Houses of Cistercians nuns: Priory of Wykeham

Pages 182-184

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

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The priory of St. Mary (fn. 1) of Wykeham was founded about 1153 (fn. 2) by Pain Fitz Osbert for Cistercian (fn. 3) nuns.

The grants of land made by different donors are enumerated by Burton (fn. 4) in alphabetical order, but the authorities he cites in support are in the appendix to his work, as yet unprinted.

With regard to the church of Wykeham a deed is printed in the Monasticon. (fn. 5) It is by Hugh, Prior of Bridlington, reciting an earlier one by Bernard (prior c. 1150), addressed to the Archbishop of York, which records that Wlmar, priest of Wykeham, and two other persons 'Urca filius Karli,' and Gamellus, of whom Wlmar held a portion of the church, had together appeared, and offered at the altar of Bridlington all the right they possessed in the church of Wykeham, and as a sign of their gift Wlmar had offered three candles in the presence of many witnesses. This right, which Bridlington had so obtained in the church of Wykeham, Prior Hugh (occurs 1189-92) and his convent conceded to the nuns of Wykeham.

The priory, church, cloisters, and twenty-four other houses or buildings having been accidentally burnt down at Wykeham, and the nuns losing all their books, vestments, chalice, &c., Edward III relieved them for twenty years of an annual payment of £3 12s. 7d. for lands held by them in the honour of Pickering, part of the duchy of Lancaster. (fn. 6) It seems possible that the fire had really taken place some years previously, for in 1321 (fn. 7) the church of All Saints was spoken of as ruinous, and was pulled down, and a chapel erected on or near the site by John de Wycham, in honour of St. Mary and St. Helen. This by the king's licence was granted to Isabel, the prioress, and the convent, and was endowed by him with 12 marks annually, for the finding of two chaplains to celebrate in it for the soul of John de Wycham and others. (fn. 8) The ordination of the chapel was confirmed by Archbishop Melton in 1323. (fn. 9)

In 1314 (fn. 10) Archbishop Greenfield held a visitation of the priory of Wykeham, when he issued a set of injunctions, almost identical with others sent to Yedingham at the same time. No nun was to absent herself from divine service by reason of her occupation operis de serico. Goings to and fro of seculars, men or women, through the cloister to the kitchen, or other places inside the house, were not in future to be permitted. The parlour was not to be used by the lay folk of the house. The prioress was to take care that the nuns did not make themselves conspicuous as to their girdles, or any other part of their habit, or wear anything except what was conformable with religion.

Rebellious nuns were to be punished in the presence of the convent and not secretly, as such open treatment was in accordance with divine and human law.

Something was probably wrong in 1351, (fn. 11) for Archbishop Zouch issued a commission for the visitation of the houses of Wykeham and Yedingham, the commissioners being instructed to correct abuses, but there is no record of what took place in consequence of the visitation.

In the early part of 1444 (fn. 12) Archbishop Kemp stated that recently at a visitation of the priory of Wykeham very grave defects and crimes were detected against the person of Isabella Westirdale, prioress of the said priory, who after she had been raised to that office had been guilty of incest with many men, both within and outside the monastery. He therefore deprived her, and immediately upon her deprivation sent her to the house of the nuns of Appleton, there to remain for a season.

The next time the archbishop had to deal with Wykeham is scarcely more creditable to the reputation of the house. It is a curious story. The archbishop writing on the last day of February 1450 (fn. 13) to Elizabeth, the prioress, called upon her to re-admit an apostate nun, Katherine Thornyf, who, seduced by the Angel of Darkness, under the false colour of a pilgrimage in the time of the Jubilee, without leave of the archbishop or his officials, or even of the prioress, set out on a journey to the court of Rome, in company of another nun of the house, who, as it was reported, had gone the way of all flesh, and on whose soul the archbishop prayed for mercy. After the death of this nun, Katherine Thornyf had lived in sin with a married man in London. She had come to the archbishop, humbly seeking absolution. This he had granted her, and as she was penitent, he sent her back for re-admission. Whether the original intention of the two nuns was genuine, or whether the Jubilee was made an excuse for leaving their monastery, is doubtful.

In the Taxation of 1291 the temporalities were rated at £22 15s. (fn. 14) In 1527 the clear annual value was returned as only £20, (fn. 15) but in the Valor Ecclesiasticus at £25 17s. 6d. (fn. 16)

Among the Suppression Papers (fn. 17) there is a list of the nuns, twelve in number, besides their prioress (fn. 18) and their pensions. As in the case of other houses the ages are entered, and have been changed three years later. In the margin is written 'Religious,' probably meaning they desired to abide by their vows, and it is said 'All of good lyffing.' Katherine Nendyk heads the list as prioress, and among the names of the nuns is that of Isabella Nendyk, evidently a member of the same family. A corrody was also held by Thomas Nendyk. The prioress received a pension of £6 13s. 4d. Her will (fn. 19) is dated 7 May 1541. She was then living at Kirkby Moorside, where she desired to be buried. Among her bequests was one 'to eght of my susters that was professtde in Wikham Abbey to everie one of them vjs. viijd. to be taken of the gauge or pledge of Sir William Ewrie Knyght.' She also left to 'Isabell Nandike my nece one rabande of ij yerdes of silke and ij silver aglettes.' At the inquiry in 7 Edward VI (fn. 20) as to the payment of pensions nine names occur under Wykeham. Six appeared with their patents (including Isabel Nendyk), and in each case an entry is made that they were unpaid for a whole year. Three 'appeared not,' and perhaps were dead.

Prioresses of Wykeham

Eva, occurs 1235 (fn. 21)

Emma de Dunston, confirmed 1286, (fn. 22) resighed 1300 (fn. 23)

Isabella, occurs 1321, (fn. 24) 1337 (fn. 25)

Isabella, occurs 1388, (fn. 26) 1398 (fn. 27)

Alice, occurs 1424 (fn. 28)

Isabella de Westirdale, deposed 1444 (fn. 29)

Elizabeth, occurs 1450 (fn. 30)

Elizabeth Edmundson, died 1487 (fn. 31)

Katherine Warde, elected 1487 (fn. 32)

Alice Horneby, elected 1502, (fn. 33) died 1508 (fn. 34)

Katherine Nendyk, elected 1508 (fn. 35)

The 13th-century seal (fn. 36) is a vesica, 23/8 in. by 13/8 in., with our Lady crowned, sceptred, and seated, holding the Child. Of the legend only the word SIGILLE remains.


  • 1. In the charter of confirmation by King John 'St. Michael,' and also in a deed by the dean rural and chapter of Ryedale; Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 670, no. iii, vi.
  • 2. When Henry Murdac was Archbishop of York and Bernard Prior of Bridlington.
  • 3. Speed, relying on Gervase of Canterbury, says that Wykeham was a house of Gilbertine canons and nuns, and the editors of the Monasticon (v, 669 n.) mention a deed in which one Walter de Harpham is spoken of as 'rector domus de Wickham' together with the convent, no mention being made of a prioress, but there is nothing to indicate that the 'rector' of Wykeham mentioned was in any other position than that of a 'custos,' or guardian of the house. A parallel case occurs in regard to Nun Appleton (where there is no idea that there were religious of both sexes) in a charter of Eustache de Merch which is addressed 'priori et sancti monialibus' of that house (B.M. Cott. MS. xii, fol. 46). Afterwards the house is definitely described as Cistercian in the Registers at York.
  • 4. Burton, Mon. Ebor. 255-7.
  • 5. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 670, no. v.
  • 6. Burton, Mon. Ebor. 257.
  • 7. Ibid.
  • 8. Ibid.
  • 9. York Archiepis. Reg. Melton, fol. 242.
  • 10. Ibid. Greenfield, ii, fol. 101b.
  • 11. Ibid. Zouch, fol. 172.
  • 12. Ibid. Kemp, fol. 89b.
  • 13. Ibid. fol. 72.
  • 14. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 671.
  • 15. Subs. R. 64, 303. (A return made by Brian Higdon, Dean of York.)
  • 16. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), v, 145.
  • 17. Suppression P. ii, fol. 95.
  • 18. According to Tanner there were only nine, but the list gives the names, ages, and pensions of thirteen, including the prioress.
  • 19. Test. Ebor. vi, 131, where attention is drawn to a short pedigree of Nandwick in Glover's Visitation (Foster's ed.), 557.
  • 20. Exch. K.R. Accts. bdle. 76, no. 24 (dated 20 Feb. 7 Edw. VI).
  • 21. Feet of F. Mich. 19 Hen III.
  • 22. York Archiepis. Reg. Romanus, fol. 50.
  • 23. Ibid. Corbridge, fol. 23.
  • 24. Ibid. Melton, fol. 242.
  • 25. Burton, Mon. Ebor. 257.
  • 26. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 228,
  • 27. Baildon's MS. Notes.
  • 28. Ibid.
  • 29. York Archiepis. Reg. Kemp, fol. 89b.
  • 30. Ibid. fol. 72.
  • 31. Ibid. Rotherham, i, fol. 55b.
  • 32. Ibid.
  • 33. Ibid. Savage, fol. 62.
  • 34. Ibid
  • 35. Ibid. sed. vac. fol. 546b.
  • 36. Cat. of Seals, B.M. 4377, lxxv, 19.