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Eckenstein, Lina, d. 1931 / Woman under monasticism: chapters on saint-lore and convent life between A.D. 500 and A.D. 1500 (1896)


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The new Monastic Orders.

IN this chapter I intend to give a description of the different monastic orders which were founded between the 10th and the 12th centuries, and to enter at some length into the reasons for their progress. A mass of heterogeneous information must be passed in rapid review with occasional digressions on outside matters, for it is only possible to understand the rapid progress of monasticism by recalling the relation in which it stood to other social developments.

As we cross the borderland which divides the centuries before the year 100 from the period that follows, we become aware of great changes which about this time take definite shape throughout all social institutions. In the various strata of society occupations were becoming more clearly differentiated than they had ever been before, while those who were devoted to peaceful pursuits, whether in lay or religious circles, were now combined together for mutual support and encouragement.

In connection with religion we find the representatives of the Church and of monasticism becoming more and more conscious of differences that were growing up between them. Monasticism from its very beginning practically lay outside the established order of the Church, but this had not prevented bishop and abbot from working side by side a fid mutually supporting each other; nay, it even happened sometimes that one person combined in himself the two offices of abbot and bishop. But as early Christian times passed into the Middle Ages, prelates ceased to agree with headquarters   [p. 185]   at Rome in accepting monasticism as the means of securing a foothold for religion. The Church was now well established throughout western Europe, and her ministers were by no means prepared to side unconditionally with the Pope when he fell out with temporal rulers. The monastic orders on the contrary generally did side with him, and by locally furthering his interests, they became strongholds of his power.

The 12th century has been called the golden age of monasticism, because it witnessed the increased prosperity of existing monasteries and the foundation of a number of new monastic and religious orders. A wave of enthusiasm for the life of the religious settlement, and for the manifold occupations which this life now embraced, passed over western Europe, emanating chiefly from France, the country which took the lead in culture and in civilizing influences.

The 12th century, as it was the golden age of monasticism, was also the golden age of chivalry; the cloister and the court were the representative centres of civilized life. Under the influence of the system of mutual responsibility called feudalism, the knight by doughty deed and unwavering allegiance to his lord, his lady and his cause, gave a new meaning to service; while the monk, devoted to less hazardous pursuits, gave a hitherto unknown sanctification to toil. The knight, the lady, the court-chaplain and the court-poet cultivated the bearings and the formalities of polite intercourse which formed the background of the age of romance, while in the cloister the monk and the nun gave a new meaning to religious devotion and enthusiasm by turning their activity into channels which first made possible the approximation of class to class.

This period knew little of townships as centres of intellectual activity, and their social importance remained far below that of cloister and court. The townsmen, whose possession of town land constituted them burghers, had won for themselves recognition as an independent body by buying immunities and privileges from bishop and king. But the struggle between them and the newer gilds, into which those who were below them in rank and wealth, formed themselves, was only beginning; the success of these newer gilds in securing a share in the government marks the rise of the township.

The diversity of occupation in the different kinds of gilds was anticipated by a similar diversity of occupation in the different monastic orders. The great characteristic of the monastic revival of the Middle Ages lay in the manifold and distinct spheres of   [p. 186]   activity which life offered inside the religious community. The studious, the educational, the philanthropic, and the agricultural element, all to some extent made part of the old monastic system. But through the foundation of a number of different orders which from the outset had separate aims, tastes which were widely dissimilar, and temperaments that were markedly diverse, met with encouragement in the religious settlement. The scholar, the artist, the recluse, the farmer, each found a career open to him; while men and women were prompted to undertake duties within and without the religious settlement which make their activity comparable to that of the relieving officer, the poor-law guardian and the district nurse of a later age.

To gain a clear idea of the purposes which the new monastic and religious orders set before them, it will be best to treat of them severally in the chronological order of their foundation. Two lines of development are to be observed. There are the strictly monastic orders which sprang from the order of St Benedict, which they developed and amplified. These included the orders of Clugni, Citeaux, Chartreuse, and Grandmont, of which the last two took no account of women. On the other side stand the religious orders which are the outcome of distinctions drawn between different kinds of canons, when the settlements of regular canons take a distinctly monastic colouring. Among these the Premonstrant and the Austin orders are the most important, the members of which, from the clothes they wore, were in England called respectively White and Black Canons.

The importance of canonical orders, so far as women are concerned, lies in the fact that the 12th century witnessed the foundation of a number of religious settlements for both sexes, in which the men lived as canons and the women as nuns. The Premonstrant began as a combined order; the orders of Fontevraud and of St Gilbert of Sempringham were of a similar kind. Bearing these distinctions in mind, we begin our enquiry with an analysis of the Cluniac and the Cistercian orders, which have their root directly in the monasticism of St Benedict.

