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Woman under Monasticism By Lina Eckenstein Characters: 88098

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

'Pulchritudo certe mentis et nutrimentum virtutum est cordis munditia, cui visio Dei spiritualiter promittitur; ad quam munditiam nullus nisi per magnam cordis custodiam perducitur.' Anselm to the Abbess of St Mary's.

§ 1. The new Monastic Orders.

In this chapter I intend to give a description of the different monastic orders which were founded between the 10th and the 12th centuries, and to enter at some length into the reasons for their progress. A mass of heterogeneous information must be passed in rapid review with occasional digressions on outside matters, for it is only possible to understand the rapid progress of monasticism by recalling the relation in which it stood to other social developments.

As we cross the borderland which divides the centuries before the year 1000 from the period that follows, we become aware of great changes which about this time take definite shape throughout all social institutions. In the various strata of society occupations were becoming more clearly differentiated than they had ever been before, while those who were devoted to peaceful pursuits, whether in lay or religious circles, were now combined together for mutual support and encouragement.

In connection with religion we find the representatives of the Church and of monasticism becoming more and more conscious of differences that were growing up between them. Monasticism from its very beginning practically lay outside the established order of the Church, but this had not prevented bishop and abbot from working side by side and mutually supporting each other; nay, it even happened sometimes that one person combined in himself the two offices of abbot and bishop. But as early Christian times passed into the Middle Ages, prelates ceased to agree with headquarters at Rome in accepting monasticism as the means of securing a foothold for religion. The Church was now well established throughout western Europe, and her ministers were by no means prepared to side unconditionally with the Pope when he fell out with temporal rulers. The monastic orders on the contrary generally did side with him, and by locally furthering his interests, they became strongholds of his power.

The 12th century has been called the golden age of monasticism, because it witnessed the increased prosperity of existing monasteries and the foundation of a number of new monastic and religious orders. A wave of enthusiasm for the life of the religious settlement, and for the manifold occupations which this life now embraced, passed over western Europe, emanating chiefly from France, the country which took the lead in culture and in civilizing influences.

The 12th century, as it was the golden age of monasticism, was also the golden age of chivalry; the cloister and the court were the representative centres of civilized life. Under the influence of the system of mutual responsibility called feudalism, the knight by doughty deed and unwavering allegiance to his lord, his lady and his cause, gave a new meaning to service; while the monk, devoted to less hazardous pursuits, gave a hitherto unknown sanctification to toil. The knight, the lady, the court-chaplain and the court-poet cultivated the bearings and the formalities of polite intercourse which formed the background of the age of romance, while in the cloister the monk and the nun gave a new meaning to religious devotion and enthusiasm by turning their activity into channels which first made possible the approximation of class to class.

This period knew little of townships as centres of intellectual activity, and their social importance remained far below that of cloister and court. The townsmen, whose possession of town land constituted them burghers, had won for themselves recognition as an independent body by buying immunities and privileges from bishop and king. But the struggle between them and the newer gilds, into which those who were below them in rank and wealth, formed themselves, was only beginning; the success of these newer gilds in securing a share in the government marks the rise of the township.

The diversity of occupation in the different kinds of gilds was anticipated by a similar diversity of occupation in the different monastic orders. The great characteristic of the monastic revival of the Middle Ages lay in the manifold and distinct spheres of activity which life offered inside the religious community. The studious, the educational, the philanthropic, and the agricultural element, all to some extent made part of the old monastic system. But through the foundation of a number of different orders which from the outset had separate aims, tastes which were widely dissimilar, and temperaments that were markedly diverse, met with encouragement in the religious settlement. The scholar, the artist, the recluse, the farmer, each found a career open to him; while men and women were prompted to undertake duties within and without the religious settlement which make their activity comparable to that of the relieving officer, the poor-law guardian and the district nurse of a later age.

To gain a clear idea of the purposes which the new monastic and religious orders set before them, it will be best to treat of them severally in the chronological order of their foundation. Two lines of development are to be observed. There are the strictly monastic orders which sprang from the order of St Benedict, which they developed and amplified. These included the orders of Clugni, Citeaux, Chartreuse, and Grandmont, of which the last two took no account of women. On the other side stand the religious orders which are the outcome of distinctions drawn between different kinds of canons, when the settlements of regular canons take a distinctly monastic colouring. Among these the Premonstrant and the Austin orders are the most important, the members of which, from the clothes they wore, were in England called respectively White and Black Canons.

The importance of canonical orders, so far as women are concerned, lies in the fact that the 12th century witnessed the foundation of a number of religious settlements for both sexes, in which the men lived as canons and the women as nuns. The Premonstrant began as a combined order; the orders of Fontevraud and of St Gilbert of Sempringham were of a similar kind. Bearing these distinctions in mind, we begin our enquiry with an analysis of the Cluniac and the Cistercian orders, which have their root directly in the monasticism of St Benedict.

As remarks in the previous chapters of this work will have shown, monasteries had sprung up during early Christian times independently of each other following a diversity of rules promulgated by various teachers, which had gradually been given up in favour of the rule of St Benedict. At the beginning of the 9th century this rule was largely prevalent in monasteries abroad, owing to councils held under the auspices of Karl the Great (? 814)[516], and in England it gained ground through the efforts of Aethelwold, abbot of Abingdon and bishop of Winchester (? 984). Some obscurity hangs about the subject, for a certain number of houses abroad, and among them some of the oldest and wealthiest, clung to the prerogative of independence and refused to accept St Benedict's rule, while in England, where this rule was certainly accepted in the 11th century, great diversity of routine either remained or else developed inside the different houses. This is evident from the account which Matthew Paris (? 1259), a monk of St Albans, gives of the visitation of houses in the year 1232[517].

The order of Clugni[518] owes its origin to the desire of obviating a difficulty. As time wore on the rule of St Benedict had betrayed a weakness in failing to maintain any connection between separate monasteries. As there was no reciprocal responsibility between Benedictine settlements, a lay nobleman had frequently been appointed abbot through princely interference, and had installed himself in the monastery with his family, his servants and his retinue, to the detriment of the monastic property, and to the relaxation of discipline among the monks. The evil was most conspicuous abroad in the eastern districts of France and the western districts of Germany, and in 910 the order of Clugni was founded in Burgundy as a means of remedying it.

