Houses of Cistercians nuns: Priory of Keldholme

Pages 167-170

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

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The small nunnery of St. Mary of Keldholme in the parish of Kirkby Moorside was founded by Robert de Stuteville in the reign of Henry I. (fn. 1) The founder gave the site on which the house was built, and the adjacent land, which is almost entirely surrounded by a curve of the River Dove, so the nuns are in some of the earlier deeds spoken of as moniales de Duva instead of de Keldholm. (fn. 2)

The foundation charter is not extant, but there are two charters of confirmation, granted by King John in the second year of his reign, printed in the Monasticon, (fn. 3) which describe the foundation gifts with some minuteness of detail. The nuns of Keldholme never obtained the grant of any church, their possessions were always small, and possibly on this account the priory is omitted from the Taxation of Pope Nicholas in 1291.

The patronage of the house passed from the Stutevilles to the Wakes, lords of Liddell, by the marriage in the early part of the 13th century of Joan, heiress of Nicholas de Stuteville, to Hugh Wake. (fn. 4) Edmund de Holand, Earl of Kent, died seised (11 Henry IV) of two parts of the advowson of Keldholme, then valued at £2 yearly. (fn. 5)

There is remarkably little known of the history of the house, and almost all that is recorded of it relates to violent disputes and internal disorders in the 14th century, which called for the intervention of the archbishop. A letter (9 December 1287) from Archbishop Romanus to the nuns directed them to receive back one of their members, Maud de Tiverington, who had apostatized. (fn. 6) On 30 December 1299, the see being vacant, the Chapter of York addressed a letter to the prioress and convent on behalf of another nun, Cristiania de Styvelington, who instigante diabolo had also apostatized, but having appeared before the chapter had manifested repentance, and desired to be allowed to return. The chapter directed that she was to be readmitted, but was to undergo the salutary penance prescribed by the rules of the order. (fn. 7)

On 15 July 1301 Archbishop Corbridge issued a mandate to the sub-prioress and convent to elect a successor to Emma de Stapelton who had resigned. (fn. 8) There is no mention of the election which must then have taken place, but the prioress then chosen, whose name is not known, must have died, for Archbishop Greenfield (18 April 1308) (fn. 9) issued a commission to inquire about the vacancy. If this had been caused, by a resignation the archbishop would have known of it, as the resignation had to be placed in the hands of the archbishop, and accepted by him. The commissioner was directed to inquire when the vacancy had occurred, and how long Keldholme had been without a prioress, and whether the vacancy had extended for six months and thus the appointment lapsed to the archbishop. This was followed on 21 April by a letter from the archbishop to John de Newerk, relating that as the election had lapsed, and as Emma de Ebor', one of the nuns, was reported to be the most fit for the post of prioress, he appointed her to that office. (fn. 10)

About the same time an order was sent to the official of the Archdeacon of Cleveland (fn. 11) directing him to proceed, according to the tenor of a previous mandate, the contents of which do not appear, against Beatrix de Roston, Anabilla de Lokton, and certain other women of the monastery of Keldholme, concerning whom it had anew come to the archbishop's ears that they, together with Orphania de Nueton, Isabella de Langetoft, Mary de Holm, and Joan de Roseles, nuns of the house, contrary to their duty, refused obedience to their prioress. (fn. 12) As six nuns refused obedience and were probably at least half of the whole convent, it is not a matter for surprise to learn that Emma de Ebor' resigned the office of prioress, to which she had only just been promoted by the archbishop. (fn. 13) On 5 August the archbishop addressed a letter to the Archdeacon of Cleveland, stating that he had accepted the cession of Emma de Ebor', and that as he found no one in the house capable of assuming rule therein, he had carefully considered the matter, and had appointed Joan de Pykering (fn. 14) (a nun of Rosedale) who, from the testimony of trustworthy persons, was deemed competent, to be Prioress of Keldholme. As a number of persons, whom the archbishop named, had openly and publicly obstructed the appointment of the new prioress, the archdeacon was to proceed immediately to Keldholme, and give her corporal possession, and at the same time was to admonish the dissentient nuns named, that they and all others must accept Joan de Pykering as prioress from the date of her nomination, and reverently obey her. The lay folk were to cease their opposition, under pain of the greater excommunication. One of the latter, who is not mentioned in the letter, Nicholas de Rippinghall, was dealt with a little later by the archbishop, who imposed the following penance. On the second Sunday in Lent he was to go bareheaded to the cathedral church of York, clad in a tunic only, holding a taper of a pound weight and after the procession was to go before the high altar, and humbly offer the lighted taper and receive a discipline there from the archbishop's penitentiary. The following Sunday he was to do the same in Kirkby Moorside Church and, after the Gospel, offer the taper and receive a discipline there from the vicar or parish clerk, and on the next two Sundays he was to do much the same in the conventual church of Keldholme. (fn. 15)

