the king’s candidates continued to be appointed into the 1390s emphasises the unequal nature of the struggle. For most nunneries conflicts of this nature did not occur, since only the large and wealthy convents were in a position to administer canonries and prebends. While the business of procuring ‘free’ corrodies and pensions for favoured individuals concerned the king only, the process of supplying benefices was handled by pope, king, or both, and the manner in which benefices were granted depended to some extent on the current relations between the two monarchs. The next section of this chapter will examine the links between king, pope, and superior, and some effects of change as it impacted on female houses.

Lady, King and Pope The late thirteenth century saw the last centrally-directed attempts at reform which focused on female houses only, with an English kingdom still bound to a demanding papacy. As already observed in an earlier chapter, the 114 115 116 117 118 119

CCR, 1461–71, pp. 168, 195; L&P iii (i), item 1081, p. 396. CCR, 1461–71, p. 163; ibid., pp. 236–7. Dugdale, Mon ii, p. 456; c.f. R.H. Snape, English Monastic Finances in the Later Middle Ages (Cambridge, 1926), p. 19. VCH Wiltshire iii, p. 235. CPR, 1343–6, p. 144. Ibid., pp. 54, 107. C.f. VCH Wiltshire iii, pp. 235–6.

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bull Periculoso, representing the final major thrust of reform for nuns, demanded stricter enclosure for female religious, but met with limited success for a number of reasons. Concurrent with the final push for reform was a renewal of energy in applying taxes to support the popes’ crusading enterprises and other commitments.120 Papal income taxes began as a function of the crusades.121 Lunt observes that during the reigns of Edward I and his son, the kings reaped greater benefits from the income taxes imposed on England than did the papacy.122 The later period saw a shift away from papal control with an increasing unwillingness on the part of the secular monarchs to share the proceeds of taxation with the curia.123 Valuations made on English monastic assets in 1291 and 1292 provided a reference point for assessing future taxes, both papal and royal, though it has been shown that assessments for papal taxes were often inaccurate, bearing little relationship to the true value of the various monastic assets.124 The pope’s directive issued in 1291 stipulates, in his instructions to the bishops of Winchester and Lincoln, that: ‘Tithe is not to be taken from lazar and poor houses, nuns, and other religious, whose revenues are small and who are obliged to beg, are exempted; also secular clerks, whose whole income does not exceed 6 marks.’125 The statement is preceded in the Papal Letters by a note dated October, 1281: ‘Mandate to [collectors of the Holy Land Tenth] . . . to observe as to the collection on the Holy Land Tenth, the declarations made in regard to those nuns who are so poor that they would have to beg, did their kinsmen not give them alms.’126 This statement indicates that there had been a still earlier mandate on the subject of taxation of nunneries. The available evidence indicates that many of the poorer convents, and some of the better endowed also, were exempted from papal tax, except perhaps for Peter’s Pence.127 The list of 120

121 122 123

124 125 126 127

For a detailed account of the application of papal taxes in England see W.E. Lunt, Papal Revenues in The Middle Ages, 2 vols (New York, 1965); also W.E. Lunt & E.B. Graves, Accounts Rendered by Papal Collectors in England 1317–1378 (Philadelphia, 1968). Lunt, Papal Revenues i, p. 71. Ibid., p. 77. For a discussion on some mechanics and implications of clerical taxation in England between 1485 and 1547 see J.J. Scarisbrick, ‘Clerical Taxation in England . . .’, JEH 11 (1960), pp. 41–54. Snape, English Monastic Finances, p. 73. Snape remarks ‘the accounts reveal such a variety of ways in which income arose as is almost beyond description’ (ibid.). CPL i, p. 554. Ibid., p. 465. Clerkenwell obtained an exemption on the grounds of ‘poverty’, despite the fact that its level of income was probably on a par with that of Godstow at the time. See W.O. Hassall, ‘The Kent Properties of the Nunnery of St Mary, Clerkenwell’, Archaeologia Cantiana 64 (1951), p. 88. (See Appendix A for net annual income of the nunneries selected for this study.)

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assessments set out in the Taxatio Ecclesiastica Papae Nicholai of 1291 includes the nunneries of Godstow, Kington, Lacock, Marrick, St Mary’s Winchester, Romsey, Stamford and Wilton from the selected female houses.128 However, among the core group, only the abbeys of St Mary’s Winchester, Romsey and Wilton are listed by Lunt and Graves as liable for papal tax between the years 1317 and 1378. These entries refer mostly to annates due for vacant benefices, rather than charges payable directly by the abbeys.129 Swanson comments on profits made by the papacy through provisions, pointing out that such charges were effectively abolished in the fourteenth century. He observes: . . . the main payments directly extracted from the church in later years were the fees for promotions of bishops and certain heads of monastic houses. Profits of actual taxation were limited; despite papal claims to impose taxes, and attempts to levy them, none were in fact taken from the English church after the Black Death. The popes received occasional grants of subsidies, intended to compensate for the refused taxes, but these were few and far between. The papacy also received other money from England, including court fees paid in Rome, and the charges for dispensations, but these cannot be quantified.130

Nevertheless, as Coldicott points out, the collectors of any taxes destined for the curia were entitled to their own procurations from the religious houses involved.131 Surprisingly, there is evidence in the Stamford accounts of papal levies charged to the priory throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Sturman remarks on the regular payments of seven shillings made to a papal collector in addition to 2d. charged for the acquittance each year. The roll for 1375–1376 reveals that £3 6s. 8d. was paid for tenths – an amount which represents half of a tenth of the nuns’ revenues,132 since their combined temporal and spiritual revenues were assessed in 1291 as £66 13s.

128

129

130 131 132

For references to these houses in the Great Britain Record Commission, Taxatio Ecclesiastica Angliae et Walliae (London, 1802), see Godstow: pp. 13, 30, 30b., 31b., 32, 43b., 44, 44b., 45, 45b., 46, 47, 54b., 55b., 139b., 190, 191, 193, 221b., 224b., 237b.; Kington: pp. 188, 189, 190; Lacock: pp. 186, 186b., 189, 192b., 193, 214b., 237b.; Marrick: 306b., 319, 332; St Mary’s Winchester: pp. 43b., 74, 184, 191, 192b., 214b., 186b., 216b.; Romsey: pp. 180b., 185b., 186b., 215, 223, 236; Stamford: pp. 61b., 74b., 269b.; Wilton: pp. 154, 184b., 185, 185b., 186, 192b., 193, 270. Evidence of these charges in relation to the three Wessex abbeys in the core group is recorded in Lunt & Graves, Accounts Rendered. For St Mary’s Winchester: pp. 99, 106, 107, 127, 150, 197, 234, 273, 329, 369, 432, 472, 488; Romsey: pp. 104, 222, 223, 246, 258, 284, 315; Wilton: pp. 79, 85, 94, 96, 123, 145, 211, 253, 255, 259, 291, 292, 304, 317, 343, 446, 464, 490, 530. Swanson, Church and Society in Late Medieval England (Oxford, 1989), p. 223. Coldicott, p. 121. W. Sturman, ‘The History of the Nunnery of St Mary and St Michael Outside Stamford’, MA thesis, University of London (1945), pp. 195–6; TNA: PRO SC6/1260/6; TE, p. 74.

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4d. Sturman also remarks that the roll of that year records, in addition to the tenth, 21s. 6d. for procurations charged over three years.133 These charges when added to the various pensions due to obedientiaries of Peterborough and other male religious,134 must have been a significant burden for the prioress and her officers at a time when the demand for land had dropped and rent monies were difficult to extract. The treasuress’s account for the following year lists unpaid rents overdue to the convent for over twenty years. The benefices in the gift of abbesses in charge of royal houses were coveted by the pope as well as the king; pressure from the curia to provide the pope’s nominees was strong, and manifested itself in repeated usurpation of female superiors’ rights in the matter. The demand for such positions at St Mary’s Winchester, Romsey and Wilton appears to have been particularly heavy during the 1330s through to the mid-1360s. Papal records show, for example, six benefices specifically described as being ‘in the gift of the abbess of Wilton’ distributed by the pope between 1330 and 1343 alone.135 This erosion of the abbess’s authority is comparable with the denial of her rights by the king in the struggle over the prebend of Chalk. A change in the circumstances governing the distribution of benefices is foreshadowed in evidence of one benefice in the gift of the abbess being granted by the pope in 1332 at the request of the king and queen, and another, also by the curia but at the request of Queen Isabella, in 1343.136 However, in 1349 the pope bypassed the authority of both abbess and king in appointing his own candidate, William of Melbourne, to the prebend of North Newnton. The appointment rendered defunct the original arrangement whereby the living was to have been given to William Richard of Wyllyngton at the death of the incumbent, John de Vienne.137 A similar pattern occurred a few years later in relation to a vacated canonry and prebend of the same church. This benefice went to Roger de Freton, another papal candidate who was allowed to oust the nominated clerk, Walter de Moulton. It is possible that this infringement of the abbess’s rights might

133 134

135 136 137

Sturman, p. 196. The above account records 26s. 8d. due to the cantor of the abbey for ‘viel dette’ [‘old debt’] and another 13s. 4d. for the current year; other payments due to Peterborough obedientiaries amount to 26s., while moneys overdue to ‘Rauf de Neuton and ‘Frere William Seint Lys’ total £10 6s. 8d. CPL ii, pp. 304, 335, 372; ibid., p. 552, Cal. Pap. Pet., i, pp. 3, 71. CPL ii, p. 372 (King Edward & Queen Philippa); Cal Pap. Pet. i, p. 71 (Queen Isabella). Lunt & Graves, p. 123. Le Neve states that John de Vienne (otherwise known as ‘John Bateman’) had the prebend of Axford in Salisbury diocese during the period 1343–1349. See J. Le Neve, Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae, 1300–1541, compiled by J.M. Horn, B. Jones & H.P.F. King (London, 1962–7), 12 vols, ii, p. 237; iii, p. 24. The same cleric is listed as holding the prebend of Putson Major in Hereford diocese from 1346 to his death which occurred late in 1349. C.f. Cal Pap. Pet. i, pp. 122–3.

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have had compensatory features later, in the shape of papal or even royal favour, given that Roger de Freton enjoyed the patronage of both king and pope, as did John de Melbourne.138 Thereafter, despite the Statute of Provisors promulgated in 1351, both king and pope were active for some years in promoting candidates for vacancies. Understandably, there were clashes between the two monarchs over preferments, as well as between pope and abbess. From the number of requests granted for applicants wishing for a benefice in the gift of some prelate, it appears that several individuals were prepared to wait in line for the more valuable positions. Records of royal requests for benefices in the gift of the abbess of St Mary’s Winchester reveal that not all of these requests name a specific living, but St Mary’s Winchester’s churches appear to have been in high demand, particularly in the fourteenth century. Diana Coldicott points out that St Mary’s Winchester’s local churches of All Cannings and Urchfont provided comfortable livings for their incumbents, since most of their revenues had been appropriated to the prebends.139 It is worth bearing in mind that benefices were granted to the various candidates, not necessarily to affirm their piety, but primarily as a means of repaying services rendered. While the conventual cathedrals and abbeys of both monks and nuns were receiving canons and prebendaries who may have had useful connections with pope or king, they may not have proved as helpful to the superiors in the context of abbey management as originally expected. The Statute of Provisors, designed to curtail papal provisions to benefices,140 made little difference to superiors of monastic houses, who had simply exchanged one monarch for another with ultimate control of their patronage. Evidence of the statute taking effect can be seen at Wilton in 1406 when the king ‘pardons the trespass’ of the pope who has provided a benefice in the gift of the abbess to John Teffounte and grants ‘licence for the execution of the bull’. The same occurred in response to the papal appointment of Henry Chichele (afterwards, Archbishop Chichele) to a prebend which was also in the gift of the abbess. Again, the king allowed the appointment to proceed, this time ‘provided that his licence shall only extend to a prebend to be vacant in future’. In 1413 the situation was different, but the result the same for the abbess. The king rather than the pope exercised patronage owned properly by the abbess, appointing a royal clerk, John Hawk, to the office of sub-deacon at her abbey church.141 It is clear that many of the prebendaries by this period were unabashed 138

139 140 141

John de Melbourne is named as a royal clerk in CPR, 1350–4, pp. 303, 350, 381, 423, 477, 495, 496. Roger de Freton had his estate as a prebendary ratified by Edward III in 1372. See CPR, 1370–4, p. 195. Coldicott, pp. 57–8; c.f. VCH Wiltshire x, pp. 25, 30. Ibid., p. 70. CPR, 1399–1401, pp. 107, 223, 278.

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pluralists, having benefices scattered over a wide area,142 so that it would have been impossible, even in the best circumstances, to render anything but token assistance to the abbesses of nunneries to which they were officially attached. Robert de Hemelhampsted, provided with a canonry at St Mary’s Winchester and reservation of a prebend, was already rector of Kerolston in York, and was not required to surrender this church on appointment to St Mary’s Winchester.143 Similarly, Richard de Lustshull, granted a reservation of a benefice at Romsey in 1319, was allowed to accept this favour ‘notwithstanding that he has canonries and prebends of Gilingham and Chester, and is rector of Elmdon in the dioceses of Salisbury and Coventry’.144 Prebendaries, if absent from the house, were expected to engage suitable priests to perform such duties; but here again there was no guarantee that such deputies, if engaged, would prove satisfactory. William Shirlock, thus appointed at Romsey, became so obnoxious that he was forbidden access to both the nuns’ cloister and the abbey church by Archbishop Pecham in 1286.145 A chantry chaplain at St Mary’s Winchester, John de Ashley, appointed on a similar level, incurred the wrath of the Winchester bishop for appearing in public wearing a parti-coloured gown. This was not a grave offence, assuredly, but perhaps an indication of an unduly lackadaisical attitude to his position.146 The pope, though forced to defer to royal power in some areas, nevertheless remained the supreme religious authority until the later years of Henry VIII’s reign. Certainly, there were valuable benefits made available for nunneries, particularly the wealthier houses. Syon, for example, was given the right to grant the St Peter in Chains indulgence to pilgrims visiting the abbey and the brothers of the houses were allowed to release penitents from vows of pilgrimage.147 Notwithstanding many benefits offered to the wealthier nunneries, some papal actions of the later period were less than supportive of the nunnery superior’s leadership role. As in the case of the king, successive pontiffs provided practical assistance to a number of nunneries. Their assistance can be traced mainly through the surviving records of sanctioned appropriations as well as various indulgences offered to pilgrims and prospective almsgivers visiting the larger female houses. Those benefiting from such papal assistance were mainly from the more affluent group. Indulgences offered to help attract donations to St Helen’s in 1364 and 1365 would have been of considerable value to the

142 143 144 145 146

147

VCH Hampshire ii, pp. 122–3. CPL ii, p. 276. Ibid., p. 194. Reg. Epist. Pecham iii, p. 928. F.J. Baigent, ed., The Registers of John de Sandale and Rigaud de Asserio, Bishops of Winchester A.D. 1316–1323, Hampshire Record Society 8 (1897), p. 90. C.f. Coldicott, p. 62. CPL xiii (i), p. 340.

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financial state of the house in difficult times. A similar dispensation involving an offered relaxation of enjoined penances for three years obviously had the potential for assisting Clementhorpe also.148 Clerkenwell’s prioress, whose chapel of St Mary was beginning to draw pilgrims in 1477, was also the subject of papal generosity, being offered the right to choose three or four priests, secular or regular, who may on the said days and feasts hear the confessions of the faithful, absolve them from all their sins, except in cases reserved for the apostolic see, and enjoin penance, and may also commute their vows of pilgrimage and abstinence, except only vows of pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Rome and Compostella.149

This entry is an example of the increasing readiness of later popes to provide liberally for the faithful who were in a position to plead their cause. Such liberality can be demonstrated by the huge number of requests from assorted individuals and groups seeking all manner of advantages. Some aspects of the obvious desire to please as many suppliants as possible (for an indeterminate fee) were potentially, if not actually, threatening to community life in the female convents. Significant change had already been ushered into monastic life via changes in interpretation of the Benedictine Rule, which was ‘stretched’ to include university education for monks, and more liberal provisions of protein rations.150 Other changes included the shortening of the Opus Dei, initially to accommodate changes in scheduling to allow for study on the part of monks – a change which was obviously embraced at Abingdon as we have seen. Additional divergences from custom appear to have been ushered in from secular sources, operating in an environment which favoured individual pursuit of spiritual benefits. Thus, many enclosed religious began seeking privileges which appear to have been first sought by king and nobles; the curia, in granting these requests, thereby (unwittingly, no doubt) fostered individualism. The years 1346–1360 represent a period of trauma for the monastic houses as well as secular institutions and individuals. Monasteries already struggling to maintain their financial viability after droughts, famines and other troubles suffered a significant loss of community members. Additional effects included a dramatic reduction of revenue as tenants holding lands from the nuns died of plague and were not replaced by others. Practical assistance from royal sources was variable, and, as already mentioned, there were sporadic power struggles between pope and king. It was at this insecure

148 149 150

CPL iv, p. 373. CPL xiii (1), pp. 244–5. For a discussion on the changes in regulations regarding meat consumption in monasteries see P. McDonald, ‘The Papacy and Monastic Observance in the Later Middle Ages: The Benedictina in England’, Journal of Religious History 14 (1986–7), pp. 117–32.

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period in English history that numerous men and women began seeking extra spiritual benefits from the pope. Whether this trend expressed a deeply-felt need, which became even more urgent after the horror of plague, or whether the streams of requests expressed what Barry Dobson refers to as ‘corporate obsessions . . . of the English monastic world in general’,151 or, in other words, passing ‘fashions’, is difficult to discern. There is evidence, however, of a particular period when individual means of grace were sought energetically, in a movement which began with king and nobles and later drew in enclosed religious and those further down the social and religious scale. The popes of that period, beginning with Clement VI, appear to have been only too willing to comply, issuing a large number of different concessions, including the right of individuals to choose their confessors, the right for nominated clerics to celebrate mass before daylight, assurance of plenary remission of sin at the hour of death, and the right to own and use portable altars. Of these indults it was the right to choose their own confessors which overwhelmingly captured the hearts and minds of both lay and religious from about 1330, and continued to be in demand for the next century. In several cases it was the monastery superiors who received such privileges; but rights were also granted to religious who are described simply as ‘monk’ or ‘nun’. Records of requests of this kind first appear in the papal letters of the mid-thirteenth century, with applications from the royal family. A grant addressed to the earl of Pembroke in 1255 reads: Grant to William de Valence, earl of Pembroke, crusader, in consideration of the merits of the king, his brother, that he, his wife, children, and household shall, with licence of the diocesan, choose Peter de Rupe, priest, a Friar Minor, as their confessor, who, when authorised by his minister, shall also give them absolution in case they have incurred [any] ecclesiastical sentence.152

By the 1330s the requests were coming in from less elevated social positions (as well as from nobles) and by this time there was a standardised format, as in the grant issued to the dean of Exeter in 1334: ‘To Richard de Coleton, dean of Exeter. Indult to choose his confessor, who shall give him plenary remission at the hour of death.’153 In the same year an identical grant is provided to Nicholas de la Beche, a knight’s son in the diocese of Salisbury.154 In the letters of the 1340s there are many grants of this kind given to superiors and non-superiors of enclosed religious houses. The requests from nuns [and from monks] continue through to the mid-fifteenth century, after which there are only sporadic records of grants. Again, the latter may be 151 152 153 154

Dobson, Durham Priory, p. 208. CPL i, p. 321. Ibid., ii, p. 405. Ibid., p. 413.

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more a function of the decline in recorded grants than a slackening of interest in securing this particular spiritual favour. It is tempting to ascribe the above phenomenon to the trauma of the first significant plague epidemic; but the trend began before 1349. Perhaps the pestilence had the effect of setting the trend more firmly and promoting its acceptance as a normal manifestation of piety. There is evidence that the indults were given to nuns from Godstow, Lacock, Romsey, Stamford, Stratford and Wilton, and to women from a number of other nunneries. A sample taken from the papal registers indicates a total of thirty-four nuns from twenty-nine different houses between 1344 and 1442 receiving the grants, as well as twenty-one superiors from a total of sixteen different houses. It is difficult to find clear evidence on the effect of such favours upon the communities concerned. It would seem that it was one thing for a superior, and especially one from a higher-status house, to have a private confessor; but for nuns of the community to be given that privilege effectively singled them from their fellow-religious. This was not only inimical to the collegiate nature of their community, but also threatening to the authority of the superior. Applications of such privileges should have been sought only with the permission of the superior, and whether this occurred is uncertain; but the whole scenario is very curious. Most, but not all, of the houses listed are of the higher-status variety. Nuns from poorer convents listed in the document (including Barrowe, Catley, Icklington, Rowney, Rydelyn, Rusper, Sopwell and Wintney) would appear to have needed outside mentors to support their applications. If so, this raises further questions about the relationship of the superior and her nuns with her supporters in the secular and ecclesiastical spheres. Of the core group of houses discussed in this book, only one low budget nunnery, Davington, is mentioned in connection with a nun having access to her own confessor and the securing of plenary indulgence at the hour of death. This occurs in 1428, when ‘Lammeta alias Lora, nun, prioress’ receives such an indult.155 However, the explanation for this unusual situation may be that the entry which accompanies this statement on the same day notes the grant of an identical indult for ‘Thomas Rolffe, and Alice his wife’. It is possible that the Rolffes, in arranging their permit, were paying the costs incurred in such an application for Davington’s prioress as well as for themselves; and also possible that there was a kinship link between the superior and the Rolffe family. Loretta’s application is interesting, given that two of her nuns were permitted four years previously to transfer to Higham priory in Rochester diocese. Archbishop Chichele did not state the reason for their desire to

155

CPL viii, p. 31. This was clearly Loretta Soryndon, who died in 1436. See E.F. Jacob, Reg. Chichele i, Canterbury & York Society 45 (1943), p. 117.

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leave Davington at the time, though he observed that in moving thus the women would be able to devote themselves to religion with greater peace of mind than they could achieve at Davington.156 Since Higham had an even lower income than Davington,157 the motivation for transferring was unlikely to have been a desire for greater comfort. It is conceivable that the problem lay with the confessor currently serving in the priory. The records show that there were numerous proctors at the papal court available to the English in the medieval period, and some were attached to religious houses.158 Some, including royal proctors, who earned for their services to the crown alone about one hundred pounds per year, served a number of other religious institutions as well.159 These officials were paid an annual fee of between £2 and £2 13s. 4d. per year, and were employed by several English bishops and monasteries concurrently.160 The fees would, of course, be paid in addition to the charges incurred in securing the various favours sought. This lends weight to the argument that the budgets of the poorer houses under review were not large enough to justify such expense. There is some suggestion that fees for papal grants were charged on the basis of what the market would bear. In 1345 when Queen Philippa and other patrons of the brothers and sisters of the order of Sempringham applied to the pope for confirmation of the order’s official exemption from ordinary or legatine authority they received a letter informing them that the charge for this privilege would be ‘one pound of gold . . . to be paid every two years to the papal camera’. However, later in the year, the king and his mother, Isabella, took up the Gilbertine cause again, requesting the pope to moderate the charge, eliciting the papal response ‘Let it be reduced to a mark every two years’. The latter extract, though it conceals many details, is nevertheless indicative of persistence on the part of monastic superiors in using whatever means were available to secure appropriate relief from undue exploitation.161 The surviving evidence provides occasional clues to the identity of those proctors who may have acted for the abbesses and prioresses in applying for special papal grants, since well-known papal agents appear in the lists of benefice-holders in churches to which various nunnery superiors held advowsons. John de Vienne is recorded as a proctor to Queen Isabella, and had canonries and prebends at Salisbury, Hereford and Wilton as already mentioned.162 Richard de Thormerton, another royal proctor, held a canon

156 157 158 159 160 161 162

E.F. Jacob, Reg. Chichele iv, Canterbury & York Society 47 (1947), p. 254. Knowles & Hadcock, p. 253, gives the net annual income as roughly £26. See Dobson, Durham Priory, p. 213. M. Harvey, England, Rome and the Papacy (Manchester, 1993), p. 39. Ibid., p. 213. Cal. Pap. Pet. i, p. 103. Ibid., pp. 122, 123.

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and prebendary at Chalk around the same time – also a Wilton link.163 Thomas de Enham, yet another papal proctor, had a benefice at Froyle, which was held by the abbess of St Mary’s Winchester.164 Enham, like many royal proctors, served a number of clients, one of whom was the abbot of St Augustine’s, Canterbury. It would have been entirely possible for Enham and the other proctors mentioned above to represent the nunneries mentioned. The religious houses not only sought special privileges from the pope, but were frequently named as sites of possible refuge, grace, or other benefits, by prominent secular people. Again, the papal court proved accommodating, granting requests that such people be permitted to enter monasteries for certain periods under prescribed conditions. In June of 1359 Innocent VI gave permission for Henry, Duke of Lancaster, to ‘enter the monasteries of religious women of any order, accompanied by 6 persons’.165 Another entry some twelve years earlier records an indult to the countess of Pembroke to ‘enter the monasteries of religious men and women with a suite of eight honest persons.’166 It is obvious that those gaining provisions of this kind were patricians, and some were probably patrons of the houses into which they sought entry. Nevertheless, the terms of reference were in some cases very flexible, and the retinues of the grantees were capable of creating significant disruptions to community life. Of the requests for such visits there are more individuals specifically requesting female houses in a given period than those choosing the option of both, and almost all such individuals are women. Very few if any of the grants examined over sample periods of fifty years nominate solely male houses. The female preference mentioned may well be explained by a perceived need to protect women in periods of war. As already noted in an earlier chapter, the impact of secular folk and their friends was a recurring challenge for nunnery superiors, and successive bishops showed great concern about secular contact of all kinds. It has not been possible to find evidence of protests about undue interference in the community life of English nuns by papal grantees in particular; but an entry related to a petition from a Scottish nunnery may well be relevant to the English scene also. In 1375 Gregory XI records in his letters the following: Mandate to make order touching Beatrice, the prioress, and the majority of the nuns of the Benedictine monastery of North Berwick, who have petitioned for perpetual enclosure, they being much molested by the neighbourhood and visits of nobles and other secular persons.167

The pope, in his willingness to accede to a range of requests, was capable of infringing the authority of the convent superior. This is well-illustrated in 163 164 165 166 167

Ibid., p. 146. Ibid., p. 165. C.f. VCH Hampshire ii, p. 122. CPL iv, p. 607. Ibid., iii, p. 226. CPL iv, p. 212.

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an episode occurring at St Helen’s. In 1385, a gout-stricken nun of the house secretly obtained an order from the pope for an allowance of £10 to be paid to her from the goods of the monastery.168 Since St Helen’s was a moderately well-endowed house, worth at the Dissolution a net figure of £320 per annum, this may have been affordable, particularly as numbers of religious had not by that time recovered from the inroads of plague.169 But an allowance of ten pounds in excess of this nun’s normal share of the budget was a significant sum, given that the scale of payment to an esquire in Shropshire at the le Strange family in 1383 was 4d. per day, which amounts to a total of £6 1s. 8d. per year.170 The report notes that when the matter came to light, the prioress had the offending nun shut up in her room on minimal rations for an extended period as punishment for her insubordination. While this may have been an overly-harsh judgement, the pope’s ruling on the matter, if obeyed, would have been harmful to the superior’s discipline, already threatened by changing times which were marked by a trend towards individualism. The interaction between nunnery superior and her royal and papal lords provides a picture of a shifting balance of power between the two monarchs. It is also apparent that their actions had both positive and negative effects. Nunnery superiors of the more privileged houses certainly received a number of benefits from the king, but there were also penalties attendant on his patronage. His continuing demand for corrodies and pensions, his actions during vacancies, and the demands of royal family members for visiting rights to monasteries were all potential sources of difficulty for the nunnery superiors concerned. Prioresses leading small and low-budget convents appear to have received minimal levels of supportive intervention from royal sources, particularly after the time of Edward I, who appears to have had a keen interest in a number of nunneries, encouraged perhaps by his daughter Mary, a nun herself. The pope made numerous grants to the heads of nunneries, though again it was the privileged houses which received the greatest number of favours. The same houses were also in demand by secular folk requesting visitation rights. Some expressions of papal favour, while welcome to their secular recipients, created further conflict in the female houses, and this in turn challenged the women in charge. The incident of Joan Heyronne’s grant at

168 169

170

GL 25121/1112. The population of the house in 1385 is difficult to estimate. In 1378 eleven nuns were said to be there; by 1446 there were at least twenty-two and probably more, since novices were presumably not included in the latter count (Knowles & Hadcock, p. 260). C. Dyer, Standards of Living in the Later Middle Ages: Social change in England c. 1200–1520 (Cambridge, 1989), p. 65. Dyer gives the daily scale for other employees of the le Strange family as: lord: 7d., yeoman: 3d., groom: 1d.

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St Helen’s illustrates the disruption and resentment created by ill-advised papal action. The granting of permits for the choice of confessors to individual members of communities was potentially divisive also, and the indults given to a number of lay people and their retinues to visit nunneries ignored monastic ideals and failed to consider the position of the superior. The picture of royal and papal grants of benefices to churches linked to nunneries is less clear, but again there is evidence to suggest that some appointments were poorly-considered and financially draining. Abbesses having benefices in their gift were theoretically in a powerful position as patrons; nevertheless, both king and pope appear to have had no qualms about usurping the women’s authority when they chose; thus female superiors were often deprived of the opportunity to present the candidates of their choice. The poorer nunneries of the selected group are scarcely mentioned in the plethora of royal and papal documents representing the chosen period, and one is forced to conclude from this that wealthy and powerful patrons were the main avenues of appeal for financial help. But there was a cost in maintaining such patrician links and, in some cases, the costs may have been heavy; in such cases, the patronage of the monarchs may be seen as a mixed blessing.

5 The Distaff and the Crosier

THE DISTAFF AND THE CROSIER

Although the authors of the early monastic rules established firm parameters for the religious life, their instructions concerning the care and maintenance of conventual possessions are sketchy. This is not surprising, given that the dominant rules were written at a time when monastic life was simple and religious communities relatively isolated from the secular world. The original form of St Benedict’s Rule directs the convent superior to keep a list of convent property and ensure that suitable office-bearers care for such items, which are to be shared.1 It contains no hint of administrative duties apart from the obligation to draw up a deed of gift in cases where property is offered at the reception of a postulant.2 Although there are specific injunctions to relieve the poor, clothe the naked, visit the sick, bury the dead and help the afflicted [in a section devoted to ‘good works’], any guidance about the financing of such services is lacking.3 Clearly, the principles explained by St Benedict were considered sufficient to guide the religious in all aspects of their service. Yet the responsibility of balancing the distaff, or domestic, side of convent affairs with the obverse, spiritual side symbolised by the crosier, was a heavy one. Subsequent versions of the Rule, which might have been expected to reflect the cumulative experience of later religious, are also lacking in directions for financial management, though the ‘Northern Version’ from the fifteenth century gives a narrow glimpse of the material culture which had developed in the nunnery by this time. The author, having repeated St Benedict’s warning against unauthorised personal property, adds a few contemporary details in the section devoted to the sacristan’s responsibilities. In itemising ecclesiastical property meriting special care he mentions chalices, books, vestments, wax, relics, and ‘vessels’; the same passage includes an injunction that the sacristan should look after inventories and indentures in such a way as to ensure their easy retrieval when needed.4 These cryptic references hide more than they reveal, given the multitude of tasks which 1 2 3 4

McCann, RB, chapt. 33, pp. 85–6. Ibid., chapt. 59, p. 135. Ibid., p. 26. Kock, pp. 93, 88–9.

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had became the responsibility of the superior by the time this version was written. The guidelines for the running of the Bridgettine house of Syon were similarly vague in regard to finance, although they contained detailed injunctions on the standard of religious observance expected. The Rule of St Saviour expands somewhat on the Benedictine warning against individual ownership of property, and expressly forbids the abbess and nuns to accept gifts or jewels, ‘or any property whatsoever from their parents or friends’.5 It also directs that any surplus of cash, food or clothing be given to the poor annually and that gifts offered at the reception of a postulant be used for the relief of those in need, except when the abbey faced genuine hardship. There is an added stipulation that money raised through manual labour must be given to the needy. On the other hand, the decorations of Syon Abbey church are seen as an appropriate source of generous expenditure, with gold, silver and gems permitted in the furnishings of the thirteen altars, and appropriate sums allocated for devotional books used both in the monastic Offices and for private study.6 Syon Abbey in particular provided a dramatic demonstration of this concept, with its splendid chapel on which no expense was spared.7 (Recent archaeological exploration has revealed foundations for a church some 100 metres long and forty metres wide; also skeletal remains of two nuns.)8 The Rule of St Augustine, which was followed by several nunneries in medieval England, is even less specific on the subject of finance than that of St Benedict, while stressing that material provisions are to be held in common. It is clear that some Augustinian religious brought property with them on entry, since the saint warned ‘. . .the fact that they have made some of their possessions available to the community gives them no reason to have a high opinion of themselves’.9

Female Ineptitude? Modern scholarship has been gradually eroding Eileen Power’s theory of typical female ineptitude in financial management of the nunnery,10 and, as noted earlier, recent scholars have argued authoritatively for alternative 5 6 7

8 9 10

Aungier, p. 244; c.f. McCann, RB, chapt. 33, p. 85. Aungier, p. 245. See C. Barron and M. Erler, ‘The Making of Syon Abbey’s Altar Table of Our Lady c. 1490–96’ in England and the Continent in the Middle Ages: Studies in Memory of Andrew Martindale, eds J. Mitchell, M. Moran, Harlaxton Medieval Studies N.S. 8 (Stamford, 2000), pp. 318–35. See J. Foyle, ‘Syon Park: Rediscovering Medieval England’s only Bridgettine Monastery’, Current Archaeology 192, vol. xvi, no. 12, 2004, pp. 550–5. Aungier, p. 246, Canning, Rule of St Augustine, p. 26. Power, Nunneries, p. 203.

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interpretations in relation to specific monasteries or to houses functioning in a discrete geographical area. When examined closely, Power’s collection of financial data consists of a small number of original manuscripts and an assortment of printed summaries, extracts, or inventories. Most of this material refers to only one year in the life of the nunnery concerned, while manuscript account rolls used (from PRO Ministers Accounts) relate to only six nunneries.11 One obvious objection to the theory is its sheer implausibility. While women in general lacked formal qualifications, there is evidence of competent female administration of estates, including vigorous defence of property at times when the dominant family male pursued business or wartime activities elsewhere. Secular women such as Margaret Paston and Isabella, Lady Morley, emerge from the records as forceful, decisive and capable, as do a number of London widows.12 Curiously, Power effectively argued against her own model of the inadequate convent administrator, stating in an article published after Nunneries: ‘Medieval records are, indeed, full of . . . independent women . . .’ and ‘No more striking witness to the confidence reposed by husbands in the business capacity of their wives is to be found than the wills and letters of the later Middle Ages.’13 It is difficult to believe that the veiling of a nun automatically extinguished any existing talents or business acumen she possessed. Several prioresses and abbesses were probably well-equipped on their election through experience in other offices, as Oliva has suggested;14 many also were in a position to solicit help and advice. As already noted, a number of superiors and other office-bearers came from families with strong business interests or involvement in public affairs. It would then be surprising if such women had not arrived at the nunnery with a modicum of background information about such matters, or taken the opportunity to learn more on their periodic visits with relatives for recreational leave. 11

12

13 14

Manuscript ‘Ministers’ account rolls from the PRO listed in Power’s bibliography are: TNA: PRO 867/21–6, 30, 33–36 (Delapré, St Albans. Between 16 Ed. III and 2 Ric. III); TNA: PRO 1257/1 (Catesby, 11–14 Hen. VI); TNA: PRO 1257/2 (Denny, 14 Hen IV–I Hen. V); TNA: PRO 1260 (St Michael’s Stamford, 24 rolls between 32 Edward I and 20 Hen. VI); TNA: PRO 1261/4 (Syon, Cellaress’ Account, 21–22 Edw. IV); TNA: PRO 1307/22 (Syon, Cellaress’ Account, 36 Hen. VI). There are twentyfour of the latter rolls cited for Stamford, which is one of the best-documented medieval nunneries in England in regard to account rolls, but some of these documents are indecipherable, damaged, or incomplete and the rolls catalogued as TNA: PRO SC6/1260/21–23 consist only of fragments. See H.S. Bennett, The Pastons and Their England (Worcester, 1990), particularly pp. 62–4; also, C.M. Woolgar, Household Accounts from Medieval England ii (Oxford, 1993), pp. 573–82 and C. Barron & A. Sutton, Medieval London Widows (London, 1994). E. Power, ‘The Position of Women’, in G.C. Crump & E.F. Jacob, eds, The Legacy of the Middle Ages (Oxford, 1927), pp. 411, 419. See Oliva, The Convent and the Community, pp. 107–8.

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Women occasionally entered nunneries as widows after several years of marriage and its attendant responsibilities; some were professed even while the spouse still lived.15 The experience of those who had run households outside the convent was available to their communities through the consultative process advocated by St Benedict.16 Ela, the foundation abbess of Lacock, had served as sheriff of Wiltshire for some time after the death of her husband, the former holder of that office;17 she therefore brought to her leadership role a background knowledge of law and the social and political environment outside the cloister, together with a legacy of good will from citizens whose respect she had earned. Indeed, numerous abbesses after Ela appear to have benefited from her remaining support network, judging by the readiness of local landowners to provide for the abbey.18 The question of literacy and educational advantages enjoyed by female leaders is obviously relevant to the discussion of female leadership. This is an issue to be pursued in a later chapter; nevertheless, it is worth pointing out here that many female superiors (and some of their nuns) appear to have achieved a level of literary competency entirely adequate for handling their administrative responsibilities. In several cases, the skills of nunnery superiors were in demand for services to the outside community as well. Catherine Paxton notes that two late medieval prioresses of Haliwell priory were made executors of wills by chaplains of the house, who would certainly have been aware of the women’s capabilities.19 Instances of the same role accepted by female superiors occur in data from other counties. In 1484 a Clementhorpe superior, Margaret Delaryver, was called upon to witness a will;20 in 1470 she had acted as an executor to Elizabeth Medlay.21 Power herself found examples of such functions being required of superiors from Nunmonkton, Syon,

15

16 17

18 19 20 21

A will appearing in 1292 identifies the wife of Walter Hautyn as a nun in the priory of Canterbury St Sepulchre [and makes it clear that her husband was still alive then]. R.G. Griffiths, ed., The Register of Thomas de Cantilupe, Bishop of Hereford (1275–1282), Canterbury & York Society 2 (1907), p. 265. McCann, RB, chapt. 3, p. 25; ‘Northern Prose’, Kock, p. 7, ll. 20–33; p. 8, ll. 1–8; ‘Northern Verse’, Kock, p. 62, ll. 508–15. G. Cockayne, The Complete Peerage . . . xi, p. 382. C.f. United Kingdom National Trust, Lacock Abbey (1994), p. 29. It was highly unusual for a woman to be appointed as sheriff; however, Ela was then the widow of William Longespee, earl of Salisbury. Though obliged to surrender Salisbury Castle on the death of her husband in 1225, she was accorded the County of Salisbury ‘during pleasure’ on Jan. 1226/7. Ela appears to have held the shrieval office in 1228, 1231 and between 1236 and 1237. She founded Lacock Abbey in 1229, entered that convent as a nun in 1238 and became its first abbess in 1240, taking over the leadership role from a prioress who had been in charge since the abbey’s foundation. Ela died in 1261 and was buried at Lacock. Note the many charters documenting gifts and quitclaims to the abbess during the late thirteenth century and well into the fourteenth. (LAC, pp. 26–41). Paxton, p. 69. Test. Ebor. iii, p. 257. VCH Yorkshire iii, p. 130.

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Stixwould, Wilberfoss, Greenfield and Carrow: surely a mark of confidence in the women’s skills and ‘nous’.22 Late medieval superiors from the London district were typically connected in some way to the families of prominent tradesmen. In 1425 the prioress of Stratford, Alice Burwood/Burford, was named in the will of William Pycard, a London grocer;23 another Stratford prioress, Margaret Holbeche, appears by name as a legatee in a will dated 1436, the testator being William Symes, also a grocer.24 The fact that these men had significant property to leave and could afford to record their testaments indicates their importance in the mercantile world. Since such documents usually cite only the office of superiors, the naming of individual prioresses in these cases suggests a close relationship with the testator and therefore a likely source of advice and useful contacts. Whilst the nuns of the Northern Province were more often isolated from the business community than their London sisters, there were still opportunities for consultation with key supporters. There is evidence that Dame Elizabeth Pudsey, the prioress of Esholt, held membership of the Corpus Christi guild in 1520; such a link clearly provided her with valuable contacts for her house, allowing access to people whose business expertise could be exploited for the benefit of the convent community.25 The fact that there was usually either a custos or a steward on hand to assist the female superior in her financial role effectively strengthens the argument against the notion of inept nunnery administration. Some of the later stewards served both male and female houses, which makes it unlikely that the administration of the nunnery concerned would be less efficient than that of the male house assisted by the same individual. Thomas Drew functioned as steward simultaneously of the abbot of Glastonbury’s hundred of Damerham and the prioress of Amesbury’s hundred of Melksham, between 1360 and 1370. The same Drew appears in documents as steward to the abbess of Lacock a little later.26 Men of this calibre commonly delegated authority to lesser officials in the nunnery; nevertheless, they were in a strong position to advise and intercede for the prioress or abbess when required. Other secular people acted as mentors in both formal and informal contexts. Nicholas Bonham, father of Sibilla, one of the Wilton nuns, is named as an official steward of Wilton abbey in one document,27 and his testament of 1386 indicates strong support of the house and its nuns.28 22 23 24 25 26 27 28

Power, Nunneries, p. 73; VCH Yorkshire iii, p. 130. Sharpe, Wills, ii, p. 446. Ibid., p. 491. R.H. Scaife, ed., Register of the Guild of Corpus Christi in the City of York, SS 57 (1872), p. 197. VCH Wiltshire viii, p. 62. WRO 1422/52. For a transcript of the will see G.J. Kidston, ‘Some early wills of the Bonham family’, Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine 48 (1938), pp. 274–80.

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Nicholas is listed as a member of Parliament for Wiltshire in 1370 to 1371.29 He was Knight of the Shire for most of the period between 1372 and 1383, also Justice of the Peace, Coroner, and Commissioner of Array.30 One of his sons served as rector of the church of Great Wishford and Agnes, another daughter, entered Shaftesbury Abbey, while a sister, Laurentia, was instituted to St Nicholas’ Hospital, Salisbury by Bishop Wyvill in 1361.31 The evidence indicates that the family was both powerful in the community and a likely source of advice and financial assistance for the enclosed religious. Although it was inevitable that some women would find the challenge of economic management too great for them, there is no way of determining the percentage of female superiors who proved competent or otherwise in this area. Thus, rather than focusing on what was done well or poorly, it is more useful to look at responses of female superiors to a range of privileges and constraints, against a background of change.