At first the order of Clugni was the object of great enthusiasm, and it was raised to eminence by a series of remarkable and energetic men. Powerful patrons were secured to it, master-minds found protection in its shelter. The peculiarities of its organisation consisted in the two rules that the abbot of the Cluniac house should be chosen during the lifetime of his predecessor, and that the abbots of different houses should meet periodically at a synod at which the abbot of Clugni should preside. The Pope's sanction having been obtained, the order remained throughout in close contact with Rome. In Germany especially this connection was prominent, and became an important political factor in the 11th century when the Cluniac houses directly supported the claim of Rome in the struggle between Pope and Emperor.

The order of Clugni took slight cognizance of women, and the nunneries of the order were few and comparatively unimportant. A reason for this may be found in the nature of the order's origin, for the settlements of nuns had not been interfered with like the settlements of monks during the 9th and 10th centuries by the appointment of lay superiors, and were untouched by the consequent evils. If this be so the falling away from discipline, which called for correction in many houses of men, may justly be referred to a change thrust on them from without, not born from within.

In England the order of Clugni was not officially introduced till after the Norman Conquest, and then under circumstances which set a peculiar stamp on it. The seed which each order scattered broadcast over the different countries was the same, but the nature of the soil in which it took root, and the climate under which it developed, modified the direction of its growth.

During the 9th and 10th centuries England had been the scene of great social and political changes. The powerful kings who arose in Wessex and eventually claimed supremacy over all the provinces were unable to assert their authority to the extent of making the eastern provinces sink all provincial differences and jealousies, and join in organised resistance to the Danes. From the 9th century onwards, the entire seaboard of England, from Northumberland to the mouth of the Severn, had been exposed to the depredations of this people. Having once gained a foothold on the eastern coasts they quickly contracted alliances and adapted themselves to English customs, thus making their ultimate success secure.

The heathen invaders were naturally indifferent to the teachings of the Christian Church, and to the privileges of monasteries, and the scant annals of the period written before Knut of Denmark became king of England in 1016, give accounts of the destruction of many settlements. Some were attacked and laid waste, and others were deserted by their inmates. To realise the collapse of Christian institutions about this time, one must read the address which Wulfstan, archbishop of York (1002-1023), wrote to rouse the English to consciousness of the indignities to which their religion was exposed[519]. But the collapse was only temporary, bishoprics and abbacies stood firm enough to command the attention of the invader, and as the heathenism of the Dane yielded without a blow to the teaching of Christ, the settlements that were in the hands of abbot and monk rose anew.

However, it was only after the establishment of William of Normandy in England (1066) that the conditions of life became settled, and that the tide turned in favour of monasticism; that is to say in favour of the monastic life of men, but not of women. Various reasons have been alleged for this difference: that the better position of the wife under Danish rule made women loth to remain in the convent, or that the spread of the system of feudal tenure excluded women from holding property which they could devote to the advantage of their sex. So much is certain, that during the reign of William many Benedictine houses for monks were founded or restored, but we do not hear of one for nuns.

In the wake of the Norman baron, the Norman prelate had entered this country, bringing with him an interest in the order of Clugni. It was William of Warren, son-in-law of the Conqueror, and earl of Surrey, who first brought over Cluniac monks, whom he settled at Lewes in Sussex. He did so at the suggestion of Lanfranc, a Norman monk of Italian origin, who had become archbishop of Canterbury (1070-1089). Before the close of William's reign Cluniac monks had met with patrons to build them four monasteries on English soil besides the house at Lewes.

The Norman barons continued to make liberal endowments to the order, but its popularity remained comparatively small, partly owing to the distinctly foreign character which it continued to bear[520]. Thus we find that after the accession of Henry II (1154), whose reign was marked by a rise in English national feeling, only one Cluniac house was added to those already in existence.

From the order of Clugni we pass to that of Citeaux[521], the foundation of which comes next in point of time, but which owed its existence to a different cause, and was characterised by widely dissimilar developments.

The story of the foundation of the order has been fully told by men who were under the influence of the movement; the facts only of the foundation need be mentioned here. It originated in France when Robert, abbot of Molêmes, roused by the remonstrances of one Stephen Harding, an English monk living in his convent, left his home with a band of followers in 1098, in search of a retreat where they might carry out the rule of St Benedict in a worthier spirit. They found this retreat at Citeaux. From Citeaux and its daughter-house Clairvaux, founded in 1113 by the energetic Bernard, those influences went forth which made the Cistercian order representative of the most strenuous devotion to toil and the most exalted religious aspirations. While the order of Clugni in the 10th century secured the outward conditions favourable to a life of routine, devoting this routine chiefly to literary and artistic pursuits, the reform of Citeaux exerted a much wider influence. It at once gained extensive local and national sympathy, by cultivating land and by favouring every kind of outdoor pursuit.

The agricultural activity of the Cistercian has called forth much enthusiastic comment. Janauschek, a modern student of the order, describes in eloquent terms how they turned woods into fields, how they constructed water-conduits and water-mills, how they cultivated gardens, orchards, and vineyards, how successful they were in rearing cattle, in breeding horses, in keeping bees, in regulating fishing, and how they made glass and procured the precious metals[522].

A comparison of their temper and that of the Cluniacs offers many interesting points; a comparison which is facilitated by a dialogue written by a Cistercian monk between 1154 and 1174 to exalt the merits of his order compared with those of the order of Clugni[523]. For while the Cluniac delighted in luxurious surroundings, the Cistercian affected a simple mode of life which added to the wealth placed at his disposal by his untiring industry. While the Cluniac delighted in costly church decorations, in sumptuous vestments and in richly illuminated books of service, the Cistercian declared such pomp prejudicial to devotion, and sought to elevate the soul not so much by copying and ornamenting old books as by writing new ones; not so much by decorating a time-honoured edifice as by rearing a new and beautiful building.

Perhaps the nature of these occupations yields a reason why the Cistercian order at first found no place for women. At an early date Cardinal de Vitry (Jacobus di Vitriaco, ? 1144), writing about the Cistercian movement, says that 'the weaker sex at the rise of the order could not aspire to conform to such severe rules, nor to rise to such a pitch of excellence[524].' In the dialogue referred to above, the Cluniac expresses wonder that women should enter the Cistercian order at all.

The first Cistercian nunneries were founded at Tart in Langres and at Montreuil-les-Dames near Laon[525]. Hermann of Laon (c. 1150) describes 'how the religious of Montreuil sewed and span, and went into the woods where they grubbed up briars and thorns,'-an occupation which goes far to equalise their activity with that of the monks[526]. In Switzerland and Germany there is said to have been a pronounced difference in the character of Cistercian nunneries, due to the various conditions of their foundation. Some were aristocratic in tone, while others consisted of women of the middle class, who banded together and placed themselves under the bishop of the diocese, following of their own accord the rules accepted by the monks of Citeaux[527].

