Gilbert of Sempringham founded the Gilbertine Order. It was the only English founded order and it was also the only one with double houses. Gilbertine nuns followed the Benedictine pattern whilst the monks followed the Augustinian pattern of canons. Not all houses were double but the one at Watton in East Yorkshire was.
The story was recorded by Ailred of Rievaulx in the early 1160s. Essentially the nun in question was an oblate in that she had been in the priory since she was four years old. Interestingly, the Gilbertines had an age requirement for entry to their order – 24 for men and 20 for women. However, our nun gained admittance as a child at the request of the Bishop of York.
The nun became enamoured of either a lay brother or one of the canons. The attraction was reciprocated. They arranged to meet. The inevitable happened. The nun was found to be pregnant. The nun was beaten and imprisoned and when her lover captured she was forced to castrate him herself. He was returned to the male side of the house at Watton and disappears from the story.
However, the nun returned to her prison, was visited by the now deceased archbishop and two women who took the baby leaving the teenage nun in her original state of virtue. At which point she was allowed out of prison – a miracle having occurred.
It would have to be said that the Gilbertines had strict rules about segregating the canons from the nuns. Nonetheless the priory at Watton which was one of the most important Gilbertine Foundations was said to have many secret passages.
Watton was where Marjory Bruce, the eleven year old daughter of Robert the Bruce, was imprisoned by Edward I in 1306. She regained her freedom after the Battle of Bannockburn.
G. Constable, ‘Aelred of Rievaulx and the Nun of Watton: an episode in the early history of the Gilbertine order’, Medieval women, ed. D. Baker, SCH, subsidia, 1 (1978), 205–26
Armathwaite can be found in the Eden Valley near Croglin. It’s said to have been founded by William Rufus in 1089. Unfortunately Rufus wa snot known for his links with the Church and it’s now generally thought that the charter was a forgery. The nuns of Armathwaite weren’t the only ones to make their founding patron or history seem more important or to gain more definite legal ownership of property so let’s not hold a spot of light forgery against them.
Edward IV accepted their documents which included freedom from toll throughout England and there was also a claim for sanctuary. Someone claiming sanctuary had to be inside the boundary of the nunnery – there’s a pillar near the nunnery to bolster this.
Detective work finds the nunnery in 1200 mentioned in the St Bees charter when Roger de Beauchamp gives the monks lank near that belonging to the nuns of Armathwaite.
The Scottish Wars of Independence were not kind to the nuns which was why Edward II gave them leave to pasture their cattle in Inglewood Forest and excused them a debt for food purchased because their lands and income had been virtually destroyed by marauding Scots.
It’s generally accepted that nunneries weren’t so well supported as their male counterparts. Although there were some foundations and patronage by royalty and the nobility the bulk of funds seem to have come from local gentry often in the form of will bequests:
“From the fourteenth century wills on record in the diocesan registers, we learn that this nunnery had some friends and received bequests as well as the other religious institutions in the county. In 1356 Dame Agnes, the consort of Sir Richard de Denton, bequeathed 10s. and in 1358 John de Salkeld 40s. to the prioress and her sisters of ‘Hermythwayt.’ Richard de Ulnesby, rector of Ousby or Ulnesby, was good enough in 1362 to bequeath them a cow which he had in that parish, while a citizen of Carlisle, William de London, in 1376, and a country gentleman, Roger de Salkeld, in 1379, made them bequests of money.”
The wheel of fortune or rota fortunae features in Chaucer’s writing and in Shakespeare’s. Both Hamlet and Lear have something to say on the topic.
Dating from Classical times the goddess Fortuna is pictured blindfolded with a cornucopia in one hand and a wheel or a rudder in the other. The original concept of the wheel or even sphere was linked to the astrological frame in which the signs of the zodiac were placed. Boethius, writing in the sixth century, extended the idea. The problem with Fate was that it was pagan and the Church didn’t necessarily approve.
But by the medieval period the rota fortunae was being used to remind people that it was probably best to concentrate of God and the hereafter rather than earthly things because Fortuna can bring luck, fortune and power or can remove all those things at a slip of the wheel and because everyone is bound to their wheel they have no choice but to accept what Fate throws at them. Fortuna isn’t being capricious – she’s more of a Heavenly enforcer. It is God’s will whether your business venture is successful, whether there is a famine, whether you suddenly find yourself being usurped from your throne.
The concept of destiny is an important one in the medieval and Tudor world views. It is linked also to the concept of the Great Chain of Being – everything has it’s place and shouldn’t try to step out from the place that God has allotted. Another way of describing the Great Chain of Being is to call it Divine Order. Essentially the more “spirt” something has the closer it is to God so therefore the higher up the Great Chain of Being it is – ladies you will no doubt be delighted to know that we’re lower down the chain than men. You are where you are in a rigid social hierarchy because God wants it that way – so please don’t revolt because if you do the Divine Order will be upset and this will reflect across the universe…there will be storms and floods and strange and monstrous happenings.
