Houses of Benedictine nuns: Priory of Nunburnholme

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

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.


'Houses of Benedictine nuns: Priory of Nunburnholme', in A History of the County of York: Volume 3, ed. William Page( London, 1974), British History Online [accessed 22 July 2024].

'Houses of Benedictine nuns: Priory of Nunburnholme', in A History of the County of York: Volume 3. Edited by William Page( London, 1974), British History Online, accessed July 22, 2024,

"Houses of Benedictine nuns: Priory of Nunburnholme". A History of the County of York: Volume 3. Ed. William Page(London, 1974), , British History Online. Web. 22 July 2024.

In this section


Dugdale (fn. 2) states that the priory of Nunburnholme (or Brunnum) was founded by the ancestors of Roger de Merlay, lord of the barony of Morpeth, whose daughter and co-heir married in 1265-6 William, Baron of Greystoke. This is corroborated (fn. 3) by Drs. Layton and Legh in their comperta, that ' Lord Dakers' was the founder, and agrees with Burton, (fn. 4) who says that the priory was founded in the reign of Henry II.

Very little is known as to the possessions of the priory, or from whom they were received. (fn. 5) According to the later evidence of the Valor Ecclesiasticus (fn. 6) the possessions comprised merely the site of the monastery and demesne lands, and small property in nine or ten places in the neighbourhood. The external history of the house is practically a blank, and not much is known of its internal affairs. The outstanding incident of interest is the claim which its prioress made, and which she substantiated, that the monastery of Set on in Coupland was a cell of the house of Nunburnholme. (fn. 7) How this relationship came about has not been explained.

The Registers at York have very few entries about Nunburnholme. The first allusion is the record of a donation of 20s. from Archbishop Giffard as alms to the nuns in 1270. (fn. 8) An inquiry by Archbishop Wickwane was addressed on 19 March 1279-80 (fn. 9) to the Prior of Warter as to Avice de Beverley, who, having left the house, desired to return. The prioress and convent said that Avice de Beverley, formerly a nun professed of their house, had thrice left it of her own will to lead a more ascetic life elsewhere; further that fourteen years at least had elapsed since she last left them, but they believed she had lived a chaste life, though when with them she was constantly disobedient, and she had been thirty years a nun of their house before she left it. (fn. 10) Avice de Beverley ' nun of Killing ' [Nunkeeling] was elected as Prioress of Nunburnholme on the death of Joan de Holm, so that if this was the same person, she had apparently not returned to Nunburnholme. In 1310 (fn. 11) the archbishop directed the rector of Londesborough to confirm the election of a new prioress, the office being vacant by the death of Avice de Beverley. If the statement of the prioress and convent in 1279-80 is correct, that she had been absent for fourteen years, and had previously been a nun for thirty years, Avice de Beverley cannot have been much less than ninety years of age at her death, and over eighty when, as a nun of Nunkeeling, she was elected prioress of the house in which she had been originally professed, but probably they overstated the facts. On 14 June 1313 (fn. 12) Archbishop Greenfield granted the Prioress of Nunburnholme licence to visit ' cellam vestram de Seton in Coupland vestro monasterio subjectam,' taking with her two honest nuns of her house, in order to visit the nuns of Seton ' tam in capite quam in membris, prout ad vos pertinet visitare.' Having visited Seton she was to return absque more dispendo to Nunburnholme.

No indication has been found elsewhere that Seton was a cell to Nunburnholme, and this discovery is of considerable interest. It is remarkable that a small and obscure nunnery like Nunburnholme should have possessed a cell, but something very similar was in contemplation in regard to a cell at Coddenham in Suffolk which was to belong to Nun Appleton. (fn. 13)

In 1314 (fn. 14) Archbishop Greenfield committed the care of the house to William, rector of Londesborough. He was to go there three or four times a year and hear the accounts of the ministers and prepositi of the house read over, as the archbishop had found that the nuns had no expert person who could look after the business of their poorly-endowed house.

