Houses of Cistercians nuns: Priory of Esholt

Pages 161-163

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

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The small Cistercian nunnery of St. Mary and St. Leonard at Esholt, in the parish of Guiseley, is said to have been founded at the latter part of the reign of Henry II or the beginning of that of Richard I by Geoffrey Haget or Simon Ward. (fn. 1) There is, however, much uncertainty both as to the real date of the foundation, and as to the original founder. The Wards were afterwards the patrons, and at the Dissolution it was said that the founders were the ancestors of Christopher Ward. (fn. 2)

The nuns of Sinningthwaite received a grant of the whole of Esholt from the members of the family of Ward, (fn. 3) but there is no indication that Esholt was ever subject to Sinningthwaite, though perhaps Esholt may have been an independent offshoot from Sinningthwaite and originally peopled with nuns from the latter place.

A large number of grants of land and confirmations are printed in the Monasticon, (fn. 4) and there are several others in the British Museum, which have not been printed, relating to Esholt.

By the gift of Margaret Clifford, widow, the house of Esholt became possessed of the church of Belton, in the Isle of Axholme, and this gift was confirmed by Richard II on 1 June 1379. (fn. 5)

In 1303 (fn. 6) Juliana de la Wodehall, who had been elected prioress in December 1300, tendered her resignation to the archbishop, who refused to accept it, and wrote that he had not been certified of the state of the house, nor of the reason which made her desire to resign; he therefore commanded her to retain the care of the house as prioress, until he had discussed the state of the house with the patron, Simon le Ward, or until he was able to visit those parts. Possibly the prioress's desire to resign was due to a recent scandal which is the subject of a letter addressed to her and her convent by the archbishop in the preceding March (fn. 7) regarding Beatrice de Houkesward, a nun, who had left the house pregnant, and whom they were not to re-admit without the archbishop's special licence. On 22 September 1315 (fn. 8) Archbishop Greenfield wrote to the Prioress of Esholt peremptorily ordering her to remove within six days all the secular women boarders over the age of twelve years, and to admit no more without special licence. On the previous day he had confirmed the election of Isabella de Calverley as prioress. (fn. 9)

In 1318 (fn. 10) Archbishop Melton held a visitation and issued injunctions to the prioress and nuns. The house was heavily in debt, and all were ordered to use moderation. The prioress was forbidden, under pain of removal, to grant pensions, or to alienate or lease for long periods any of the granges, nor was she to receive any person to the habit of the nuns or sisters or brothers conversi, or to retain as boarders any women or girls over twelve years of age without the archbishop's special licence. There is a long silence in the Registers till 1445, (fn. 11) when Archbishop Kemp granted an indulgence of 100 days, valid for two years, to all who should help towards the reparation or new construction of the campanile of the house or priory of the poor nuns of 'Asshold,' which recently fell to ruin, or who should assist in the maintenance and the relief of the nuns themselves, whose lands near the River Ayre, which had been cultivated at much cost and which maintained the nuns, had been flooded.

A dispensation, dated 1 October 1472, (fn. 12) super defectu natalium, was granted to Joan Ward, nun of Esholt; she was afterwards prioress, and was no doubt connected in some way with the family of the patron. On 28 November in the same year (fn. 13) another Joan Ward made her will, in which she bequeathed her best gown (togam) lined with 'fiches,' and a gilded girdle, with white tissue, to be sold, and a vestment bought with the proceeds for ' Abbathie de Hashold.' She also left a pair of coral beads adorned with ' calsedons' to be sold and the proceeds to be expended on ' the payntyng of an ymage of our lady de pete at the Abba of Hassholde.' Yet a third Joan Ward, the relict of Roger Ward, the elder, of Givendale, kt., appears at this period. She made her will 14 November 1473, (fn. 14) and left her body to be buried ' infra ecclesiam religiosam Abbathie de Esholt,' with 20s. to the prioress and convent. In 1497 (fn. 15) Joan Ward, the prioress, resigned, and on 30 August Elizabeth Lasynby was elected as her successor.

In 1535 (fn. 16) Dr. Clyf, vicar-general of the archbishop, visited Esholt, and on 10 September the archbishop sent the prioress and convent a long list of injunctions in the English language. All the nuns were to be obedient to their prioress and observe ' Sanct Bennett rule which they have professid.' The prioress was to provide at once sufficient locks and keys for the cloister doors, and the doors were to be securely locked every night immediately after compline, and not opened again till seven o'clock the next morning in winter, or six in summer. A noteworthy order follows, ' that the prioresse suffer no ale-house to be kept within the precinct of the gates of the saide monasterie.' Apparently the nuns at Esholt brewed more ale than they needed and sold the surplus. The dorter was to be locked every night ' unto service tyme.' No manner of person ' of what degre soever he be seculer or religiose' was to be allowed ' to lie, or to be loged' within the cloister, or any chamber opening into it. No sister was to go out of the precinct of the monastery without some just cause, and the prioress was to cause some part of St. Bennett's rule to be read daily in the chapter-house, in the presence of all the sisters.

At the back of certain chambers where the sisters worked on the south side of the church, there was an open way leading to the waterside and to the bridge across the water. There was no wall or door to shut it off, 'so that many ylles may be committed by reason hereof; wherfore in avoydyng such inconveniences that myght follow yf it shuld so remayne' the prioress was ordered ' incontinent without delay aftre the recept herof' to cause a high wall to be built ' in the said voyde place.'