So – we’ve all been given a place in the universe based on the Great Chain of Being. Our destinies are in the stars and allotted to us when we’re born – remember horoscopes are cast as part of the medical process and Books of Hours contain dates which are more auspicious than others for things like moving house, having blood taken and going on journeys. The wheel of fortune is in the background as the main controlling force in life – explaining all life’s successes and adversities, joys and tragedies. It helped explain all those things for which there seemed to be no explanation.
Of course the Renaissance and the concept of humanism sees things a bit differently.
Radding, Charles M. “Fortune and Her Wheel: The Meaning of a Medieval Symbol.” Mediaevistik, vol. 5, 1992, pp. 127–138. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/42584434. Accessed 16 Feb. 2021.
Today I’m combining February’s calendar page information (yes, I know its the middle fo the month) with monasticism. Bloodletting was an important part of medieval health. If you were a monk you would pop along to the warming-house/room, usually in the late morning or early afternoon having had a snack in the refectory first. Monastic blood letting seems to have been akin to letting a vampire do his worst because accounts suggest that monks might lose up to four pints of blood during a letting. In fact monks were so weakened by the experience that they needed to spend time recuperating without the requirement for labour and with a relaxed dietary regime. On the third day after the bloodletting, the monk joined the rest of the community for some of the offices and might start doing a spot of light reading.
Monks, certainly Cistercians, were bled four times a year including February. Basically the idea was that blood letting was a restorative that sharpened the mind and quenched the kind of urges that might get monks into trouble. If the truth was told the quarterly blood letting probably meant that the monks had more blood taken than they had baths each year.
Candlemas on the 2nd of February ended the Medieval Christmas cycle. It was also often depicted as a time to rest – there are many images of agricultural labourers toasting their feet and warming their hands in front of a roaring fire in February.
The astronomical signs for the month began with Aquarius and ended the month with Pisces. Books of hours contained the astrological symbol for each month because it helped decide on medical practices – so letting blood from mid January to mid February was good because it is good to do things that last only a short while under Aquarius. But once the star sign changed it wasn’t a good idea to have anything medical done to your feet- not sure where you stand on clipping your toe nails as my medieval medical understanding isn’t that well defined.
In fact whilst we’re on the subject of blood letting – it depended on the month as to where blood should be taken and also what condition it was good for.
There is a name for the way in which parts of the body are associated with different zodiac symbols – melothesia – if you please. It had a Babylonian background so we are back to the transference of knowledge via the Arab world.
Beauvale Priory was a Carthusian Priory. It’s remains are situated in Greasley, Nottinghamshire. Today it is a farm and very scrumptious tearoom.
It was built in 1343 by Sir Nicholas de Cantilupe, Lord of Ilkeston, with the approval of King Edward III. Nicholas was given permission for twelve monks and a prior to build a priory on his land and he provided them with £100 a year in rent as well. They also received the advowsons of Greasley and Selstone – so it was their right to appoint the vicars there. Other members of Debryshire’s gentry also patronised the abbey giving land and money, none the less there were occasions when the priory struggled financially.
This record of a grant records the importance of monks saying masses for the souls of the departed.
“Sir William de Aldburgh, for the soul of his lord Edward Baliol, King of Scotland, and for the soul of Elizabeth his wife, and for others his near kinsfolk, did in 1362 grant to the priory of Beauvale the hay of Willey in Sherwood. In the succeeding reign (18 Richard II) a chantry was founded in the conventual church for two of the monks to say mass for the souls of William de Aldburgh and Edward Baliol.”
The Carthusians, renowned for their scholastic understanding, were unanimous in rejecting Henry VIII’s “Great Matter.” In refusing to consider an annulment of the marriage between Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon they were required to pay a particularly heavy price.
1535, Robert Lawrence, the Prior of Beauvale, travelled to London, as did the Prior of Axholme another Carthusian priory to discuss matters with the monks at the London Charterhouse. Lawrence had been a member of the London house, and had been transferred to Beauvale as its prior five years previously whilst John Houghton who had been Prior of Beauvale was sent to take charge of the mother house in London. The three priors decided to talk about the matter with Cromwell but he refused to discuss the matter sending them to the Tower instead. They refused to take the Oath of Supremacy and were executed.
Croxden in Staffordshire was a Cistercian foundation. The Cistercians or “white monks” wanted to live a more austere life than their Benedictine or Cluniac brothers. This was symbolised by the undid wool habits that gave them their name.
