Today’s tale is the last one in this series for a while; partly because I shall be away for the next couple of weeks and partly because The Book is almost ready for proper editing. Some of the nuns in this tale seem to have been feisty ladies but possibly owing to the degree of shock the Archbishop experienced or a wish to avoid corrupting the innocent – he is lamentably sparse with the details…you will need to use your imagination! Here’s what my imagination tells me:-
The Naughty Nuns of Nunkeeling
Used to Get a Peculiar Feeling
When the Archbish Made his Laws
They Sharpened their Claws
And Slipped into Something Revealing
Nunkeeling Nunnery was founded in 1152 and for the first century or so life appeared settled and the ladies of the habit modest and devout if somewhat underfed and under-dressed – their poverty was severe.
It was not until 1314 that we learn of intransigence and naughty…er… habits. To smother this licentious behaviour, the Archbishop of York issued a number of rules:
1. No nun to miss services because she is absorbed with her sewing or other more agreeable tasks .
2. All doors to be kept locked, all the time and regularly checked to be so; all keys to be held by the sub-prioress and one other worthy woman.
3. The sub-prioress must investigate who was nicking the alms given to the nunnery and if it was the elemosinaria (the nun whose task it was to distribute alms) or if she was negligent she must be removed from office.
4. No young nun “concerning whom sinister suspicion might arise” may consort with or have meals with the lay brothers nor with any other man, inside or outside the nunnery, except she be chaperoned by an older nun. There’s no further explanation of “sinister suspicion” but I guess that the old Archbish was concerned that girls will be girls.
5. No nun to look dashing by wearing designer accessories of the day such as a flashy girdle or pair of Medieval Jimmy Choo’s and definitely not to wear anything unsuitable for a religious house.
6. No nun to be allowed out except on nunnery biz or to visit friends and relatives, in which case she must be accompanied by a worthy nun.
The same year as the Archbish issued his rules one of the nuns, Isabella St Quintin held the post of cellarer which was an important role within the community. However, that year the Archbish ordered her to be removed from this office in front of all the other nuns (huge disgrace); he forbade her to hold any further office and ordered her to keep within the nunnery walls. Clearly she had offended his male sensibilities in some way but the Archbish is just too coy or too shocked to dish the dirt.
For a time after, it did seem that the ladies of the nunnery obeyed the rules but their rebellious fires were merely damped down rather than extinguished.
Isabella appears to have remained popular with the other nuns because a couple of years after the Archbish’s rules, they all voted her the new prioress. The Men of the See of York were having none of this and quashed the election, claiming a breach of canonical procedure. Unfortunately their choice, Avice de la More, did no better and in 1318 they ordered her to desist from her conspiracies, rebellions and disobedience on pain of losing her retirement pension. Presumably she had regulated the nuns in a lax way as other examples of non-nun-like behaviour come to light. Dionisia Dareyns was to be incarcerated in the nunnery on account of her disobedience and to be disciplined every Friday. Avice de Lelle was most strictly forbidden to have any dealings with Robert de Eton, the chaplain and she too was locked up after she confessed her “incontinence” with him and ordered to do penance.
The following year, the poor old Archbish was forced to enquire yet again into the rebellious nuns of the house of Keeling since information had reached his unsullied ears that some of the ladies had ignored their vows of obedience and devotions to engage in intrigues. They had revealed secrets of the chapter to secular persons. On top of all that, he learned “with a bitter heart” that our Avice had yet again broken her vows of obedience and submission.
After this point there is nothing juicy to be learned from the records of the House of Nunkeeling apart from boring housekeeping details and eventually, along with the other religious communities, it was shut down by Henry VIII in 1537.
I wonder if the Archbishop of the time breathed a secret sigh of relief.