Houses of Cistercians nuns: Priory of Nun Appleton

Pages 170-174

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

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About 1150 Eustace de Merch (fn. 1) and Adeliz de St. Quintin, his wife, with consent of their heirs Robert and William, granted to God, St. Mary, and St. John the Evangelist, and to the prior (fn. 2) and nuns abiding in the territory of Appleton, near the River Wharfe, the place which Juliana held, and other land subsequently. The foundation charter states that Adeliz de St. Quintin and her son and heir Robert de St Quintin re-granted this to Brother Richard, and the nuns serving God there, for the souls of Robert, the son of Fulk, and his parents. (fn. 3) This grant was confirmed by St. Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, between 1162 and 1171. (fn. 4)

King John in 1205 confirmed these and many other grants made to the nuns, (fn. 5) and curiously enough the gift of the church of St. Mary Coddenham is included in the grant, though as will be subsequently shown it had passed in 1184 to Royston Priory. Early in the reign of Henry II (fn. 6) Eustace de Merch, who, in virtue of his marriage with Adeliz de St. Quintin, was possessed of the church of St. Mary of Coddenham [in Suffolk], granted that church to Nun Appleton that a monastery of nuns might be established at Coddenham, ' de congregacione et professione et ordine sanctimonialium de Apeltuna.' It is extremely doubtful whether any steps were taken, beyond the making of this grant, towards the foundation of this proposed cell, or nunnery. At any rate Coddenham Church, given by its patron Eustace de Merch, is mentioned in a papal confirmation in 1184 (fn. 7) of the possessions of the newly-founded priory of Royston in Hertfordshire. On 17 February 1275-6 (fn. 8) Archbishop Giffard wrote to the Prioress of Appleton, in common with other Cistercian prioresses in his diocese, that the Friars Minor were to hear their confessions, as had been the custom, in spite of the inhibition of the abbots of the order, who possessed no jurisdiction, ordinary or delegated, over the nuns.

In 1281 (fn. 9) Archbishop Wickwane issued a series of injunctions to Nun Appleton. The prioress was to be more diligent in her duty than heretofore. No nun was to appropriate for herself any present of clothing or shoes, given her by anyone, without the consent of the prioress. All that the prioress received in money or kind for the use of the monastery, she was not to receive alone, but in the presence of two or three of the older and wiser of the nuns and at the end of the year she was to reckon up before the seniors, chosen for that purpose, the receipts and expenditure of the house. No one was to be received as nun or sister of the house, or even to live there, without the archbishop's special licence, but honest hospitality for a day or night was not meant to be forbidden, so that no occasion of sin or scandal arose. Locks on forcers and chests the archbishop forbade, unless the prioress, very often inspecting the contents, should make other honest order in this respect. The refectory and cloister were to be better guarded from strangers than was wont, lest the good fame of the nuns should vanish hereafter more than it had already done.

One of the great troubles against which, from the first, the archbishops had to contend was that of the nuns receiving secular women to board with them. It was constantly forbidden, generally on the ground of expense, but probably the presence of women of the world had a secularizing effect, and did not conduce to the religious life of the nuns. Writing from Cawood, on 5 March 1289-90, (fn. 10) Archbishop Romanus forbade the nuns to take any women as boarders, or to admit anyone to their habit, without his special licence. Almost in exactly the same terms Archbishop Corbridge wrote on 17 February 1302-3, (fn. 11) forbidding them also to allow anyone to remain at the convent's expense, the house being already heavily in debt.