In Spain a curious development of the order of Citeaux is recorded, fraught with peculiarities which recall earlier developments.

In 1187 Alfonso VIII, king of Leon and Castille, founded an abbacy for nuns of the order of Citeaux at Las Huelgas near Burgos, the abbess of which was declared head over twelve other nunneries. In the following year the king sent the bishop of Siguenza to the general chapter at Citeaux to obtain leave for the abbesses of his kingdom to hold a general chapter among themselves. This was granted. At the first chapter at Burgos the bishops of Burgos, Siguenza and Placenza were assembled together with six abbots and seven abbesses, each abbess being entitled to bring with her six servants and five horses. The power of the abbess of Las Huelgas continued to increase. In the year 1210 she had taken upon herself the discharge of sacerdotal functions. In the year 1260 she refused to receive the abbot of Citeaux, whereupon she was excommunicated. After the year 1507 the abbess was no longer appointed for life, but for a term of three years only. Chapters continued to be held under her auspices at Burgos till the Council of Trent in 1545, which forbade women to leave their enclosures[528].

The date of the first arrival of monks of Citeaux in England was 1128, when William Giffard, bishop of Winchester (? 1129), in early days a partisan of Anselm against Henry I, founded Waverley in Surrey for them[529]. Shortly afterwards Walter Espec, the most powerful baron in northern England, granted them land at Rievaulx in Yorkshire[530]. About the same time the foundation at Fountains repeated the story of Citeaux. A small band of monks, burning with the desire to simplify conventual life, left York and retired into the wooded solitude of Fountains, whence they sent to Bernard at Clairvaux asking for his advice[531].

These events fall within the reign of Henry I (1100-1135), the peacefulness of which greatly furthered the development of monastic life. The pursuits to which the Cistercians were devoted in England were similar to those they carried on abroad. Here also their agricultural successes were great, for they ditched, ridged and drained, wet land, they marled stiff soils and clayed poor ones. The land granted to them, especially in the northern counties, was none of the best, but they succeeded in turning wildernesses into fruitful land, and by so doing won great admiration. Similarly the churches built in this country under the auspices of these monks bear witness to great purity of taste and ardent imagination. The churches built by them were all dedicated to the Virgin Mary, who was the patron saint of the order.

All these early settlements of the Cistercian order were for monks, not for nuns, for Cistercian nunneries in England were founded comparatively late and remained poor and unimportant. If we look upon the Cistercians as farmers, builders and writers, this fact is partly explained. But there are other reasons which suggest why the number of Cistercian nunneries was at first small, and why the Cistercian synod shrank from accepting control over them.

Convents of women had hitherto been recruited by the daughters of the landed gentry, and their tone was aristocratic; but a desire for the religious life had now penetrated into the lower strata of society. Orders of combined canons and nuns were founded which paid special attention to women of the lower classes, but they encountered certain difficulties in dealing with them. It is just possible on the one hand that the combined orders forestalled the Cistercians in the inducements they held out; on the other, that the experience of the combined orders made the Cistercians cautious about admitting women.

Consideration of these facts brings us back to a whole group of phenomena to which reference was made in a previous chapter, viz. the disorderly tendencies which had become apparent in connection with loose women, the greater opprobrium cast on these women as time went on, and the increasing difficulties they had to contend with. The founders of the orders of combined canons and nuns tried to save women from drifting into and swelling a class, the existence of which was felt to be injurious to social life, by preaching against a dissolute life and by receiving all persons into their settlements regardless of their antecedents.

The earliest and in many ways the most interesting of these combined orders is that founded by Robert (? 1117) of Arbrissel, a village in Brittany. Robert had begun life in the Church, but he left the clerical calling on account of his great desire to minister to the needs of the lower classes, and as a wandering preacher he gained considerable renown[532]. Men and women alike were roused by his words to reform their course of life, and they followed him about till he determined to secure for them a permanent abode. This he found in an outlying district at Fontevraud. He organised his followers into bands and apportioned to each its task. The men were divided into clerics, who performed religious service, and lay brothers, who did outdoor work. 'They were to use gentle talk, not to swear, and all to be joined in brotherly affection.' It appears that the women were all professed nuns[533]; unceasing toil was to be their portion, for they were to hold the industrious and hardworking Martha as their model and take small account of such virtues as belonged to Mary.

From every side workers flocked to the settlements, for Robert opened his arms to all. We are told that 'men of all conditions came, women arrived, such as were poor as well as those of gentle birth; widows and virgins, aged men and youths, women of loose life as well as those who held aloof from men.' At first there was a difficulty in providing for the numerous settlers, but their labours brought profit, and gifts in kind poured in from outsiders, a proof that in the eyes of the world the settlements supplied an obvious need. Branch establishments were founded and prospered, so that in one cloister there were as many as three hundred women, in another one hundred, and in another sixty. Robert returned to his missionary work, after having appointed Hersende of Champagne as lady superior of the whole vast settlement. Her appointment was decisive for the system of government,-Fontevraud remained under the rule of an abbess. It was for her successor, Petronille, that the life of the founder Robert was written soon after his death, by Baldric, bishop of Dol (? 1130). Baldric repeatedly insists on the fact that no one was refused admission to these settlements. 'The poor were received, the feeble were not refused, nor women of evil life, nor sinners, neither lepers nor the helpless.' We are told that Robert attracted nearly three thousand men and women to the settlements; the nuns (ancillae Christi) in particular wept at his death.

The fact that Robert had the welfare of women especially at heart is further borne out by a separate account of the last years of his life, written by one Andrea, probably his pupil. Andrea tells how Robert at the approach of death assembled the canons or clerics of the settlement around him and addressed them saying: 'Know that whatever I have wrought in this world I have wrought as a help to nuns.' Fontevraud occupied a high standing, and we shall find that nuns were brought thence into England when the nunnery of Amesbury was reformed in the reign of King John. The order of Fontevraud made great progress in the course of the 12th century, and next to it in point of time stands the foundation of the order of Prémontré[534]. Fontevraud lies in the north-west of France, Prémontré in the east, and the efforts of Robert have here a counterpart in those of Norbert (? 1134), who worked on similar lines. Norbert also left the clerical calling to work as a missionary in north-western Germany, especially in Westphalia, and he also succeeded in rousing his listeners to a consciousness of their ungodly mode of life. With a view to reform he sought to give a changed tone to canonical life and founded a religious settlement in the forest of Coucy, which he afterwards called Prémontré from the belief that the Virgin had pointed it out to him. His efforts were likewise crowned with success, for many settlements were forthwith founded on the plan of that of Prémontré. Hermann of Laon, the contemporary of Norbert, praises him warmly and remarks that women of all classes flocked to his settlements, and were admitted into the communities by adopting the cloistered life. The statement is made, but may be exaggerated, that ten thousand women joined the order during Norbert's lifetime.

