The 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 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol14/no2/pp226-233 [accessed 17 August 2016].