The nuns of Nun Appleton Priory

augustinian nunThe 5th December 1539 was a busy one for Cromwell and reveals todays group of figures – though sadly no pictures -the Cistercian nuns of Nun Appleton Priory. Cromwell received letters confirming the surrender of St Albans Abbey and Nun Appleton Priory in Yorkshire. There are plenty of men listed in these documents and they would be relatively easy to write about.  They were Cromwell’s administrators who took the opportunity to line their own pockets and assure their own futures with the dissolution.


It is much more difficult to find out about the women involved in this episode. The prioress was Anna Lankton. There is also a list of nuns and the fact that they received pensions. The sub prioress and Margaret Carter were supposed, during the visitation by Layton, to have been found guilty of giving birth but both women were beyond child-bearing age and both were in receipt of their pensions suggesting that Dr Layton may have been prone to exaggeration, not least because Bishop Lee of York had also visited the nunnery the previous year and found nothing worthy of note.


“Elinore Normavell, subprioress, Agnes Ardyngton, and Agnes Sympson, 46s. 8d.; Joan Gore, Isabel Gascoyn, Janet Watson, Marg. Carter, Eliz. Carter, Magdalen Kylbourne, Agnes Anger, Dorothy Man, Anne Jonson, Margery Elton, and Alice Sheffelde, 40s. each; Agnes Snaynton, 3l.; Janet Fairefax, Agnes Asselaby, Eliz. Parker, and Ellen Bayne, 33s. 4d. each. Signed by Hendle, Legh, Belassys, and Watkyns, commissioners.”


Anna Lankton features in an Andrew Marvell poem as the aunt and jailor of the heroine, Isabel Thwaites who married into the Fairfax family.  The poem is dedicated to General Fairfax. There’s no evidence that there’s any truth in the poem entitled “Upon Appleton House,”  though Isabel Thwaites did  marry into the Fairfax family. In later times General Fairfax and Lady Fairfax would be buried in nearby Bilborough.


And that’s your lot for today- not necessarily terribly exciting but an insight into the difficulty finding out more about the fate of England’s Tudor nuns who are, to a large extent, invisible unless they appear in court records, on pension lists or their burials are recorded.



‘Letters and Papers: December 1539, 1-5’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 14 Part 2, August-December 1539, ed. James Gairdner and R H Brodie (London, 1895), pp. 226-233. British History Online [accessed 17 August 2016].

2 thoughts on “The nuns of Nun Appleton Priory

  1. I recall a day at Fairfax Hall in Yorkshire. The great golden gates stand sentinel to the Great North Road now A1 motorway. A mans foot print set deep in the polished way to first step on the great staircase said by those who were host to me that here Lord Fairfax died. Nice old legend. I have no way of explaining the footprint though Fairfax was a good man for the people and the law. He died in his bed after battles with the King. Your article is deep in the nuns tale that must be told as Henry or Cromwell did the same to those pure ladies as they did to monks. God help them. what harm did they do and in Gods name they served. You keep on about Henry but he is the last man ever to be worth mention. Get back to Plantageanet families as Henry and his father tried so very hard to kill us all of i like to stand in protest and rub it in his face that not only did we survive we rocketed back from no where and still remain at laest until me demise as no child to pass my titles on to makes it nonsense as one thing is to be sure , I cannot take them with me.

    • I’ve side tracked myself in Henry VIII’s letters and papers! One of the advantages of Henry VIII is that there is a far more readily accessible paper trail of primary sources. I shall be returning to the Plantagenets very soon, possibly not until after Christmas, I promise. I know that I shall be posting another article of Sandal Castle, one on Richard of York, several on Edward I, one on Jane Shore. I know I shall sidetrack myself down the avenue of the Stafford/Lovell Rebellion which will certainly have Plantagenet overtones. I have, as Gilbert and Sullivan said, a little list.

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