Norbert differed greatly in character from Robert; his personal ambition was greater, and his restless temperament eventually drew him into political life. He died in 1134, and in 1137 the chapter at Prémontré decided that the women should be expelled from all the settlements that had inmates of both sexes, and that no nuns should henceforth be admitted to settlements ruled by men. The reasons which led to this resolution are not recorded. The nuns thus rendered homeless are said to have banded together and dwelt in settlements which were afterwards numbered among Cistercian houses, thus causing a sudden increase of nunneries of this order. However a certain number of Premonstrant houses, occupied solely by nuns and ruled by a lady superior, existed previous to the decree of 1137. These remained unmolested, and others were added to them in course of time[535]. It can be gathered from a bull of 1344 that there were at that time over thirteen hundred settlements of Premonstrant or White Canons in existence in Europe, besides the outlying settlements of lay brothers, and about four hundred settlements of nuns[536]. The settlements of White Canons in England amounted to about thirty-five and were founded after the sexes had been separated. There were also two settlements of Premonstrant nuns in England[537].

A third order of canons and nuns, which in various ways is akin to the orders of Fontevraud and Prémontré previously founded abroad, was founded at the beginning of the 12th century in England by Gilbert of Sempringham. But as the material for study of this order is copious, and as it marks a distinct development in the history of women's convent life in England, it will be discussed in detail later[538].

The canons who belonged to the combined orders were regular canons, that is they owned no individual property, and further differed from secular canons in holding themselves exempt from performing spiritual functions for the laity. Erasmus at a later date remarked that 'their life is half way between that of monks and that of those who are called secular canons[539].'

As to the distinction between the two kinds, it appears that bands of canons who may fitly be termed regular had existed from an early period; but the subject is shrouded in some obscurity[540]. In the 11th century mention of them becomes frequent, especially in France, and at the beginning of the 12th century their position was defined by a decree published by Pope Innocent II at the Lateran Council (1139)[541]. By this decree all those canons who did not perform spiritual functions for the laity were designated as regular and were called upon to live according to the rule of life laid down by St Augustine in his Epistle, number 109. The terms Austin canon and regular canon were henceforth applied indiscriminately, but many independent settlements of unrecognised canons of an earlier date have since been included under this term.

A few words are here needed in explanation of the term canoness or Austin canoness, which is used in diverse ways, but is generally applied to women of some substance, who entered a religious community and lived under a rule, but who were under no perpetual vow, that is, they observed obedience and celibacy as long as they remained in the house but were at liberty to return to the world. These stipulations do not imply that a woman on entering a convent renounced all rights of property, an assumption on the strength of which the Church historian Rohrbacher interprets as applying to canonesses the entire chapter of directions promulgated at Aachen in 816, in the interest of women living the religious life[542]. But the terms used in these provisions are the ordinary ones applied to abbess and nun[543]. Helyot, who has a wider outlook, and who speaking of the canon explains how this term was at first applied to all living in canone, points out that uncertainty hangs about many early settlements of women abroad, the members of which were in the true sense professed[544]. It seems probable that they at first observed the rule of St Benedict, and afterwards departed from it, as has been pointed out above in connection with Saxon convents.

The tenor of the provisions made at Aachen shows that the monastic life of women in a number of early settlements abroad rested on a peculiar basis, and points to the fact that the inmates of settlements founded at an early date were in some measure justified when they declared later that they had always held certain liberties, and insisted on a distinction between themselves and other nuns. The position of the inmates of some of these houses continued different from that of the members of other nunneries till the time of the Reformation. In England, however, this difference does not seem to have existed. The inmates of the few Austin nunneries, of which there were fifteen at the dissolution, though they are frequently spoken of as canonesses in the charters that are secured by them, appear to have lived a life in no way different from that of other nuns, while they were in residence, but it may be they absented themselves more frequently.

When once their position was defined the spread of the Austin Canons was rapid; they combined the learning of the Benedictine with the devotional zeal of the Cistercian, and ingratiated themselves with high and low. Of all the settlements of the Austin Canons abroad that of St Victor in Paris stands first in importance. It became a retreat for some of the master minds of the age[545], and its influence on English thinkers was especially great[546]. Austin Canons came from France into England as early as 1108. At first their activity here was chiefly philanthropic, they founded hospitals and served in them; but they soon embraced a variety of interests. In the words of Kate Norgate speaking with reference to England[547]: 'The scheme of Austin Canons was a compromise between the old-fashioned system of canons and that of monkish confraternities; but a compromise leaning strongly towards the monastic side, tending more and more towards it with every fresh development, and distinguished chiefly by a certain elasticity of organisation which gave scope to an almost unlimited variety in the adjustment of the relations between the active and the contemplative life of the members of the order, thus enabling it to adapt itself to the most dissimilar temperaments and to the most diverse spheres of activity.'

Their educational system also met with such success that before the close of the reign of Henry I two members of the fraternity had been promoted to the episcopate and one to the primacy. In the remarks of contemporary writers on religious settlements, it is curious to note in what a different estimation regular canons and monks are held by those who shared the interests of court circles. For the courtier, as we shall presently see, sympathised with the canon but abused and ridiculed the monk.

Throughout the early Christian ages the idea had been steadily gaining ground that the professed religious should eschew contact with the outside world, and it was more and more urged that the moral and mental welfare of monk and nun was furthered by their confining their activity within the convent precincts. Greater seclusion was first enforced among women; for in the combined orders the nuns remained inside the monastery, and were removed from contact with the world, while the canons were but little restricted in their movements. How soon habitual seclusion from the world became obligatory it is of course very difficult to determine, but there is extant a highly interesting pamphlet, written about the year 1190 by the monk Idung of the Benedictine monastery of St Emmeran in Bavaria, which shows that professed religious women in the district he was acquainted with went about as freely as the monks, and did not even wear a distinctive dress. The pamphlet[548] is the more interesting as Idung was evidently distressed by the behaviour of the nuns, but failed to find an authority on which to oppose their actions. He admits that the rule as drafted by St Benedict is intended alike for men and women, and that there are no directions to be found in it about confining nuns in particular, and in fact the rule allowed monks and nuns to go abroad freely as long as their superior approved. Idung then sets forth with many arguments that nuns are the frailer vessel; and he illustrates this point by a mass of examples adduced from classical and Biblical literature. He proves to himself the advisability of nuns being confined, but he is at a loss where to go for the means of confining them. And he ends his pamphlet with the advice that as it is impossible to interfere with the liberty of nuns, it should at least be obligatory for them when away from home to wear clothes which would make their vocation obvious.

