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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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[chapter x]

  [p. 354]  


'All that wons in religioun
aw to haue sum ocupacioun,
outher in kirk or hali bedes,
or stodying in oder stedes;
ffor ydilnes, os sais sant paul
es grete enmy unto the soul.'
Rule of St Benedict translated into English for the use of women, 1400-1425 (ll. 1887 ff.)

The External Relations of the Convent.

FROM consideration of affairs on the Continent we return once more to England, to consider the external relations of the convent and the purposes these institutions fulfilled during the later Middle Ages. Speaking generally the monasteries maintained their standing unimpaired till the beginning of the 14th century; then their character began to change and for quite a century they ceased to be attractive to -progressive and original minds. The range of occupations cultivated by their inmates was restricted, and these inmates gradually came to regard everything with indifference except their own narrow religious interests.

The previous chapters have shown that monasteries at different periods had served a variety of purposes and had inaugurated progress in various directions; but after the year 1350 few if any new developments are recorded. As agricultural centres they continued prosperous on the whole; the abbot and the abbess retained their character as good landlords; charity and hospitality continued to be practised by them. But as intellectual centres the monasteries had found their rival in the growing townships. The townships at the beginning of the 14th century were so well established that they   [p. 355]   were able to protect and further pursuits and industries which had hitherto flourished under the protection of monastic centres. Book-learning and science were cultivated in a more liberal spirit at the universities, where the friars of different orders had established houses; and the arts and crafts flourished on more fruitful soil under the protection of the town. The progress of the English nation during the 14th and th centuries is uncontested; but little of it, if any, was due to the influence of monks. On the whole monasteries continued to be favourably regarded by the nation, and the system of which they formed part was not attacked, but while the friar freely moved from city to city and for a while became the representative of learning and art, the monk bound to his convent home showed an increasing want of intellectual activity.

The change was part of the great revolution which was taking place in feudal institutions generally. The age of chivalry was a thing of the past, and though the romantic ideas it had engendered had not ceased to influence mankind, they no longer possessed the transforming power of innovation. Similarly, mysticism which had been so largely cultivated inside convent walls had done its work in ushering in a spiritualised interpretation of religion; during the 14th century it was spread abroad and popularised by the friars, who gave it a new development, the monk's interest in it seemed to cease. But the ceremonial and ritual which the mystic had helped to elaborate, and the many observances by which the Catholicism of the Middle Ages had secured a hold on the concerns of daily life, continued in undisturbed prominence,--with this difference, that from elevating the few the ritual had now come to impress the many.

It is often insisted on that during the later Middle Ages monasteries were homes of superstition and idolatry, and that practices in devotional ritual and in the cult of the miraculous were kept up by them to the extent of making them a hindrance to moral and intellectual development, and obnoxious to the advocates of more liberal and advanced views. The fact must be taken as part of the conservative attitude of these houses, which had strengthened their hold on outside attention by observances with which their existence was indissolubly bound up. Certainly a later age may be excused for condemning what had become a mischief and a hindrance; but it is well to recall that it was precisely those usages and tendencies which a later period condemned as superstitious, that had been elaborated at an early   [p. 356]   period by leaders in thought, who saw in them the means of setting forth the principles of the Christian faith. And the elaborate cult, the processions and imagery of mediaeval Christianity, have a deeply significant side if we think of them in connection with the poetic, pictorial, dramatic and architectural arts of the later Middle Ages.

Convents retained some importance for the education of women during these ages. Attention must be given to them in this connection, though the standard of tuition they offered was not high. Compared with the level they had reached during an earlier period convents showed signs of retrogression rather than of advance, and compared with what was contemporaneously attained at the universities, the training women received in the convent was poor in substance, cramped in method, and insufficient in application. But, as far as I have been able to ascertain, a convent education remained the sole training of which a girl could avail herself outside the home circle. For the universities absolutely ignored the existence of woman as a being desirous or capable of acquiring knowledge, and the teaching at the mediaeval university was so ordered that students ranged in age from the merest boyhood to manhood. These centres then, by ignoring the existence of women, appropriated to men not only the privileges of a higher education, but also all knowledge from its rudiments upwards.

The standard of education in the average nunnery was deteriorating because devotional interests were cultivated to the exclusion of everything else. In early Christian times we saw monk and nun promoting intellectual acquirements generally, but the separation of the sexes, and the growing feeling in favour of the stricter confinement of nuns within convent precincts, advocated by a later age in the interests of a stricter morality, more and more cut off the nun from contact with secular learning. In the 12th century we saw Queen Matilda, the pupil of a Wessex house, writing fluent Latin and speaking not only of the Fathers of the Church but quoting from classical writers of whom she evidently knew more than the name. But in the later Middle Ages the class of writers who were read in the convent was restricted; service books, the legends of the saints, theological works, and some amount of scripture, comprised the range of the nun's usual studies. The remarks of contemporary writers bear out the inferences to be drawn from such a narrowed curriculum of study. The nun is represented as a person careful in   [p. 357]   her devotions, pious in her intent, of good manners and gentle breeding, but one-sided in the view she takes of life.

The author of the Ancren Riwle, as mentioned above, left us to infer that the women he was addressing were acquainted with English, French, and Latin, and their education must have been given them in convents. His work was written in the early half of the 13th century. In all convents down to the Reformation Latin continued to be studied to some extent, if only so far as to enable the nun to repeat her prayers, to follow mass and to transcribe a book of devotion. The lady superior, by the terms of her appointment and on account of the duties of her station, was bound to have some knowledge of it. But at the same time one comes across remarks which lead one to suppose that Latin was falling into disuse in nunneries, especially in the south of England, and that French was taking its place. Corroboration of this view is afforded by a list of injunctions sent by the bishop of Winchester to the convent at Romsey, in consequence of an episcopal visitation in 1310; they were drawn up in Latin, but a literal translation into French was appended for the greater convenience of the puns.[1*] The rules and ordinances prescribed by Archbishop Walter Reynolds to the convent of Davington in Kent about the year 1326 were written in French,[2*] and so were the set of rules forwarded by the abbot of St Albans to the convent of Sopwell in 1338.[3*] On the other hand injunctions written in Latin were sent to Godstow in Oxfordshire in 1279 and to Nun-Monkton in Yorkshire in 1397.

French down to the middle of the 14th century was the language of the upper classes as well as the legal language,[4*] and many literary products of the time are in French. A 'Life of St Katherine' written in Norman French by Clemence, a nun at Barking, is extant in two MSS. Only its opening lines have been published in which the nun informs her readers that she has translated this life from Latin into 'romans.'[5*] Letters written by ladies superior during this period were usually in French.[6*] Thus the prioress and convent of Ankerwyke in Buckinghamshire addressed a petition to King Edward III. in French, and the abbess of Shaftesbury in   [p. 358]   1382 petitioned King Richard II. in the same language.[7*] Various documents and year-books which were kept in religious houses show that entries made during the early period were in Latin, but in the 14th century French frequently occurs. In the 15th century both Latin and French were abandoned and the use of English became general. The documents of Barking, a most important Benedictine nunnery, are partly in Latin, partly in French, and partly in English.[8*] The extant charters of Legh or Minchenlegh in Devonshire are exclusively in Latin, but the rubrics of the 14th century are in French.[9*] In the register of Crabhouse,[10*] an Austin settlement of nuns in Norfolk, all three languages are used.

In the nunneries of the south of England French maintained itself longest, but it was Norman French, which continued in use after the change abroad which made the French spoken on this side of the Channel (except that of court circles) sound unfamiliar to a Frenchman. In the Prologue to his Canterbury Tales, written about 1386, Chaucer introduces a prioress who was one of the pilgrims en route for Canterbury, and remarks on the kind of French which she spoke (l. 124):

'And Frenche she spake full fayre and fetisly
After the scole of Stratford atte Bow,
For Frenche of Paris was to hire unknowe.'

Evidently he is referring to the French which was generally in use at the nunneries. Stratford, otherwise St Leonard's, Bromley, was situated in Middlesex.

English was first heard at the opening of the session at Westminster in 1363, and in 1404 French was unintelligible to the English ambassadors in Flanders. I have come across few French documents relating to nunneries which are later than the year 1400; in fact a petition in French written in 1433 by the prioress of Little-more in Oxfordshire stands almost alone.[11*]

There is extant a highly interesting rhymed version of the rule of St Benedict written for the use of nuns in the English dialect of the north between 1400 and 1425.[12*] It is not the earliest version   [p. 359]   in English made for the use of nuns; there is a translation, known as the Winteney version, which was written for them and is preserved in a copy of the 13th century; and it is possible that the earliest Benedictine rule in Anglo-Saxon for monks was adapted from a version in the vernacular written for women.[13*] However the author of the rhymed version of the th century is conscious of women's comparative ignorance of Latin. He prefaces his rule with the reason which prompted him to make it. 'Monks and learned men,' he says, 'may know the rule in Latin and gather from it how to work, serving God and Holy Church; it is for the purpose of making it intelligible to women who learnt no Latin in their youth that it is here set into English that they may easily learn it...'

The name of this translator is unknown. On the ground of certain passages referring to singing in choir (line 1188 ff.) it has been supposed, but with slight probability, that the translation was the work of a woman.

Another proof of the growing unfamiliarity with Latin in nunneries is afforded by the introduction to the register of God-stow, which was one of the wealthier English Benedictine nunneries. This register was written under the abbess Alice Henley, who is known to have been ruling in the year 1464, and consists of 126 folio leaves of vellum. According to Dugdale[14*] it comprises an account of the foundation of the house, an A. B. C. of devotion, a kalendar of the year, and all the charters of the house translated into English.' The translator has left an introduction to his work which in modern English runs as follows: 'The wise man taught his child to read books gladly and to understand them well, for lack of such understanding has often caused negligence, hurt, harm and hindrance, as experience proves; and since women of religion in reading Latin books are excused from much understanding where it is not their mother tongue, therefore if they read their books of remembrance and of gifts written in Latin, for want of understanding they often take hurt and hindrance; and since for want of truly learned men who are ready to teach and counsel them, and for fear also of publishing the evidence of their titles which has often caused mischief, it seems right needful to the under   [p. 360]   standing of these religious women that they have besides their Latin books some written in their mother tongue, by which they may secure better knowledge of their property and more clearly give information to their servants, rent-gatherers and receivers in the absence of their learned counsellors; therefore I, a poor brother, and 'wellwyller' to the abbess of Godstow Dame Alice Henley and to all her convent, which are for the most part well learned in English books.. .have undertaken to make this translation for them from Latin into English.'

I have come across very few references to books which have come from nunneries. A celebrated manuscript in Latin, which contains a collection of the lives of the saints and is written on vellum, belonged to the convent at Romsey[15*] a copy of 'The life of St Katherine of Alexandria' by Capgrave (in English verse of the 15th century), which has lately been printed, is designated as belonging to Katherine Babington, subprioress of Campsey in Suffolk;[16*] and the famous Vernon manuscript which contains the most complete collection of writings in Middle English on salvation or soul-hele' probably came from a nunnery.

The inventories taken of the goods and chattels belonging to convents at the time of the dissolution contain few references to books. Probably only books of devotion were numerous, and these were looked upon by the nuns as their personal property like their clothes, and were taken away with them when they left. The inventory of the nunnery of Kilburn mentions that two copies of the Legenda Aurea, the one written, the other printed, were kept in the chamber of the church.[17*] In connection with Sion, the only house in England of the order of St Bridget, we shall hear of a splendid collection of books, all I believe of a devotional character.

