The Priory of Moxby in Yorkshire was an Augustinian foundation for nuns although it had originally been founded as a double house (the only Augustinian double house in England) and it seems that the nuns, well certainly one of them, were a bit naughty during the fourteenth century. Sabina de Applegarth is identified in a letter dated 1310 as having apostatized. Or put another way, decided that she didn’t want to be a nun anymore.
Archbishop Greenfield of York sent the letter instructing the priory to receive Sabina back into the fold as a penitent – we have no idea whether she’d been caught in civilian clothing or decided to hand herself in. That same year the prioress resigned and four years later after a visitation the nuns received a list of things they needed to do in order to be deemed good nuns – there was to be an annual accounting for income and expenditure. They were not to run up any new debts. Healthy nuns were not to lay around in the infirmary. The nuns were not to take in boarders or girls over twelve unless the bishop said they could. The nuns were to stay together as they were expected to do – think of the flock principle here. Nor were they to wander around in the woods on their own. They certainly weren’t to go gossiping with the locals or any passing brothers. The prioress was to eat with the other nuns (the flocking principle again) and she was to always be accompanied by another nun and to have a waiting-maid with her. Relatives weren’t welcome…were there an over abundance of giggling sisters, aunts and grannies? Or was it a question of one too many brothers and uncles turning up?
By 1322 things had changed – the Scots had arrived and the unfortunate Sabina de Applegarth had been packed off to Nun Monkton to escape the hairy brutes. The other sisters were scattered across Yorkshire during that period but by 1325 they must have been back together although the prioress, Joan de Barton, seems to have shaken off the accompanying nun and waiting maid deemed necessary by the Archbishop long enough to get into some rather close conversation with the chaplain, one Laurence de Systeford. History provides her penance and the crime – which is a relief after reading about all the earlier restrictions which hint at laxity but don’t actually spell them out.
In 1328, the past clearly forgotten, Sabina briefly made prioress but was removed the same year with instructions that she was never to hold an administrative post again nor was she to ever be allowed out of the convent again – this was also when a letter writing ban was imposed upon her: she wasn’t to write letters or to receive them – ever (what on earth had she been up to?) To say that her career as a nun was chequered would be to put it mildly.
Historically speaking we know that the Priory of Moxby was badly damaged by the Scottish invasion of 1322 and we can see that the nuns didn’t seem particularly well managed – reading between the lines there are hints of Sabrina’s besetting sins but nothing that reveals the full extent of her naughtiness and certainly nothing as to why she became a nun in the first place as poverty and chastity do not seem to have been her vocation.
‘Houses of Austin nuns: Priory of Moxby’, in A History of the County of York: Volume 3, ed. William Page (London, 1974), pp. 239-240 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/yorks/vol3/pp239-240 [accessed 3 January 2016].