As remarks in the previous chapters of this work will have shown, monasteries had sprung up during early Christian times independently of each other following a diversity of rules promulgated by various teachers, which had gradually been given up in favour of the rule of St Benedict. At the beginning of the 9th century this rule was largely prevalent in monasteries   [p. 187]   abroad, owing to councils held under the auspices of Karl the Great († 814),[1*] and in England it gained ground through the efforts of Aetheiwold, abbot of Abingdon and bishop of Winchester († 984). Some obscurity hangs about the subject, for a certain number of houses abroad, and among them some of the oldest and wealthiest, clung to the prerogative of independence and refused to accept St Benedict's rule, while in England, where this rule was certainly accepted in the 11th century, great diversity of routine either remained or else developed inside the different houses. This is evident from the account which Matthew Paris († 1259), a monk of St Albans, gives of the visitation of houses in the year 1232.[2*]

The order of Clugni[3*] owes its origin to the desire of obviating a difficulty. As time wore on the rule of St Benedict had betrayed a weakness in failing to maintain any connection between separate monasteries. As there was no reciprocal responsibility between Benedictine settlements, a lay nobleman had frequently been appointed abbot through princely interference, and had installed himself in the monastery with his family, his servants and his retinue, to the detriment of the monastic property, and to the relaxation of discipline among the monks. The evil was most conspicuous abroad in the eastern districts of France and the western districts of Germany, and in 910 the order of Clugni was founded in Burgundy as a means of remedying it.

At first the order of Clugni was the object of great enthusiasm, and it was raised to eminence by a series of remarkable and energetic men. Powerful patrons were secured to it, master-minds found protection in its shelter. The peculiarities of its organisation consisted in the two rules that the abbot of the Cluniac house should be chosen during the lifetime of his predecessor, and that the abbots of different houses should meet periodically at a synod at which the abbot of Clugni should preside. The Pope's sanction having been obtained, the order remained throughout in close contact with Rome. In Germany especially this connection was prominent, and became an important political factor in the 11th century when the Cluniac houses directly supported the claim of Rome in the struggle between Pope and Emperor.

The order of Clugni took slight cognizance of women, and the   [p. 188]   nunneries of the order were few and comparatively unimportant. A reason for this may be found in the nature of the order's origin, for the settlements of nuns had not been interfered with like the settlements of monks during the 9th and 10th centuries by the appointment of lay superiors, and were untouched by the consequent evils. If this be so the falling away from discipline, which called for correction in many houses of men, may justly be referred to a change thrust on them from without, not born from within.

In England the order of Clugni was not officially introduced till after the Norman Conquest, and then under circumstances which set a peculiar stamp on it. The seed which each order scattered broadcast over the different countries was the same, but the nature of the soil in which it took root, and the climate under which it developed, modified the direction of its growth.

During the 9th and 10th centuries England had been the scene of great social and political changes. The powerful kings who arose in Wessex and eventually claimed supremacy over all the provinces were unable to assert their authority to the extent of making the eastern provinces sink all provincial differences and jealousies, and join in organised resistance to the Danes. From the 9th century onwards, the entire seaboard of England, from Northumberland to the mouth of the Severn, had been exposed to the depredations of this people. Having once gained a foothold on the eastern coasts they quickly contracted alliances and adapted themselves to English customs, thus making their ultimate success secure.

The heathen invaders were naturally indifferent to the teachings of the Christian Church, and to the privileges of monasteries, and the scant annals of the period written before Knut of Denmark became king of England in 1016, give accounts of the destruction of many settlements. Some were attacked and laid waste, and others were deserted by their inmates. To realise the collapse of Christian institutions about this time, one must read the address which Wulfstan, archbishop of York (1002--1023), wrote to rouse the English to consciousness of the indignities to which their religion was exposed.[4*] But the collapse was only temporary, bishoprics and abbacies stood firm enough to command the attention of the invader, and as the heathenism of the Dane yielded without a blow to the teaching of Christ, the settlements that were in the hands of abbot and monk rose anew.

  [p. 189]  

However, it was only after the establishment of William 'of Normandy in England (1066) that the conditions of life became settled, and that the tide turned in favour of monasticism that is to say in favour of the monastic life of men, but not of women. Various reasons have been alleged for this difference: that the better position of the wife under Danish rule made women loth to remain in the convent, or that the spread of the system of feudal tenure excluded women from holding property which they could devote to the advantage of their sex. So much is certain, that during the reign of William many Benedictine houses for monks were founded or restored, but we do not hear of one for nuns.

In the wake of the Norman baron, the Norman prelate had entered this country, bringing with him an interest in the order of Clugni. It was William of Warren, son-in-law of the Conqueror, and earl of Surrey, who first brought over Cluniac monks, whom he settled at Lewes in Sussex. He did so at the suggestion of Lanfranc, a Norman monk of Italian origin, who had become archbishop of Canterbury (1070--1089). Before the close of William's reign Cluniac monks had met with patrons to build them four monasteries on English soil besides the house at Lewes.

The Norman barons continued to make liberal endowments to the order, but its popularity remained comparatively small, partly owing to the distinctly foreign character which it continued to bear.[5*] Thus we find that after the accession of Henry II (1154), whose reign was marked by a rise in English national feeling, only one Cluniac house was added to those already in existence.

From the order of Clugni we pass to that of Citeaux,[6*] the foundation of which comes next in point of time, but which owed its existence to a different cause, and was characterised by widely dissimilar developments.

The story of the foundation of the order has been fully told by men who were under the influence of the movement; the facts only of the foundation need be mentioned here. It originated in France when Robert, abbot of Mokmes, roused by the remonstrances of one Stephen Harding, an English monk living in his convent, left his home with a band of followers in 1098, in search of a retreat where they might carry out the rule of St Benedict in a worthier spirit. They found this retreat at Citeaux. From Citeaux and   [p. 190]   its daughter-house Clairvaux, founded in 1113 by the energetic Bernard, those influences went forth which made the Cistercian order representative of the most strenuous devotion to toil and the most exalted religious aspirations. While the order of Clugni in the 10th century secured the outward conditions favourable to a life of routine, devoting this routine chiefly to literary and artistic pursuits, the reform of Citeaux exerted a much wider influence. It at once gained extensive local and national sympathy, by cultivating land and by favouring every kind of outdoor pursuit.

The agricultural activity of the Cistercian has called forth much enthusiastic comment. Janauschek, a modern student of the order, describes in eloquent terms how they turned woods into fields, how they constructed water-conduits and water-mills, how they cultivated gardens, orchards, and vineyards, how successful they were in rearing cattle, in breeding horses, in keeping bees, in regulating fishing, and how they made glass and procured the precious metals.[7*]

A comparison of their temper and that of the Cluniacs offers many interesting points; a comparison which is facilitated by a dialogue written by a Cistercian monk between 1154 and 1174 to exalt the merits of his order compared with those of the order of Clugni.[8*] For while the Cluniac delighted in luxurious surroundings, the Cistercian affected a simple mode of life which added to the wealth placed at his disposal by his untiring industry. While the Cluniac delighted in costly church decorations, in sumptuous vestments and in richly illuminated books of service, the Cistercian declared such pomp prejudicial to devotion, and sought to elevate the soul not so much by copying and ornamenting old books as by writing new ones; not so much by decorating a time-honoured edifice as by rearing a new and beautiful building.

Perhaps the nature of these occupations yields a reason why the Cistercian order at first found no place for women. At an early date Cardinal de Vitry (Jacobus di Vitriaco, † 1144), writing about the Cistercian movement, says that 'the weaker sex at the rise of the order could not aspire to conform to such severe rules, nor to rise to such a pitch of excellence.'[9*] In the dialogue referred to above, the Cluniac expresses wonder that women should enter the Cistercian order at all.

  [p. 191]  

The first Cistercian nunneries were founded at Tart in Langres and at Montreuil-les-Dames near Laon.[10*] Hermann of Laon (c. 1150) describes 'how the religious of Montreuil sewed and span, and went into the woods where they grubbed up briars and thorns,'-- an occupation which goes far to equalise their activity with that of the monks.[11*] In Switzerland and Germany there is said to have been a pronounced difference in the character of Cistercian nunneries, due to the various conditions of their foundation. Some were aristocratic in tone, while others consisted of women of the middle class, who banded together and placed themselves under the bishop of the diocese, following of their own accord the rules accepted by the monks of Citeaux.[12*]

In Spain a curious development of the order of Citeaux is recorded, fraught with peculiarities which recall earlier developments.

In 1187 Alfonso VIII, king of Leon and Castille, founded an abbacy for nuns of the order of Citeaux at Las Huelgas near Burgos, the abbess of which was declared head over twelve other nunneries. In the following year the king sent the bishop of Siguenza to the general chapter at Citeaux to obtain leave for the abbesses of his kingdom to hold a general chapter among themselves. This was granted. At the first chapter at Burgos the bishops of Burgos, Siguenza and Placenza were assembled together with six abbots and seven abbesses, each abbess being entitled to bring with her six servants and five horses. The power of the abbess of Las Huelgas continued to increase. In the year 1210 she had taken upon herself the discharge of sacerdotal functions. In the year 1260 she refused to receive the abbot of Citeaux, whereupon she was excommunicated. After the year 1507 the abbess was no longer appointed for life, but for a term of three years only. Chapters continued to be held under her auspices at Burgos till the Council of Trent in 1545, which forbade women to leave their enclosures.[13*]

The date of the first arrival of monks of Citeaux in England was 1128, when William Giffard, bishop of Winchester († 1129), in early days a partisan of Anselm against Henry I, founded   [p. 192]   Waverley in Surrey for them.[14*] Shortly afterwards Walter Espec, the most powerful baron in northern England, granted them land at Rievaulx in Yorkshire.[15*] About the same time the foundation at Fountains repeated the story of Citeaux. A small band of monks, burning with the desire to simplify conventual life, left York and retired into the wooded solitude of Fountains, whence they sent to Bernard at Clairvaux asking for his advice.[16*]

These events fall within the reign of Henry I (1100--1135), the peacefulness of which greatly furthered the development of monastic life. The pursuits to which the Cistercians were devoted in England were similar to those they carried on abroad. Here also their agricultural successes were great, for they ditched, ridged and drained, wet land, they marled stiff soils and clayed poor ones. The land granted to them, especially in the northern counties, was none of the best, but they succeeded in turning wildernesses into fruitful land, and by so doing won great admiration. Similarly the churches built in this country under the auspices of these monks bear witness to great purity of taste and ardent imagination. The churches built by them were all dedicated to the Virgin Mary, who was the patron saint of the order.

All these early settlements of the Cistercian order were for monks, not for nuns, for Cistercian nunneries in England were founded comparatively late and remained poor and unimportant. If we look upon the Cistercians as farmers, builders and writers, this fact is partly explained. But there are other reasons which suggest why the number of Cistercian nunneries was at first small, and why the Cistercian synod shrank from accepting control over them.

Convents of women had hitherto been recruited by the daughters of the landed gentry, and their tone was aristocratic; but a desire for the religious life had now penetrated into the lower strata of society. Orders of combined canons and nuns were founded which paid special attention to women of the lower classes, but they encountered certain difficulties in dealing with them. It is just possible on the one hand that the combined orders forestalled the Cistercians in the inducements they held out; on the other, that the experience of the combined orders made the Cistercians cautious about admitting women.

  [p. 193]  

Consideration of these facts brings us back to a whole group of phenomena to which reference was made in a previous chapter, viz. the disorderly tendencies which had become apparent in connection with loose women, the greater opprobrium cast on these women as time went on, and the increasing difficulties they had to contend with. The founders of the orders of combined canons and nuns tried to save women from drifting into and swelling a class, the, existence of which was felt to be injurious to social life, by preaching against a dissolute life and by receiving all persons into their settlements regardless of their antecedents.

The earliest and in many ways the most interesting of these combined orders is that founded by Robert († 1117) of Arbrissel, a village in Brittany. Robert had begun life in the Church, but he left the clerical calling on account of his great desire to minister to the needs of the lower classes, and as a wandering preacher he gained considerable renown.[17*] Men and women alike were roused by his words to reform their course of life, and they followed him about till he determined to secure for them a permanent abode. This he found in an outlying district at Fontevraud. He organised his followers into bands and apportioned to each its task. The men were divided into clerics, who performed religious service, and lay brothers, who did outdoor work. 'They were to use gentle talk, not to swear, and all to be joined in brotherly affection.' It appears that the women were all professed nuns;[18*] unceasing toil was to be their portion, for they were to hold the industrious and hardworking Martha as their model and take small account of such virtues as belonged to Mary.

From every side workers flocked to the settlements, for Robert opened his arms to all. We are told that 'men of all conditions came, women arrived, such as were poor as well as those of gentle birth; widows and virgins, aged men and youths, women of loose life as well as those who held aloof from men.' At first there was a difficulty in providing for the numerous settlers, but their labours brought profit, and gifts in kind poured in from outsiders, a proof that in the eyes of the world the settlements supplied an obvious need. Branch establishments were founded and prospered, so that in one cloister there were as many as three hundred women, in   [p. 194]   another one hundred, and in another sixty. Robert returned to his missionary work, after having appointed Hersende of Champagne as lady superior of the whole vast settlement. Her appointment was decisive for the system of government,--Fontevraud remained under the rule of an abbess. It was for her successor, Petronille, that the life of the founder Robert was written soon after his death, by Baldric, bishop of Dol († 1130). Baldric repeatedly insists on the fact that no one was refused admission to these settlements. 'The poor were received, the feeble were not refused, nor women of evil life, nor sinners, neither lepers nor the helpless.' We are told that Robert attracted nearly three thousand men and women to the settlements; the nuns (ancillae Christi) in particular wept at his death.

The fact that Robert had the welfare of women especially at heart is further borne out by a separate account of the last years of his life, written by one Andrea, probably his pupil. Andrea tells how Robert at the approach of death assembled the canons or clerics of the settlement around him and addressed them saying: 'Know that whatever I have wrought in this world I have wrought as a help to nuns.' Fontevraud occupied a high standing, and we shall find that nuns were brought thence into England when the nunnery of Amesbury was reformed in the reign of King John. The order of Fontevraud made great progress in the course of the 12th century, and next to it in point of time stands the foundation of the order of Prémontré.[19*] Fontevraud lies in the north-west of France, Prémontré in the east, and the efforts of Robert have here a counterpart in those of Norbert († 1134), who worked on similar lines. Norbert also left the clerical calling to work as a missionary in north-western Germany, especially in Westphalia, and he also succeeded in rousing his listeners to a consciousness of their ungodly mode of life. With a view- to reform he sought to give a changed tone to canonical life and founded a religious settlement in the forest of Coucy, which he afterwards called Prémontré from the belief that the Virgin had pointed it out to him. His efforts were likewise crowned with success, for many settlements were forthwith founded on the plan of that of Prémontré. Hermann of Laon, the contemporary of Norbert, praises him warmly and remarks that women of all classes flocked to his settlements, and were admitted into the communities by adopting the cloistered life.   [p. 195]   The statement is made, but may be exaggerated, that ten thousand women joined the order during Norbert's lifetime.

Norbert differed greatly in character from Robert; his personal ambition was greater, and his restless temperament eventually drew him into political life. He died in 1134, and in 1137 the chapter at Prémontré decided that the women should be expelled from all the settlements that had inmates of both sexes, and that no nuns should henceforth be admitted to settlements ruled by men. The reasons which led to this resolution are not recorded. The nuns thus rendered homeless are said to have banded together and dwelt in settlements which were afterwards numbered among Cistercian houses, thus causing a sudden increase of nunneries of this order. However a certain number of Premonstrant houses, occupied solely by nuns and ruled by a lady superior, existed previous to the decree of 1137. These remained unmolested, and others were added to them in course of time.[20*] It can be gathered from a bull of 1344. that there were at that time over thirteen hundred settlements of Premonstrant or White Canons in existence in Europe, besides the outlying settlements of lay brothers, and about four hundred settlements of nuns.[21*] The settlements of White Canons in England amounted to about thirty-five and were founded after the sexes had been separated. There were also two settlements of Premonstrant nuns in England.[22*]

A third order of canons and nuns, which in various ways is akin to the orders of Fontevraud and Prémontré previously founded abroad, was founded at the beginning of the 12th century in England by Gilbert of Sempringham. But as the material for study of this order is copious, and as it marks a distinct development in the history of women's convent life in England, it will be discussed in detail later.[23*]

The canons who belonged to the combined orders were regular canons, that is they owned no individual property, and further differed from secular canons in holding themselves exempt from performing spiritual functions for the laity. Erasmus at a later date remarked that 'their life is half way between that of monks and that of those who are called secular canons.[24*]

  [p. 196]  

As to the distinction between the two kinds, it appears that bands of canons who may fitly be termed regular had existed from an early period; but the subject is shrouded in some obscurity.[25*] In the 11th century mention of them becomes frequent, especially in France, and at the beginning of the 12th century their position was defined by a decree published by Pope Innocent II at the Lateran Council (1139).[26*] By this decree all those canons who did not perform spiritual functions for the laity were designated as regular and were called upon to live according to the rule of life laid down by St Augustine in his Epistle, number 109. The terms Austin canon and regular canon were henceforth applied indiscriminately, but many independent settlements of unrecognised canons of an earlier date have since been included under this term.

A few words are here needed in explanation of the term canoness or Austin canoness, which is used in diverse ways, but is generally applied to women of some substance, who entered a religious community and lived under a rule, but who were under no perpetual vow, that is, they observed obedience and celibacy as long as they remained in the house but were at liberty to return to the world. These stipulations do not imply that a woman on entering a convent renounced all rights of property, an assumption on the strength of which the Church historian Rohrbacher interprets as applying to canonesses the entire chapter of directions promulgated at Aachen in 816, in the interest of women living the religious life.[27*] But the terms used in these provisions are the ordinary ones applied to abbess and nun.[28*] Helyot, who has a wider outlook, and who speaking of the canon explains how this term was at first applied to all living in canone, points out that uncertainty hangs about many early settlements of women abroad, the members of which were in the true sense professed.[29*] It seems probable that they at first observed the rule of St Benedict, and afterwards departed from it, as has been pointed out above in connection with Saxon convents.