On 9 May 1306 (fn. 12) Archbishop Greenfield appointed Roger de Saxton to the care of the goods of the nunnery. The same archbishop addressing the Prioress and convent of Appleton, of the order of St. Benedict, on 4 January 1307-8, (fn. 13) directed them to send Maud de Bossall to Basedale (fn. 14) in Cleveland for a while, she having been for many years unruly and disobedient, setting a bad example to the other nuns. In the same year the archbishop granted licence that Agnes de Saxton (fn. 15) might be admitted a sister of the house, and directed that the custos of the house was to have his meals daily in the chamber assigned to him, unless it happened that the prioress was having her meals in her own chamber, on account of entertaining strangers, in which case, for the sake of company, the custos might join them. A year later, 27 January 1308-9, (fn. 16) the prioress and convent were directed to re-admit Maud de Bossall on her return from Basedale. In September 1309 (fn. 17) the archbishop appointed his receiver, William de Jafford, to audit the accounts of the convent, and also wrote to the prioress and convent that A vice de Lyncolnia, niece of William de Jafford, might remain for four years in the monastery without prejudice to their house. A letter from the archbishop (12 November 1309) (fn. 18) directed that Maud de Ripon, a nun who had incurred the sentence of the greater excommunication for apostasy, and had been absolved, was to be re-admitted. The trouble as to taking boarders seems to have come to the fore again in 1316, (fn. 19) for on 5 November in that year the dean and chapter, sede vacante, forbade the nuns to take any kind of secular women as boarders, without special licence.

Archbishop Melton held a primary visitation of Nun Appleton on 7 April 1318, (fn. 20) on which occasion he issued a long list of injunctions, many of which are exhortations and commands of a general character, or similar to those of his predecessors. Among those which are not so is an inhibition that no brothers of any order were to be received ad hospitandum, unless, perchance, they arrived so late that it was impossible not to lodge them, and rather inconsequently it is added that two sets were not to be received at the same time, until the house was relieved of debt. No nun was to leave the cloister to talk or sit at night time with such brothers. Secular persons were forbidden to enter the cloister at unlawful times, except for honest and urgent causes, lest their going to and fro should interfere with the quiet and devotion of the nuns. Not more than two or three nuns from one family were to be admitted into the house without special licence for fear of discord arising. (fn. 21)

The archbishop straitly enjoined all the nuns not to leave their monastery by reason of any vows of pilgrimage which any of them might have taken. If any had taken such vows, then such a one was to say as many psalters as it would have taken days to perform the pilgrimage so rashly vowed.

In 1320 (fn. 22) Elizabeth de Holbeck, the prioress, resigned owing to her old age and bodily weakness, having, as the archbishop wrote to the nuns, laboured with efficacy while her strength lasted. She was succeeded by Isabella Normanvill. On 21 April 1335 (fn. 23) the archbishop granted licence to the convent to relax the penance imposed on Joan de Scardeburg, one of the nuns, but does not say for what offence it had been imposed.

Archbishop Zouch issued (February 1346) (fn. 24) a series of injunctions, as a result of a visitation. Many are in general terms, and like others of the kind. He began by reproving the prioress for grave neglect of duty, to the scandal of her house, and the nuns were admonished to lay aside every trace of pride and arrogancy, and in the spirit of humility to obey their superiors. In regard to Katherine de Hugate, one of the nuns, who, miserably defiled by a carnal lapse, had retired from the house in a state of pregnancy, the archbishop ordered that if she returned, she was to be very severely punished, according to the appointed penance of their order, and her penance, or any like penance imposed on a nun or sister for a similar offence, was not to be mitigated in any degree, except by special licence of the archbishop. Margaret, a sister of the house, who had retired in a similar state, was on no account to be taken back, as the archbishop had found that in the past she had on successive occasions relapsed, and become pregnant. The infirmary was too limited in capacity, and the archbishop directed that certain chambers on the west part of the church, beyond the locutorium, or parlour, in which certain of the nuns, contrary to the honesty of religion, were abiding, were to be pulled down within a year, so that the infirmary might be extended. The doors of the church, cloister, and locutorium for long time past had been negligently guarded; this was to be corrected, and no secular woman of any description was to sleep or pass the night in the dormitory. The guests who flocked (hospites confluentes) to the house were to be admitted to the hostelry constructed for that purpose. The internal officers in charge of the food and drink had done their work badly, to the loss of the house, and the nuns were to substitute efficient servants in place of those who were useless, who were to be discharged. Lest the nuns might overstep the means of their house, no one was to be received as nun or sister, without special licence.