An inventory of the goods of the comparatively insignificant priory of Easebourne in Sussex, which never numbered more than five or six nuns, was taken in the year 1450 and shows what books of devotion were then in its possession. The following are enumerated: two missals, two breviaries, four antiphonies, one large legenda or book of the histories of the saints, eight psalters, one book of collects, one tropon or book of chants, one French Bible, two ordinalia or books of divine office, in French, one book of the   [p. 361]   Gospels, and one martyrology.[18*] It is in accordance with the exclusively pious training shown by the possession of books such as these that Chaucer lets his prioress, when called upon to contribute a tale, recount the legend of a boy-martyr who was murdered at Alexandria, and the nun who was with her tell the legend of St Cecilia. The prioress in this case did not fail to impress her hearers, while the monk, who was also of the party and told of worthies of biblical and of classical repute, roused no interest.

In the eyes of Chaucer the prioress was a thoroughly estimable person. 'Madame Eglentine,' whose smiling was 'ful simple and coy,' and who spoke French fluently, was distinguished also for elegance of manners at table. She neither dropped her food, nor steeped her fingers in the sauce, nor neglected to wipe her mouth, and throughout affected a certain courtly breeding which went well with her station.

And sikerly she was of grete disport,
And ful plesant, and amiable of port,
And peined hire to contrefeten chere
Of court, and ben estatelich of manere,
And to ben holden digne of reverence.'

Her sensitiveness was so great that she wept on seeing a mouse caught in a trap, and the death of one of the small dogs she kept caused her great grief. She could not bear to see one of them beaten, for in her 'all was conscience and tendre herte.' The only ornament she wore was a brooch which was attached to her beads and on which were inscribed the words Amor vincit omnia. The poet's designating her companion as the 'other nun,' suggests that the prioress in this case was a nun herself, that is that she was not the superior of a priory, but prioress and member of a convent which was under an abbess.

Education in a nunnery at this period secured the privilege of being addressed as 'Madame,' the title of a woman of the   [p. 362]   upper classes. Directions in English about the consecration of nuns which were in use in the diocese of Lincoln about the year 1480 are in existence . In these the bishop at the conclusion of the service is directed to offer words of advice to the newly professed nuns, which begin as follows: 'Daughters and virgins, now that you are married and espoused to Him that is above king and 'kaysor,' Jesus Christ, meet it is and so must you from henceforth in token of the same be called 'madame or ladye.'[19*]

Judging from a passage in Chaucer (1. 3940) this privilege was apparently kept by those who had been educated in a nunnery and returned to the world. The reeve tells about the miller's wife who was come of noble kyn; she was i-fostryd in a nonnerye,' and on account of her kindred and the 'nostelry' she had learned, no one durst call her but 'Madame.'

It remains to note how far the standing of nunneries was directly affected in the later Middle Ages by external social and political changes. Various conditions combined to curtail the privileges of religious houses, which when once lost were never recovered.

The reign of Edward I (1272--1307) was marked by many legal innovations. One of the first acts of the king was to appoint a commission to enquire into jurisdictions, and a general survey of the whole kingdom was taken to obtain correct knowledge of the rights by which property was held. Local and manorial rights were throughout called into question, which in many instances resulted in their being curtailed to the advantage of the king. In common with other holders of property, the heads of monasteries incurred direct losses, especially the heads of smaller settlements, where the property was not so well managed and the superior could not afford to have a legal adviser.

Among those cited before the justices in eyre were the abbesses and prioresses of convents of various orders, who as we gather from the account of these pleas[20*] sometimes appeared in person, sometimes through an attorney, to justify their claims and to seek re-establishment of their rights. The superiors of smaller settlements, whose property lay near their house, generally appeared in person, but the superiors of larger houses, where the jurisdiction over property which lay at a distance was called into question,   [p. 363]   appeared by an attorney. Thus the abbess of Barking which lies in Essex appeared by an attorney at Bedford and in Buckinghamshire, but in Essex she appeared in person to defend certain rights connected with property she held at Chelmsford.[21*] The abbess of Mailing in Kent appeared by attorney at Canterbury, where she secured renewal of her rights before the king's justiciaries not only to liberties and franchises of the most extensive kind in East and West Mailing, but to the holding of a market twice a week, and of three fairs in the year.[22*]

On the other hand we find the prioress of Stratford appearing in person before the judges in eyre at the Stone Cross, bringing her charters with her.[23*] The prioress of Wroxhall at first refused to answer the summons to appear at Warwick. Afterwards she appeared in person and succeeded in establishing her claim to her possessions in Hatton and Wroxhall together with many privileges and immunities which had been confirmed to her priory by Henry II, Richard I, John and Henry III, as appears in the charters granted by those monarchs.[24*]

But not all were so successful. The prioress of Redlingfield in Suffolk also came in person to justify a right which was held to belong to the crown, but which she claimed that she and all her predecessors had held time out of mind. But as she could show no special warrant, William de Gyselham prayed judgment for the king. A day was appointed for further hearing of the case at Westminster, but no further proceedings appear.[25*] Frequently a case was adjourned to Westminster and we hear no more of it; sometimes also the king's attorney did not choose to prosecute his suit further.

A close analysis of these pleas helps us to understand the various and complicated rights, immunities and privileges which abbess and prioress had acquired in common with feudal lords at an early period, and which the larger houses retained with few abatements down to the time of the dissolution. The study of these rights shows that a considerable business capacity and no small amount of attention were required to protect a settlement against deterioration and decay.

  [p. 364]  

The number of religious houses[26*] for women which existed at this period, including those of all orders, was close upon a hundred and thirty. Their number can be estimated only approximately, because some fell to decay and were abandoned as we shall see later, while, regarding Gilbertine settlements, it is unknown at what period nuns ceased to inhabit some of them. The number of monasteries for men including those of all monkish and canonical orders, at the same period was over four hundred; while the friars, the number of whose houses fluctuated, at the time of the dissolution owned about two hundred houses.

Of the settlements of nuns eighty-two belonged to the order of St Benedict, and twenty-seven (including two houses which had been founded by the order of Cluni) to Cistercian nuns. Fourteen houses were inhabited by Austin nuns or canonesses (including Sion), and two by nuns of the order of Prémontré.

In England only the orders of friars of St Francis and St Dominic had houses for women attached to them. The nuns of the order of St Clare, called also Poor Clares or Nuns Minoresses, had been established in connection with the Franciscan friars, an(1 owned three houses, of which the house in London, known as the Minories, was of considerable importance. Only one house of Dominican nuns existed in England. The nuns both of the Dominican and the Franciscan orders differed in many particulars from other nuns and are usually spoken of not as nuns but as sisters.[27*] They observed strict seclusion, and as a rule took no interest in anything save devotion. A set of rules for the nuns of St Clare was written by St Francis himself, and gives a fair idea of the narrow interests to which women who embraced religion under his auspices were confined:[28*]

Regarding the wealth of the settlements of different orders, the houses of the Benedictine order owned most property and drew the largest incomes; the houses owned by monks were throughout wealthier than those owned by nuns. Judging by the computations made at the time of the dissolution the Cistercian houses for men, and the houses of Austin and of Premonstrant Canons, were comparatively rich, whereas the houses of Cistercian and of Premonstrant nuns were poor, but the income of the Austin nunnery,   [p. 365]   Buckland in Somersetshire, compared favourably with that of the wealthier Benedictine houses for women. We shall have occasion to speak more fully of the house of Sion, which was of the order of St Bridget, and the wealth of which at the time of the dissolution exceeded that of any other nunnery.

The Internal Arrangements of the Convent.

At this point of our enquiry it seems well to pause for a while to describe the inner arrangements of a nunnery as they present themselves during the later Middle Ages, the offices which fell to the several members of the convent, and the daily life of the nun. The material at the disposal of the student lies scattered in the convent registers, in the accounts of visitations, and in contemporary literature, and is supplemented by the study of ruins. The inventories of monasteries made during the reign of Henry VIII at the time of the dissolution (c. 1536--1538) further add to this information. For no religious settlement for women was founded after the death of Edward III (1377) with the sole exception of Sion, and no important changes were made in the routine of existing houses, so that the state of things which survived at the dissolution may be taken with slight reservations as supplementing our information concerning the arrangements during the earlier period.

Regarding the position and duties of the lady superior, it has been mentioned before[29*] that comparatively few of the Benedictine nunneries had the standing of abbeys, most of them being priories, and that the abbesses of four houses had the additional title of baroness by reason of the property they held of the king. They were called upon to fulfil duties in accordance with their station, and like secular barons found knights for the king's service. In 1257 Agnes Ferrar, abbess of Shaftesbury, was summoned to Chester to take part in the expedition against Llewellin ap Griffith, and again in 1277 Juliana Bauceyn was summoned for a like purpose.[30*]

The lady superior of a house in the 14th and ith centuries was frequently seen outside the convent; pleasure as well as business might take her from home. It has been mentioned that the heads of convents sometimes appeared in person before the justices in eyre. Dame Christina Basset, prioress of the Bene   [p. 366]   dictine nunnery of St Mary Prée in Hertfordshire, in the account of her expenditure between 1487--1489 had the following entry made: 'when I rode to London for the suit that was taken.'[31*] In 1368 the bishop of Sarum, in whose diocese Shaftesbury was, granted a dispensation to Joan Formage to go from her monastery to one of her manors to take the air and to divert herself .[32*] Complaints were made of the too frequent absence of their prioress by members of the Benedictine nunnery of Easebourne, at the visitation in 1441, when it was alleged that the prioress was in the habit of riding about and staying away on pretence of business more often than was deemed advantageous to the convent.[33*]

After her election by the convent, the lady superior made profession of canonical obedience to the bishop of her diocese and in some cases waited upon the patron of her house. The nunnery of St Mary's, Winchester, was one of the houses that held of the king. In 1265 Eufemia was received by Henry III, and her successor Lucia went to Winchester castle to be presented.[34*] In houses which held of the king it was part of the royal prerogative that on his coronation the king should recommend a nun to the convent. In connection with Shaftesbury we find this on record in the first year of Richard II 1377-1399) and again in the first of Henry V. In 1428, several years after the accession of Henry VI, who became king when a child, a royal mandate was issued to the abbess of Shaftesbury to admit Joan Ashcomb as a nun.[35*] And in 1430 the same king nominated Godam Hampton to be received as a nun at Barking.[36*]

All the versions of the Benedictine rule known to me speak of the head of the monastery as the abbot, and in the Winteney version, which was written for nuns in the 13th century, the head of the women's house is accordingly designated as abbess.[37*] But, probably because the number of abbesses was comparatively small, the translator of the rule of St Benedict, in the rhymed English version of the 5th century, speaks throughout of the prioress as head of the nunnery.[38*] It is the prioress (1. 337 ff.) who is to be honoured inside   [p. 367]   the abbey (sic) and out of it wherever she goes or rides, who shall be law in herself, who shall have no pride in her heart but ever love God, and who is responsible as a shepherd or herdsman for the women given into her care. All these injunctions are given in other versions of the rule to the abbot or abbess. It further says that the prioress shall not favour any one nun by letting her travel more than the rest,--a command evidently added by the translator. In another passage (1. 2116 ff.) closely following the original text it is enjoined that the prioress shall liberally entertain guests, but if it happens that there be none, she shall invite some of the older sisters to dine with her.