No doubt the view held by this monk was shared by others, and public opinion fell in with it, and insisted on the advantages of seclusion. Many Benedictine houses owned outlying manors which were often at a considerable distance, and the management of which required a good deal of moving about on the part of the monks and nuns who were told off for the purpose. We shall see later that those who had taken the religious vow had pleasure as their object as much as business in going about; but complaints about the Benedictines of either sex are few compared with those raised against the Cistercian monks. For the Cistercians in their capacity of producers visited fairs and markets and, where occasion offered, were ready to drive a bargain, which was especially objected to by the ministers of the Church, who declared that the Cistercians lowered the religious profession in general estimation. Consequently orders which worked on opposite lines enjoyed greater favour with the priesthood; such as the monastic order of Grandmont, which originally demanded of its members that they should not quit their settlement and forbade their owning any animals except bees; and the order of Chartreuse, which confined each monk to his cell, that is, to a set of rooms with a garden adjoining[549]. But these orders did not secure many votaries owing to their severity and narrowness.

Thus at the close of the 12th century a number of new religious orders had been founded which spread from one country to another by means of an effective system of organization, raising enthusiasm for the peaceful pursuits of convent life among all classes of society. The reason of their success lay partly in their identifying themselves with the ideal aspirations of the age, partly in the political unrest of the time which favoured the development of independent institutions, but chiefly in the diversity of occupation which the professed religious life now offered. The success obtained by the monastic orders however did not fail to rouse apprehension among the representatives of the established Church, and it seems well in conclusion to turn and recall some of the remarks passed on the new orders by contemporary writers who moved in the court of Henry II (1154-89).

It has been pointed out how the sympathies of court circles at this period in England were with the Church as represented by the priesthood; courtier and priest were at one in their antagonism against monks, but in sympathy with the canons. Conspicuous among these men stands Gerald Barri (c. 1147-c. 1220), a Welshman of high abilities and at one time court chaplain to the king. He hated all monkish orders equally, and for the delectation of some friends whom he entertained at Oxford he compiled a collection of monkish scandals known as 'The Mirror of the Church[550],' in which he represents the Cluniac monk as married to Luxury, and the Cistercian monk to Avarice; but, in spite of this, incidental remarks in the stories he tells give a high opinion of the Cistercian's industry, hospitality and unbounded charity. Gerald mentions as a subject for ridicule that the Cistercian monk lived not on rent, but on the produce of his labour, an unaristocratic proceeding which was characteristic of the order. Gerald's attitude is reflected in that of Ralph de Glanvil (? 1190), justiciar of England during the reign of Henry II, a clever and versatile man of whom we know, through his friend Map, that he disliked all the monkish orders. But his enthusiasm for religious settlements was not inconsiderable, and several settlements of the Premonstrant or White Canons were founded by him.

The student of the period is familiar with the likes and dislikes of Walter Map (? c. 1210), great among poets and writers of the age, who disliked all monks, but especially the Cistercians[551]. His friend Gerald tells how this hatred had originated in the encroachments made by the monks of Newenham on the rights and property of the church he held at Westbury. For the perseverance with which Cistercian monks appropriated all available territory and interfered with the rights of church and chapel, made them generally odious to the ministers of the Church; their encroachments were an increasing grievance. John of Salisbury, afterwards bishop of Chartres (? after 1180), directly censured as pernicious the means taken by the monks to extend their power. He tells us they procured from Rome exemption from diocesan jurisdiction, they appropriated the right of confession, they performed burial rites; in short they usurped the keys of the Church[552]. By the side of these remarks it is interesting to recall the opinion of the monkish historian, William of Malmesbury, who a generation earlier had declared that the Cistercian monks had found the surest road to heaven.

All these writers, though lavish in their criticisms on monks, tell us hardly anything against nuns. The order of St Gilbert for canons and nuns alone calls forth some remarks derogatory to the women. Nigel Wirecker, himself a monk, giving vent to his embittered spirit against Church and monkish institutions generally in the satire of Brunellus, launches into a fierce attack against the tone which then prevailed in women's settlements[553]. He does not think it right that women whose antecedents are of the worst kind should adopt the religious profession and that as a means of preserving chastity they should systematically enjoin hatred of men.

A similar reference is contained in the poem in Norman French called the 'Order of Fair Ease,' which is a production of the 13th century, and which caricatures the different religious orders by feigning an order that unites the characteristic vices of all[554]. It is chiefly curious in the emphasis it lays on the exclusiveness of monasteries generally, representing them as reserved for the aristocracy. It contains little on nunneries and only a few remarks which are derogatory to the combined order of Sempringham.

These remarks were obviously called forth by the fact that the combined orders in particular admitted women from different ranks of life. For generally nunneries and their inmates enjoyed favour with churchman and courtier, whose contempt for the monk does not extend to the nun. In the correspondence of Thomas Beket, John of Salisbury, Peter of Blois and others there are letters to nuns of various houses which show that these men had friends and relatives among the inmates of nunneries. Indeed where members of the same family adopted the religious profession, the son habitually entered the Church while the daughter entered a nunnery. A sister of Thomas Beket was abbess at Barking, and various princesses of the royal house were abbesses of nunneries, as we shall presently see. They included Mary, daughter of Stephen (Romsey); a natural daughter of Henry II (Barking), and Matilda, daughter of Edward I (Amesbury); Queen Eleanor wife of Henry III also took the veil at Amesbury.

§ 2. Benedictine Convents in the Twelfth Century.

From this general review of the different orders we pass on to the state of nunneries in England during the 12th century, and to those incidents in their history which give some insight into their constitution.

Attention is first claimed by the old Benedictine settlements which still continued in prosperity and independence. Of these houses only those which were in connection with the royal house of Wessex remained at the close of the 10th century; those of the northern and midland districts had disappeared. Some were deserted, others had been laid waste during the Danish invasions; it has been observed that with the return of tranquillity under Danish rule, not one of the houses for women was restored. Secular monks or laymen took possession of them, and when they were expelled, the Church claimed the land, or the settlement was restored to the use of monks. Some of the great houses founded and ruled by women in the past were thus appropriated to men. Whitby and Ely rose in renewed splendour under the rule of abbots; Repton, Wimbourne and numerous other nunneries became the property of monks.

