Houses of Benedictine nuns: Priory of Thicket

Pages 124-125

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.


In this section


The small nunnery of Thicket, in the parish of Wheldrake near the River Derwent, was founded in the reign of Richard I by Roger Fitz Roger, (fn. 1) whose gifts were confirmed by King John in 1203-4.

A commission issued 23 April0 1301, to the Prior of Ellerton, (fn. 2) to receive the profession of the Lady Elizabeth de Lasceles, as a regular nun of the house, in the presence of the prioress and convent. On 5 February 1302-3 (fn. 3) the archbishop wrote to the prioress and convent respecting Alice Darel, of Wheldrake, an apostate nun of their house, directing that if she returned to them in a contrite spirit they were to impose upon her the penance provided by their rule, but if she did not willingly undergo it, then they were to place her in some secure chamber, under safe custody.

On 1 February 1308-9 (fn. 4) Archbishop Greenfield issued injunctions to the prioress and convent, as a result of a recent visitation of the house, that the repairs to certain of the buildings which had been found necessary at the last visitation were to be immediately carried out. The nuns, and especially the younger of them, were, unless ill, to keep convent and be diligent in attendance at divine services. The archbishop enjoined that in future servants and other seculars should in no wise be allowed to go into the kitchen and sit, and take their meals there as they chose, and so witness the private affairs (secreta) of the nuns. The prioress was to keep convent in church, refectory, dormitory and other due places, unless lawfully hindered, and when she had a meal in her chamber she was to have at table with her one of the nuns, first one and then another.

Corrodies, annual pensions, long leases of granges, were strictly forbidden, as was the reception of any person as nun, sister or conversus, or the retention of girls over twelve or secular women as boarders, without the archbishop's special licence.

Another visitation (fn. 5) was held in 1314, when the archbishop again issued a long decretum containing a series of injunctions almost wholly the same as those just recited. The archbishop further directed that no person admitted as a sister was to be allowed to accept or wear the nuns' black veil.

Four years later, (fn. 6) in 1318, Archbishop Melton visited Thicket and promulgated a decretum concerning it, containing a series of injunctions general rather than specific in character. The house was heavily in debt, and in consequence the prioress and all the nuns were enjoined to use all possible economy. The sick, so far as the means of the house allowed, were to have lighter food substituted for that which they were receiving.

In 1335 (fn. 7) Elizabeth del Haye was elected prioress, but on account of informality the archbishop quashed the election. As, however, all the nuns had voted for her, he appointed her, and directed the rector of Wheldrake to proceed to, the priory and install her in office.

On 26 January 1343-4 (fn. 8) Archbishop Zouch wrote to the prioress and convent concerning Joan de Crakenholme, their sister nun, who was coming to them absolved from her crimes of apostasy in frequently leaving the house, laying aside her habit, as well as other excesses which are not stated. For her notorious sins the archbishop had imposed the following, in addition to her private penance. She was not to wear the black veil, or speak to any secular person of either sex, or with her sister nuns, except by leave of the prioress. She was not to go out of the cloister into the church, but was to be confined in a secure place near the church, in such a way, however, that she could be at matins and masses celebrated in the church, she was to do such things as were burdensome and not of honour, attending nevertheless divine service. She was not to dispatch any letter, or receive any sent to her. Each Wednesday and Friday she was to have bread, vegetables and light ale, and was to eat and drink on the bare ground, and on each of those days was to receive a discipline from the prioress and each of the nuns in chapter. She was to take the last place in quire, and not to enter the chapter except to receive her discipline, and was to retire immediately she had received it. Two nuns were to be appointed by the prioress as her guardians, to see to the execution of the archbishop's orders, and the prioress was to have all carried out as a terror to others. It is one of the most severe punishments visited on any monk or nun recorded in York Registers, but it was not the only one which Archbishop Zouch had to inflict on a nun of Thicket, for he wrote oh 20 April 1352 (fn. 9) to the prioress, to punish Isabella de Lyridesay, a nun whose faults had been recently revealed at a visitation held by his commissaries, and the prioress was to report before Pentecost how she had behaved during the performance of her penance.

Archbishop Rotherham issued on 16 October 1484 (fn. 10) a letter asking for help for the house of the nuns of Thicket, whose fields and pasturage had been inundated by floods, and who had suffered much loss by the death of their cattle.