A detailed account is preserved of the formalities of the appointment of a prioress to the convent of St Radegund's at Cambridge.[39*] This settlement, founded about the middle of the 12th century, had experienced many vicissitudes, but was comparatively prosperous in the year 1457, when the death of the prioress, Agnes Seyntel, on September 8th, left its twelve inmates without a head. We gather from a charter that the first step taken after her demise was that the subprioress, Matilda Sudbury, and the convent sent information to the bishop of Ely asking for permission to appoint a successor. This being granted the nuns assembled on Sept. 23rd and fixed the 27th as the day of the election. On this day all the nuns were present at mass, and then three of them were chosen arbiters (compromissarias). These were Joan Lancaster, Elizabeth Walton and Katherine Sayntlow, who took the oath and gave their votes, and then they administered the oath to the other nuns, who gave their votes also. The form of administration of the oath and the oath itself are both given in Latin. The nuns were adjured 'by the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, at the peril of their soul, according to God and their conscience, to name and choose her as prioress who was most needful to the priory.' The form of oath corresponds to this adjuration.

The votes being then counted it was found that a majority of seven were in favour of the appointment of Joan Lancaster, whereupon Elizabeth Walton, being called upon by the others, declared the result of the election. The Te Deum was then sung and the prospective prioress, reluctantly in this case it seems, was led to the chief altar of the convent church, where she was left,   [p. 368]   while the result of the election was proclaimed to the people outside 'in the vulgar tongue.' All this happened before noon, when the nuns returned to the chapter-house and called upon Elizabeth Walton and Katherine Sayntlow to draw up the deeds of the election, and to lay them before the newly appointed prioress, who was requested to affirm her election at four o'clock in the vestibule of the church. After much persuasion Joan Lancaster yielded and accepted the election. The words of her speech are given; in them she declares that she is a free woman and legitimate, born in lawful wedlock, and therefore entitled to proffer her consent and assent. Eleven nuns put their signatures to this document, one of whom designates herself as subprioress and president, another as leader of the choir, succentrix, another as cellaress, celeraria, and another calls herself treasurer, thesaurissa.

In connection with the Benedictine convent of Langley, in Leicestershire, a further formality is recorded at the election of a new prioress. The permission of the patron of the house having been obtained, the nuns proceeded to elect a new prioress, and a page with a white staff sent by the patron guarded the door of the priory till the election was made. 'For which in right of his master he was to have his diet but nothing more.'[40*]

The form of consent by which an abbess accepted office is entered in the register of Bishop Lacy of Exeter. In 1449 Johan or Jane Arundell was appointed abbess of the Austin settlement of Legh or Canonlegh, in Devonshire.[41*] Her consent is drawn up in English, and in it she speaks of herself as sister Johan Arundell, mynchyn, an ancient word for nun which continued in use in the south of England till the time of the dissolution.

A previous chapter has shown that the appointment of a prioress in those nunneries which were cells to an abbey, depended on the abbot.[42*] In the houses which were independent and elected their own head, a licence from the bishop had to be secured. And if the nuns neglected to secure this licence before electing a superior difficulties were apt to occur. In the case of Catesby, a Benedictine house in Northamptonshire, such difficulties are repeatedly recorded. At the death of the prioress Johanna de Northampton (1291), the cellaress of the house was elected in her stead by the nuns; but the election having been made without a licence, the   [p. 369]   bishop of Lincoln declared it void. Afterwards however he confirmed it in consideration of the merits of the person elected. At her death similar neglect on the one side was followed by similar opposition on the other; the bishop first declared the election void and then confirmed it. The relation of Catesby to the diocesan continued to be a source of difficulties. In 1444 the prioress Agnes Terry was suspended from the conduct of all business relating to the revenues of the house during the bishop's pleasure, and a commission was granted to the abbot of St James in Northampton to inspect the accounts of the nunnery.[43*]

Sometimes neglect of the administration of the property of the house was the cause of the voluntary or forced resignation of a superior. Love of finery is represented as the cause of the ruin of the prioress Juliana of Bromhall in Berkshire, into whose conduct an enquiry was instituted in 1404. It was found on this occasion that she 'had injured the convent and her own character in that she had converted to her nefarious use, alienated and wasted chalices, books, jewelry (jocalia), the income and possessions' of the priory.[44*] She resigned, but it is not recorded whether she remained in the house. In several instances a deposed lady superior did remain in the convent. Thus Margaret Punder, prioress of Flixton, an Austin convent, resigned because of complaints of her negligence, but she remained in the house as a member of the convent.[45*]

The dignitaries of the Church took upon themselves to protect the abbess or prioress against violation of her rights by laymen; under social arrangements which made the nunnery the one place of safety for the unmarried daughters of the gentry, it is obvious that ecclesiastical and lay authorities would be of one mind in severely punishing those who failed to respect the nun's privileges.

In 1285 a knight carried off two nuns from the settlement at Wilton, 'which coming to the archbishop's ears he first excommunicated him, and subsequently absolved him on these conditions,-- first that he should never afterwards come within a nunnery or be in the company of a nun; then that on three Sundays running he should be whipped in the parish church of Wilton, and likewise three other days in the market and church of Shaftesbury; that he should fast a certain number of months; that he should not   [p. 370]   wear a shirt for three years; and lastly that he should not any more take the habit and title of a knight, but wear apparel of a russet colour until he had spent three years in the Holy Land.'[46*]

Where an abbess was at the head of a nunnery, the prioress and sub-prioress, and sometimes a second prioress and sub-prioress were appointed by her; where the settlement was ruled by a prioress it was she who appointed the sub-prioress. This is in accordance with the written rule of St Benedict, where the abbot nominates the praepositus or provost whose duties correspond to those of the prioress or sub-prioress.[47*] The rhymed version of the rule, in which the prioress is treated as chief in authority, says the sub-prioress (1. 1406 ff) shall be appointed by the prioress, 'for if it were done otherwise strife and debate might easily arise. This provision was dictated by the feeling that, if chosen by the convent, the person second in authority might presume. For this reason 'the sub-prioress, sexton and other such officers shall not be chosen but appointed as the prioress desires,' and if the sub-prioress does wrong and refuses to mend her ways 'out of the flock she shall be fled.'

The duties of the person second in authority consisted in seeing that the hours of divine service were rightly kept. A manuscript now at Oxford, written in English, which came from Barking nunnery gives directions as to the formal appointment of the prioress in that house.[48*] It belongs to the end of the 14th century. Barking it will be remembered was one of the chief abbeys for women. The manner in which the abbess appointed the person second to her in authority is described in the following passage: 'When a prioress is to be made, the abbess shall commend the rule to her, enjoining that she be helpful to her and maintain religion in accordance with the rule. And she shall set her in her seat. And then shall come the chaplain with incense towards her. And the abbess and she shall go before the convent into the choir. And then shall they go to St Alburgh, and the convent shall say the Levavi (Ps. 121, Levavi oculos meos, 'I lifted up my eyes'); and the prioress shall lie prostrate, and the abbess shall say the prayers aforesaid with the orison Oremus, etc. Then shall the prioress go to the choir; the chapter mass being Spintus Domini. And the same day shall be given to the convent a   [p. 371]   pittance or allowance of good fish. And when she dies, she must give to the convent...' Here the manuscript closes abruptly.

In houses of the Benedictine order the lady superior of the house, whether abbess or prioress, usually dwelt apart from the convent in a set of chambers or a small house of her own, where she received visitors and transacted business. In some of the largest houses the prioress, sub-prioress and sexton also had establishments of their own as we shall see presently. In Cistercian houses the arrangements seem to have varied, but in the majority of houses of the order, usually among Austin nuns and always among the nuns of St Clare, the head of the house lived in closer contact with the members of her convent and took her meals at the same table as the nuns.

The lady superior managed all the business of the house and presided at the meetings of the convent, the members of which fulfilled a number of functions which we will pass in rapid review. The full complement of offices was of course found in the larger houses only; in the smaller houses several posts were frequently held by one and the same person. Reference is most frequently made to the offices of sexton, cellaress, and chaplain,--these seem to have existed in almost every house.

The rhymed version of St Benedict's rule gives the following injunctions about the duties of the sexton (1. 1521 ff.):--She shall ring the bells to all the services night and day, and keep the ornaments of the church, the chalice, books, vestments, relics, and wax and annual rents. She shall preserve the vessels of the altar and keep them clean.'

Other versions of the rule, as far as I am aware, contain nothing about these duties. The sexton at Barking at the time of the Reformation was responsible for the receipt of considerable sums.[49*]

Duties of great importance devolved on the cellaress, who managed the receipts and expenditure appertaining to the food; certainly no light task and one that required considerable powers of management. On this point the versified rule of St Benedict closely follows the original rule. We are told (1. 1467 ff.) that the cellaress 'shall be chosen by counsel out of the community' she shall be wise and gentle and of mild ways, not hard like a shrew, nor slow nor mean in her dealings (grochand in hir dede), but gladly do her office and take special care of young children, poor guests   [p. 372]   and others that ask at her door, knowing that on the day of judgment she will have to render account.

Fortunately we are in possession of an extremely interesting document written in English about the year 1400. It came from Barking nunnery, and enables us to form some idea of the duties devolving on the cellaress.[50*] It is entitled 'Charthe longynge to the office of the celeresse,' and describes the duties of buying and selling, illustrating the economic condition of the house no less than the standard of living at that convent. From the manuscript the inference can be drawn that more than one cellaress was appointed at a time. The one whose duties are described in the 'Charthe' provides and deals out the food, and manages the receipts from the home farm. The 'Charthe' opens with injunctions how the cellaress, when she comes into office, must look after what is owing to the office by divers farmers and rent-gatherers and see that it be paid as soon as may be. A list follows of the sums she receives annually from various sources, --farms and rent for various tenements in London and elsewhere. She receives 'of the canons of St Paul's in London for a yearly rent by the year 22 shillings; and of the prior of the convent of St Bartholomew's in London by the year 17 shillings.' The following entries are curious. 'She should receive yearly of a tenement in Friday Street, London, but it is not known where it stands, 23 shillings and four pence; and she should receive 30 shillings of the rent of Tyburn, but it is not paid.

A list follows of the things she is to be charged with, from which it is evident that the duties of selling as well as of buying devolved on her. She is to be charged with the ox-skins she sells, also with the 'inwards' of oxen, and with tallow and messes of beef; 'and all these be called the issues of the larder.' If she sells hay from any farm belonging to her office, she must charge herself with it or let it be called 'the foreign receipt.'

She is then directed as to the stores she has to provide, which may be grouped under the headings of grain, flesh, fish, and condiments.

The grains include malt, of which she provides three quarters yearly for the 'tounes' of St Alburgh and Christmas, and she pays twenty pence to the brewer of each 'toune'--and wheat, of which a quarter and seven bushels are required, which go to the allowance or pittance of the four men and dames resident in the monastery,   [p. 373]   for making 'russeaulx,' perhaps some kind of cake, during Lent, and for baking eels on Shere Tuesday (Tuesday preceding Good Friday). She provides two bushels of peas every year in Lent, and one bushel of beans for the convent against Midsummer. Both peas and beans are evidently dried.

Under the heading buying of store' the only item she is mentioned as providing is twenty-two oxen a year, which she evidently feeds on her pasture. Another passage tells us that 'she shall slay but every fortnight if she be a good housewife.' A passage further on refers to her buying pigs and possibly sheep. Geese and fowls she apparently received from her own farm.

She buys fish in large quantities, principally herrings, some white,--that is fresh or slightly salted, some red,--that is salted, by the cade or by the barrel. A note at the end of the 'Charthe' states that a cask or 'cade of herrings is six hundred herrings,' 'the barrel of herrings is one thousand herrings.' Seven cades of white herrings and three barrels of the same she buys for Lent.

