Houses of Cistercians nuns: Priory of Basedale

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

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'Houses of Cistercians nuns: Priory of Basedale', in A History of the County of York: Volume 3, (London, 1974) pp. 158-160. British History Online [accessed 20 April 2024]

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Licence was granted 'about the year 1162' (fn. 1) by Adam de Brus, as chier lord, to Ralph de Nevill, to found ' an abbey of nuns' at Hutton, near Guisborough. (fn. 2) Ernald de Percy (fn. 3) also granted to Ralph de Nevill the gift which he had made to the nuns of Hutton of land and a mill in ' Torp.'

Nothing is known of the house at Hutton, where it cannot have long remained, and the allusion to the grant of land at ' Torp ' indicates, perhaps, its actual removal, thus early in its career, to Thorp, afterward and yet known as Nunthorpe.

According to the Monasticon, ' toward the latter part of the reign of King Henry the second by the benefaction of Guido de Bovingcourt they settled at Basedale, in the parish of Stokesley.' (fn. 4) It must have been quite at the end of the reign of Henry II, or even at the beginning of that of Richard I, that the move was made to Basedale, for among the witnesses to Guy de Bovingcourt's charter are Peter, Abbot of Whitby, and Raold, Prior of Guisborough. (fn. 5) Though the nuns removed from Nunthorpe they still retained their property there until the Dissolution.

In Guy de Bovingcourt's gift to the nuns, for the souls of Robert Bovingcourt, Bernard de Baliol, and his own, &c., is no mention of Basedale, but only of Stokesley and Westerdale, within whose bounds Basedale lies. (fn. 6)

Burton (fn. 7) has compiled an alphabetical list of the property of the nuns, a great portion of which had been confirmed to them by Henry III in 1245-6. (fn. 8)

Basedale nunnery was situated about 8 miles from the parish church of Stokesley, and Isabella the prioress (fn. 9) obtained from the abbot (Robert de Longchamp) and the monks of St. Mary's, York, the patrons of Stokesley Church, with consent of Gerald the parson of Stokesley, the right to have a cemetery at Basedale, in which the nuns, sisters and conversi who had assumed their habit at Basedale might be buried, but all their servants and men were to be buried at Stokesley, and were to receive the sacraments at the mother church.

In the Taxatio of 1291 Basedale was valued at only £5 6s. 6d., (fn. 10) by far the least of any house in Cleveland. In the Valor Ecclesiasticus the clear annual value was only £20 1s. 4d. (fn. 11)

On 17 May 1304 (fn. 12) Archbishop Corbridge committed the custody of the goods of the nuns of Basedale to Roger de Kelleshay, rector of Crathorne. Troubles soon afterwards arose in the house, which culminated in an order (dated 15 May 1307) (fn. 13) for the deprivation of the prioress (Joan de Percy) on account of her dilapidation of the goods of the house, and her excesses and perpetual and notorious misdeeds (crimina). The name of her successor is unknown, but on 13 September (fn. 14) in the same year the archbishop granted her licence to have her meals in her own chamber on Sundays and the third and fourth ferias in each week. Joan de Percy then had left the house, taking with her some of the nuns, and on 21 September (fn. 15) the archbishop wrote to the official of York to warn Joan and the others that they were to return without delay, and not to go outside the precincts (septa) of the monastery, but serving God in the cloister under the yoke of obedience, were in humility to take heed to the salutary monitions of their prioress. In July in the year following (fn. 16) the archbishop wrote to the Prioress and convent of Sinningth waite, sending Joan de Percy to them, as she had been guilty of disobedience at Basedale. (fn. 17) On 13 October 1308 (fn. 18) the archbishop wrote to the prioress and convent regarding the miserable state of Agnes de Thormondby, one of their nuns, concerning whom he had heard that, on three separate occasions, she had yielded carnis decepta blandiciis, and left her order. They were to take her back, as she returned humbly and in a contrite spirit, and to impose on her the salutary penance of their rule.

On Wednesday after the feast of St. Michael 1315, (fn. 19) Archbishop Greenfield held a visitation of Basedale, when he issued a series of injunctions which are practically the same as others directed at the same time to Handale, the two being almost word for word the same, from which it may be inferred that they throw little or no light on the internal affairs of either house, being couched very much in what, in legal language, is known as ' common form.' From the general character of the injunctions it may be assumed that the little nunnery had resumed its normal state of peace, and that nothing was then seriously amiss.

Troubles, however, again arose, and on 18 March 1343 (fn. 20) Archbishop Zouch issued a commission to inquire into the truth of the articles urged against Katherine Moubray, the prioress, and if her demerits exacted it, to depose her, unless she resigned. It does not appear what took place, but only two years later the archbishop appointed other commissioners, on 3 May 1345, (fn. 21) to inquire into abuses there, and if necessary depose the prioress, and see to the election of a successor. The two commissions following one another so rapidly point to anything but a happy state of affairs.

