Houses of Benedictine nuns: Priory of Arden

Pages 112-116

A History of the County of York: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1974.

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About 1150, (fn. 1) Peter de Hoton founded the nunnery of St. Andrew at Arden, and Roger de Mowbray, chief lord of the fee, confirmed the gift, and soon afterwards the nuns received other grants, all of which were confirmed by King John on 28 February 1201, (fn. 2) but in the royal confirmation Roger de Mowbray and not Peter de Hoton is named as the founder. (fn. 3) In 1290 Elizabeth domina de Hoton, widow of William de Carleton, confirmed to Margaret, then prioress, and the nuns the lands originally granted, and on 2 February 1405 Geoffrey Bygod, heir of Peter de Hoton and Elizabeth widow of William de Carleton, again confirmed the gift of his ancestors, delivered the evidence of the gift to Alice, the prioress, and was accepted as a founder, to be prayed for by the convent.

Soon after the foundation of the house, (fn. 4) a dispute arose between the nuns of Arden and the monks of Byland, and in 1189 a compact was entered into between the two houses in the presence of Jeremy, Archdeacon of Cleveland, in Hawnby Church. The monks condoned the nuns in regard to all dams, inclosures for animals, the rough words of their men, and other irregularities; while Muriel, the prioress, and the nuns conceded to Byland free transit and passage for the abbot and convent's carriages over the lands of the nuns; and both parties agreed never more to urge any cause against the other in court, but to amend any wrongs which the one might do to the other in a friendly manner between themselves. (fn. 5)

Nothing further is heard of Arden till October 1302, (fn. 6) when Archbishop Corbridge committed the care of the temporalities of the house to brother Robert de Colville, canon of Newburgh. In 1304 (fn. 7) Juliana, the prioress, wrote to the dean and chapter (sede vacante), asking to be relieved of her office as she had been stricken by paralysis, and was incapable of ruling the house. Accordingly the dean and chapter issued a mandate on 21 November 1304 to the Archdeacon of Cleveland to install the new prioress. (fn. 8)

In 1306, (fn. 9) Archbishop Greenfield, in consequence of a visitation of Arden, wrote to the prioress and convent that for the good of their house and other causes he had absolved Brother Robert de Dent, conversus of Arden, from his vow and profession of obedience, and that Dent had made oath on the archbishop's pectoral cross that he would urge no claim against the house of Arden. The archbishop was sending him to Furness, and had written to the abbot to receive him, and as Dent had done much for the nuns of Arden, he charged them 40s. for some new clothes for him, and half a mark for his expenses to Furness. The archbishop also dealt with the case of Joah de Punchardon, (fn. 10) one of the nuns, who had become a mother. She was recalled by the archbishop to Arden, and was there to undergo salutary penance till she manifested signs of contrition. The nuns were for the future to have as confessors two brothers of the order of Friars Minor, approved by the archbishop for hearing confessions and imposing penances. There were not to be more than two, and their names were to be submitted to the archbishop speedily. The nuns were to provide a master or guardian of their goods, and specially one to look after their husbandry.

This letter was followed by a decretum, (fn. 11) in which orders were made for the general regulation of the nunnery. The rule of St. Benedict was to be observed in all its articles. Those convicted of faults were humbly to submit to correction. When the prioress kept her chamber she was to have a nun with her, not always the same, but now one, then another, so that no sinister suspicion of levity could arise. The infirmary was to be properly managed. No one was to be received as nun by compact, as that involved the guilt of simony, but a nun was only to be received from the promptings of love. No girls or boarders were to be taken, nor any nuns or sisters, nor was any man to be received as a conversus without the special licence of the archbishop or his successors. Within eight days from the receipt of the decretum, all secular girls staying in the house without authority were to be removed, as well as every useless servant who was a burden to the house: also all dogs and puppies, so that the straitened revenues of the house might be devoted to the poor. None of the nuns' wood was to be sold, more particularly large trees, without licence, and no corrodies were to be granted. The officers of the house were to render proper accounts, twice, or at least once a year, and all the buildings, especially the church, refectory, and chapter-house, which needed repair, were to be attended to.

On 28 August, 1311, (fn. 12) Archbishop Greenfield wrote to the prioress and convent that Clarice de Speton, one of their nuns, who had been guilty of incest with Geoffrey de Eston, bailiff of Bulmershire, had appeared before him in a contrite mind, that he had granted her absolution, and he enjoined the nuns to receive her kindly, and impose on her the proper penance.