Archbishop Melton held a visitation of Nunburnholme in 1318 (fn. 15) by commission, and as a result directed that divine service was to be duly performed according to the season. No pensions were to be granted, no persons of either sex over twelve years of age were to be maintained as boarders, nor was anyone to be received to the habit of nun, sister, or conversus, without special licence of the archbishop. The prioress was to take her meals in the refectory with the other nuns, and sleep with them in the dormitory, unless ill or engaged in business or entertaining notable guests. Scandal having arisen from the frequent access and gossiping of secular persons, both men and women, with certain of the nuns, the prioress and sub-prioress were ordered not to allow such access to the nuns. The prioress and other nuns were stringently ordered not to use mantles, tunics or other garments, over long or adorned in a manner which did not accord with religion. The secrets of the chapter were not to be revealed. (fn. 16)

Nothing more is known of the history of the house till the era of the suppression. In 1521 (fn. 17) there were only five nuns besides the prioress. On 22 May 1536 the house was ' supervised,' and was suppressed on 11 August following. (fn. 18) There were at that time also five nuns besides the prioress, (fn. 19) and they had in their employment twelve servants 'and diverse poor people working there.' There were two small bells in the 'campanile,' valued together at 10s., also a chalice and a salt with a cover, all parcel gilt, weighing 19 oz., and under ' superstition' Drs. Layton and Legh (fn. 20) reported that the nuns had a piece of the Holy Cross.

According to the Valor Ecclesiasticus (fn. 21) the gross annual value of the house was £10 3s. 3d., and its clear annual value £8 1s. 10d. This was an improvement on a return made in 1525 (fn. 22) when the clear annual value was only £4 6s. 8d. It was the smallest and poorest house in the county which survived till the Dissolution.

Prioresses of Nunburnholme

Milisant, occurs 1206 (fn. 23)

Avice, occurs 1282 (fn. 24)

Joan de Holm, died 1306 (fn. 25)

Avice de Beverley, succeeded 1306, (fn. 26) died c. 1310 (fn. 27)

Idonea de Pokelyngton, resigned 1316 (fn. 28)

Elizabeth Babthorp, died 1456 (fn. 29)

Joan Darell, died 1485-6 (fn. 30)

Agnes Wellows, elected 1485-6 (fn. 31)

Elizabeth Thweng, confirmed 1523, (fn. 32) resigned 1534 (fn. 33)

Elizabeth Kylburne, succeeded 1534 (fn. 34)


  • 1. There is a very strange mistake in Dugdale (Mon. Angl. iv, 279, no. 3 and p. 278), where this little Benedictine nunnery is confused with the house of Augustinian nuns at Burnham in Buckinghamshire.
  • 2. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. iv, 278, 279, no. i, ii.
  • 3. Ibid. iv, 278.
  • 4. Burton, Mon. Ebor. 57.
  • 5. Dugdale, Mon, Angl. iv, 279, no. i.
  • 6. Op. cit. v, 129. In the Ministers' Accounts (Dugdale, Mon. Angl. iv, 280) are fuller details of the former property of the dissolved priory.
  • 7. See below.
  • 8. Archbp. Giffard's Reg. (Surt. Soc.), 123.
  • 9. York Archiepis. Reg. Wickwane, fol. 11 8b.
  • 10. Ibid. Greenfield, i, fol. 103.
  • 11. Ibid. fol. 122.
  • 12. Ibid. ii, fol. 118.
  • 13. See as to this in the account of Nun Appleton.
  • 14. York Archiepis. Reg. Greenfield, ii, fol. 120.
  • 15. Ibid. Melton, fol. 275.
  • 16. In 1534 Archbishop Lee held a visitation of Nunburnholme, and sent injunctions to the prioress and nuns, similar to those sent to Sinningthwaite on 14 Oct. 1534; Yorks. Arch. Journ. xvi, 446.
  • 17. Test. Ebor. v, 135. The will of John Tong, 'bailie of Burneholme.' Agnes Robynson, Margaret Craike, Cecilie Thomlynson, Margaret Somerby, and Elene Harper, were the five nuns.
  • 18. Aug. Off. Views of Accts. bdle. 17.
  • 19. In an account of money paid, the prioress was given 26s. 8d., three nuns 33s 4d. each, 'another' 23s. 4d.t and 'another' 20s. In each case the word ' another' has been erased and ' alii' (sic) substituted for it, which makes the exact number indicated perhaps uncertain; Aug. Off. Views of Accts. bdle. 17.
  • 20. L. and P. Hen. VIII, x, 137, &c.
  • 21. Op. cit. v, 129.
  • 22. S.P. Dom. 28 Feb. 1526 (return made by Brian Higdon).
  • 23. Yorks. Fines, John (Surt. Soc.), 101.
  • 24. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. iv, 278.
  • 25. York Archiepis. Reg. Greenfield, i, fol. 103.
  • 26. Ibid.
  • 27. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. iv, 278.
  • 28. Ibid.
  • 29. York Archiepis. Reg. W. Booth, fol. 108; (her successor's name is not given).
  • 30. Ibid. Rotherham, i, fol. 45.
  • 31. Ibid.
  • 32. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. iv, 278.
  • 33. York Archiepis. Reg. Lee, fol. 26b. (The late prioress is called ' Isabella Twyng.')
  • 34. Ibid.