Houses of Benedictine nuns: Priory of Nun Monkton

Pages 122-123

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

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This house appears from a confirmation by Archbishop Henry Murdac (1147-53), (fn. 1) to have been founded in the reign of Stephen by William de Arches and Ivetta his wife, who granted to God and St. Mary and to Maud their daughter and the nuns of Monkton 6 carucates of land in Monkton, and half a carucate in Hammerton, and the churches of ' Torp ' (Thorp Arch) (fn. 2) Hammerton, ' Escham' (Askham Richard), and ' Kirkby juxta Useburn' (Kirkby Wharfe). The latter church Elias de Ho had granted at the counsel of William de Arches.

The way in which the name of William and Ivetta's daughter, Maud, is introduced can only mean that she was prioress of the house.

Nun Monkton, although close to York, was within the archdeaconry of Richmond, and on that account the archbishops' registers have very little about it.

In 1278 Mary the prioress and her nuns bound themselves to John de Bellewe and Laderne, his wife, to keep the obit of their daughter Alice with a pittance of half a mark in value, and also the obits of John and his wife after each of them died, in return for 10 acres of land and the quitclaim of a five-shilling rent in Thorp Arch. (fn. 3)

At an inquisition in 1307 (fn. 4) it was found that the ancestors of Nicholas de Stapleton at the time of the vacancy of the house were accustomed to have the custody of the house and to place guards in the same at their will, but at no time received anything of the issues of the house by reason of that custody.

The patronage of Nun Monkton priory had come to Nicholas de Stapleton from his mother Sybil, daughter and co-heir of John Bellewe, to whom it came from the Bruces, as representing the founder, William de Arches.

An account of the visitation of Nun Monkton by Thomas Dalby, Archdeacon of Richmond, on 30 April 1397 (fn. 5) gives a very unfavourable description of the condition of the nunnery at the time. It was objected against the prioress, Margaret Fayrfax, (fn. 6) that she wore different kinds of furs, and even grey furs, and silk veils. She also held the post of bursaria, and had alienated a large amount of timber, to the value of 100 marks. She frequently indulged in too much companionship with John Monkton, and invited him to festivities Margaret Fayrfax was a candidate for the office of prioress on the death of Margaret de Willesthorp, when Isabella Nevill was elected, ten votes being cast for her against two for Margaret Fayrfax. There were fifteen nuns entitled to vote; Dugdale, Mon. Angl. iv, 193 n. (convivia) in her chamber. She frequently wore a surplice (superpellitio) without a mantle, in quire and elsewhere, contrary to the manner of the dress of nuns and the ancient custom of the priory. The nuns who had lapsed into the sin of fornication she reinstated far too easily. She allowed nuns to receive presents from their friends for their maintenance. John Monkton, by whom the house had suffered scandal, frequently played ad tabulas with the prioress in her chamber, and she supplied him with drink.

Peremptory injunctions were issued to the prioress and nuns on 8 July 1397 that John Monkton alias Alanson, Don William Aschby, chaplain, William Snowe, and Thomas Pape were not to have conversation or companionship (comitivam) with them, or with any nun of the house, except in the presence of two of the older and honest nuns, under pain of excommunication. The nuns were not to allow clerks to frequent their priory without a reasonable cause.

Nuns who were ill were to be compelled to go to the infirmitorium and were to be supplied there with necessaries from the revenues of the church of Askham. None were to use silk clothes, especially not silken veils nor valuable furs, nor rings on their fingers, nor tunics pleated (laqueatis), or with brooches (fibulatis), nor any jupis, anglicè ' gounes,' after the fashion of secular women. Nor for the future were the commemorations of souls to be in any way omitted, under the pain for two whole weeks carentiae camisarum quarumcunque. (fn. 7)

The little nunnery of Monkton affords two instances of the expenses incurred in the 'making' of a nun.

In 1429-30, (fn. 8) Richard Fayrfax 'scwyer, on tyme lorde of Walton,' made arrangements that his daughter ' Elan ' should be made a nun of Nun Monkton, and with that object he enfeoffed his nephew, Mr. Brian Fayrfax, clerk, arid his brothers Guy, John, and Thomas and a certain Edmund Woodcok in the manors of Walton and Folifayt (Follifoot) of an annual rent of 5 marks ' gangyng out of ye milne of Thorpparch,' and other property, willing ' yat my doghtir Elan be made nun in ye house of Nun Monkton, and yat my saydes feffis graunt a nanuel rent of fourty schilyngs gangyng out ye maners of Folifayt and Acaster Malbis . . . terme of ye lyffe of ye sayd Elan to ye tym be at sche be a nun.' His feoffees were to pay 19 marks 'for ye makyng of ye sayd Elan Nun.' He naively added that ' if sche will be no nun ' his wife and feoffees were to marry her at their discretion. She became a nun, however, and as ' dompna Elena Fayrefaxe' was admitted to the Corpus Christi Guild, York, in 1445. (fn. 9) The other instance is headed, 'Expensae factae super et pro Elizabetha Syward by facta moniali in Munkton,' (fn. 10) and is part of the inventory of the effects of Elizabeth widow of William Sywardby (or Sewerby as the name is now spelt.) She, had bequeathed to her niece Elizabeth, daughter of John Sewerby, a considerable sum to enable her to become a nun of Nun Monkton. The sums expended were £3, which the prioress and convent of Nun Monkton claimed by custom to have as their fee; £3 13s. 7½d. for Elizabeth Sewerby's habit, and other ' bodily utensils,' as well as a 'competent' bed; £3 11s. 4d. expenses on Sunday next after the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (7 September) 1470, spent on the prioress and convent and the friends of Elizabeth Sewerby; and 2s. to brother John Hamylton for preaching on the occasion.

A copy of a survey (29 Henry VIII) of the demesnes of Nun Monkton Priory after its dissolution is printed in the Monasticon, (fn. 11) but there is an earlier survey for 27-8 Henry VIII. (fn. 12)

Prioresses of Nun Monkton

Maud de Arches (first prioress), temp. Stephen (fn. 13)

Agnes, occurs 1224-7 (fn. 14)

Amabel, occurs 1240 (fn. 15)

Avice, occurs 1251, (fn. 16) 1268 (fn. 17)

Mary, occurs 1278 (fn. 18)

Mariota, occurs 1278-9 (fn. 19)

Alice de Thorp, (fn. 20) died before 1346

Margaret Willesthorpe, (fn. 21) confirmed 1365, died 1376

Isabel Neville, elected 1376 (fn. 22)

Margaret Fayrfax, occurs 1393 (fn. 23)

Margaret Cotam, (fn. 24) occurs 1404

Maud de Goldesburgh, elected 1421, (fn. 25) occurs 1429 (fn. 26)

Margaret Watir, occurs 1473 (fn. 27)

Margaret, occurs 1514 (fn. 28)

Joan, occurs 1535 (fn. 29)


  • 1. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. iv, 194.
  • 2. The church of Thorp Arch was also given by Adam de Brus and Ivetta de Arches to St. Sepulchre's chapel at York. An agreement between the nuns and the chapter of the chapel was confirmed by Archbishop Walter Gray in 1226. The nuns were to possess all they had in ' Torp,' including its chapel of ' Waleton ' (Walton), when the suit began, but to cede all their right to the church of 'Torp,' and the charter of Archbishop Henry Murdac (above mentioned) as well as others of Archbishops Roger and Geoffrey touching the church; Archbishop. Gray's Reg. (Suit. Soc.), 2; Burton. Mon. Ebor. 87.
  • 3. Add. Chart. 17962 (1).
  • 4. Yorks. Inq. (ed. W. Brown), iv, 144.
  • 5. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. iv, 194.
  • 6. Margaret Fayrfax was the sister of John Fayrfax rector of Prescot, who by will dated 7 June 1393 (Test. Ebor. i, 186) left to the prioress and convent of Monkton his white vestment embroidered with golden stars, and his silver-gilt cross with Mary and John, also a silver-gilt chalice. To Margaret Fayrfax, the prioress, his sister, he left a silvergilt cup with a cover, another silver cup with a cover, a maser with a silver-gilt cover, a silver box for sweetmeats, six silver spoons, an armilansa of black cloth, furred with grey, a silver basin and 10 marks of silver. To Margaret de Cotam, nun of Monkton, 13s. 4d. She succeeded as prioress.
  • 7. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. iv, 194.
  • 8. Add. Chart. 1782.
  • 9. Reg. Corpus Christi Guild, 44.
  • 10. Test. Ebor. iii, 168. In both instances a payment had to be made prior to the admission of the new nun. This was a simoniacal transaction frequently denounced by the archbishops in visitation decreta. A voluntary offering might be made, but the claim to receive £3 at Nun Monkton according to custom was an infringement of the rule.
  • 11. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. iv, 195.
  • 12. Mins. Accts. Yorks. 27-8 Hen. VIII, no. 119.
  • 13. See above.
  • 14. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 165.
  • 15. Ibid.
  • 16. Ibid.
  • 17. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. iv, 193.
  • 18. Add. Chart; 17962 (1).
  • 19. Assize R. 1055, m. 46.
  • 20. Test. Ebor. i, 31.
  • 21. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. iv, 193.
  • 22. Burton, Mon. Ebor. 88.
  • 23. Test. Ebor. i, 189.
  • 24. Baildon's MS. Notes.
  • 25. Burton, Mon. Ebor. 88.
  • 26. Baildon's MS. Notes.
  • 27. Reg. Corpus Christi Guild, York, 92.
  • 28. Willis, Mitred Abbies, ii, 280.
  • 29. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), v, 255.