Management of the Larger Houses Syon Abbey was the wealthiest of the nunneries under discussion and in many ways unique, being founded in the fifteenth century by Henry V and conceived as a model of devotion in a period of religious reform. Henry guaranteed the abbey a stable income, with revenues drawn from the Exchequer when necessary and accumulated wealth from the closure of alien priories making up the original funding. Although the house was completed at Isleworth in 1431 this was outgrown by the convent community and a larger and grander establishment built at Brentford (where archaeological excavations have revealed new evidence recently). In contrast to small female houses, which typically had a single staff of officials, Syon Abbey functioned like a large corporation. A central staff was assisted by stewards, who were not only responsible for various districts, but also for the supervision of bailiffs serving individual manors.32 Two account rolls relating to the years 1481 to 1483 prepared by Sister Anne Clerk, the cellaress at the time, are of particular interest, both for the summary of the annual expenses of treasuress, sacrist and chambress recorded therein and for the unusual marginalia which are seldom found in documents of this kind from nunneries.33 Given the scope of the accounting, the fact that the officer responsible was the cellaress rather than the abbess is surprising; but there was clearly much variation in the presentation of accounts during the later Middle Ages. Syon Abbey proved an attraction for pilgrims and other believers seeking 29 30 31 32 33

Members of Parliament i, p. 190. Kidston, ‘Some early wills’, p. 274. Ibid., c.f. R.C. Moberly, ‘St Nicholas’ Hospital, Salisbury’, WAM 25 (1891), p. 126. See Paxton, p. 78; Power, Nunneries, pp. 99–100. TNA: PRO SC6/1106/12, 13.

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the opportunity for confession and spiritual counselling from the brethren there, as well as special indulgences available to those hearing their learned sermons.34 The task of maintaining the spiritual integrity of the house while receiving visitors and overseeing the management of possessions scattered over England was obviously a formidable one for the community’s abbesses.35 Superiors of the Wessex abbeys faced different challenges from those of their London sisters. St Mary’s Winchester, though not approaching the grandeur and prestige of Syon, enjoyed one of the most favourable positions of the nunneries of that region, with advantages of both town and country. It drew much of its income from manors, six of which lay in Hampshire, two in Wiltshire, and one each in Lincolnshire and Berkshire. Unlike many houses, St Mary’s was fortunate in having most of its manors concentrated in the central part of its county and with access to either the Itchen or Test rivers. However, the convent’s location in the centre of Winchester, a busy town, with high-level connections remaining even after the king’s seat had moved, had certain disadvantages for the superior. On the one hand there was the access to trade and advisory bodies which could give considerable support; on the other there were demands on her time and resources which would have been difficult to meet. Romsey’s abbess was in a similar position, though her convent lay in a market town rather than an administrative centre, and its location probably made it somewhat less accessible for secular visitors. Lacock was smaller and more isolated, with a chapel rather than a cathedral-like church. Hence, there were no prebendaries attached to the house. Godstow Abbey, set in the Midlands on the outskirts of Oxford, functioned within reach of the business district, though its low-lying position probably caused abrupt isolation from the town in times of flooding.36 The nunnery’s register demonstrates the shifting nature of Oxford’s urban population, leaving properties to be re-negotiated constantly; hence the need to include safety clauses in rental documents, to protect the interests of the landlord. The abbey’s proximity to the university made it vulnerable to the attentions of students, who occasionally evaded the convent gatekeeper and caused havoc in the community.37 The wealthier houses attracted élite, demanding visitors and chantry foundations; their abbesses also administered prebends, as noted. As we have seen, the wealthier royal houses of the convents under discussion, except perhaps for Godstow, were targeted as retirement homes for ex-employees of the king. Many also provided accommodation for short-term boarders and 34 35 36

37

A. Neame, The Holy Maid of Kent (London, 1971), p. 198. VCH Middlesex i, p. 183. The location of the abbey in relation to the river and flood plain is marked on the map accompanying Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the City of Oxford (London, 1939), pp. 155–6. Linc. Vis. i, pp. 65–8.

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pupils. All such services required the supervision of the superior, notwithstanding the fact that she had a team of officials to assist with the mechanics of financial transactions. The larger the house, the larger the team sharing the administrative load, and the more complex the task of balancing the elements contributing to the life of the convent. In a wealthier nunnery there were usually at least two chaplains living on the premises or just outside the gates.38 It was also usual to employ a non-resident steward and, at certain periods in the year, lawyers. Syon Abbey received significant legal services free of charge; indeed, the Martyrology of the house records the names of three Doctors of Laws who had acted for the nuns without accepting fees and were therefore regarded as benefactors worthy of the community’s intercession.39 One lawyer, Sir Richard Sutton, is known to have occupied a room at Syon; possibly he served the abbey in exchange for board and lodgings.40 Other nunneries were obliged to pay for legal advice, although it is likely that tenants of the various nunneries who had legal training were persuaded to help without charge at certain times. Paxton’s analysis of sixteenth-century accounts from Clerkenwell suggest that the abbess employed lawyers on a casual basis. In this case the amounts paid were small and suggest only a few consultations per year.41 Casual employees appear at various times in the Stamford account rolls, receiving payments for seasonal or one-off tasks.42 Ale was commonly brewed on the premises and bread baked there also, so a maltster, brewer and baker normally took their place among other secular folk within the larger convent. St Helen’s obviously employed an external brewer in the late thirteenth century, since the prioress’s account roll of 1295–1297 notes the payment of five shillings per year for brewing.43

38

39 40 41 42

43

Wilton Abbey had three chaplains attached to the abbey in 1419–1420 (VCH Wiltshire iii, p. 236). Lacock also had three at the end of the monastic period (VE ii, p. 117). VCH Middlesex i, p. 185. Ibid. Paxton, p. 93. TNA: PRO SC6/1260/11–12 list small amounts paid to workers during the financial year of 1397–1398. In the year 1398 the treasuress recorded payments to help clear outstanding debts to a farrier who repaired the convent cart as well as attending to the horses over an unspecified period. (SC6/1260/12). The same account mentions one mark paid to a plumber for repairs and additional money for further casual work on the plumbing done by four men, who were fed at convent expense. A carpenter appears on the payroll of casual workers employed in the same year. TNA: PRO SC6/1258/2.

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Hospitality By the later Middle Ages, one of the customs which had virtually become an extension of the Rule decreed that the head of the religious house should accord to visitors the degree of respect and material provisions appropriate to their station in life. Indeed, the abbot of Beaulieu Abbey, Hampshire, was specifically charged to give priority to the reception of ‘noble ecclesiastical persons . . . pilgrims, and the messengers of magnates and other honest travellers’.44 A cellarer’s account from Lacock demonstrates such attention to high-status guests, recording special purchases of crabs, lobster, lampreys, ling, herrings, mullet, salmon, bacon, capons and geese for the visitation of Bishop Robert Wyvill on August 30 of either 1346 or 1347.45 Generous quantities of high-calorie food were provided at the large male houses in the late medieval period. Barbara Harvey notes that even on Fridays, when the monks of Westminster Abbey customarily ‘fasted’, ‘the total allowance of food, including bread and ale, had an energy value [in the first decades of the fifteenth century] considerably in excess of that deemed necessary for a moderately active man today’.46 She also observes that by the sixteenth century most guests dined routinely with the abbot, prior, or monk-bailiff in their special quarters. Crowland Abbey treated its guests, if not its monks also, to entertainment by a professional fool paid by the house.47 Evidence of efforts by poorer female houses to entertain guests is sparse, although some of the Stamford accounts give details of extra expense incurred in entertaining the bishop or the archdeacon. Given the very slender income of some nunneries, it is probable that superiors of these houses depended on the generosity of family and friends to help them out with supplies on special occasions. Wine, a notable status symbol, was brought in to the port of London as a gift from the king for Syon Abbey in four tun lots annually;48 some of this would have been served to the Princess Mary on her visits to that house during the 1520s and 1530s.49 St Mary’s Winchester and Romsey received wine by ship and thence by road; in Romsey’s case, the abbess’s account for 1412 records that wine costing £6 13s. 4d was bought specifically for the entertainment of nobles, who doubtless would have expected to dine in the style to which they were accustomed in their own establishments.50 The Brokage Book of Southampton records the importation of ‘i pipa (126 gallons) 44 45 46 47 48 49 50

Dyer, Standards of Living, p. 54, quoting from S.F. Hockey, ed., The account-book of Beaulieu Abbey, Camden Society, 4th ser., 16 (1975), p. 269. Lacock New Cartulary, fol. 3. Thanks are due to Mr Anthony Burnett-Brown for permitting this account roll to be photographed. B. Harvey, Living and Dying in England 1100–1540 (Oxford, 1993), p. 70. L&P x, item 181, p. 64. CCR, 1435–41, p. 308. L&P iii (2), item 2585 (2), p. 1099. Liveing, p. 195.

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vini et i barello (240 gallons) vini . . .’ delivered to St Mary’s Winchester via Southampton in 1443.51 Dyer gives the price of wine in the medieval period as ‘3d to 4d. per gallon at its cheapest, rising to 8d. and even 10d’.52 If we take the price as averaging around 6d. per gallon this means that the abbess’s household at Romsey would have consumed about 266 gallons of wine in that year – significantly less than the amount delivered to St Mary’s Winchester, which may have had more visitors then, due to its position in the centre of a sophisticated town. Since patrician visitors were promising sources of support for the house, it behoved the superior to cultivate their good offices in every way possible; yet the extra demands upon her material resources were capable of straining the monastic budget and therefore threatening the balance of community life, which was always delicate.

Hard Times A number of comfortably-endowed nunneries experienced severe downturns in their economic status at times of particular stress, during periods when little or nothing remained in reserve, even before the first outbreak of plague. St Helen’s, though a reasonably well-funded house, clearly experienced economic depression at the end of the thirteenth century. In about 1290 the prioress secured from the king an inspeximus of the convent’s charters and permission to hold their property in free alms henceforth ‘for the sake of the soul of the late queen’. A petition from the prioress survives from this period, couched in terms calculated to draw a satisfactory response. It introduces her as ‘. . . la pouvre prioresses de seint Elene de Loundres’.53 In the same year, Archbishop Pecham was persuaded to allow the prioress and nuns to celebrate the Festival of the Invention of the Cross, regardless of the interdict he had placed on London;54 and it was in that year that the pope responded to a call for help by offering spiritual benefits to those visiting the convent church at the festivals of St Helen and of the Holy Cross.55 Other applications for assistance by St Helen’s prioress resulted in the granting of protection by the king with the clause nolumus in 1297, a contribution from Thomas Basing towards building work for the church in 1300, and an indulgence of 40 days given by the bishop of London to those visiting the church and contributing to its fabric in 1306. There was also a grant the following year, at the request of Queen Margaret, for the prioress and her nuns to have a weekly market on Tuesdays at their manor of Braynford and a 51 52 53 54 55

O. Coleman, The Brokage Book of Southampton 1443–4 (i) (Southampton, 1960), p. 127. Dyer, Standards of Living, p. 62. VCH London i, p. 457 (TNA: PRO SC8/109, m. 5431). Reg. Epist. Pecham iii, pp. 970–1. C.f. VCH London i, p. 58. CPL i, p. 521.

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yearly fair there also.56 Such activity indicates not only a time of financial hardship, but also considerable single-mindedness and resolve on the part of the prioress in accessing the necessary resources for making her house viable again. The arrival of Bubonic Plague in 1349 resulted in severe problems for the religious of the comfortably-endowed abbeys of St Mary’s Winchester and Romsey, according to evidence from Bishop Edington in 1351. He reported that the nuns of the two houses were reduced at that time to ‘secret begging’ after the death of their respective abbesses.57 These women were probably victims of plague, since the disease is known to have struck Winchester diocese with a ferocity unmatched anywhere else in England.58 It is likely that the financial plight of the nuns in 1351 was related to a combination of factors, including the loss of convent staff and lack of revenue from property left vacant by the death of tenants. The heads of smaller and less affluent convents were similarly threatened by the epidemic and its after-effects. Stamford priory experienced real distress some ten years after the first outbreak, since the prioress received permission from Bishop Gynewell in 1359 to seek assistance in the outside community via a ‘questor’, who could offer short-term indulgences for those giving alms to the nuns.59 Stamford’s difficulties continued for many years, as later records show. The account roll of 1378–1379 prepared by the treasuresses Margaret Redynges and Joan Fisher reveal long-term debts due to the house, some going back more than twenty years.60

Smaller Houses In normal circumstances the superior of a smaller nunnery faced somewhat different challenges from those with access to significant resources. The prioresses of humbler and more isolated convents probably had fewer demands on their hospitality than their more affluent and accessible sisters, though even they were not necessarily exempt from visitation fees. Stamford was forced to pay comparatively large amounts for procurations. An account roll from that house for the year 1379–1380 cites the payment of 40 shillings ‘pur expenses de evesque al visitation’; there were additional charges, including one shilling paid to a man carrying the letter ‘del visitation’.61 56 57

58 59 60 61

CPR, 1301–7, p. 236; Sharpe, Wills i, p. 147; VCH London i, p. 458; Cal. Charter Rolls, 1300–26, p. 81. Liveing, p. 145. C.f. Power, Nunneries pp. 172–3 for other nunneries in similar straits. Matilda de Spyne of St Mary’s Winchester died in May 1349 (CPR, 1350–4, p. 297); Joan Icthe of Romsey died in April the same year (ibid., p. 278). Coldicott, p. 95. C.f. Ziegler, The Black Death, p. 149. LAO Reg. VIII Gynewell, fol. 117. TNA: PRO SC6/1260/7. TNA: PRO SC6/1260/8.

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Expenses such as these could not always be foreseen and therefore were particularly onerous. Due to her minimal budget, the superior of the small nunnery was often forced to rely on family and friends of her nuns to help feed and clothe the community.62 Local families called upon for assistance were sometimes emboldened to involve themselves in the business of the house to the point of downright interference, as occurred at Keldholme in the incident of 1309 mentioned above. Another disadvantage of the smaller house was the fact that the prioress had a limited pool of talent from which to choose obedientiaries and was often forced to allow a ‘doubling up’ of offices, which probably encouraged bickering and general ill-feeling.63 Dissension found by Archbishop Pecham at Canterbury St Sepulchre in 1284 may well have been caused by such a situation.64 St Sepulchre seems to have been a small house throughout its history, having only six nuns including the prioress in the years 1379 and 1511.65 Tight budgets also inhibited the defence of the nunnery’s legal rights when threatened. It is illuminating to examine surviving evidence of actions heard at the Court of Common Pleas and compare it with data from the Court of Chancery.66 The superiors (usually not named) of the poorer houses under review frequently occur in the records of Common Pleas; however, they are conspicuously absent from the catalogues of cases surviving from the Chancery Court, except for two suits initiated by Lettice Hamon, the prioress of Canterbury St Sepulchre in the mid-fifteenth century. Of the documents recording these suits one cannot be dated, due to damage; the other, which occurred in 1445, concerns Lettice’s disputed action of distraint placed upon Joan Aldeburgh for the rent owed on a shop in Canterbury. The former deals with Lettice’s plea against Nicholas Chylton, vicar of Holy Cross, Westgate in Canterbury, for restitution after his alleged encroachment on a messuage owned by the priory. The outcome of the cases is not recorded.67 This apparently isolated episode of legal action by a prioress from a house which could ill afford such expense is puzzling. One possible answer is the brief intervention of a mentor, since the defendant states in the 1445 document that the ‘clayme and wronge pursuyte’ [by the prioress] ‘. . . come by the labour and ye stryng of oon Willam Rose citezin of the seide citee the whiche William counseld hom [sic] to stresse apon ye seid besecher for ys 62 63

64 65 66 67

See Power, Nunneries, p. 165. The officers chosen by the superior to assist her with administration were commonly given the titles of: Prioress [in the case of an abbey], Subprioress, Treasuress, Chantress or Precinctrix, Sacrist, Fratress, Almoness, Chambress, Cellaress, Kitcheness, Infirmaress and Mistress of Novices (Power, Nunneries, pp. 133–4). Reg. Epist. Pecham iii, p. 706. Knowles & Hadcock, p. 257; LPL Reg. Warham, fol. 36. Cases heard in the Court of Common Pleas [CP40 class] are catalogued for only the first and second years of Edward III’s reign. TNA: PRO C1/9/105, C1/16/625.

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seid rent’. The frequency of cases initiated almost exclusively by superiors of wealthier houses suggests that Chancery demanded fees which were usually beyond the means of the prioresses from the more poorly-endowed convents. A selection of evidence from the Court of Common Pleas helps to shed light on the kinds of misfortunes and struggles occurring in the history of small Yorkshire nunneries. In 1299 Alice, the prioress of Clementhorpe, sued Adam de Mikelfeld and his wife, among others, for ousting her from common pasture. She won the case, and also received two shillings in damages.68 In 1329 the prioress of Marrick sued William Crulle in the Court of Common Pleas for irregularities in his account as bailiff in Boughes during the Michaelmas term.69 The prioress of Esholt brought a charge against John Love of Yedon in 1369, to gain compensation for his destruction of trees and underwood at Yedon and Esholt and to force him to render an account of the time when he served as bailiff and receiver in the above districts.70 In 1371 an un-named prioress from the same convent sued John Oter for allowing his dogs loose among her flock and causing the destruction of one hundred sheep.71 An early fifteenth-century prioress from Esholt brought a suit against John Rouclyf for rescuing chattels seized by her in part settlement of a previous dispute.72 Since the prioress of a small community had fewer high-level contacts than her sisters in charge of the more affluent communities, she was unable to command the same level of social leverage which would otherwise have helped procure favours in hard times. After the 1348–1349 outbreak of plague and subsequent epidemics which left vacant many positions for clerks, it was more difficult to attract satisfactory staff, including stewards and bailiffs, especially when the house could offer only minimal remuneration. Prolonged vacancies placed additional strains upon the superior and the community in general. This was certainly the case in Stamford at the visitation of 1442, when the prioress stated that she was not only ill but also lacked ‘a painstaking man to survey [the temporalities] and collect and receive the external revenues of the house’. She added that, as a result, ‘the rents of the house remain in the tenants’ hands unpaid’.73 Stamford was served for a long period after its inception by a prior appointed by the abbot of Peterborough; however, documentation of his responsibilities within the nunnery seems to disappear from the material by the fifteenth century, except for a note in the Peterborough register in 1422 stating that the prior was called upon for a profession ceremony.74 It may be

68 69 70 71 72 73 74

TNA: PRO CP40/130, m. 265d. See CP40/275, m. 336. CP40/435, m. 274. CP40/442, ms 185, 365. CP40/613, m. 298. Linc. Vis. iii, p. 351. Sturman, p. 257. See BL Cott. Vesp. E XXII, fol. 50.

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that his portfolio at Stamford had evolved by this time into a ceremonial role, for the prioress made no mention of a prior in her complaint to the bishop at the visitation above. The records are silent as to any later appointment of a steward, until the end of the period, when the Valor states that Sir John Harrington was acting in that position in 1535.75 He was one among many prominent men appointed to nunneries in the later monastic period. Christopher Dyer remarks that the social position and importance of the steward changed from the mid-fifteenth century, after which the men concerned were often men of national importance ‘with a record of royal service’.76

Piety and Solvency Since the female leadership model called for a balance between distaff and crosier, the exercise of one might be expected to have affected that of the other. One of the most obvious indicators of the quality of leadership within the nunnery can be found in evidence of the superior’s approach to discipline. The abbess or prioress was after all a steward, both of the souls of her nuns and of the assets which supported their daily life and service. The imposed model with its contemporary accretions demanded not only a multitude of tasks but also written evidence of them. It would be logical to assume that firm and sensitive discipline fostered sound financial management (and the ideal presented in Euphemia of Wherwell’s obituary certainly suggests such a causal link); but it is not easy to determine how the two factors were interrelated, since the records tend to be silent where there has been no occasion for complaint. Predictably, a relationship between economic mismanagement and poor discipline can be detected more readily. It is unusual to find both visitation records and account rolls surviving from the same year in the life of a medieval convent, but there is a conjunction of such evidence for Stamford in the mid-fifteenth century. Elizabeth Weldon, the prioress, had no financial records to show the bishop at his visit in 1440; this caused grave disquiet, since she had already been in office for twelve years. Also of deep concern was the report that she was incapable of controlling her nuns, who were showing obvious signs of indiscipline.77 As there is a prioress’s account from Stamford dated 1440–1441 (from 75

76 77

VE ii p. 140. The following accounts of successive treasuresses have been searched (TNA: PRO SC6/1260/1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 16, 17, 18, 20, 21). Thanks are due to Linda Rasmussen for making available several transcriptions completed while researching these documents. Fifteenth-century accounts in TNA: PRO SC6/914/1–3 were searched for evidence of salaried stewards, but there are references to paid chaplains and bailiffs only. It is possible that the chaplain or chaplains assisted with book-keeping. C. Dyer, Lords and Peasants in a Changing Society (Cambridge, 1980), pp. 156–7. Linc. Vis. iii, p. 348.

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Michaelmas to Michaelmas) it would seem that the bishop’s demand that Elizabeth record her receipts and expenses in future produced an appropriate response.78 This account includes rents, the purchase of stock, cost of repairs, payments for casual labour and for the stipends of regular staff; thus, it appears that the prioress was officially responsible for the major financial dealings of the house at the time. On close examination the document shows the record to be incomplete, since there is no listing of food supplies or items needed for the convent chapel. There were therefore one or two other accounts which were either not produced or did not survive from that period.79 Although the level of arrears found in the account of 1440 does not appear excessive for the period, the detecta that year reveal that not only were the buildings in a state of disrepair but some of the nuns had succumbed to sexual temptation and one had become pregnant. Furthermore, there is an apparent discrepancy between the statement of income and expenditure in the 1440 account and Elizabeth’s verbal report to the bishop a few weeks before.80 Although the prioress’s verbal report suggests a reasonable level of financial control in that the level of debt was allegedly reduced, the evidence of disciplinary problems and the information that rents had not been collected, and the everyday maintenance not done, indicate a highly unsatisfactory situation.81 In this case there appears to be a clear relationship between poor discipline and poor management and recording of material assets. Some apparent correlation between indiscipline and economic mismanagement is also indicated in fourteenth-century reportage of St Mary’s, Winchester. The abbey, led by Matilda/Maud de Pecham, who ruled from 1313 until her death in 1337, was visited by Archbishop Stratford in 1326, probably in response to rumours of dissension and misbehaviour during the second decade of the abbess’s administration, by which time Matilda may have been elderly and disabled. As Coldicott points out, it is unlikely that the Inkepenne family would have endowed their chantry at St Mary’s in 1318 if the abbey had been perceived as disorderly at that time.82 In spite of Stratford’s directions, which appear to have been aimed at tightening discipline and providing guidelines for more efficient economic leadership without dismissing the superior, there was a further deterioration in both the moral tone of the convent and the state of its economy. It is not clear whether this was a steady decline or whether the abbess rallied for a short period; for another chantry was founded in 1328 by Robert de Wanbergh archdeacon of Wells, who provided 100 silver marks in cash at the time of 78 79 80 81 82

TNA: PRO SC6/913/26. Linc. Vis. iii, pp. 347–8. Ibid., pp. 347–9. Ibid., p. 351. Coldicott, p. 101.

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the agreement for the relief of the abbey’s debts.83 This official would surely have been more aware than most observers about the moral state of the abbey; nevertheless, the Vicar-General reported in 1333 that an unspecified number of nuns, who are not named in the document, had left the convent, formed sexual liaisons and produced children.84 The documents fail to identify the point at which economic and moral leadership had begun to falter; this is unfortunate, since it would be helpful to gain more information on Matilda’s age and state of health in her last years of service. However, while the evidence reveals only part of the story behind the possible relationship between indiscipline and financial difficulty, the scenario is not dissimilar to that which developed during the administration of Stamford’s Elizabeth Weldon.85 Romsey Abbey suffered both physical and moral decay during the administration of Elizabeth Brooke, who in 1494 confessed to a debt of £80, while some of her nuns reported severe dilapidation of the buildings and inappropriate use of the convent seal, in addition to a number of other irregularities.86 Although Elizabeth was deposed she was reinstated and continued to follow a similar pattern of behaviour until her death in 1502. Lack of control was not only manifested in her love affairs but also in a failure both to maintain the convent property and to govern the behaviour of her nuns, who gave varying reports as to the gravity of the situation in the abbey at that time.87 Joyce Rowse, the next abbess, proved unable to retrieve the house from the chaos of the previous administration, and resigned after eight difficult years during which a sub-prioress was removed from office and one of the other nuns was indicted for unchastity.88

Assessing Financial Management One visitation query aimed at nuns asks: ‘Whether the prioress, the obedientiaries, or any brothers and lay-brothers have been stigmatized for dilapidation, waste, disobedience, incontinence, or any crime’.89 Not surprisingly, leaky roofs, improper use of the common seal, and a chapel in need of repair are among complaints which occur in several sets of comperta, while reports of successful attempts by superiors to rescue houses from the effects of poor earlier administrations fail to be noted in episcopal registers and appear only incidentally in other material. 83 84 85 86 87 88 89

Ibid., p. 129. Ibid., p. 101. Elizabeth Weldon is discussed in Chapter 2 of this book. Liveing, pp. 218–22. Christ Church Cathedral Priory, Sede Vacante, fols 131v.–133v. [the VCH essay on Romsey dates this visit incorrectly as 1502]. HRO The Register of Richard Fox iv, fol. 80. BI Reg. Thoresby (1353–73), fol. 397.

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While negative evidence should be regarded with caution, it must not be discounted, due to the well-known policy (deliberate or otherwise) of withholding praise for faithful and effective service. With careful analysis of the material it is reasonable to attribute sound and resourceful economic strategies to certain nunnery superiors about whom no adverse criticism survives. The surviving details suggest committed individuals who kept their nuns and their finances well under control and their communities intact in spite of various disasters which in some cases included the legacy of incompetent predecessors. The women concerned appear to have been ‘given their head’ by a diocesan who found no occasion to record of their achievements. Lacock Abbey likewise seems to have been served adequately by successive abbesses; indeed, no negative comments on its leadership survive from the entire medieval period. Like most religious houses, the house suffered during the mid-fourteenth century, not only from the post-plague difficulties shared by most landlords, but also from the struggle to retain or regain rights and property coveted or wrested from them by other landlords and royal officials. In 1360 the abbess Agnes de Brymesden regained access to 300 acres of pasture at Shorewell manor which had been taken from the convent: a significant coup, in view of the opposition.90 When a lightning strike destroyed Lacock property at Chitterne, as well as the abbey’s bell-tower and other buildings in 1447, the abbess secured an exemption from tax on the basis of this disaster, and by 1476 the house had recovered and recorded a surplus of £39.91 The indications are that intelligent economic measures were responsible for such results. Defensive strategies included a readiness to sue for damages or for infringed rights. In spite of the fact that Lacock Abbey was no longer under royal patronage, the abbess was faced in 1508 with the prospect of furnishing knights’ service, due to the unexpected pronouncement that her manor of Shorewell was held in chief, making her liable to supply the knights required or compound for the equivalent sum. In response to the king’s removal of the manor from her hands on the grounds that she had failed to observe the appropriate formalities at her election, Joan Temmse, the last abbess, brought a suit to Chancery and won.92 Kington St Michael was robbed in 1511 and the prioress abducted: an event which may have been expected to throw the house into confusion. Perhaps it did; however, by 1535 the convent, though owed fifty pounds, had no debts. The bishop had replaced an unsuitable prioress in 1492 with Katharine Moleyns, a competent nun from Shaftesbury; and Katherine’s methodical approach to the administration of the house during her eight-year period of service appears to have set the administration upon an ordered course which helped it withstand the stresses which came later.93 90 91 92 93

VCH Wiltshire iii, p. 307. Ibid., p. 313. Ibid., p. 306. Ibid., p 261. This article suggests that the abducted prioress was Cecily Bodenham,

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Marrick priory’s superiors remain unsung. This is probably because many also remain anonymous. Yet, the account rolls surviving from the early fifteenth century point to careful, and even sacrificial, management. The rolls consist of an annual statement from each of three obedientiaries, bursar, sacrist and granger, from September 29, 1415 to the same date in the following year. Clearly there were no luxuries in the house, the only ‘treat’ being an Easter Day breakfast costing the convent a total of 4s. 9d. – a very modest sum given that this meal represented a breaking of the long and rigorous Lenten fast.94 Grain, some of which was grown on the home farm, obviously constituted a staple food, used for bread-making, and, in the case of barley, for brewing beer.95 There is no record of expenditure on table wine, the only reference to this commodity being an entry stating that six shillings was paid by the sacrist for bread and wine, presumably for the Eucharist.96 Since the bursar records the sale of cows and calves and payment to the ‘servant of the cowhouse’ it is probable that milking beasts were kept. This is virtually confirmed by the miniscule expenditure on cheese (2s. 11d.).97 The sale of hides from the larder indicates convent-supplied meat, while the careful maintenance of a ‘cabbage garden’ suggests that homegrown vegetables served important dietary needs and also saved money. The bursar notes the distribution of provisions to Marrick’s hospice of Rerecross.98 Since the itemised food entries do not specify the institution for which the provisions were purchased, it is impossible to determine the extent of the financial burden carried by the nunnery on behalf of the hospital. The percentage of the nunnery’s gross income spent on compulsory charity (fourteen percent) is high in relation to most houses,99 which represents an impressive achievement. Also impressive is the fact that despite the need to allow for these obligatory alms and despite the pressures imposed by continuing debts on the part of tenants unable or unwilling to pay their dues, the convent’s budget was balanced, admittedly with the help of a loan.100 There are strong indications that the convent was well-maintained, with notes from the bursar indicating repair of the cabbage garden wall, the cleaning of privies, and butter purchased for sheep-salve. Such details

94 95 96 97 98 99

100

later abbess of Wilton. This seems very unlikely, since a certain ‘Margaret’ is named as prioress in October 1511 in The Registers of Oliver King, bishop of Bath and Wells, 1496–1503 and Hadrian de Costello, bishop of Bath and Wells, 1503–1518, ed. Sir Henry Maxwell Lyte, Somerset Record Society 54 (1939), item 950, p. 153. Tillotson, Marrick, p. 33. Ibid., pp. 33–35. Ibid., p. 33. Ibid., p. 31. See Knowles & Hadcock, p. 330 for reference to Rerecross. Selby Abbey, for example, gave four percent of its income on compulsory alms. See J.H. Tillotson, Monastery and Society in the Late Middle Ages (Woodbridge, 1988), p. 239. Tillotson, Marrick, p. 33.

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contribute to an overall impression that Marrick in the early fifteenth century had been served by women who took seriously their stewardship responsibilities. Additional data emerging from the sources examined indicate a concern on the part of successive prioresses to preserve the same convent’s resources. In 1304, for example, the prioress defended her right to a toft and two bovates of land in Eston which Walter de Beringby had claimed against her at the Court of Common Pleas.101 In 1332, the superior of the house brought a suit to the same court against Simon Wayt to force him to provide an account of his dealings while serving as her bailiff in Fletham.102 An attempt by another prioress in 1450 to protect her bequest of a horse is recorded in the papal records, although the final outcome of her action has not survived.103 There is certainly evidence of decisive action in this anecdotal selection, though whether the excursions into litigation proved ultimately successful is not clear. Importantly, the records have so far exposed no hint of dissension or infractions of the Rule after the visitation of 1252.104 The sum of surviving evidence contributes to an overall impression that Marrick was served by a number of women who took seriously their stewardship responsibilities, both spiritually and materially. Syon Abbey offers evidence of both tight discipline and well-managed resources. Unlike many houses, Syon appears to have been able to administer its affairs without significant relaxation of the nuns’ claustration. While female religious from some other houses were known to have ventured out of their convents on occasion, with or without permission, there is no sign that Syon nuns did so. Presumably, the adequacy of the abbey’s income shielded the female religious there from the need to engage in the kind of financial struggle which was likely to distract them from the prescribed daily round. Although the women there were sworn to poverty,105 it was voluntary and relative; their needs were supplied and their rule decreed that any excess was given to the poor. Evidence of such almsgiving is difficult to trace, since the available accounts give only part of the picture. The Syon chambress’s account, which records very modest expenditure on cloth and paper items, includes a note that one shilling and sixpence has been spent on ‘Burying of pore ffookes’.106 The abbey’s consitutions allowed the nuns the opportunity to sacrifice of their own free will luxuries and pleasures that many of them would otherwise have enjoyed in the secular world. In numerous other English nunneries poverty was involuntary, severe, and imposed by circumstances beyond the control of the women concerned. For the Harrold nuns 101 102 103 104 105 106

TNA: PRO CP40/268, m. 144d. TNA: PRO CP40/291, m. 197. CPL x, p. 462. For details of the 1252 visitation of Marrick see VCH Yorkshire iii, p. 117. Eklund, p. 105. Blunt, Myoure, p. xxviii.

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of Lincoln diocese one of the results was humiliating drudgery. At the episcopal visit of 1442–1443 they reported having access to the services of a ‘common washerwoman’ only four times a year, so that at other times they were forced to wash their own clothes at the bank of the Ouse river.107

The Marketplace One side of the dual model indicated in the Benedictine Rule was portrayed as humble and nurturing, the other embodying strength and resolve. The latter side was often mirrored in hard-nosed financial dealings matching those occurring in the secular world. Abbesses from wealthier houses are also found in the same court rolls, both as plaintiffs and defendants. Many also appear in the records of the Court of Chancery. A long-running case in which the abbess of Wilton was accused of failing to pay for elaborately embroidered silk and velvet vestments ordered from Richard Thurston is of particular interest, since it reveals a determination on the part of the abbess to press her point in the manner of a secular business woman. It also highlights a particular lifestyle which contrasts starkly with that of small, impecunious nunneries, whose prioresses had enough of a struggle to supply their nuns with basic items without involving themselves in demonstrations of wealth and status. Whether Cecily Willoughby, the abbess, was successful in her defence, or morally justified in her avowal of innocence, is unclear, since documentation of the outcome is missing. Nevertheless, she applied a spirited defence, judging from the text which can be deciphered from the badly damaged documents. Her rejoinder to the charge of Richard and Thomasina Gresham that Elizabeth still owed them wool to the value of £180 as payment for the embroidered vestments states that ‘all the copys & vestments that wer to her delyvyred in [several words missing] not beyng above the value of xxxv Li’. She also asserts that she herself is the wronged party, since she has ‘not only sustayned losse but also for lak of copys at dyverse tymes seremonyes whiche shulde have ben to the honour lawde & praysse of almy’ [the remainder of the line is missing, but probably the word should be ‘almighty God’]. The abbess concludes with the plea that ‘by theorder of this courte [the plaintiff] be compelled . . . delyver the seid copys acordyng to her seid bargayne but also to recompence the same abbes for [services?] not performyd & for her wrongfull vexation in this behalfe sustayned’.108 As already remarked, the financial portfolio held by late medieval convent superiors bore little relationship to the original monastic concept of poverty and withdrawal from the world. One irony was that the kind of

107 108

Linc. Vis ii, 131. TNA: PRO C1/516/354, ms 33–8.

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poverty experienced by those in under-endowed houses forced the women into the very society from which they were expected to withdraw. Had they been given sufficient material security and social permission to embrace poverty voluntarily their story may have been very different. Those in most of the richer houses were not free to choose poverty either, being bound by evolving custom to a lifestyle which in many respects mirrored secular standards. Since the capacity to maintain a life of prayer and service depended to a large extent on economic survival, there was no alternative but to employ market-place strategies in managing convent finances. Such measures might appear to sit uneasily with the more spiritual qualities enjoined in the Rule. A certain shrewdness can be seen in some of the surviving evidence on property transactions. An indenture between Maud Upton, abbess of Godstow, and William More in 1315 incorporates an agreement whereby the rent for a property requiring some building to be completed is reduced during the construction period, after which the charge increases from ten shillings annually to thirteen. The document stipulates that in the event of William More’s death his widow is expected to abide by the original agreement, the abbess claiming the right to re-enter the property should the rent be in arrears more than one year.109 Another document from the same abbess promises to excuse twelve months’ arrears of the rent charge on condition that the tenant, the widow of William of Mylles, rebuild the mill on the property in question. Later agreements reflect the same policy. An indenture between Anneys, abbess, and Nicholas Garlond for the lease of a fenced garden in 1369 emphasises the obligation of the lessee to repair the fences; it also gives Anneys the right to distrain the possessions of Nicholas should his rent be ‘behynd, in parte or in all, after ony terme by a monthe’.110 The year 1386 sees a similar document, this time from the abbess Margaret, for a building lease, the terms of which give her the power to distrain and re-enter after rent is in arrears for one month.111 The demand that repairs be done by the lessees rather than the landlord appears to have been normal procedure on the part of Godstow’s successive abbesses; there may have been a built-in reduction of rent in some of these agreements, but if so it is not obvious. On the whole, the Godstow charters suggest a pragmatic attitude to business transactions on the part of the superiors. Catherine Paxton notes the same attitude prevailing amongst the heads of the London houses in the later period, remarking: If property was ever deployed charitably, to accommodate the sick and elderly at advantageous rates, the sources fail to draw attention to it. At a difficult time for landlords, the administrators were concerned to attract

109 110 111

Clark, English Register of Godstow Nunnery ii, pp. 508–9. Ibid., p. 492. Ibid., i, p. 149.

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tenants on the best terms which could be achieved in the circumstances.112

Urban superiors may have been more successful than their rural counterparts in achieving redress for financial injustices, given the more accessible avenues of appeal in the towns. Clerkenwell’s prioress procured a writ to the mayor and sheriff of London in 1301 to forbid plays and wrestling matches that were drawing crowds which damaged the property of the convent, a strategy which bypassed the court system as well as saving her the cost of a fee.113 However, litigation was risky and could result in the plaintiff being at a greater disadvantage at the end of proceedings, regardless of the rights and wrongs of the case. St Helen’s’s prioress Constance accused four individuals of disseisin of rent to the value of 20 shillings in 1382. On this occasion, unlike another when the verdict came down in her favour, she was only partially successful, since her charge was upheld with respect to two of the defendants, and she was placed ‘in mercy’ for a ‘false plaint’ against the other two.114 In some account rolls there are clear references to the payment of ‘curtaisies’, or what in modern terms might be called ‘sweeteners’. Several of the Stamford rolls include payments of small amounts to facilitate the smooth transaction of business or encourage the provision of a favour. In the account of 1303–1304 a shilling is entered on the roll as ‘en curteysye al eschetour le Roy’;115 other small payments of this kind are included in accounts of the same house between 1375 and 1408. These measures are not documented in the Marrick or St Helen’s accounts, though it is possible that amounts given were absorbed in other costs without being noted, or else appeared in documents prepared by other obedientiaries. Expenditure on small gifts to serve the same purpose can be found in the bursar’s account from Stainfield Priory in 1449–1450, with one entry among several of similar intent noting: ‘the reward given to Master John Derby so that he would be well-disposed towards remitting the tithes of the priory, one purse, one kerchief, with 6s. 8d’.116 Entries such as this offer evidence again of a secular element operating in the strategies of the officials at these houses. Indeed, it might be suggested that the two sets of examples show an increasing frankness, as the period wore on, in the acknowledged use of what amounts to bribery. Nevertheless, this was a strategy employed by all and it is doubtful if it was questioned by the religious, especially as their own ecclesiastical

112 113 114 115 116

Paxton, p. 262. W.O. Hassall, ed., The Cartulary of St Mary Clerkenwell, Camden 3rd ser., 71 (London, 1949), p. 260. H. Chew, ed., London Possessory Assizes, London Record Society (1965), item 174, p. 67. TNA: PRO SC6/1260/1 [literally, ‘in courtesy to the king’s escheator’]. See TNA: PRO SC6/1260/6, 7, 11, 16. C.f. LAO FL Deeds 1295.

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mentors were following similarly earthbound methods as they jostled each other in competition for higher status and the prizes it offered. Nunnery superiors were often criticised for their apparent shortsightedness in selling corrodies, taking in boarders and alienating property to solve urgent cash-flow problems. However, there were limited alternatives open to the women when faced with problems such as decaying rents, falling commodity prices and lack of sufficient labour. The hardship caused by arrears of rent is evident in the bursar’s roll of Marrick Priory in 1415, which reveals that keeping track of such debts in the later period was a tedious and unrewarding task, in which the obedientiary reponsible in Marrick’s case, when successful, was able to extract the required amounts only in instalments. For the manor of Hunton the bursar records receiving ‘two shillings from the rent of . . . Robert [Diconson] this year. And he owed 28s’; and ‘From arrears of Agnes Schort [for Fleetham] nothing received. And she owes 12d’.117 The total of rent arrears recorded (representing debts accumulating over several years in some cases) amounts to £37 4s. 3d. owed by some fifty individuals. Tillotson asserts that Marrick’s situation in regard to rent arrears was not atypical of the small religious houses at the time, pointing out that even large houses such as Durham Cathedral Priory were finding it difficult to contain arrears within acceptable limits.118 The account of Dame Joan Fitzwilliam, bursar of Stainfield Priory from 1449, exemplifies the continuing problem persisting into the latter part of the monastic period, with chronic debts to the house as well as the slow recovery of land values. One holding is described as unoccupied and ‘in arrears for 34 years’; another entry lists a rent bringing in 3s. 4d. ‘whereas it used to yield yearly 8s’.119 Boarders, including corrodians and pupils, certainly posed potential problems, but there were probably few options when times were hard. The superior, in allowing secular boarders of any kind, placed herself in a difficult position, since they inevitably attracted other layfolk and introduced distractions to the spiritual service of the nuns, as the Lincoln records show in particular. Also, she risked debts to the house of unpaid tuition accounts and, in the case of corrodians, the lump sum received for their retirement might prove inadequate to cover the convent’s costs, let alone leave a profit margin. Warnings about such dangers were published by numerous ordinaries; but the cash brought in under such arrangements was sorely needed by many houses, and there was always the chance that a pupil-boarder would attract additional benefits to the house through influential relatives. Despite the ruling that girls should not be allowed to become novices until the age of sixteen it is clear from the records that some were accepted much earlier 117 118 119

Tillotson, Marrick, p. 29. Ibid., p. 10. See Dobson, Durham Priory, pp. 228–9. LAO FL Deeds 1295. Sincere thanks to John Tillotson for making this document available.

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than that. From the testimony of Yedingham nuns it is clear that postulants as young as twelve were accepted into the novitiate at that house; however, the regulations on this matter for the Brigittines stated that no postulants under eighteen years of age should be admitted.120 Criticism of the convent superiors for pursuing quick solutions which often proved unwise later is probably justified in some cases; nevertheless, the records suggest that some superiors were able to cope with the presence of pupils, corrodians, numerous staff members and guests without jeopardising the economic balance of the convent or its reputation. St Mary’s Winchester, for example, was found at the end of the period to be heavily populated by secular people, including an altar boy, twenty-six child pupils and three corrodians. At the same time the house was pronounced debt-free and functioning well.121 Given the nature of the sources and the long period under review, it would be unwise to attempt a generalization about the leadership of female superiors in economic affairs per se. There are, however, some useful insights afforded by the material examined. Firstly, it appears that some of the women in question came from backgrounds which gave them potential advantages, either from the status of their relatives or through links with the mercantile or professional community. And it is clear that some of these advantages were exploited by convent superiors. Secondly, there are many individual differences among the nunneries under review and others which have been examined for comparative material. It is possible to name women whose lack of commitment or talent brought their convents low economically at various times; Elizabeth Brooke of Romsey is one whose house suffered in the late fifteenth century, and who left chaos for those following her in the leadership role. Nevertheless, later superiors were able to restore the buildings and extricate the house from serious debt. Matilda/Maud de Pecham, the demonstrably weak abbess of St Mary’s Winchester, obviously set her house back materially and morally for some years; yet the house recovered under firmer hands, and emerged at the Dissolution in good order. Other nunneries could tell the same story. Godstow, in severe difficulties throughout the fourteenth century, had recovered by the sixteenth, enjoying a net income of £234 by 1526, as well as a peaceful community life. And Kington, which seemed on the point of collapse in 1492, was pulled into line by a strong prioress and remained solvent until the Dissolution. Of course, it is important to bear in mind that the sixteenth century brought a certain amount of relief for landlords, with more buoyancy in the rental market and 120

121

G.W.O. Woodward, The Dissolution of the Monasteries (London, 1966), p. 45. See Eklund, p. 128 for regulation about minimum age of admission at Brigittine nunneries. VCH Hampshire ii, p. 125.

