Houses of Benedictine nuns: Priory of St Clement, York

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

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, 'Houses of Benedictine nuns: Priory of St Clement, York', in A History of the County of York: Volume 3, (London, 1974) pp. 129-131. British History Online [accessed 28 May 2024].

. "Houses of Benedictine nuns: Priory of St Clement, York", in A History of the County of York: Volume 3, (London, 1974) 129-131. British History Online, accessed May 28, 2024,

. "Houses of Benedictine nuns: Priory of St Clement, York", A History of the County of York: Volume 3, (London, 1974). 129-131. British History Online. Web. 28 May 2024,

In this section


The priory of St. Clement was founded about 1130, (fn. 1) by Archbishop Thurstan, whose grants were confirmed by the dean and chapter. (fn. 2)

In 1192 (fn. 3) Archbishop Geoffrey Plantagenet granted the priory of St. Clement to the abbey of Godstow, but the nuns appealed to the pope, and Alice the prioress is said to have gone to Rome to plead their cause in person. The archbishop excommunicated the nuns, but by the papal decision in their favour they regained their independent position.

Late one evening in the first year of the 14th century certain men came to the priory gate leading a saddled horse. Here Cecily, a nun, met them, and, throwing off her nun's habit, put on another robe and rode off with them to Darlington, where Gregory de Thornton was waiting for her, and with him she lived for three years or more. (fn. 4)

Archbishop Greenfield, writing to the prioress on 15 April 1310, (fn. 5) dealt with the case of Joan de Saxton, one of the nuns, on whom at some time previously a severe penance had been imposed for misbehaviour. The penance itself the archbishop mitigated, but to avoid scandal, Joan de Saxton was not to go out of the cloister, but was to keep convent in all respects, and hold no conventual office. For recreation and solace she might go into the orchards and gardens of the monastery, accompanied by the nuns. Twice a year, if necessary, she might receive friends in the presence of the prioress, or other discreet nuns, but she was to have nothing to do with the Lady de Walleys, and if the Lady de Walleys was then in their house, she was to be sent away before Pentecost. The archbishop further forbade the nuns to have girls over twelve years of age as boarders, and they were only to keep washerwomen and other necessary servants in the house.

On 2 November in the same year the archbishop gave permission to the nuns to receive Isabella of Studley Roger, near Ripon, ad velum et habitum. (fn. 6)

In 1316, (fn. 7) when the office of prioress became vacant by the death or resignation of Custance Basy, who had been elected in August of the previous year, discord prevailed in the convent, one party electing Agnes de Methelay and the other Beatrice de Brandesby. The see being vacant, the dean and chapter appointed Agnes de Methelay.

Archbishop Melton held a visitation of the house in 1317, (fn. 8) and on 25 January following sent to the prioress and convent a list of injunctions. Many are exhortations in common form, relating to the due observance of the rule. The archbishop had found that the Friars' Minor of York, every alternate week during the year, and the Friars Preachers of York, in the same manner, for a long time had been receiving fourteen conventual loaves. The nuns were to show the friars the archbishop's order, and were to cease from supplying them with these loaves, so long as their house was burdened by debt, and then they were not to give the loaves to the friars without a special leave of the archbishop or his successors. It also appeared that oh the death of any nun of the house, the friars aforesaid received for a whole year the full livery of the deceased nun. This also the archbishop forbade. Secular women dwelling in the house were not to hold colloquies with the nuns, lest evil suspicion should arise. Little girls, or males of any age whatever, or secular women were not to be permitted to sleep in the dormitory with the nuns.

The frequent access of men and women to the house was not to be allowed, lest evil or scandal should arise.

In 1324 (fn. 9) there is again evidence of internal trouble (fn. 10) in the house, for the archbishop issued a commission to inquire into the defects alleged in St. Clement's, and the prioress resigned.

Isabella de Stodley, who had been admitted a nun on 2 November 1315, by permission of Archbishop Greenfield, had been guilty of apostasy and super lapsu carnis, besides other excesses. She had been sent by Archbishop Melton to Yedingham, to undergo a penance imposed upon her, and on 30 August 1331 (fn. 11) he directed that she was to return to St. Clement's, adding that if she were disobedient to the prioress or quarrelsome with her sisters, or indulged in blasphemy, he would transfer her to some other house to remain there permanently.

St. Clement's Church, which served for the nuns, was also the church of the parish, and on 12 July 1464 (fn. 12) Archbishop William Booth transferred the feast of the dedication, which fell on St. William's day (when the church was deserted on account of the parishioners attending the metropolitical church, where St. William's body and relics were preserved), to the Sunday after the festival of St. Peter and St. Paul each year. It seems from the frequent allusions to the anchorite of St. Clement's that it was a permanent position formerly attached to the church. In 1467 it was held by Alice Derby. (fn. 13)

In 1391 (fn. 14) Pope Boniface IX granted a relaxation of enjoined penance to penitents who on the feast of St. Clement visited and gave alms for the conservation of the Benedictine priory of St. Clement without the walls of York. The will of a lady, who was probably a boarder in the house in the middle of the next century, contains a little information of interest. Elizabeth Medlay, of the house of St. Clement's in Clementhorpe, in the suburbs of York, directed in her will dated 6 January 1470 (fn. 15) that her body was to be buried in the conventual church of St. Clement before the altar of St. Katherine. To the high altar she bequeathed her best coat, to the prioress 16d., and to each nun 12d., and appointed the Lady Margaret Delaryver, the prioress, an executor.