In 1489 (fn. 25) Archbishop Rotherham issued a series of injunctions for the nuns of much the usual character, but being in English it may be conveniently quoted in full. They reveal no serious offences, the worst being that of visiting the ale-house. The nearness to the River Wharfe was something in the nature of a temptation, being a favourite resort, and also being near the water highway between York, Selby, and Hull, accounted for the hospites confluentes mentioned by Archbishop Zouch in his decretum above quoted.

First and principally we commaunde and injoyne, yat divine service and ye rewles of your religion be observed and kept according to your ordour, yat ye be professed to.

Item yat ye cloistre dores be shett and sparn (fn. 26) in wyntre at vij, and in somer at viij of the clok at nyght, and ye keys nyghtly to be delyvered to you Prioresse, and ye aftir ye said houres suffre no persone to come in or forth wtout a cause resonable.

Item yat ye Prioresse suffre no man loge undir the dortir, nor oon the baksede, but if hit be such sad persones by whome your howse may be holpyne and secured wtout slaundir or suspicion.

Item yat ye Prioresse and all your sistirs loge nyghtly in ye dortour, savyng if ye or your sisters be seke or deseasid, yen ye or yei so seke or deseased to kepe a chambre.

Item yat noon of your sistirs use ye ale house nor ye watirside, wher concurse of straungers dayly resortes.

Item yat none of your sistirs have yeir service of mete and drynke to yer chambre, but kepe ye ffrater and ye hall accordyng to your religion, except any of yaim be seke.

Item yat none of your sistirs bring in, receyve, or take any laie man, religiose, or secular into yer chambre or any secrete place, daye or knyght, nor wt yaim in such private places to commyne, etc, or drynke, wtout lycence of you Prioresse.

Item yat ye Prioresse lycence none of your sistirs to go pilgremage or viset yer frendes wtoute a grete cause, and yen such a sistir so lycencyate by you to have wt her oon of ye moste sadd and well disposid sistirs to she come home agayne.

Item yat ye graunte or sell no corrodies nor lyveres of brede, nor ale, nor oyer vitell, to any person or persones from hensforward wtout yauctorite and speciall lycynce of us or our Vicar generall.

Item yat ye se such servauntes as longeth to your place come in to mete and drinke, and not to have yer lyveres of brede and ale outwardes, but if ye thynk hit necessarye and for the welthe of your house.

Item yat ye take no perhedinauntes (fn. 27) or sogerners into your place from hensforward, but if yei be children or ellis old persones, by which availe biliklyhood may growe to your place.

In Archbishop Savage's Register (fn. 28) there is an entry recording the institution of John Cristall, chaplain, to the chantry of St. John the Baptist, in the conventual church, which had become vacant by the profession of John Harpham, the late chaplain, as a Carthusian monk, in the chapter-house of Mount Grace. (fn. 29) The chantry had been founded by John Latham, a wealthy ecclesiastic of the diocese of York, Master of Trinity College, otherwise Knolles Almshouses, Pontefract, and Canon of Beverley, probably ' the greatest benefactor the little nunnery of Appleton ever had.' (fn. 30) After directing in his will that his body was to be buried in the church of the priory of Nun Appleton, in the chapel before the altar of St. John the Baptist, he left to the prioress 13s. 4d., and to each nun 6s. 8d., and each of them were, if possible, to recite a psalter for him on that day. The celebrant was to have 20d., and for constructing a new roof to the conventual church he bequeathed £26 13s. 4d. He condoned any debts due from the prioress and convent to him, and left to Joan Ryther, the prioress, if she survived him, a plain silver piece, and a large feather bed with a bolster, for the use of the convent but to remain with the prioress during her life. For her own use he bequeathed a silver-gilt piece with its cover, a new maser gilt, standing on a foot, and certain beds, cloths, sheets, &c. (which are minutely described) on the condition that the prioress, in recompense for all these bequests, would during her life say placebo and dirige with commendatio for his soul, and those of his parents. To the prioress and convent for the use of the chaplain of his chantry, Latham bequeathed his large Portiforium, two chalices, a ' paxebrede' of silver, and his missal of York use, with all necessary cloths for the apparel of the altar of St. John Baptist, the chaplain being bound to pray for him. He also left the prioress and convent two small 'salina Anglice saltesalers,' of silver with a cover. To Isabella Burdet, sub-prioress, he bequeathed three silver spoons, to pray for him. Joan Ryther, the prioress, with two other persons, he appointed his residuary legatees and executors. Joan Ryther probably belonged, Canon Raine observes, to the old family of Ryther of Ryther, as did no doubt her predecessor Agnes de Ryther.