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a corresponding increase in land values.122 It would take a study dedicated to this question alone to determine to what extent the improved financial condition of nunneries can be attributed to this factor. There were superiors who had a gift for financial management and there were those who were either not engaged with the task, or distracted by age, infirmity or other interests. Since superiors were assisted by paid officials, some of whom were both experienced and worldly-wise, it is not surprising that the financial practices of nunneries mirrored the business methods of the secular world, with hard bargaining, litigation and discreet bribery appearing among the strategies employed for the task. Despite the difficult financial climate after the Bubonic Plague there were improvements made to property and shrewd measures taken to preserve rights. Some of the women can be seen to have shown resolve and tenacity in their business dealings; others performed their tasks without fanfare and without either reproof or praise, and remain anonymous. Still others made foolish mistakes and created severe problems for those who followed them in office; and these are the ones who tend to be remembered through the centuries. In general, it can be said that nunnery superiors performed very much as individuals, reacting to varying challenges on a number of levels and employing strategies learned from secular folk. The fact that all but one of the houses in the core group survived until the Dissolution is notable in itself.

122

J. Hatcher, Plague, Population, and the English Economy (London, 1977), pp. 17, 65–6.

6 The Clerical View

THE CLERICAL VIEW

No personal diaries of female religious survive, but traces of the paths taken and the obstacles negotiated by nunnery superiors can be discerned in many of the records, particularly those surviving in housekeeping accounts and episcopal registers. In the latter sources, misdeeds or errors of judgement are highlighted and praiseworthy efforts virtually ignored. As in the context of financial management, the picture of leadership has often been skewed by the weight of one particular class of evidence used to address the question. Bishops’ visitation reports, though rich in detail, must be viewed with caution. They are not only tainted by the misogyny of the times, but hide the full circumstances of the visitation setting and environment. Nuns were questioned individually by the bishop or his representative. The women were free, in principle, to speak openly and express either their satisfaction about life in the convent or their concern about any aspect of their experience. In practice, there were limits placed on the kind of information collected. This was because the interview focused on a number of pre-set questions aimed solely at detecting faults, and also because the nuns’ freedom to answer honestly was determined by their perception of the possible consequences after the departure of the ordinary concerned. There is evidence that the superior of Catesby ‘whipped’ some of her nuns for disclosing certain information to the bishop in 1442.1 During the same period, nuns from Gracedieu reported that they were ‘reviled’ by their prioress for revealing sensitive information to the bishop on the last episcopal;2 and at Legbourne, the prioress reputedly tried to forestall any complaints to the visitor.3 Thus, some comperta could suggest a rosier picture of the abbess or prioress than was warranted; alternatively, slanderous accusations aimed at ousting the superior were capable of misleading the questioner. The nature of the questions also ensured that details about the aspirations and cares of women who were basically contented with their lot would simply not be reported. Under these conditions the task of discriminating between fact and individual impressions was not easy. 1 2 3

Linc. Vis. ii, p. 49. Ibid., p. 120. Ibid., pp. 184–5.

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At all events, the inquisition process employed at the time ensured that flawed superiors would emerge clearly, while the more committed and conscientious for the most part would remain invisible and unsung. Those diocesan reports which throw light on the female superiors’ performance as spiritual leaders have provided the bulk of the material studied for this chapter. In addition to registers in which the nominated houses appear, numerous visitation documents from other houses have been consulted for purposes of comparison. In a sense, it could be said that all leadership in monastic houses is spiritually-oriented, since all of the guidelines in the Rule, even the most mundane, are directed towards a spiritual end. However, the discussion here is restricted to those areas of service most clearly illustrative of spiritual endeavours on the part of the nunnery heads. Accordingly, the primary focus here is upon two key aspects of the superior’s spiritual function: the supervision of the Opus Dei and the maintenance of the convent as a discrete spiritual entity, separated from the secular world. Much of the material cited has already been canvassed by other scholars, but the significance of leadership in the accounts has often remained hidden in their studies, for two main reasons. Firstly, although there have been isolated attempts to compare evidence bearing on the superior at different periods in a given house, there has been little attention to her power relations. Secondly, there exists little scholarly discussion aimed at comparing nunnery superiors in a particular diocese with those from another.

Shaping of the Model Collections of visitation articles appear to represent the efforts of various officials to extract from the Rule the essential elements of St Benedict’s guidelines as a basis for assessment. These clearly became the ‘pocket guides’ for visitors. There were probably other lists also, some less formal than others. Euphemia of Wherwell’s eulogy obviously incorporates what at least one ecclesiastical official regarded as the crucial elements of female leadership.4 There is no way of knowing how widely this was disseminated, but it would be surprising if its contents were not known and shared among later officials supervising nunneries. The document, in hagiographical fashion, states in one section: The example of her holy conversation and charity, in conjunction with her pious exhortations and regular discipline, caused each one to know how, in the words of the Apostle, to possess her vessel in sanctification and honour . . . In . . . numberless ways, the blessed mother Euphemia provided for the worship of God and the welfare of the sisters . . . Moreover, 4

See Appendix D.

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because she greatly loved to honour duly the House of God and the place where His glory dwells, she adorned the church with crosses, reliquaries, precious stones, vestments, and books.5

The writer lists a number of Euphemia’s other achievements, including the maintenance of buildings, construction projects completed, and the provision of a healthy and welcoming environment for her nuns. What appears in this extract is evidence of an evolving ideal. One important feature of the Euphemia model represents an accretion to the original Benedictine construct: the commitment of the superior to ornamentation and improvement of the chapel in which the nuns worshipped. This suggests a new category of requirements imposed on superiors of the later medieval period; moreover, it documents therein an expectation coming initially from the secular world, and apparently endorsed subsequently by the religious hierarchy. References to adornments in nunnery churches (or missing from them) are scattered through the visitation material and occur also in wills. They can also be found in other classes of documents, including those generated by the Chancery Court. One notable surviving example from this court describes a situation in which the abbess of Wilton contested the claims of an allegedly-injured party over embroidered vestments ordered for her church.6 The decoration of the convent church is a complex issue, related not only to concepts of worship, which are discussed in The Rule of St Benedict, but also to aspects of patronage, which are barely mentioned there. Many church ornaments were given by late medieval secular folk on the understanding that spiritual services would be provided in exchange. The acceptance of gifts in the form of cash or property of various kinds for such services established a link between spiritual service and material reward. Such a link held elements potentially inimical to spiritual service.

The Daily Round and its Supervision St Benedict wrote: ‘Let nothing . . . be put before the Work of God.’7 Accordingly, successive recensions of the Rule emphasise the importance of the daily Offices in the life of the convent and imply that the superior is responsible for maintaining consistency and reverence in the prescribed devotional periods, and for organizing the schedule of the house to incorporate them.8 Surviving diocesan articles of visitation include questions on this area of responsibility; and are typically phrased negatively, with no room for

5 6 7 8

VCH Hampshire ii, pp. 132–3. C.f. Appendix D. See preceding chapter. McCann, RB, chapt. 43, p. 103. Ibid., p. 109.

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praise beyond the bland comment ‘omnia bene’. One of Archbishop Thoresby’s articles used for assessing the service of the nuns in York diocese during his period of office inquires whether the Offices are ‘die et nocte fiat devote’, or whether anyone makes a disturbance or behaves irreverently in church.9 Since the daily round was the most important feature of monastic life, the issue might be expected to appear frequently in sets of injunctions. This is indeed the case; but it is worth noting that it was included in all reports. Five of the houses nominated for this study have left no records of visitation reports. Of the remaining eleven nunneries in the select group, two (Davington and Kington) received little attention from the ordinary in regard to corrections and none in relation to the Opus Dei. The remaining eight houses show a varied record. The only surviving comment about the Offices at Canterbury St Sepulchre is that the nuns in the year 1511 were reportedly omitting one of the Hours because of construction work.10 Clementhorpe and Esholt received injunctions from Archbishop Melton in 1318 and 1319 respectively, in both cases because of failure to keep silence appropriately in the church.11 Godstow’s abbess received a letter of complaint from Archbishop Pecham in 1284 about an abbreviated service form, together with a demand that the Mass of the Blessed Virgin be discontinued. Bishops Gynewell, Gray and Alnwick each issued further injunctions about the Opus Dei in 1432 and 1445, Gynewell showing particular concern about disturbances to the Offices by secular women.12 However, the visitation of 1517 found no fault with the manner in which worship was conducted.13 There is one injunction about the Offices surviving from the documents of St Helen’s, Bishopsgate from Dean Kentwode in 1432 and two from the records of St Mary’s, Winchester in 1309 and 1326.14 Romsey’s abbesses were rebuked about their nuns’ performance of, or attitude to, the Opus Dei in 1311, 1387, 1494 and 1501 by bishops Woodlock, Wykeham and Morton (per Robert Sherborne) and Dr Hede, representing Christ Church Cathedral Priory.15 No criticism on that issue was received in

9 10 11

12 13 14

15

BI Reg. 11, Thoresby, fols 396–7. LPL Reg. Warham, fol. 36. BI Reg. 9A, Melton, fol. 132 (new no. 161), 187v., 199v. N.B. material cited in BI Reg. 9A refers to archiepiscopal directions not reproduced fully in the printed version of Melton’s register. See Reg. Epis. Pecham iii, pp. 851–2; LAO Reg. VIII Gynewell, fols 100v.–101; Linc. Vis. i, pp. 66–8; ibid., ii, pp. 114–15. Dioc. Vis. ii, pp. 152–4. Dugdale, Mon. iv, pp. 553–4 (St Helen’s); A.W. Goodman, ed., Registrum Henrici Woodlock, Diocesis Wintoniensis, A.D. 1305–1316 (i), Canterbury and York Society 43 (1940), pp. 515–18; HRO A1/5 Reg. Stratford, fols 176–7 (St Mary’s). Reg. Woodlock i, pp. 526–7; Luce, p. 33 (for Wykeham’s injuctions); Liveing, pp. 218–22 (Morton’s injunctions); Sede Vacante Reg. Christ Church Cathedral Priory, fols 131v.–133v. (for report of Dr Hede).

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reports from Bishop Fox in 1506 or in the records available from 1523 and 1527, though there were serious disciplinary infractions detected during that period.16 At Stamford in 1445 it was reported that the nuns ‘do not come together with one mind in quire at time of mass’, and at Wilton there were reproofs from bishops Wyvill, Erghum and Mitford in 1369, 1379 and 1400 respectively on the Offices in the convent church.17 Since these reports represent more than two centuries of visitation there is insufficient material for forming generalizations on the issue of religious observance, and it is doubtful if the accompanying remarks in these documents can be similarly used. It is noteworthy however that the convents which incurred the most frequent criticism, Godstow and Romsey, both shared their churches with the secular people of the district. There were certainly strategies in place to separate the nuns from those outside the cloister on Sundays, but the situation was hardly one which favoured seclusion in the manner intended by St Benedict and the other fathers of the monastic movement. In the case of Godstow, the shared church, which is no longer extant, stood outside the nunnery enclosure to the north.18 The remaining chapel is thought to have been built in the sixteenth century for the exclusive use of the abbess and nuns, which may well point to a reaction by superiors against the importuning of seculars. The fact that there are fewer recorded problems in the area of service during the fifteenth century is open to more than one interpretation.19 Predictably, there are fewer sets of visitation records surviving in some areas at the time and it is possible that there were fewer abuses in the nunneries concerned during the fifteenth century. Alternatively, there may have been less disquiet on the part of the later ordinaries responsible in that period. Or standards may have changed, so that what appeared serious in one century may not have been so regarded one hundred years later. There is evidence too of debate between some episcopal visitors; for example the ‘Mass of the Blessed Virgin’ was banned by Archbishop Pecham at Godstow in 1284 and ordered to be celebrated daily at Romsey in 1311 by Bishop Woodlock.20 The faults outlined in the complaints about religious observance undoubtedly suggest poor supervision by the superiors concerned and, perhaps, a poor attitude to their spiritual responsibilities; although it is worth 16 17

18 19

20

HRO A1/20 Reg. Fox (1501–28) iv, fol. 80; Liveing, pp. 244, 245–6. Linc. Vis. iii, pp. 350, 352 (for Stamford); WRO: Register of Robert Wyvil (1330–75), fols 146v.–7, Reg. Erghum, fols 32v.–35, The Register of Richard Mitford (1395–1407), fols 146v.–147. See Gilchrist, Gender and Material Culture, p. 94. At St Helen’s in 1432 (Dugdale, Mon. iv, p. 553); Godstow in 1432–1434 and 1445 (Linc. Vis. i, p. 66; ibid., ii, pp. 114–15); Romsey in 1494 (Liveing, pp. 218–22); Stamford in 1440 and 1442 (Linc. Vis. iii, p. 350); Wilton in 1400 (Reg. Mitford, fols 146v.–7). Reg. Epist. Pecham iii, pp. 851–2; Reg. Woodlock i, pp. 102–5.

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remembering that the complaints occurred only at intervals, over a long period and were not common to all nunneries. The evidence of differing opinions between the supervisory prelates Pecham and Woodlock (whose period of service did not coincide, but were not far apart),21 suggests that some of the criticism directed at convent superiors on the issue of religious observance might indicate the pursuit of a private ‘hobby horse’ rather than serious concern. It is important to set the findings from the nominated houses in the context of other convents to determine how representative they might be. On examining the Yorkshire visitation material for this purpose, it becomes clear that, in addition to the prioress of Esholt, the superiors of Arden, Arthington, Keldholme, Moxby, Nunkeeling, Nunburnholme, Sinningthwaite, Swine, Thicket, Wykeham and Yedingham (heads of about half of the Yorkshire nunneries) also received injunctions on the issue of Divine Service during the first two decades of the fourteenth century. These orders were aimed at achieving satisfactory attendance and due silence among nuns not participating in the singing of the Offices.22 Superiors from several of these houses were enjoined to persuade nuns preoccupied with ‘silk work’ to leave their sewing and attend the Divine Office as required.23 (The same rebuke occurs in bishop Woodlock’s register among several other injunctions given in the year 1309 to the abbess of St Mary’s, Winchester.)24 It is noteworthy that this problem was raised only in the first two decades of the fourteenth century. Since there is no further mention of it in the records, it appears that either the reprimands were sufficient to solve that particular disciplinary problem, or that later ordinaries were less concerned about matters which were unlikely to give rise to scandal. Another possible explanation is that the needlework was a passing fashion only. An examination of all the Lincoln visitation reports from 1400 to 1450 21

22

23

24

Reg. Epist. Pecham iii, p. 851; Reg. Woodlock i, pp. 526–7. See J. Burton, ‘A Confraternity List from St Mary’s Abbey, York’, Revue Bénédictine 89 (1979), pp. 325–33. Note also the documentary evidence of collaboration between female superiors of Canterbury Province discussed below. At Arden in 1306 (Reg. Greenfield iii, item 1153, p. 7); Arthington, 1315 (ibid., ii, item 1141, pp. 227–8) and also in 1319 (BI 9A Reg. Melton, fol. 132 (new no. 162)); at Esholt in 1319 (ibid., fol. 231 (new no. 276v)); at Keldholme in 1319 (ibid., fol. 232 (new no. 278); Moxby, 1318 (Reg. Melton ii, Canterbury & York 71, item 31, p. 12); Nunburnholme, 1318 (BI Reg. 9A, Melton, fol. 275 ((new no. 332)); Nunkeeling, 1314 (Reg. Greenfield iii, item 1629, p. 231); Sinningthwaite, 1315 (ibid., ii, item 1102, p. 205); Swine, 1314 (ibid., iii, item 1629, p. 233); Thicket, in 1309 (ibid., item 1219, pp. 40–1, and in 1315, item 1350, p. 100); Wykeham, 1314 (ibid., item 1327, p. 87); Yedingham, 1327 (ibid., item 1327, p. 85). The York injunctions on silk work occur in Greenfield’s register and were issued severally in 1314 or 1315 to the prioresses of: Nunkeeling (Reg. Greenfield iii, item 1629, p. 231); Sinningthwaite (ibid., ii, item 1102, p. 205); Swine (ibid., iii, item 1629, p. 233); Wykeham (ibid., item 1327, p. 87) and Yedingham (ibid., p. 85). Bishop Woodlock’s rebuke on the same subject at Winchester occurs in Reg. Woodlock i, pp. 515–18 (Latin version), pp. 519–23 (French version).

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shows evidence of significant disturbances caused by the presence of secular people in the nuns’ chapels. The detecta at Elstow Abbey in 1442 include the complaint that there were noisy boys disturbing the choir.25 Similarly, a report at Langley Priory in 1440 stated that one of the boarders was disturbing the nuns’ choir with her numerous dogs which accompanied the lady to church.26 There are indications of significant variation in the quality of religious observance, not only within a given nunnery, but also between different houses at various times. Where abuses occurred there appear to have been diverse factors involved, some of which were more subject to the control of the superior than others. Thus, the visitation data vary greatly between individual houses and dioceses.

Analysing the Data One problem with interpretation is that it is not always possible to discern whether all the injunctions recorded relate to specific infringements of the Rule or consist simply of standard recommendations. This makes any attempt at generalization ill-advised. Nevertheless there was clearly a perceived problem with the Opus Dei in several houses under certain administrations. It should be noted that the evidence of unsatisfactory attendance at or performance of, the Offices does not indicate gross abuse. In some cases there is the complaint that the superior fails to attend as she should; occasionally it is stated explicitly or implicitly that the nuns are rushing or abbreviating the services. The other main complaint concerns absenteeism by some nuns from choir. However, it is seldom that all three elements are mentioned in the same report. There is no indication of studied irreverence, except for one case occurring in the Lincoln records of 1518, when Bishop Longland found that four nuns at Littlemore Priory had been laughing during the Mass at the elevation of the Host.27 Littlemore’s prioress, Katherine Wells, had come to the attention of the bishop in the previous year as guilty of wilful immorality and numerous other crimes against her profession, including appropriating convent property for her daughter who was conceived as a result of Katherine’s liaison with the chaplain, Richard Hewes.28 It would be surprising if the prioress’s attitudes and behaviour had not produced a negative effect on the community of nuns. It is true that there are no indications of whole-hearted participation in

25 26 27 28

Linc. Vis. ii, p. 90. Ibid., p. 176. Dioc. Vis. iii, p. 11. Ibid., pp. 8–12. The case was brought to the ecclesiastical court in November 1517, a couple of months after the diocesan’s visit to Littlemore in that year. M. Bowker, ed., An Episcopal Court Book for the Diocese of Lincoln 1514–1520, Lincoln Record Society 6 (1967), pp. 45–51.

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the liturgy among the detecta in the collection of material relating to the nunneries in the core group; yet there would have been no reason for such comments to appear, given the nature of the questions asked. There are signs that various groups of nuns were unenthusiastic about the Offices at certain times, and glad to find excuses to be absent. In some cases an apparent lack of interest may have been due more to incomprehension of the Latin forms or distaste for the music than lack of piety.

Later Developments In the later medieval period, the growing use of the vernacular made the Offices more accessible, and the music of the secular world began to find its way into the worship program of the nunnery. An example of such material used in a female house is The Processional of the Nuns of Chester, dating from the late fifteenth century or possibly the early sixteenth century. It contains words and phrases which are radical in their simple, New Testament theology and humanistic language and possibly mirror some of the vitality evident in the lay piety movement, nourished as it was by the burgeoning literature of the times.29 Notable in the collection is an example of a contemporary carol believed to have been sung by the nuns at Chester Priory late in the period. The music of the song (Qui creauit celum) is sprightly, written in a major key, and manifests in its text a decidedly homely view of the Holy Family: Joseph emit paniculum, Lully, lully, lu, Mater involvit puerum, By, by, by, by, by, Et ponit in praesepio, Lully, lully, lu . . . 30

Prayers included in the same collection have a similar orientation, stressing the availability of Christ to the believer: Jesu, thy mercy comforts me, for no man may so sinful be that sin will leave and turn to thee, but mercy and grace finds he.31

The fact that a late medieval nunnery superior was incorporating this kind of material into the liturgies performed by her nuns is thoughtprovoking. Indeed, it raises questions about the relationship between increasing levels of literacy, changes in worship patterns, and the means by

29 30

31

See A.D. Brown, Popular Piety in Late Medieval England (Oxford, 1995). J.W. Legg, The Processional of the Nuns of Chester (London, 1899), Appendix, pp. i–iii. Note that this carol is available in modern notation in P. Dearmer et al., The Oxford Book of Carols (London, 1950), pp. 140–1, with an arrangement by J.H. Arnold. Legg, Processional, p. 33. This prayer is considered by J. Wickham Legg to have been published after 1425, perhaps considerably later.

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which varying interpretations of scripture entered the cloister. Another point worth considering is the question whether the introduction of such material indicates dissatisfaction with the traditional liturgies and, if so, what this says about the spirituality of the women concerned. It could be argued, for example, that the search for freer forms of expression indicates a more personal, whole-hearted commitment to the faith, or simply that the old worship forms were going out of favour. Or both interpretations may apply. But since there are signs that nunnery communities were aware of new trends, it is not unlikely that the vitality of the secular religious scene was filtering through to the female religious, who were typically close in physical and psychological terms to their secular supporters. Like the Chester Processional, The Ordinale and Customary of the Benedictine Nuns of Barking Abbey32 is worth scrutinising for its evidence of evolving worship patterns in nunneries. There are some similarities between the two documents, particularly in relation to the manner in which both service forms focus on the Virgin Mary. In this regard, Sally Roper remarks on the wide application of the Little Office of the Virgin in English monastic communities by the end of the thirteenth century, implying diversity and also room for changes in forms of religious expression: . . . the content and position of the accrued hours were not regularized from house to house; indeed, those customaries which refer to a daily office of the Virgin provide very diverse rules for its observance. Some monasteries, like Worcester and St Mary’s York, sang a full set of appended hours, each one following the corresponding regular office, but other houses seem to have adopted only one or two additional hours which did not always have a fixed position in the liturgy, but shifted with the season.33

Roper’s observation also highlights by implication the role of the superior in organizing the liturgy and ensuring that all the required elements were included in a given day. This was not an easy task, since by the later period the monastic day was likely to include numerous observances on behalf of the dead, as we have seen. That such responsibilities required care and planning is evident in Katharine Moleyns’ meticulous calendaring of the obits to be observed at Kington St Michael in 1492.34 This document not only sets out a record of the convent’s property in the vernacular, but also lists the details of obits, so that intercessory obligations should be covered appropriately. It is noteworthy that Katharine was appointed by the bishop of Salisbury at the behest of the Kington community, after the nuns had experienced a particularly unsettling period under the deposed prioress Alice Lawrence. [Whether the bishop would have intervened in this way without 32 33 34

J.B.L. Tolhurst, ed., The Ordinale and Customary of the Benedictine Nuns of Barking Abbey, Henry Bradshaw Society 66 (1927). S. Roper, Medieval English Benedictine Liturgy (New York, 1993), pp. 81–2. Bodl. MS Tanner, 342.

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being prompted is open to question, but it was certainly his responsibility to ensure that an appropriate candidate was available when needed. Given the limited pool of talent from which to choose, it made sense to look outside the community for a leader in cases of this kind.]35 A similar concern to provide direction for the nuns is suggested by the presence in Stamford Priory of a copy of Bishop Fox’s sixteenth-century version of the Benedictine Rule, a long way from the southern houses which were its first destination. The fact that the time of its arrival at Stamford coincides with a period of stability after long years marked by troubles and negative reports from ordinaries may be significant. Whether there is a causal relationship is difficult to judge.

The Crosier: Use and Misuse The example of the convent superior and the manner in which she controlled the religious were regarded by St Benedict as crucial elements in the quality of spiritual governance.36 Nevertheless, piety can assume many forms, some of which are subtle and unobtrusive, so that its absence, rather than its presence, is more readily perceived. Poor discipline is readily identifiable, whereas evidence of a calm, well-balanced approach is much more difficult to identify in the kind of records available. Therefore, the nature of the documents ensures that those abbesses and prioresses resisting the authority of their spiritual superiors and ignoring fundamental tenets of the Rule (and thereby depriving their nuns of the required example of devout living) emerge in high relief from the records. Conversely, the more committed and disciplined remain mostly in the shadows. The task of maintaining discipline and protecting the nuns from harmful influences called for a unique mix of personal attributes. While the Rule provided general guidelines and advised sensitivity in suiting the punishment to the needs of the individual, the newly-elected head received little help with the interpretation and application of the advice.37 Apart from her confessor or additional secular religious in the larger convent churches there were no other mentors on hand who understood the range of problems, except perhaps in the case of Syon Abbey, where the support network was larger and more diverse. In the context of discipline, the bishops who did communicate with the women focused heavily on punishment. Aside from stressing the importance of studying the Rule on a regular basis and ensuring 35

36 37

Claire Cross discusses the problems of selecting nuns with appropriate attributes for leadership in small houses. See ‘Yorkshire Nunneries in the Early Tudor Period’, in The Religious Orders in Pre-Reformation England, ed. J.G. Clark (Woodbridge, Suffolk, 2002), pp. 148–9. McCann, RB, chapt. 2, pp. 17–23. Kock, pp. 59–60, ll. 428–44.

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that the Holy Offices were kept, they largely avoided the positive side of the issue, namely, the attitudes and strategies which would engender trust, cooperation and unity in a community. The subject of obedience recurs throughout the medieval visitation reports, directly or indirectly. But these documents reflect both the clerical emphasis on mechanical punishment of faults and the demand that the religious return to whatever observances were being ignored or modified. There is little evidence of official encouragement to reach for higher levels of devotion and service, although letters from episcopal mentors of the nuns are heavy with romantic images of marriage and the nun’s response to the heavenly spouse. This being the case, the personality, level of maturity, self-discipline and spiritual commitment of the superior were crucial, since she was virtually ‘on her own’ in fixing upon, and adhering to, an appropriate paradigm of spiritual leadership. According to St Benedict, discipline in a monastery was to begin with the obedience of the superior to Christ38 (and, by implication, also to her own earthly spiritual superiors, both pope and diocesan or similar authority figure). It was also dependent on the assumption that the nuns in the community would obey their abbess or prioress in all things, and even in situations when her judgement seemed to be faulty.

Responses to Secular Intrusion and Influence Numerous sets of injunctions and detecta demonstrate the high level of concern felt by successive prelates on the subject of enclosure and secular influence, and there is no doubt that the presence of non-religious in the nunneries as corrodians, pupils and visitors produced an array of conflicts. The problem for female superiors was particularly acute, since women religious appear to have been subject to greater levels of control on the part of their secular relatives than were their male counterparts.39As the female superior was often dependent on ad hoc revenues drawn from secular sources, she doubtless found it difficult to deny access to some of those people inclined to exploit such a situation. The specific issue of boarders was raised with the superiors of six different houses in the selected group, though sometimes only once in a given convent during the period under review.40 38 39

40

McCann, RB, chapter 2, p. 17. Kock, p. 45, item LXVIII, p. 45. See P.D. Johnson, Equal in Monastic Profession (Chicago, 1991), p. 27 for remarks about similar problems with the interference of relatives in the affairs of French nunneries. Injunctions concerning boarders were received by the superiors of St Helen’s in 1432 (Dugdale, Mon. iv, pp. 553–4); Clementhorpe in 1318 (BI Reg. 9A, Melton, fol. 132v (new no. 161)); Esholt in 1535: (BI Reg. 28, Edward Lee (1531–44), fols 99–99v); Godstow in 1434 and 1445 (Linc. Vis. i, pp. 66–8; ibid., ii, pp. 114–15); Romsey in 1311 and 1387 (Luce, ‘Injunctions’, pp. 33 et seq.); Wilton in 1379 (Reg. Erghum, fols 32v.–5).

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Some superiors handled the pressures caused by the secular presence more skilfully than others. At St Mary’s Winchester, led by Elizabeth Shelley, the final report on the house prepared by the commissioners notes the presence of twenty-six children, three corrodians, and numerous servants;41 yet there is no sign in the contemporaneous records of management difficulties attendant on the secular presence in that house. Silences in the records of other convents at the time on this issue could indicate a similarly well-controlled situation.

Negative Evidence In trying to discern the quality of example or devotional contribution of the superiors, the logical strategy is to look for cases where the history of a given house reveals minimal criticism: an approach which in itself poses a delicate problem about the interpretation of negative evidence.42 In the case of Davington and Marrick, two relatively poor Benedictine houses, each operating in a small and tightly-knit rural or semi-rural community and at opposite ends of England, there is little surviving documentation from which to construct a picture of the women themselves, let alone their spiritual leadership. In fact, most of the available material is illustrative only of temporal management. However, these two houses present no record of scandal at any time during the nominated period. Davington’s two recorded visitations elicited little criticism, and visitations of Marrick after 1252, if they occurred at all, leave no traces. Given the propensity of episcopal officials to react to any hint of scandal, reports of serious irregularities in the behaviour of convent superiors invariably prompted action and generated voluminous correspondence. While lack of scandal can hardly be cited as evidence of a high standard of spiritual leadership, it cannot be used to suggest a breakdown in monastic ideals. Lacock is another nunnery for which there are no surviving injunctions – an attribute shared by Clerkenwell, Stratford and Syon. Since the latter three houses were urban, news of significant misdemeanours on the part of their superiors would have reached diocesan officials readily; yet no such records are extant, apart from a rumour circulated about a Syon nun just prior to the Dissolution.43 Lacock’s more isolated position might have made it easier to hide scandals from officialdom; it nevertheless enjoyed high-level patronage which usually meant frequent contact between the house and secular visitors. Thus there was considerable scope for dissemination of information; but again, no sign of scandal remains in the evidence. Indeed, the 41 42 43

VCH Hampshire ii, pp. 124–5 (from TNA: PRO Augmentation. Office. Miscellaneous Books 400, p. 24). Tillotson comments on the problem of negative evidence in Marrick, p. 26. See following page.

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royal commissioners, who searched exhaustively to uncover faults, were embarrassingly unsuccessful. John Ap Rice reported to Cromwell: ‘At Laycok [sic] we can find no excesses.’44 The report of the royal commissioners appointed on July 1st, 1537, was similarly lacking in criticism, describing the abbey as: [A] A hedde house of nunnes of S. Augusteynes rule, of great and large buyldings, set in a towne. To the same and all other adjoynynge by common reaporte a great releef . . . [B] (Religious) seventeen-viz., professed fourteen and novesses three, by report and in apparaunce of vertuous lyvyng, all desyring to continue religion . . . [D] church, mansion, and all oder houses in very good astate . . . [F] Owing by the house nil, and owing to the house nil . . .45

There is then a complete absence of complaints in surviving accounts of Lacock superiors or their nuns. Late reports (which could be expected to exaggerate any which might contribute to discrediting the religious) are wholly complimentary about the community’s function including its service to the outside community. For this reason, it is probable that devotional life was maintained faithfully there through much of the period, reflecting well on the successive heads of the house. The same can be said about Syon Abbey, which maintained a reputation for strict adherence to its Rule and accompanying constitutions until and beyond the Henrician suppressions. The only apparent stain on the convent’s disciplinary record is a disturbing report appearing in December, 1535. It is stated in the Letters and Papers of Henry VIII that one of the nuns had been tempted by her confessor, who reportedly assured her of absolution after each episode of their ‘medling’. The records of the time are known to be tainted by the efforts of royal officials to discredit the religious; thus the story is highly suspect, particularly as there is no evidence that anything more than a series of conversations at a grille in the wall occurred.46 Certainly, this would have been unacceptable under the terms of the Regula, but given the chaotic period in which there were many visits to the abbey in an attempt to force compliance to the king’s supremacy claims, it would have been surprising if no disruptions to discipline had resulted.47 Even William Latimer, an acknowledged critic of monastic practices (particularly the Marian doctrine underpinning much of the Bridgettine system) delivered a back-handed compliment to Syon’s female community in his account of Anne Boleyn’s 1535 visit to the Abbey. While expressing disgust at their 44 45 46 47

L&P ix, item 139, p. 39. The letter is dated Aug. 20, 1535. Extracted from SC12/33/27 by W. Gilchrist Clark in ‘The Fall of the Wiltshire Monasteries’, WAM 28 (1896), p. 310. L&P ix, p. 320. See Eklund, p. 130.

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refusal to allow Anne’s visit to interrupt their prayers as they knelt in chapel, he inadvertently paid tribute to their piety.48

Ebb and Flow There are enormous variations in and between female houses when the evidence from 1280 to 1535 is examined. A comparison between the bishops’ reports of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and those of the fourteenth and later thirteenth centuries shows fewer expressions of concern on the issue of spiritual leadership in the later period. It is clear that the fourteenth century was a particularly difficult time, when northern superiors in particular were hard-pressed to deal with the problems of living within a war zone in addition to coping with dangerously low levels of funding. At Moxby, the nuns were dispersed in 1322 after the Scots wreaked havoc on their convent. Melton’s register records this dispersal as a complex, and obviously disruptive, arrangement whereby small groups of nuns were dispatched to Swine, Nun Appleton, Nunkeeling and Hampole, until the convent could be made fit to receive them again.49 Evidence in episcopal records of the York diocese indicates recurring problems related to poor discipline on the part of successive prioresses from the early fourteenth century until the first decade of the fifteenth; but by far the greatest number of specific and serious faults, including apostasy and incontinence, are documented between 1308 and 1325,50 which suggests that the general unrest at this time, though related to the failings of the prioresses, was aggravated by the border disputes.51 There is a sharp decline in the incidence of serious recorded disciplinary problems after about 1330.52 The same discrepancy is evident in relation to other aspects of monastic service. Fifteenth-century episcopal registers of York diocese from 1400 to 1450 contain only two sets of visitation injunctions directed at nuns of that region. One was delivered by Henry Bowet to Hampole’s prioress in 141153 (the superior having evidently experienced significant resistance to her rule due to secular influence in the house) and the other to Nun Monkton, where

48 49 50

51 52

53

E.W. Ives, Anne Boleyn (London, 1986), pp. 309–10. BI Reg. 9A, Melton, fol. 240v. (new no: 288v.). Such offences were reported in the York archiepiscopal registers during that period at Arden, Arthington, Baysdale, Hampole, Keldholme, Moxby, Nunkeeling, Rosedale and Swine. M. McKisack, The Fourteenth Century (Oxford, 1959), pp. 40, 50. Tillotson, Marrick, p. 24. Eileen Power has also commented on the relationship between the Scottish wars and troubles in the Yorkshire nunneries (Nunneries, p. 597). BI Reg. 18, Henry Bowet (1407–23), fols 101–2v.

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the prioress was discovered to be entertaining a clerk to dinner, playing ‘at tables’54 and drinking with him.55 Lincoln diocese presents a contrasting picture in many respects. Of course, the differences may be due to accidents in recording and preserving the records, or different approaches taken by the ordinaries concerned. Whatever the reason, for Lincoln diocese during roughly the same period of the fifteenth century there are numerous sets of surviving injunctions on a range of disciplinary matters. During the period 1420–1436 such expressions of concern were directed at the superiors of Burnham, Delapré, Elstow, Godstow, Heynings and Markyate.56 The overriding theme of the injunctions (delivered mainly in the early 1430s) is concern about secular influences in the nunneries. It is not unusual to find injunctions stating that nunnery superiors should avoid admitting married couples as boarders. Bishop Gray imposed such a ban at Elstow in about 1432, stating: . . . seeing that from the cohabitation with one another of secular, especially of married, persons, and from the performance of conjugal rites between the same, encouragement of fleshly desire may easily be offered, at any rate to women in religion, we enjoin upon you all and several . . . that you remove entirely such secular persons, all and several, who are now staying within the cloister precincts, males, to wit, who have passed their tenth year, or females who have passed their fourteenth, but married persons in no wise.57

A similar concern pervades the remarks of the bishop addressed to Elizabeth Pytte, the abbess of Godstow in 1432.58 Since Bishop Gray learned in 1434 that one of the nuns had become pregnant, his fears proved selffulfilling.59 Several of Gray’s injunctions to Elizabeth in 1432 are obviously based on comperta. They order various measures for keeping out unauthorised persons, thereby emphasising the difficulty inherent in the location of the abbey. There are instructions for the gatekeeper to exclude all such people, for the abbess to forbid her bailiff to hold further private conversa-

54 55

56

57 58 59

Probably backgammon. A.H. Thompson, ‘The Registers of the Archdeacons of Richmond’, YAJ 25 (1919), p. 209. It is noteworthy in this case that the archbishop appears to have been unconcerned about this report in the detecta, since he failed to discipline the superior and focused rather on the clerks involved and warned them to avoid speaking or meeting with the prioress except in the company of two senior nuns (ibid.). Perhaps he suspected an attempt to discredit the prioress. Linc. Vis. i, pp. 23–4; 44–5; 52–4; 66–8; 69–71; 82–6 [the latter reference consists of a commission to oversee the resignation of Denise Lovelich, the prioress convicted on a number of charges. The actual injunctions have not been preserved]. Ibid., p. 53. Ibid., pp. 66–8. Ibid., pp. 64–6.

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tions with nuns, contain all visitors within a stipulated area, and ban conversation between the nuns and secular folk, except in her hall and within hearing of a member of the community selected as an appropriate chaperone. The bishop also states that Oxford scholars are to be summarily excluded, and that no secular person should be allowed to keep horses within the convent bounds, except for the steward, bailiff, receiver, or other authorised officer. Elizabeth is strictly charged to prevent her nuns from visiting the nearby towns, except under certain conditions, and to ensure that the doors of those lodgings opening into the outer court of the monastery are blocked up to render the nuns’ rooms inaccessible from that section of the house. The comprehensiveness of the measures prescribed illustrates the level of concern on this particular matter.60 1435 saw Bishop Gray commissioning an inquiry into allegations of immorality at Sewardsley priory against the prioress and her nuns.61 The surviving section of the report submitted by his commissary general, to whom the inquiry was entrusted, does not reveal the findings of the commission.62 The abbess of Burnham, although incurring no specific rebukes from Gray at that same period, was, like most nunnery heads, warned about boarders and also about the practice of issuing corrodies, pensions and liveries without special permission from the ordinary.63 Female superiors were not always to be blamed for the incursions of secular people; there were clearly occasions when they were powerless to prevent them. Richard Flemyng, bishop of Lincoln, was appalled to learn in 1421 or 1422 that the prioress of Rothwell and some of her nuns had been physically attacked in their efforts to defend a boarder in their house from a second assault, following a previous abduction and rape.64

Diversities The period between 1436 and 1449 in Lincoln diocese saw mixed reports of female superiors; there are some alarming incidences of immorality and erratic discipline, but the picture is far from homogeneous. The prioresses of Ankerwyke, Catesby, Gracedieu, Harrold, Heynings, Langley, Legbourne, Littlemore, Markyate and Stamford all received rebukes during this time. At Ankerwyke there were complaints of harsh governance and overbearing tactics on the part of the prioress;65 and Clemence Medforde, Catesby’s 60 61 62 63 64

65

Ibid., pp. 66–8. Ibid., pp. 111–12. Ibid., p. 112. Ibid., pp. 23–4. Ibid., pp. 107–9. [The woman was not a professed nun, being described as ‘dwelling chastely under the rule and governance of the prioress . . .’. It is likely that she was a vowess.] Linc. Vis. ii, pp. 4–5.

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prioress, was also said to be acting in an autocratic and unreasonable fashion, as we have seen.66 In addition, she was reputedly observed frequently alone in the town with a priest with whom she appeared unduly friendly.67 The abbess of Godstow reported that she was continuing to have difficulty keeping out secular visitors, as had been the case earlier,68 and the prioress of Gracedieu, Alice Dunwyche, elderly and clearly unequal to her task, faced similar, but much more severe problems. Obviously her priory was thoroughly out of control. Not least of the calamities was a promiscuous maltstress who remained on the premises and reputedly received ‘all alike to her embraces’.69 The nuns were disturbed about the situation and reported that Alice was not only erratic in her discipline, but given to passing on confidential information to secular people, who then repeated the gossip outside the house.70 It is possible that the prioress was not only elderly but senile, since the bishop records the widespread opinion that ‘the prioress is of no use to the house, for by reason of her incapacity she has renounced for herself the governance of things temporal and pays no heed to religion’.71 During the same period the prioress of Heynings was rebuked for allowing serving women to share the dormitory with the nuns;72 here again the problem of secular contact was identified. The same complaint occurred at Markyate, where the nuns were reportedly conversing with secular folk.73 There was a similar problem at Nuncoton, whose nuns were found to be mingling with seculars at harvest time;74 also at Stixwould, where secular women were staying in the cloister precincts with the cellaress.75 Apart from the unfavourable situation at Stamford, mentioned earlier, most of the rebukes received by Lincoln superiors were on fairly minor points, and the prioresses of Fosse, Gokewell, Stainfield and Goring all escaped injunctions. Rothwell’s prioress was chided only for her nuns’ incorrectly-placed veils.76

The Sixteenth Century The same uneven pattern can be seen in Lincoln diocese during the first half of the sixteenth century. At Stainfield, where the superior incurred no criticism in 1440, there were again no faults found at the visitation of Bishop Longland in 1525. At Nuncoton in the same year the term omnia bene was repeated by several nuns and again the visitor refrained from announcing

66 67 68 69 70 76

71 Ibid., p. 121. Ibid., pp. 46–53. 72 Ibid., p. 133. Ibid., p. 47. 73 Ibid., pp. 228–9. Ibid., p. 114. 74 Ibid., p. 250. Ibid., p. 122. 75 Ibid., p. 357. Ibid. For Rothwell in 1439, see Linc. Vis. iii, pp. 319–20; Fosse, 1440 (ibid., ii, pp. 91–2); Gokewell, 1440 (ibid., pp. 116–17); Stainfield, 1440 (ibid., iii, pp. 345–6); Goring, 1445 (ibid., ii, pp. 117–18).