In January 1314 (fn. 13) Archbishop Greenfield confirmed the election of Beatrice de Cotton as prioress, and directed that an inventory of all the goods of the house should be made. On 13 November 1320 (fn. 14) Archbishop Melton issued a proclamation that Margaret de Punchardon, nun of Arden, had asked that she might be inclosed in a proper and worthy place, so that she might serve God more strictly by leading the solitary life. The archbishop had made inquiry as to her past life, and found her worthy, and in May following (fn. 15) he ordered her inclusion in the house of St. Nicholas, Beverley, ob frugem melioris vite in company with Agnes Migregose, already a recluse there.

In January 1323-4 (fn. 16) Archbishop Melton appointed Thomas Fox, rector of Gilling, and John de Speton custodians of the affairs of the nuns; and in February 1328-9 (fn. 17) he issued a commission touching the election of a prioress in place of Isabella 'Couvel' (Colville) who had resigned. A short time afterwards (fn. 18) Beatrice de Holm, nun professed of the house, was elected prioress, but owing to irregularities in the process of election the archbishop quashed it, and then directed the rector of Hawkley to install Beatrice de Holm as prioress of Arden. She cannot have proved satisfactory, for in 1331 (fn. 19) the archbishop directed commissioners to visit Arden, and, if necessary, depose the prioress, and arrange for the election of a successor. What was done is unfortunately not recorded. On 28 June (fn. 20) in the same year the Prior of Newburgh and the vicar of Feliskirk made return for the king's exchequer as to the taxing of Arden, that the nuns possessed no ecclesiastical benefice, and that their whole lay property scarcely exceeded by 20s. a year 'miseram sustentacionem earundem,' and that there was nothing else to be taxed.

In November 1334, (fn. 21) and again in 1350, (fn. 22) commissions were issued to hold visitations of the nunnery, but as nothing is said as to the result of these visitations perhaps it may be charitably assumed that there was nothing seriously amiss.

On 16 July 1372 (fn. 23) Archbishop Thoresby directed the prioress and convent to re-admit one of their nuns, Margaret Colville. who had apostatized and been guilty of incontinence with Robert Wetherhird, a layman.

On 6 October 1392 (fn. 24) Archbishop Arundel appointed commissioners to receive the resignation of the prioress, and confirm the election of her successor, Eleanor, (fn. 25) against whom very serious complaint was made a little more than three years later.

On 24 February 1396 (fn. 26) Mr. John de Southwell, commissary of the dean and chapter sede vacante, held a visitation of Arden. Eleanor, the prioress, stated that she was elected when twentysix years old. She admitted that during the whole time she had held office she had never consulted her sisters as to the affairs of the house, that whenever she had the common seal in her private keeping, even when away from the priory, she had used it for entering into obligations on the part of the house. She further admitted that silence was not observed, and that talking went on even in the quire during service. On the other hand she complained that the sacrista, when monished by her, still neglected her duty, and that the bells were not rung as they should be, in consequence of which the services were not held at the proper time.

Christiana Darell, a nun, stated that the prioress sent three young nuns out to make hay early in the morning, that they did not return before dark, and so divine service nondum est dictum. She further alleged that the prioress received all the revenues of the house, and spent them as she liked, without the knowledge of her sisters, and that sometimes she had the common seal in her private keeping, and sometimes gave it to Elizabeth Darell, so that she could use it at pleasure. Moreover, a covered piece of silver, and a maser, worth at least 40s., had been pawned and were lost, and the official seal of the prioress was in pawn with another maser. She complained that their corrody, or allowance of ale, was badly and irregularly delivered, and that owing to the prioress's neglect in buying corn, she had had to pay 11d. a bushel for wheat, when it might have been had for 9d., 8d., or 7d.

Elizabeth Darell, another nun, said that for a whole year the prioress had the common seal in her private keeping. She stated that when the prioress took office, the house was in a sound financial condition and that they only owed 15 marks, and that the prioress had received many sums of money, by gift and in alms.

