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A Naughty Anchorite

Isolde de Heton, a widow, retired to a hermitage attached to Whalley Abbey with the intention of living as an anchorite. Henry VI appointed her to the position during 1437-38. Isolde, besides having a roof over her head, was to receive a weekly food allowance that included twenty-four loaves of bread and eight gallons of beer. She was also to have a weekly cash allowance and two servants to look after her, with access to the abbey kitchens.

This is not quite the austere lifestyle one might imagine an anchorite enduring. Indeed, many modern widows would be glad of such generous support!

Nevertheless, Isolde evidently received a “better offer” perhaps a chance to live with a man (or woman) of her choice. The Abbot of Whalley, John Eccles, petitioned Henry VI during 1440-41 to close the hermitage due to Isolde having broken her vows. She had been absent for “two yere and more” and was showing no intention of returning and making amendment. Moreover, her women servants had been “misgovernyd” and “gotten with chyld” within the hallowed space.

Presumably these servants had some assistance in making babies, but the abbot did not bother to identify the male culprits. Perhaps they were too close to home.

Henry VI obliged by dissolving the hermitage and replacing it with a chantry for the benefit of the soul of Henry, Duke of Lancaster. Chantry priests were, of course, most unlikely to become pregnant.

Sadly we do not know what became of Isolde and her servants. Certainly, they lost their secure provision.

Source: The Lancashire Witch Conspiracy by John A. Clayton, pp. 203-204

 

 

 

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