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any comperta.77At Ankerwyke, where the prioress had in 1441 been revealed as a considerable liability to her house, in terms of both spiritual and temporal leadership,78 the superior received no reproofs in 1517; though admittedly, it was revealed that one of the nuns had left the house and had gone into apostasy some time ago.79 Catesby, the convent led by the notorious Margaret Wavere in the fifteenth century, received a more positive report in 1521 and 1530 under the administration of Joyce Byckeley, who received high praise by the royal commissioners in 1536, as Knowles observes.80 Similarly, Gracedieu, where gross problems of leadership were revealed in the previous century, received no injunctions at all in 1525, the second visitation of the sixteenth century.81 Markyate’s prioress was found at the visitation of 1442 to be conspicuously impious; yet the convent apparently recovered its good name in 1518 and preserved it into the 1530s, under the leadership of Joan Zouche, who received no injunctions at either of the last two visitations.82 When the evidence on the nominated houses from 1280 to 1535 is compared with similar data from other nunneries over the same period, the notion of universal and progressive decay of monastic ideals becomes grossly inappropriate. Although the decay theory is sustainable in regard to some female (and male) houses, the total picture is far more complex, showing steady decline in some cases, an erratic pattern of recovery and loss of focus in others and, in yet other cases, long periods of difficulties followed by a dramatic change late in the period. For some, as noted, there remains a virtually unblemished record. Romsey is an example of a convent which ended its history on a more positive note than its earlier record might have indicated, with a community of twenty-six religious, including eight newly-professed nuns, appearing in the records in 1534, and with a balanced budget by 1538.83 Not only that, but the abbey church was obviously in a good state of repair and boasted by then a new reredos: an art work which appears to have been commissioned by either Anne Westbrook or Elizabeth Ryprose, the last two abbesses of the convent. The work, which features an abbess bearing the resurrection

77

78 79 80 81 82 83

Concerning Nuncoton, however, A. Hamilton Thompson writes: ‘. . . this was one of the houses in which ‘Omnia bene’ underwent the most skilful and elegant variations . . .’ [the implication is a conspiracy of silence on the part of the community to mask some guilty secrets]. See Dioc. Vis. i, lxxiv–lxxv. Ibid., ii, pp. 1–9. The nun was Alica Hubbart, and her lover Richard Sutton of Syon convent (Dioc. Vis. ii, p. 70). Knowles, The Religious Orders iii, p. 308. Dioc. Vis. iii, p. 101. Ibid., pp. 15–16. L&P ix, item 160, p. 47, Aug. 23, 1535; F.A. Gasquet, Henry VIII and the English Monasteries (i) (London, 1895), pp. 310–13. C.f. VCH Hampshire ii, p. 131 and L&P xiii (2), item 1155, p. 479.

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message, literally ‘the lord has risen from the tomb’ as conveyed in the Gospels, makes an important statement about perceptions of the nunnery and the spiritual role of the abbess in the monastic and secular world (see Plate 3). Since Romsey appears in the records as a convent beset continually with difficulties in both spiritual and temporal matters until the arrival of Anne Westbrook and her successor, it appears that the latter women were largely responsible for arresting the disintegration of the abbey’s financial and spiritual affairs, albeit on borrowed time. It could be argued of course that the improved financial position may have been achieved through the granting of a number of leases as the abbesses concerned took emergency measures on becoming aware through their high-level contacts that Dissolution was imminent; and that any lifting of morale may have been the result of the consequent easing of financial burdens. Certainly, there is evidence in the Public Record Office of a number of conventual leases finalised by heads of nunneries from about 1520 to the very eve of their dissolution.84 However, Romsey was not the only nunnery which appeared in a more favourable light at the Dissolution than earlier in its history. St Mary’s, Winchester, which was not far from Romsey, and of comparable size and status, experienced various troubles during two periods in the fourteenth century, as noted above. Diana Coldicott’s assertion that the difficult period experienced by the abbey was directly related to weak leadership in those years appears well-founded. Matilda de Pecham showed considerable resolve in her management of financial affairs in the first ten years of her reign. In 1317 and again in 1322, she secured a grant of royal protection with the clause nolumus;85 in 1318 she took decisive action by countering a royal demand for a corrody, though the outcome of this effort is not clear.86 There are no adverse reports about her leadership until the second quarter of the century; it is later in her period of service that this abbess seems to have faltered. The infractions of the Rule mentioned are clearly related to the inability of Abbess Pecham to meet the demands of her task. Since she died in November 1337, health and years may have been important factors in her performance, as was the case with Wilton’s Emma Blounde in 1317.87 Yet St Mary’s Abbey emerged with a good record of its finances and of its spiritual service at the Dissolution. The commissioners stated in 1539 that the nuns had not only maintained a good record throughout the history of the house, but were valued by the people of Winchester and surrounding areas, to the extent that many were urging that the abbey be spared from suppression.88 Godstow also experienced changes which appear to have been related to 84 85 86 87 88

See Chapter Nine of this book for further remarks on the subject. CPR, 1313–17, p. 606; ibid., 1317–21, p. 204. TNA: PRO C270/6, fol. 40. The proposed corrodian was Cassandra de Roos. R.C. Hoare, The History of Modern Wiltshire iii (London, 1822–44), p. 94. VCH Hampshire ii, p. 125.

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Disclaimer: Some images in the printed version of this book are not available for inclusion in the eBook. To view the image on this page please refer to the printed version of this book.

Plate 3: Reredos, Romsey Abbey (16th century).

attitudinal differences between successive abbesses. Like other nunneries, the abbey experienced hardship in the fourteenth century, and, as the Lincoln visitation reports demonstrate, its troubles continued into the fifteenth, with the inability of several abbesses to elicit obedience from their nuns. It appears from the evidence that secular pressure was extremely high at this particular convent: this is not surprising since the scholars of Oxford would have been able to reach the abbey via rowboat with ease. Nevertheless, despite negative reports being entered into bishops’ registers at intervals through the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, there are by 1517 signs that several problems identified by Gray and Alnwick had largely dissipated. The injunctions of Master Richard Roston in that year state simply that seculars were to be excluded from all areas except the common hall.89 A note that three ‘juniore moniales’ had no clothing allowance, but were supplied with the necessary items through the pooling of resources by their senior nuns, is a positive sign.90 The apparent improvement in the morale of the house appears to have continued, with a significant tightening of discipline; and the visitation of the house by John Tregonwell in 1535 produced a glowing report of the quality of life in the Godstow community. The official record includes the observation that the gentry of the surrounding area, like

89 90

Dioc. Vis. ii, pp. 152–4. Ibid.

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those near St Mary’s, Winchester, earnestly wished that the house be spared from suppression.91 Furthermore, it was reported that a northern nun, who had been sent to Godstow for correction by the bishop of Lincoln after having conceived and delivered a child, had ‘ever since lived virtuously’.92 Evidence of this kind suggests a healthy, focused religious community rather than one lacking in direction and morale. The image of spiritual leadership emerging from the episcopal documents is a complex one. The overall impression which might be gained through a superficial examination of the material is one of lacklustre spirituality and compromised service. No heroines appear, and likely contenders for praise are overshadowed by some spectacularly worldly superiors who brought their houses into disrepute. This evidence could be seen to support the notion of a steady attrition of monastic ideals and a widespread slide into apathy and even cynicism by nunneries and their superiors. Nevertheless, it is important to take a long view of the leadership situation rather than focusing on brief periods which can distort the evidence and lead to an unduly harsh judgement of all nunnery heads. Oakley’s remark quoted here is apt: The available evidence, with all its intimations of confusion and decay, suggests instead the outline of a picture at once more uneven and more nuanced, and understandably, not fully accessible to those living at the time.93

Indeed the evidence reveals that abuses outlined above rarely continued for the complete history of the houses under scrutiny, and that, in several cases, those experiencing disciplinary or financial problems at certain stages of their existence recovered and ended their history honourably. Given the enclosed nature of the female monastic community and its limited financial base it was inevitable that each female house would develop a character of its own, and require its superior to meet the challenges of the local environment according to her lights. This fostered diversity, with each leader interpreting the Rule according to personal conceptions of the role. The episcopal reports tend to ‘flatten’ the evidence, and offer the impression that all of the women faced the same challenges and problems; this was not the case.

91 92 93

L&P ix, item 457, p. 148. C.f. G. Burnet, The History of the Reformation of the Church of England (Oxford, 1816) i, p. 378. C.f. VCH Oxfordshire ii, p. 74. L&P ix, item 457, p. 148. F. Oakley, The Western Church in the Later Middle Ages (Ithaca, N.Y., 1979), pp. 215–16.

7 Shifting Perspectives

SHIFTING PERSPECTIVES

Two late medieval documents stand out from the small and mixed collection of writings in which the medieval English female superior is depicted, namely the euology for Euphemia and Chaucer’s late fourteenth-century piece describing Eglentyne, the prioress in his Canterbury Tales.1 Even at a cursory glance Eglentyne fails miserably to emulate the ideal represented by Euphemia. If Chaucer’s image is based on reality there was a serious decline in the standard of religious service performed by female superiors in the later Middle Ages; but its validity as a representation of the ‘typical’ female superior of the later period is open to question.

I: Comparisons The medieval English nunnery head is mentioned in a few other extant medieval works, though references to her are brief in these writings. Through Piers Plowman, William Langland expresses outrage at the hypocrisy of several religious groups, and though less vitriolic about the nuns he paints an unsavoury picture of the female house. The prioress of the convent in the poem escapes specific censure, but she is rendered guilty by implication.2 Malory in his Arthurian work presents a contrasting image of the medieval superior. Guinevere is a chastened woman, having repented of her adultery with Lancelot and entered a nunnery, where she is now abbess, while striving to do penance for her sins.3 The Langland and Malory pieces to some extent counterbalance each other in their portrayal of the convent superior, though they represent different periods. Euphemia is sincerely devout, concerned about the physical and spiritual welfare of her nuns, energetic and far-sighted. In addition, she displays considerable initiative in her building projects and takes pleasure in the

1 2 3

Benson, The Riverside Chaucer, pp. 124–5. W. Langland, Piers Plowman (Text B), ed. W.W. Skeat, EETS (London, 1869), p. 65. V. Vinaver, ed., Works (Malory) (Oxford, 1971), pp. 717–23.

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decoration of the convent church. The prioress Eglentyne is an absentee from her house, showing little concern for the priory or the community while she is away on pilgrimage with a motley group. Though Eglentyne is ostensibly engaged in a spiritual exercise, her behaviour suggests more worldly preoccupations. She has exquisite, if studied, manners; her figure suggests self-indulgence, and the attentions to lap dogs hint that they, rather than God, receive the greater share of Eglentyne’s affections. She is sentimental, and, judging by her recitation of a particularly vicious tale, not over-endowed with intelligence or education.4 According to the scribe responsible for her eulogy, Euphemia laid the foundation stone of the new building at Wherwell with her own hands; Chaucer’s Eglentyne would have considered such a task too menial and soiling, unless applied in a bid for admiring recognition of her piety.

The Worship of God Euphemia is described as one whose whole personality is involved in worship, even to the point of shedding tears in moments of high emotion. Chaucer’s portrayal of the prioress is one of a woman performing empty rituals. The lines: Ful weel she soong the service dyvyne, Entuned in hir nose ful semely5

hint at a self-conscious, formal approach devoid of joy or genuine devotion. There may also be in this section a veiled criticism of traditional monastic liturgies, seen perhaps to lack the robustness and sincerity of the later worship patterns promoted by ‘reform’ groups such as the friars (whatever the poet’s assessment of such religious). The manner in which the Offices were reputedly sung in the nunneries under review has been discussed earlier, where it is noted that superiors at various points in the period were rebuked by ecclesiastical visitors on the issue. But the same reports fail to show widespread problems in the area of devotional observance per se in nunnery churches. Indeed, the small fund of internal evidence on later worship patterns in Godstow, Chester, Barking and Syon from surviving liturgies of that period suggests vitality rather than dull passivity, though some earlier episcopal reports tell a different story.

4 5

Benson, The Riverside Chaucer, pp. 209–12. Benson, The Riverside Chaucer, 1(A), p. 25, ll. 122–3.

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Language and Literacy There is nothing in Euphemia’s eulogy to indicate her level of education. She is intelligent, resourceful and values books; how often she reads and in what language is not clear. Eglentyne is able to converse in French as well as her native English, though the French is of the ‘schoolgirl’ variety, perhaps derived from legal documents.6 Thus, it bears little resemblance to the fluent conversational language of the ruling class. Chaucer may have intended to ridicule a prioress persisting in the stilted forms learned from official papers rather than one using the graceful phrases of aristocratic boarders or visitors at the convent. If so, he may also have been suggesting something about rank and a certain lack of sophistication among the less privileged. As already noted, the majority of women in English nunneries by the later Middle Ages appear to have been drawn mainly from the gentry rather than the upper-class.7 There is evidence from Lacock that the women there were using old French as it occurred in the common law at the end of the monastic period;8 but if Chaucer’s jibe about outdated language is justified, it follows that superiors fitting this description would have been less subject to secular influence. There are fewer allusions to corrodians in the documentary evidence of Lacock, which suggests less contact there between the abbess and boarders than at the larger, wealthier houses. It appears that Syon too, despite (or even because of) its royal connections, was selective about the boarders and visitors accepted. Lady Susan Kingston and her grandmother, Alice Beselles, both widows and vowesses, are known to have lodged at Syon for several years; another upper-class boarder, though one with a tarnished record, was Margaret, Lady Hungerford, who had been arrested following the Lincolnshire Rebellion of 1470 and allowed to withdraw to Syon on payment of two hundred pounds.9 The French language occurs frequently in official documents received by, and delivered from, nunnery heads between 1280 and 1380, though Latin is also used during the same period. This can be seen in petitions from Godstow’s abbesses between 1283 and about 1310 written in both languages;10 Archbishop Pecham’s injunctions to the abbey’s head in 1284 6

7

8 9

10

And Frenssh she spak ful faire and fetisly, fter the scole of Stratford atte Bowe, For Frenssh of Pairys was to hire unknowe (ibid., ll. 124–5). Oliva distinguishes between ‘upper gentry’ and ‘lower gentry’ [or ‘parish gentry’], identifying many Norwick nuns as belonging to the latter category in The Convent and the Community, pp. 53–4. L&P ix, item 160, p. 47. See M. Erler, Women, Reading and Piety in Late Medieval England (Cambridge, 2002), pp. 86–7; M.A. Hicks, ‘The Piety of Margaret, Lady Hungerford (d. 1478)’, JEH 38, i (1987), p. 25. TNA: PRO SC8/16, m. 774, dated c. 1283, from Abbess Mabel Wafre; another peti-

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are written in Latin, but the archbishop used French to draft a short letter to the same abbess later.11 A petition written in French at about 1285 comes from Winchester’s abbess,12 and there is evidence that Bishop Orleton preached in that language to the nuns of Winchester in 1334.13 A custom of alternating French and Latin can be noted in comparing petitions from St Helens’ prioress in 1305 and a letter delivered to her from Archbishop Pecham some twenty years prior to that date.14 Indeed, both Latin and French continue to appear alternately in episcopal and other documents addressed to, and emanating from, some southern superiors, at least until the end of the fourteenth century. Of the two, there is no doubt that French survived until much later, being used as an official language until gradually displaced by the English vernacular; possibly the relative isolation of nunneries made the transition slower there. Latin phrases continued to be used to introduce or complete official documents until the end of the monastic period. This is understandable, since such phrases were largely formulaic and reappeared constantly as templates, with only names and dates requiring to be inserted.15 It is clear that nuns in general, unlike their male counterparts, lost the ability to read and write Latin fluently as the medieval period wore on; given the relative homogeneity in terms of social class within individual nunneries it is likely that superiors were similarly affected. Fourteenth-century nuns were obviously expected to follow the Latin service of the ‘Consecration of a Virgin’ without vernacular interpolations,16 but this situation had changed dramatically by the sixteenth century. That a number of novice nuns required assistance in following liturgies framed in Latin by this time is acknowledged in the sixteenth-century Order of Consecration of Nuns

11 12 13 14

15 16

tion from the same abbess between 1283 and 1295, is written in Latin (SC8/114, m. 5667). A third document of this kind, SC8/50, m. 2473, in French, is undated, but judging from its reference to ‘Sire Hugh le Despens le Pere’ and ‘Sire John de Handlo . . . senaligardem de la forest’, it is appears to be from the first decade of the fourteenth century. Reg. Epist. Pecham iii, pp. 845–51; ibid., pp. 851–2. TNA: PRO SC8/312, m. 39. This petition to the king concerns the manors of Canning and Urchfont. R.M. Haines, ‘Adam Orleton and the diocese of Winchester’, JEH 23 (1972), p. 22. An unidentified prioress requests support from both Edward II and Queen Isabella in claiming and retaining lands reputedly held ‘en pure & perpetuele amoigne’. (TNA: PRO SC8/109, m. 5431.) For Pecham’s letter of 1290 see Reg. Epist. Pecham iii, pp. 970–1. D. Bell, What Nuns Read: Books and Libraries in Medieval English Nunneries (Kalamazoo, 1995), pp. 59–74. T. Hugo, The Medieval Nunneries of the County of Somerset and the Diocese of Bath and Wells (London, 1867), Introduction, pp. xxiv–xliii. This liturgy, offered by Hugo in parallel translation, has been transcribed from a document reflecting Augustinian traditions and found in BL MS. Harl. 561, fols 98–107 and MS. Cott. Vesp. D. 1., fols 78–81.

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which survives from Winchester, where it appeared in the sixteenth century.17 It is known that some late female religious had a degree of facility in Latin, and that instruction of a kind was available at various nunneries.18 But such situations appear to have been rare, and even the nuns at Syon Abbey appear to have lacked expertise in Latin forms, since an extant service book from the house has vernacular rubrics directing the nuns in their movements for processionals.19 A reference to Latinity occurs in a letter written in 1533 by Margaret Vernon, prioress of Little Marlow, to Thomas Cromwell, whose son was in her care at the time. She remarks on the progress made by the boy, being tutored together with another boy by a ‘Mr Copland’, noting that: ‘Mr Copland every morning gives each of them a laten, the which Nicholas doth bear away, as well Gregory’s lesson as his own, and maketh the same Gregory perfect against his time of rendering.’ Evidently there was no nun at the convent with sufficient expertise in Latin to teach it. In another communication the same year Margaret writes: You promised that I should have the governance of the child till he was 12 years old. By that time he shall speak for himself if any wrong be offered him, for as yet he cannot, except by my maintenance; and if he had a master who disdained my meddling it would be great unquietness to me; for if you sent here a D.D., yet would I play the smatterer.20

The fact that Latin continued to be the language of the church and its male-dominated hierarchy, while it slipped gradually from the grasp of the female religious, may have meant that the women’s access to the Bible or scholarly religious literature and their understanding of ecclesiastical liturgy was progressively inhibited. Evidence of systematic reading in nunneries is scarce, but the organization of the library at Barking and the discipline of regular study imposed by the abbess provides valuable insight into the attitudes of at least some female religious and their superiors to devotional reading.21 Naturally, developments in technology towards the end of the

17

18 19 20 21

Parrey, ‘Examples and Instrumentes of Vertues’, pp. 60–1. Ordo consecrationis sanctimonialium virginum, C.U.L Mn iii 13, is available in printed form via a transcription entitled ‘The Order of Consecration of Nuns’ in William Maskell ed., Monumenta Ritualia Ecclesiae Anglicanae ii (London, 1846), pp. 308–36. Folios 3 and 6v. of the original document are reproduced in Coldicott, p. 41. It is worth comparing the Winchester liturgy with that used in Syon Abbey, and based on the St Saviour model. For a translation of this liturgy into modern English see W.L. Bowles & J.G. Nichols, Annals and Antiquities of Lacock Abbey (London, 1835), pp. 204–13. The original document is in English vernacular, and can be found in the BL MS, Arundel, 146. Bell, What Nuns Read, p. 63. C.f., Parrey, ‘Examples . . .’, p. 48. See CUL Add. 8885/1–3. L&P v, items 15, 17, 18, p. 8. ‘Smatterer’ is defined in the OED as one who is a ‘dabbler’, or has a ‘slight knowledge’. Tolhurst, ed., The Ordinale and Customary of . . . Barking Abbey, pp. 67–8. David Bell

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monastic period favoured such reading programs. The Barking Ordinale sets out the procedure in which the librarian supervised an annual distribution of books at Lent and then checked each nun’s progress with the book given to her the previous year.22 Here there is strong evidence: firstly, that the books in the nuns’ possession were valued and used and, secondly, that the books chosen were calculated to encourage the kind of spiritual growth which is enjoined in the Rule.23 The Syon nuns possessed and used a library, and there is advice in The Myroure of Oure Ladye (itself in the nuns’ collection) on the choice of books to be read there. Christopher de Hamel draws attention to an injunction by Richard Whitford to the nuns on this matter also.24 Ann Hutchison observes that although a catalogue of books survives from the Syon brothers’ library none has been found for that of the women. There are certainly several extant books which bear evidence of ownership by individual nuns.25 The attitude of the abbess or prioress and her obedientiaries to the devotional literature of the time was potentially of great importance. Those superiors and other convent officials who collected books were in a strong position for disseminating the ideas expressed in the texts. Yvonne Parrey’s research confirms that Sibilla de Felton, abbess of Barking, bought a French translation of Vitas Patrum in 1411 from the estate of Philippa de Courcy; it also confirms that Capgrave’s copy of the Life of Saint Katharine of Alexandria belonged to the sub-prioress from Campsey, who served in the late fifteenth century.26

Ideals of Service Relief for the poor is enjoined in the Rule (read aloud to nuns) as one of the ‘Tools of Good Works’27 and Euphemia reputedly espoused this ideal. However, Eglentyne’s lavish attention to her little dogs, together with Chaucer’s silence about any possible acts of loving kindness towards the needy or other individuals, hints at the prioress’s indifference to the human

22 23

24 25

26 27

notes that more than two-thirds of all surviving non-liturgical volumes traced to English nunneries are written in the vernacular, and that most of these books and manuscripts date from the fifteenth century (Bell, What Nuns Read, p. 75). Tolhurst, Ordinale, ibid. McCann, RB, chapt. 48, pp. 111–13. Note that Kock’s vernacular translation sets out the procedure for the special Lenten reading program. See Kock, pp. 32–3, ll. 6–12; p. 100, ll. 1871–6, p. 132, ll. 15–21. C.f. Bell, What Nuns Read, pp. 41–2, 107–20. Blunt, The Myroure of Oure Ladye, p. 66. C.f. C. de Hamel, Syon Abbey, privately printed for the Roxburgh Club (Smith Settle, Otley, 1991), p. 78. A. Hutchison, ‘What the Nuns read: Literary evidence from the English Bridgettine House, Syon Abbey’, Medieval Studies 57 (1995), p. 207. C.f. J.T. Rhodes, ‘Syon Abbey and its Religious Publications in the Sixteenth Century’, JEH 44 (1993), p. 15. Parrey, ‘Examples . . .’, p. 114. McCann, RB, chapt. 4, p. 27.

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species of the animal world. Judging by the number of sculptures and paintings featuring dogs accompanying their owners, indulged canine (and feline) friends were ubiquitous among the more affluent classes at least. Keith Thomas discusses the value and status endowed upon animals by their owners in medieval and early modern society, remarking: ‘Late medieval books of courtesy reminded the page that before his lord went to bed he should drive the dogs and cats out of the bedroom, and they cautioned guests at banquets against stroking dogs or cats while sitting at table.’28 Power notes that ladies frequently attended worship services with lap dogs and men with their hawks and sometimes with hounds as well.29 Given such entrenched customs, it is not altogether surprising that various creatures were occasionally found in nunnery churches as well. Pets in nunneries evoked understandable episcopal censure, as in the case of Lady Audley, boarding with her twelve dogs at Langley priory in 1440.30 Although the nunnery superior was ultimately responsible for keeping such animals under control, she was obviously in a difficult position when their owners happened to be influential secular people living on the convent premises. Such animals probably acted as status symbols as well as objects of affection. In some instances, female superiors were found pampering animals in the secular manner of the times; here as elsewhere, the precinct wall did not prove a bulwark against fashion. Archbishop Pecham reports an occasion in 1284 when he warned the abbess of Romsey, Alice Walerand, against keeping monkeys and numerous dogs in her own chamber: an anecdotal record which highlights differences between secular and clerical perspectives.31 Alice’s attentions to her animals might have been regarded as harmless, but her preoccupation represented to the archbishop a significant departure from the ideal of separation from the world, and therefore a poor example set by a convent superior. Priscilla Martin asserts ‘Pets were forbidden in religious houses.’32 This was so for most of the Middle Ages. But some bishops relaxed the restrictions in the later period, granting permission for certain animals to be given space within specified limits, as the injunctions to St Helen’s in 1432 and Flixton in 1520 reveal. Kentwode’s order that the prioress of St Helen’s was to henceforth limit the number of her dogs to two and the superior of Flixton content herself with one favourite appears to have been a case of officialdom’s surrender to an increasingly widespread social pattern.33 It is note-

28

29 30 31 32 33

K. Thomas, Man and the Natural World (London, 1983), pp. 98, 104, 109–10. C.f. F. J. Furnivall, ed., Manners and Meals in Olden Times, EETS 32 (1888), i, pp. 182, 283; ii, pp. 32–3. Power, Nunneries, p. 306. Linc. Vis. ii, p. 175. Reg. Epist. Pecham iii, p. 660. P. Martin, Chaucer’s Women: Nuns, Wives and Amazons (London, 1996), p. 34. For the reference to Flixton see A. Jessopp, ed., Visitations of the Diocese of Norwich,

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worthy that the effigy of an early sixteenth-century abbess from Wherwell Abbey is accompanied by the figure of a dog, at the feet of its mistress (see Plate 4). There is some evidence that, thanks to resident canines, food leftovers from the convent table were not always reaching the poor as expected by ecclesiastical authorities. This would seem to indicate a satiric edge to Chaucer’s treatment of Eglentyne and her dogs.34 Alnwick’s visit to Nuncoton priory in 1440 elicited the report from one nun that food scraps described as ‘leavings and broken meats of the table of the convent’ were not being saved for alms, in keeping with monastic conventions, but ‘by reason of carelessness they are destroyed or otherwise wasted.’35 At Romsey, the injunctions of 1284 attack the abbess for not only keeping too many pets in her chamber but also stinting the food of the nuns.36 Pecham in this case does not suggest that the animals are thereby depriving the needy of food donations; however, in 1387, William of Wykeham specifically charged that alms for the poor were being devoured by hounds within the abbey precincts.37 (The latter fault was identified also at the male monastery of Daventry, by Alnwick in 1442, as was the practice of breeding and hunting with specially trained dogs, which several monks did over a number of years.)38 While Power asserts that there was an inappropriate level of interest in domestic animals being shown by nuns,39 the sum of the relevant data, when examined over the period in question, is hardly overwhelming, since only two nunneries from the selected group are named as offending in this respect, and there is good reason to assume that only a small percentage of the total number of English female houses were rebuked for the same fault. An examination of visitation material relevant to the twenty-two Yorkshire nunneries under the supervision of the archbishop to test the findings on the core group yields only five additional references citing inappropriate atten-

34

35

36 37

38 39

A.D. 1492–1532, Camden Society New Series 43 (London, 1888), p. 191. C.f. Power, Nunneries, p. 307. The Canons of the Council of Oxford in 1222 state that all leftovers were to go for alms. See S. Whitelock, M. Brett & C.N.L. Brooke, Councils & Synods ii (Oxford, 1981), item 50, p. 122. Linc. Vis. iii, p. 249. Alnwick reponds to this particular report by enjoining ‘. . . we charge yowe alle that the relefe that remaynes after refeccyone of the couent and your borde, pryoresse, be not wastede, but truly keppede and distributede to pore peple’; ibid., p. 252. Reg. Epist. Pecham ii, p. 660. G.G. Coulton, Social Life in Britain from the Conquest to the Reformation (Cambridge, 1918), p. 397, translated from New Coll. MS., ff. 88–88d. C.f. Power, Nunneries, p. 307. There may have been hounds kept by the abbess in 1291, since a note in the Close Rolls of that year states that she was to be given exemption from the ‘lawing’ of her dogs [this was probably ‘hambling’ or castration] (CCR, 1288–96, p. 178). Linc. Vis. ii, pp. 62, 73, 85, 169; ibid., i, p. 27, 78, 97. Power, Nunneries, pp. 305–8.

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Plate 4: Fifteenth-century effigy of an unnamed abbess of Wherwell with dog at her feet (now in Wherwell parish church).

tion to domestic animals. All such references occur in the first quarter of the fourteenth century, where the great bulk of surviving material exists; three are from the register of William Greenfield and two from that of Archbishop Melton.40 A similar search in the printed records of Lincoln diocese for the periods 1420–1449 and 1517–1531 shows that, apart from the injunction to Nuncoton already mentioned, no other complaint about such situations occurs in relation to female religious houses. This may indicate that there was no significant problem, but it is also possible that the keeping (and feeding) of pets was one issue which was of serious concern to a few bishops only, or was accorded less importance as the period wore on.

40

In 1306 Archbishop Greenfield specifically charged that animals were being a nuisance in Arden and depriving the poor of alms (Reg. Greenfield iii, item 1153, p. 9); in 1315 the prioress of Rosedale received the order that little dogs were not to be permitted in church or choir (ibid., iii, item 1379, pp. 112–15). At Keldholme in 1314 he decreed that small dogs were to be excluded from ‘chor, claustri et aliorum locorum’ (ibid., item 1328, pp. 87–8). At Keldholme five years later, Archbishop Melton perceived that the problem remained and insisted that the nuns were not to have little dogs in the house lest devotion be inhibited. See BI 9A, Reg. Melton, fol. 232 (new no. 278). At Swine in 1319 Melton ordered that nuns were not to have hens or chickens in the choir, church, cloister or chapter (ibid., fol. 274, new no. 331).

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Pleasures of the Flesh Chaucer’s sly reference to Eglentyne’s figure (‘not undergrown’), together with the description of her sharing ‘rosted flessh, or milk and wastel-breed’ with the little dogs, suggests a well-fed, possibly corpulent, woman who was given to self-indulgence rather than monastic frugality and discipline. This contrasts to an almost comical degree with the statement: ‘The mother Euphemia, realizing that the Lord had called her to the rule of the abbey of Wherwell, not that she might live there at ease . . .’ As remarked in an earlier chapter, it has been noted that superiors were occasionally reprimanded for following a double standard where food was concerned, with daintier fare such as white bread being served to the superior and her inner circle, while the rest of the nuns received rougher and more meagre rations. Reports of this fault are few. However, at Wilton in 1379, Bishop Erghum noted the complaints of the nuns about the poor quality of the bread and ale supplied to them while the abbess and her obedientiaries reputedly enjoyed superior provisions. On this occasion the bishop directed Maud de Bokeland, the abbess, to upgrade the community’s rations and also ensure that she received the same quality as those given to her nuns.41 It should be noted that these directives cut across hierarchical arrangements entrenched in the wealthier monastic households, which typically reflected customs in the secular world. An earlier document from Wilton records the terms of a corrody, stating in 1348 that there were two kinds of bread supplied in the convent: ‘abbessebred’ (white) and a loaf known as ‘knyghtenelof’.42 There were also two grades of ale brewed and the ‘better ale’ was said to be ‘made for the abbess’.43 An hierarchical system for supplying food also obtained in some Yorkshire nunneries. In a set of injunctions sent in 1534 to the prioress of Nun Appleton Priory, Archbishop Lee states: We inioyne the sa[i]de prioresse, in vertue of obedience and payne of great curse, that she cause good and hollsom breade, and good and hollsome ale, to be prepared and provided for the convent, and that their be no difference betwene the breade and ale prepared for the prioresse, and the bredde and ale provided for the covent, but that she and they eatt of oon breade, and drink of oon drinke and of oon ale, so nother the prioresse, nor yet any of the covent, have ony occasion to sent out of the monastery for any ale; which thinge we forbidde the prioresse and convent to doe.44

The directions of those ordinaries who maintained that superiors should partake of the same fare as their nuns were justified, according to the requirements of the Rule.45 Nevertheless, secular visitors were officially permitted 41 42 43 44 45

WRO Reg. Erghum, fol. 34v. CPR, 1348–50, p. 90. Ibid. Brown, ‘Visitations in The Diocese of York . . .’, YAJ 16, pp. 443–4. McCann, RB, chapt. 34, p. 87.

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in nunneries under controlled conditions, and many of these people would have expected to dine well, as they were accustomed in their own homes.46 Being barred from the refectory, they had to be entertained either in the guest house (if the nunnery possessed one), or in the chamber of the abbess, as Archbishop Pecham had directed the abbess of Godstow in 1284.47 There were then legitimate demands of hospitality which made it obligatory for the superior to offer food appropriate for convent guests, who usually dined at her table. White bread was another status indicator; and to deny such fare to upper-class visitors would have been considered unmannerly, despite the risk of provoking jealousy on the part of the nuns who were not invited to the meal.48 Of course, etiquette may not have required the abbess to partake of luxury food (or wine) herself, but there may have been a need for sensitivity on her part in this context.

Veiling The nun’s veil, which denoted chastity and fidelity to Christ, the heavenly spouse, was meant to be fashioned from inexpensive fabric and worn low enough to meet the eyebrows; 49 however, the visitation reports include scattered references to inappropriate materials, or incorrect placement of the item by both nuns and superiors throughout the period in question. In this context the prioress of Little Marlow in Lincoln diocese was enjoined by the visitor in 1520 that ‘ye cause everych of your susters to were the lynnen of there heddes lower then they have used to do . . . playn without rolle’.50 We have no information about Euphemia’s physical appearance, but the tone of her euology suggests willing compliance with the Rule on all issues of clothing and deportment. The fact that Eglentyne’s forehead could be measured by the onlooker’s eye as ‘almost a spanne brood’ suggests that hers was not covered in the correct manner. Contemporary readers of Chaucer

46

47 48 49

50

Note, for example, the complaint by nobles that they received poor food on their visits to the Norfolk priory of Campsey, due to the parsimony of the prioress (Jessopp, Visitations of the Diocese of Norwich, pp. 290–2). Reg. Epist. Pecham iii, p. 849. C.f. PRO Calendar of Fine Rolls, 1272–1307, p. 207. See Dyer, Standards of Living, p. 199, on the increasing popularity of white bread. The Canons of the Council of Oxford in 1222 decreed that nuns and other women dedicated to religion were not to have silken veils or wimples, nor were they to wear in the veil silver or gold pins (Whitelock et al., Councils & Synods ii, item 39, pp. 118–19). For injunctions on regulation positioning of the veil see Alnwick’s injunctions to Goring’s prioress in 1445 (Linc. Vis. ii, p. 118). Bishop Buckingham found that the Elstow nuns in Lincoln diocese were wearing silken veils in 1387 (Power, Nunneries, p. 586); Bishop Alnwick discovered on a visit to another Lincoln nunnery, Rothwell Priory, in 1439, that the prioress wore a silken veil and most of her nuns wore their veils higher than the approved level (Linc. Vis. iii, p. 319; Dioc. Vis. iii, p. 8).

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may also have surmised that it had been artificially enlarged by judicious plucking of hairs, as was common at the time. Thus there is more than a hint that late medieval prioresses were following worldly fashions rather than the guidelines provided for enclosed religious by the Church Council or local bishops. A vivid description of non-regulation attire adopted by a nunnery superior can be found in the report on Clemence Medforde,51 the prioress of Ankerwyke, who was said in 1435 to be wearing ‘golden rings exceeding costly with divers precious stones, and also girdles silvered and gilded over and silken veils . . . also . . . furs of vair’, while her nuns wore patched habits.52 Injunctions imply that the religious of Elstow appeared similarly clad a few years earlier.53 Elstow was one of the wealthier nunneries, with an annual net income of £284 in 1535, so the jewellery and silken gowns of those nuns possibly constitute a statement about social class, perhaps to demonstrate a level commensurate with that of the secular guests of the house. Ankerwyk came well below this level, having only £32 net at its disposal in 1535,54 yet the sartorial affectations of its prioress in 1435 appear to have been responses to similar pressures. Her house could ill afford such expenditure on luxury items. Nevertheless, the issue of costly clothing and inequity in clothing allowance do not figure prominently in visitation records of the selected houses. Episcopal complaints are more often concerned with non-regulation habits, as found in cases where novices were wearing clothing designed exclusively for professed women, or where nuns were seen to be wearing various items of secular clothing. There is no doubt that some of these reports are suggestive of rebellion against monastic conventions, as at Swine, where the archbishop placed a ban on tight sleeves, large collars, striped girdles and laced shoes in 1298.55 But even there it is conceivable that such items were shared among the group rather than appearing as an ensemble on one or more of the nuns, and may indeed have been loaned by well-meaning supporters in pinched circumstances. This alternative suggests itself in a report stating some twenty years later that the supply of bread and beer was inadequate, secular clothing was henceforth banned and necessary items for the monastic habit were to be provided by that house.56 At Nun Appleton, where Archbishop Wickwane decreed in 1281 that no 51

52 53 54 55 56

The surname is given as Medforde in Linc. Vis. i, p. 156. Clemence was provided by Bishop Fleming after the resignation of Elizabeth Golafre in early 1421, and the royal assent was given for the election of Clemence in December of that year: more than six months after licence to elect had been received (CPR, 1416–22, pp. 342, 401–2, 404). Linc. Vis. ii, pp. 3–4. Ibid., i, p. 52. Ibid., p. 253. W. Brown, ed., The Register of John le Romeyn, Lord archbishop of York 1286–96 (ii), SS 128 (1917), item 68, pp. 221–4. BI Reg. 9A, Melton, fol. 274 (new no. 331).

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nun was to appropriate to herself any gift, clothing or footwear from anyone without the approval of the prioress, there is evidence that funds were not sufficient to pay for the nuns’ food and clothing in 1294, since tax relief was sought on such a basis in that year.57 Thus, the perceived abuses of 1281 may have constituted a response to poverty rather than flagrant disobedience to the Rule.58 At Nunkeeling a similar pattern occurred, in that 1294 saw a report from the ordinary that the resources of the house were insufficient for food and clothing, while in 1318 the prioress was enjoined to ensure that her nuns did not wear inappropriate dress.59 There are fewer records of injunctions to superiors in the period immediately preceding the Dissolution about the issue of the nuns’ veils. This could indicate a shift in the official position on the matter, driven perhaps by secular pressure or by an increasing readiness to acknowledge some issues as less important than formerly, particularly when not relevant to enclosure. A change of that order might explain the appearance of Wherwell’s abbess featured in a sixteenth-century portrait. The veil shown in this painting not only exposes a considerable part of the forehead, but is noticeably Tudor in style.60 As indicated above, there is evidence of a continuing influence of secular fashions in nunneries; to what extent such a feature can of itself be seen as an indicator of a low level of devotion is debatable.

Personal Property Property was clearly important to the abbess Euphemia, but the text of her euology refers only to shared possessions. The abbess may indeed have loved beautiful things, but the eulogy states only that ‘she adorned the church with crosses, reliquaries, precious stones, vestments and books’. Eglentyne adorned her person. While it could well be argued that the ‘beads’ mentioned represent a rosary, the coral trinket and the golden brooch with the ambiguous inscription are more difficult to justify as acceptable items of the superior’s outfit. It is clear that some nunnery superiors owned property (and also bequeathed items), contrary to Benedictine principles; though it should be noted that the Rule gave the superior authority to decide whether any such property should be retained by the individual or shared among the community. Several medieval wills mention small items of jewellery or pieces of real estate left to superiors and their nuns. Jewellery, apart from one plain ring, 57 58 59 60

W. Brown, ed., The Register of William Wickwane, Lord archbishop of York, 1279–1285, SS 114 (1907), item 433, p. 140; Reg. Romeyn i, item 386, p. 140. See Tillotson’s remarks on the subject, in relation to episcopal reports on some York houses (Tillotson, Marrick, pp. 18–19). Reg. Romeyn i, item 674, p. 234; BI Reg. 9A, Melton, fol. 273v. (new no. 330v.). See Plate 5.

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Disclaimer: Some images in the printed version of this book are not available for inclusion in the eBook. To view the image on this page please refer to the printed version of this book.

Plate 5: Portrait of Avelina Cowdrey, abbess of Wherwell 1518–29. This painting is part of a private family collection.

was not allowed,61 and there are injunctions in episcopal documents which warn against embellishments of any kind;62 but at least one source mentions jewellery given to an abbess by the local bishop.63 There is nothing to indicate whether this was meant to be worn or intended as a gift for the decoration of an altarpiece in the nuns’ church. Perhaps the ownership and wearing of small trinkets by superiors was no longer of widespread concern among 61

62

63

The Canons of Oxford in 1222 include the statement that the consecrated nun was to be content with one ring only as the token of her marriage to Christ. See Councils & Synods ii, item 39, pp. 118–19. At Elstow in 1421–22, for example, the abbess was ordered: ‘We enjoin and command that no nun presume to wear silver pins in her head, or silken gowns, or several rings on her fingers, save one only, the ring of her profession’ (Linc. Vis. i, p. 52). The abbess of Romsey, Isabel de Camoys, was named in Bishop Edington’s will as the proposed recipient of ‘unum anulum cum uno rubie ad orandum pro anima mea [et xx li.]’. See Wood, Reg. Langham, p. 319, Sept. 11, 1366.

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prelates by the second half of the fourteenth century. An entry in a papal register records absolution granted in 1474 to an Amesbury nun repenting of sexual sins, and states that she will not only be henceforth eligible for election to an office but also be allowed to have her ‘jewels, chambers and all her goods, as before the said lapse’. The last section of the note, addressed to the bishop of Salisbury with a mandate for the nun’s absolution, runs: In the event of the bishop’s so doing, the pope hereby grants her indult and dispensation to have her voice in the convent, and her jewels [‘jocalia’], chambers and all her goods, as before the said lapse, and to be elected, etc., to any dignities, etc., of the said monastery and order.64

Since ‘jocalia’ means literally ‘precious objects’ it is conceivable that the items mentioned were reserved for private devotions rather than personal adornment; though the superior’s permission should by rights have been sought for permission to accept objects of this kind. And the records show that the ownership of luxury items by at least one nun was clearly authorised by the earthly head of the church himself in the later period. Euphemia is described as one who lavished love and care for her nuns in sickness and health, ‘ever worked for the glory of God’ and was known for her ‘holy conversation and charity . . .’ Not so Eglentyne. The ‘crowned A’ and the motto ‘Amor vincit omnia’ inscribed on the prioress’s brooch are examples of Chaucer’s use of irony as well as his wilful ambiguity. This phrase might be interpreted as a reference to agape as described by St Paul in I Corinthians 13; on the other hand it could be interpreted as sexual love – a forbidden fruit as far as the enclosed religious were concerned. The line: And silkerly she was of greet desport nd ful plesaunt, and amyable of port And peyned hire to coutrefete cheere Of court . . .65

supports the latter interpretation, particularly when read alongside the description of Eglentyne’s exquisite table manners, which might have been inspired by a passage from Jean de Meun’s Roman de la Rose, as G.S. Daichman observes.66 Since the latter work outlined strategies recommended for females practising the art of love, Chaucer’s device is pointed indeed.67

64 65 66 67

CPL xiii (i), p. 401. See OED for ‘jocalia’. Benson, The Riverside Chaucer, p. 25, ll. 137–40. Ibid., ll. 127–36; c.f. G.S. Daichman, Wayward Nuns in Medieval Literature (New York, 1986), p. 142. G. Lorris & J. de Meun, The Romance of the Rose, trans. C. Dahlberg, 3rd edn (New York, 1995), pp. 231–2, ll. 13408–57 for the section on appropriate table manners for a woman.

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Chastity In Piers Plowman, which preceded the Canterbury Tales by about twenty years, there are references to past sexual sins of female religious and their consequences for would-be office-holders. The convent cook, named ‘Wrath’ recalls the fleshly lapses of ‘dame Peronelle’, remarking: ‘Priouresse worth she neuere, For she had childe in chirityme al owre chapitere it wiste’, implying that any female religious found guilty of sexual misdemeanours was automatically barred from the highest office. This restriction was imposed at certain times. Archbishop Melton ruled at Moxby in 1318 that no nun convicted of incontinence should be allowed to remain in office;68 but as noted above, there were means by which the traces of certain peccadillos could be erased for certain contenders for office. The extra privileges offered to patrician women like Elizabeth Brooke of Romsey by the pope or his officials have been mentioned; there is extant evidence also of a mid-fifteenth century dispensation akin to the one favouring Elizabeth in the registers provided to Joan Goldesburgh, a nun from Nun Monkton, who is informed: To her, who has secretly lost her virginity, and has not yet been publicly defamed, to receive and hold . . . any dignities, even of abbess and prioress . . . She is in future to lead a chaste life, if not, this dispensation shall in no wise avail for her.69

Denise Lovelich, a fifteenth-century prioress of Markyate, remained, or was reinstated, in office despite sexual misdemeanours. In this case the person responsible for helping her retain office may well have been her brother, John Lovelich, rector of St Alphege’s, Canterbury, and a former notary public in Lincoln diocese.70 John’s will from 1438 provides modest pieces of property and sums of money to a number of legatees, including Denise and his other sister Margaret, also professed at Markyate. The records state that this prioress resigned, under pressure, in 1433, but she is named as superior again in a visitation report of 1442, which stated that she had been in office for eight years.71 This is supported by evidence in the will of John Lovelich, who shows considerable solicitude for each of his two sisters, leaving Denise 13s. 4d. and Margaret the same amount ‘pro uno habitu’. In addition, the two women are named as prospective recipients of household effects, some of which are to go first to Denise and, on the death of the latter, to Margaret.72 68 69 70 71 72

BI 9A Reg. Melton, fol. 226 (new no. 271). The same ruling was made in 1328 (Reg. Melton ii, item 314, p. 130). CPL x, Feb. 14, 1457, p. 127. See E.F. Jacob, ed., Reg. Chichele ii, Canterbury & York Society 42 (1937), pp. 110–11. Linc. Vis. i, p. 85; ibid., iii, p. 229. Fowler & Jenkinson, eds, Some Bedfordshire Wills, p. 120; Reg. Chichele ii, pp. 560–2.

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There is little evidence of sexual offences among the nuns of Lincoln diocese in the later records of visitations during the period 1517–31; but a case of multiple infringements of the chastity vow on the part of Littlemore’s prioress, Katherine Welles, dominates the register and doubtless provided the sensationalist media of the day with profitable copy, given its follow-up in the ecclesiastical courts. Not surprisingly, discipline at Littlemore was in a pitiable state, and at least one of the nuns followed the example of their superior and became pregnant. Two additional elements in the scenario described by the bishop are noteworthy: Katherine’s erratic and aggressive attempts at discipline, and the efforts of her nuns to ameliorate the situation. These factors illustrate further the nature of power relations within the nunnery: the self-defeating nature of a superior’s obsession with control and the role of the nuns as facilitators. Thus, the visitation records leave no doubt that there were nunnery superiors whose faults compromised the reputation of their houses as well as the service of the nuns in their care. However, in addressing the overt or implied charges of immorality in literary material against religious of female houses it should be pointed out firstly that the appeal of the salacious was very strong for readers. The idea of a bride of Christ toying with earthly lovers, particularly when she was the leader of a convent of dedicated women, held a certain fascination. Also, as nuns were enclosed, the inherent mystery of their cloistered activities piqued the imagination and invited a prurient kind of attention. The merest hint of scandal intensified the thirst for material to satisfy public demand; in other words, bad nuns made good copy and bad superiors even better. Despite instances of scandal-mongering about the morals of abbesses and prioresses, there are few records of sexual misconduct on the part of nunnery superiors overall, and indeed it is clear that a more substantial, but still relatively small, percentage of cases occurred among their nuns. After a careful search of the episcopal and royal documents entered in the database for this study, only one confirmed case and one possible case of sexual immorality among more than two hundred nunnery superiors in the core group has emerged. The women concerned are Elizabeth Brooke of Romsey, already discussed, and Cecily Bodenham, prioress of Kington. Cecily was allegedly abducted in 1511 by a curate of Castle Combe, who is said to have robbed the priory at the same time.73 A certain Cecily Bodenam became abbess of Wilton in 1534,74 and the evidence suggests that this is the same woman who had been abducted from Kington. There is no evidence of a sexual element in the episode, in spite of the popular notion that all abductions were in fact elopements.75 For purposes of comparison all the Victoria County History records, visita73 74 75

VCH Wiltshire iii, p. 261. L&P vii, item 589 (3), p. 235. Power, Nunneries, p. 440.

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tion reports and episcopal letters of direction relating to twenty-two Yorkshire nunneries from the above sources have been searched for evidence of sexual misdemeanours on the part of prioresses during the period under review.76 This unearthed five confirmed reports and two unconfirmed reports of superiors offending thus, out of a total of more than 270 women.77 The prioresses offending in this way are not all named. Arden’s prioress was defamed with John Bever in 1397. Elizabeth Popely of Arthington was deprived of office in 1494 after having borne a child; Joan Fletcher of Basedale resigned from office before she could be indicted for sexual offences and was sent to Rosedale for penance. Moxby’s prioress was found guilty of fornication with a chaplain in 1325; and Isabella Westirdale, prioress of Wykeham, was deposed in 1444 after she was found to have been conducting affairs within and outside the convent for several years.78 Many of the records just prior to the Dissolution are seriously tainted by the king’s desire to discredit the religious houses for his own ends. Reports by Legh and Leyton in 1536 that the nuns Alice Brampton of Handale and Agnes Butterfield had both become mothers are highly suspect. In 1536, suppression commissioners declared all nuns of Handale to be of ‘good living’ and Alice’s age was given as seventy years at the time. The commissioners reported all the nuns of Yedingham to be similarly upright in morals, and gave the age of Agnes as forty-nine.79 The impression given by the records of the relatively few (though serious) episodes appears somewhat at odds with Power’s statement in which she reports seven cases of immorality among English superiors in the fifty years between 1395 and 1445 with the remark that ‘this is probably an understatement, because so much evidence has been destroyed, or is as yet unexplored in episcopal registers’.80 Power is after all drawing on the history of all English nunneries during the above half-century, including those mentioned in this study from that period. This is a total of 138 non-Gilbertine convents, served by a probable total of more than five hundred superiors. Seen in this context, her findings are revealed as less alarming than they might have appeared at first glance. Indeed, it seems unlikely that what was regarded as the worst possible sin for a nun would have been hidden successfully by many convent superiors. 76

77

78 79 80

The figure of 270 superiors serving Yorkshire nunneries between 1280 and 1539 has been arrived at by totalling the number of different prioresses appearing in the VCH records of all the Yorkshire nunneries. This results in a necessarily conservative estimate, since several lists of superiors are incomplete. BI Reg. 19, John Kempe (1426–52), fol. 204v. VCH Yorkshire iii, pp. 114–15; E.E. Barker, ed., The Register of Thomas Rotherham, Archbishop of York, 1480–1500 (i), Canterbury & York Society 69, item 633, p. 77; Brown, Visitations . . . YAJ 16, pp. 424–58; Reg. Melton ii, item 263, p. 105. See G.W.O. Woodward, The Dissolution of the Monasteries (London, 1966), p. 40. Ibid. Power, Nunneries, p. 85.

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Jo Ann McNamara, in discussing male perceptions of morality among nuns, argues that some of the suspicion thrown upon female religious during the earlier period was attributable to Dominican confessors, who betrayed the confidence of religious women and aired their guilty secrets abroad.81 Jacques de Vitry, writing in the twelfth century, before the coming of the friars, had expressed outrage at priests of his own period who were declaring publicly that nunneries were effectively brothels rather than religious houses.82 On this point McNamara remarks that French society of the fourteenth century acknowledged a parallel between the brothel and the nunnery, since prostitutes were subjected to similar controls to those placed upon nuns and were also under the supervision of a brothel manager termed ‘abbess’ or ‘abbot’.83 Since there was considerable cultural interchange between England and France it is likely that the idea had circulated among the English; if so it would explain to some extent the appeal of the ‘naughty nun’ anecdotes.84 In any case, the extant records indicate that there were other issues which drew greater censure from ecclesiastical visitors of the nunneries. These were not the morals of the convent superiors as such, but matters relating to the Opus Dei, secular contact, and a range of minor disciplinary problems and budgetary concerns.

Out of the Cloister The abbess Euphemia could hardly have been without secular contact, since her many building projects would have required her to consult with a range of artisans and other secular people. Technically, she had more chance of a ‘ticket to Canterbury’ than Eglentyne, since she lived in the pre-Periculoso period; but there is no mention of pilgrimages undertaken. Chaucer’s depiction of the prioress joining with a motley crowd converging on Canterbury is obviously a plot device to introduce the characters; nevertheless, it purveys the message that superiors were often to be found on pilgrimage. This view of the carefree travelling abbess or prioress is not supported by significant documentary evidence, though it was technically possible for permission to be obtained from diocesan or papal authorities. Such permission was granted in 1323 to the prioress of Nunkeeling, who had taken a vow of pilgrimage to

81 82 83 84

McNamara, Sisters in Arms (London, 1996), p. 371. T.F. Crane, ed. & trans., The Exempla, or, Illustrative Stories from the Sermones Vulgares of Jacques de Vitry (London, 1890), p. 36. McNamara, Sisters in Arms, pp. 372–3. Jacques Rossiaud asserts that the term ‘abbess’, meaning brothel-manager, can be found as early as William of Malmsbery’s Gesta Regum Anglorum (completed in the mid-twelfth century), adding that the comparison above ‘proved extremely popular’. J. Rossiaud, Medieval Prostitution (New York, 1988), p. 4, n. 3.

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the shrine of St Thomas of Canterbury.85 Susan Morrison also notes that the abbess of Elstow, the prioress of Clerkenwell and the abbess of Barking all visited shrines in the years 1329, 1331 and 1350 respectively.86 It is also known that the Princess Mary, a nun at Amesbury, accompanied her stepmother Queen Margaret on pilgrimage in thanksgiving after the birth of Edmund of Woodstock [in 1301].87 While the bull Periculoso produced an environment which prohibited unauthorised egress from the nunnery, some bishops were more zealous than others in enforcing the restriction. Chaucer’s prioress, in joining a pilgrimage party, thereby placed herself among people whose company may or may not have been edifying. The Tale of Beryn, written after the style of Chaucer, and using his characters, places the prioress in close contact with the Wife of Bath – a decidedly secular woman – in the following passage: The Wyff of Bath was so wery, she had no will to walk; She toke the Prioress by the hond: ‘Madam, wol ye stalk Pryvely into the garden, to se the herbis growe, And aftir with our hostis wyff in hir Parlour rowe? I woll gyve yewe the wyne, and yee shull me also, For tyll wee go to soper wee have naught ellis to do’. The Priores, as womman taught, of gentil blood, and hend, Assented to hir counsell, and forth gon they wend, Passyng forth sofftly into the herbery.88

Given that pilgrimage per se was not a frequently-exercised option for nuns or their superiors in the later Middle Ages, it may be argued that the above scenario is not particularly credible. Nevertheless, there were numerous occasions which drew religious and secular together, whether the nuns chose it or not. There is, for example, evidence to show that nunnery superiors appeared at visitations held by archdeacons and deans of local cathedrals; this duty inevitably brought them into the company of secular people, not only from different circumstances, but sometimes conspicuously lacking in the graces to which nuns aspired. The register of Dean John Chandler of Salisbury describes in considerable detail a number of visits to parish churches, some of them under the patronage of nuns. An entry for July 11, 1409 notes that the prioress of Kington appeared for her portion in Calne church. At the same visit several couples were cited for fornication and given appropriate penances.89 It is clear also that superiors were still

85 86 87 88 89

BI 9A Reg. Melton, fol. 290 (new no. 351). S.S. Morrison, Women Pilgrims in Late Medieval England (London, 2000), p. 48. Ibid. W.A. Clouston, ‘The Tale of Beryn’, in Furnivall, Early English Poems, Transactions of the Philological Society II, EETS 105 (Berlin, 1862), p. 10. T.C.B. Timmins, ed., The Register of John Chandler, Dean of Salisbury 1410–1417 (Devizes, 1984), item 263, p. 97.

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receiving the homage of tenants in the traditional ceremony – another occasion for interaction between lay and religious. A similar opportunity for contact of this kind arose in administrative meetings such as the determination of ‘manorial extent’, which was conducted in the presence of Lacock’s abbess in 1310.90 Data from St Helen’s reveal that the prioress was accustomed to arranging seating in the nunnery church for members of the parish; according to the sixteenth-century Star Chamber case which mentions this function, there were accompanying conflicts with various parishioners, some of whom were accused of invading the privacy of the nuns and shouting insults at them.91 An earlier piece of evidence indicating secular intrusions occurs in a coroner’s report in 1324, when two murderers fled to the nuns’ church of St Helen’s, to escape punishment. The two probably caused major disruptions in the house. These scenes are far removed from the ideal of the sanctified isolation from the world portrayed by St Benedict, or from the principles embodied in Periculoso.92 It may be significant that the Tale of Beryn portrays the Wife of Bath as the one taking the initiative in this instance of religious-secular contact, rather than the prioress. The prioress is described by Power in her pen-portrait as ‘characteristically on the road to Canterbury’.93 There is no doubt that some superiors did leave their houses unnecessarily on occasions. Clemence Medforde, prioress of Ankerwyke, was reported in 1441 to have attended a wedding at Bromhale without leave from the diocesan, and the nuns of Stainfield were warned in 1519 that they were not to attend weddings or fairs, which suggests that they had previously done so without permission;94 but there is little indication that the practice of leaving the cloister willy-nilly was common. Of course, the literary pieces describing Euphemia and Eglentyne represent different genres, the first hagiography and the second satire. Euphemia is the ‘ideal’ female superior, her virtues highlighted in vivid colours and any known faults firmly suppressed. Chaucer’s prioress appears almost as a counterfeit figure. There is a strong ambiguity in the construct and it is not difficult to propose reasons why this is so. The author may have been protecting himself against accusations of libel, or of anticlericalism, at a time when the heretical movement, particularly Lollardy, was receiving strong punitive 90

91 92 93 94

The LAC mention that on 24 June, 1306, Henry de Brut did homage and fealty to Joan de Montfort, abbess of Lacock, in her hall and in the presence of the countess of Lincoln, the parson of Nony, Walter de Walhop, and Walter de Wyke (LAC item 427, p. 105). C.f. Hassall, The Cartulary of St Mary Clerkenwell, pp. 271–2, on the presence of the superior at the manorial extent. TNA: PRO STAC2/17/217, 2/24/228; 2/25/185. C.f. M.W. Bullen, ‘Troubles of the Prioress of St Helen’s, Bishopsgate’, The Home Counties Magazine 1 (1899), pp. 33–8. R.R. Sharpe, Calendar of Coroners Rolls of the City of London (London, 1913), pp. 87–9. Power, Medieval People, p. 97. Linc. Vis. ii, p. 32; Dioc. Vis. iii, p. 101.

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attention. On the other hand, he may have had genuine doubts about the morality and spirituality of the contemporary nunnery superior. Chaucer, while depicting the host as courteous and respectful to the prioress, nevertheless provides for an ironic twist by his placement of the word ‘mayde’, offering a hint subtle enough to escape censure, but sufficiently explicit to cast a shadow of doubt on the virtue of his subject for those alert to such hints. The host, having just reacted to the Shipman’s tale with a barbed remark against monks, now invites the convent superior to contribute to the entertainment: . . . and with that word he sayde, As curteisly as it had been a mayde, ‘My lady Prioresse, by youre leve, So that I wiste I sholde yow nat greve, I wolde demen that ye tellen sholde A tale next, if so were that ye wolde. Now wol ye vouche sauf, my lady deere?’95

John Skelton, a later literary figure, defended the nuns of his time vigorously. Described by A.G. Dickens as ‘less a rebel than a champion of order and authority, no proto-Protestant’,96 he is overwhelmingly critical of various ecclesiastical figures, despite his own background as a member of the secular clergy. However Skelton, in a piece written during his period of overt hostility to Wolsey, chooses to portray the abbess and her nuns after the first wave of monastic closures as defenceless women, driven unjustly from their houses and forced to abandon the bodies of their founders as well as the faithful masses offered on their behalf.97 In expressing concern about the loss of the nuns’ service of intercession the poet effectively affirms the value of their prayers, whatever his motivation for writing in such a manner.98

II: Grassroots Responses That such intercession and other services continued to be valued by the secular community is clear from a wealth of documentary material, including charters, wills, letters and account rolls. Chaucer and Langland tended to view the female superior in isolation; this was convenient, but unrealistic, 95 96 97 98

Benson, The Riverside Chaucer, p. 208, ll. 443–53 [italics mine]. A.G. Dickens, ‘Anti-Clericalism and the English Reformation’, in Politics and Society in Reformation Europe, eds E.I. Kouri and T. Scott (New York, 1987), p. 390. See ‘Collyn Clout’, in J. Skelton, Selections: John Skelton, the Complete English Poems, ed. J. Scattergood (New Haven, 1983), pp. 106–7. For a full discussion of John Skelton’s attacks on Wolsey and his subsequent change of direction on becoming the latter’s protegee, see G. Walker, John Skelton and the Politics of the 1520s (Cambridge, 1988), chapters 3–6.

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since she and her convent functioned in a symbiotic relationship with the outside community in a manner not found so readily perhaps among her male counterparts. It is worth exploring this relationship and the goodwill existing within it.

Bequests Much of the evidence cited in the following discussion comes from printed collections of wills; some testamentary material has also been drawn from episcopal registers. Testamentary data have been cited here to illustrate points raised in the discussion rather than to offer a statistical analysis. Female religious houses figure prominently in the testaments of secular folk and such documents are important pointers to the outside community’s perception of the nuns’ service. However, discerning the secular view of the female superior herself through such material is difficult, since the abbess or prioress is typically subsumed in her house. Broadly speaking it could be argued that a gift to any religious house was ipso facto an affirmation of the convent’s spiritual and moral worthiness, and perhaps also of the confidence placed in the recent superiors of the convent named. But there are significant complicating factors, namely family ties and the relationships between many secular folk engaged in business transactions with the nuns. Sharpe’s collection of calendared wills emphasises the importance of the nunneries in the lives of prominent Londoners. While the collection has limitations (since the documents are summarized rather than printed in full, and are more representive of the fourteenth century than the fifteenth), they remain useful.99 The Calendar of Wills reveals that, of 150 London testaments in which nunneries or their nuns received bequests during the period under review, almost one-third of the convents named housed a professed relative or relatives of the testator. Obviously, in such cases, the evidence must be treated with caution, since concern for the welfare of a family member living in a nunnery or for personal wealth tied up in the nunnery may have overcome some reservations felt about the spiritual or moral stature of the nominated house – a feature which tends to cloud the issue. Numerous medieval wills expressing concern for the nuns and a desire to benefit from their prayers are to be found throughout the period under review and well into the sixteenth century.100 In many cases, the testators specifically ask for prayers to be offered on their behalf; in others, money and 99

100

Much of the testamentary material from the later period was processed at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury and is now held at the PRO. It can be searched on line, using name of testator where this is known. See V. Spear, ‘Change and Decay? The Nunnery and the Secular World in Late Medieval England’, in Our Medieval Heritage, eds. L. Rasmussen, V. Spear and D. Tillotson (Cardiff, 2002), pp. 15–29.

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property are granted with no stipulated conditions; though, given the conventions of the period, such intercession was probably expected. However, there is ample material in other collections to illustrate the close emotional links between nunneries and public and the value placed upon the service of nunnery superiors. Testamentary material for Clerkenwell nunnery reveals that legacies granted to the house were conditional upon prayers for the soul of the testator in five cases between 1341 and 1389. Two of these wills require the convent to deploy the legacies for chantries, one of which is to be maintained in the nuns’ church and the other in the nearby parish church of St Mary Wolnoth.101 Another spiritual service asked of the nuns in exchange for a bequest is the performance of an obit or of unspecified ‘prayers’.102 Alice Norton, whose chantry foundation was to be maintained at Clerkenwell, also requested burial there in the nuns’ church, as did Sir William de Langeford in 1346 and John Atte Pole in 1361.103 Twelve testators whose wills are enrolled between 1292 and 1357 mention that they have relatives at Clerkenwell (a total of fifteen nuns in all and possibly sixteen).104 Eleven (or twelve) of these testators leave rents or property to their relatives professed as nuns there, either for clothing or for unidentified purposes. The documents, from a total of forty-two testaments appearing between 1288 and 1408 and naming Clerkenwell priory or nuns of the house as beneficiaries, create an impression of confidence in the spiritual and temporal viability of the house at the time. Similar indications of confidence in, or at least, commitment to, a London nunnery can be found in the text of wills naming St Helen’s and Stratford. Of those wills favouring St Helen’s between 1288 and 1419 eight mention nuns of the house by name; an additional document in the collection names the daughter of the testator’s servant as a legatee.105 All but one of these documents state that the member of the community named is to receive a bequest. St Helen’s appears to have attracted the greatest number of chantry foundations, with demands for the foundation or maintenance of chantries coming from six testators between

101 102 103 104

105

Sharpe Wills i, p. 549 (Alice Norton, probate 1348–9); ibid., pp. 674–5 (John de Beseville, probate 1352). Ibid., pp. 445–6, 460–1; ii, p. 287. Ibid., i, pp. 489, 549; ii, p. 47. Ibid., i, pp. 107, 136, 300, 324, 337, 368, 498–9, 501–2, 585, 701. Power states that Clerkenwell is mentioned in only nine wills collected by Sharpe (Power, Nunneries, p. 13, n. 2); she has clearly overlooked the testaments of Richard de Wyrhale, Thomas de Foleham, and Reginald de Conduit, all of whom bequeath money from rents to relatives described as nuns of Clerkenwell (ibid., pp. 368, 337, 498–9). Ibid., pp. 148, 229, 302, 342, 400, 435; ibid., ii, pp. 47, 170. The nun named as the daughter of the testator’s servant is Johanna de Wandlesworth (ibid., i, p. 436). Power also neglects to mention the will of Thomas de Basinges, who leaves Dyonisia, his niece, a nun of St Helen’s, a quitrent in the parish of Sant Botolph for life (ibid., i, p. 148).

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1332 and 1374. A ‘second choice’ of St Helen’s was made by William de Erthington as the site of his burial and chantry if the prior and canons of Saint Bartholomew should prove unable or unwilling to accede to his request.106 Seven testators selected St Helen’s as their first choice of a burial site in wills proved between 1342 and 1419; and two donors, in 1300 and 1419 respectively, requested obits to be performed by the nuns there.107 Stratford, named by thirty-two testators between 1288 and 1449 in Sharpe’s collection, attracted no demands from those individuals for chantries to be either founded or maintained; this may be explained by the position of the nunnery and the fact that it was a poorer house than the other two and therefore of lower social status. Two of these testators requested burial in the nuns’ church and two willed that obits be performed;108 in addition, six individuals in the above group devised to relatives who were nuns in the house.109 Another two of the testators gave bequests to women who were boarding with the nuns, one of whom (‘Amy’), currently living at Stratford, was to be given twenty marks by Matilda Holbech, provided that she met the stipulated conditions.110 The latter proviso suggests a positive assessment of the priory’s spiritual environment at the time. Stratford would hardly have been chosen as a host convent for female boarders (probably pupils) if the testator had doubts about the quality of life there, and there were several other London nunneries which could have been selected instead. Additional material suggests that interest in, and support of, the religious women continued throughout the medieval period, as did requests for their prayers. Collections of printed wills from southern and western sources are less freely available than those from the London area; but the data collected here from various documents are sufficient to demonstrate a similar level of reliance on the spiritual function of the female religious, and particularly their superiors, who bore the responsibility for services performed.111 There also seems to have been a similar level of reliance on the northern superiors and their nuns. John Carre of York willed to the prioress and convent of Clementhorpe half a mark for a dirige and ‘Messe of Requiem wt note for my soule and all the soules aforesaid’ in a testament of 1487, which provided bequests for several other religious houses;112 and Nicholas Conyers 106 107 108

109 110

111 112

Ibid., p. 466. Ibid., p. 268; ii, p. 428. For the burial requests see Sharpe, Wills i, pp. 517, 587. For information on the obits see ibid., ii, pp. 491, 523. Johanna Vyel also willed that the prioress and convent of Stratford should have rents sufficient to finance a pittance for each nun on the day of her anniversary and that of her father, with the performance of the service for the dead on the day of receiving the pittance (ibid., i, pp. 111–12). Ibid., pp. 111, 145, 462, 587, 611; ibid., ii, p. 120. John Hamond, pepperer, leaves a sum of money for the maintenance of his niece who is residing with the nuns (ibid., i, p. 517); Matilda Holbech’s will was proved July 29, 1392; ibid., ii, p. 303. See, for example, Reg. Chichele ii, pp. 19, 310, 352, 557, 560. Test. Ebor. iv, p. 28.

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sought prayers for his soul and that of his father and mother, a decade later. In 1511 or the following year, Elizabeth Conyers, another member of that family, sought burial in the nuns’ choir before the altar of the Virgin Mary in the same house.113 It is significant also that Elizabeth Medlay, whose will was proved in 1470, not only bequeathed her best coat and sixteen pence to the prioress of Clementhorpe, with a shilling for each nun, but also had sufficient respect for the prioress, Margaret Delaryver, as to appoint her as an executor. The documents demonstrate that it was not unusual for nunnery superiors to be chosen as executors of wills. There were probably several more functioning in this manner in addition to those mentioned in Chapter 5.114 While the prayers of the superior and her nuns appear to have been sought widely, there are indications that some testators were aware of the possibility of human failings likely to inhibit the desired spiritual services. In January of 1348 probate was granted for the testament of Robert Atte Hyde, rector of the church of St Mary Wolnoth, of which St Helen’s prioress had the advowson. Hyde states in the document that he wishes to be buried in the convent of St Helen’s and promises the nunnery property considered sufficient to generate the income required to finance chantries ‘for divers periods for the good of the souls of the prioress, the sub-prioress, and any nun of the said house, as also for the souls of Margery Port and others at their decease . . .’.115 This piece of evidence suggests both an appreciation for a religious community which is well-known by the testator and a concern for the women’s spiritual welfare. Nevertheless, a rider to the main text warns the prioress that his instructions must be carefully heeded ‘on pain of the greater excommunication which is fulminated against such as contravene the last wishes of deceased persons’.116 Another document which reflects a pragmatic awareness of the difficulties inherent in the maintaining of prayers and other spiritual services can be found in the 1509 will of Sir John Gilliot of York, stating: ‘To the Priorisse and Covent of Clementhorp to syng a Messe and a Dirige wt. note Xs . . . soe that non of thees places aforenamyd for their Messes leyve not thyre Messes of charge which they er bound to.’117 This suggests a plea for the prioress to ensure that attention to Gilliot’s request does not have the effect of excluding or curtailing other prayers which she is already obliged to perform. Many testators, like Dame Jane Stapleton, who states simply ‘. . . To ye Prioresses and the convent of Essholt XX s., to pray for me’118 were content to leave the organization to the superior. 113 114 115 116 117 118

Ibid., p. 110 n. Power, Nunneries, p. 73; VCH Yorkshire iii, p. 130. Sharpe, Wills i, pp. 512–13. Ibid. Test. Ebor. v, p. 14. Ibid., iv, p. 273.This will was proved on Feb. 24, 1507 or 1508.

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Dame Elizabeth Greystock, widow of Sir John Vavasour, requests in the testament of 1502 that she be buried in the lady chapel of St Helen’s ‘as nygh unto the ymage of our Lady as conveniently may be’, observing that she is, at the time, a parishioner. In bequeathing a gift of twenty shillings she also requests the services of a priest to say daily mass for ten years, adding: after he hath saide Masse, to say a commemoracion of our Lady & of Requiem wt De Profundis, for my soule, my fathir & mothir soules & all Christen soules. I bequeth my silver bacyn & ewer to the Priores and Covent of Sainte Elyn, & they to doo Dirige & Masse of Requiem ons every yere for my soule for x yeres, they to saye for me a lowe Dirige & a Masse of Requiem for ever . . .119

Similar bequests conditional upon observances of this kind can be found in documents relating to Clerkenwell, Syon and Stratford. Sir William Fitzwilliam of Milton stated his wish that ten pounds should go to Clerkenwell to finance a dirige and mass, in a document dated May 28, 1534; another testator, Richard Cloudesley, whose will was proved in 1517, gave three shillings and fourpence to the high altar of the Clerkenwell nuns’ church, and twenty shillings for a placebo and dirige with a requiem mass.120 The last testament of Dame Jane Strangways is in similar vein, seeking an obit with placebo and dirige to be performed by the Clerkenwell community, in exchange for a gift of ten shillings in a document proved in 1500.121 Robert Portington, a clerk of the Exchequer at Westminster, demonstrated his support for the Stratford nuns in a will which not only pardoned the convent a debt of one hundred marks owing to him, but also provided an additional ten marks to be distributed among the community on his burial in the convent chapel.122 John Dayton, a steward of Stratford, placed the welfare of his soul and that of his wife and children and other relatives in the nuns’ hands, as well as ‘the solle of all treue crysyn peapell’, requesting prayers for a month after his decease in return for half a mark to the prioress and 2s. 8d. for the nuns.123 The magnificent altarpiece commissioned for Syon Abbey by John Brown, a steward of the house, was conceived in the same spirit, though the intention of the donor was eventually frustrated.124

119 120 121 122 123 124

Ibid., v, item 79, p. 3. Clay, North Country Wills, S.S. 116, p. 138; Pinks, The History of Clerkenwell (London, 1865), p. 28. Test. Ebor. iv, 28. For other examples of requests for special prayers or for burial at the nuns’ chapel see ibid., p. 110, n.; ibid., v, p. 14. North Country Wills, pp. 59–60. GL MS 9171/6, Sept. 8, 1477. See C. Barron & M. Erler, ‘The Making of Syon Abbey’s Altar Table of Our Lady . . .’, pp. 318–35.

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The Extended Hand The reality of enclosure did not prevent the work of the convent from impacting on the lives of secular folk outside the cloister. One responsibility which fell to many female superiors of the later period was the selection and care of child boarders. Parents and guardians of these children contributed fees, presumably for elementary education as well as for the provision of a respectable environment where boys and girls could be nurtured in the faith. Several of the nunneries in the houses under scrutiny clearly had childpupils on the premises; for others the evidence is highly suggestive of such teaching activities, though not conclusive, since it consists of injunctions aimed at restricting the presence of children or barring them from certain parts of the convent at various hours.125 Convent superiors were placed in an invidious position on the issue of child pupils, being faced with the disapproval of successive bishops at the practice of taking in child-boarders while at the same time encountering pressure from parents to accept their sons and daughters and to educate them in religion and manners. The fact that accounts show bad debts accumulating for parents and guardians of the children confirms the fears of ordinaries that the venture was a financially risky one; yet it also shows that female houses were unwilling to abandon their charges. A point which is sometimes overlooked is the reality that child-pupils often remained in the house to become novices, being encouraged and sometimes pressured to do so by their parents. This was the case with Margaret Holbeche, whose will of 1436 specified that her daughter Amy, currently living with the Stratford nuns, was to have twenty marks, provided that she become a nun there.126 Isolated documents from the Tudor period mirror cordial relations between nunnery superiors and secular people, including parents of the children living in female houses. Abbess Elizabeth Shelley’s letter of 1534 to Lady Lisle, the stepmother of Lady Bridget Plantagenet, who was in her care 125

126

Bishop Woodlock’s decree to the abbess of Romsey in 1311 stipulates that children be excluded from the choir while Divine Office is in progress (Liveing, p. 104); Dean Kentwode’s injunctions to St Helen’s prioress in 1432 (wrongly dated by Dugdale as 1439) specifically mention ‘mayde childeryne lerners’ (Dugdale, Mon. iv, pp. 553–4); Alnwick’s visitation report on St Michael’s, Stamford, in 1440, notes that seven or eight children, both male and female, were being taught there. (Power, Nunneries, p. 577); Alnwick also enjoined in 1445 that permission could be given only for boys nine years and under and girls twelve years and under to board at Godstow, presumably for education (Linc. Vis. ii, p. 115); Esholt priory was owed 33s. from Walter Wood of Timble, in Otley, for his child’s board for 18 months (YAJ 9, p. 321, n. 23); twenty-six children are named as boarders at St Mary’s, Winchester in 1536, as mentioned earlier. Several other houses received injunctions either forbidding the superiors to allow children into the dormitory with the nuns or ordering the removal of women over the age of twelve: both of which decrees suggest that there were children on the premises at the time. See Power, Nunneries, pp. 568–81. Sharpe, Wills ii, p. 303.

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at St Mary’s, Winchester, reads: ‘. . . I heartily recommend me unto your good ladyship; ascertaining you that I have received from your servant this summer a side of venison and ij dozen and a half of peewits’. (The abbess then informs Lady de Lisle of measures adopted to provide items of clothing, including the recycling of some outgrown garments.)127 A few months later the same abbess again comments on clothing requirements for Bridget and notes that ‘matin books’ had been purchased on her behalf. The letter ends with a greeting: ‘and, good madame, any pleasure that I may do your ladyship, and also my prayer, you shall be assured of, with the grace of Jesus, who preserve you and all yours in honour and health. Amen’.128 These exchanges between superior and parent, though illuminating the practical responsibilities of the superior, give little hint of spiritual concerns which are invested with supreme importance in the Rule. It could be argued that this material depicts an abbess preoccupied with practical matters rather than the deep concerns of the faith; it can also be said to illustrate a shift in monastic focus in response to the demands of the secular community which surrounded the nunnery and impinged repeatedly on its life. Another illustration of relations between the nunnery and the outside world during the same period can be found in an anecdote describing a casual visit by Sir Robert Constable of Flamborough at Yedingham priory. On this particular occasion Sir Robert paused at the nunnery to drink a cup of ale with the prioress, and concluded his visit by joining the sisters in the chapel at their devotions.129 This piece of evidence not only offers a glimpse of pleasant, informal interaction between adults from two different worlds, but also of a spiritual activity shared. In addition, it leaves open the possibility that a pastoral role may have been filled by the prioress of this particular house. At the same time the incident suggests a shift in attitudes to secular people, whose presence was forbidden at nunnery churches in earlier times (though patrons were given an honoured place on the premises on certain occasions).130 As discussed above, the nunneries were popular places for secular women seeking refuge while their husbands were overseas on diplomatic business or engaged in war service. The superior of the monastery concerned had overall responsibility for providing appropriate accommodation and catering 127 128 129 130

St Clare Byrne, The Lisle Letters iii, pp. 91–2. See also Green (Wood), Letters of Royal and Illustrious Ladies ii (London, 1850–7), pp. 214–16. Ibid., p. 93. The letter is dated Feb. 26, 1535. Claire Cross, ‘The Religious Life of Women in Sixteenth Century Yorkshire’, Studies in Church History 27 (1990), p. 309. A decree from Bishop Alnwick to Markyate’s prioress in 1442 orders: ‘. . . fro hense forthe specyally on Sondayes ne other festivale dayes ye receyve ne admytte or suffre any parysshens of townes abowte yowe to here any dyvyne seruyce in your church fore preiudyce and harme and peryle of sowle that may fall therye by’ (Linc. Vis. iii, p. 231).

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arrangements, yet the papal letters in which these proposed visits are mentioned give little indication of the implications for the abbess or prioress. Widows were often sheltered by female houses,131 and there are cases where such women, as well as men and married couples, entered into confraternity associations with nunneries, demonstrating confidence not only in the convent named, but also in the superior who was to organize the nominated procedures following their death. Katherine Moleyn’s book prepared for Kington priory includes an entry which states that ‘John Baker of Bridgewater and Joanna his wife have been admitted as brother and sister of this house on the day of the Annunciation of the Blessed Mary A.D. 1498.’132 Another example of this form of association can be found in the 1531 will of William Kyrkeby, gentleman, who identifies himself as a lay brother of the Guild of Our Lady of Boston, the Charterhouse of Sheen and the nunneries of St Helen’s, Haliwell and the Minories.133 The Countess of Pembroke appears to have had a similar association with the Minoresses at Denney, her will proved in 1376 stating that she wished to be buried in the nuns’ church there, her corpse clothed in the habit of that order.134 Syon also attracted women with such aspirations. Despite isolated acknowledgements of human frailty among the religious women they supported, the documentary evidence suggests that numerous citizens appreciated the services performed for them by the English nuns, and in particular by the abbesses and prioresses, up to the Dissolution. The so-called ‘Pilgrimage of Grace’ remains an important piece of evidence on secular views of the functions performed by religious houses (and particularly, female monasteries) in the north of England. Robert Aske’s statement, issued while he was imprisoned in the Tower for his part in the above movement, though much-quoted, is nevertheless worth repeating. His open repudiation in 1537 of the royal policy responsible already for dissolving numerous religious houses is a strong affirmation of the monastic contribution to secular lives. One paragraph of Aske’s statement reads: . . . the abbeys in the north gave great alms to poor men and laudably served God . . . all gentlemenn much succoured in their needs with money, 131

132 133

134

See, for example, the testament of Thomas Holden, who states ‘volo quod moniales de Stratford habeant per supervisum uxoris mee quinque marcas’ (Reg. Chichele ii, p. 584). Bodl. MS. Tanner 342, fol. 174. This manuscript is a transcription of Cambridge University MS. DD. viii, 2 [my translation from the Latin]. Paxton, p. 117; S. Brigden, London and the Reformation (London, 1990), p. 32. It is worth noting that the term ‘confraternity’ was also used to denote reciprocal agreements among religious houses, which circulated information about the death of community members on the understanding that prayers would be offered on their behalf. See J. Burton, ‘A Confraternity List From St Mary’s Abbey, York’, Revue Bénédictine 89 (1979), pp. 325–33. Burton notes that Winchester and Shaftesbury were included on the latter network (p. 327). Sharpe, Wills ii, p. 195.

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their younger sons there succoured and in nunneries their daughters brought up in virtue, and also their evidences and money left to the uses of infants in abbeys’ hands, always sure there.135

Kathleen Cooke reports similarly appreciative remarks on the service of the Aconbury nuns by Bishop Roland Lee.136 The writings of numerous English secular folk appear to reflect like sentiments. In measuring the ‘Eglentyne’ figure against that of ‘Euphemia’ a number of observations suggest themselves. Firstly, it is clear than the ‘worldly’ superior was present in England at this time. The records show that some abbesses and prioresses were frankly unsuited to the religious life, behaving in an improper fashion by general standards, let alone the standards of the Rule. A few repudiated their vows and left the religious life altogether; other individuals broke the rule of chastity; still others demonstrated in various ways a lack of commitment to the life of service they had sworn to follow. Nevertheless, gross deviations from the ideal, though dramatic in some cases, were not demonstrably typical of female superiors. Nor is there evidence to suggest that those leaders who lacked the suitable attributes for their position were commonly replaced by others with similar deficiencies. Wills from the period, with their explicit and implicit demands for the nuns’ prayers, suggest in general a confidence on the part of the testator that the above services would be faithfully performed in the houses named, and that the intercession sought would be effective. The later documents reveal a social climate remarkable for the vigorous piety of its lay people and the practical support offered to those of their relatives in charge of nunneries, whether or not these women expressed their spirituality in the same manner as that of female leaders from earlier generations. The period under examination was one of sweeping change manifested in different ways, one of which was an enthusiasm for individual forms of religious expression. Since female houses were closely integrated through patronage and blood ties with the outside community, the changing values and practices of the secular community were to some extent mirrored in the attitudes and behaviour patterns of its leaders and their nuns. Although there are many indications of secular preoccupations impinging on the nunneries in the later period, not all of these can in retrospect be judged as negative. Some, like those expressed through published inspirational literature loaned or given to the nuns, suggest a re-invigorating process in which nunnery leaders were necessarily involved. Some outward manifestations of change, including modifications to clothing and freedom to pursue interests outside the demands of the Opus Dei, were threatening to the male officials 135 136

L&P xii (i), item 901 (ii), p. 406. K. Cooke, ‘The English Nuns and the Dissolution’, in The Cloister and the World, eds J. Blair and B. Golding (Oxford, 1996), p. 292.

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overseeing the lives of the women and doubtless their concern was justified. But there is little in the documentary evidence to suggest that secular observers of the period shared their concern or accorded nunnery superiors less respect than in earlier times.

8 Epilogue

EPILOGUE

Henry VIII’s campaign in the 1530s to dissolve the English monasteries was not unprecedented, but followed more than a century after Henry V’s assault on the alien priories, and some ten years after Thomas Wolsey’s initiatives directed at converting certain monastic resources into assets for funding colleges. It appears that the money raised in this manner was exhausted before Wolsey’s drive had dissipated; thus, seriously depleted houses which could be closed on the grounds of their spiritual and material inadequacy offered a plausible rationale for diverting additional monastic property. Lillechurch nunnery fell in 1522, its property converted into funds for setting up St John’s College at Cambridge: an initiative supported by Bishop Fisher of Rochester, at the behest of Lady Margaret Beaufort.1 Wolsey’s subsequent moves to found colleges at Oxford and Ipswich with funds from the buildings and estates of St Frideswide at Oxford were followed by successful applications to the pope for the suppression of additional monastic houses. By 1525, when public hostility about the closures had grown to significant proportions, noticeable unease was becoming widespread among monastic heads:2 a point which will be raised again later in this chapter. The Dissolution process of the 1530s was swift, highly destructive, and, in some ways, inconsistent in approach. The king, while avowing an overwhelming desire for reform, nevertheless authorised the demolition of monastic buildings for saleable and re-usable materials, having first ascertained through a survey resulting in the Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1535 the value of the various convents and their possessions. The initial announcement in his preamble to the 1536 Act of Suppression stressed that the small houses (pronounced as, ipso facto, evil) were to become the target of ‘reform’ while the ‘great and honourable’ institutions were to act as agents of such reform.3 Since the announced criterion for determining that a monastery was ‘great’,

1 2 3

C.R. Councer, ‘The Dissolution of the Kentish Monasteries’, Archaeologia Cantiana 47 (1935), p. 127. Ibid., p. 130. PRO, Statutes of the Realm iii (London, 1817), p. 575.

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and therefore eligible to survive, was a calculated minimum net income of £200, most nunneries were immediately threatened. The Kentish nunneries were small and poor. Davington had closed in 1535, due to depleted numbers and the death of the prioress. Philippa John, prioress of Canterbury St Sepulchre, was hardly in a bargaining position, having supported Elizabeth Barton, the ‘Holy Maid of Kent’ throughout her period as a professed nun in the priory. Unlike the abbess of Syon, whose community was also sympathetic towards Elizabeth Barton, Philippa did not have the base of support among powerful figures to protect her; nevertheless, as Knowles reports, the prioress and convent bought back Elizabeth’s small collection of personal effects after her execution in April 1534.4 St Sepulchre priory was suppressed in 1536, leaving a total of eight religious to find shelter wherever they could. Philippa, who was granted a pension of £5, was probably given a home among relatives, since she bequeathed certain personal effects and small sums of money to cousins.5 Of the convents in the core group, Kington was the only Wessex nunnery to be closed in 1536. Mary Denys, the prioress, like Philippa John, received a pension of £5, in keeping with the low status of her house.6 Mary had been superior less than a year before Kington was dissolved; she was young at the time of her appointment and lived many years after the loss of her convent.7 Wolsey suppressed five nunneries between 1524 and 1528. Littlemore in the county of Oxford was closed in 1525 and St Mary de Pré, Hertfordshire in 1528.8 These houses were both of Lincoln diocese, as were Stamford and Godstow, which would have given rise to significant anxiety on the part of the superiors in charge of the latter convents. Stamford fell in 1536 and Isabel Savage, the last prioress, was granted a pension of eight pounds.9 Of the Yorkshire nunneries in the core group, only Clementhorpe was suppressed in 1536. The house was inspected in June that year and claimed by its first lessee only a month afterwards.10 The available evidence suggests that the community was reinstated briefly by participants in the ‘Pilgrimage of Grace’; though Isabel may not have been consulted about such a proposed return.11 Surprisingly perhaps, Esholt and Marrick both survived until 1539. 4 5

6 7 8 9 10 11

D. Knowles, Religious Orders iii, p. 191. The Valor Ecclesiasticus (i, p. 583) gives the population of the house in 1535 as seven nuns plus the prioress. See L&P xiii (i), item no 1520, p. 583 re the granting of the pension. Philippa John’s will is held at the Centre for Kentish Studies (PRC 17/26/27). L&P xiii (i), item 1520 (24), p. 575. H. Brakspear, ‘Excavations at some Wiltshire Monasteries’, Archaeologia 73, 1922–3, p. 246. Knowles & Hadcock, p. 470. L&P xiii (i), item 1520, 21b., p. 575. R.B. Dobson & S. Donaghey, The History of Clementhorpe Nunnery (York, 1984), p. 26. Ibid., p. 27; L&P xi, item 1047, pp. 421–2. A letter from Sir William Mansell to Sir Arthur Darcy gives such an impression in this record.

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Marrick’s prioress had paid a fine three years previously, since a document from the Faculty Office Registers dated 1536 states: ‘Christobel Cowper . . . prioress of Marrick . . . Confirmation in possession of the above office, in response to her annual supplications. 40s.’12 Although Esholt had a significantly lower income than Marrick, the prioress, Joan Jenkynson, received £6 13s. 4d., whereas Christobel Cowper was given only five pounds.13 Although the amounts provided generally reflected the financial status of the superior’s house, there were some puzzling anomolies, as Marilyn Oliva observes.14 Woodward explains the survival of numerous small Yorkshire houses partially in demographic terms, arguing that, given the universal poverty of the York nuns, many of whom chose to remain ‘in religion’, there would have simply been too few convents to accommodate the refugees had the statutory lower limit of £200 net income been applied strictly as a criterion for survival.15 It is interesting to note that the cost of transporting nuns from suppressed monasteries to those allowed to remain open was taken into consideration. The Wintney nuns choosing to remain in religion were given one mark for their combined travelling expenses to another house (as well as forty shillings each in alms).16 Of the four London houses discussed in this book, Stratford priory fell in 1536; St Helen’s and Clerkenwell, being substantially more affluent, remained open until 1539. Sybil Kirke, the prioress of Stratford, received a pension of fifteen pounds. Mary Rollesley was treated more generously, being allowed thirty, and Isabel Sackville of Clerkenwell was granted fifty pounds.17 With Syon the situation was more complicated, due to the protracted period of uncertainty among the sisters and brothers about the king’s supremacy claims and the repeated attempts of Cromwell and his associates to bring them to heel. By 1536, after the execution of Brother Richard Reynolds for refusing to acknowledge Henry’s ‘new title’, and the expulsion of others regarded as trouble-makers, Cromwell appointed Copinger as Confessor-General of the abbey and the house was given a short reprieve.18 By 1537 the machinery for the next round of suppressions began to operate. Knowles describes the strategy: ‘It was in three parts: a fresh visita-

12 13 14

15 16 17 18

D.S. Chambers, Faculty Office Registers, 1534–1549 (Oxford, 1966), p. 46. J.W. Clay, ed., Yorkshire Monasteries: Suppression Papers, YAS 48 (1912), p. 110 (Esholt); ibid., p. 149 (Marrick). M. Oliva, ‘Unsafe Passage: the State of the Nuns at the Dissolution and their Conversion to Secular Life’, in The Vocation of Service to God and Neighbour, Selected Proceedings of the International Medieval Congress University of Leeds (July, 1997), p. 96. G.W.O. Woodward, ‘An Exemption from Suppression of Certain Yorkshire Priories’, English Historical Review 300 (July, 1961), p. 400. Coldicott, p. 134. L&P xiii (i), item 1520, p. 574 (Stratford); E 315/233, fols 101–3 (St Helen’s); L&P xiv (ii), item 133, p. 39 (Clerkenwell). VCH Middlesex i, p. 189.

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tion of the greater houses in order to induce surrender; a systematic pillage of the richer shrines; and a suppression out of hand of the friars.’19 The pressure to surrender was intense, the commissioners deliberately targeting the most vulnerable first. Legh concentrated on Somerset early in 1538 and Layton on Norfolk.20 The shrine of St Edmund at Bury St Edmunds was defaced early in 1538, yielding gold and silver valued at 5000 marks.21 This was not only a great and immediate disaster to the faithful, but also a highly intimidatory gesture, and ‘voluntary’ surrenders followed in rapid succession. Lacock held out until January 21 the following year, and Wilton fell two months later, on March 25.22 These closures were ‘legalised’ by the government in retrospect when the 1539 parliamentary Act for the Dissolution of the Greater Monasteries was passed in May of that year.23 St Mary’s Winchester surrendered on November 17, 1539;24 Romsey’s date of suppression is uncertain, though there is documentary evidence suggesting that the abbey was dissolved before April 1539.25 Syon’s period of grace lasted only until 1538 with Cromwell’s stated intention to close the abbey then. His move to charge the bishop of London (and by implication, the convent community) with praemunire and ‘superstition’, marked the beginning of the abbey’s demise. Although the bishop was formally exonerated, the charge of praemunire was revived in 1539 and claimed as justification for Syon’s suppression. The community received generous pensions, with £200 for the abbess, and the nuns were expelled on the day these were received. As Ann Hutchison points out however, there was no formal surrender and no documentation of such in the Augmentation Office.26

Defensive Measures Given Wolsey’s attacks on the religious houses from the mid 1520s, it was understandable that initiatives were being taken by heads of houses to protect their monasteries and the properties thereof from seizure by royal officials. Numerous extant indentured leases granting convent property during the 1520s and early 1530s suggest an abnormal level of activity in this direction on the part of nunnery superiors; however the uneven survival rate of medieval documents makes it difficult to confirm such a view even in 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26

Knowles, Religious Orders iii, p. 351. Ibid., pp. 351–2. Ibid., p. 352. TNA: PRO E315/245, fol. 124; L&P xiv (i), item 110, p. 43. Knowles, Religious Orders iii, pp. 352–3. TNA: PRO E315/494, fol. 11. Coldicott, p. 138. A. Hutchison, ‘Three (Recusant) Sisters’, Vox Mystica: Essays for Valerie M. Lagorio, eds A. Bartlett, T.H. Bestul, J. Goebel and W.F. Pollard (Cambridge, 1995), p. 147.

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a majority of cases, and analysis of the material is hampered by lack of background information on the purposes of the lessor. Details such as land values and maintenance costs for the specific pieces of property are usually unavailable, which makes it almost impossible to discern whether a given agreement was particularly generous to the lessee or represented a coup for the lessor. Catherine Paxton offers the opinion that the prioresses of St Helen’s and of Aldgate were particularly active in leasing property by indenture and on improved terms, in a deliberate attempt to prepare for the expected dissolution of their houses.27An extant indenture from Mary Rollesley’s administration at St Helen’s in 1529 provides some support for the above assertion, with evidence of an agreement in which a nunnery head gave an existing lessee a more favourable contract than that covered by the original transaction. The document provides for the renewal of Dominic Lomelyn’s current lease for a further twelve years, at a rent reduced from £11 10s. to £10 10s., on the understanding that due maintenance to the property should be carried out. The fact that Lomelyn is identified in a later document as a royal official28 suggests that the prioress was setting up a quid pro quo situation, encouraging an influential official to support her convent in the hard times ahead. The same prioress continued to issue indentures up to July 1539 for people who may or may not have had significant ties with the house, providing in the latter year to a William Skelton, gentleman, an 80-year lease for a tenement and messuage costing 40 shillings per annum.29 A similar pattern of activity in regard to indentured leases can be found in documents emanating from Clerkenwell and Stamford priories throughout the 1520s and into the next decade; again, it is difficult to discern to what extent special favours were being provided to friends or potential supporters of the house.30 There is evidence of a shrewd initiative taken by Margaret Stainbarn of Stamford in the last quarter of 1528, when she issued a two-year lease to Isaac Mychell of Blandford, Dorset of all the

27 28

29

30

Paxton, pp. 294–5. L&P xvi, item 580 (33), p. 276 states: ‘Dominic Lomelyn, merchant of Genoa, a gentleman usher of the Chamber. Licence to alienate the great messuage, with garden & C, adjoining, in which he dwells in Bysshoppisgate Strete . . . and tenements . . . in the parish of St Peter-le-Pore, London; all which premises belonged to St Helen’s priory within St Helen’s: to Robert Trappes, goldsmith . . .’. E 303/8, m. 7. It is not clear if this individual was related to John Skelton the poet. For other indentures prepared under the supervision of Mary Rollesley see E303/8, ms 8, 9, 11, 20. For the Clerkenwell documents see E303/27, ms 56, 58, 59, 64, 66, 67. Note that the succession of membrane numbers is not consistent with their chronological order in years. For indentured leases from Margaret Stainbarn and the last prioress of Stamford, Isabel Savage, and dated between 1525 and 1530, see E303/27, ms 27, 32; E303/8, ms 24, 26.

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comodyteys profetts and advantageys that by the Reyson or occasyon off all Indulgencies , pardons, and faculteys, be gyffem to the seyd Monastery by divers Holy Fathers, Popes of Rome . . . So that yt shalbe lafull to the seyd Isaac and to hys lafull assignes to declarethe seyd Pryvylegeys and pardons, and to gedder the Brotherhed and Devocion of good Crystyn people, to hys best advantage and profet.31

The rent for this lease was to be £6 13s. 4d. per annum paid in four equal instalments, the first of which was to be made on Christmas day 1528. One of the later indentures from Stamford, dated May 12, 1529 and issued by the same prioress, grants a lease to Ralph Payne, a Northampton miller, and Margaret his wife. The contract grants them a house and appurtenances in Northampton and two additional acres of land there for a term ‘to the longer lyver of them’ at a fee of eight shillings to be paid twice yearly for the house and two shillings for the extra land.32 The document contains a distraint clause, specifying that continued occupation of the property is conditional upon adequate maintenance. This document is the only surviving Stamford indenture in which the author has found a life term; the latter feature is unusual among the London documents also. However, Lacock’s successive abbesses appear to have favoured such terms, since the majority of leases recorded in the Lacock Abbey Charters represent lifetime contracts. Indeed, the last of these in the collection provided for a period of ninety-nine years.33 Given the watchfulness of the royal commissioners after April 1536 when the first Act of Suppression was declared, it is unlikely that monastic heads would have been rash enough to risk issuing further leases without official approval. Sybil Jack remarks: The greatest risk lay in tampering with the real property. The commissioners, many of whom were familiar faces, had not only a record of how much each estate was bringing in twelve months previously but also almost certainly, details of the leases then in force and the term they had to run. To negotiate a new lease to the tenant for a lower rent and a lump sum in hand, even if it ante-dated 4 February [which marked the beginning of the session of the parliament in which the Act was brought in], would invite investigation, for all leases made less than twelve months previously in any case had to be confirmed by the Court of Augmentations.34

Several documents attest to the widespread granting of annuities between 1530 and 1535. In regard to these favours, the strategies of the superior concerned are less opaque, though it is not always obvious if annuities were 31 32 33 34

VCH Northamptonshire ii, p. 100. E 303/27, m. 27. LAC, p. 62. S. Jack, ‘The Last Days of the Smaller Monasteries in England’, JEH 21, ii (April, 1970), p. 106.

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granted in appreciation for services rendered in the hope of securing good will for the future, or whether they involved a blend of the above. Evidence of annuities paid to those serving London houses has been discussed by Catherine Paxton, who identifies several of the beneficiaries as lawyers trained at the Inns of Court. Clearly such officials were well equipped to offer advice in the crises ahead.35 Mary Rollesley of St Helen’s made grants to various officials, including ‘Edward Rollesly, and the janitor of the convent, Roger Hall, for past services.’36 Her motives in taking such actions probably varied according to the individual favoured; the fact that she gave the position of Chief Steward to Thomas Cromwell in 1536 suggests a certain hard-headed realism.37 Elizabeth Ryprose of Romsey, like her London counterparts, can be shown to have authorised the distribution of annuities and pensions to household officials long before the houses fell; in Elizabeth’s case, it was three years.38 The fact that the nunneries characteristically had little extra to spare raises questions about the source of the funds used to meet the payments; but it is likely that the superior concerned, aware of the impending danger to her house, was sufficiently anxious to find the necessary cash, if necessary, through secular supporters. As noted above, it was possible in some cases to secure a reprieve from the first suppressions by paying a fine. Joan Temmse, abbess of Lacock, paid £300 to the Court of Augmentations for a licence to continue;39 this appears to have placed her in a precarious financial position requiring ameliorative measures. In 1537, she issued her brother Christopher with the lease of a tenement and appurtenances in Lacock, allowing him also the use of the manor of Hatherop for sixty years. Additional funds were raised by the sale of the Chittern flock to Thomas Temmse, who was also made auditor and steward of the abbey’s manor courts and given the lease of the manor of Shorewell, for eighty years.40 Another member of the family, Joan’s brother in law, Robert Bathe, was granted the lease of Bishopstrow for ninety-nine years. The lease of the manor of Bishopstrowe was made to Robert and his wife Elizabeth: in consideration of the great charges Robert has incurred and will incur in repairing and new building the farm, mill-house, and tenement, of the site of the manor of Busshoppestrowe and all lands belonging to it, as William Cabell held them. Also of 320 wethers, price 20d. each, the sheep-house and sheep pasture, a pasture and wood called Hyllwood, a leasow called

35 36 37 38 39 40

Paxton, p. 288. Ibid., pp. 289–90. Paxton, p. 316, citing E315/96, fol. 123. The amount provided to Cromwell was £3 6s. 8d. TNA: PRO E315/446, fols 6–7, 11–11a. The licence was granted in January 1537 (L&P xii (i), item 311 (42), p. 143). VCH Wiltshire iii, p. 313. C.f. Ibid., p. 314, citing SC6/Hen VIII/3985, m. 24, 26v.; Valor Ecclesiasticus ii, p. 117b., VCH Wiltshire iii, p. 313.

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Whyttwullse and Hencotys, a cottage called Pallmers, a cottage and curtilage called Sheperds Tenement. Also of a fulling-mill, gig-mill, and grist-mill in Busshopestrowe and the house belonging to it as John George held them. To hold from next Michaelmas for 99 years. Rent for the site, 20qrs. of wheat and 20 qrs. of barley to be paid at Busshopestrowe; for the sheep, 106s.; for Hyllwood, 5s.; for Wyittwyll, 5s.; for Pallmers, 3s.; for Shephers, 8s. 4d.; for the mills, 43s. 4d.41

On the face of it, such business methods seem distinctly suspect. However, it is important to consider the environment in which these transactions occurred. The royal house, up to this point in a position of patronage to Lacock and a number of other abbeys, had abandoned its role as a protector for that of an oppressor. In such an environment, and before the Act of Suppression came into force, it may well have been considered prudent to place certain pieces of real estate in the care of friends and relatives. Late transactions of the kind were understandably viewed with alarm by some royal officials, including Richard Lyster, Chief Baron of the Exchequer, who sought direction from Cromwell in 1537 regarding the advisability of banning further negotiations, on learning of Romsey’s recent alienations and leases.42

Hopes for the Future A point seldom raised by historians is the notion in the minds of the religious facing dispossession of the possible re-opening of their houses after the death of Henry VIII and his son Edward VI. It is clear that the Syon community cherished hopes of returning to the abbey, since most of the nuns did not disperse at the Dissolution. Seven groups went to lodgings in private English houses and many others went abroad in the company of Catherine Palmer, their abbess, to find refuge in Flanders with other Brigittines.43 Such hopes of recovery were realised by a number of survivors in 1556 through Queen Mary and her restoration of many religious houses. However, by the time Syon was re-established, many of the nuns including the last abbess, Agnes Jordan, had died; and by May 1559 the abbey was suppressed again as England became Protestant again at the death of Mary and the accession of Elizabeth I. Only those nuns willing to take the Oath of Supremacy were given pensions. The faithful remnant emigrated to Flanders and thence to Portugal, their successors finally returning in the nineteenth century to re-found the abbey.44 41 42 43 44

Bowles & Nichols, p. 320; VCH Wiltshire iii, p. 313; LAC, p. 62. L&P xiii (ii), item 352, p. 138. Hutchison, ‘Three (Recusant) Sisters’, Vox Mystica, p. 148. VCH Middlesex i, pp. 189–90. C.f. C. de Hamel, Syon Abbey . . ., pp. 109–32 for a summary of the effects of the suppressions. [The book also contains fine prints of

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The possibility of her abbey’s re-foundation was certainly raised by Elizabeth Shelley, who donated a small chalice to Winchester College, on the understanding that it be returned to St Mary’s if it should ‘come up again in her time’.45 Elizabeth, a demonstrably practical woman, was unlikely to have entertained implausible notions; and it would be surprising if the heads of Syon and St Mary’s Winchester had been the only ones looking wistfully for the end of oppression and the revival of their convents. Superiors of this persuasion were inclined to prepare for the expected suppressions by placing available property in sympathetic and local hands, from whence they might be retrieved more easily at the appropriate time. The leasing of Marrick property in Fremington to Margaret Cowper (probably a relative of the prioress, Christobel Cowper) was one example of many such transactions, born perhaps of a desire to protect the future viability of the house or at least to afford its property some reliable short-term protection. While Christobel’s action could be seen as improper, her motivation may well have been otherwise.46 Elizabeth Shelley paid the large fine of £333 6s. 8d. to secure a reprieve for St Mary’s Winchester, her house having been credited earlier in the Valor Ecclesiasticus with a net annual income of only £179, due to concealment by some of her staff of taxable income [this, she asserted, was done without her consent].47 Coldicott surmises that some of the money for such a fine was raised through the surrender of the abbey’s two Wiltshire manors of Urchfont and All Cannings, which were granted, along with the rectory of Urchfont church and the advowson of All Cannings, by the crown to Sir Edward Seymour in June, 1536.48 Romsey, though well above the £200 mark, was considered sufficiently vulnerable by its abbess to warrant an inspeximus and confirmation of previous charters:49 a procedure which was probably costly for a large house [and ineffectual as events proved], though it may have been a useful delaying tactic. Stratford’s last prioress, Sybil Kirke, lost six of her nuns during her administration of the the priory. It seems unlikely that all six died between 1528 and 1536; so perhaps, as Paxton suggests, the conflict occurring in the house after the resignation of Eleanor Sterkey, who continued to live in the priory, caused a permanent rift in relationships within the community.50 Eleanor

45

46 47 48 49 50

miniatures depicting the history of the convent, beginning with St Bridget and the building of Syon Abbey and including explanatory text, on pp. 37–47.] J. Paul, ‘Dame Elizabeth Shelley, Last Abbess of St Mary’s Abbey, Winchester’, Papers and Proceedings of the Hampshire Field Club and Archaeological Society 23 (1965), p. 70, citing Winchester College Muniments 21875. Tillotson, Marrick, p. 6, n. 40. This can be found in the Brotherton Library, Brotherton Collection, Marrick Priory Deeds Case 76, 1533 Rental. Valor Ecclesiasticus ii, p. 4. Coldicott, p. 134. L&P xii (2), item 1150 (5), p. 404. Reg. Tunstall GL MS 9531/10, fol. 117v.; Paxton p. 307. C.f. Green (Wood), Letters of Royal and Illustrious Ladies of Great Britain ii, pp. 69–70.

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appealed for special consideration on the suppression of the house, asserting that her former status, and the provisions previously enjoyed and promised for the future, gave her the right to receive a more generous allowance than the majority of the community. This application produced a grant of forty shillings per annum, with arrears of twenty shillings, in recognition of the fact that ‘. . . the saide Eliana is very aged blynde and impotent of her body having nothing werwith she mitye be relevyd socoured or founde by reason that the said house is dissolved’.51 As Catherine Paxton observes, Eleanor Sterkey’s appeal was based on a ‘somewhat disingenuous claim’ that she had been accustomed to receiving £10 per year after relinquishing office, when in fact the agreement recorded in Tunstall’s register shows that she was to have forty shillings per year from house revenues and also a chamber, furnished and maintained by the convent, food at the prioress’s table and adequate firewood and coal.52 While the latter provisions were quite generous, it is doubtful that the total cost to the house would have approached the sum of 10 pounds per annum. Sybil’s story is a reminder of the spirited defence of their rights by female superiors through the period under review.

The Last Suppressions and their Aftermath The awareness of impending suppression of the monastic houses produced different reactions, including overt resistance, attempts to circumvent regulations, and quiet capitulation. Some superiors sought to preserve the status of their nunneries as religious houses. There was probably a mixture of motives involved: concern for the house and their nuns, hopes of preserving status, and above all, fear. Such fear is still detectable in the pages of the Letters and Papers representing the Dissolution years; given the menace of the times it is not surprising that heads of nunneries felt driven to the kind of emergency measures being adopted by their secular contemporaries. Superiors of royal nunneries appear to have felt particularly vulnerable, perhaps because they had more to lose and were under closer surveillance by the crown. At Godstow the abbess, Katherine Bulkeley, wrote to Cromwell in 1538: The stewardship of this monastery is now void by the death of Mr Welch, which had it; and is of so small value, being but 40s fee by the year . . . but if it would please you not to be offended therewith, both my poor sisters and I do most heartily beseech you to accept it, which were greatly to our comfort; if it were a £1000, your good lordship should have it with all my heart and prayers.53 51 52 53

TNA: PRO E315/91, fols 5v.–6. Paxton p. 307; Reg. Tunstall, fol. 103v. Green (Wood), Letters of Royal and Illustrious Ladies iii (London, 1846), pp. 69–70. Another version of this letter, dated March 7, 1538, includes the clause: ‘. . . if your

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Cromwell obviously accepted the stewardship willingly, having notified Katherine soon afterwards to that effect.54 In a later memo dated November 26 in the same year the same abbess thanked him for restraining the mayor of Oxford and his officials from taking possession of a common owned by the abbey, and sent with the letter a gift of Banbury cheeses.55 The same approach is revealed in a letter from Croyland’s abbot : With dew reverence I commaund me unto yowr honorable lorshipe, humblye asserteynying the same that I sende yowr lordshipe by this berar parte of owr fenne fyshe, ryght mekely besechyng yowr lordship favorablye to accepte the same fyshe, and to be gud and favourable lorde unto me and my pore house . . . and I with by brethern shall daily pray to owre Lord God for the long contynuaunce of your good lordship in helth . . .56

Wilton Abbey began to fall victim to murky politics of the period several years before the Dissolution. Its election process appears to have become permanently disabled after 1528, when Anne Boleyn pressed for a candidate other than the one nominated by the convent (but was eventually overruled by Wolsey).57 The new abbess, Isabel Jordayne, formerly the prioress, lived only a few more years after her appointment, and the documentary evidence indicates that the convent was without a head from at least September 1533 until May the following year.58 During the vacancy there was further secular interference in the abbey’s affairs from Richard Lyster, who offered a bribe of £100 and the stewardship of the abbey to Cromwell, in exchange for his support for the candidature of ‘Dame Cecil Lambert’.59 Whether the latter name was an alias for ‘Cecily Bodenham’, the successful nominee for the office and last abbess, is uncertain, but this seems likely.60 A Chancery case reveals that Cecily Bodenham, former prioress of Kington St Michael, borrowed money to ensure her election to Wilton Abbey.61 Perhaps this was

54 55 56 57 58

59 60 61

Lordship will not disdain to accept it [the stewardship], it will place at your command 20 or 30 men to do the king service, as Mr Welche had to the North. We have a permanent under-steward’ (L&P xiii (i), item 441, p. 163). Ibid., item 492, p. 186. Green (Wood), Letters of Royal and Illustrious Ladies iii, pp. 69–70. C.f. L&P xiii (i), item 1262, p. 465. T. Wright, ed., Letters Relating to the Suppression of Monasteries, Camden Society O.S. 26 (1843), pp. 152–3. Ives, Ann Boleyn, p. 122. L&P vi, item 1195, nos. 14, 18, p. 496; ibid. vii, item 761 (41), p. 295. Note that the VCH account gives the date of conge d’elire occurring in 1533, but the correct date is March 12, 1534 (L&P vii, item 419, p. 175) and the temporalities were restored May 20 that year (ibid., item 761, (i), p. 295). L&P vi, item 304, p. 144. Katherine Bulkeley of Godstow was cited as ‘alias Katherine Bewmarys’ in 1535. See L&P viii, item 632 (25), p. 240. C1/902/34. The document is damaged, but it appears that the sum of £100 had been paid to facilitate the arrangement.

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a response to rumours that the smaller houses would soon be dissolved, and thus a strategy for self-preservation. Cecily is on record as granting in 1536 the advowson of the church Stanton St Bernard to Thomas Legh, one of the commissioners appointed to visit Wilton for one year. This has the appearance of a desperate bid for survival much akin to that employed by Godstow’s abbess.62 It is possible that Elizabeth Ryprose, the last abbess of Romsey, was in collusion with the Seymours and Wadhams, who benefited from the lands of her house at its suppression, but no firm evidence survives. As mentioned in the previous chapter, the secular influences impinging on the abbey were extraordinarily strong during the later period and Elizabeth may have become marginalised in the power struggles at this time. Two of the nuns, Katherine and Jane Wadham, sub-prioress and sexton respectively, were in a position to support the bid of their cousin Sir Thomas Seymour for the lease of extensive properties in Wiltshire and Hampshire [which he eventually received]. This is likely to have affected the community’s response to the impending suppression, particularly as Jane later declared herself to have been unwillingly professed.63 A note in the Letters and Papers indicates that one of Seymour’s relatives was instrumental in the negotiations for the above property, since John Foster, the chaplain of the house and future husband of Jane, wrote to Seymour: In answer to your letter by Mr. Flemynge, whether the abbess and nuns would be content to surrender their house, the truth is that, in consequence of the motion made by your kinswoman and other friends, they will be content to do you any pleasure, but they would be loath to trust to the commissioners’ gentleness, as they hear that other houses have been straitly handled.64

Unfortunately there is no surviving record of the final transaction, but a licence from the king allowing the abbess to grant various leases to Sir Thomas was despatched in January 1539.65 There is no documentary evidence of pensions received by Romsey’s abbess or her nuns. In some cases, those granted monastic property provided such stipends to the surviving reli-

62 63 64 65

VCH Hampshire iii, p. 236. L&P xvi, item 947, p. 459. [This statement was made in 1541.] L&P xiii (2), item 1155, p. 479. L&P xiv (i), item 191 (38), p. 75. The entry dated Jan. 20, 1539 reads: ‘Eliz, the abbess, and the convent of St Mary and St Ethelfleda, Romseye, Hants. Licence to alienate the lordships or manors of Edingedon and Stepleassheton, and all their lands, tenements, and hereditaments in Edyngdon and Stepleassheton, Kevyll, North Bradlegh, Tynhed, Weste Assheton, Southwyk, Hynton, Semyngton, and Littylton, Hants and Wilts, to Sir Thos. Seymour, to hold the premises except the manor of Edyngdon and the rectory of Stepleassheton, in fee, and the said manor or rectory in tail male. Westm., 20 Jan. 30 Hen VIII.’

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gious, as Marilyn Oliva notes;66 given the family link between the Seymours and two of Romsey’s nuns it is possible that Thomas Seymour proved generous in this respect. The manner in which nunnery superiors released their houses is not always clear from the surviving accounts, which tend to be subjective. Isabel Sackville of Clerkenwell is described as having resigned her house on September 6, 1539 into the care of the Duke of Norfolk’s servant: ‘to the contentation of the prioress and her sisters’ and was rewarded with a pension of £50 per annum: the same allowance as that received by Katherine Bulkeley of Godstow.67 While the superiors of some royal houses including Godstow, Romsey and Wilton appear to have shown little or no resistance to the seizure of their houses when the day of reckoning arrived, this was clearly not the case with all of the convent heads. Although Lacock’s last abbess Joan Temmse eventually surrendered her house in a peaceable manner in January 1539 and received an adequate pension afterwards,68 her initial response to Dr London’s visit on November 9, 1538 was openly recalcitrant, the superior declaring: ‘the king will not take this house by tyranny!’ and ‘ye shall not speak with the sisters!’69 Amesbury’s prioress Florence Bonnewe was similarly defiant, according to the commissioners Tregonwell, Petre and Smyth who reported her response to Cromwell: Yesterday, having taken the surrenders of Shaftesbury and Wilton, came to Ambesbury. Could not bring the abbess to any conformity. She said that if the King commanded her to leave the house whe would gladly go though she begged her bread, and she cared for no pension, and prayed them to trouble her no further . . .70

Yvonne Parrey points out that Florence maintained a qualified obduracy for several months, preferring to resign her office rather than surrender the convent, and appears not to have received a pension – unlike the nun who was placed in her position – and submitted quietly to the royal commissioner when he came to close the house in December 1539.71 Esholt’s prioress, Joan Jenkynson, like the prioress of Stratford and the abbess of Godstow, had among her nuns the previous superior of the house, who had retired some years before.72 There is no record of Elizabeth Pudsay’s pension, which probably indicates that she died before the 1539 list was

66 67 68 69 70 71 72

Oliva, Convent and Community, p. 198. L&P xiv (2), item 133, p. 39 (Clerkenwell); ibid.; item 539, p. 188 (Godstow). The list of pensions can be found in TNA: PRO E315/245, fol. 124. L&P, Addenda i. (2), item 1369, p. 466. L&P xiv (1), item 629, p. 245. Y. Parrey, ‘ “Devoted disciples of Christ”: Early Sixteenth-Century Religious Life in the Nunnery at Amesbury’, Historical Research 67 (October 1994), pp. 241–2. J.S. Purvis, ed., Miscellanea iii, YAS 80 (1931), pp. 81–7.

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published. More research is needed to uncover details of the dispossessed religious; this would involve detailed analysis of wills and other genealogical material. But what has been unearthed so far gives some insight into the attitudes and situations of former superiors after the suppression of their houses. The account of Godstow’s pension settlements indicates that the old abbess, predecessor of Katherine Bulkeley, had been granted a pension on her retirement by the king, but in 1539, when aged over eighty, she was applying for an increase in her allowance.73 No record of marriage on the part of abbesses or prioresses from the houses under review has so far been found. This is not surprising, since the ruling that ex-religious remain chaste was retained until overturned in 1549 during the reign of Edward VI, and then revived when Mary came to the throne. This meant that ex-superiors, who had been allowed to take up office only after the age of thirty years, would have been in many cases too old to contemplate marriage. Cross and Vickers state ‘there can be no doubt that most former [Yorkshire] monks, nuns and friars favoured the old religion not the new’. This was the case with Isabella Ward of Clementhorpe, whose testament indicated her desire that the Virgin Mary and the company of heaven should pray for her, and stipulated that she was to be buried in the Lady choir of the parish church. Isabella had also provided for five pounds to be spent on a dirige and on bread, ale and cheese at her funeral.74 Sentiments of a similar kind were expressed by Christiana Burgh, prioress of Nunkeeling, whose will affirmed her faith in God and the Virgin Mary and her concern for the poor of the parish.75 Also, Elizabeth Lorde, prioress of Wilberfoss, requested prayers for her soul and left money for the poor box in the church of Holy Trinity, Goodramgate.76 Additional evidence suggesting allegiance to the old religion can be found in the testaments of Joan Harkey of Ellerton and Katherine Nendyke of Wykeham and from documents representing other ex-superiors in Norwich.77 The details of Christobel Cowper’s history after the closure of Marrick are less clear, although there are indications that she may have been joined in her retirement by Anne Ledeman, also of Marrick, perhaps in an arrangement whereby the two women were enabled to eke out their small allowances more easily by combining resources. The will of a former monk of Rievaulx names Christobel as the recipient of a small sum, along with ‘her sister, dame Anne’.78 Since all except one of the ten nuns of Esholt wished to 73 74 75 76 77 78

L&P xiv (2), item 539, pp. 188–9. Cross & Vickers, p. 552. Ibid., pp. 532–3. Ibid., p. 544. Ibid., pp. 560, 595; Oliva, Convent and Community, p. 203. Cross & Vickers, p. 525. Christabel received a pension of five pounds: a little less than Clementhorpe’s superior, who was granted ten marks. See L&P xi, g. 519 (xi) for Marrick and ibid., xiii (1), item 879, p. 575 for Clementhorpe.

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remain ‘in religion’ in 1536, it is likely that Joan Jenkynson of Esholt continued to honour her monastic vows until her death, which occurred between 1552 and 1556.79 Another superior from a minor nunnery, Mary Denys of Kington, who died in 1593, earned the love and respect of her Wiltshire neighbours. The parishioners, having buried her ‘in the church of the Gauntes on the Grene’ are said to have regarded Mary as ‘a good old maide, verie vertuose and godlye’.80 There is little available information on the last years of those superiors from the selected group who led the richer Benedictine or Augustinian houses in London, or from those in the south-west, though it is recorded that Clerkenwell’s prioress Isabel Sackville chose to be buried in the church of her former convent, which suggests some enduring identification with her old life.81 More information survives concerning the final years of Philippa John of Canterbury St Sepulchre and Elizabeth Shelley, last abbess of St Mary’s Winchester. Philippa’s testament of 1542 does not reveal where or in what circumstances she was living; but she refers to herself as ‘Dame Philippa John somtyme prioresse of saincte Sepulchres withoute the walles of Cannterburye and nowe of the parishe of saincte georges within the walles of the said cyttie’. Not all ex-religious announced their former status in this way and, indeed, Elizabeth Shelley opens her document by introducing herself simply as ‘Elizabeth Shelley of Winchester’. Perhaps this was, as Diana Coldicott suggests, through modesty or expediency.82 Philippa’s directions for her burial are well within the old Catholic tradition, requiring that she be placed ‘in the chaunycel of our Lady within saincte georges churche before the sepulcre of myne aunte proxchaunte’. She also asks for thirty masses to be sung, and offers three shillings and fourpence to be placed at the high altar ‘for my tythes and offryinges forgotten of by my nerligently withholden’. The sum of five shillings is to be distributed to ‘xv of the poreste howesholdes within saincte georges parishe’ at ‘the daye of my buryall monesmynd and yearsmynd at every of the same tymes’. Philippa reveals the presence of goddaughters in Canterbury and these are named as the recipients of various household items. Her possessions include two cows ‘whiche be here at home’ and several sheep. One noteworthy feature is that her executors are women. The prioress leaves certain property to her cousin, which may indicate that she is living with relatives. The fact that an aunt had been interred in St George’s church would also seem to suggest such an arrangement. There is nothing in the document to indicate a community of ex-nuns living together. 79 80

81 82

Cross & Vickers, p. 563. H. Brakspear, ‘Excavations at some Wiltshire Monasteries’, p. 246. C.f. WAM 4, 1858, p. 56. These reports are based on a passage from Lib. Corp. Christi Coll. Oxon., no. ccxx, fol. 36v. W.J. Pinks, The History of Clerkenwell, p. 30. Coldicott, p. 143.

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Neame asserts (wrongly) that Philippa named King Henry as ‘Supreme Head in hell’: a statement which has been taken at face value by some later historians.83 There is certainly a word which could with a little imagination be read as ‘hell’ in the text of the will.84 This particular word (probably, ‘holl’ as in ‘whole’) is rubbed; but at all events, it has been struck out and all other indications are against such a reading. The opening statement on the king’s authority states: ‘the reigne of our soveraingne lorde kyng henry the VIIIth kyng of England frunce and Ireland defender of the faithe and supreme hede in . . . erthe in Christ under god of the churche of England and Ireland’. This is not the stuff of political or religious protest and, indeed, it would have been too dangerous to frame the sentiments Neame ascribes to Philippa, even in a will, given the active network of royal spies all over England. In Elizabeth Shelley’s case, it is almost certain that she shared her living quarters with a small group of her former nuns, including her niece Margaret Shelley. These women are named as the recipients of bequests, which include sums of money ranging from forty shillings to twenty shillings, and gifts of clothing and household items. Coldicott draws attention to a deed from the Court of Augmentations which states that the abbey buildings leased to Thomas Tichborne in May 1540 were still being occupied by the former abbess;85 at all events, the will (dated 1547) suggests that Elizabeth had by this time access to only one dwelling within the abbey compound. The document mentions various items of furniture, including a ‘coffer that standeth in the grate chamber by the chymney’, giving the impression of an adequate, though not palatial, dwelling. Of course, by modern standards, medieval inventories do seem to indicate somewhat sparse furnishings; nevertheless, the fact that only one servant is mentioned suggests a simple lifestyle. Richard Shelley, Elizabeth’s brother, is named in the testament as an executor, together with Walter Dashwode, a former chaplain of the abbess, who obviously helped Elizabeth through the difficult process of the abbey’s suppression.86 The fact that he was still alive in 1547 and presumably in a position to offer a home to his sister after her dispossession, supports the notion that Elizabeth’s existence in what appears to have been a community of mutually-supporting nuns was of her own choosing. Such an arrangement was not uncommon in the 1540s. Marilyn Oliva cites examples of small groups of ex-nuns from Carrow and Shouldham living together in this manner, and adds that the last prioress of Flixton and some of her nuns kept in touch after the suppression of their house.87 The text of Morpheta Kingsmill’s will also suggests strongly that the former abbess of Wherwell too 83 84 85 86 87

Neame, The Holy Maid of Kent, p. 348. Centre for Kentish Studies PRC 17/26/27. Coldicott, p. 144, citing TNA: PRO E315/212, fol. 133. Ibid., p. 140. Oliva, Convent and Community, p. 202.

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was living out her days in community with sisters from her dissolved convent.88 Mary Erler notes that there are indications that the nunnery of Buckland also continued to function as a religious community ‘for almost twenty years, from 1539 until the Marian re-establishment in 1557’.89 The sources reveal little about female religious who left England to re-establish the religious life from which they had been removed, apart from the dispossessed Syon community. Baskerville observes that Elizabeth Woodford, an Augustinian nun from Burnham in Buckinghamshire, seems to have gone overseas to join the house of her order at Louvain;90 this requires confirmation, and is obviously an area in need of research. The testaments of Elizabeth Shelley, Philippa John and the other women mentioned above are silent on the subject of religious observance, except in relation to their own memorial arrangements. We are therefore left in ignorance of the manner in which the days of the former superiors were spent. It is clear that they had not avoided contact with secular folk in their last years, since godchildren are mentioned, and concern is shown for various people named. John Paul observes that Elizabeth Shelley was buried in Winchester College, and that Thomas Bassett, a priest and Fellow of the College, obviously expecting that he would outlive Elizabeth, stipulated in his last testament that he was to be buried near her grave ‘or else in any other holy ground within the precinct of the said college’.91 This represents a tribute, coming as it does from one religious in a position to assess the calibre of another. The last superiors from the English nunneries emerge from the surviving evidence as individuals rather than as a homogeneous group. Due to the stresses of the time there may have been more departures from the monastic ideal than would have occurred in normal circumstances. Some tried to put in place measures which would help minimize the impending financial disasters and, in doing so, adopted strategies which would in happier times have seemed unacceptable. Some, recognizing an irresistible force, surrendered their convents with little sign of struggle; others resisted the commissioners with some vigour before being forced out. Still others have left no record of their reaction, and only a few of their houses remain as a memorial to their leadership.

88 89 90 91

TNA: PRO E315/494, fol. 19. M. Erler, Women, Reading, and Piety, p. 98. G. Baskerville, English Monks and the Suppression of the Monasteries (London, 1949), p. 224, citing A. Hamilton, Chronicle of Canonesses Regular of Louvain, p. 24. J. Paul, ‘Dame Elizabeth Shelley, Last Abbess of St Mary’s Abbey, Winchester’, Hampshire Field Club Proceedings 23 (1965), p. 71.

Conclusion CONCLUSION

This study has sought to bring into the foreground some of the women elected to lead English nunneries between the years 1280 and 1539, invested as they were with the kind of authority normally reserved for males. The diagrams representing power relations experienced by the superior within and around the nunnery give some idea of the complex interactions taking place. However, linear forms of this kind cannot show the constant change which affected the dynamics of the whole. The model of leadership indicated both explicitly and implicitly in monastic rules and contemporary literature has been shown to have two distinct ‘sides’: a dual model, bearing the attributes of both authoritarianism and submission. Such a model is complex enough, but later medieval religious houses, existing in a world of commerce and beholden to secular supporters, required even more of their superiors. Evolving customs added significant demands, with the result that heads of nunneries were required to administer estates, supervise secular staff, participate in litigation, entertain at socially-determined levels and devise strategies to elicit aid from various quarters. When these attributes are incorporated into the model the result is a daunting ‘duty statement’ for a female superior. In many respects, the eulogy of the Abbess Euphemia highlights these externally-demanded features as well as modelling the more ‘spiritual’ ideals outlined in the original monastic rules adopted by nuns. Records of the superiors’ observers, both ecclesiastical and secular, have helped to shed light on the responses of individual women to the expectations placed upon them in the early monastic guidelines and their subsequent accretions; but the extent to which the women under consideration achieved the quality and style of leadership expected of them can be discerned in part only. Many of those listed as abbesses and prioresses for the period nominated remain determinedly hidden, particularly those from the poorer houses. Nevertheless, it has been possible to penetrate further into their world. In regard to social background, for example, it seems that patrician status ascribed to later medieval nuns and their superiors is an assumption which can no longer be accepted. The evidence supports the growing conviction among scholars of monastic history that most female superiors whose names can be linked with known families, demonstrably or by implication, were from gentry or parish gentry level. Moreover, there are indications that a few were from even lower social ranks than this. Material from wills, charters and letters reveals strong bonds between secular supporters and the women in charge of the nunneries. These documents show that abbesses and prioresses were valued as intercessors and as

CONCLUSION

187

providers of community service, which included hospitality and the care and education of the young. There is no doubt that secular involvement with the nunneries led to tensions, as proprietorial attitudes fostered interference and other abuses of privileges. These were significant problems to be overcome, and some superiors were obviously better equipped than others to manage them. But there are signs that some forms of secular influence were positive. The study of social class and its relevance in elections has shed little light on the reasons why one candidate was favoured above another by the community of nuns. One piece of evidence suggests that patrician status may have been valued more highly than administrative abilities and moral integrity in that particular house and at that time; however, there is no means of discerning whether such an attitude prevailed during the history of the abbey. There are several cases in which women chosen as important obedientiaries in their various houses were later elected as superiors. This supports Oliva’s remarks about a like trend in Norfolk nunneries; whether such a trend can be regarded as an affirmation of ability or simply a case of convenient choice and natural progression remains open to debate. There are indications of significant tensions at some elections and it is clear that consensus was not always possible. Anecdotal records, including one document describing the strategies followed in the case of a split vote, highlight the challenges faced by the superior striving for stability in the convent. Additional evidence from the later period indicates fuller documentation of the formalities than that of earlier election proceedings, and an increasing number of male officials appearing and participating. The shifting balance of power between the two monarchs, pope and king, provided further challenges for convent superiors. The monarch demonstrated his willingness to come to the aid of many abbesses and prioresses in times of distress, and superiors were certainly active in seeking numerous forms of assistance. The records show a direct relationship between the status of the house and the frequency with which such aid was given; thus, entries documenting aid to the poorer houses are few. This is understandable, since in the case of royal nunneries it was in the king’s interest to guard the value of his property, and he had no official stake in the small monasteries under the care of lesser patrons. But there were disadvantages in being the subject of royal attention, for it was not uncommon for a temporal monarch to give with one hand and take away with another. Kings became increasingly peremptory in their demands for corrodies and pensions for favoured ex-employees; and although female superiors sometimes resisted such demands, the royal administrative machinery was usually successful in securing the monarch’s goals. The crown also made ad hoc requests for substantial ‘loans’ from the larger abbeys, and it is not obvious that these loans were repaid. Kings were anxious to confer benefices on their own clerks, and showed no compunction about bypassing the authority of the nunnery head who held the right to bestow such benefices. The same is true of the pope. Naturally, the smaller houses were not usually importuned in this way.