Also she must provide eighteen salt fish and fourteen or fifteen salt salmon for the convent in Lent. Eels are mentioned, but not that she bought them; no doubt they were caught on the convent property.

Of condiments the cellaress has to provide almonds, twelve lbs. for Lent; figs, three pieces[51*] and twenty-four lbs.; raisins, one piece; rice, twenty-eight lbs.; and mustard eight gallons. There is no mention of salt or of sugar as being provided for the nuns.

We are next informed of the cellaress' expenses in money. Here the peculiar word russeaulx' figures again, variously spelt. All the ladies of the convent, who at the time numbered thirty-six, are in receipt of 'ruscheauw sylver,' payable sixteen times in the year, 'but it is paid only twice now, at Easter and at Michaelmas.' The ladies also receive twopence each for crisps and crumcakes at Shrovetide. Wherever there is question of paying money or providing food in portions, the cellaress has to give double to the chief officers of the house, such as the prioress, the cellaress, etc., which suggests that they had a double ration either to enable them to feed their servant, or perhaps a visitor.

The cellaress further pays five annuities called 'anniversaries,' namely, to Sir William, vicar, to Dame Alice Merton, to Dame Maud, the king's daughter, to Dame Maud Loveland, and to   [p. 374]   William Dunn, who are residing in the monastery. William Dunn moreover receives twelve gallons of good ale with his annuity.

In 'offerings and wages' the cellaress shall pay twelve pence to the two cellaresses; to the steward of the household what time he brings money home from the courts 20 pence, and again at Christmas 20 pence; to my lady's (the abbess') gentlewoman 20 pence; 'to every gentleman 16 pence and to every yeoman as it pleases her to do, and grooms in like case.' The abbess receives a sugar-loaf at Christmas; her clerk is paid thirteen shillings and fourpence, her yeoman cook 26 shillings and eightpence for their wages. Her groom cook and her pudding wife (groin coke and poding wief) receive the gift of one gown a year of the value of two shillings.

A description follows of the food which the cellaress has to provide for the convent on special days in the year. 'A pece of whete' and three gallons of milk for 'frimete on St Alburgh's day' four bacon hogs twice in winter, 'and she must buy six grecys (young pigs), six sowcys (perhaps 'sowkin,' diminutive for young female hog, or else 'sowthes,' Middle English for sheep) for the convent and also six inwardys and 100 (?) egges to make white puddings' also bread, pepper and saffron for the same puddings, also three gallons of good ale for 'besons.' Other directions follow which are perplexing, such as 'mary bones to make white wortys '--can it be marrowbones to make white soup, or does 'bones' stand for buns? Again we hear of 'cripcis and crumcakes,' chickens, bonnes (buns?) at Shrovetide, and of '12 stubbe elles and 60 shafte[52*] elles,' to bake for the convent on Shere Thursday. When the abbess receives a bottle of Tyre (wine) at Easter time the convent receives two gallons of red wine. The convent receives three gallons of ale every week. Regarding the wine it is well to recall that grapes were grown to some extent in medieval England, and that after the dissolution, a vineyard of five acres is scheduled as part of the possessions of Barking nunnery.[53*]

A paragraph is devoted to the giving out of eggs. The thirty-seven ladies sometimes receive money instead of eggs, 'ey sylver,' as it is called; in one case the alternative is open to the cellaress of giving thirty-two eggs or of paying twopence. Butter also forms an important item in the 'Charthe' it is given out in 'cobbets,' three cobbets going to a dish.

  [p. 375]  

It likewise falls to the cellaress to hire pasture, to see to the mowing of her hay, to see that all manner of houses within her office be duly repaired, not only within the monastery but without, on her farms and manors.

The 'Charthe' returns to directions about food, and mentions among other things pork, mutton, geese, hens, bacon and oatmeal.

The following passages will give some idea of the language in which these directions are couched.

'And the under-celaress must remember at each principal feast, that my lady (the abbess) sits in the refectory, that is to wit five times in the year, at each time shall (she) ask the clerk of the kitchen (for) supper eggs for the convent, at Easter, Whitsuntide, the Assumption of Our Lady, at St Alburgh, and at Christmas; at each time to every lady two eggs, and each (person receiving) double that is the prioress, celaress and kitchener...'

'Also to remember to ask of the kitchen at St Alburgh's time, for every lady of the convent half a goose...also to ask at the said feast of St Alburgh of the said clerk for every lady of the convent one hen, or else a cock.' The manuscript, which is corrected in several places and has additions made by another hand, closes abruptly.

It is interesting to compare the directions about food found in the rule of St Benedict with the high standard of living suggested by the 'Charthe' of Barking. The rhymed version says († 1620) that she who is seeing to the kitchen shall provide each day two kinds of 'mete,' so that she who will not eat of one kind may take the other. The convent is also to be supplied with two kinds of pottage (thick soup?) daily. If they have apples of their own growing they shall partake of them; also each lady is to be given a pound of bread each day, which is to serve her for her three meals. The rule adds words to the effect that the 'celerer' may give an extra allowance of food if she sees need though always with caution for fear of gluttony. In regard to drink, wine and ale shall be 'softly' tasted.

It appears probable from this 'Charthe' to the cellaress that the office of Kitchener at Barking was a permanent appointment, which is curious considering that in an ordinary way the members of the convent were bound to serve in the convent kitchen as cook, each for the term of a week. The injunction is repeated in every version of the Benedictine rule known to me. According to the rhymed version of the north the nun who has served her term in   [p. 376]   the kitchen is directed to leave the kitchen and the vessels clean for her who succeeded her in office. When her time is up she shall kneel before the assembled members of the convent saying, 'Blessed be the Lord that has never failed me,' whereupon the nun who is to act as cook shall say, 'Lord, to my helping take thou heed.' But this injunction was evidently disregarded in the wealthier houses at a later date, for in connection with St Mary's, Winchester, we read of a convent-cook and an under convent-cook.[54*] A nun of Campsey, an Austin house consisting at the time of a prioress and eighteen nuns, complained at the visitation of the house in 1532 of the unpunctuality of the meals, which she ascribed to the fault of the cook (culpa coci),--using a term which suggests that the cook in this case was a man.[55*]

An appointment in the nunnery which has led to some controversy is that of chaplain, it being alleged by some writers that the chaplain of the convent was necessarily a man. Certainly in most houses, especially in the wealthier ones, there were men chaplains; for example at the nunnery of Shaftesbury, where men chaplains are mentioned by the side of the abbess in various early charters and played an important part. [56*] Again at St Mary's, Winchester, at the time of the dissolution, men chaplains were among those who are described as resident in the monastery;[57*] at Kilburn nunnery the fact that the chaplain who dwelt on the premises was a man is evident from the arrangement of the dwellings--three chambers which lie together being designated as set apart for the chaplain and the hinds or herdsmen.[58*] But the fact that the chaplain's office could be and was held by a woman is established beyond a doubt by the following information. In consequence of an episcopal visitation (1478) of -the Benedictine convent of Easebourne, injunctions were sent to the prioress, one of which directs that 'every week, beginning with the eldest, excepting the sub-prioress, she shall select for herself in due course and in turns one of her nuns as chaplain (capellanissam) for divine service and to wait upon herself.'[59*] This injunction is in accordance with   [p. 377]   the words of Chaucer, who says that the prioress who was on a pilgrimage to Canterbury had with her a nun who acted as chaplain to her (1. 163):


'Another Nonne also with hire hadde she
That was hire chapelleine, and preestes thre.'

In the accounts of visitations in the diocese of Norwich between 1492 and 1532 the designation chaplain applied to an inmate of a nunnery appears in the Benedictine house of Redlingfield, in the Austin priory of Campsey and in others. In Redlingfield at the visitation of 1514 the complaint is made against the prioress that she does not change her chaplain, and at Flixton in 1520 it is alleged that the prioress has no chaplain and sleeps by herself in her chamber away from the dormitory.[61*] At Elstow in Bedfordshire at the time of the surrender Katheryne Wyngate adds the designation 'chapellain' to her name,[62*] and among the nuns of Barking who were still in receipt of their pension in 1553 was Mathea Fabyan who is styled chaplain (capellan). How far the woman chaplain performed the same offices as the man chaplain seems impossible to tell; probably she recited the inferior services in the chapel of the nunnery.

In the rhymed version of the rule of St Benedict the office of chaplain is passed over, but in the poem of the 'Spiritual Convent' written by the beguine Mechthild, of which a former chapter has given an account, the chaplain is a woman. And similarly the English version of this poem called the 'Ghostly Abbey' which is attributed to John Alcock, bishop of Ely († 1500), refers to women chaplains. It says God had ordered His four daughters to come and dwell in the abbey; Charity was made abbess and to her Mercy and Truth were to be as 'chapeleyns,' going about with her wherever she goes. He bade also that Righteousness should be with Wisdom who was prioress, and Peace with Mekeness who was sub-prioress, Charity, Wisdom and Mekeness having chaplains because they were 'most of worship.'[63*]

I have found very little information about the arrangements made in the nunnery for the young people who boarded with and were taught by the nuns, and hardly a clue is to be had as to   [p. 378]   the number of those who might stay in one house at the same time. The only allusion on this point is to St Mary's, Winchester, where twenty-six girls, mostly daughters of knights, were staying at the time of the dissolution. Rogers refers to a roll of expenditure of the Cistercian priory, Swine, in Yorkshire, on which he says are enumerated a number of young persons, daughters of the surrounding gentlefolk, who lived 'en pension' in this small community;[64*] and Rye has compiled a list of those who boarded at Carrow at different times.[65*] From 'The Death of Philip Sparrow,' a poem written by John Skelton (t 1529), we gather that the girl who is represented as intoning the lament over a tame bird, lived and boarded with the 'Nuns Black' at Carrow, where her sparrow was devoured by the cat, whereupon she took out a sampler and worked the sparrow in stitches of silk for her solace.[66*] Apparently not only girls, but boys also, were given into the care of nuns, for injunctions forwarded to Romsey in 1310 by the bishop of Winchester forbade that boys and girls should sleep with the nuns or be taken by them into the choir during divine service.[67*] Dugdale, Monasticon, 'Rumsey,' vol. 2, p. 507, footnote p. Injunctions sent to Redlingfield in 1514 also directed that boys should not sleep in the dormitory;[68*] and Bishop Kentwode in the directions he sent to St Helen's in London ordered that none but 'mayd learners' should be received into that nunnery.[69*] In the year 1433 Catherine de la Pole, abbess of Barking, petitioned Henry V. for a sum of money due to her for the maintenance of Edward and Jasper Tudor, sons of Catherine, the queen dowager, by Owen Tudor. It seems that these boys were receiving their education at this abbey.[70*] But the popularity of the convent even as an educational establishment began to decrease at the close of the 14th century. Judging from the Paston Letters it was no longer customary in Norfolk to send girls to board with the nuns; they were sent to stay away from home with some other country family.

Other offices held by members of the convent are as follows: thesaurissa,--the nun bursar who was responsible for the revenues coming through the Church; the precentrix and succentrix,-- the   [p. 379]   leaders and teachers of the choir, who are sometimes mentioned together (Campsey); the cameraria or chambress,--who saw to the wardrobe; the infirmaria or keeper of the infirmary,--who took charge of the sick nuns; the refectuaria,--who had the care of the refectory or dining hail the elemosinaria,--who distributed alms the magistra noviciarum,--who taught the novices. The cantarista occurs in connection with Sheppey; no doubt she is identical with the precentrix of other places. The further designations of tutrix, or teacher, occurs in connection with Shaftesbury, and eruditrix, instructress, in connection with Thetford; I have not come across these terms elsewhere.

