Not every medieval nun wished to remain a nun….!


We read of all the women who became nuns in the medieval period, and it is often imagined that they were willing—eager even—to live such a life forever more. Noble families, even the royal family, designated daughter to be nuns. Bridget, younger dughter of Edward IV, was destined for such a life from childhood, although I cannot imagine it was what she wanted. 

Some nuns did indeed rebel, or simply changed their minds, and one such case in the 14th century was scribbled about furiously by the outraged Archbishop of York. A lady named Margaret de Prestwich, one of two daughters of Thomas de Prestwich, took the veil. This left Agnes as the sole heir of their father. But then Agnes died. Margaret left holy orders in order to marry one Robert Holand, and he decided that the manor of Prestwich should be Margaret’s. He entered the manor forcibly and there were some violent goings-on before the matter was eventually resolved. But the main problem was that nuns weren’t permitted to have land, and on entering her convent, Margaret had sworn that she did so voluntarily. Thus the rule about not owning land held good, even when she married Robert.

I’d love to know if she had indeed taken the veil voluntarily, and how she met Robert. Did he have an eye to the main chance (i.e. Thomas de Prestwich’s estate) or did he really fall for the perhaps pretty nun? Whatever, her apparently wanton nature was involved somewhere along the line!

But I wonder how many nuns actually went to the length of faking their own death in order to escape? I quote from this site:

“….While scouring through a selection of registers from 1304 to 1405, a team of researchers at the University of York found a small note written in the margins of one of the manuscripts. The Latin letters were penned by Archbishop William Melton, alerting the Dean of Beverly that a nun by the name of Joan of Leeds had faked her own death and escaped the house of St. Clement….”

Why did she do it? For “carnal lust” fulminated the furious archbishop . Joan had made a dummy of herself, and it was buried in a coffin, with all funereal rites. Such sacrilege, but clearly Joan couldn’t think of a better way of escaping. No one would search for a dead woman.

What happened to her isn’t recorded, but I hope she, and the object of her carnal lust, lived happily ever after. There is no point at all in being a nun if one’s heart lies elsewhere.

1 comment

  1. I don’t know. Today’s attitude about the monastic life (unless it involves eastern religions) is so fraught and negative. I think medieval people had a much more profound attitude towards inner silence than we can ever imagine or realize or appreciate. I also think it may have been a refuge for many women.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: