Houses of Cistercians nuns: Priory of Sinningthwaite

Pages 176-178

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

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Sinningthwaite Priory, in Bilton-in-Ainsty, was founded about 1160 by Bertram Haget, who gave the site, (fn. 1) and the gift was confirmed by his overlord, Roger de Mowbray, (fn. 2) who at the same time confirmed other gifts made to the nuns by Geoffrey Haget the founder's son, when they received his sister. (fn. 3)

From Gundreda Haget, another daughter of the founder, the nuns received the advowson of the church of Bilton. (fn. 4) In 1293, however, the prioress and convent made over the church of Bilton (fn. 5) to Archbishop Romanus, who founded the prebend of Bilton in St. Peter's, York, out ot it, and in 1295 (fn. 6) ordained a perpetual vicarage of Bilton, in the patronage of the prioress and convent.

All the different gifts are recorded by Burton in his usual manner. (fn. 7) The most important, as raising a difficult question, was the gift of Esholt in Guiseley by Simon Ward, Maud his wife, and William Ward his son, which is dealt with in the account of Esholt Priory. Probably some of the nuns from Sinningthwaite afterwards formed a separate nunnery there.

As a Cistercian house the convent of Sinningthwaite contested the right of the archbishop to visit them and appealed to the pope in 1276 (fn. 8) against a visitation of Archbishop Giffard, but the decision, though not recorded, was evidently against them, although echoes of a claim by Cistercian abbots of authority over nunneries of their order are to be met with here and there in the Archbishops' Registers, but only to be repudiated. In 1276 (fn. 9) Archbishop Giffard ordered the nuns to have Friars. Minor as confessors in spite of the inhibition of the Cistercian abbots, who had no jurisdiction over them.

Among the privileges granted in 1172 (fn. 10) by Pope Alexander III to Sinningthwaite was that of receiving clerks or laymen fleeing from the world (a seculo fugientes), as conversi (ad conversionem vestram), coupled with a prohibition of the brethren or sisters of Sinningthwaite leaving their monastery without licence.

Archbishop Romanus wrote on 12 June 1286 (fn. 11) to the nuns to receive back Agnes de Bedal, one of their number who had apostatized, and on 22 January following (fn. 12) sent another letter in favour of a certain Margaret de la Batayle, who desired to enter their house as a nun. Rather more than two years later (12 April 1289) (fn. 13) he committed the custody of the monastery of Sinningthwaite to Robert de Muschamp, rector of the church of 'Dichton' (Kirk Deighton) and on 18 August 1294 (fn. 14) he issued a commission to Magr Thomas de Wakefield, Chancellor of York, and Magr Robert Nassington to receive the cession of the Prioress of Sinningthwaite and to confirm the election of her successor.

Archbishop Corbridge had to interfere in 1300 on behalf of a certain Maud de Grymston, (fn. 15) who, having undergone her year of probation, was to have received the black veil and been admitted a nun. This the prioress and conven had refused for some reason, to the scandal of their order, and the archbishop, writing from Scrooby on 21 December, ordered them to admit her.

On Tuesday after the Conversion of St. Paul 1314-15, (fn. 16) Archbishop Greenfield visited the house and issued a series of injunctions. Due care was to be taken of the nuns who were ill, and sick nuns in the infirmary should be attended to according to their state and the nature of their illness, so far as the means of the house allowed. The prioress and sub-prioress were not to permit boys or girls to eat flesh meat in Advent or Sexagesima, or, during Lent, eggs or cheese, in the refectory, contrary to the honesty of religion, but at those seasons when they ought to eat such things they should be assigned other places in which to eat them.

Mendicant friars were not to enter the private places of the house, but were to be received outside the cloister and inner cloister of the nuns, in the hall of the hospitium, or some other exterior building appointed for the purpose. However, they might hear the confessions of the nuns in the church. No one admitted as a sister was to wear the black veil, and the prioress was not to place sisters above nuns, contrary to the rules and the honesty of religion.

The prioress and all the nuns were ordered not to allow William de Tymberland, or any other man, to sleep in the wool-house under the dormitory of the nuns, or elsewhere within the inner cloister, whence it would be possible to have access to the nuns, or for the nuns to have access to that building.

The archbishop concluded with the usual prohibition as to giving exeats for longer periods than fifteen days, or without good cause, as well as selling corrodies, granting long leases, and taking boarders, &c.