Croxden Abbey was founded by Bertram de Verdun in 1176, Monks from Aunay in Normandy were sent to live in the new foundation. Initially the abbey began its life at Cotton but by 1179, the monks had moved to Croxden. The first abbey was built by 1254 but the precincts were expanded during the 13th and 14th centuries. The ground plan of the monastery at Croxden is modelled on Aunay.
When Croxden Abbey was dissolved in 1538 the property was leased to Francis Bassett, a member of the local gentry and rather conveniently a servant of Archbishop Crammer.
A road which dates from the 18th century runs diagonally across the site of the nave and the south transept.
The Augustinian Canons, “black canons” or Austin canons depending on your preference arrived in England during the Twelfth Century. They were all priests and rather than living in enclosed orders they sought to work within the community.
John was born at Twing just outside Bridlington in 1320. By the time he was twelve he had taken vows of chastity.
His education had begun locally but he went to Oxford from about 1336 to 1339. In 1340 he became a monk in Bridlington Priory. He gradually rose within the priory carrying out different roles: novice master, almsgiver, preacher and sub-prior. Then in 1346 he became a canon. Ten years later he was elected prior.
He served as prior for 17 years before dying October 10, 1379.
Pope Boniface IX canonised him in 1401 – which is unusual I don’t think that there are that many Augustinian saints, unless we include Thomas Becket who was a secular canon rather than a regular canon. Ie John followed the monastic rule. Essentially he miraculously saved fishermen from drowning and on another about to get into trouble for giving the priory bread away as alms to the poor he opened his bag to reveal stones for road mending. His saint’s day should you need to turn bread into stones is October 10th.
He can be found dressed in his Augustinian black cloak in the Beaufort Book of Hours which includes a prayer to him. The Beaufort Book of Hours is in The British Library.
There is another Yorkshire saint – St John of Beverley who gets mentioned by Henry V at Agincourt.
On the 20th March 1470 the Battle of Nibley Green brought the so-called Berkeley Feud to a head. It was to become the last private battle on English soil.
Edward IV was in the north of England at the time tying up the loose ends of unrest there. The Earl of Warwick, increasingly unhappy with his cousin, had rebelled in 1469 and imprisoned Edward in Warwick Castle. In September Edward was released and in 1470 following the Battle of Losecoat which had been fought on the 12th March the Earl of Warwick had fled England for France along with Edward’s brother, George Duke of Clarence.
Meanwhile Thomas Talbot, Viscount Lisle and William, Lord Berkeley took the opportunity to get on with a spot of feuding. Both men believed that they were entitled to the Berkeley estate as well as title and castle. Margaret, Countess of Shrewsbury born Beauchamp was the granddaughter of Thomas, Lord Berkeley who died in 1417 (this is a long story). She and her sister were his co-heiresses via their mother Elizabeth. However, Berkeley’s estates and title passed to his brother’s son James, though it should be added that this wasn’t without dispute. In fact Thomas had enfeoffed Berkeley Castle and his lands to several trustees prior to his death because the line of inheritance was uncertain.
James died in 1463 and his son William inherited the title and the estates.
It wasn’t a straight forward sort of transfer across the family branches because Margaret was married to the Earl of Warwick – so one of the most powerful families in the land. Margaret had imprisoned James’ wife, Isabel, in 1452 when she attempted to appeal James’ claim to a council of Henry VI. Isabel died whilst still in captivity. Its probably didn’t help matters much.
In 1468 Margaret died and her claim was taken up by her eighteen year old grandson Thomas Talbot.
In 1470 William Berkeley attempted to conclude matters by issuing a personal challenge to Thomas. The pair’s heralds agreed a time and a place. The result was the Battle of Nibley Green. William had a substantial force of men which outnumbered Thomas’s. Thomas Talbot and some one hundred and fifty other men died. it probably didn’t help that Thomas forgot to lower his visor in the heat of the moment.
Thomas’s manor at Wotton was then sacked.
Margaret had occupied Wotton which was part of the Berkeley estate so William Wotton regarded it as his anyway. Lord Berkeley in one of his legal petitions accuses the Countess of unjustly keeping possession of his manors of Wotton, Symondshall, Cowley, and some others; of plotting and corrupting his servants to get possession of Berkeley Castle, and finally of compassing his death by means of a hired assassin.
Margaret denied the charge of intended murder but held fast to her claim to the Castle and manors of Berkeley. She believed that as Thomas Berkeley’s granddaughter by a direct line of inheritance that her various attempts to gain possession were justified and she petitioned to have her rights restored to her. The first petition and reply were referred by the king, (Edward IV) to the Lord Chancellor, to whom the subsequent pleas and counter-pleas were addressed, and in these proceedings, varied by predatory incursions upon each others’ manors and frequent fights between their servants and tenants, five years had passed without any decision being pronounced when Thomas Talbot inherited the feud.
