Houses of Cistercians nuns: Ellerton in Swaledale

Pages 160-161

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


There is some difference of opinion as to the date of the foundation of the priory of Ellerton in Swaledale. (fn. 1) Dodsworth gives alternative founders: Warner the chief steward of the household of the Earl of Richmond, or his son Wymar, temp. Henry II, (fn. 2) and Dr. Burton, probably relying on this statement, places Ellerton in his list of foundations of that reign. (fn. 3) The first recorded prioress, Alice, was at the head of the priory in 1227. (fn. 4)

Confusing this house with the priory of Ellerton on Spalding Moor, some writers have called it a Gilbertine nunnery. (fn. 5) It was an establishment of Cistercian nuns, (fn. 6) Leland describing it as 'a priori of white clothid nunnes, stonding in a valle . . . a mile beneth marik priory.' (fn. 7)

The above-named Alice the prioress was the respondent in an action brought in 1227 by the Prior of Kirkham. (fn. 8) The dispute had reference to the last presentation to the church of Whixley, but what was the finding is not known, though the matter was renewed the following year on 5 February 1228 at Westminster. (fn. 9)

In 1274 the little priory had some trouble with one of the sisters, Maud, the daughter of Roger de Hunmanby. For some reason or other she was excommunicated and remained obdurate. Archbishop Giffard therefore gave notice of her excommunication to Master Roger de Seton and his fellow-justices of the King's Bench, informing them of her persistent contumacy and offence—that she was ' contemning the keys of the Church,'—and asking them to shun and repel her by every legitimate means, until she came to the primate to seek the benefit of absolution. (fn. 10)

Of the possessions of this house, 'one of the humblest of all monastic foundations,' (fn. 11) very little is known. Two bovates of land in Ellerton belonged to it in 1287, and the prioress, it seems, with the heir of Thomas de Hereford, held the manor of Ellerton-cum-Stainton. (fn. 12) In 1347 the Scots, making an inroad into Swaledale, entered the nunnery and carried away seven charters and writings; one of these was a grant from Robert de Wicliffto Margaret, the prioress at that time, of an annual rent of 6s. 8d. (fn. 13) At the Dissolution the revenues of the house were derived from rents and ferms in Barforth, Barton, Bellerby, Carlton, Constable Burton, Hornby, Melsonby, Richmond, Studdow, and Walburn, (fn. 14) and amounted to £14 14s. 8d. per annum. The value of the priory site with the gardens, mills, meadows, and glebe annexed to it, was £1. The outgoings were 4s. 2d., leaving a clear balance of £15 10s. 6d. The abbey of Egglestone also paid to the priory an annual sum of £3 6s. 8d. for the finding of a chaplain for the chantry founded by Thomas Cleasby for his own soul and those of his heirs. (fn. 15) From the survey in the Augmentation Office, the total revenue from all sources, temporal and spiritual, was £21 19s. 3d. (fn. 16)

The priory was visited in 1536 by Layton and Legh, (fn. 17) who returned the ' founders' or patrons at that time as William Aselby, William Thuresby, and Ralph Spence. It was surrendered in 1537 by Joan, the last prioress.

Prioresses Of Ellerton

Alice, occurs 1227 (fn. 18)

Petronilla, occurs 1251 (fn. 19)

Ellen, occurs 1268 (fn. 20)

Sibil, occurs 1299 (fn. 21)

Margaret, occurs 1347 (fn. 22)

Mary Gray, date uncertain (fn. 23)

Alice Sherwood, occurs 6 August 1429 (fn. 24)

Joan, occurs 1535, last prioress (fn. 25)


  • 1. Considerable confusion has arisen in consequence of there being more than one Ellerton in Yorkshire; Ellerton on Spalding Moor, where was a Gilbertine priory; Ellerton on Swale, to the south-east of Richmond; and Ellerton in the parish of Downholme, also ' on Swale,' where the nunnery was situated.
  • 2. Dods. MSS. vii, fol. 30.
  • 3. Burton, Mon. Ebor. 56.
  • 4. Pat. 12 Hen. III, m. 7 d.
  • 5. See e.g. Murray's Yorkshire (1904), 365.
  • 6. Burton, Mon. Ebor. 263.
  • 7. Itin. v, 113.
  • 8. Pat. 12 Hen. III, m. 7 d.
  • 9. Ibid. m. 6 d.
  • 10. York Archiepis. Reg. Giffard, fol. 133.
  • 11. Whitaker, Richmondshire, i, 316.
  • 12. Kirkby's Inquest (Surt. Soc.), 326.
  • 13. Clarkson, Hist. of Richmond, 322.
  • 14. Burton, Mon. Ebor. 263.
  • 15. Clarkson, Hist. of Richmond, 321.
  • 16. Ibid.
  • 17. L. and P. Hen. VIII, x, p. 142.
  • 18. Pat. 12 Hen. III, m. 7d.
  • 19. Baildon, Mon. Notes, 56.
  • 20. Ibid.
  • 21. De Banco R. 27 Edw. I, m, 142.
  • 22. Clarkson, Hist. of Richmond, 325.
  • 23. Mon. Ebor. 263.
  • 24. Dean and Chap. of York, Parchment Bk. E, fol. 44.
  • 25. Gale, Reg. Hon. de Richmond, App. 91.