On 3 September the archbishop issued a mandate to the official of Cleveland, stating that at the visitation of Keldholme he had found the four nuns, Isabella de Langetoft, Mary de Holm, Joan de Roseles and Anabilla de Lokton, incorrigible rebels. Within eight days Isabella was to be sent to Handale, Mary within fifteen days to Swine, Joan within three weeks to Nun Appleton, and Anabilla within a month to Wallingwells, there to perform the penances imposed upon them. (fn. 16) The stern action of the archbishop had, however, little effect, and on 1 February following, the archbishop addressed a letter to the sub-prioress and convent, commanding them that they one and all, without delay, should direct a letter under their common seal, to the lady Joan Wake, lady of Liddell, stating that they had admitted Joan de Pykering unanimously as their prioress, and intended to obey her in all things as such, and asking the lady Joan Wake to direct that the said prioress should have possession of the temporalities and free administration in the same. (fn. 17)

On 5 February the archbishop issued another commission to correct the crimes and excesses revealed at a visitation of Keldholme and described in an annexed schedule, which schedule has not been copied into the Register. (fn. 18) Very shortly afterwards (17 February) he directed the same commissioners to inquire whether Joan de Pykering desired, for a good reason, of her own free will to resign, and if they found that she did, they were to enjoin the sub-prioress and convent to proceed to the canonical election of a new prioress. (fn. 19) This was followed by the election, on 7 March, of Emma de Stapelton as prioress for the second time, (fn. 20) and on the same date an order was sent to Keldholme, forbidding the sale of corrodies, or granting leases of the convent's property for long periods, and directing, that each year the accounts of the house were to be made up within the octave of All Saints. (fn. 21) On 6 March the archbishop wrote to Esholt, (fn. 22) ordering the prioress and convent of that house to receive Emma de Newcastle, nun professed at Keldholme, who had been found guilty, at the recent visitation, of conduct contrary to the honesty of her rule. She was to go to Esholt for a time, and there perform the penance assigned her. She was to be last in quire, cloister, refectory and dormitory. A similar letter was sent at the same time to Nunkeeling (fn. 23) respecting Maud Bigot, another nun of Keldholme, who was temporarily transferred to that house, under like conditions.

After this, if silence in the Registers may be accepted as a sign of improvement, the troubles which had distracted the little nunnery for a time, at least, came to an end. On 7 April 1310 the archbishop committed the custody of the temporalities of the nuns of Keldholme to Richard del Clay, vicar of Lastingham. (fn. 24) On Monday after the feast of St. Margaret 1314 the nunnery was again visited, and the archbishop issued a number of injunctions to the nuns. (fn. 25) Many of them are the ordinary exhortations to the due observance of the rule, which almost assume a common form in these decrees, but a few had special reference to the condition of the house. The necessary repairs were to be carried out, specially as regarded the roofs, as soon as could be. Secular finery and singularity of dress was to be avoided by the nuns, nor were they to wear anything but such as befitted religion. No nun or other person belonging to the house was to take away books, ornaments or other things belonging to the church, without the express consent of the prioress and convent. The prioress was strictly enjoined that puppies (caniculos) were excluded from entering quire, cloister, and other places, and nuns who offended in regard to this were to be punished.

Trouble again manifested itself, and on 27 October 1315 (fn. 26) the archbishop directed Richard del Clay, the custos of the monastery, to proceed at once to Keldholme, and summon before him in chapter Emma de Ebor' (who it will be remembered had been prioress for a short time in 1308) and Mary de Holm, who, like daughters of perdition, were disobedient and rebels against their prioress. Having read the archbishop's letter in the mother tongue in chapter, he was to admonish the two nuns for the first, second, and third times, that they must humbly obey their prioress in all lawful and canonical injunctions, monitions, and commands. They were not to meddle with any internal or external business of the house in any way, nor were they to go outside of the inclosure of the monastery, or to say anything against their prioress, under pain of expulsion and of the greater excommunication.