The tenor of the provisions made at Aachen shows that the monastic life of women in a number of early settlements abroad rested on a peculiar basis, and points to the fact that the inmates   [p. 197]   of settlements founded at an early date were in some measure justified when they declared later that they had always held certain liberties, and insisted on a distinction between themselves and other nuns. The position of the inmates of some of these houses continued different from that of the members of other nunneries till the time of the Reformation. In England, however, this difference does not seem to have existed. The inmates of the few Austin nunneries, of which there were fifteen at the dissolution, though they are frequently spoken of as canonesses in the charters that are secured by them, appear to have lived a life in no way different from that of other nuns, while they were in residence, but it may be they absented themselves more frequently.

When once their position was defined the spread of the Austin Canons was rapid; they combined the learning of the Benedictine with the devotional zeal of the Cistercian, and ingratiated themselves with high and low. Of all the settlements of the Austin Canons abroad that of St Victor in Paris stands first in importance. It became a retreat for some of the master minds of the age,[30*] and its influence on English thinkers was especially great.[31*] Austin Canons came from France into England as early as 1108. At first their activity here was chiefly philanthropic, they founded hospitals and served in them; but they soon embraced a variety of interests. In the words of Kate Norgate speaking with reference to England:[32*] 'The scheme of Austin Canons was a compromise between the old-fashioned system of canons and that of monkish confraternities; but a compromise leaning strongly towards the monastic side, tending more and more towards it with every fresh development, and distinguished chiefly by a certain elasticity of organisation which gave scope to an almost unlimited variety in the adjustment of the relations between the active and the contemplative life of the members of the order, thus enabling it to adapt itself to the most dissimilar temperaments and to the most diverse spheres of activity.'

Their educational system also met with such success that before the close of the reign of Henry I two members of the fraternity had been promoted to the episcopate and one to the primacy. In the remarks of contemporary writers on religious settlements, it is curious to note in what a different estimation regular canons and   [p. 198]   monks are held by those who shared the interests of court circles. For the courtier, as we shall presently see, sympathised with the canon but abused and ridiculed the monk.

Throughout the early Christian ages the idea had been steadily gaining ground that the professed religious should eschew contact with the outside world, and it was more and more urged that the moral and mental welfare of monk and nun was furthered by their confining their activity within the convent precincts. Greater seclusion was first enforced among women; for in the combined orders the nuns remained inside the monastery, and were removed from contact with the world, while the canons were but little restricted in their movements. How soon habitual seclusion from the world became obligatory it is of course very difficult to determine, but there is extant a highly interesting pamphlet, written about the year 1190 by the monk Idung of the Benedictine monastery of St Emmeran in Bavaria, which shows that professed religious women in the district he was acquainted with went about as freely as the monks, and did not even wear a distinctive dress. The pamphlet[33*] is the more interesting as Idung was evidently distressed by the behaviour of the nuns, but failed to find an authority on which to oppose their actions. He admits that the rule as drafted by St Benedict is intended alike for men and women, and that there are no directions to be found in it about confining nuns in particular, and in fact the rule allowed monks and nuns to go abroad freely as long as their superior approved. Idung then sets forth with many arguments that nuns are the frailer vessel; and he illustrates this point by a mass of examples adduced from classical and Biblical literature. He proves to himself the advisability of nuns being confined, but he is at a loss where to go for the means of confining them. And he ends his pamphlet with the advice that as it is impossible to interfere with the liberty of nuns, it should at least be obligatory for them when away from home to wear clothes which would make their vocation obvious.

No doubt the view held by this monk was shared by others, and public opinion fell in with it, and insisted on the advantages of seclusion. Many Benedictine houses owned outlying manors which were often at a considerable distance, and the management of which required a good deal of moving about on the part of the monks and nuns who were told off for the purpose. We shall see later that those who had taken the religious vow had pleasure as their object   [p. 199]   as much as business in going about; but complaints about the Benedictines of either sex are few compared with those raised against the Cistercian monks. For the Cistercians in their capacity of producers visited fairs and markets and, where occasion offered, were ready to drive a bargain, which was especially objected to by the ministers of the Church, who declared that the Cistercians lowered the religious profession in general estimation. Consequently orders which worked on opposite lines enjoyed greater favour with the priesthood; such as the monastic order of Grandmont, which originally demanded of its members that they should not quit their settlement and forbade their owning any animals except bees; and the order of Chartreuse, which confined each monk to his cell, that is, to a set of rooms with a garden adjoining.[34*] But these orders did not secure many votaries owing to their severity and narrowness.