Among the suppression papers is a list of the nuns, which has been subsequently altered at a date three years later, as the ages of some of the nuns are altered and made three years older. (fn. 11) This is the case with similar lists of the immates of other houses. The names of twelve nuns are given, and they are said to be ' all of good liffyng.' In the first draft Katherine Chapman, aged fortyeight, is mentioned as prioress, but the name has been crossed out and ' Agnes Bekwith prioress 46,' is. written at the top of the list. The names of two others are also struck out: either they had left the house, or were dead. It seems as if the list had been used for checking purposes, as one of the nuns (Dorothea Ryght), whose age had already been changed from thirty to thirty-three, was afterwards struck through.

There is a note that Henry Wylkynson, the nuns' chaplain, had his appointment by way of a corrody granted 10 April 1526 by Katherine, prioress 'of the monastery of oure lady sant Mary of Thykhed of Sannt Benett ordre,' and that he during his life shall ' abyde and continue styll in service as chapleyn in ye said priory.' (fn. 12)

In the reign of Edward VI complaint was made that many of the pensions promised to the ex-religious had not been paid. Inquiry was made, and in the East Riding return made in the sixth year of his reign (1552-3), the names of seven ex-nuns of Thicket are given; (fn. 13) In this it is only definitely stated that one of the number, Margaret Swale, had received the money due to her. In 1573 Agnes Beckwith alone survived, (fn. 14) when she received her pension of £6 13s. 4d., 12s., however, being deducted as a subsidy paid to the queen.

There is no valuation of Thicket Priory in the Taxatio of 1292. In the Valor Ecclesiasticus the total revenues were £23 12s, 2d., and the clear annual value £20 18s. 4d. (fn. 15) The house possessed no spiritualities, its property lay in West Cottingwith with Thorganby, Sutton-onDefwent, Norton, Sand Hutton, Wheldrake, Escrick, Green Hammerton, York City (two parva cotagia), Spaldington and Allerthorpe. (fn. 16)

Prioresses of Thicket

Sibilla, (fn. 17) occurs 1218

Eva, (fn. 18) occurs 1231

Joan, occurs 1280-1304, (fn. 19) 1306 (fn. 20)

Alice de Alverthorpe, (fn. 21) confirmed 1309

Elizabeth del Haye, (fn. 22) appointed 1335

Hawise, (fn. 23) occurs 1412

Alice Darwent, (fn. 24) occurs 1432

Beatrice, (fn. 25) occurs 1479

Mary Dawson, (fn. 26) occurs 1497

Katherine Chapman, a nun of St. Clement's

York, confirmed 1525, (fn. 27) occurs 1535 (fn. 28)

Agnes Beckwith (fn. 29)


  • 1. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. iv, 384; Burton, Mon. Ebor. 280.
  • 2. York Archlepis. Reg. Corbridge, fol. 24. This is the only allusion hitherto met with in the York Registers relating to the formal professing of a nun.
  • 3. Ibid. fol. 37b.
  • 4. Ibid. Greenfield, i, fol. 94b.
  • 5. Ibid. ii, fol. 105b.
  • 6. Ibid. Melton, fol. 231.
  • 7. Ibid. fol. 323.
  • 8. Ibid. Zouch, fol. 154b.
  • 9. Ibid. fol. 173.
  • 10. Ibid. Rptherham, i, 208.
  • 11. The original date of the Thicket list seems to have been 13 June 28 Hen. VIII (1536), which has been altered to 27 Aug. 31 Hen. VIII (1539); Suppression P. (P.R.O.), ii, 48.
  • 12. Ibid. 58.
  • 13. Exch. K.R. Accts. bdle. 76, no. 23.
  • 14. Yorks. Arch. Journ. xix, 100-4. She was apparently forty-six years of age in 1539; Suppression P. (P.R.O.), ii, 48.
  • 15. Op. cit. v, 94.
  • 16. Suppression P. (P.R.O.), ii.
  • 17. Feet of F. Hil. 3 Hen. III, file 141, no. 53.
  • 18. Ibid. East. 15 Hen. III, file 23, no, 19.
  • 19. Burton, Mon. Ebor. 192-280; Baildon, Mon. Notes, i.
  • 20. Baildon's MS. Notes.
  • 21. York Archiepis. Reg. Greenfield, fol. 118b.
  • 22. Ibid. Melton, fol. 323.
  • 23. Baildon's MS. Notes.
  • 24. Ibid.
  • 25. Reg. Corpus Christi Guild, York, 104.
  • 26. Ibid. 145.
  • 27. York Archiepis. Reg. Wolsey, fol. 82.
  • 28. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), v, 94.
  • 29. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xv, p. 551.