All these appointments were made by the superior of the house and declared in the presence of the convent, and all except those of chaplain and kitchener seem to have been permanent. The chaplain was probably changed because it was a privilege to go about with the abbess, and the kitchener because of the hard work her duties involved. On the death of the abbess often the prioress, sometimes the cellaress, was appointed to succeed her, but not necessarily so.

Having so far treated of the duties of the convent inmates, we will examine the form of admission for novices and the daily routine of the nun.

According to the rhymed rule of St Benedict (1. 2155) the girl who was old enough to be admitted as nun into a religious community was granted entry as a novice and after two months had 'the law read to her, and then the question was put if she wished to stay or to go. If she stayed, it was for six months; after which, if still desirous of being received, she proffered her petition to the abbess. If after twelve months she still persisted in her resolution, she was received as a member of the convent and pronounced these words before the altar: 'Suscipe me, domine, secundum eloquium tuum, et vivam. Et non confundas me in expectatione mea.' The formal profession or consecration was undertaken by the bishop, who visited the nunnery periodically, but as these visits were often years apart, it is probable that the declaration made before the superior of a house and the priest constituted a novice a member of a convent, and for all practical purposes made her a nun. Fosbroke is of opinion that the girl who entered at the age of twelve made profession after she had passed a year in the community: he adds that she was consecrated by the bishop when she had reached the age of twenty-five and not   [p. 380]   before.[71*] But it is impossible to draw a line between profession and consecration, as the 'non-professed' nun was invariably the nun who had not been installed by the bishop. In 1521 at the visitation of Rusper the settlement consisted of the prioress, one professed nun and two nuns entered on the list as not professed, of whom one declared that she had lived there awaiting profession for twelve years, the other for three.[72*] Women who had been professed at one house were sometimes inmates of another; and I have not found any remark which leads to the inference that this was thought objectionable. A nun residing at Rusper was afterwards prioress of Easebourne. The record of a visitation at Davington in Kent (1511) shows that the convent contained four inmates, of whom two were professed nuns. The one, professed at Cambridge, had been there for twenty years; the other, professed at Mailing, had been there for ten. The other two inmates entered on the list as not professed were girls of ten and fifteen.[73*]

The consecration of nuns was a very ancient and solemn rite. Several forms of the office as celebrated in England are in existence.[74*] One comes from the monastery of St Mary's, Winchester, and is contained in a manuscript written probably soon after 1500; the directions are in English, but the words in which the bishop addressed the maidens and their answers are in Latin. Another manuscript written about 1480 contains the office as used in the diocese of Lincoln, with prayers in English and rubrics in Latin; it contains also various directions and addresses omitted in the other manuscript. A third is throughout in English.

These forms of consecration show that after the celebration of the office of high mass in church the prospective nuns entered, each bearing a habit, a veil, a ring and a scroll. The form of interrogation they were put through and the prayers they recited during the installation are given. The declaration was made by the nuns in Latin and runs as follows: 'I, sister..., promise steadfastness (stabilitatem), continuance in virtue (conversionem morum meorum), and obedience before God and all His saints.' We   [p. 381]   also have the declaration of four nuns who were installed by the bishop of Ely at Chatteris, which is couched in similar terms.[75*] The nun in this case made her promise 'in accordance with the rule of St Benedict in this place, Chatteris, built in honour of St Mary, in the presence of the reverend father in Christ, William, bishop of Ely,' adding 'I subscribe this with my own hand,' whereupon she made the sign of the cross on the scroll which she carried in her hand and from which she had read her declaration. The form of declaration made at Rusper in Sussex in the year 1484 is similar, but the nun further promises 'to live without property (sine proprio)' of her own.[76*]

For several days after her consecration the nun lived in retirement, strictly observing the rule of silence. She then resumed her ordinary duties in church, cloister, refectory and dormitory. She usually kept within the convent close, but she was not altogether cut off from intercourse with the outside world. The rhymed rule of St Benedict of the north, transcribing the passages which refer to the monk's going abroad if need be, adapts them to the use of the nun (1. 2450), 'when a sister is going to her father, mother, or other friends, she shall take formal leave of the convent. And if she is away on an errand (1. 1967), she shall not stay away for a meal though invited to do so unless she has asked leave before going. And again (1. 1957) if she be away during Lent and cannot attend service in church she shall not forget to keep the hours by saying her prayers. And again (1. 2094), when nuns go away into the country they shall wear 'more honest' clothes (that is clothes more clearly showing their profession), which they can take off on coming home for simpler ones. From passages such as these we gather that nuns sometimes stayed away from their convent, leave of absence having been procured; and that besides pilgrimages and business, friendly intercourse with their relatives might take them away from the convent for a time.

The day at the convent was divided by the canonical hours stated times fixed by ecclesiastical law for prayer and devotion.[77*] The hours since the 6th century were seven in number, viz, matins, prime, tierce, sext, none, vespers or evensong, and compline.

  [p. 382]  

During winter a night office was said in church at the eighth hour, that is at two o'clock in the morning, when the matutmae laudes were sung, but the time for that was variable. 'Then shall they rise to sing and read, and after that she who has need may have meditations' (Rhymed rule, 1. 1166). Between Easter and winter however the rule says 'that the nuns shall unto matins rise when the day begins to dawn that they their letters well may know.' Injunctions sent to Easebourne in 1524 direct the prioress to hold matins at the sixth hour, that is at midnight. Matins were followed by a period of rest, probably till five o'clock, when the nuns rose and assembled in the choir to celebrate the office of prime. This was followed by business transacted in the chapter house, by a meal and by work. According to the prose versions of the Benedictine rule children were taught between prime and tierce.

At tierce a short chapter-mass was sung followed by continued study; 'from terce to sext the nuns shall read lessons' (1. 1905). At eight the nuns assembled in the choir for the celebration of High Mass, the principal service of the day, after which came the chief meal. This was served in the refectory; 'the convent when they sit at meat for to read shall not forget' (1. 1739); and while reading went on 'if any of them need aught softly with signs they shall it crave' (1. 1754). The time of the meal was moveable. In summer the nuns were to eat at the sext, but on Wednesdays and Fridays they were to fast till nones, that is noon, except 'they swink and sweat in hay or corn with travail great' (1. 1768), when the time might be altered at the will of the superior. Between December and Lent they always ate at nones. If they eat early 'then shall they sleep and silence keep' (1. 1910) till nones, from which time till evensong work was resumed.

About three o'clock, vespers, that is evensong, once more assembled the convent inmates in church. The celebration of evensong partook of the solemnity of the celebration of high mass. In the monks' houses at high mass and at vespers the youths who were supported there for the purpose attended and joined the brethren in their choral service. In the nuns' houses the arrangements for the girls who dwelt with the nuns were similar, at least in some cases. After vespers came supper, arid then 'the nuns could sit where they would and read lessons of holy writ or else the lives of holy men' (1. 179 Q, until the tolling of the bell summoned them to the chapter-house, where they joined   [p. 383]   their superior. Compline completed the religious exercises of the day. After this the nuns retired to the dormitory, where silence unbroken was to be observed. Inside the dormitory, curtains, in some houses if not in all, were hung so as to separate bed from bed.

The celebration of the hours formed at all times the great feature of monastic life, and in itself involved a considerable amount of labour, especially during the later period, when the ritual of service had become very elaborate. Indolence and ease might creep in between whiles, deterioration might take place in the occupations of the nuns between hours, but the observance of the hours themselves constituted the nun's privilege and her raison dêttre, and was at all times zealously upheld.

The Foundation and Internal Arrangements of Sion.[78*]

Before leaving the subject of women's convent life in England in the later Middle Ages, it will be interesting to devote some attention to the foundation and interior arrangements of Sion, a convent founded under peculiar circumstances at a time when it was no longer usual to found or endow religious settlements. The information relating to Sion has been characterised as the most valuable record we possess of monastic life in the 15th century. It refers to one short period only and bears out what has already been put forward with regard to other nunneries. The interests of the women who joined this convent centred round devotional practices and a highly elaborated convent routine.

The settlement of Sion belonged to the order of St Bridget of Sweden, and was the only house of its kind in England. It was situated in beautiful surroundings near Isleworth on the Thames, and was so richly endowed that at the time of the dissolution its income far exceeded that of any other nunnery, not excepting the time-honoured settlements of Shaftesbury and Barking. It was the only English community of women which escaped being scattered at the time of the Reformation. Its convent of nuns removed to Holland, but returned to the old house for a time after the accession of Queen Mary. At the close of her reign the nuns again went abroad and after various vicissitudes settled at Lisbon, where the convent continued to be recruited from English homes   [p. 384]   till the beginning of this century. Then the nine sisters of which the convent consisted came to England, and settled at Chudleigh, near Newton-Abbot, in Devonshire.

A few words in passing must be devoted to the nun and saint Bridget[79*] of Sweden, founder of the order which took her name-- a woman of acquirements and influence. She was born of a kingly race in 1304, and from the house of a powerful father passed to that of a powerful husband; but the responsibilities of a large household and the care of a family of seven children did not draw her attention from social and political affairs. She was strongly imbued with the need of reform in religion, and believed in the possibility of effecting a change by encouraging monasticism. A large part of her property and much of her time were devoted to enlarging the religious settlement of Wadstena. She then went on a pilgrimage to Santiago in Spain, after which husband and wife separated, each to embrace convent life. Bridget, or Birgitta as her people called her, dwelt at Wadstena, which she reformed according to rules which she believed she had received direct from heaven. She also wrote some 'Revelations,' which in their strong invective recall the Revelations of St Hildegard of Bingen with this difference, that St Bridget with open directness spoke of the dangers which she thought were gathering around Sweden. The tone of these writings brought her into difficulties. She escaped from them by removing to Rome in 1350, where she lived for over twenty years. Here she was looked upon as the representative of the Church party which strongly censured the Pope for continuing to dwell at Avignon. This party looked upon Bridget as the chosen mouthpiece of God. Her power of prophecy was generally recognised after her threatening visions about the state of things in Sweden had proved true. Settlements on the plan of that of Wadstena rapidly multiplied during her lifetime in Sweden and in North Germany. It was partly owing to her influence that the first attempt was made to translate the Bible into Swedish, and she is looked upon by the Swedes as one of that faithful band who worked for their national regeneration. She died in 1372 and was officially canonised a saint in 1391.[80*]

A great feature of the order of St Bridget was that its settlements consisted of a double community of men and women who combined for purposes of divine service, but were otherwise separate,   [p. 385]   each community having its own conventual buildings separately enclosed. The convent of nuns, according to Bridget's stipulation, numbered sixty women including the abbess, and in accordance with a fanciful notion, such as one comes across in the Middle Ages, these women had associated with them thirteen priests, who represented the apostles, four deacons who represented the great doctors of the Church, and eight lay brothers; the lady abbess was at the head of this double community. The order in its development abroad endeavoured to influence all classes. It encouraged charity, promoted education and collected books. But in England its tone fell in with that of other nunneries in the 15th century; the interests of Sion were entirely devotional and its large library seems to have contained religious works only.

I am not aware of any mention of Bridget in contemporary English literature previous to the introduction of her order into this country, which took place at the beginning of the 15th century. In the year 1406 Philippa, daughter of Henry IV, was sent to Lund in Sweden to be married to King Eric XIII (1382--1445), under whose rule the crowns of Sweden, Denmark and Norway were united. The princess travelled under the charge of Henry, third Baron Fitzhugh, who held an important position at the court of Henry IV; he was made Constable of England at the coronation of Henry V, and seems to have been on terms of intimacy with both these monarchs. By some means Fitzhugh's attention was drawn to the monastery of Wadstena, the chronicle of which records his visit to it. He volunteered to found a branch of the order of St Bridget in England, and promised the gift of a manor, Hinton near Cambridge, on condition that some of the order took possession of it within three years.

In consequence of Fitzhugh's visit and offer a priest and two deacons professing the order of St Bridget were elected at Wadstena in 1408, and sent to England. Blunt considers it probable[81*] that it was by the advice of Fitzhugh that Henry V about this time devoted manors at Sheen and Isleworth to religious purposes. Carthusian monks were settled at Sheen, nuns of St Bridget were settled at Isleworth,--and the two settlements were called respectively Bethlehem and Sion. In February of 1415 Henry V in the presence of the bishop of London laid the foundation stone of a building destined for the nuns near Twickenham, and in March the royal charter was drawn up and signed. By this the members   [p. 386]   of the new settlement were bound 'to celebrate Divine Service for ever for our healthful estate while we live and for our souls when we shall have departed this life, and for the souls of our most dear lord and father (Henry IV) late king of England, and Mary his late wife, etc.' Before the close of the year four consecrated Swedish sisters, three novices and two brothers arrived in England from Wadstena. They were sent by the king and queen of Sweden and were sped on their way by the archbishop of Lund and other dignitaries.

The settlement at Sion had been granted an income of a thousand marks, to be drawn from the royal exchequer until the permanent endowments made to it should amount to that sum. In 1418 Pope Martin V received the house under his special protection; the first profession or monastic engagement took place two years later. Twenty-four nuns, five priests, two deacons and four lay brothers pronounced their vows before archbishop Chicheley of Canterbury (1420). And before the close of Henry's reign (1422) the house was endowed with manors and spiritualities, scattered over the land from Kent to the Lake district, which were chiefly appropriated from the possessions of alien priorles.

The appropriation of alien priories forms an interesting episode in the history of English monasticism, for it constitutes a prelude to the dissolution of monasteries generally. While men were becoming critical of religious institutions owing to the spread of Lollard doctrines, the Lancastrian kings appropriated the lands and the revenues of alien priories and made use of them to fortify the Church and monasticism, thus counteracting influences which in the first instance had made the appropriation of these houses possible.

The number of alien priories in England is differently quoted as a hundred and a hundred and forty.[82*] Most of them had been founded soon after the Conquest, when the gift of a manor on English soil to a foreign house had brought over from France a few monks and nuns, who after defraying the expenses of their houses remitted any surplus revenue or else forwarded a sum of money in lieu of it to the parent house. When the relations between France and England became strained it appeared advisable to sever the connection between the foreign house and its English colonies. Edward I, when he determined on war with France, appropriated the revenues of alien priories for a time, and his   [p. 387]   successors frequently did the same; the dangers to which these cells were exposed causing some foreign houses to sever the connection by selling their English property.

The alien cells occupied by nuns were very few. Amesbury, which had been constituted a cell to Fontevraud, regained its independent standing during the wars with France;[83*] Westwood,[84*] another cell of Fontevraud, and Levenestre or Liminster in Surrey, a cell of Almanache in Normandy, were dispersed, and the abbess of Almanache treated for the sale of the property.[85*]

After many attempts to interfere with foreign cells Henry V resolved on their final sequestration (1414), and it was part of the property thus appropriated which was bestowed on the houses called Bethlehem and Sion.

The chief information we have on the conventual life of the women assembled at Sion is contained in a set of ' additional rules' written in English 'for the sisters of the order of St Saviour and St Bridget'.[86*] The same rules exist in a manuscript of contemporaneous date adapted to the use of the brothers, whose duties, save in a few particulars, were similar. They acted as priests and confessors to the double community. The chapel had a double chancel, each with its separate stalls; it was divided by a 'crate' or grille which did not prevent the brothers and sisters from being visible to each other during divine service. The gate of this grille was kept locked, and was only opened for the entrance and departure of the clergy when they said mass at the altar of the sisters' chapel. The lay brothers of the settlement acted as labourers, and had no part in the government of the house.

The additional rules for the sisters are grouped together in fifty-nine chapters, and contain most elaborate directions not only as to the occupation, behaviour and special duties of the various inmates of the convent, but for exigencies of every kind. After directions about the holding of the Chapter, lists of defaults are worked out, grouped under the headings of light, grievous, more grievous and most grievous (c. 1--7). 'A careful consideration of this code of "defaultes" and their penalties,' says Blunt,[87*] 'leads to the conclu   [p. 388]   sion that it was intended as an exhaustive list of possible crimes, and that it offers no ground for believing that the Sisters of Sion were ever guilty of them or ever incurred the severer punishments enjoined in connection with them.' Among 'light defaults' we note such as neglect in religious observance and in washing; among 'grievous defaults,' despising the common doctrine as taught by the holy fathers, and going unconfessed for fourteen days. 'More grievous defaults' are such as sowing discord, theft, and using sorcery or witchcraft; 'most grievous defaults' are manslaughter, fleshly sin, and blasphemy. We gather from the directions that one mode of severe punishment was imprisonment, whereas 'discipline' was administered regularly by the sisters to each other. The power of the abbess over the members of the convent was absolute; she is spoken of in these rules sometimes as sovereign, sometimes as majesty. It was she who decreed punishment and penance, and when the bishop enjoined correction in consequence of an enquiry, she decided upon and administered it. Twenty-eight questions, which the bishop on the occasion of his visitation was allowed to put to the abbess and the convent, are given (c.10). They refer to devotional duties, to the observance of fasts, etc. One question (nr 10) enquires of the sisters how they are occupied when they are not at divine service or at conventual observances; another (nr 18) if there be an inventory or register of the books of the library, and how they and other books of study are kept; again another (nr 26) enquires as to the state of the infirmary.

A caution against slander suggests a curious idea of equity. If any sister bring an accusation against another before the bishop, she shall not be heard 'unless bound to the pain if she fail in proof, that she whom she accuses shall have, if she be found guilty.'

Among the men who necessarily had access to the women's conventual buildings, physicians, workmen and labourers are enumerated.

The election of a new abbess (c. 12) was effected by the sisters alone within three days of the occurrence of a vacancy. It was not managed in quite the same way as elsewhere. The prioress proposed a name, and if the sisters voted unanimously in favour of it, the election was called 'by the way of the Holy Ghost.' But if they did not agree, they named a candidate and the ballot was repeated till a sufficient majority was obtained. The election was not valid unless confirmed by the bishop. When the abbess   [p. 389]   pronounced the words of her 'obedience' she was supported by a learned man of law or notary, besides the confessor of the house and two brothers. The confessor was appointed at the discretion of the abbess herself, the 'sadder' or elderly sisters and the brothers; but the other appointments were made by the abbess alone (c. 13). She appointed the sisters to office and could remove them. As elsewhere, she was obliged to do so in the chapter-house in the presence of the convent.

The rules of keeping silence, the year of proof, and the instruction and profession of novices, are fully discussed (c. 15). The account of how the sisters were professed is supplemented by Aungier.[88*] He gives an additional description of the ceremony in church, probably of somewhat later date, and of the interrogatory through which the bishop put the prospective nun. The first question which he put was to this effect: 'Art thou free and unfettered by any bond of the Church, or of wedlock; of vow, or of excommunication?' to which she made answer, 'I am truly free.' The bishop then asked: 'Does not shame, or perchance grief of worldly adversity, urge thee to a religious profession, or perhaps the multitude of thy debts compel thee?' To which she answered: 'Neither grief nor shame incites me to this, but a fervent love of Christ; and I have already paid all my debts according to my power,' etc. I have not met with similar questions in any other place.

In the additional rules directions are also given about singing and keeping the hours and the festivals (c. 18--44). The day at Sion was divided by the seven 'hours' in the usual way. At the hours in chapel the 'sadder' or elder sisters sang together with the younger ones or 'song-sisters.' The 'observance of the altar' at both masses belonged to the brothers; it was so arranged that the brothers' service came first and the sisters' began when that of the brothers ended. In addition to the usual hours and masses two ceremonies were daily observed at Sion. One was the singing of the psalm De Profundis at an open grave to which the whole convent wended its way after tierce. The other consisted of a prayer addressed to Mary in chapel before evensong, from which none of the sisters was to absent herself except for an important reason.

A number of festivals were celebrated at Sion with special   [p. 390]   services and processions (c. 29). Among them were the feast of the Circumcision, the translation of St Bridget and the day of St John the Baptist 'when their feasts fall on Sunday and not else' also Palm Sunday, St Mark's day, Rogation Sunday, St Peter and St Paul, St Anne's, Michaelmas, all the feasts of Our Lady and all the principal or high double feasts of the year. On these occasions the sisters walked two and two in procession, and the sister who was sexton bore the 'image of our lady' after the cross, and two torches were carried on either side a little before the image. The additional rules contain directions to the sisters on the arrangement of divine service on these occasions, and further directions in the rule for the brothers minutely describe the elaborate ritual which took place.

The additional rules also contain a full description of the duties of each appointment in the convent (c. 45). The choir in church was led by a chauntres and subchauntres who should be 'cunning and perfect in reading and singing.' It was the duty of the ebdornary, or weekly appointed nun (c. 46), to be one of the first in choir; she was 'to abstayn and withdrawe herself from alle thynges that wyke that myght lette her to performe her office.' When the abbess did not execute the service the ebdomary began the Invitatory; and she always gave the third blessing after the abbess had read the third lesson. She also fulfilled the office of the abbess at the principal feasts, except in such things as belonged exclusively to the abbess.

We hear also of the duties of the sexton, sexteyne (c. 48), who kept the church ornaments and the altar 'whole and sound, fair, clean and honest,' and who saw to the washing of altar-cloths, awbes or surplices. She was not allowed to touch or wash the hallowed corporas or cloths with bare hands, but was obliged to wear linen gloves, and in starching the cloths she was directed to use starch made of herbs only. The sexton had in her keeping wax, lamps, oil and all other things belonging to the church; she had to provide for the church syngynge or communion brede, sudarys, wax-candles, tallow-candles, wax rolls, tapers, torches, mats, nattes, and roundlettes; and she provided for the penners, pens, ink, inkhorns, tables, and all else that the abbess asked of her. Also she opened and shut the doors and windows of the sisters' choir and common places, lighted and extinguished tapers and candles, and snuffed them 'in such wise and in such time that the sisters be not grieved with the savour.'

  [p. 391]  

It was the duty of the sexton to ring the bells in the women's part of the house; the ringing of a bell regulated throughout the life of those assembled at Sion. It roused the brothers and sisters from sleep, summoned them to church, called them to meals, and ever and anon gave notice for a devotional pause in whatever occupation was going on at the moment. When one of the community passed away from life the large or curfew bell was tolled continuously.

Another appointment in the women's convent was that of the legister or reader at meals (c. 50), who was directed to read out distinctly and openly, that all might understand, whatever the abbess or chauntress had assigned. On one day of the week she read out the rule. Absolute silence reigned during meals. If anyone had a communication to make, this was done by means of signs, used also at other times when silence was to be observed. A curious 'table of signs used during the hours of silence by the sisters and brothers in the monastery of Sion' was drawn up by Thomas Betsone,[89*] one of the brothers. Together with other tables of the kind, it suggests the origin of the method by which the deaf and dumb were formerly taught.