Thus at the close of the 12th century a number of new religious orders had been founded which spread from one country to another by means of an effective system of organization, raising enthusiasm for the peaceful pursuits of convent life among all classes of society. The reason of their success lay partly in their identifying themselves with the ideal aspirations of the age, partly in the political unrest of the time which favoured the development of independent institutions, but chiefly in the diversity of occupation which the professed religious life now offered. The success obtained by the monastic orders however did not fail to rouse apprehension among the representatives of the established Church, and it seems well in conclusion to turn and recall some of the remarks passed on the new orders by contemporary writers who moved in the court of Henry II (1154--89).

It has been pointed out how the sympathies of court circles at this period in England were with the Church as represented by the priesthood; courtier and priest were at one in their antagonism against monks, but in sympathy with the canons. Conspicuous among these men stands Gerald Barn (c. 1147--c. 1220), a Welshman of high abilities and at one time court chaplain to the king. He hated all monkish orders equally, and for the delectation of some friends whom he entertained at Oxford he compiled a collection of monkish scandals known as 'The Mirror of the Church,'[35*] in which he represents the Cluniac monk as married to Luxury, and the Cistercian monk to Avarice; but, in spite of this, incidental remarks in the stories he   [p. 200]   tells give a high opinion of the Cistercian's industry, hospitality and unbounded charity. Gerald mentions as a subject for ridicule that the Cistercian monk lived not on rent, but on the produce of his labour, an unaristocratic proceeding which was characteristic of the order. Gerald's attitude is reflected in that of Ralph de Glanvil († 1190), justiciar of England during the reign of Henry II, a clever and versatile man of whom we know, through his friend Map, that he disliked all the monkish orders. But his enthusiasm for religious settlements was not inconsiderable, and several settlements of the Premonstrant or White Canons were founded by him.

The student of the period is familiar with the likes and dislikes of Walter Map († c. 1210), great among poets and writers of the age, who disliked all monks, but especially the Cistercians.[36*] His friend Gerald tells how this hatred had originated in the encroachments made by the monks of Newenham on the rights and property of the church he held at Westbury. For the perseverance with which Cistercian monks appropriated all available territory and interfered with the rights of church and chapel, made them generally odious to the ministers of the Church; their encroachments were an increasing grievance. John of Salisbury, afterwards bishop of Chartres († after 1180), directly censured as pernicious the means taken by the monks to extend their power. He tells us they procured from Rome exemption from diocesan jurisdiction, they appropriated the right of confession, they performed burial rites; in short they usurped the keys of the Church.[37*] By the side of these remarks it is interesting to recall the opinion of the monkish historian, William of Malmesbury, who a generation earlier had declared that the Cistercian monks had found the surest road to heaven.

All these writers, though lavish in their criticisms on monks, tell us hardly anything against nuns. The order of St Gilbert for canons and nuns alone calls forth some remarks derogatory to the women. Nigel Wirecker, himself a monk, giving went to his embittered spirit against Church and monkish institutions generally in the satire of Brunellus, launches into a fierce attack against the tone which then prevailed in women's settlements.[38*] He does not think it right that women whose antecedents are of the worst kind should adopt the religious profession and that as a means of preserving chastity they should systematically enjoin hatred of men.

  [p. 201]  

A similar reference is contained in the poem in Norman French called the 'Order of Fair Ease,' which is a production of the 13th century, and which caricatures the different religious orders by feigning an order that unites the characteristic vices of all.[39*] It is chiefly curious in the emphasis it lays on the exclusiveness of monasteries generally, representing them as reserved for the aristocracy. It contains little on nunneries and only a few remarks which are derogatory to the combined order of Sempringham.

These remarks were obviously called forth by the fact that the combined orders in particular admitted women from different ranks of life. For generally nunneries and their inmates enjoyed favour with churchman and courtier, whose contempt for the monk does not extend to the nun. In the correspondence of Thomas Beket, John of Salisbury, Peter of Blois and others there are letters to nuns of various houses which show that these men had friends and relatives among the inmates of nunneries. Indeed where members of the same family adopted the religious profession, the son habitually entered the Church while the daughter entered a nunnery. A sister of Thomas Beket was abbess at Barking, and various princesses of the royal house were abbesses of nunneries, as we shall presently see. They included Mary, daughter of Stephen (Romsey); a natural daughter of Henry II (Barking), and Matilda, daughter of Edward I (Amesbury); Queen Eleanor wife of Henry III also took the veil at Amesbury.