Archbishop Melton in 1319 (fn. 17) strictly forbade frequent goings to and fro in the cloister, either by the priests who held corrodies (per presbyteros corredianos), or their servants who were in the habit of fetching their food and liveries through the middle of the cloister. Such were to be delivered in outside places appointed for the purpose. Those offending were each time to fast on bread and water on Wednesday.

It would seem as if the nuns had hitherto been dependent on the good offices of their relatives and friends for their clothing, as the archbishop directed that as it had appeared at his visitation that those nuns who had no elders, relatives, and friends (senes, parentes et amicos) lacked necessary clothes, and so were afflicted by the cold contrary to the honesty of religion, such nuns so lacking the assistance of friends should have the necessary clothes as the means of the house allowed.

The prioress was enjoined to take counsel with the older nuns, and in all writings under the common seal a faithful clerk was to be employed, and the deed was to be sealed in the presence of the whole convent, the clerk reading the deed plainly in the mother tongue and explaining it, and those who spoke against it on reasonable grounds were to be heard, and if necessary the deed was to be corrected. The prioress and convent were to provide themselves with a competent gardener for their curtilage, so that they might have an abundance of vegetables. No nuns or sisters, &c., were to be taken, or girls over twelve retained without special licence.

Archbishop Zouch on I February 1343 (fn. 18) wrote to the Prioress and convent of Sinningthwaite concerning Margaret de Fonten, one of their nuns who had left the house pregnant, but as she had only done so once, her penance was mitigated and she was not to be locked up, but not allowed to go out of the cloister and church.

On 25 May 1482 (fn. 19) Alice Etton, nun of Sinningthwaite of the Cistercian order, received a dispensation super defectu natalium, and on 29 May (fn. 20) her election as prioress was confirmed by Archbishop Rotherham. At a later period the house had fallen heavily into debt, and Archbishop Lee (13 February 1534) (fn. 21) granted the nuns licence to pledge jewels to the value of £15 in consequence of the reduced state of the nunnery. At the end of the same year (fn. 22) Anne Goldesburgh resigned the office of prioress, and the convent deputed the choice of her successor to the archbishop. He appointed Katherine Foster, who is described as a nun of the order of St. Benedict, and a yearly pension of £10 was assigned to Anne Goldesburgh, which she was receiving at the Dissolution.

In September 1534 Archbishop Lee visited Sinningthwaite, and issued injunctions in English which have been printed in full by Mr. W. Brown (fn. 23); an outline must suffice here. The prioress was to provide that the doors of the cloister were locked every night 'incontinent as compleyn is done,' and not unlocked in winter till 7 o'clock the next morning, or in summer not till 6 o'clock. Every night the prioress was to provide that the door 'of the dortore be surely and fast lockyd, that none of the susters may gett ou3 tt vntill service tyme, ne yet any parsone gett in to the dortore to them.' No secular women of any kind were to sleep in the dorter. Henceforth no secular or religious persons were to have any resort to any of the sisters 'onles it be their fathers or moders or other ther nere kynsefolkes in whom no suspicion of any yll can be thought.' The prioress was to admit no one to her own company 'suspectly or be in familier communication with her in her chamber or any odre secret place.'

The sisters and nuns were to keep no secular women to serve them, unless sickness demanded it. The 'firmaresse' (infirmarian), if there were one, was to see that the sick were in want of nothing. Silence was enjoined 'in the quere, in the cloyster frater and dorter according to their rule under payne of cursyng.' All the sisters were to eat and drink 'both dynner and sooper in oon housse at oon table,' &c., unless ill, and all the sisters were to sleep in the dorter. The granting of 'corrodies, pensions, or lyveres,' and leases, &c., was placed under the restriction of the archbishop's licence being required.

The prioress was not to admit anyone 'to the professid habite of a nune, or a suster, or a converse,' (fn. 24) or allow anyone to sojourn within the precinct of the monastery, without the archbishop's special licence.

The prioress and convent were not to take any person, secular or religious, to hear her or the nuns' confessions without the archbishop's licence.

No money was to be received for admitting a nun, or converse (fn. 25) by reason of a previous compact, 'for such admissions be dampnable and be plane simonye'; free gifts need not be refused. The nuns were to be present at divine service, and the prioress was to provide them with 'sufficient meatt and drinke at convenient hoores, that is to sey, that their dynner be ready at xj of the clock or sone after, and their sooper at v of the cloke or sone after.'