Archbishop Greenfield died on 5 December 1315, (fn. 27) and on 13 February following the dean and chapter directed the nuns to elect a new prioress in place of Emma de Stapelton, who had resigned, oppressed by age. (fn. 28) It is a curious comment on the vigorous action of the archbishop only a short time before, to find that one of the two nuns whom he had so severely censured was elected as the new prioress. Emma de Ebor' was now confirmed in office for the second time on 7 March 1315. (fn. 29) Mary de Holm, who had been reproved as a disobedient nun, transgressed more seriously, and on 6 June 1318 (fn. 30) Archbishop Melton wrote to the prioress and convent directing them to compel Mary de Holm to undergo the penance enjoined her for the vice of incontinence committed by her with Sir William Lyly, chaplain. The new archbishop had previously visited the house, and on 4 May 1317 (fn. 31) had addressed a number of injunctions to the nuns, but they are all couched in general terms and do not reveal anything in particular relating to Keldholme.

After this the Registers (fn. 32) tell very little about Keldholme, arid nothing is known as to its external history. One of the elections, that of 20 August 1467, (fn. 33) is described rather fully. There were then eight nuns in the house, viz. Katherine Anlaby (the late prioress), Elizabeth Browne, Alice Norton, Agnes Wright, Christiana Redesdale, Joan Fleshewer, and Margaret Talbot. They met in chapter, and having sung Veni Creator Spiritus, delegated the election for fifteen days to Archbishop Rotherham, who appointed Elizabeth Davell, at that time Prioress of Basedale.

The royal commissioners visited Keldholme on 8 June 1535, and the house was suppressed on 5 or 7 August following. (fn. 34) There were then five nuns besides the prioress, Sir John Potter (fn. 35) the chaplain, and twelve servants and boys. In the account of Leonard Beckwith, from Michaelmas 1535 to Michaelmas 1536, a parcel-gilt chalice and paten weighing together 6 ounces, and two bells valued at 10s. are accounted for. (fn. 36) Under 'Surperstitio' Drs. Legh and Layton reported that there was a piece of the true cross at Keldholme, and a finger of St. Stephen which was wont to be offered ' parturientibus.' (fn. 37)

There are no Ministers' Accounts of the house, and all that is known as to its revenues about this time is obtained from the Valor Ecclesiasticus, (fn. 38) where they are set down at £29 6s. 1d.

Prioresses of Keldholme

Sibil, occurs temp. Henry I (fn. 39)

K—— occurs 1208-9 (fn. 40)

Basilia, occurs November 1208 (fn. 41)

Ellen, c. 1260 (?) (fn. 42)

Beatrice de Crendale, resigned 1293-4 (fn. 43)

Emma de Stapelton, confirmed 1293-4, (fn. 44) resigned 1301 (fn. 45)

(Name unknown, elected 1301, (fn. 46) died 1307) Emma de Ebor, appointed April 1308, (fn. 47) resigned August 1308 (fn. 48)

Joan de Pykering, appointed August 1308, (fn. 49) resigned March 1308-9 (fn. 50)

Emma de Stapelton (second time), confirmed 1308-9, (fn. 51) resigned 1315-16 (fn. 52)

Emma de Ebor (second time), confirmed 1315-16 (fn. 53)

Margaret de Aslaby, resigned 1406 (fn. 54)

Alice Sandeforth, elected 1406 (fn. 55)

Agnes Wandesforth, died 1461 (fn. 56)

Ellen Wandesforth, (fn. 57) died 1464 (fn. 58)

Katherine Anlaby, resigned 1497 (fn. 59)

Elizabeth Davell, appointed 1497, (fn. 60) died 1534 (fn. 61)

Elizabeth Lyon, elected 1534 (fn. 62) (last prioress)


  • 1. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 664; Burton, Mon. Ebor. 380.
  • 2. Burton, Mon. Ebor. 380 n.
  • 3. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 665.
  • 4. G.E.C. Complete Peerage, viii, 35, note (b).
  • 5. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 664.
  • 6. York Archiepis. Reg. Romanus, fol. 51.
  • 7. Ibid. sed. vac. fol. 29.
  • 8. Ibid. Corbridge, slip inserted between fol. 24 and 25.
  • 9. Ibid. Greenfield, fol. 88b.
  • 10. Ibid. fol. 89.
  • 11. Ibid.
  • 12. Ibid. fol. 92.
  • 13. Ibid.
  • 14. Ibid.
  • 15. York Archiepis. Reg. Greenfield, fol. 72b.
  • 16. Ibid. fol. 92b.
  • 17. Ibid. fol. 93b.
  • 18. Ibid.
  • 19. Ibid. fol. 95b.
  • 20. Ibid.
  • 21. Ibid. fol. 96.
  • 22. Ibid.
  • 23. This is remarkable, as Nunkeeling was a Benedictine house, and it was not the custom to send members of one order to houses of another order to undergo penances.
  • 24. York Archiepis. Reg. Greenfield, fol. 99b.
  • 25. Ibid. fol. 101b.
  • 26. Ibid. fol. 108.
  • 27. Le Neve, Fasti Eccl. Angl. (ed. Hardy), in, 105.
  • 28. York Archiepis. Reg. sed. vac. fol. 91.
  • 29. Ibid.
  • 30. Ibid. Melton, fol. 232b.
  • 31. Ibid.
  • 32. Mr. W. Brown has printed (Yorks. Arch. Journ, xvi, 456) an account of the penance imposed 20 July 1321 by Archbishop Melton (York Archiepis. Reg. Melton, fol. 236b) on Maud of Terrington, an apostate nun of Keldholme, who here seems to have lapsed morally, besides apostatizing. She was to have a cell apart from the others, was to stand during the quire offices, was to fast on bread and pulse on Wednesdays, and bread and water on Fridays, was to be flogged barefooted round the cloister, was to offer herself to be spurned by the nuns, wear no 'camisia,' or black veil, and was to recite two psalters, &c., weekly.
  • 33. York Archiepis. Reg. Rotherham, i, fol. 164.
  • 34. K.R. Aug. Off. Views of Accts. bdle. 17.
  • 35. By an ' endentur,' 3 Feb. 1532-3 ' dame Elsabeth Dauel priores off the monastery offoure lady of Keldholme' and the convent granted Sir John Potter a yearly rent for life, and also ' comon of paster for on horse to go at rughtbarth in somer and sufficient hay and provanter for on horse off the said John to rydde on in wenter in the nedful besenes of the house ' also two chambers 'called the chaplen chamber wher in the said Sir John now lith and sufficient fuell called fier wode yerly to be takyn with in ther woddes att Keldholme foresaid,' &c.; Conventual Leases, York (P.R.O.), no. 322.
  • 36. K.R. Aug. Off. Views of Accts. bdle. 17.
  • 37. L. and P. Hen. VIII, x, p. 137 et seq.
  • 38. Op. cit. v, 145.
  • 39. Burton, Mon. Ebor. 380 n.
  • 40. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 98.
  • 41. Yorks. Fines, John (Surt. Soc.), 152.
  • 42. a Cott. MS. Claud. D, xi, fol. 3.
  • 43. York Archiepis. Reg. Romanus, fol. 57.
  • 44. Ibid. fol. 35.
  • 45. Ibid. Corbridge, slip between fol. 24 and 25.
  • 46. Ibid.
  • 47. Ibid. Greenfield, fol. 89.
  • 48. Ibid. fol. 92.
  • 49. Ibid.
  • 50. Ibid. fol. 95b.
  • 51. Ibid.
  • 52. Ibid. sed. vac. fol. 91.
  • 53. Ibid.
  • 54. York Archiepis. Reg. sed. vac. fol. 268.
  • 55. Ibid.
  • 56. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 664.
  • 57. Ibid.
  • 58. York Archiepis. Reg. sed. vac. fol. 438.
  • 59. Ibid. Rotherham, i, fol. 164.
  • 60. Ibid.
  • 61. See fol. 41.
  • 62. Ibid. As Isabell Lyon she appeared with her patent in 7 Edw. VI, when inquiry was made as to the payment of pensions to ex-religious, and was the only ex-religious from Keldholme who did so; Exch. K.R. Accts. bdle. 76, no. 25.