188

LEADERSHIP IN MEDIEVAL ENGLISH NUNNERIES

The wealthier nunneries were targeted also by members of the upper class, seeking suitable lodgings during their travels, or a sanctuary for wives of absentee diplomats. The pope was generous with his indults, though to some extent his generosity was misdirected, creating precedents which held the potential for serious disruptions to conventual discipline. This is amply demonstrated in the debacle at St Helen’s in 1385, when a nun almost succeeded in her attempt to bypass the authority of her prioress to secure special privileges for herself with the aid of the pope. The numerous papal grants for private confessors allowed to individual nuns were also against the spirit of the Rule. The popular notion of widespread ineptitude on the part of female superiors has been gradually ebbing away, thanks to a number of recent studies. Hopefully, this book provides additional perspectives on the external and internal forces which worked with or against nunnery superiors in spiritual and material leadership. The documents reveal that some abbesses and prioresses were skilled administrators and others were not; the women emerge as individuals responding to unique events and pressure groups rather than representing behavioural norms. There are signs that loss of moral control was consistent with financial mismanagement, though it is difficult to tell which of the two problems occurred first. Some examples can be quoted to show the positive effect of a strong individual imported from another convent to bring stability and inspiration to a small, struggling house; in other cases it is clear that firm, effective leadership emerged within a small group. Syon Abbey has been used in the study as a basis of comparison. It remains as an exemplary house, though without the economic, educational and spiritual stimuli built into its ethos the house may have provided a very different history. The fact that the community survived at least in part after its dissolution speaks for itself. The impact of the Brigittine Rule and the tight structure provided by its many regulations is difficult to evaluate, but these guidelines and the strong financial base existing at the outset seem to have worked strongly in the abbey’s favour and that of its abbesses. The evidence examined overall suggests a relationship between firm discipline and firm control of convent finances. Another interesting feature is that most of the houses under review show significant peaks and troughs in their economic and spiritual administration. Thus, convents which sank low in one period recovered and prospered in later years. It is therefore difficult to escape the conclusion that the quality of leadership was a powerful determinant. There are certainly indications that the nuns were ill at ease when the superior’s control faltered, though whether this apparent desire for firm control actually determined the selection of a candidate is unclear. In other pieces of evidence there are signs of nunnery heads losing power through over-controlling their nuns. It was obviously not easy to achieve an appropriate balance between the two sides of the leadership model. Bishops, archbishops, and some of their deputies were meant to function as mentors. Some showed concern for the abbesses and prioresses and offered

CONCLUSION

189

occasional assistance, including gifts, advice and, notably, vernacular rules. Nevertheless, misogyny, which can be traced back several centuries, tainted the relations between the female superiors and these officials, possibly because the latter were required to function as judges as well as guides. The fear and suspicion with which women were regarded helped to shape the bull Periculoso, which effectively limited the scope of female administration and caused anxiety and even resentment among the women, while purporting to afford additional protection and focus for their service. Bishops, forced to administer repressive legislation, were in some cases seen as challengers of female authority, thus heightening the existing tension between mentors and their charges. Nevertheless, it is clear that bishops and archbishops were themselves experiencing external pressures and to some extent their demands upon their spiritual daughters were reactions to such pressure. The complex demands of the women’s physical, social and religious environment created enormous strains on the personal resources of abbesses and prioresses. The combined effects of low funding and later erosion of existing resources through natural disasters impoverished many female communities. Such deprivation eliminated for many nunneries the opportunity to engage in the kind of sacrificial lifestyle stressed in the Rule, and material dependence on the charitable whims of secular folk diluted the superior’s authority on which the balance of the convent depended. Abbesses and prioresses, already hampered by insufficient income and more restricted in their movements than their male counterparts, were at a disadvantage when faced with the need to defend their resources. The later customs which brought additional burdens for female superiors included increasing demands for prayers for the dead. This meant enlisting the services of priests for the administration of chantry foundations, which were frequently dependent for their support on the vagaries of the real estate market. Thus, spiritual services were sometimes overshadowed by financial negotiations. This book has not set out to present a gendered study, though some comparisons between data from male and female houses have been made in the course of the argument. In financial management, female superiors employed similar strategies to those found in the secular world, as did the male religious. The tough, competitive environment of the business community required pragmatism and this is discernible in both male and female monastic administrations as far as can be detected in the material examined. Spiritual leadership is an elusive area, since its absence is more easily detected than its presence. The absence of scandal in a given convent might suggest that it was being run competently, but it could also mean that reports of faults simply did not survive from that time. Therefore, negative evidence alone is scarcely enough to suggest faithfulness to the Rule, let alone godly example and infectious enthusiasm for the enclosed life. Chaucer and other medieval writers found a public eager to read racy tales of both male and female religious and obligingly supplied them. These representations, including that of Dame Eglentyne, have encouraged some

190

LEADERSHIP IN MEDIEVAL ENGLISH NUNNERIES

observers to regard figures of this kind as faithful representations of the ‘average’ female superior. The episcopal records do not hide the fact that there were those who proved unsuitable for the religious life and brought shame and even financial ruin to their convents. But the reports on individual houses do not support the hypothesis that serious abuses were common. Since such documents were designed not to affirm goodness but to find fault, negative evidence of infractions of the Rule and the spare comment ‘omnia bene’ were the most positive indications that could be expected. Given the long list of possible faults which had to be overcome or evaded in order to earn such a report, this was more of a tribute than might be expected at first glance. In the search for additional clues to the spirituality of female superiors it is important to take a lateral view. This approach allows insight into significant changes occurring in religious practices within female houses, of the kind which could only have occurred with the permission of abbesses and prioresses. The prayers and songs used in their Processional by the Chester nuns during the fifteenth century are fresh and vigorous, expressing confidence in the individual’s path of access to God, and reflecting current themes of spiritual aspirations common among contemporary secular folk. In contrast the fifteenth-century material from Sybilla Felton of Barking Abbey indicates a perceived need to refocus on the traditional forms of worship and to ensure due order, while at the same time allowing access to contemporary expressions of spirituality through the sharing of devotional books given or lent by secular people. We may never know the impact of Richard Fox’s vernacular Rule provided in the sixteenth century for the southern nuns. It is certain, however, that his version did not stay in the south, since a copy was found at Stamford Priory, with the name of Stamford’s prioress Margaret Stanbourne inscribed on one of its pages. Stamford, like several other nunneries, finished its life in good heart after alternate periods of turmoil and recovery. How much Margaret was responsible for the favourable state of her house may never be known. Such fragments of history, though scattered and partial, deny the widespread notion of universal and progressive spiritual decline among enclosed religious. Clearly there were some late medieval abbesses and prioresses eager to inject vitality into the devotional lives of their nuns. The last years of monasticism were full of fear and conflict for the female superiors and their nuns. As with their earlier history, there is no universal response to be found as they faced the changes imposed. Some of the women bowed to the inevitable with little sign of resistance; some tried to preserve their status and their conventual property by adopting strategies of secular friends and neighbours. There were deliberate provisions made by some to meet the possible regeneration of the monasteries. Several clung tenaciously to the ‘old religion’ and among them were women who formed small mutually-supportive communities within their new secularised world, even to the extent of leaving England and finding shelter in foreign lands. Others avoided drawing attention to their former life for fear of punishment.

CONCLUSION

191

Although a significant body of evidence on the mechanics of administering the convents survives there is little which describes the personal lives of the women in charge. They have left few letters, and those which remain only hint at their spiritual or emotional struggles. The leadership ideal was an extraordinarily demanding one, and it is doubtful if any achieved its heroic proportions of spiritual insight, discipline, decisiveness, integrity and business acumen. The scaled-down version represented by the sum of episcopal questions may have provided a more accessible model. No leader possessing all the attributes of the Euphemia model has emerged, but her qualities are far from absent among the cohort. There is in the collection of documentary evidence no indication that a ‘typical’ female superior existed: rather, a host of individuals, many of whom remain anonymous and most of whom were subsumed in the houses they led. The records hide far more than they reveal. Nevertheless, it is possible to see patience, persistence, shrewdness, a reaching for God, a love of beauty and an asperity among the scraps of evidence reflecting their service and their dilemmas. Most of the buildings which housed them have vanished, together with the pastoral staffs once held; but their achievements are not to be dismissed. Most managed to keep their convents alive through war, plague, famine and various levels of deprivation. This in itself is an impressive feat for individuals who were, after all, human.

c. 1210 1538

Kent

Yorkshire

Canterbury St Sepulchre (B)

Clementhorpe (B)

Archbishop Thurstan ?

1536

?

Archbishop of Canterbury & William Calwell

Basing family [traditional view]

William, son of William, goldsmith

patron

Founder

c. 1130

1536

1535–8 1536–8

c. 1100

1379–6

1538–16

1378–11

London

Bishopsgate St Helen’s (B)

Dates of foundation & closure

Population at dates shown

County

Name and monastic Order (A = Augustinian B = Benedictine Brig. = Brigittine C = Cistercian)

£73 9s.10d. VE v, p. 3

£29 12s. 5½ d. VE i, p. 30

£320 15s. 8½ d. VE i, p. 393

Net income in 1535, from VE or Savine

(based mainly on figures quoted in Knowles & Hadcock, unless otherwise indicated) Net income figure is drawn from estimate in Valor Ecclesiasticus or from A. Savine, ‘English Monasteries on the Eve of Dissolution’, Oxford Studies in Social and Legal History I (Oxford, 1909).

Appendix A Background Information on Core Group of Nunneries

LIST OF NUNNERIES AND INCOMES

193

County

Middlesex

Kent

Yorkshire

Oxfordshire

Wiltshire

Name and monastic Order (A = Augustinian B = Benedictine Brig. = Brigittine C = Cistercian)

Clerkenwell (A)

Davington (B)

Esholt (C)

Godstow (B)

Kington St Michael (B)

c. 1150

1536

1535–3

1539

1535–20 c. 1493–10

c. 1133

late Hen II/ early Richard I 1536

1445–17

1539–11

1153 1535

1539

1539–12 1511–5 (incl. 2 unprofessed) 1535–1 P’ess died same yr., leaving 1 novice)

c. 1145

& closure

Dates of foundation

1383–17

Population at dates shown

Bishop of Salisbury

Empress Maud? and/or Wayfer family

royal patron

Dame Ediva & Henry I/

Ward family

Geoffrey Haget or Simon Ward

?

Fulk de Newenham

Bishop of London

Jordan de Bricet

patron

Founder

£25 9s. 1½ d. VE ii, p. 114

£274 5s. 10½ d. ## VE ii, p. 196

£13 5s. 4d. VE v, p. 16

Not available#

£262 19s. 0d. VE i, p. 396

Net income in 1535, from VE or Savine

194 LEADERSHIP IN MEDIEVAL ENGLISH NUNNERIES

Yorkshire

Hampshire

Hampshire

Marrick (B)

Romsey (B)

St Mary’s, Winchester (B)

c. 890 1539

1536–26

1539

c. 907, reconstituted 967

Crown

King Alfred

Crown

Edward the Elder

Aske family

1540

1381–39

1333–90 1502–20 1538–26

Roger de Aske

c.? (early Hen II)

Duke of Lancaster

1539

1539–14 + 3 novices 1540–13*

Countess Ela Longespee

1230–32

1395–22

£179 7s. 2d. ** VE ii, p. 4

£393 10s. 10½ d. VE ii, p. 16

£49 1s. 2½ d. Savine, p. 286

£168 9s. 2d. VE ii, p. 118

# Knowles & Hadcock quote an amount of over £41 (p. 255). This is a rough estimate of incoming revenue only. ## The net income calculated by Godstow abbey was £258 10s. 6½ d., a figure arrived at after claiming additional deductions for household supplies and liturgical aids in the nuns’ church. These particular deductions were evidently disallowed. Similarly, Lacock gave its net income as £128 14s. 8d., but the final figure on which their tax was based appears as £168 9s. 2d. This appears to be another case of disallowed deductions. * Knowles & Hadcock (p. 261) give a total of 16 plus the prioress, but the pensions list for Marrick from the Court of Augmentations lists only 13 names (E315/245, fol. 195). ** The taxable income for St Mary’s Winchester was higher than this figure indicates, due to a deliberate misrepresentation by the abbey officials. See Coldicott, Appendix 5, p. 192, quoting PRO SC12/33/27, fol. 1 [which states that the true net income was £330 18s. 6¼ d. with £150 having been concealed without consent of the abbess and convent].

Wiltshire

Lacock (A)

LIST OF NUNNERIES AND INCOMES

195

Northants.

Middlesex

Middlesex

Wiltshire

St Michael, Stamford (B)

Stratford at Bowe (B)

Syon Abbey (Brig.)

Wilton (B) 1539–33

1441–44

1415: 60 nuns, 25 male religious 1539: 52 choir nuns, 4 lay sisters, 17 male religious

1528–10

830 1539

1539

1415

c. 1120/ 1536

1536

1535–16? *** 1354–30

c. 1155

& closure

Dates of foundation

1440–12

Population at dates shown

Crown

King Egbert

Crown

Henry V

Bishop of London

Bishop of London (traditional view)

Abbot of Peterborough

William de Waterville, Abbot of Peterborough

patron

Founder

*** This seems an unlikely figure for Stamford. Knowles & Hadcock admit uncertainty also. (Ibid., p. 266.)

County

Name and monastic Order (A = Augustinian B = Benedictine Brig. = Brigittine C = Cistercian)

£601 13s. 03/4d VE ii, p. 112

£1,731 8s. 4d VE i, pp. 424–8

£108 1s. 11½ d. VE i, p. 409

£65 19s 9d. VE iv, p. 141

Net income in 1535, from VE or Savine

196 LEADERSHIP IN MEDIEVAL ENGLISH NUNNERIES

Appendix B Names of Nunnery Superiors NAMES OF NUNNERY SUPERIORS

House

Name of Superior

Approx. date occurring

Details E: elected D: died Dep: deposed R: resigned S: surrendered

Canterbury (St Sepulchre) Margery de Brunnesford Sarah de Pecham Margaret Terry Cecily de Tonford

Joan de Chiriton

Agnes Broman/ Bourghman Alice Guston Margery Child Joan Whitfelde Lettice Hamon Mildred Hale Philippa Jonys/John

VCH Kent ii, pp. 143–4; Heads, p. 550. Heads

1296–7 1324

Sources

E

1349 1356

Ibid. Ibid. Ibid.

1365

R

1366

E

1368

R

1368

E

1369 1369 1376 1376 1420s 1427 1511 1536

D E Dep. E D E S

LPL Reg. Islip, fol. 213. Heads LPL Reg. Langham, fol 77. Heads Ibid. VCH Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Will of 1542 held at Centre for Kentish Studies (PRC 17/26/27)

Clementhorpe

VCH Yorkshire iii, pp. 130–1; Heads, p. 626.

198

LEADERSHIP IN MEDIEVAL ENGLISH NUNNERIES

Name of Superior

Approx. date occurring

Clementhorpe cont.

Agnes de Wyten

1280

VCH

Alice Constance/ Custance Basy Agnes de Methelay

1299

Ibid.

Alice de Pakenham Beatrice de Remington Margaret Holtby Margaret Delaryver Christabella Longcastre Margaret Carre Margaret Frankelayne Isabella Ward

Details E: elected D: died Dep: deposed R: resigned S: surrendered

Sources

House

1315

E

Ibid.

1316

E

Ibid.

1324 1396

R D

Ibid. Ibid.

1396

E

Ibid.

1456

R

Ibid.

1470

Ibid.

1489 1489

D E

Ibid. Ibid.

1515 1516 1516

E D E

Ibid. Ibid. Ibid.

1518 1518 1536–7

D E S

Ibid. Ibid. L&P xiii (1), item 1520, p. 575.

Clerkenwell

Agnes de Marcy/Marci Denis Bras Margery Bray Joan of Lewknore/ Leukenore/ Lewkenore

VCH Middlesex i, p. 174; Heads, p. 583. VCH

1283 c. 1305 ? ? 1306/7

1328

D

Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid.

Chew, London Possessory Assizes, item 18, p. 6.

NAMES OF NUNNERY SUPERIORS

Sources

House

Name of Superior

Approx. date occurring

Clerkenwell cont.

Joan of Fulham

1340

VCH

1345 1356

Ibid. Ibid.

1357 1368 1379*

Heads Ibid. *In this year Idonea was in the community, but no longer as prioress (ibid.). VCH

Idonea Let/ Lutiers/Lyter

Katherine Braybrok/ Braybrooke

Lucy atte Wode Joan Vian

Margaret Bakewell

Isabel Wentworth

Margaret Bull Agnes Clifford Katherine Green Isabel Hussey Rose Reygate

Cecily Marten Isabel Sackville

Details E: elected D: died Dep: deposed R: resigned S: surrendered

199

1379

1381 1384 1383 1388 1388 1396 1399 1403 1406

D E R E

Ibid. Ibid. Heads VCH Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid.

1414 1424 1425/6

Ibid. Ibid. Ibid.

1447 1464 1473 1480–7

CPR, 1446–52, p. 91. VCH Ibid. Ibid.

1501? 1507 1519 1522 1524 1524 1526

Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid.

D E

200

LEADERSHIP IN MEDIEVAL ENGLISH NUNNERIES

House

Name of Superior

Approx. date occurring

Clerkenwell cont.

Isabel Sackville cont.

1539

Details E: elected D: died Dep: deposed R: resigned S: surrendered S

Davington Lucy de Apuldrefeld Margaret Borstall Isabel Northoo Elizabeth Harrys Marjory Neulond Loretta Soryndon

Alice Lyndesey

Ellen Urmeston Maud Denmerke Maud Awdeley Joan Maud Dynmarke

Joan de Mohaut

L&P xiv (2), item 133, p. 39.

1350

R

VCH Kent ii; Heads, p. 556. VCH

1350

E

Ibid.

1383 1401 1401

E D E

Ibid. Ibid. Ibid.

1436* not 1437 as stated in VCH. 1436* not 1437 as stated in VCH. 1500 1507

D

E

Reg. Chichele i, Canterbury & York Soc. 45, p. 117. Ibid.

D E

VCH Ibid.

1511 1522 1535

D

Esholt

Alice Juliana de la Wodehall Joan de Hartlington Isabella de Calverley

Sources

LPL Reg. Warham, fol. 40. VCH L&P x, item 176, p. 63.

1299 1300

VCH Yorkshire iii, pp. 161–3; Heads, p. 559. Heads Ibid.

1315

Ibid.

1315 1327 1349 1353 1360 1365

E

D E

VCH Ibid. Ibid. Heads Ibid. Ibid.

NAMES OF NUNNERY SUPERIORS

Sources

House

Name of Superior

Approx. date occurring

Esholt cont.

Maud/Matilda Ward

1392

VCH

1401–7 1416 1459 1475

E

Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid.

R E E R E

Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. VCH Ibid. Ibid.

Emma Porter Emma Burgh Elizabeth Lasynby Joan Ward

1480 1487 1493 1497 Agnes Firth 1505 Margaret Roche 1507 1512 Elizabeth 1512 Pudsay/Pudsey Joan Jenkynson 1539

Details E: elected D: died Dep: deposed R: resigned S: surrendered

S

Godstow

Rose de Oxeye Mabel la Wafre Alice de Gorges Maud Upton Margaret Dyve Maud de Beauchamp Agnes de Streteley

Margaret Tracy

201

W. Clay, ed., YAS Rec. Ser. 48, p. 110.

1278 1283 1283 1295 1295 1304 1304 1316 1316 1335 1335

E D E R E D E D E D E

VCH Oxford ii, pp. 71–5; Heads, p. 562. VCH Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Heads VCH Ibid. Heads Ibid. Ibid.

1346 1349

E

VCH Heads

1373 1375 1375

D E

Ibid. Ibid. Ibid.

202

LEADERSHIP IN MEDIEVAL ENGLISH NUNNERIES

Sources

House

Name of Superior

Approx. date occurring

Godstow cont.

Margaret Tracy cont. Margaret Mounteney

1384

Details E: elected D: died Dep: deposed R: resigned S: surrendered D

1384

E

1415*

D*VCH cites 1413 [incorrectly]

CPR, 1413–16, p. 342.

1415

E

Ibid., p. 331.

1430

D

1430 1434 1435

E D E

CPR, 1429–36, p. 86. Ibid., p. 101. Ibid., p. 446. Ibid., p. 453.

Agnes Wygtham

Elizabeth Pytte Elizabeth Felmersham Alice Lumley Alice Henley

1445 1446 1451 1470

Margaret More

1471 [April] 1471 [Dec.]

Alice Nunny

1471 [October] 1481

E D E Appointment annulled E R

Katherine Felde

1481 1494

E D

Isabel Braynton

1494 1517

E D

Margaret Tewkisbury?

1517

E

1535

R

1535

E

1539

S

Katherine Bulkeley/ Bewmarys

CPR, 1381–5, p. 455. Ibid., p. 459.

Linc. Vis. ii, p. 113. Ibid. VCH CPR, 1467–77, p. 212. Ibid., p. 239. CPL xiii, p. 431. VCH CPR, 1476–85, p. 228. VCH CPR, 1494– 1509, p. 8. Ibid., pp. 5–6. L&P ii (2), item 3245, p. 1042. Ibid., item 3396, p. 1087. Ibid., viii, item 291 (59), p. 122. VCH

L&P xiv (2), item 539, pp. 188–9.

NAMES OF NUNNERY SUPERIORS

House

Name of Superior

Approx. date occurring

Details E: elected D: died Dep: deposed R: resigned S: surrendered

Kington

203

Sources

Clarice Amice

pre 1290 1295

D

Amice of Wallingford Joan Duredent

1298

E

VCH Wilts. iii, p. 261; Heads, p. 576. Mon. iv, p. 398. Reg. Gandavo ii, Canterbury & York Soc. 41, pp. 582–3. Ibid.

1319 1326 1326

E R E

VCH Ibid. Heads

Denise of Horsell under Chobham (Surr.) Isabel Huse Lucy Paas Alice More Christina Nye

1327 1348 1365 1431 1454

E

D

Joan Denyton/ Donyton

1454

E

Alice Lawrence Katharine Moleyns

1492 1492

R E

1506 1506 1511

D E

Alice Staunton Margaret

Cecily 1520s? Bodenham (elected abbess of Wilton in 1534) Elizabeth Pede 1534 Mary Denys 1535 1536

E S

Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. J.E. Jackson, ‘Kington St Michael’, WAM 4, 1858, p. 55. WRO Reg. Beauchamp ii, part 2, fol. 28v. VCH Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. H. Maxwell-Lyte, Reg. de Costello, Somerset Rec. Soc. 54, item 950, p. 153. VCH

Ibid. Ibid. Ibid.

204

LEADERSHIP IN MEDIEVAL ENGLISH NUNNERIES

House

Name of Superior

Approx. date occurring

Details E: elected D: died Dep: deposed R: resigned S: surrendered

Lacock

Beatrice of Kent Alice Juliana Agnes Joan de Montfort Katherine le Cras Sybil de Sainte Croix Matilda/Maud de Montfort Agnes de Brymesden Faith Selyman Agnes de Wyke Elena de Montfort Agnes Frary Agnes Draper Margery Glowceter Joan Temmse

VCH Wiltshire iii, pp. 315–16; Heads ii, p. 577. VCH Ibid., Heads Heads Ibid. Ibid. Ibid.

1280 1283, 1286 1288 1298 1299 1303–32

D

1332–4

E

Ibid.

1334

E

VCH

1349 1349

D? E

Ibid. Heads

1356

E

VCH

1361 1380 1403

E E E

Heads VCH Ibid.

1429 1445 1473 1473

E E D E

Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid.

1516 (?) 1539

E S

Ibid. L&P xiv (1), item 110, p. 43.

Marrick

Margaret Alice de Helperby Juliana Margaret of Hartlepool

Sources

1282 1293

VCH Yorkshire iii, p. 118; Heads, pp. 587–8. Heads Ibid.

1298 1319

Ibid. Ibid.

1321

Ibid.

NAMES OF NUNNERY SUPERIORS

Sources

House

Name of Superior

Approx. date occurring

Marrick cont.

Elizabeth de Verdon Elizabeth (possibly Elizabeth de Verdon) Maud de Melsonby Sibyl of Aslaby Elizabeth Agnes

1326

Ibid.

1351

VCH

1376

Heads

1379 1391 1400 1406 1413 1433

Ibid. VCH Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid.

1449 1464 1498 1502 1502

Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid.

Alice de Ravenswathe Cecilia Metcalf

Agnes Wenslawe Isabella Berningham Christobel Cowper

1510 1511

Details E: elected D: died Dep: deposed R: resigned S: surrendered

D

D D

Ibid.

1536

Chambers, Faculty Office Registers, p. 46. E315/245, fol. 195; L&P xiv (2), item 175, p. 51.

S

Romsey

Philippa de Stokes Clementia de Gildeford

Ibid. Ibid.

1530

1539

Alice Walerand

205

1268 1298 1298

E D E

VCH Hampshire ii, p. 132; Heads, p. 600. Liveing, p. 84. Heads Ibid.

1307 1307

D E

Ibid. Ibid.

1314

D

Ibid.

206

LEADERSHIP IN MEDIEVAL ENGLISH NUNNERIES

House

Name of Superior

Approx. date occurring

Romsey cont.

Alice de Wyntershull

Sources

1315

Details E: elected D: died Dep: deposed R: resigned S: surrendered E

Ibid.

1315 1315 1333 1333 1349 1349 1352 1352

D E D E D E D E

Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid.

1396 1396 1405 Felicia Aas 1405 1417 Maud Lovell 1417 1462 Joan Brygges 1462 1472 Elizabeth Brooke 1472 1478

D E D E D E D E D E R

Ibid. Coldicott, p. 162. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid., CPR, 1476–85, p. 120. Coldicott, p. 162; CPR, 1476–85, pp. 116, 122. Coldicott, p. 162. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid.

Sibil Carbonel Joan Icthe Joan Gerveys Isabel de Camoys Lucy Everard

Elizabeth Brooke Joyce Rowse Anne Westbrook Elizabeth Ryprose

1478

E [re-elected]

c. 1502

D

1502 1515 1515–23

E R E

1524–39

Ibid.

St Helen’s, London

VCH London i, pp. 460–1; Heads, pp. 584–5. Felicia de 1269-? Basinges Orabella 1295 Joan de Wynton 1324

Heads D

Ibid. Ibid.

NAMES OF NUNNERY SUPERIORS

House

Name of Superior

Approx. date occurring

St Helen’s, London cont.

Beatrix de Boteler

1332

Details E: elected D: died Dep: deposed R: resigned S: surrendered D

Eleanor de Wynton Margery de Honilane Isabel Gloucestre Constance Somerset

1332

E

Joan Parles

Calendar of Charter Rolls i, p. 318. Heads Ibid.

1374

Heads

1382, 1383

Chew, London Possessory Assizes, pp. 63, 67. Heads Chew, London Poss. Ass., p. 92. Ibid. p. 75.

1385 1405

D

S. Thrupp, The Merchant Class of Medieval London (London, 1948), App. B., p. 388. GL 25121/2042.

1458 1466

PRO E303/8, m. 10. CCR 12 Ed. IV, p. 277. VCH

1473 Alice 1488 Trewethall Elizabeth Stamp 1512 1528 Mary Rollesley 1529 1538 St Mary’s, Winchester Lucy

Sources

1354

Margaret 1411–12 Bunting Margaret Stokes 1436

Alice Wodehouse Alice Ashfield

207

1270

R E S

Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. VCH Hampshire ii, p. 126; Heads, pp. 260–1. Heads

208

LEADERSHIP IN MEDIEVAL ENGLISH NUNNERIES

House

Name of Superior

Approx. date occurring

St Mary’s, Winchester cont.

Matilda

1281

Details E: elected D: died Dep: deposed R: resigned S: surrendered

Sources

1284 1285 1288

E

Coldicott, p. 159 (quoting BL Add. Ch. 17519, showing this year to be Matilda’s fifth in office). Coldicott, ibid. Ibid. Heads

1299 1299

D E

Ibid. Ibid.

1313 1313

D E

Ibid. Ibid.

1337 Matilda de Spine 1337 1349 Margaret 1349 Molins/Moleyns 1361 Christina 1361 Wayte 1365 Alice de la 1365 Mare 1386

D E D E

Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid.

D E

Ibid. Ibid.

D E

Ibid. Ibid.

D

Joan Denemede

E D E

Wykeham’s Reg. i, Hampshire Record Soc. 11, items 161–2, p. 153. Ibid. Coldicott, p. 160 Ibid.

D

Ibid.

E D

Ibid. Ibid.

Mary Christine de Winton Agnes de Ashley Maud de Pecham

Maud/Matilda Holme

1385 1410 1410

1415 [*VCH cites 1414, incorrectly] Christina Hardy 1415 1419

NAMES OF NUNNERY SUPERIORS

House

Name of Superior

Approx. date occurring

St Mary’s, Winchester cont.

Agnes Denham

Agnes Buriton

Joan/Johanna Legh Elizabeth Shelley Elizabeth Shelley

Maud de Lenna (Maud/Matilda of Lynn) Mabel le Venur Mabel de Reyby Margaret del See

Agnes de Brakenburgh Katherine Russell

Sources

1419 [*Cited as 1418 in VCH] 1449 1449 1488 * [Cited as 1486 in VCH] 1488

Details E: elected D: died Dep: deposed R: resigned S: surrendered E

Ibid.

D E D

Ibid. Ibid. Ibid.

E

Ibid.

1527

E

Ibid.

1539

S

c. 1547

D

L&P xiv (2), item 523, pp. 183–4. Will at HRO 1549B/078.

St Michael Stamford

1286

E

1306 1306 1337 1337 1350 (Nov. 13) 1353 (Feb. 24) 1356 (April 30) 1356 (Oct. 2) 1359

D E R E

E

209

VCH Northamptonshire ii, pp. 100–1; Heads, pp. 608–9. Heads

Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. PRO E326/B. 4684. PRO E315/42/124. PRO E315/45/278. PRO E326/B. 1208. Heads

1361–3 1364

Ibid. Ibid.

1375

PRO SC6/1260/5.

210

LEADERSHIP IN MEDIEVAL ENGLISH NUNNERIES

Details E: elected D: died Dep: deposed R: resigned S: surrendered

Sources

House

Name of Superior

Approx. date occurring

St Michael Stamford cont.

Isabel of Maltby

1367–9

Heads

1372 1374–5

Ibid. PRO SC6/1260/4. Heads (Isabel still alive, though no longer prioress, in 1377). Heads

1372

Alice Coupeldyk

1376 1377 1379 1382 1385 1388 1391

Margaret Redynges

1391

Agnes Leek

1413 1429 1429

Elizabeth Weldon

1430 (May 5) 1430 (Nov. 23) 1431

1431–2

1436 1438 1440–5

R

E R

Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid.; PRO E315 21/12. LAO John Buckingham, fol. 56 VCH Ibid. PRO E315/34/29. PRO E315/41/38. PRO E315/41/228. PRO E303/27 (number not shown on membrane). PRO E326/B. 4780; E326/B. 5119. PRO E326/B. 1195. PRO E326/B. 4782. Linc. Vis iii, pp. 348–56.

NAMES OF NUNNERY SUPERIORS

House

Name of Superior

Approx. date occurring

St Michael Stamford cont.

Elizabeth Weldon cont. Alice Wetryng

1453

Details E: elected D: died Dep: deposed R: resigned S: surrendered D

1453

E

1467 Margaret Croyland Margaret Croyland

Isabella Savage

1470 (Sept. 10) 1473 (Oct. 15) 1476 (June 12) 1479 (Jan. 7) 1481–2 1482–3 1482–3

Margaret de Gudchepe

1507 (Nov. 13) 1509

D

1513 1528–9 1536

Stratford-atBow Lucy

Sources

PRO E315/50/190. PRO E315/50/190. PRO E315/45/219. PRO E315/48/199. PRO E315/42/72. PRO E315/42/57. PRO E315/41/121. PRO SC6/914/3. PRO SC6/914/4. PRO E210/1529.

1486 1495 (Jan. 28) 1496–7

Margaret Lawson Margaret Stainbarn Isabel Savage

211

1264–84

PRO E315/39/244. PRO E326/B. 5673. PRO E315/46/291. LAO Rel. Houses, box 92 4/7. PRO E303/27, m. 28. VCH

S

L&P xiii (i), item 1520, p. 580. VCH Middlesex i, p. 159; Heads, p. 612. Heads

212

LEADERSHIP IN MEDIEVAL ENGLISH NUNNERIES

House

Name of Superior

Approx. date occurring

Stratford-atBow cont.

Leticia de Markham

1344 (listed as former prioress) 1341 1375–97 1412–25

Isabel la Blunt Mary Suharde Alice Burwood/ Burford Anne Graciane Margaret Holbeche Katherine Washburne Elizabeth Gayton

Sources

Ibid.

1477

Ibid. Ibid. VCH, Sharpe, Wills i, p. 446. VCH Sharpe, Wills i, p. 491. VCH

1509

Ibid.

1425–36? 1436

1510 1520 1522 1522 1528 1528 1536–37

D E D E R E S

Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. L&P xiii(i), item 1520, p. 580.

1420

E

1433 1433 1447 Margaret Ashby 1448

D E D

1456 1497

D D

VCH Middlesex i, p. 190. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Calendar of Charter Rolls, 1427–1516, p. 91. VCH Ibid.

1518 1518

D E

Ibid.

1520 1545 1557

D D (Instituted)

Ibid. Ibid. Ibid.

Helen Hyllard Eleanor Sterkey Sybil Kirke

Syon

Details E: elected D: died Dep: deposed R: resigned S: surrendered

Joan North

Maud Muston

Elizabeth Muston Elizabeth Gibbs Constance Brown Agnes Jordan Catherine Palmer

Ibid.

NAMES OF NUNNERY SUPERIORS

House

Name of Superior

Approx. date occurring

Syon cont.

Catherine Palmer cont.

1576

213

Sources

Details E: elected D: died Dep: deposed R: resigned S: surrendered D

Ibid.

c. 1272

E

VCH Wiltshire iii, pp. 241–2; Heads, pp. 619–20. Heads

c. 1296 1296

D E

Ibid. Ibid.

1299 1299

D E

Ibid. Ibid.

1321 1322

D E

Ibid.

1344 1344

D E

Ibid. Ibid.

1346 1346

D E

Ibid.

1361 Sibyl 1361 Aucher/Auchier

D E

1374 1374

D E

Ibid. Ibid. N.B. The VCH reference attributes the diocesan register noting Sibyl’s election (incorrectly) to Bishop Martival. Heads Ibid.

1395 Felise Lavington 1395 Joan 1403 Beauchamp 1416 Christine Doulre 1416 1441

D E E

Ibid. VCH Ibid.

D E D

Ibid. Ibid. Ibid.

Wilton

Juliana Giffard Wilton Petronilla de Vallibus Emma la Blounde/Blund/ Blount Constance de Percy Robergia de Popham Lucy de Loveney

Maud/Matilda de Bokeland

Ibid.

Ibid.

214

LEADERSHIP IN MEDIEVAL ENGLISH NUNNERIES

House

Wilton cont.

Name of Superior

Approx. date occurring

Christine Codford Isabel Lambard Edith Barough Alice Comelonde Cecily Willoughby Elizabeth Elwell

Isabel Jordayne Cecily Bodenham

Sources

1441

Details E: elected D: died Dep: deposed R: resigned S: surrendered E

Ibid.

1488 1448 1464 1464 1470 1471

D E D E D E

Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid.

1485 1485

D E

Ibid.

1502/3

E

1528 1533 1534

E D E

1539

S

WRO Reg. Audley ii, fols 1–2. VCH Ibid. L&P vii, item 589 (3), p. 235. Ibid., xiv (1), item 597 (i), p. 233.

Ibid.

N.B. Information is to be found mainly in VCH or in Heads. Coldicott is quoted frequently for Hampshire convents. The title appearing in each row of the ‘Sources’ column indicates the source of the most complete set of data for the superior indicated. In some cases, two complementary works are cited.

Appendix C Election of Cecily Willoughby as Abbess, Wilton Abbey, Sept. 24, 1485 ELECTION PROCEDURES AT WILTON

(fol. 1/49) Account of the election, by royal licence, of a successor to Alice Comaland, abbess of Wilton, who died 3 September 1485. After the nuns were warned the previous day to be present, on 24 September 1485, when the mass of the Holy Spirit had been sung at the high altar, and immediately after the ringing of the great bell as is customary at the hour of the chapter, [there assembled] Elizabeth Elwell, prioress, Alice Hyne, Margaret Hyll, Joan Yonge, Joan Trent, Elizabeth White, Margaret Newman, Joan Bolney, Elizabeth Hawsok, Cristin Grattelyng, Agnes Pewsay, Jaon Pole, Isabel Trent, Cecily Willoughby, professed nuns, Elizabeth Husay, Isabel Jurdan, Alice Godelonde, Joan Gilbert, Anastasia Holme, Joan Trovy, Alice Husey, Alice Rumsay, Joan Bothe, Margaret Barowe, Agnes Grymelby, Elizabeth Pewsay, Elizabeth Sarnyngton, Eleanor Rumsey, Isabel Wymondeswolde, Joan Strode, fellow nuns and sisters awaiting profession (commoneales et consorores tacite professe) and having a voice in the election according to the custom of the monastery; no one was absent. The word of God was preached and the Veni Creator Spiritus sung. All those who had no say in the election withdrew from the chapter house, except M. Laurence Cokkys DCnL, the bishop’s Chancellor, director of the election, M. Bartholomew Underwod BCL, notary public, recorder (actorum scriba) and registrar, Nicholas Gotfrith BC & CnL, and Alexander Cater BC & CnL, witnesses without votes in the election. (fol. 1v/49v) The royal licence was exhibited; then M. Laurence described the form and manner of the election to the electors who proceeded to choose Cecily Wiloughby, nun, to be abbess of Wilton. Then they sang the Te Deum Laudamus as they progressed to the choir, all the bells were rung, and Cecily was placed before the high altar. When the hymn was finished and the prayers of the elect poured out, the election was published to the clergy and people in the vulgar tongue by M. Laurence Cokkys. The nuns, having returned to the chapter house, constituted Margaret Hill, Joan Yonge, and Joan Trent their proctors to require the assent of the abbess-elect to her election, which she gave. (fol. 2/50) Then the election decree was drawn up and sealed and presented by Stephan Semar, one of their proctors to the bp. Who was then at Bisham. He commissioned M. Laurence Cokkys DCnL, who first publicly read his commission in the parish church of St Mary in ‘Bridstreet’, Wilton, and, when the election decree was presented by M. Alexander Cator, proctor of the prioress and convent of Wilton, confirmed the election of Cecily Willoughby, nun, to be abbess of St Mary and St Edith, Wilton. (fol. 2v/50v)

216

LEADERSHIP IN MEDIEVAL ENGLISH NUNNERIES

Subsequently the elect received her blessing from William, (Weskarre), bp. of Sidon, acting on a commission from the bp., at the high altar in that church; and she made her profession of obedience.

Appendix D Eulogy for Euphemia of Wherwell (d. 1257) EULOGY FOR EUPHEMIA OF WHERWELL

On the 6th of the Kalends of May, in the year of grace, 1257, died the blessed mother abbess Euphemia, most worthy to be remembered, who, by our affection and good fellowship, and with divine sanction succeeded the late abbess Maud of sweet memory, in our special prayers and suffrages, of one who ever worked for the glory of God, and for the weal of both our souls and bodies. For she increased the number of the Lord’s handmaids in this monastery from forty to eighty, to the exaltation of the worship of God. To her sisters, both in health and sickness, she administered the necessaries of life with piety, prudence, care, and honesty. She also increased the sum allowed for garments by 12d. each. The example of her holy conversation and charity, in conjunction with her pious exhortations and regular discipline, caused each one to know how, in the words of the Apostle, to possess her vessel in sanctification and honour. She also, with maternal piety and careful forethought, built, for the use of both sick and sound, a new and large farmery away from the main buildings, and in conjunction with it a dorter and other necessary offices. Beneath the farmery she constructed a watercourse, through which a stream flowed with sufficient force to carry off all refuse that might corrupt the air. Moreover, she built there a place set apart for the refreshment of the soul, namely a chapel of the Blessed Virgin, which was erected outside the cloister behind the farmery. With the chapel she enclosed a large space, which was adorned on the north side with pleasant vines and trees. On the other side, by the river bank, she built offices for various uses, a space being left in the centre where the nuns are able from time to time to enjoy the pure air. In these and in other numberless ways, the blessed mother Euphemia provided for the worship of God and the welfare of the sisters. But notwithstanding all this, she also so conducted herself with regard to exterior affairs, that she seemed to have the spirit of a man rather than a woman. The court of the abbey manor, owing to the useless mass of squalid outbuildings, and the propinquity of the kitchen to the granary and old hall, was in much danger of fire; whilst the confined area and the amount of animal refuse was a cause of offence to both the feet and nostrils of those who had occasion to pass through. The mother Euphemia, realizing that the Lord had called her to the rule of the abbey of Wherwell, not that she might live there at ease, but that she might, with due care and despatch, uproot and destroy and dissipate all that was noxious, and establish and erect that which would be useful, demolished the whole of these buildings, levelled the court, and erected a new hall of suitable size and height. She also built a new mill, some distance from the

218

LEADERSHIP IN MEDIEVAL ENGLISH NUNNERIES

hall, and constructed it with great care in order that more work than formerly might be done therein for the service of the house. She surrounded the court with a wall and the necessary buildings, and round it she made gardens and vineyards and shrubberies in places that were formerly useless and barren, and which now became both serviceable and pleasant. The manor house of Middleton, which occupied a dry situation and was close to a public thoroughfare, and was further disfigured by old and crumbling buildings, she moved to another site, where she erected permanent buildings, new and strong, on the bank of the river, together with farmhouses. She also set to work in the same way at Tufton, in order that the buildings of both the manor houses in that neighbourhood might be of greater service and safer against the danger of fire. These and other innumerable works, our good superior Euphemia performed for the advantage of the house, but she was none the less zealous in works of charity, gladly and freely exercising hospitality, so that she and her daughers might find favour with One Whom Lot and Abraham and others have pleased by the grace of hospitality. Moreover, because she greatly loved to honour duly the House of God and the place where His glory dwells, she adorned the church with crosses, reliquaries, precious stones, vestments, and books. And because the bell tower above the dorter fell down through decay one night, about the hour of mattins, when by an obvious miracle from heaven, though the nuns were at that moment in the dorter, some in bed and some in prayer before their beds, all escaped not only death but even any bodily injury, she caused another bell tower of worked stone to be erected, conformable to the fair appearance of the church and the rest of the buildings, of commanding height, and of exquisite workmanship. But as she advanced in years, towards the end of her life, there was imminent danger of the complete collapse of the presbytery of the church; by the advice of skilled builders, she caused the presbytery to be taken down to the last stones of the foundations; and because the ground was found to be undermined and unsafe, she caused the damp soil to be dug out to a depth of twelve feet till firm and dry ground was found, when, having invoked the grace of the Holy Spirit, with prayers and tears she laid with her own hands the first stone of the foundations. Moreover she rejoiced to have found favour with God, so that before her last days were ended she saw this work that she had begun brought to its desired end. Thus she, who had devoted herself when amongst us to the service of His house and the habitation of His glory, found the due reward for her merits with our Lord Jesus Christ, through the prayers and merits of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of the blessed apostles Sts. Peter and Paul, in whose honour, at the instigation of the abbess Euphemia, this church was dedicated, who with the Father and the Holy Ghost, ever liveth and reigneth God through all the ages of eternity. Amen.1

1

VCH Hampshire ii, pp. 132–3, quoting from Wherwell Cartulary, ch. 59, fols 43v.–44v.