Various reasons have been given for the comparatively low ebb at which women's professed religious life remained for a time. Insecurity during times of warfare, and displacement of the centres of authority, supply obvious reasons for desertion and decay. A story is preserved showing how interference from without led to the disbanding of a nunnery. The Danish earl Swegen (? 1052), son of Earl Godwin, took away (vi abstractam) the abbess Eadgifu of Leominster in Herefordshire in 1048, and kept her with him for a whole year as his wife. The archbishop of Canterbury and the bishop of Worcester threatened him with excommunication, whereupon he sent her home, avenging himself by seizing lands of the monastery of Worcester. He then fled from England and was outlawed, but at a later period he is said to have wanted the abbess back. The result is not recorded, for Leominster as a women's settlement ceased to exist about this

time[555]. There is no need to imagine a formal dissolution of the settlement. The voluntary or involuntary absence of the abbess in times of warfare supplies quite a sufficient reason for the disbanding of the nuns.

About the same time a similar fate befell the monastery of Berkley-on-Severn, in spite of the heroic behaviour of its abbess. The story is told by Walter Map how it was attacked and plundered at the instigation of Earl Godwin (? 1053) and how in spite of the stand made by the abbess, a 'strong and determined' woman, the men who took possession of it turned it into a 'pantheon, a very temple of harlotry[556].' Berkley also ceased to exist[557].

The monasteries ruled by women, which survived the political changes due to the Danish invasion and the Norman Conquest, had been in connection with women of the house of Cerdic; with hardly an exception they were situated in the province of Wessex within the comparatively small area of Dorset, Wilts, and Hampshire. Chief among them were Shaftesbury, Amesbury, Wilton (or Ellandune), Romsey, and St Mary Winchester (or Nunnaminster). With these must be classed Barking in Essex, one of the oldest settlements in the land, which had been deserted at one time but was refounded by King Edgar, and which together with the Wessex nunneries, carried on a line of uninterrupted traditions from the 9th century to the time of the dissolution.

The manors owned by these settlements at the time of the Conquest lay in different shires, often at a considerable distance from the monastery itself.

From the account of survey in the Domesday book we gather that Shaftesbury had possessions in Sussex, Wiltshire, Dorset, and Hampshire[558], and that Nunnaminster owned manors in Hampshire, Berkshire, and Wiltshire[559]. Barking, the chief property of which lay in Essex, also held manors in Surrey, Middlesex, Berkshire, and Bedfordshire[560].

These monasteries were abbacies, as indeed were all houses for nuns founded before the Conquest. The abbess, like the abbot, had the power of a bishop within the limits of her own house and bore a crozier as a sign of her rank. Moreover the abbesses of Shaftesbury, Wilton, Barking, and Nunnaminster 'were of such quality that they held of the king by an entire barony,' and by right of tenure had the privilege at a later date of being summoned to parliament, though this lapsed on account of their sex[561].

The abbess as well as the abbot had a twofold income; she drew spiritualities from the churches which were in her keeping, and temporalities by means of her position as landlord and landowner. The abbess of Shaftesbury, who went by the title of abbess of St Edward, had in her gift several prebends, or portions of the appropriated tithes or lands for secular priests. In the reign of Henry I she found seven knights for the king's service, and had writs regularly directed to her to send her quota of soldiers into the field in proportion to her knights' fees; she held her own courts for pleas of debts, etc., the perquisites of which belonged to her[562].

To look through the cartularies of some of the old monasteries, is to realise how complex were the duties which devolved on the ruler of one of these settlements, and they corroborate the truth of the remark that the first requirement for a good abbot was that he should have a head for business. Outlying manors were in the hands of bailiffs who managed them, and the house kept a clerk who looked after its affairs in the spiritual courts; for the management and protection of the rights and privileges of the property claimed unceasing care.

The Benedictine abbesses do not seem to have been wanting in business and managing capacity. At the time of the dissolution the oldest nunneries in the land with few exceptions were also the wealthiest. The wealth of some was notorious. A saying was current in the western provinces that if the abbot of Glastonbury were to marry the abbess of Shaftesbury, their heir would have more land than the king of England[563]. The reason of this wealth lies partly in the fact that property had been settled on them at a time when land was held as a comparatively cheap commodity; but it speaks well for the managing capacities of those in authority that the high standing was maintained. The rulers prevented their property from being wasted or alienated during the 12th and 13th centuries, when the vigour or decline of an institution so largely depended on the capacity of the individual representing it, and they continued faithful to their traditions by effecting a compromise during the 14th and 15th centuries, when the increased powers of the Church and the consolidation of the monarchical power threatened destruction to institutions of the kind.

It is worthy of attention that while all nunneries founded during Anglo-Saxon times were abbacies, those founded after the Conquest were generally priories. Sixty-four Benedictine nunneries date their foundation from after the Conquest, only three of which were abbacies[564]. The Benedictine prioress was in many cases subject to an abbot; her authority varied with the conditions of her appointment, but in all cases she was below the abbess in rank. The explanation is to be sought in the system of feudal tenure. Women no longer held property, nunneries were founded and endowed by local barons or by abbots. Where power from the preceding period devolved on the woman in authority, she retained it; but where new appointments were made the current tendency was in favour of curtailing her power.

Similarly all the Cistercian nunneries in England, which numbered thirty-six at the dissolution, were without exception priories. The power of women professing the order abroad and the influence of the Cistercian abbesses in Spain and France have been mentioned-facts which preclude the idea of there being anything in the intrinsic nature of the order contrary to the holding of power by women. The form the settlement took in each country was determined by the prevailing drift of the time, and in England during the 11th and 12th centuries it was in favour of less independence for women.

Various incidents in the history of nunneries illustrate the comparatively dependent position of these settlements after the Conquest. At first Sheppey had been an abbacy. It had been deserted during the viking period; and at the instigation of the archbishop of Canterbury about the year 1130 nuns were brought there from Sittingbourne and the house was restored as a priory.