William Berkeley was a Yorkist and Edward IV needed his support so he suffered little punishment being made a viscount in 1481. In 1483 he became the Earl of Nottingham. Berkeley didn’t have any legitimate children so his brother Maurice inherited the estate by which time William had done a Lord Stanley at Bosworth i.e. sat and waited to see what the outcome was going to be before joining the battle. Even worse he’d sent men to Richard III and money to Henry Tudor.
“A Sketch of the History of Berkeley Its Castle, Church, and the Berkeley Family” by James Herbert Cooke, Land Steward to the Right Hon. Lord Fitzhardinge.
Wagner, John A. The Encyclopaedia of the Wars of the Roses
In 1586 the younger brother of Sir Edward Stafford, the English ambassador in Paris, went to see the secretary of the French ambassador, a man called Leonard des Tappes. Stafford had a plan. Des Tappes informed his master – Chateauneuf.
Stafford explained that the plan was to blow up the queen’s bed with the queen in it. Unfortunately the queen was afraid of the dark and never slept without one of her ladies in waiting. Stafford’s own mother Lady Dorothy Stafford served Elizabeth faithfully. Although the job title Mistress of the Robes hadn’t yet been created it was what Dorothy did.
The ambassador pointed out that the risk of blowing up Lady Dorothy was quite great. Stafford said that in that case it would probably be best to stab Elizabeth or possibly poison her.
Stafford was very swiftly arrested and escorted to the Tower as was Des Tappes. The ambassador was questioned and eventually admitted that he knew about the plot. What he should have done was to reveal to the Privy Council, to Cecil, to Walsingham…to any one who would listen really…that there was a dastardly plot afoot. He hadn’t blabbed which wrong footed him and effectively put him out of the complicated Anglo-French game of spies and intrigue for a significant month of two. He was placed under house arrest and thus unable to get anywhere near Mary Queen of Scots who was being quietly entrapped by Walsingham (Babbington Plot)
Elizabeth’s guard was doubled and she became much more wary of Mary Queen of Scots which was exactly what Walsingham hoped to achieve.
And Stafford, described in documents as “a lewd, discontented person?” His mother was very distressed at the thought that he might try to blow either her or the queen up so it’s unlikely that Elizabeth was aware that it was a ruse. Certainly he was in Walsingham’s pay as indeed had Moody been at various times.
The Spanish Ambassador wrote to Philip II telling the story. Apparently Lady Dorothy and her older son were not on good terms with little brother William but that William had pretended to be a Catholic and told the French that he would place a barrel of gunpowder in the bedroom and er, well – kerboom!
And whilst we’re on the subject of Dorothy Stafford her grandmother was Margaret Pole the 8th Countess of Salisbury – yes – that one. The daughter of the Duke of Clarence (the one drowned in a vat of Malmsey) married off to a member of Margaret Beaufort’s extended family and eventually executed without trial by Henry VIII in 1541 making her grand daughter Dorothy Stafford doubly related to some degree to Elizabeth I.
Duke William of Aquitaine founded Cluny Abbey in 910. It was exempt for visitations from it’s local bishop answering, instead, directly to the Pope. Like all monastics the monks at Cluny followed the rule of St Benedict but it placed a new emphasis on the liturgy. Ceremony, prayer, mass and psalms became the focus of the day.
William the Conqueror wanted the Cluniacs in England but the first one was founded at Lewes by William de Warenne. Lewes was not an abbey, it was priory. All Cluniac houses remained dependent upon their mother house at Cluny for direction. Bermondsey followed and William Rufus who did not have a reputation for piety gave it rich endowments. In total there would be some 35 Cluniac foundations in medieval England.
Faversham was founded by King Stephen and his wife Matilda in 1147 when Stephen donated his manor as the location of a new abbey – to be called St Saviour’s. A group of monks from Bermondsey, under licence and with permission from the mother house at Cluny to build the new priory – or rather abbey. It was understood that the new foundation was to be as free and independent as Reading Abbey, another Cluniac foundation. Reading Abbey was founded by King Henry I and is where he is buried. This was to be the place where the House of Blois would be buried. Stephen, his wife and son Eustace were buried there.
Henry II confirmed the grants and charters that Stephen made and it was still a Cluniac foundation. It remained Cluniac in the reign of his grandson Henry III but it was independent and ultimately not so important as Reading Abbey, the House of Blois lasting precisely one generation. It’s status as an abbey was contrary to Cluniac identity. Thus in the reign of Henry III, although it was founded by Cluniacs Faversham became a Benedictine Abbey.
At the dissolution the bones of Stephen and his family were disinterred. Their empty graves were discovered during archeological survey in 1965 but it is thought that they might have been moved to St Mary’s Church rather than dumped in Faversham Creek