The priory of Sinningthwaite was supervised by the commissioners on 10 June 1535, (fn. 26) and suppressed on 3 August following. Anne Goldesburgh, quondam priorissa, received £4 10s. as her half year's pension, 10s. apparently being meanly deducted from the full sum. Richard Huley and Thomas Holme are mentioned as the chaplains, and Katherine Foster as 'nuper priorissa.' There were nine nuns besides the prioress, and eight servants and other labourers. A chalice, wholly gilt, with its paten, weighing together 11 oz., was all the plate belonging to the priory.

Prioresses of Sinningthwaite

Christiana, occurs 1172 (fn. 27)

Agnes, occurs 1184 (fn. 28)

Euphemia, occurs 1219 (fn. 29)

Isabella, occurs 1276 (fn. 30)

Margaret, resigned 1314-15 (fn. 31)

Elizabeth le Waleys, resigned 1320 (fn. 32)

Sybil de Ripon, confirmed 1323, (fn. 33) occurs 1327 (fn. 34)

Margaret Fitz Simon, occurs 1344 (fn. 35)

Margaret Hewit, died 1428 (fn. 36)

Agnes Sheffield, confirmed 1428 (fn. 37)

. . . de Etton, (fn. 38) occurs 1444

Alina, occurs 1444 (fn. 39)

Margaret Banke, (fn. 40) died 1482

Alice Etton, confirmed 1482, (fn. 41) died 1488 (fn. 42)

Elizabeth Squier, confirmed 1488 (fn. 43)

Anne Goldesburgh, confirmed 1526, (fn. 44) resigned 1534 (fn. 45)

Katherine Foster, appointed 1534 (fn. 46)


  • 1. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 463.
  • 2. Ibid. 46.4, no. i.
  • 3. Besides this member of the founder's family, his great-granddaughter Euphemia, afterwards became prioress.
  • 4. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 464, no. iii.
  • 5. Burton, Mon. Ebor. 325.
  • 6. Lawton, Coll. Rerum Eccl. 52.
  • 7. Burton, Mon. Ebor. 325-7.
  • 8. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 464-5.
  • 9. Archbp. Giffard's Reg. (Surt. Soc.), 295.
  • 10. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. 466, no. vii.
  • 11. York Archiepis. Reg. Romanus, fol. 26.
  • 12. Ibid. fol. 29.
  • 13. Ibid. fol. 33.
  • 14. Ibid. fol. 46.
  • 15. Ibid. Corbridge, fol. 8.
  • 16. Ibid. Greenfield, ii, fol. 83b.
  • 17. York Archiepis. Reg. Melton, fol. 134.
  • 18. Ibid. Zouch, fol. 153b.
  • 19. Ibid. Rotherham, fol. 20.
  • 20. Ibid.
  • 21. Ibid. Lee, fol. 89b.
  • 22. Ibid. fol. 10b.
  • 23. Yorks. Arch. Journ. xvi, 440
  • 24. This indicates three classes of persons admitted to the habit of a nunnery: (1) the nuns, (2) the laysisters, and (3) the converses. The first were distinguished in habit by wearing the black veil (and, as a penance, its disuse was often enjoined), the lay-sisters wore a white veil. The conversi were clearly men, as shown by the names of 'conversi' attached to nunneries. Hence the allusion to the 'fratres' of several nunneries (Sinningthwaite among them).
  • 25. Here in the fourteenth paragraph of the Injunctions the word is evidently used in an extended sense, covering both the lay sisters and the 'conversi' or lay brothers.
  • 26. K.R. Aug. Views of Accts. bdle. 17.
  • 27. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 465, no. vi.
  • 28. Ibid. 466, no. viii.
  • 29. Burton, Mon, Ebor. 327; see also Yorks. Inq. i, 276.
  • 30. Dugdale, Mon. Angl, v, 464, no. v.
  • 31. York Archiepis. Reg. Greenfield, ii, fol. 60b.
  • 32. Ibid. Melton, fol. 141.
  • 33. Ibid. fol. 158, a prioress (name unknown) intervened between her and Eliz. de Waleys.
  • 34. a Plac. de Banco, Mich. 2 Edw. III, m. 213.
  • 35. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 203.
  • 36. York Archiepis. Reg. Kemp, fol. 322.
  • 37. Ibid.
  • 38. Burton, Mon. Ebor. 327.
  • 39. Ibid., where the name is printed Aliva, an obvious error for Alina.
  • 40. Ibid.
  • 41. York Archiepis. Reg. Rotherham, i, fol. 20.
  • 42. Ibid. fol. 124.
  • 43. Ibid.
  • 44. Ibid. Wolsey, fol. 98.
  • 45. Ibid. Lee, fol. 10b.
  • 46. Ibid.