Amesbury again, one of the oldest and wealthiest abbeys in the land for women, was dissolved and restored as a priory, dependent on the abbess of Fontevraud. This change of constitution presents some interesting features. The lives of the women assembled there in the 12th century were of a highly reprehensible character; the abbess was accused of incontinence and her evil ways were followed by the nuns. There was no way out of the difficulty short of removing the women in a body, and to accomplish this was evidently no easy undertaking. Several charters of the time of King John and bearing his signature are in existence. The abbess, whose name is not on record, retired into private life on a pension of ten marks, and the thirty nuns of her convent were placed in other nunneries. A prioress and twenty-four nuns were then brought over from Fontevraud and established at Amesbury, which became for a time a cell to the foreign house[565]. This connection with France, at a time when familiarity with French formed part of a polite education, caused Amesbury to become the chosen retreat of royal princesses. During the wars with France under the Edwards, when many priories and cells were cut off from their foreign connection, Amesbury regained its old standing as an abbacy.

Several of the Benedictine nunneries founded after the Conquest owed their foundation to abbacies of men. Some were directly dependent cells, like Sopwell in Hertfordshire, a nunnery founded by the abbot of St Albans, who held the privilege of appointing its prioress. So absolute was this power that when the nuns appointed a prioress of their own choice in 1330, she was deposed by the abbot of St Albans, who appointed another person in her stead[566]. Similarly the nunnery at Kilburn was a cell to Westminster, its prioress being appointed by the abbot of Westminster[567]. But as a general rule the priories were so constituted that the nuns might appoint a prioress subject to the approval of the patron of their house, and she was then consecrated to her office by the bishop.

Various incidents show how jealously each house guarded its privileges and how needful this was, considering the changes that were apt to occur, for the charters of each religious house were the sole guarantee of its continued existence. From time to time they were renewed and confirmed, and if the representative of the house was not on the alert, he might awake to find his privileges encroached upon. In regard to the changes which were liable to occur the following incident deserves mention. In the year 1192 the archbishop of York formed the plan of subjecting the nunnery of St Clement's at York[568], a priory founded by his predecessor Thurstan, to the newly-founded abbacy for women at Godstow. Godstow was one of the few women's abbacies founded after the Conquest, and owed its wealth and influence chiefly to its connection with the family of Fair Rosamond, at one time the mistress of Henry II, who spent the latter part of her life there. But the nuns of St Clement's, who had always been free, would not obey the abbess of Godstow, and they saved themselves from the archbishop's interference by appealing directly to the Court of Rome.

A curious incident occurred during the reign of Henry III in connection with Stanford, a nunnery in Northamptonshire. Stanford was a priory dependent on the abbot of Peterborough who had founded it. It appears that the prioress and her convent, in soliciting confirmation of their privileges from Rome, employed a certain proctor, who, besides the desired confirmation, procured the insertion of several additional articles into the document, one of which was permission for the nuns to choose their own prioress, and another a release from certain payments. When the abbot of Peterborough became aware of these facts he threatened to complain to the Pope, whereupon the prioress with the nuns' approval carried all their charters and records of privileges to the archbishop of Canterbury, alleging that the proctor had acted against their order. They renounced all claim to privileges secretly obtained, and besought the primate to represent their conduct favourably to the Pope and to make peace between them and their patrons[569].

Both these incidents occurred in connection with Benedictine nunneries. The difficulties which occurred in Cistercian nunneries are less easy to estimate, as they were not daughter-houses to men's Cistercian abbacies, but in many cases held their privileges by a bull obtained directly from the Pope. Thus Sinningthwaite in Yorkshire[570], founded in 1160, held a bull from Alexander III which exempted the nuns from paying tithes on the lands they farmed, such exemption being the peculiar privilege of many Cistercian settlements. Other bulls secured by Cistercian nunneries in England are printed by Dugdale[571].

A few incidents are recorded in connection with some of the royal princesses, which illustrate the attitude commonly assumed towards professed nuns, and give us an idea of the estimation in which convents were held. Queen Margaret of Scotland we are told desired to become a nun; her mother and her sister Christina both took the veil, and her daughters, the princesses Matilda and Mary, lived at Romsey for some years with their aunt Christina. As Pope Innocent IV canonised (1250) Queen Margaret of Scotland a few words must be devoted to her.

Her father Edward, the son of Edmund Ironside (? 1016), had found refuge at the Scottish court when he came from abroad with his wife Agatha and their children, a son and two daughters. Of these daughters, Christina became a nun; but Margaret was either persuaded or constrained to marry King Malcolm in 1070, and having undertaken the duties of so august a station as that of queen, she devoted her energies to introducing reforms into Scotland and to raising the standard of industrial art. We possess a beautiful description of her life, probably written by her chaplain Turgot[572], and her zeal and high principles are further evidenced by her letters, some of which are addressed to the primate Lanfranc.

Margaret's two daughters, Matilda and Mary, were brought up in the convent, but it is not known when they came to Romsey in Wessex; indeed their connection with Wessex offers some chronological difficulties. Their mother's sister Christina became a professed nun at Romsey in 1086[573]; she may have lived before in a nunnery in the north of England[574], and there advocated her niece Matilda's acceptance of the religious profession as a protection against the Normans. If this is not the case it is difficult to fix the date of King Malcolm's scorn for her proposal that Matilda should become a nun[575]. King Malcolm was killed fighting against William Rufus in 1093, Queen Margaret died a few days afterwards, and the princesses Matilda and Mary, of whom the former was about thirteen, from that time till 1100 dwelt at Romsey in the south of England. In the year 1100, after the violent death of Rufus, Henry, the younger of his brothers, laid claim to the English crown. A union with a princess, who on the mother's side was of the house of Cerdic, appeared in every way desirable. According to the statement of William of Malmesbury (? c. 1142) Henry was persuaded by his friends, and especially by his prelates, to marry Matilda. 'She had worn the veil to avoid ignoble marriages,' says William, who lived close to the locality and was nearly a contemporary, 'and when the king wished to marry her, witnesses were brought to say she had worn it without profession[576].' This is borne out by the historian Orderic Vitalis (? 1142), whose information however is derived at second hand, for he enlarges on the princesses' stay with the nuns at Romsey, and on the instruction they received in letters and good manners, but he does not say that they were actually professed[577].

The fullest account of the event is given by Eadmer (? 1124), who was nearly connected with the primate Anselm, and he naturally puts the most favourable construction on Matilda's conduct. According to him she wished to leave the convent and went before Anselm to plead her cause.

'I do not deny having worn the veil,' the princess said. 'When I was a child my aunt Christina, whom you know to be a determined woman, in order to protect me against the violence of the Normans, put a piece of black cloth on my head, and when I removed it gave me blows and bad language. So I trembling and indignant wore the veil in her presence. But as soon as I could get out of her sight I snatched it off and trampled it underfoot[578].' In a lively way she goes on to describe how her father seeing the veil on her head became angry and tore it off, saying he had no intention other than that she should be married. Anselm, before complying with the wish of the princess, convened a chapter at Lambeth, but after hearing their decision, he declared Matilda free and united her in marriage to the king.