[1*] Labb, Sacror. Concil. Collectio, 1763, years 789, 804, 811; Helyot, Histoire des ordres monastiques, 1714, vol. 5, p. 146 ff.

[2*] Matth. Paris, Historia Major Angliae, sub anno.

[3*] Helyot, Histoire des ordres monastiques, 1714, vol. 5, pp. 184 ff.; Ladewig, Poppo von Slabla und die Klosterreform unter den Saliern, 1883.

[4*] Wulfstan, edit. Napler, Arthur, Berlin 1883, p. 156.

[5*] Tanner, T., Notitia monastica, edit. Nasmith, 1787, Introduction, p. ix.

[6*] Helyot, Histoire des ordres monastiques, 1714, vol. 5, pp. 341 ff.; A. SS. Boll., St Stephanus abbas, April 17.

[7*] Janauschek, L., Origines Cisterciensium, 1877.

[8*] Dialogus inter Clun. et Cist. in Martne and Durand's Thesaurus non. Anecdot. Paris, 1717, vol. 5, p. 1568.

[9*] Jacopo di Vitriaco, Historia Occidentalis, 1597, C. 15.

[10*] Helyot, Histoire des ordres monastiques, 1714, vol. 5, pp. 375, 468 ff.

[11*] Hermannus, De Mirac. St Mariae Laudun. (in Migne, Patrol. Cursus completus, vol. 156), p. 1002.

[12*] Brunner, S., Em Cisterzienserbuch, 1881, p. 612.

[13*] Helyot, Histoire des ordres monastiques, 1714, vol. 5 , p. 376.

[14*] Birch, W. de Gray, On the Date of Foundation ascribed to the Cistercian Abbeys of Great Britain, 1870.

[15*] Dugdale, Monasticon, 'Rivaulx,' vol. 5, p. 274.

[16*] Ibid. 'Fountains,' vol. 5, p. 292, nrs I--XI.

[17*] A. SS. Boll.,St Robertus, Feb. 25, contains two accounts of his life, the one by Baldric († 1130), the other by Andrea. Comp. also Helyot, Hist. des ordres mon.,1714, vol. 6, pp. 83 ff.

[18*] Differing from settlements of the Gilbertine order, in which there were lay sisters also.

[19*] Helyot, Histoire des ordres monastiques, 1714, vol. 2, pp. 156 ff. 'Leben des heil. Norbert' (written before 1155) transl. by Hertel in Pertz, Geschichtsschreiber der deutsche,, Vorzeit.

[20*] Helyot, Histoire des ordres monastiques,1714, vol. 2, p. 175; Jacopo di Vitriaco, Historia occidentalis,1597, ch. 15.

[21*] Gonzague, Monastère de Storrington, 1884, p. 8.

[22*] They were Brodholm and Irford.

[23*] Section 3 of this chapter.

[24*] 'Peregrinatio Relig. ergo.'

[25*] Helyot, Histoire des ordres monastiques, 1714, vol. , pp. 11 ff.

[26*] Tanner, J., Notitia Monastica edit. Nasmith, 1787, Introd. xi.

[27*] Rohrbacher, Histoire Universelle de l'èglise catholique, 1868, vol. 6, p. 252.

[28*] Labbé, C., Sacror. Cone. Collectio, 1763, year 816, part .2

[29*] Helyot, Histoire des ordres monastiques, 1714, vol. 2 , p. 55.

[30*] Hugonin, 'Essai sur la fondation de l'éco1e St Victor Paris, printed as an introduction to Hugo de St Victore, Opera (in Migne, Patrologiae Cursus Compl. vol. 175).

[31*] Comp. below, ch. 9, I.

[32*] Norgate, Kate, History of the Angevin Kings, 1887, vol. 1, p. 66.

[33*] Idung, De quatuor questionibus in Pez, B., Thesaurus anedot, nov. 1721, vol. 2.

[34*] Helyot, Histoire des ordres nonastiques, 1714, vol. 7, pp. 366, 406. Jacopo di Vitriaco, Historia Occidentalis, 1597, c. 15.

[35*] Giraldus Cambrensis, Speculum Ecclesise, edit. Brewer, 1873.

[36*] Map, W., De Nugis Curialium (written 1182--89), 1850, p. 38.

[37*] John of Salisbury, Polycraticus, edit. Giles, bk. VII. cbs. 21--23.

[38*] Wirecker, N., Brunellus, 1662, p. 83.

[39*] Goldsmid, Political Songs, vol. 2, p. 64.

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