St. Clement's does not appear at any time to have had more than ten or a dozen nuns, and its revenues when the Valor Ecclesiasticus was compiled only show a clear annual value of £55 11s. 9d. (fn. 16)

The nunnery was supervised by the commissioners on 13 June 1536, (fn. 17) and suppressed on 31 August following. There were eight nuns and nine servants. In the account of Leonard Beckwith three bells in the campanile are valued at 17s.; there was also a chalice (12 oz.) valued at 44s.; a silver cup (5 oz.) valued at 16s. 8d. and 'ij birral glasses cum reliquijs inclus' in argento,' valued at 5s. Drs. Layton and Legh reported that the nuns had at St. Clement's, as it was believed, some of the milk of the Blessed Virgin in veneration, and that pilgrimages were made there ad sanctam Sytham.

The report as to the payment of pensions in 6 Edward VI for the city of York is as follows: Clementhorpe. (fn. 18) —Isabell Warde [the late prioress] £6 13s. 4d. (56 years old), alive and paid; Agnes Snaynton 60s. (56 years), alive; Agnes Ardyngton 46s. 8d. (60 years), alive; Agnes Symson 46s. 6d. (60 years), paid; Jane Gower 40s. (50 years), alive; Jane Watson 405. (three score years), behind for one year; Margaret Carter 40s., died 6 August 4 Edward VI; Matild' Kilborn 40s. (60 years), alive; Agnes Archer 40s. (38 years) behind for one whole year; Dorothe Mawe 40s. (46 years), alive, behind for a year; Margaret Elton, ' not herde of; Agnes Johnson 40s. (40 years), alive; Jane Fairfax 34s. 4d. (40 years), alive; Elizabeth Parker 34s. 4d., ' dyed three yeres agone '; Elene Bayne 34s. 4d. (30 years), alive; Agnes Asleby 34s 4d. (40 years), alive.

Prioresses of St. Clement, York

Alice, occurs 1192 (fn. 19)

Alcelina, occurs 1221 (fn. 20)

Agnes, occurs 1235, (fn. 21) 1245 (fn. 22)

Margaret, occurs 1268 (fn. 23)

Agnes de Wyten, occurs 1279, (fn. 24) 1280 (fn. 25)

Alice, occurs 1299 (fn. 26)

Custance Basy, confirmed 28 August 1315 (fn. 27)

Agnes de Methelay, appointed 1316, (fn. 28) resigned 1324 (fn. 29)

Alice de Pakenham, died 1396 (fn. 30)

Beatrice de Remington, confirmed 1396 (fn. 31)

Margaret Holtby, resigned 1456 (fn. 32)

Margaret Delaryver, occurs 1470, (fn. 33) died 1489 (fn. 34)

Christabella Longcastre, confirmed 1489 (fn. 35)

Margaret Carre, elected November 1515, (fn. 36) died 1516 (fn. 37)

Margaret Frankelayne, appointed (lapse) 2 December 1516, (fn. 38) died 1518 (fn. 39)

Isabella Warde appointed (lapse) 8 November 1518. (fn. 40)

The 12th-century seal, (fn. 41) a large vesica 3 in. by 2 in., has a full-length figure of St. Clement the patron saint, blessing and holding a book.

The legend is:


A 13th-century seal, (fn. 42) a vesica 2¼ in. by 1¾ in. has a figure of the patron saint. All that remains of the legend is:

SIGILL . . . GNWHNO . . .


  • 1. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. iv, 323. Hugh, Dean of York, one of the witnesses, died in 1138.
  • 2. Ibid. 325, no. iii.
  • 3. Ibid. no. 3; Drake, Eboracum, 248.
  • 4. a Assize R. 1107, m. 2-1 d.
  • 5. York Archiepis. Reg. Greenfield, fol. 77b.
  • 6. Ibid. fol. 84b.
  • 7. Ibid. sed. vac. fol. 85.
  • 8. Ibid, Melton.
  • 9. Ibid. fol. 162b.
  • 10. On 11 Aug. 1318 Archbishop Melton directed the (rural) dean of Beverley that Johanna de Ledes, who had apostatized from St Clement's, York, was to be sent back to her convent. York Archiepis. Reg. Melton, fol. 270b.
  • 11. York Archiepis. Reg. Melton, fol. 187b.
  • 12. Ibid. W. Booth, fol. 222.
  • 13. York Reg. of Wills, iv, fol. 100b.
  • 14. Cal. of Papal Letters, v, 373.
  • 15. York Reg. of Wills, iv, fol. 160b.
  • 16. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), v, 2.
  • 17. Aug. Off. Views of Accts. bdle. 17.
  • 18. Exch. K.R. Accts. bdle. 78, no. 85.
  • 19. Drake, Eboracum, 248.
  • 20. Feet of F. Mich. 5 Hen. III, file 16, no. 14
  • 21. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 235.
  • 22. a Assize R. 1045, m. 44 d.
  • 23. Feet of F. Trin. 52 Hen. III, file 51, no. 67.
  • 24. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 235.
  • 25. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. iv, 324.
  • 26. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 235.
  • 27. York Archiepis. Reg. Greenfield, ii, fol. 88b.
  • 28. Ibid. sed. vac. fol. 85.
  • 29. Ibid. Melton, fol. 162b.
  • 30. Ibid. sed. vac.
  • 31. Ibid. Arundel, fol. 60.
  • 32. Ibid. W. Booth, fol. 8.
  • 33. York Reg. of Wills, iv, fol. 160b.
  • 34. York Archiepis. Reg. Rotherham, i, fol. 61b.
  • 35. Ibid.
  • 36. York Archiepis. Reg. Wolsey, fol. 13.
  • 37. Ibid. fol. 20b.
  • 38. Ibid.
  • 39. Ibid. fol. 40b.
  • 40. Ibid.
  • 41. Cat. of Seals, B.M. 4400, lxxv, 30.
  • 42. Ibid. 4401, lxxv, 31.