Houses of Cistercians nuns: Priory of Handale

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 Handale', in A History of the County of York: Volume 3, (London, 1974) pp. 165-167. British History Online [accessed 19 April 2024]

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This small nunnery, under the invocation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was founded in 1133 (fn. 1) by William Percy of Dunsley, in the parish of Loftus-in-Cleveland.

The advowson of the priory was granted in the reign of King John by Richard Percy to Richard Malebisse and his heirs who were to pay yearly to the convent 1 lb. of incense in lieu of all services. (fn. 2)

The earliest allusion in the Archiepiscopal Registers appears to be the appointment by Archbishop Giffard of William de Bardenay, monk of Whitby, as guardian of Handale and Basedale nunneries, in 1267-8. (fn. 3) Just twenty years later, Archbishop Romanus (fn. 4) wrote to the Master of Sherburn Hospital near Durham asking him to admit Basilia de Cotum, one of the nuns of Handale, who was stricken with leprosy, and who for fear of contagion could not dwell among healthy women.

On the Saturday after the feast of St. Michael 1315 (fn. 5) Archbishop Greenfield held a visitation of the house, and the short series of injunctions which he then issued are the only injunctions in the Registers, as issued to Handale, and they are in general terms almost identical with those sent to Basedale at the same time.

On 13 May 1318 (fn. 6) Archbishop Melton issued a commission to Thomas [de Mydelsburg], rector of Loftus, to administer the temporal goods of the Prioress and convent of Handale, to receive the account of the servants, and to substitute more capable ones for those who were useless, and to do whatever appeared to him to be for the benefit of the house. On 12 January 1388 (fn. 7) the dean and chapter, sede vacante, issued a letter on behalf of Handale, suffering from its poverty, but with the exception of notices of the election of prioresses, there is nothing of importance in the Registers. Two of the records of the election of prioresses (Joan Scott in 1504 (fn. 8) and Anne Lutton in 1532 (fn. 9) ) are significant as they expressly describe Handale as belonging to the Cistercian order.

Of the external affairs of the house almost the only item of interest that is known is a suit in 1301, (fn. 10) when John de Aslakeby and John Etwatre of Yarm had to answer a complaint made by Ivetta, Prioress of Handale, that they, with certain other persons who are named, had seized and imprisoned her at Yarm, and committed other misdeeds for which she claimed £40 as damages. It was not till 1 July 1303 that the jury found for the defendants, and decided that they had made no trespass on the prioress, as she had alleged.

At the time of the Suppression (fn. 11) there were ten nuns. It is noted that ' they all be of good liffyng,' and against six of the names ' religion ' is written in the margin, indicating their desire to continue in their vows. Joan Scott, the late prioress, is second in the list, and after her name is added 'act. 90 ˜t blynd.' At a subsequent period her name has been struck through with a pen, and the word ' obijt ' written in the margin. Anne Lutton the prioress was assigned a yearly pension of £6 13s. 4d. Three of the senior nuns received pensions of 33s. 4d., and the five juniors 26s. 8d. each.

Handale is not included in the taxation of Pope Nicholas. In 1527 (fn. 12) its clear annual value was returned at £20, and in the Valor Ecclesiasticus (fn. 13) at £13 19s. only. The alms distributed weekly for the soul of Robert Percy, who is called the founder, were two measures (modios) of corn, and 3d. in money, amounting to £4 9s. 2d.

When a return was made in 1553 (fn. 14) as to the payment of the pensions to ex-religious, it was stated that, as regarded Handale, Alice Brompton (16s. 8d.) mortua ut dicitur; Margaret Lowdham (33s. 4d.), Isabell Norman and Cecille Watson (each 26s. 8d.) appeared with their patents.

Prioresses of Handale

Beleisur, occurs 1208 (fn. 15)

Bella, (fn. 16) occurs 1240

Avice, occurs 1262, (fn. 17) 1269 (fn. 18)

Ivetta, occurs 1287, (fn. 19) 1305 (fn. 20)

Cecilia de Irton, confirmed 7 June 1313, (fn. 21) resigned 4 May 1314 (fn. 22)

Mariota de Herle, succeeded 1314, (fn. 23) resigned 1318 (fn. 24)

Alice de Hoton, elected 1318, (fn. 25) resigned 1320 (fn. 26)

Agnes, elected 1320 (fn. 27)

Katherine de Gilling, occurs 1413, (fn. 28) 1417 (fn. 29)

Gecilia, 1504 (fn. 30) resigned 1504 (fn. 31)

Joan Scott, (fn. 32) confirmed 1504, resigned 1532 (fn. 33)

Anne Lutton, (fn. 34) confirmed 1532


  • 1. Atkinson, Cleveland Anct. and Modern, 249.
  • 2. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. iv, 74.
  • 3. Archbp. Giffard's Reg. (Surt. Soc.), 54.
  • 4. York Archiepis. Reg. Romanus, fol. 30b.
  • 5. Ibid. Greenfield, ii, fol. 108.
  • 6. Ibid. Melton, fol. 228b.
  • 7. Ibid. Arundel (sed. vac.), fol. 9. In 1390 Boniface IX granted indulgences to those who on the feast of the dedication visited and gave alms for the conservation of the church and priory of Handale, Cal. of Papal Letters, iv, 393.
  • 8. Ibid. Savage, fol 63.
  • 9. Ibid. see fol. 38.
  • 10. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 86.
  • 11. Suppression P. ii, fol. 1.
  • 12. Subs. R. 64, no 303.
  • 13. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), v, 87.
  • 14. Exch. K.R. Accts. bdle 76, no. 24.
  • 15. Yorks. Fines, John (Surt. Soc.), 149.
  • 16. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 86.
  • 17. Guisborough Chartul. (Surt. Soc.), ii, 201.
  • 18. Ibid. 223.
  • 19. Ibid. 154.
  • 20. Baildon's MS. Notes.
  • 21. York Archiepis. Reg. Greenfield ii, fol. 96b.
  • 22. Ibid. fol. 108. Both dates as to confirmation and cession of Cecilia de Irton in the Monasticon (Mon, Angl. iv, 74) are wrong.
  • 23. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. iv, 74.
  • 24. York Archiepis. Reg. Melton, fol. 228b.
  • 25. Ibid.
  • 26. Ibid. fol. 234b.
  • 27. Ibid.
  • 28. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 86.
  • 29. Baildon's MS. Notes.
  • 30. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. iv, 74.
  • 31. Ibid.
  • 32. York Archiepis. Reg. Savage, fol. 63.
  • 33. Ibid. see fol. 38.
  • 34. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. iv, 74.