In June 1359 (fn. 22) the prioress desired to resign owing to her age and debility, and on 9 June 1378 (fn. 23) Archbishop Alexander Nevill ordered John, Prior of Guisborough, to receive the resignation of Alice Page, probably the prioress elected in 1359, who from infirmity of age and weakness of body could no longer govern the house.

On 13 August 1524 (fn. 24) Joan Fletcher, a nun of Rosedale, was confirmed as Prioress of Basedale. Her record in her office of prioress is a bad one, and from fear of deposition she resigned and also cast aside her habit and left the house. There are two letters respecting her, written by Archbishop Lee on 1 September 1534, (fn. 25) one addressed to the Prioress and convent of Rosedale, to which after her apostasy she had been sent back to do penance, and the other addressed to Basedale. She had set a bad example at Rosedale, and shown no sign of true repentance, so the archbishop transferred her to Basedale, which she had once ruled as prioress, that where she had not been ashamed to sin, there she might lament her sins. He exhorted the nuns of Basedale to receive her with affection, but not to permit her to go outside the precincts of their monastery without the archbishop's special licence. Joan Fletcher was alive at the Suppression, (fn. 26) when there were, including her, eleven nuns in the house, which is described as 'Prioratus monasterii de Basedale ordinis Sancti Bernardi Cisterciensis.' Drs. Layton and Legh (fn. 27) reported that the nuns had as it was supposed (ut putatur) the milk of the Blessed Mary in veneration.

Prioresses Of Basedale

Isabella, (fn. 28) occurs between 1189 and 1230

Susanna, (fn. 29) occurs c. 1230

Elena, (fn. 30) occurs 1283

Joan de Percy, (fn. 31) elected 1301

Katherine Moubray, (fn. 32) occurs 18 March 1343-4

Alice Page, (fn. 33) resigned June 1377

Elizabeth Cothom, (fn. 34) confirmed 1460, resigned 1481-2 (fn. 35)

Elizabeth Davell, (fn. 36) elected March 1481-2, resigned 1497 (fn. 37)

Agnes Thomlynson, (fn. 38) elected August 1497

Margaret Bukton, (fn. 39) elected November 1523

Joan Fletcher, (fn. 40) elected August 1524

Elizabeth Raighton, (fn. 41) elected 1527


  • 1. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 507.
  • 2. Ibid. 508, no. i.
  • 3. Ibid. no. iii.
  • 4. Ibid. 507.
  • 5. Ibid. 509, no. viii.
  • 6. Ibid.
  • 7. Burton, Mon. Ebor. 250, 251.
  • 8. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 508, no. vi.
  • 9. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 509, no. vii. As Robert de Longchamp was abbot from 1197, and as Susanna was prioress about 1230 (Whitby Chartul. i, 233) the date of the concession must have been c. 1197-1230.
  • 10. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), 325.
  • 11. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), v, 87.
  • 12. York Archiepis. Reg. Corbridge, fol. 29.
  • 13. Ibid. Greenfield, i, fol. 88.
  • 14. Ibid. fol. 88b.
  • 15. Ibid.
  • 16. Ibid. fol 90.
  • 17. A commission had been issued on 3 Feb. 1308 for the visitation of Basedale and other houses, and it was at this visitation, of which no other particulars are given, that Joan de Percy's disobedience was revealed (ibid. fol. 95b).
  • 18. Ibid. fol. 93.
  • 19. Ibid. ii, fol. 108.
  • 20. Ibid. Zouch, fol. 154.
  • 21. Ibid. fol. 157.
  • 22. Ibid. Thoresby, fol. 177.
  • 23. Ibid. A. Nevill, fol. 41.
  • 24. Ibid. Wolsey, fol. 77.
  • 25. Yorks. Arch. Journ. xvi, 432.
  • 26. Suppression P. ii, 15.
  • 27. L. and P. Hen. VIII, x, p. 137, &c.
  • 28. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 509, no. vii.
  • 29. Whitby Chartul. i, 233.
  • 30. Feet of F. Yorks. file 61, no. 28 (Hil. 11 Edw. I).
  • 31. York. Archiepis. Reg. Corbridge, fol. 25.
  • 32. Ibid. Zouch, fol. 154. She was not necessarily deposed then; the commission was to depose if necessary; another conditional order to depose a prioress (no name) occurs in 1345 (ibid. fol. 157).
  • 33. Ibid. A. Nevill, fol. 41.
  • 34. Ibid. W. Booth, fol. 60.
  • 35. Ibid. Rotherham, i, fol. 16b.
  • 36. Ibid.
  • 37. Ibid. fol. 164.
  • 38. Ibid.
  • 39. Ibid. Wolsey, fol. 72b.
  • 40. Ibid. fol. 77.
  • 41. Ibid. fol. 87; a nun of Keldholme.