The archbishop then dealt with the case of ' Dame Joanne Hutton nun professed' who ' contarie to her profession and vowe made to all mighty God, to the great daunger of her sowle, and yll example of odre religious parsons, hath lyved incontinentlie and unchast, and hath broght forth a child of her bodie begotten.' The archbishop therefore, ' willinge to reforme the same horrible crime,' enjoined the prioress to put 'dame Joanne ' in prison, or in some secret chamber within the dorter, and that neither the sisters nor any person was to speak to her without leave of the prioress. She was to ' kepe abstinence ' every week, viz. on each Wednesday and Friday to have bread and ale only, and abstain from all flesh, fish, butter, eggs, cheese, and milk. On other days she was to eat ' as the convent fareth.' Each Friday she was to have in the presence of the sisters such discipline in the chapter-house ' as ys accustomed to be hadd and done for like offences' (fn. 17) and the prioress was to keep her in prison and continue the penance for two years, unless the archbishop directed otherwise.

At the time of the Suppression there were eleven nuns. (fn. 18) Joan Jenkynson, aged forty, the prioress, heads the list, and received a pension of £6 13s. 4d. Her name is followed by that of Elizabeth Pudsey, also called ' prioress' (that is the ex-prioress); she was over seventy and is described as ' decrepita et non abilis adequitandum, neque eundum, ben recommendid to hir friends'; Agnes Bayn (52); Agnes Cokyn (47); Joan Hollynraker (?) (54) ' decrepita et non abilis ad equitandum, neque eundum. Md. she is not able to be carried for she is lame, contynew in her habit with her friends'; Elizabeth Mawde (47); Barbara Dogeson (36); Joan Huton (30); Joan Burton (27); Agnes Wood (27); Agnes Dogeson (40). Against each name (except those of the prioress and the ex-prioress) is written ' contynew in her religion' or simply Contynew.' (fn. 19)

The clear annual value of the house in 1535 was only £13 5s. 4d. (fn. 20)

Prioresses Of Esholt

Agnes, occurs 1219 (fn. 21)

Alice, occurs 1299 (fn. 22)

Juliana de la Wodehall, (fn. 23) confirmed 1300

Joan de Hartlington (fn. 24)

Isabella de Calverley, (fn. 25) elected 1315, occurs 1327, (fn. 26) 1349 (fn. 27)

Isabella de Calverley, (fn. 28) elected 1363

Maud Ward, (fn. 29) occurs 1392

Emma Porter, (fn. 30) occurs 1416

Emma Burgh, occurs 1459 (fn. 31)

Elizabeth Lasynby, (fn. 32) elected 1475

Joan Ward, (fn. 33) occurs 1480, 1487, (fn. 34) 1493, (fn. 35) resigned 1497 (fn. 36)

Elizabeth Lasynby, (fn. 37) elected 1497

Agnes Firth, (fn. 38) elected 1505

Margaret Roche, (fn. 39) elected 1507, resigned 1512 (fn. 40)

Elizabeth Pudsey, (fn. 41) elected 1512

Joan Jenkinson, (fn. 42) occurs c. 1536


  • 1. Yorks. Arch. Journ. ix, 321 n. See also Burton, Mon. Ebor. 139, for grant of site, &c., at Esholt.
  • 2. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 469.
  • 3. Ibid.; Burton, Mon. Ebor. 139.
  • 4. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 470-4.
  • 5. Ibid. 471, no. viii.
  • 6. York Archiepis. Reg. Corbridge, fol. 18.
  • 7. Ibid. fol. 206.
  • 8. Ibid. Greenfield, ii, fol. 89.
  • 9. Ibid.
  • 10. Ibid. Melton, fol. 231b.
  • 11. Ibid. Kemp, fol. 98.
  • 12. Ibid. Geo. Nevill, fol. 148
  • 13. York Reg. of Wills, iv, fol. 7.
  • 14. York Reg. of Wills, iv, fol. 7b.
  • 15. York Archiepis. Reg. Rotherham, i, fol. 135b.
  • 16. These injunctions are printed in full in Yorks. Arch. Journ. xvi, 451-3.
  • 17. Surely a significant expression.
  • 18. Suppression P. ii, fol. 25, 34, 238 d.
  • 19. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 470.
  • 20. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), v, 16.
  • 21. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 57.
  • 22. a Ibid.
  • 23. York Archiepis. Reg. Corbridge, fol. 6b.
  • 24. Burton, Mon. Ebor. 140.
  • 25. York Archiepis. Reg. Greenfield, ii, fol. 89.
  • 26. Add. Chart. 16906.
  • 27. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 470, no. i.
  • 28. Ibid. v, 470.
  • 29. Add. Chart. 17105.
  • 30. Ibid. 17093.
  • 31. a Baildon, Mon, Notes, i, 57.
  • 32. York Archiepis. Reg. Geo. Nevill, fol. 172b.
  • 33. Burton, Mon. Ebor. 140.
  • 34. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 471, no. xvi.
  • 35. Ibid. no. iii.
  • 36. York Archiepis. Reg. Rotherham, i, fol. 133.
  • 37. Ibid.
  • 38. Ibid. Savage, fol. 43.
  • 39. Ibid. sed. vac. fol. 522.
  • 40. Ibid. Bainbridge, fol. 39b.
  • 41. Ibid.
  • 42. Suppression P. ii, 25.