According to the Taxatio of 1291 the priory held temporalities in the diocese of Lincoln to the amount of £13 13s. 10d., and in the diocese of York to the amount of £23 15s. 10d. besides a pension of £3 6s. 8d. from the church of Ryther. (fn. 31) There is no record of the value of the house in the Valor Ecclesiasticus, but in a return of 1522-3 the clear value of the priory of Nun Appleton is set down as £29 2s. 1d. (fn. 32) This, however, can only apply to its revenues in the county of York. According to the Monasticon Dugdale and Speed had preserved a note that its clear value at the time of compiling the Valor was £73 9s. 10d. (fn. 33)

The office of prioress (fn. 34) would seem to have been vacant at the Dissolution. At any rate the pension list, dated 4 or 5 December 1539, begins with Elinora Normanvell, late sub-prioress, who received £2 6s. 8d. She is followed by eighteen other nuns, one of whom, Agnes Snaynton, received £3. Of the rest two received a like pension to the sub-prioress, the rest less.

Prioresses of Nun Appleton

Alice, (fn. 35) occurs 1235

Mabel, occurs 1262 (fn. 36)

Hawise, (fn. 37) occurs 1277,1285, (fn. 38) resigned 1294 (fn. 39)

Isolda, (fn. 40) occurs 1300

Joan de Normanvill, (fn. 41) confirmed 1303, occurs 1306 (fn. 42)

Elizabeth de Holbeke, (fn. 43) confirmed 1316, resigned 1320 (fn. 44)

Isabella Normanvill, (fn. 45) elected 1320

Margaret de Nevill, (fn. 46) resigned 1334

Idonia, (fn. 47) occurs 1342

Lucy de Gaynesburgh, (fn. 48) died 1367

Agnes de Egmanton, (fn. 49) confirmed 1367

Emma de Langton, (fn. 50) occurs 1388, 1397 (fn. 51)

Idonia Danyell, (fn. 52) occurs 1404, 1408, (fn. 53) died 1426

Elizabeth Fitz Richard, (fn. 54) confirmed 1426

Agnes de Ryther, (fn. 55) occurs temp. Henry VI

Joan de Ryther, (fn. 56) pardoned 1454, occurs 1459, (fn. 57) 1470 (fn. 58)

Maud Tailbusse, (fn. 59) confirmed 1489, died 1506

Anne Langley, (fn. 60) appointed by lapse 1506

The 13th-century seal (fn. 61) is a vesica, 23/8 in. by 1¾ in., showing a full-length figure of the Blessed Virgin holding cross and book. The legend runs—



  • 1. B.M. Cott. MSS. xii, 46.
  • 2. This with the previous donation to ' Brother Richard and the nuns' is noteworthy, though what is indicated is not clear.
  • 3. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 652, no. i.
  • 4. Ibid. 653, no. ii.
  • 5. Ibid. no. vi.
  • 6. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 655.
  • 7. B.M. Cott. MS. Aug. ii, 124.
  • 8. Arcbbp. Giffard's Reg. (Surt. Soc.), 295.
  • 9. York Archiepis. Reg. Wickwane, fol. 136
  • 10. Ibid. Romanus, fol. 35b.
  • 11. Ibid. Corbridge, fol. 20.
  • 12. Ibid. Greenfield, i, fol. 56.
  • 13. Ibid. fol. 68b. The nunnery was, of course, Cistercian, but is spoken of in general terms as of the order of St. Benedict.
  • 14. ' Erden' has been crossed out and Basedale substituted.
  • 15. York Archiepis. Reg. Greenfield, 1, fol. 69. Agnes, no doubt, was related to the 'custos' appointed in 1306.
  • 16. Ibid. fol. 72.
  • 17. Ibid. fol. 74b, 75.
  • 18. Ibid. fol. 76.
  • 19. Ibid. sed. vac. fol. 86.
  • 20. Ibid. Melton, fol. 131.
  • 21. From the formation, no doubt, of cliques in the house.
  • 22. York Archiepis. Reg. Melton, fol. 142.
  • 23. Ibid. fol. 199b.
  • 24. Ibid. Zouch, fol. 14b.
  • 25. Ibid. Rotherham, i, fol. 245. It is printed but with many errors; Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 654, no. vii.
  • 26. 'Sparn,' i.e. fastened by a spar or bar of wood.
  • 27. The ' perhedinauntes,' more correctly 'perhendinauntes,' were the boarders so often alluded to in the injunctions to nunneries.
  • 28. York Archiepis. Reg. Savage, fol. 79.
  • 29. Yorks. Chant. Surv. (Surt. Soc.), 212.
  • 30. Test. Ebor. iii, 173 n.
  • 31. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 652.
  • 32. Subs. R. 64, no. 300.
  • 33. Dugdale, loc. cit.
  • 34. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 654.
  • 35. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 159.
  • 36. a Cal. Bodl. Chart, 697.
  • 37. Baildon's MS. Notes.
  • 38. Coram Rege R. 95, m. 7.
  • 39. York Archiepis. Reg. Romanus, fol. 46b.
  • 40. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 159.
  • 41. York Archiepis. Reg. Corbridge, fol. 16b.
  • 42. Baildon's MS. Notes.
  • 43. York Archiepis. Reg. Greenfield, fol. 85b.
  • 44. Ibid. Melton, fol. 142.
  • 45. Ibid. fol. 142b.
  • 46. Ibid. fol. 199.
  • 47. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 159.
  • 48. York Archiepis. Reg. Thoresby, fol. 142b.
  • 49. Ibid.
  • 50. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 159.
  • 51. Baildon's MS. notes.
  • 52. Ibid.
  • 53. York Archiepis. Reg. Kemp, fol. 364.
  • 54. Ibid.
  • 55. Burton, Mon. Ebor. 279. Her grave-slab, charged with a shield impaled, ' dexter three crescents for Ryther, sinister blank, semy of quarterfoils, probably the arms of the nunnery,' was taken from the nunnery chapel, and for many years served to stop water at a mill, till it was placed in Bolton Percy Church by Mr. T. Lamplough, the rector. The inscription on it, according to Drake is, or was, ' + Orate pro anima Agnetis de Ryther quondam priorisse hujus monasterii . . . xxxiii que obiit primo die mensis Martii MCCCC . . cujus anime propitietur Deus. Amen.' Drake, Eboracum, 386.
  • 56. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 159.
  • 57. Burton, Mon. Ebor. 279.
  • 58. Test. Ebor. iii, 175, 178.
  • 59. Burton, Mon. Ebor. 279.
  • 60. York Archiepis. Reg. Savage, fol. 48b. She is called Langton in Conventual Leases and elsewhere.
  • 61. Cat. of Seals, B.M. 2661; Harl. Chart. 44 A. 5; 44 H. 2.