At Sion the abbess had her meals with the sisters, sitting at a high table while they sat at side tables (c.51--52), and the servitors or lay sisters waited. When they had done the sisters wiped their knives and spoons on the napkins (without washing them?); they were to guard against spotting the cloth, and spilling the food, and were directed to put away their cups and spoons honest and clean (without washing them?) into the 'coffyns' which were kept underneath the table, or in some other place ordered by the abbess. At the end of a meal the sisters swept together the crumbs with their napkins, and then, at a sign from the abbess, they bore the food away to the serving-house. The youngest sister took the first dish, and each one carried away something according to age. The language in which the utensils are described presents some difficulties. They carried away the drink and then 'the garnapes that they sette on, ther pottes and cruses, after thys, brede, hole, kytte, cantelles, ande crommes, and laste of alle salt,' ending evermore with the abbess or president, and inclining to each sister as they took them up and they again to them.

The behaviour of the sisters to each other and to the abbess in the refectory, the dormitory, the chapter-house, etc. was carefully   [p. 392]   regulated (c. 53). The sisters when they met the abbess bowed to her, 'for love without reverence is but childish love.' The desire for refinement in bearing and behaviour is manifested throughout by these directions, and some of them are curious. Thus the sister who washed her hands was directed not to 'jutte up' the water on another, nor to spit in the lavatory, nor to presume to go without her veil and crown upon her head, except only in her cell, washing-house, etc. Judging from this reference to cells, the dormitory at Sion was divided by partitions or curtains, so that each sister practically had a room to herself.

Many details are then given concerning the duties of the prioress and other appointments. The nuns appointed to enquire into shortcomings are here designated as serchers (c. 55). The treasurer and her fellow kept the muniments of the monastery and its possessions in gold and silver in the treasury, in a large chest to which there were two keys, one kept by the treasurer and the other by her fellow (c. 56). These sisters also provided and paid for all necessary medicines, spices and powders, etc.

Duties of no small importance devolved on the chambres, or mistress of the wardrobe, who saw to the raiment of the sisters and the brothers, both in regard to linen and to woollen clothes, shaping, sewing, making, repairing and keeping them from 'wormes,' and shaking them with 'the help of other sisters.' I transcribe in the original spelling the things she is told to provide: 'canuas for bedyng, fryses, blankettes, shetes, bolsters, pelowes, couerlites, cuschens, basens, stamens, rewle cotes, cowles, mantelles, wymples, veyles, crownes, pynnes, cappes, nyght kerchyfes, pylches, mantel furres, cuffes, gloues, hoses, shoes, botes, soles, sokkes, mugdors (sic), gyrdelles, purses, knynes, laces, poyntes, nedells, threde,--waschyng bolles and sope--(written in the margin) and for all other necessaries, as directed by the abbess, which shall not be over curious but plain and homely, without wearing of any strange colours of silk, gold or silver, having all things of honesty and profit and nothing of vanity after the rule, their knives unpointed and purses being double of linen cloth, and not silk.'

In illustration of the office of the chambress, Blunt has published a document preserved in the Record Office, which contains the account of Dame Bridget Belgrave, chambress at Sion from Michaelmas 1536 to Michaelmas 1537, the year preceding the dissolution.[90*] This shows that the chambress provided   [p. 393]   the material for the dress of the sisters and other items. She buys russettes, white cloth, kerseys, fryce, Holland cloth and other linen cloth mostly by the piece, which varies in the number of its yards; she provides soap, calf-skins, thread, needles and thimbles; she purchases new spectacles and has old ones mended. Among many other items of interest we find fox-skins, paper, and pins of divers sorts; she sets down a sum for burying poor folks, and 'expences at London,' from which we gather that she had been there; and pays 'rewards' and 'wages' to the grome, the skynner, and the shumakers.

The duties of the cellaress stand next in the additional rules (c. 56), and they recall the complex duties belonging to the same post at Barking. Blunt has also illustrated these duties by publishing the accounts, rendered by Dame Agnes Merrett, for the last year preceding the dissolution.[91*] This cellaress also charged herself with various sums received for hides, calf-skins and woolfelles or sheep-skins. She received payment for boarding My Lady Kyngeston and her servants, and sister Elizabeth Nelson. She received rent from various tenants and managed the home farm at Isleworth. We hear of her buying horses, cattle, hogs and peacocks for its storing. Its dairy was managed by paid servants. This cellaress, like her fellow at Barking, purchased provisions and fish for the use of the convent, but her entries are more numerous and infer a higher standard of living, perhaps due to the fact that these accounts are more than a hundred years later than the 'charge of the cellaress at Barking.' The cellaress at Sion also bought salt salmon, herrings by the barrel, and red herrings by the caade' also stubbe eels. She further bought spices, fruits, sugar, nutmegs, almonds, currants, ginger, isinglass, pepper, cinnamon, cloves, mace, figge doodes (sic), topnettes (sic), great raisins, prunes, saffron and rice. Her 'foreign payments' include seed for the garden, boat-hire, and expenses at London, by which we see that she too, like the chambress of the house, had been there. Among her other expenses are rewards to the 'clerke of the kechyn,' the 'baily of the husbandry,' the 'keper of the covent (convent) garden,' and the 'cookes.' Members of the convent were deputed by the abbess to look after the sick (c. 57), and the writer insists upon the need of gentleness and patience in dealing with them.

'Often change their beds and clothes,' he says, 'give them medicines, lay to them plaisters and minister to them meat and   [p. 394]   drink, fire and water, and all other necessaries night and day, as need requires after the counsel of the physicians, and precept of the sovereign; do not be squeamish in washing and wiping them by avoiding them, be not angry nor hasty, nor impatient though one have the vomit, another the flux, another the frenzy, and now sings, now cries, now laughs, now weeps, now chides, now is frightened, now is wroth, now well apayde, for there be some sickness vexing the sick so greatly and provoking them to ire that the matter drawn up to the brain alienates the mind. And therefore those in attendance should have much patience with them, that thereby they may secure an everlasting crown.

Aungier has also reprinted lists of the capabilities of indulgence granted to Sion, and of the pardons secured by those who offered prayers in the chapel there.[92*] This shows one of the means by which money was secured to religious houses in the 15th century. Indulgences were granted at Sion on almost every festival in the year. By 'devoutly giving somewhat to the reparation of the said monastery' and offering prayers on Midlent Sunday, the visitor at Sion might secure pardon extending from a hundred days to 'clean remission of all sin except in the points which are reserved to the Pope.' To give alms on the feast of St Bridget, the patron saint of the house, secured to him who sought help 'pardon and clean remission in all cases reserved and unreserved,' according to the wording of the document. This power, as the manuscript informs us, had been granted 'by diverse holy fathers, popes at Rome, archbishops, bishops, cardinals and legates.' Aungier supplements it by printing a document which came from Norfolk on the capabilities of pardon possessed by different religious houses.[93*] There are entries in this referring to the 'pardoun of beyds' of the Charterhouse of Mount Grace and of the Charterhouse at Sheen, and to the pardon of beads at Sion and at the 'Crossed Friars' beside London Tower.

A number of devotional books were written for the nuns at Sion; some in Latin, some in English. A few of the service books of the house have been preserved. Among them is the Martyrology which was in daily use among the brothers and which contains historical memoranda, accounts of the saints, the records of the   [p. 395]   deaths of the sisters, brothers and benefactors of the house between 1422 and 1639, and extracts from religious writers. This martyrology accompanied the women's convent on their wanderings, and since their return it has been acquired by the British Museum.[94*] A translation of it into English was made by Richard Whytford († 1542), a brother of Sion, 'for the edificacyon of certayn religyous persones unlerned that dayly dyd rede the same martiloge in Latyn not understandynge what they redde.'[95*] Whytford wrote other religious books, among them the 'Pype or Tonne of Perfection' the 'Fruyte of redempcyon,' which is now held to be by 'Simon, the anker of London,' has been attributed to him.

Among other books written for the nuns is a curious discourse in English by Thomas Fishbourne, father confessor in 1420, to which is added a portion of the gospel of St Peter ad Vincula.[96*] It contains a discussion on the nature of pardons and indulgences, particularly of those procured at Rome. Symon Wynter, another brother of the house (1428), wrote a treatise for them in praise of the Virgin (Regina Coeli);[97*] and Thomas Prestius wrote instructions for the novices.[98*] The house owned a large library, to the celebrity of which Sir Richard Sutton added by a splendid work printed at his expense by Wynkyn de Worde in 1519 and called in honour of the monastery 'The Orchard of Syon'.[99*]

The most important work in English however compiled for the nuns was a devotional treatise on divine service with a translation into English of the Offices, called the 'Mirror of Our Lady,' first printed in 1530, the authorship of which is attributed by its latest editor, Blunt, to Thomas Gascoigne (1403--1458).[100*] Gascoigne was an eminent divine, at one time Chancellor of the University of Oxford; he caused the life of St Bridget to be translated into English and bequeathed most of his books by will to the sisters at Sion. The Offices in this book are amplified, and Blunt was much struck by the similarity of many passages to the Book of Common Prayer. The purpose of the writer is expressed in the following words:[101*]

'As many of you, though you can sing and read, yet you cannot   [p. 396]   see what the meaning thereof is... I have drawn your legend and all your service into English, that you see by the understanding thereof, how worthy and holy praising of our glorious Lady is contained therein, and the more devoutly and knowingly sing it and read it, and say it to her worship.'

The 'Mirror of Our Lady' is very instructive with regard to the just estimation of the position and feelings of religious women during the later Middle Ages. There is much in it that is eloquent, refined, and beautiful, but its insistence on detail is sometimes wearisome. The style of the writer is fitly illustrated by the following passages, which are taken from the introductory treatise on the reading of religious books.[102*] The wording of the original is retained as closely as possible, but the spelling is modernized.

'Devout reading of holy books is called one of the parts of contemplation, for it causes much grace and comfort to the soul if it be well and discreetly used. And much reading is often lost for lack of diligence, that it is not intended as it ought to be. Therefore if you will profit in reading you must keep these five things. First you ought to take heed what you read, that it be such thing as is speedwell for you to read and convenient to the degree you stand in. For you ought to read no worldly matters nor worldly books, namely such as are without reason of ghostly edification or belong not to the need of the house; you ought also to read no books that speak of vanities and trifles, and much less no books of evil or occasion to evil. For since your holy rule forbids you all vain and idle words in all times and places, by the same it forbids you reading of all vain and idle things, for reading is a manner of speaking. The second, when you begin to read or to hear such books of ghostly fruit as accord for you to read or to hear, that then you dispose yourselves thereto with meek reverence and devotion.. .The third that you labour to understand the same thing that you read. For Cato taught his son to read so his precepts that he understand them. For it is, he says, great negligence to read and not to understand. And therefore when you read by yourself alone you ought not to be hasty to read much at once but you ought to abide thereupon, and sometimes read a thing again twice or thrice or oftener till you understand it clearly. For St Austin said that no man should seen to understand a thing sufficiently in any wise by once reading. And if you   [p. 397]   cannot understand what you read, ask of others that can teach you. And they that can ought not to be loth to teach others... .The fourth thing that is to be kept in reading is that you dress so your intent that your reading and study be not only for to be cunning or for to be able to speak it forth to others, but principally to inform yourself and to set it forth in your own living... .The fifth thing is discretion. So that according to the matter you arrange your reading. For you must understand that different books speak in different wise. For some books are made to inform the understanding and to tell how spiritual persons ought to be governed in all their living that they may know how they shall live and what they shall do, how they shall labour in cleansing their conscience and in getting virtues, how they shall withstand temptation and suffer tribulations, and how they shall pray and occupy themselves with ghostly exercise, with many such other full holy doctrines.... Other books there be that are made to quicken and to stir up the affections of the soul, as some that tell of the sorrows and dreads of death and of doom and of pains, to stir up the affection of dread and of sorrow for sin. Some tell of the great benefits of our Lord God, how He made us and bought us and what love and mercy He shewed continually to us to stir up our affections of love and of hope in Him. Some tell of the joys of heaven, to stir up the affections of joy to desire thitherward. And some tell of the foulness and wretchedness of sin, to stir up the affections of hate and loathing thereagainst.'