Bibliography BIBLIOGRAPHY BIBLIOGRAPHY

Manuscript Sources Bodleian Library Bodl. Arch. A.d. 15. The Rule of Seynt Benet, trans. Bishop Richard Fox, printed in 1517 by R. Pynson Bodl. MS Tanner, 342 Bodl MS Ch. Yorks. a 1. No. 26bR

Borthwick Institute Reg. 9A, William Melton (1317–1340) Reg. 11, John Thoresby (1353–1373) Reg. 18, Henry Bowet (1407–1423) Reg. 19, John Kempe (1426–52) Reg. 27, Thomas Wolsey (1514–1530) Reg. 28, Edward Lee (1531–1544)

The British Library Add. Ch. 15655 Add. Ch. 15656 Add. Ch. 15657 Add. Ch. 16808 Cott. Vesp. XXII

Cambridge University Library CUL Add. 8885/1–3

Christ Church Cathedral Library Sede Vacante Register

Centre for Kentish Studies PRC 17/26/27: (The Will of Phillippa John, last prioress of Canterbury St Sepulchre)

Guildhall Library 25121/1112 9171/6

220

BIBLIOGRAPHY

9531/10 The Register of Cuthbert Tunstall (1522–1530)

Hampshire Record Office (HRO) A1/5: The Register of John Stratford (1323–1333) A1/13, 14: The Register of William Waynflete (1447–1486) A1/17, 18, 20, 21: The Register of Richard Fox (1501–1528) 1549B/078: The Will of Elizabeth Shelley (last abbess of St Mary’s, Winchester)

Lacock Abbey: New Cartulary Lambeth Palace Library (LPL) The Register of Walter Reynolds (1313–1327) The Register of Simon Islip (1349–1366) The Register of Simon Langham (1366–1368) The Register of William Courtenay (1381–1396) The Register of William Warham (1503–1532)

Lincoln Record Office (LAO) Episcopal Register II, III, John Dalderby (1300–1320) Episcopal Register VIII, John Gynwell (1347–1362) FL Deeds 1295

UK National Archives Public Record Office (PRO) Chancery documents C1/7/84 C1/9/105 C1/16/625 C1/516/354 C1/902/34 C44/9/18 C270/6 Court of Augmentations E315/91 E315/233 E315/245 E315/446 E315/ 494 Conventual Leases E303/8 E303/27 Court of Common Pleas CP 40/130 CP 40/268

BIBLIOGRAPHY

CP 40/275 CP 40/291 CP 40/442 CP 40/435 CP 40/613 Court of the Star Chamber STAC 2/17/217, 2/24/228, 2/25/185 Duchy of Lancaster Records DL 42/8, Misc. Bks 8, Register of Abbot Geoffrey de Gaddesby 1342–68 Ecclesiastical Miscellanea C 270/6 Ecclesiastical Petitions SC8/16 SC8/50 SC8/104/5190 SC8/109 SC8/114 SC8/312 Special Collections SC1/1/49 Ministers’ Accounts SC6/913/26 SC6/914/1–3 SC6/981/21 SC6/983/34 SC6/1106/12, 13 SC6/1258/2 SC6/1260/1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 16, 17, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23

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221

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Index Medieval people have been arranged by surname if they have surnames (e.g., Apuldrefeld, Lucy) and by Christian name if they have other designations (e.g., William of Wykeham). ‘St’ is only specified if the person is otherwise unidentifiable, hence Benedict, St., but Abelard. Alphabetical arrangement is word by word. Entries for those nunneries mentioned in the text but outside the core group are necessarily brief. Aas, Felicia, abbess of Romsey (1405–17), 206 bequest to, 50 tax paid by, 71 Abelard, 4 n.17 Accounts (monastic) Clerkenwell, 98, Marrick, 113 Romsey, 71, 99 St Helen’s, 98, 112 Stainfield, 112 n.116 Stamford, 93 n. 11, 99, 101 nn.60–1, 104 n.75, 105 n.78, 112 nn.115– 16 Syon 109 n.106 Aconbury, nuns’ service at, 167 Alnwick, William, Bishop of Lincoln (1437–49), 26, 50, 77 Altarpiece, at Syon, 163 Amesbury (Abbey/Priory) defiant prioress at Dissolution, 181 nun of given papal absolution, 151 princess postulant at, 65 property of, 95 Animals, dogs, 122, 143–5 horses, 131 monkeys, 143 Ankerwyke, prioress of, 131, 133 attendance at wedding by, 157 extravagant clothing of, 148 Annuities, 26, 174 Apostasy, 129, 133 Apuldrefeld Lucy de, prioress of Davington (?–1350), 38, 200 Thomas, MP, Kent, 38 Arden, priory of, 121, 145, 154 n.40 Arthington (Priory), 121

prioress of, 154 Articles (of visitation), 44 n.16, 45, 51–2, 116, 118–19 Arundell, Philippa, nun of Syon, 32 Ashby, Margaret, abbess of Syon (1448?–56), 23, 212 Ashley, Agnes de, abbess of St Mary’s, Winchester (1299–1313), 208 Asserio, Rigaud de, Bishop of Winchester (1320–23), 83 n.146 Assize, of bread and ale, 64–5 Attacks (on nunneries), 107, 129, 131 Aucher, Sibyl, abbess of Wilton (1361–74), 74, 213 Augmentations, Court of, 26, 174–5, 184 Augustine, St Abbey of, 56, 88 Rule of, xv, 92 Baptism, of upper class children, 57 Barking, abbess, pilgrimage of, 156 Abbey, library of, 124, 243 Ordinale, Customary of, 124 Barough, Edith, abbess of Wilton (1464–70), 214 Barton, Elizabeth, ‘Holy Maid of Kent’, 170 Basil, St. Rule of, 2 sister of, 3 Basy, Custance, prioress of Clementhorpe (1315–16), 23, 198 Beauchamp, Joan, abbess of Wilton (1403–16), 74, 213 Begging, by nuns, 49, 101 by proxy: see also questor Benedict, Pope, B. XII, 56 Benedict, St, 2 Rule of, 2–4, 7–16, 20, 91–2, 162 n.16, 188 extension of, 99

234

INDEX

Benedict, St, cont. Rule of, cont. model indicated in, 110 property principles in, 149–50 Benefices, 42, 74, 78, 81–3, 87–8 Birgitta of Sweden, Rule by, 5 Blackborough (Priory), 54 Blounde/Blund/Blount Emma, abbess of Wilton (1299–3121), 30, 213 Thomase, nun of Romsey, 30 Boarders in nunneries, 12–13, 53, 113–14, 126 (pupils), 164–5 Bodenham, Cecily, abbess of Wilton (1534–39), 214 election of, 179–80 Bonham, Nicholas, father of Sibilla, nun of Wilton, 95–6 Agnes, daughter of Nicholas, 96 Laurentia, sister of Nicholas, 96 Boleyn, Queen Anne interference in Wilton election by, 179 visit to Syon of, 128–9 Borstall, Margaret, prioress of Davington (1350–83?), 38, 200 Alicia, Matilda, William, 38 Bowet, Henry, Archbishop of York (1407–23), 129 Braybrook Katherine, prioress of Clerkenwell (1379?–84), 50, 199 Robert, Bishop of London (1382–1404), 50 Bret, Isabella, 54 Brewster, Margaret, nun of Stratford, 25 Brigittine, administration, 6, discipline, 10 constitutions, Rule, xv Broman, Agnes, prioress of Canterbury St Sepulchre (1368–69), 38, 197 Bromman, Robert, 38 Brooke, Elizabeth, abbess of Romsey (1472–1502), 206 deposition of, 106 social rank of, 33 Brymesden, Agnes de, abbess of Lacock (1356–61?), 107, 204 Bulkeley, Katherine, abbess of Godstow (1535–39), 202 alias for, 179 n.60 offer to Cromwell by, 178–9 Buriton, Agnes, abbess of St Mary’s Winchester (1449–88), 65, 209 Burnham (Abbey), nun of, 185

Burwood/Burford, Alice, prioress of Stratford (1412–25), 95, 212 Caesarius, St, 13 n.6 Calverley, Isabella de, prioress of Esholt (1315–53), 200 Sir John de, 36 Walter de, 36 Camoys, Isabel de, abbess of Romsey (1352–96), 33, 206 Ralph de, Governor of Windsor, 33 Canterbury Province, 55 nunnery superiors of, 56 registers, 54 Tales, 137, nn.1, 68 Canterbury St Sepulchre (Priory), 193 comment on Opus Dei at, 119 dissension at, 102 litigation initiated from, 102 low budget of, 38 prioress dismissed from, 23 prioresses of, 197 Carrow (Priory), prioress of, as executor, 95 at Paston funeral, 57 n.79 ex-nuns of, living in community, 184 Catesby (Priory) accounts of, cited by Power, 93 n.11 Margaret Wavere, prioress of, 133 praise, to Joyce Byckeley, prioress of, in 1536, 133 rebuke, to Clemence Medforde of, 131 whipping, by superior of, 116 Chalk, prebend of, conflict over appointment to, 78 John de Wyvil, prebendary, 81 Richard de Thormenton, prebendary, 87 Chantry, arrangements linked with rents, 18 Chantries, chaplains of, 67, 83, 189 setting up of, 15 Chapel (nunnery), decoration of, 118 sharing of with seculars, 120 Chaplains (at nunneries), xvi, 94, 98 n.38, 104 n.75, 122, 154, 184, Chichele, Henry Archbishop of Canterbury (1414–43), 82, 86 n.155 Children, in nunneries, 34, 48, 106, 125, 127, 163, 164: see also pupils born to apostate nuns, Winchester, 106 Claustration (of nuns) as decreed in Periculoso, 16

INDEX

Claustration, cont. issue of, xix, 16, 52–3, 55, 58, 79, 109, 126, 131, 164, see also enclosure Clementhorpe (Priory), 193 bequests to, 161–2 clause nolumus for, 68 issue of silence at, 119 prioresses of, 197–8 mortmain licence fee for, 66 superior acting as witness, executor, 94 suppression of, 170 Clerkenwell (Priory), 194 bequests to, 68, 160, 163 Braybrook connection with, 50 burial of last prioress at, 183 Chapel of St Mary at, 84 clause nolumus applied to, 68 injunctions lacking at, 128 lawyers employed by, 98 leases from, 173 pilgrimage by prioress of, 156 prioresses of, 199–200 suppression of, 171–2 Clothing cash bequests for, 152, 160 non-regulation choice of, 148–9 of junior nuns, Godstow, 135 Tudor style of, at Wherwell, 149 veiling, 147 Confessor, right to choose own, 85–6 Syon nun allegedly tempted by, 128 Confessor General, at Syon, 171 Confraternity, association with nunneries, 166 letters of, 3 lists of, 57 Cope, at Romsey and Wilton, 65 n. 34 Corbridge, Thomas, Archbishop of York (1300–04), 21, 42 Corrodians, 47, 54, 75–8, 114, 126–7, 139 see also, boarders Corrodies, xi, xviii, 53, 69, 74–6, 78 prompted by hardship, 113 Costello, Hadrian de, Bishop of Bath and Wells (1503–18), 108 n.93 Coroner, Nicholas Bonham as, 96 rolls of, 157 n.92 superior’s right to appoint, 64 Courtenay, William, Archbishop of Canterbury (1381–96), 55 n.68 Cromwell, Thomas, 35, 171 Cowdrey, Avelina, abbess of Wherwell, portrait of, 150

235

Cowper, Christobel, prioress of Marrick (1530–39), 37, 205 pension for, 171 John, 37 Margaret, 37 Edward, 37 n.98 Dartford (Priory), xiv–v Davington (Priory), 194 injunctions to, 48, 55 poverty at, 48 prioresses of, 200 relief from royal imposts sought, 71 social links of prioresses, 38 Debtors (of nunneries), 113 Delaryver, Margaret, prioress of Clementhorpe (?–1489), 94, 198 Denham, Agnes, abbess of St Mary’s Winchester (1419–49), 64–5, 209 Denys, Mary, prioress of Kington (1535–6), 203 pension received by, 170 Deposition (of nunnery superiors) 23, 26–7, 106, 124, 154, 198 Despenser, Hugh le, earl of Winchester, 33, 61 Detecta, xi Discipline beating as, 47 failure of, at Stamford, 104 focus on punishment, 125–6 nuns sent to other convents for, 154 Dispensations (papal), 83–7 Dissolution, 169–85 Act of Suppression, 169 defensive measures by superiors, 172–6, 179–80 hopes for future, 176–7 Norfolk nuns’ adjustments after, 184–5 preliminary suppressions, 169 pressure to surrender, 172 ‘refugee’ nuns, 171 royal supremacy claims, 171 special favours, 177–8 suppressions, first wave of, 169 last wave of, and aftermath, 178–9 survey of monastic assets, 169 Divine Service, see Opus Dei, Offices Doulre, Christina, abbess of Wilton (1416–41), 213 Dovyne, Margaret, nun of Stratford, 25 Draper, Agnes, abbess of Lacock (1445–73), 204 social status of, 31

236

INDEX

Drew, Thomas, steward of Lacock Abbey, 95 Dyve/Dyne, Margery, abbess of Godstow (1316–35), 63, 70, 201 Edington, Bishop William of Winchester (1346–66) begging by nuns discovered by, 101 bequest by, to abbess of Romsey, 50 sympathy of, for Romsey nuns, 49 Eglentyne, Chaucer’s portrayal of, 138–9, 142, 146–7, 151, 155, 158 Ela, first abbess of Lacock Abbey (1240–61), royal grants of firewood to, 61 Eleanor of Castile, 30 n.54 Election/s bribe to ensure el. of Cecily Bodenham at Wilton, 179 customary claims of monarch at, 75 dispute at Godstow, 23–5 Stratford, 25 formalities of, 9, 21–2, 187 interference with Wilton el. by Anne Boleyn, 179 king’s influence on, 59 repentant nun granted eligibility for election, 151 secular interference with, 28, 102 unpopular action by bishop at, 27 Elstow (Abbey), 122, 130, 148 n.51, 156 Enclosure, see Claustration, Periculoso Erghum, Ralph, Bishop of Salisbury (1375–88), 46, 120, 126 n.40 Esholt (Priory), 194 attempt to limit scandal at, 47 de Calverley family support of, 36 Joan Jenkynson’s predecessor still in house after J’s election, 181 Melton’s injunctions to, 119 pension for prioress, 171 prioress ordered to stay in office, 21 prioresses of, 200–1 litigation initiated from, 103 Ward family patrons of, 36 Euphemia, abbess of Wherwell achievements of, 104 adornment of convent church by, 149 care of nuns by, 151 compliance with Rule, 147 eulogy for, 217 good works of, 142 leadership model offered by, 117–18 Excommunication, 6, 48, 54, 162

Executors, female superiors functioning as, 94–5 Fairs, rights for, 62–4 Felmersham, Elizabeth, abbess of Godstow (1535–46), 23, 202 Financial management balanced budget, 108, 133 business orientation of relatives, friends, 93–6 decoration of convent church, 92 failure to show records, 104 gifts to the poor, 92 guidelines for, in monastic rules, 91–3 improved situation achieved, 114, 133 methodical approach in, 107 of larger houses, 96–7 unsatisfactory performance of tasks, 104–6 Fire (damage) at nunneries, Lacock, Wilton, 107, 61 Fishbourne family represented at Syon, 32 Fisher, Joan, treasuress of Stamford Priory, 101 Fitzherbert, Anthony, 28 Lucy, abbess of Shaftesbury, 30 Fitzjames, Richard, Bishop of London (1506–22), 25 Forgery, of papal bull at Kington, 53 Fosse (Priory of), 132 n.76 Foster, John, chaplain of Romsey, 33 Foucault, Michel, theories of, 2 Fox, Richard, Bishop of Winchester (1501–28), 125 Frankpledge, view of, xi granted to St Mary’s Winchester, 64–5 French (use of by nuns) ‘Eglentyne’, 139 at Godstow, Lacock, St Helen’s, St Mary’s Winchester, 139–40 Funeral/s attended by religious, 57 of Isabella Ward, 182 Gentry classification of, 30–9 distinction between upper and lower, 139 parish, 186 Gerveys, Joan, abbess of Romsey (1349–52), 206, 33 Giffard, Walter, Archbishop of York (1266–79), 31 Godfrey, Bishop of Worcester (1268–1302), 31 Hugh, father of Walter and Godfrey, 31 Juliana, abbess of Wilton (c. 1272–96), 31, 213

INDEX

Giffard, Walter, Archbishop of York, cont. Thomas, MP for Wiltshire, 31 Gildeford, Clementia de, abbess of Romsey (1307–14), 205 refusal of to grant corrody, 75 Glastonbury, Abbot of, exercising authority over Kington Priory, 53 Godchildren of Elizabeth Shelley, 57, 183 of Philippa John, 183 Godstow (Abbey), xv, 15, 194 location of, 97 abbess offers stewardship of abbey to Cromwell, 178; also gift, 179 abbess’s chapel, photograph of, 51 abbesses of, 201–2 anxiety at early closures, 170 bishop’s fear of scandal at, 51 convent church shared, 120 discipline problems, 130 election dispute at, 23–4 entertainment of guests at, 147 fair granted to, 63 finances recovered by 16th century, 114 indenture negotiated by Maud Upton, 111 keepers appointed to, 70 Latin, French, used in documents at, 139 Letter of complaint from archbishop to, 119 ‘Mass of the Blessed Virgin’ banned at, 120 pension demanded from, 77 pregnant nun at, 130 ‘Protection, clause nolumus’ for, 68–9 secular visitors difficult to repel from, 132–5 tax exemption for, 71 wood for fuel given to, 61 Godyn, John, grocer, testator, 35 Amy daughter of John, nun at Sopwell, 35 Gokewell (Priory), 132 Goring (Priory), 132 Gout, nun suffering from, St Helen’s, 89 Grace, ‘Pilgrimage of’, 166–7, 170 Gracedieu (Priory) intimidation of nuns by superior, 116 no criticism incurred in 1525, 133 Gray, William, Bishop of Lincoln (1431–36), fear of scandal at Godstow expressed by, 51

237

Greenfield, William, Archbishop of York (1306–15), injunctions, 23 n.21, 27 n.39, 28 n.42, 121 nn.22–3, 145 n.40 Guilds, membership of by prioress of Esholt, 95 Guinevere, Queen, as portrayed by Malory, 137 Gynewell, John, Bishop of Lincoln (1347–62), 42 n.7 permission by, for questor to assist Stamford, 101 Hamon, Lettice, prioress of Canterbury St Sepulchre (1427–?), 197 distraint action initiated by, 102 Hampole (Priory), 129 Harrington, Sir John, Steward of Stamford, 104 Harrold (Priory) humiliation for nuns of, 110 rebukes to prioress of, 131 Heloise, letters of Abelard and, 4 n.17 Hett, Cecilia le, archbishop’s nominee for postulant at Lacock Abbey, 54 Heynings (Priory) concerns about discipline, 130 serving women sharing nuns’ dormitory, 132 Holbeche Margaret, prioress of Stratford, 212, 36 legatee of William Symes, 95 Margaret, widow of William, draper, 36 Amy, daughter of Margaret, at Stratford, 36 Hospice (Rerecross), supported by Marrick, 108 Hutton, Joan, nun of Esholt, bears child, 47 Hyllard, prioress of Stratford (1520–27), 212 selection of ‘by way of scrutiny’, 25 Ida, abbess of Barking, 6 Idung of Prufening, attitude of, to females, 5 Incontinence (sexual, of nuns) forgiven by pope, 152–3 unreliable reports of in 1536, 154 of northern nun later sent to Godstow after bearing child, 136 reported in York nunneries, 129, 154 suspected at Sewardsley, Syon, 128, 131 Intercession (for the dead), 159–63 Islip, Simon, Archbishop of Canterbury (1349–66), 54

238

INDEX

Jenkynson, Joan, prioress of Esholt (1512–39) pension received by, 171 sharing priory with previous superior, 181 Jewellery, 151 allowed for Amesbury nun, 151 of Eglentyne, 149, 151 nn.61–2 ring of consecrated nun, 150 warning against, 151 John, Philippa, prioress of Canterbury St Sepulchre, 197 godchildren of, 183–4 support for Elizabeth Barton by, 170 pension received by, 170 last testament of, 183–4 Jordayne, Isabel, abbess of Wilton (1528–33), 179, 214 Keldhome (Priory) interference in election processes at, 28 injunctions re Opus Dei at, 121 Kington (Priory), 194 evidence of confraternity, 166 forging of papal bull, 23, 53 immorality at, 153 Mary Denys of, 170 papal tax assessment, 80 n.128 prioress at Calne church, 156 prioress elected abbess of Wilton, 179 prioresses, 203 recording of obits at, 124 recovery of ethos, 114 robbery, abduction, at, 107 Kirke, Sybil, prioress of Stratford (1528–36), 212 pension received by, 171 Lacock (Abbey), 195 abbesses, 204 cellarer’s account, 99 corrodians, 76 determination of manorial extent, 91 fee to Court of Augmentations, 175 first abbess, serving earlier as sheriff, 94 knight’s service required of, 107 leases issued, 175 market rights granted for, 63 old French used at, 139 papal tax assessment, 80 n.128 permission for private confessor, 86 pressure to admit archiepiscopal nominee as nun, 54 resistance of Joan Temmse, abbess to royal commissioners, 181 royal grant of wood, 61–2

social status of superiors, 31 surrender, 172 tax exemption granted, 71 Langland, William, 137 Langton, Thomas, Bishop of Salisbury (1485–93) resistance of Kington nuns to authority of, 53 Lateran Councils Third, 44 Fourth, 43–4, 51 Latimer, William, 129 Latin, in nunneries, 15, 139–40: see also reading Lavington, Felise, abbess of Wilton (1395–1403), 74, 213 Lawrence, Alice, prioress of Kington (?–1492), deposition of, attempt to escape bishop’s jurisdiction by, 124–5 Lawyers, serving nunneries, 98 Leases, negotiated by female superiors, 35, 37, 111, 173–6, 180 Leave (holiday), for nuns, 56–7 Lee, Edward, Archbishop of York (1531–44), punishment ordered by, 47 See also, discipline Leek, Agnes, prioress of Stamford (1413–29), administrative records of, 61 Legbourne (Priory) prioress of, attempting to block nuns’ complaints, 116 episcopal rebuke received at, on discipline issue, 131 Lisle, Honor, lady correspondence with abbess, 34, 165 Literacy: see Latin, reading Litigation, pursued by nunnery superiors, 103, 107, 109–10, 112, 118 Littlemore (Priory) immorality of prioress, 122 indiscipline, 131 irreverence at, 122 pregnant nun at, 153 London, John de, uncle of Juliana le Despenser, 75 Longespee Ela, founding abbess of Lacock, 31 experience in role as sheriff, 94 Ida, Katherine, Lorica, William, 31 Longland, John Bishop of Lincoln (1521–47), schedule of, 43

INDEX

Lovelich, Denise, prioress of Markyate (Priory), sexual misdemeanors of, 152 Margaret, sister of Denise, 152 John, brother of Denise and Margaret, 152 Lovell, Maud, abbess of Romsey (1417–62), 206 fee paid by, to preserve temporalities, 73 Loveney, Lucy de, abbess of Wilton (1436–61), 213 action taken in Chalk dispute by, 78 Lumley, Alice, abbess of Godstow (1446–?), 202 former prioress, 23 Manual work (by nuns), 92, 121 Markets, grants of, 100–1 Markyate (Priory) nuns conversing with seculars at, 132 nuns’ reaction to news of Periculoso, 53 resignation and reinstatement of Denise Lovelich, 130 n.56, 152 recovery of convent’s good reputation, 133 Marrick (Priory), 195 account rolls, 37 arrears of rent borne by, 113 Christobel Cowper, last prioress, 182 distribution of property at Dissolution, 177 Easter breakfast at, 30 financial distress at, 69 fine paid to delay suppression, 170 hospice of Rerecross supported by, 108 litigation, 103 local support for, 37 patrons of, 37, 166–7, 195 pension for prioress, 171 problem of negative evidence at, 127 reception of patron, 21 royal protection with clause nolumus, 68 Mass/es celebration of before daylight, 85 episcopal injuctions regarding, 46, 120 laughing during, 122 money bequeathed to nuns for, 159–63 nuns ineligible to celebrate, 15 of Blessed Virgin banned, ordered, 120 of Holy Spirit, 215 requested by Elizabeth Shelley, 183 Medforde, Clemence, prioress of Catesby, 116, 131–3, 157 Melton, William, Archbishop of York (1317–40) beatings ordered by, 47

239

parentage of, 42 Merchant testators, 35 Metcalf, Cecilia, prioress of Marrick (?–1502), 205 social connections of, 37 n.99 Methelay, Agnes de, prioress of Clementhorpe (1316–24), 198 election dispute concerning, 23 Misogyny, 6, 16, 18, 51–2 Mitford, Richard, Bishop of Salisbury (1395–1407), 120 Moleyns, Katharine, prioress of Kington (1492–1506), 23, 107, 124 methodical approach of, 107 transferred from Shaftesbury, 23 Montfort (women), three serving as abbesses of Lacock, 31, 204 More, Margaret, temporarily elected abbess of Godstow in 1471, 23–4, 202 Morton, John, Archbishop of Canterbury (1486–1500), 41 Mortmain, Statute of, 66–7 Mortuary lists, 57 Mountjoy, Barons, connected with Blount family, 30 Moxby (Priory) dispersal of nuns after Scottish attack, 129 incontinent nuns barred from remaining in office, 152 injunctions re Opus Dei, 121 prioress guilty of fornication, 154 Noket, Thomas, property bequeathed by, for Clerkenwell, without mortmain licence, 67 Nolumus clause, 68–9, 100, 134 North, Joan, abbess of Syon (1420–33), 212 uncertain social origins of, 32 Northburgh, Michael de, Bishop of London (1355–61), bequests to nuns by, 50 Novices, variation in age limits, 113 Nun Appleton (Priory), 129 food and clothing issue, 146 Nunburnholme (Priory), 121 Nuncoton (Priory), nuns at harvest, 132 Nunkeeling (Priory), 121, 129 adherence to ‘old religion’, 182 Nun Monkton (Priory) nun given papal pardon after sexual lapse, 152 prioress playing at tables and drinking with clerk, 130

240

INDEX

Nunny, Alice, abbess of Godstow (1471–81), 202 involved in election dispute, 24 Obedientiaries, 102, 146, 187 at Marrick, 108 attitude of, 142 Obit/s, 15, 18, 46, 50, 160–1, 163 Offices, Eglentyne’s performance of, 138 in convent chapel, 45, 46, 92, 118–23 Little Office of the Virgin, 124: see also, Opus Dei Old religion, supporters of, 182–5 Opus Dei, 46, 119–23, 124 See also Divine Service Organ, William, clerk, bequest to sister, nun of Amesbury, 35 Orleton, Adam, Bishop of Winchester (1333–45), diary of episcopal visitation, 43 n.12 Osbert of Clare, prior of Westminster, 6 Oxeye, Rose de, abbess of Godstow (1278–83), 201 given wood for fuel by king, 61 Pachomius, St, 3 n.6 Papal favours, 84–5 Paston, Sir John, funeral of, 57 Margaret, 54 Margery, allowed to stay at convent, 54 Patron, relationship with nunnery superior, 165 reception of, at Marrick, 21 Patronage, of king, 72–8 Payn, John, grocer; Joan, daughter of John, and nun at Wilton, 35 Pecham, John, Archbishop of Canterbury (1279–92), 41, 46, 49, 54, 120 Maude de, abbess of St Mary’s Winchester (1313–37), 208 faltering leadership of, 134 Pensions, demanded of nunneries, 74–8 granted to nuns at Dissolution, 170–2 Percy, Constance de, abbess of Wilton (1322–44), 213 cash paid by, to guard temporalities, 73 Periculoso, xvii, 16, 51, 53, 56, 79, 156–7, 189 Peterborough Abbey, jurisdiction over Stamford, 103 Petition, by Canterbury nuns to king, 55–8 Pie Powder (courts), 63 Plague, effects on nunneries, 49, 58, 101, 103

Plantagenet, Lady Bridget, 34, 165. See also Lisle Poll Tax, 29 Pope, Benedict XII, 56 Urban V, 5 Popham, Robergia de, abbess of Wilton (1344–46), 213 social connections of, 31 challenge by, to king’s nominee for prebend of Chalk, 78 Postulants, age of entry into convents, 54–5 Power network, of female superiors, 12–13 Prebendaries, expectations, function, pluralism, 82–3 Prebends, of Chalk, North Newnton, 78, 81–3 Pregnancy, at Godstow, Littlemore, 130 Presland, Roger de, attorney to assist abbess of Romsey, 72 Princess, Mary, daughter of Eward I, 65 Mary Tudor, visits to Syon of, 99 Processional, of nuns of Chester, 123, 190 Proctors (papal), 87–8 (royal), 87 Procurations, charged by visiting prelates, 55; see also Petition Property brought into convent by postulants, 92 care of conventual, 92 gifts to nuns, 92 warning against, 91–2 Protection, with clause Nolumus 68–70, 100 Provisions ale, bread, 98 consumed by Eglentyne, 146 Easter breakfast, Marrick, 108 hierarchical system for, 146 injunctions re fair distribution, 146 wheat, donated by king, 62 white bread, 147 wine, 30, 99–100, 108, 147 Provisors, Statute of, 82 Pudsay deeds, 36 Elizabeth, prioress of Esholt (1512–39), 201, 36 guild membership of Elizabeth, 95 Pupils (at nunneries), 113–14, 122, 164–5 Pykeringge, Joan de, seconded from Rosedale to lead Keldholme, 28

INDEX

Pytte, Elizabeth, abbess of Godstow (1430–4), 202 Gray’s injunctions to, 130 Questor, to help attract alms for Stamford in 1359, 49 Reading (devotional) of nuns, 141–2 see also Latin, literacy Redynges/Redings, Margaret, treasuress (later, prioress), of Stamford, 101, 210 Regularis Concordia, 15 Repinghal, Nicholas de, found impeding installation of Keldholme prioress in 1309, 28 Reredos, at Romsey, 133–5 Restoration, of Syon, 176 Resumption, Acts of, 65 Reynolds, Walter Archbishop of Canterbury (1313–27), 42 Injunctions of, 48, 55 Rice, John Ap, unable to perceive excesses at Lacock, 128 Richmond, earl of, mentor to nuns of Marrick, 37 Rolffe, family, 86 Rollesley, Mary, prioress of St Helen’s (1529–38), 207 pension granted to, 111 social rank of, 35 John, brother of Mary, receiving conventual lease, 35 n.85 Romsey (Abbey), 195 abbess bequeathed ring from William Edington, 50 abbesses of, 205–6 abbess’s refusal to admit corrodian, 76 annuities and pensions for household officials of, in anticipation of suppression, 175 begging, by nuns, 49, 101 benefices, demanded at, 81 commission of oyer and terminer after suspicious death of superior, 32 confessors for individual nuns at, 86 conflicting directions from officials at, 53–4 convent church shared, 120 corrodies and pensions demanded at, 75 decay, of moral values, fabric, of, in régimes of Elizabeth Brooke and Joyce Rowse, 106 debt, forgiven by Wykeham at, 49 fair at, 63 food, of nuns, seen as insufficient, 144

241

Foster, John, chaplain at, 33 leases, signed close to Dissolution, 134 Mass, of the Blessed Virgin for, 120 monkeys, dogs, with abbess, 144 obnoxious deputy prebendary at, 83 official concern for alienations from, in 1537, 176 Opus Dei performance of nuns criticized, 119–20 papal tax assessment at, 80 pensions, for nuns, unrecorded, 177 peremptory demands for corrodies, 76 positive developments, late in history of, 133 reredos, photograph of, 135 Seymour family links with nuns of, 181 social status, of abbesses at, 32–4 strategies, to delay suppression, 177 wine for, 99 Wykeham’s injunctions to, 53 Roston, Richard, injunctions of, to Godstow, 135 Rothwell, (Priory), attack at, 131 veils of nun incorrectly-worn at, 132 Ryprose, Elizabeth, abbess of Romsey (1524–39), 206 indiscipline, inefficieny of, 106) Rowse, Joyce, abbess of Romsey (1502–15), 206 indiscipline and financial failure of, 106 Sackville Isabel, prioress of Clerkenwell (1524?–39), 35, 199 pension granted to, 181 burial of, in convent church, 183 Margaret, 35 n.84 Pritchard and Thomas, 35 Sandale, John de, Bishop of Winchester (1316–19), 83 n.146 St Helen’s Bishopsgate (Priory), 193 bequests to, 100–2 burial in lady Chapel of, requested, 163 church of, used as refuge, 157 Cromwell, Thomas, made Chief Steward of, 175 confraternity at, 166 external brewer employed at, 98 fee paid for alienation in mortmain, 66 gout-stricken nun at, 89 grants to officials by Mary Rollesley of, 175 limit to number of dogs enjoined at, 143 papal indulgences to encourage donations to, 84

242

INDEX

St Helen’s Bishopsgate, cont. pension for Mary Rollesley, 171 piece of ‘true cross’ at, 65 prioresses of, 206–7 protection with clause nolumus for, 68 review of charters at, 100 secular contact at, 157 St Mary’s Winchester, 195 abbesses of, 208–9 benefices negotiated by abbess of, 81–2 boarders at, 34 cash, food, demanded by king from, 72 corrody demands to, 76–7 correspondence of abbess with Lady Lisle, 164–5 debt-free by Dissolution, 114 fine paid to delay suppression, 177 fourteenth-century problems, 134 indiscipline during later administration of Matilda Pecham, 105 links with papal proctors at, 88 nuns of begging after plague, 101 Orleton preaches in French at, 140 papal tax for, 80 poverty complaint by abbess of, 73 silk work at, 121 wine received by, 99–100 Sandale, John de, Bishop of Winchester (1316–19), 83 n.146 Savage, Elizabeth, prioress of Stamford (?–1536), 211 pension granted to, 170 Scholastica, St, sister (by tradition) of St Benedict, 3 n.6 Scutage, exemption from, to abbess of Wilton, 71 Servants, 132 Sewardsley (Priory), allegations of immorality at, 131 Seymour, Queen Jane, Sir Edward, 177, Sir Thomas, 180 Shaftesbury (Abbey), 23, 30, 96, 107 Shelley, Elizabeth, abbess of St Mary’s, Winchester (1527–39), 34, 209 burial of, 185 correspondence of, 164–5 chalice donated by, 177 godchildren of, 57, 183 last testament of, 177 Margaret, niece of Elizabeth, 184 Richard, brother of Elizabeth, 34 Sir William, 34 n.81 Silence, keeping of, 119, 121

Simony, accusations of, 51–2 Sinningthwaite (Priory), 121 Skelton, John, defending nuns, 158 Somerset, Constance, prioress of St Helen’s (?–1385), 207 licence for alienation in mortmain to, 66 Soryndon, Loretta, prioress of Davington (?–1436), 200 Spine, Matilda de, abbess of St Mary’s Winchester (1337–49), 208, 73 Squint (of abbess), at Lacock Abbey, 17 Stainfield (Priory), 112 free of injunctions between 1436–49, 132 no faults recorded in year 1525, 132 Stamford (Priory of St Michael), 196 casual employees at, 98 complaints of attitudes to Mass, 120 copy of Fox’s translation of Rule, 125 debts, long-term, borne by, 101 election at, 22 entertaining costs at, 99 impact of plague on, 101 indentured leases issued by, 174 indiscipline and financial loss at, 106 pension to prioress, 170 prioresses of, 209 questor allowed by bishop to assist, 49 stability of, after troubles, 125 suppression of, 170 ‘sweeteners’ from, 112 Sterkey, Eleanor, prioress of Stratford-at-Bow (1522–8), 212 living in priory after deposition, 177 special consideration demanded by, 178 Stixwould (Priory), 95 Prioress functioning as executor, 95 Stokes, Philippa de, abbess of Romsey (1298–1307), 205 ‘insurance’ against loss of revenues after her death, 72 Stratford, John, Bishop of Winchester (1323–33), 50 Stratford-at-Bow (Priory) 196 debt pardoned by testator for, 163 dismissal and replacement of prioress in 1528 at, 23 election at, in 1520, 25 legacies to prioresses and nuns, 95 loss of six nuns during administration of Sibyl Kirke, 177 no surviving injunctions for, 127

INDEX

Stratford, cont. patronage of London bishops, 27 pensions for prioress at, 171 pressure to remove Sibyl Kirke, 27 prioresses of, 211–12 request for burial in nuns’ church at, 161 suppression of, 171 Sukelyng, family represented at Syon, 32 Sutton, Oliver, Bishop of Lincoln (1280–99), 34 n.77 Swine (Priory) clothing issues at, 148 complaints re Opus Dei, 121 hens, chickens, 145 n.40 neighbouring nuns sent to, after Scottish raids, 129 prioress of, witnessing codicil, 57 silk work at, 121 Sylvestre, king’s nominee for benefice at Wilton, 74 Syon (Abbey), 196 abbesses of, 212–13 allegation of unchastity at, 127 Anne Boleyn’s visit to, 129 boarders at, 139 decorations of church at, 92 deputy reaching rank of abbess at, 23 enclosure, discipline at, 109 fairs held by, 64 foundation of, 3 indulgence available for pilgrims to, 83 Lady Hungerford at, 139 legal assistance to, 98 library at, 142 Princess Mary Tudor’s visit to, 99 royal patronage of, Rule at, xv, 4 security of temporalities at vacancies, 72 social status of nuns at, 32 suppressions of, 172, 176 wealth of, 14 Taxation, 64, 70–1 Temmse, Joan, abbess of Lacock (1516–39), 204 chancery suit won by, 107 social origins of, 32 Thomas and William, 181 Temporalities, seized, preserved, 73–4 Tewiksbury, Margaret, abbess of Godstow (1517–35), 202, 182 Thoresby, John, Archbishop of York (1353–73), 44–5, 51 Travel, by nunnery superiors, 155–7

243

Tunstall, Cuthbert, Bishop of London (1522–30), 178 n.52 Upton, Maud, abbess of Godstow (1304–16), 201 indenture signed by, 111 Veils, 132, 147, 149–50 Vernon, Margaret, prioress of Little Marlow, 141 Vian, Joan, prioress of Clerkenwell (1388–1406?), 199 bequest received by, 67 Visitation, of religious houses, 43–4, 116–17, see also Articles Visitors, in nunneries, 97, 128, 130–2, 135, 139 Wadham, Jane, sexton of Romsey, 180 Katherine, sub-prioress of Romsey, 180 Wafre, Mabel la, abbess of Godstow (1283–95), 201, 34 Waifs and strays, conventual rights of, 64–5 n.28 Walerand, Alice, abbess of Romsey (1268–98) 205 social background of, 32–3 Adam, M.P. for Wiltshire, 205 Ward, Isabella, prioress of Clementhorpe (1518–1536/7), 198 funeral of, 182 Simon, patron of Esholt, 21 Warham, William, Archbishop of Canterbury (1503–32), 38 n.104, 49 n.39, 58 n.82, 119 n.10 Washerwoman, nuns ordered to hire, 50 unavailable to Harrold nuns, 110 Wayte, Christina, abbess of St Mary’s Winchester (1361–5), 208, 69 Weddings, 57, 157 Weldon, Elizabeth, prioress, Stamford (1429–53), 26, 210 management of, 104–5 Wells, Katherine, prioress of Littlemore, 122, 153 Westbrook, Anne, Abbess of Romsey (1515–23), 206, 133–4 Wherwell Abbess Avelina Cowdrey, portrait, 150 Effigy of abbess, photographed at, 145 Euphemia, abbess of, 137–9 eulogy, 217 Morpheta Kingsmill, abbess of, 184–5 Wickwayne, William, Archbishop of York (1266–79), 44 n.16 Willoughby, Cecily, abbess of Wilton (1485–1502?), 22, 214

244

INDEX

Wilton (Abbey), 196 abbesses of, 213–14 benefices negotiated at, 81–2 bishops’ injunctions to, 46 bread, quality of, at, 146 cash demanded by king from, 72 corrody demands to, 77–8 criticism of Opus Dei at, 120 feast for installation of abbess at, 30 kinship links with nuns of, 31 lawsuit over payment for cope at, 110 loan to ensure Cecily Bodenham’s election to Wilton, 179 papal proctors, 88 papal tax at, 80 Pie Powder court run by, 63 private confessor allowed at, 86 suppression of, 172 Wintney (Priory), 7, 86, 171

Wodenhall, Juliana de la, prioress of Esholt (1300–?), 200 retirement wish, 21 Wolsey, Thomas, role of in Suppression, 169–70 Wood, grants of, 60–2 Woodlock, Henry, Bishop of Winchester (1305–16), 41, 120 Wykeham, William of, bishop of Winchester (1367–1404), 46, 49, 50, 53 Wyndesor, Andrew, lord, 32 n.66 Margaret, prioress of Syon, 32 Wyntershull, Alice de, abbess of Romsey (1315), 206 suspicious death of, 32, 74 Wyvil, Henry, Bishop of Salisbury (1330–75), 96 Yedingham (Priory), 121 n.22, 154 Zouche, Joan, prioress of Markyate, 133

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