Elizabeth Steyne, Alice Barnard, Agnes de Midelton and Elizabeth de Thornton, nuns, said that the seal of the prioress and a maser were together in pledge for 5s.; that the prioress incited the secular boys and laymen to chatter in the cloister and church; also that there were no candles at the altar, nor had they light to say matins and other canonical hours, and the paschal candle had been deficient all the time the prioress had held office. They said they did not get their corrodies when due. Sometimes the delay was for a fortnight, and at others for a month, so that they had to drink water. They added a much graver charge, that the prioress slept in her chief chamber outside the dormitory, without a reasonable cause, during the greater part of the summer, and that she was defamed with a certain John Bever, a married man, that they had slept together in a house at night, and that on one occasion they lay alone together within the priory, in the prioress's chamber. They stated further that when the prioress took office the house only owed 15 marks, but that at the time of the visitation it was heavily in debt, although the prioress had received several sums of money, as from John Aslakby 9 marks, from Dan Henry, the nuns' chaplain, 4 marks, from William de Thornton 7 marks, from Robert Howm 4 marks, from the Lady de Roose 20s., from Henry Erden 2 marks, and from Robert Barbour 20s. The prioress had also received money for a wood she sold, and concealed the sale from them. She had moreover sold and destroyed many plantations, without their consent, and disposed of the proceeds as she liked. Further, the roofs and walls of the buildings were dilapidated. A list of the debts follows, and the nuns proceeded to say unanimi voce that when the prioress was elected there were ten pairs of sheets of good linen, but they were destroyed and the prioress had had no new sheets made during her time. They had only two albs, one of these was turned to secular use for sifting flour and was often found on the beds of the lay folk in the stable. They also complained that the prioress sold four large trees since the last visitation, without consulting the nuns. The prioress had received from the executors of Henry Erden 2 marks to pray for his soul, and she concealed this from her sisters. A new vestment was pawned by the prioress, in consequence of which it had been soiled and was worthless and had not been hallowed. A financial statement is added, showing the receipts and expenditure for the first three years of the prioress's term of office, viz.: in the first year, receipts £22 7s. 6d., expenditure £27 6s. 8d. Second year, receipts £25 3s., expenditure £40. Third year, receipts £26 9s. 6d., expenditure £27 3s.

The action which was taken as a result of these revelations is not recorded, but it is reasonable to presume that it must have resulted in the deposition of the prioress.

In 1444 Archbishop Kemp (fn. 27) granted an indulgence for two years to all who should assist towards the repairs of the house of Arden, and on 5 May 1459 (fn. 28) Archbishop William Booth wrote from London to the nuns, saying that he had heard that the office of prioress was vacant by the death of the late prioress, and he directed them to proceed without delay to the election of her successor. Owing to the distance and the inaccessible position of Arden he had deputed the official of Cleveland to act in his stead. There is again a long break, and it is only at the time of the Dissolution that we obtain any more information as to Arden. (fn. 29)

The commissioners supervised the priory on 8 May 1536, and it was suppressed on 25 August following. (fn. 30) There were then six sisters: three received pensions of 20s. each, two 10s. each, and one 6s. 8d, The sum of 40s. was granted to one of the sisters, Elizabeth Johnson, who was deaf and over eighty years of age, towards her sustenance. Fourteen servants and two boys were in the service of the nuns. All the plate which the house then possessed was a gilt chalice, weighing 14½ oz., and a flat piece of white silver, weighing 8 oz., and there were two bells in the ' campanile,' valued together at 10s. In 1291 the priory of ' Erdern' was rated at £10. (fn. 31) The clear value of the house according to the Valor of 1535 was only £12 0s. 6d. (fn. 32) The nuns also had an image of St. Brigit, to which women made offerings for cows that had strayed, or which were ill. (fn. 33)

A corrody had been granted in 1524 to Alice widow of William Berre of ' Sonlow Coytt' for a payment of £12. (fn. 34) She was to have 'mett and drynke as their convent hath' at their common table, or, when sick, in her own room, also ' on honest chambr with sufficient fyer att all tyme, with all such sufficient apperell as shalbe nedful.' Alice Berre (or Birrey as she is there called) was living in 1536, when she received 68s. 4d. as part payment for the commutation of her corrody. (fn. 35) Another corrody was granted to the nuns' chaplain. (fn. 36) ' For the gud and diligent seruice yt cure wellbe loued sir thomas parkynson, preste, hav done to vs in tyme paste,' they granted him for his natural life a corrody, or annual rent, viz.: that he shall have ' by yere, and yeres, meitt and drinke at the table of the forsaid prioress' and annual wages of 40s. ' with one leueray gown of the walew or price of 13s. 4d. 'Also, we assygne unto the said sir thomas, one chambre, next unto the frater, with vij laides of Wode, and we grante to ye said sir thomas parkynson, to have every weke vnto his chambre three louffes of wheit brede, and ij gallons of the beste aile. And farther, we grante vnto hyme, yerly, the gressing of one horse in summer tyme, and hay, prouender, letter, and stable rowme, in wynter tyme, lykwyse as the prioress, or cowent horse, for the tyme, with shone and naleses to the said horse.' The deed is dated 18 May 1529. In 2 and 3 Philip and Mary (fn. 37) Thomas Parkynsonne was receiving annually 56s. 8d. in commutation of this, corrody.

Prioresses of Arden

Muriel, (fn. 38) occurs 1189

Agatha, (fn. 39) occurs 1242

Alice, occurs 1273

Margaret, (fn. 40) occurs 1289

Juliana, (fn. 41) resigned 1304

Beatrice de Cotton, (fn. 42) elected 1314

Isabella Colville, (fn. 43) elected 1324

Beatrice de Holm, (fn. 44) elected 1329

Eleanor, occurs 1396 (fn. 45)

Alice, (fn. 46) occurs 1405

Elizabeth, (fn. 47) occurs 1436

Margaret, (fn. 48) or Marjorie Danby, confirmed 17 February 1502


  • 1. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. iv, 284. See also B.M. Add. Chart. 20544.
  • 2. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. iv, 286.
  • 3. Roger de Mowbray, as founder, had his obit observed yearly at the time of the Valor Eccl. (v, 86).
  • 4. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. iv, 285.
  • 5. The monks of Byland first settled at Hood Grange near Arden, and retained till the Dissolution a large portion of the lands at Hood.
  • 6. York Archiepis. Reg. Corbridge, fol. 26b.
  • 7. Ibid. sed. vac. fol. 43.
  • 8. Ibid. fol. 44.
  • 9. York Archiepis. Reg. Greenfield, i, fol. 86b.
  • 10. Ibid.
  • 11. Ibid.
  • 12. Ibid. fol. 100.
  • 13. Ibid. ii, fol. 104b, 105.
  • 14. Ibid. Melton, fol. 234b.
  • 15. Ibid. fol. 282b.
  • 16. Ibid. fol. 243b.
  • 17. Ibid. fol. 251.
  • 18. Ibid.
  • 19. York Archiepis. Reg. Melton, fol. 254.
  • 20. Ibid. fol. 253.
  • 21. Ibid. fol. 199b.
  • 22. Ibid. Zouch, fol. 168b.
  • 23. Ibid. Thoresby, fol. 192.
  • 24. Ibid. Arundel, fol. 43b.
  • 25. An account for her three years of office was produced at the inquiry, which makes it clear that she had been elected in 1392, though her name is not given at that date.
  • 26. York Archiepis. Reg. sed. vac. The commission to visit is on fol. 206. The account of the visitation (a very rare entry in the York Registers) is on fol. 208, &c. The latter is printed (not quite accurately), Test. Ebor. i, 283 n. &c.
  • 27. York Archiepis. Reg. Kemp, fol. 90.
  • 28. Ibid. W. Booth, fol. 65.
  • 29. On 1 Oct. 1527 Sir Ninian Markenfield, or Markingfield, kt., in his will says: ' I yeve to the Priores of Arden arid the Covente of the same, where I am founder, to pray for my sall and all Cristen salles xs' (Test. Ebor. v, 233). From the will of John Storer (4 Aug. 1506) we learn that there were then a prioress and seven sisters at Arden (York. Reg. of Wills, vi, 165b). On 3 Mar. 1490 William Bonester, chaplain of the monastery of Arden, bequeathed his body to be buried in the church of the monastery of St. Andrew of Arden (York. Reg. of Wills, v, 444).
  • 30. Aug. Off. Views of Accts. bdle. 17.
  • 31. a Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), 305b.
  • 32. b Op. cit. (Rec. Com.), v, 86.
  • 33. L. and P. Hen. VIII, x, 137, &c.
  • 34. Conventual Leases (P.R.O.), Yorks. no. 5.
  • 35. Aug. Off. Views of Accts. bdle, 17,
  • 36. Conventual Leases (P.R.O.), Yorks, no. 4.
  • 37. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. iv, 285 n.
  • 38. Ibid. no. ii: occurs as 'M.' in 1187: Egerton MS. 2823, fol. 31 d.
  • 39. Dugdale, op. cit. iv, 286, no. iv.
  • 40. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. iv. 285, no. i.
  • 41. York Archiepis. Reg. sed. vac. fol. 4 3 b.
  • 42. Ibid. Greenfield, ii, fol. 104b.
  • 43. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. iv, 284.
  • 44. York Archiepis. Reg. Melton, fol. 251.
  • 45. Ibid. sed. vac. fol. 208.
  • 46. Add. Chart. 20544.
  • 47. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 2.
  • 48. York Archiepis. Reg. Savage, fol. 62.