[1*] Dugdale, Monasticon, 'Rumsey,' vol. 2, p. 507 footnote.

[2*] Ibid. 'Davington,' vol. 4, p. 288.

[3*] Ibid. 'Sopwell,' vol. 3, p. 365, charter nr 7.

[4*] Jusserand, J., Histoire littiraire du Peuple Anglais, 1894, pp. 121 ff., 235 ff.

[5*] Romania, edit. Meyer et Paris, vol. 13, p. 400.

[6*] Dugdale, Monasticon, 'Ankerwyke,' vol. 4, p. 229, charter nr 4.

[7*] Dugdale, Monasticon, 'Shaftesbury,' vol. 2, p.471, charter nr 21.

[8*] Ibid. 'Barking,' vol. 1, p. 441.

[9*] Ibid. 'Legh,' vol. 6, P. 333 footnote t.. MS. Harleian 3660.

[10*] Bateson, M., 'Register of Crabhouse Nunnery' (no date), Norfolk and Norwick Archeol. Society.

[11*] Dugdale, Monasticon, 'Littlemore,' vol. 4, p. 490, charter nr 14.

[12*] Koelbing, Englische Studien, vol. 2, pp. 60 ff.

[13*] This supposition is based on certain peculiarities in the language of the rule for men. Cf. 'Die angelsachsischen Prosabearbeitungen der Benedictinerregel,' edit. Schrcier, 1885 (in Grein, Bibliotek der angels. Prosa, vol. 2) Einleitung, p. xviii.

[14*] Dugdale, Monasticon, 'Godstow,' vol. 4, p. 357, charter ur 23.

[15*] Lansdowne MS. 436.

[16*] Early English Text Soc., nr 100. Arundel MS. 396.

[17*] Dugdale, Monasticon, 'Kilburn,' vol. 3, p. 424.

[18*] Blaauw, W. H., 'Episcopal visitations of the Benedictine nunnery of Easebourne' in Sussex Arch. Collections, vol. 9, p. 12. According to Bradshaw, H., 'Note on service books' (printed as an appendix in Middleton, J. H., Illuminated Manuscripts, 1892) the missal was used for celebration of the mass; while the breviary contained the services for the hours, including the antiphony (anthems to the psalms)--the legenda (long lessons used at matins),--the psalter (psalms arranged for use at hours),--and the collects (short lessons used at all the hours except matins). In the list above, these are enumerated as separate books. He further says that the ordinale contained general rules for the right understanding and use of the service books. It is noteworthy that this is in French in the list of books at Easebourne.

[19*] Maskell, W., Monumenta Ritualia,1882, vol. 3, p. 357 footnotes.

[20*] Placita de Quo Warrantoby Command.

[21*] Placita de Quo Warranto, pp. 11, 97, 232, 233.

[22*] Dugdale, Monasticon, 'Mailing,' vol. 3, p. 381, charter nr 5.

[23*] Ibid. 'Stratford,' vol. 4, p. 119, charter nr 3.

[24*] Ibid. 'Wroxhall,' vol. 4, p. 88.

[25*] Ibid. 'Redlingfield,' vol. 4, p. 25, charter nr 2.

[26*] Gasquet, A., Henry VIII and the English Monasteries, 1888, appendices to vols. 1 and 2.

[27*] The word 'mynchyn' was I believe never applied to them.

[28*] Holstenius, Codex regularum, 1759, vol. 3, p. 34.

[29*] Cf. Above, p. 204.

[30*] Dugdale, Monasticon,'Shaftesbury,' vol. 2, p. 473.

[31*] Dugdale, Monasticon,'St Mary Prée,' vol. 3, p. 353, charter nr 9.

[32*] Ibid. 'Shaftesbury,' vol.2 , p. 474.

[33*] Blaauw, W. H., 'Episcopal Visitations of the Benedictine Nunnery of Easebourne,' Sussex ArcheoL Collections, vol. 9, p. 7.

[34*] Dugdale, Monasticon, 'St Mary Winchester,' vol. 2, p. 452, footnote.

[35*] Ibid. 'Shaftesbury,' vol. 2, p. 473.

[36*] Ibid. 'Barking,' vol. 1, p. 441, charter nr 8.

[37*] Schroer, Winteney Version der regula St Benedicti, 1888, p. 16.

[38*] Edit. Koelbing, Englische Studien, vol. 2, pp. 60 ff. (line references in the text throughout this section are to this version).

[39*] Shermann, A. J. Hist. Coll. Jesus Contab,edit. Halliwell, 1840, p. 16.

[40*] Dugdale, Monasticon, 'Langley,' vol. 4, p. 220.

[41*] Maskell, W., Monumenta Ritualia, 1882, vol. 3, p. 358 footnote.

[42*] Cf. above, p. 206.

[43*] Dugdale, Monasticon, 'Catesby' vol. 4, p. 635.

[44*] Dugdale, Monasticon, 'Bromball,' vol. 4, p. 506.

[45*] Jessopp, A., Visitations of the Diocese of Norwich (1492--1532), pp. 185, 190, 318.

[46*] Dugdale, Monasticon, 'Wilton,' vol. 2, p. 317.

[47*] Benedictus, Regula, c. 65 (in Migne, Patrol. Cursus Compl. vol. 66).

[48*] Dugdale, Monasticon, 'Barking,' vol. I, p. 437, footnote k.

[49*] Dugdale, Monasticon, 'Barking,' vol. 1, p. 445 Computus.

[50*] Dugdale, Monasticon, charter nr 15.

[51*] I am unable to ascertain the quantity indicated by the 'price.'

[52*] I am unable to ascertain the differences between 'stubbe' and 'shafte.'

[53*] Rogers, Th., Six Centuries of Work and Wages, 1884, p. 101.

[54*] Dugdale, Monasticon,'St Mary's, Winchester,' vol. 2,p. 451,charter nr 4.

[55*] Jessopp, A., Visitations of the Diocese of Norwich (1492--1532), p. 290.

[56*] Dugdale, Monasticon, 'Shaftesbury,' vol. 2, p. 472.

[57*] Ibid. 'St Mary, Winchester,' vol. 2, p. 451, charter nr. 4.

[58*] Ibid. 'Kilburn,' vol. 3, p. 424.

[59*] Blaauw, W. A., 'Episcopal Visitations of the Benedictine Nunnery of Easebourne,' Sussex Arch. Collections, vol. 9, p. 15.

[60*] Jessopp, A., Visitations of the Diocese of Norwich (1492--1532), p. 138.

[61*] Dugdale, Monasticon, 'Elstow,' vol. 3, p. 411, charter nr 8.

[62*] Ibid. 'Barking,' vol. ,p. 438, footnote b.

[63*] 'Here begynneth a matere' etc. (by John Alcock (?)), printed by Wynkyn de Worde (1500), last page but one.

[64*] Six Centuries of Work and Wages, 1884, p. 166.

[65*] Rye, W., Carrow Abbey, 1889, p. 48ff.

[66*] Skelton, Poetical Works, 1843, vol. 1, p. 51, 'Phyllyp Sparowe.'

[68*] Jessopp, A., Visitations of the Diocese of Norwich (1492--1532), p. 140.

[69*] Dugdale, Monasticon, St. Helen's,' vol. 4, p. 551, charter nr 3.

[70*] Ibid. 'Barking,' vol. 1, p. 437, footnote m.

[71*] Fosbroke, British Monachism, 1843, p. 176.

[72*] Way, A., 'Notices of the Benedictine Priory of St Mary Magdalen, at Rusper,' Sussex Arch. Collections, vol. 5, p. 256.

[73*] Bateson, M., 'Visitations of Archbishop Warham in 1511,' in English Hist. Review, vol. 6, 1891, p. 28.

[74*] Maskell, W., Monumenta Rit., 1882, vol. 3, p. 331, 'The order of consecration of Nuns,' from Cambridge Fol. Mm. 3. 13, and Lansdown MS., 388; p. 360 'The manner to make a Nun,' from Cotton MS., Vespasian A. 25, fol. 12.

[75*] Dugdale, Monasticon, 'Chatteris,' vol. 2, p. 614.

[76*] Way, A., 'Notices of the Benedictine Priory of St Mary Magdalen at Rusper, Sussex Arch. Collections, vol. 5, p. 256.

[77*] Comp. Smith and Cheethaai, Dictionary of Christian Antiquities, 1875, article 'Hours of Prayer.

[78*] Aungier, G. J. History and Antiquities of Syon,1840; Myroure of Oure Ladye,Early English Text Soc., 1873, Introduction by Blunt, J.H.

[79*] Hammerich, Den hellige Birgitta,1863.

[80*] A.S. Boll.,St. Birgitta vidua, Oct. 8.

[81*] Myroure of Oure Ladye, Introd. p. xiv.

[82*] Gasquet, A.,Henry VIII and the English Monasteries,1888, vol. I, p. 42.

[83*] Dugdale, Monasticon, 'Amesbury,' vol. I, p. 333.

[84*] Ibid. 'Westwood,' vol. 6, p. 1004.

[85*] Ibid. 'Levenestre,' vol. 6, p. 1032.

[86*] Aungier, G. J.,History and Antiquities of Syon, 1840, p. 249 ff., from Arundel MS. nr 146 (chapter references throughout the text in this chapter are to this reprint).

[87*] Myroure of Oure Ladye, Introd. p. xxxv.

[88*] Aungier, G. J. History and Antiquities of Syon, 1840, p. 312 ff., from Additional MS. nr 5208.

[89*] Aungier, G. J., History and Antiquities of Syon, 1840, pp. 405 ff. 'A table of signs.'

[90*] Myroure of Oure Ladye,Introd. p. xxvi.

[91*] Myroure of Oure Ladye,Introd. p. xxix.

[92*] Aungier, G. J., History and Antiquities of Syon, 1840, p. 421, 'Indulgentia monasterii de Syon,' MS. Ashmol. nr 750; p. 422, 'The Pardon of the monastery of Shene which is Syon,' MS. Harleian 4012, art. 9.

[93*] Ibid. p. 426, footnotes.

[94*] Myroure of Oure Ladye, Introd. p. xiv. B. M. Addit. MS., nr 22285.

[95*] Printed by Wynkyn de Worde (?), 1526; reprinted for the Bradshaw Society, 1893.

[96*] Aungier, G. J., History and Antiquities of Syon, 1840, p. 529. MS. Harleian 2321, fol. 17 ff.

[97*] Ibid. p. 527.

[98*] Ibid. p. 527.

[99*] Ibid. p. 526.

[100*] Myroure of Oure Ladye, Introd. p. ix.

[101*] Ibid. p. 2.

[102*] Myroure of Oure Ladye, p. 65 ff.

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