Anselm's behaviour is doubtless faithfully represented by Eadmer. Curiously enough later historians, Robert of Gloucester, Matthew Paris and Rudbone (? c. 1234), represent Matilda as unwilling to leave the cloister to be married; and in one of these accounts she is described as growing angry, and pronouncing a curse on the possible offspring of the union. Walter Map goes so far as to say that the king took to wife a veiled and professed nun, Rome neither assenting nor dissenting, but remaining passive.

Perhaps the validity of the union was afterwards for political reasons called in question. At any rate Mary, Matilda's sister, also left the convent to be married to Eustace, Count of Boulogne, without objection being raised.

That Matilda did not object to leaving the cloister, we have conclusive proof in her great and continued affection for Anselm as shown in her letters to him. These letters and the charitable deeds of the queen, throw light on the Latinity of the Romsey pupil and on the tastes she had imbibed there.

We shall have occasion to return to Matilda again in connection with the philanthropic movement of the age, and we shall find her founding the hospital of St Giles in the soke of Aldgate, and bringing the first Austin Canons from France into England[579].

All her life she retained a taste for scholarly pursuits, and patronised scholars and men of letters. Her correspondence with the primate Anselm[580] yields proof of her own studies and the freedom with which she wrote Latin.

In one of these letters, written shortly after her marriage (bk 3. 55), Matilda urges the primate in strong terms to abstain from the severe fasting he practises, quoting from Cicero 'on Old Age,' and arguing that as the mind needs food and drink, so does the body; she at the same time admits the Scriptures enjoin the duty of fasting, and Pythagoras, Socrates and others urge the need of frugality. Anselm in his answer incidentally mentions having joined her to the king in lawful wedlock.

Matilda's next letters are less fraught with learning, and in unaffected terms express grief at Anselm's voluntary exile, which was the outcome of his quarrel with the king. She is saddened by his absence and longs for his return (3. 93); she would act as intercessor between him and her husband (3. 96), and she writes to the Pope on Anselm's behalf (3. 99). The queen both read and admired Anselm's writings, and compares his style to that of Cicero, Quintilian, Jerome, Gregory and others (3. 119) with whom her reading at Romsey may have made her acquainted.

Anselm is not slow in answering that the king's continued bitterness is to him a source of grief, and in expressing the desire that the queen may turn his heart. It is good of her to wish for his return, which, however, does not depend on himself; besides 'surely she wishes him to act in accordance with his conscience.' In one of these letters he accuses the queen of disposing otherwise than she ought of the churches which are in her keeping (3. 57, 81, 97, 107, 120, 128).

Anselm's continued absence from Canterbury, which was due to the quarrel about investiture, was felt to be a national calamity, and many letters passed between him and those among the Church dignitaries who sided with him against the king.

Among Anselm's correspondents were several abbesses of Wessex settlements, who seem to have been in no way prejudiced against him on account of the approval he gave to Matilda's leaving the cloister. He writes in a friendly strain to another Matilda, abbess of St Mary's, Winchester (Winton), thanking her for her prayers, urging her to cultivate purity of heart and beauty of mind as an encouragement to virtue, and begging her to show obedience to Osmund (bishop of Winchester) in affairs temporal and spiritual (3. 30). To Adeliz, also abbess at St Mary's (3. 70), he writes to say she must not be sorry that William Giffard has left his appointment as bishop of Winchester, for his going is a reason for rejoicing among his friends, as it proves his steadfastness in religious matters. He also writes to Eulalia, abbess (of Shaftesbury), who was anxious for him to come back, and begs her to pray that his return may prosper (3. 125).

The references to the Benedictine nunneries of Wessex contained in this correspondence are supplemented by information from other sources.

In the early part of the 12th century a girl named Eva was brought up at a convent, but which she left to go to Anjou, since she preferred the life of a recluse there to the career which was open to her in the English nunnery. Her life abroad has been described in verse by Hilarius (? c. 1124) who is the earliest known Englishman who wrote religious plays. After studying under Abelard Hilarius had taken up his abode at Angers, near the place where Eva dwelt, and was much impressed by her piety and devotions[581].

From his poem we gather that Eva had been given into the care of the nuns at St Mary's, Winchester (Winton), a place which he designates as 'good and renowned.' The girl's progress in learning was the subject of wonder to the abbess and her companions, but when Eva reached the age at which her enrolment as a member of the community was close at hand, 'she turned' in the words of the poet, 'from success as though it had been a sinful trespass,' and left the nunnery to go abroad.

Her admirer Hilarius has celebrated other women who were devoted to religious pursuits. He addresses one of them as 'Bona,' and praises her for caring little for the religious garb unless good works accompany it. The meaning of her name and that of other religious women whom Hilarius also addresses, such as 'Superba,' and 'Rosa,' gives him an opportunity for compliments on the virtues these names suggest. His poems, though insignificant in themselves, add touches to our knowledge of women who adopted the religious profession.

In the wars which ensued after the death of Henry I (1134) the nunneries of Wessex witnessed the climax and the end of the struggle. The Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I and Queen Matilda, who claimed the crown on the strength of her descent, finding the sympathies of London divided, approached Winchester, and was received by two convents of monks and the convent of nuns who came forth to meet her. The Empress for a time resided at St Mary's Abbey, and there received a visit from Theobald, archbishop of Canterbury[582]. During the fighting which followed the nunnery of Wherwell was burnt[583], and perhaps St Mary's Abbey at Winchester was destroyed[584]. Matilda finally yielded to Stephen, and left England on condition that her son Henry should succeed to the crown.

The nunnery of Romsey continued its connection with royalty, and we find the daughter of Stephen, Mary of Blois, established there as abbess previous to her marriage. Her case again throws curious side-lights on the foundation of convents and the possibilities open to women who adopted the religious profession.

The princess Mary had come over from St Sulpice in France with seven nuns to Stratford at Bow (otherwise St Leonard's, Bromley in Middlesex), when the manor of Lillechurch in Kent was granted to the nunnery there by King Stephen for her own and her companions' maintenance[585]. But these women, as the charter has it, because of the 'harshness of the rule and their different habits' could not and would not stay at Stratford, and with the convent's approval they left it and removed to Lillechurch, which was constituted by charter a priory for them. Mary removed later to Romsey where she became abbess some time before 1159[586], for in that year her brother William, the sole surviving heir of Stephen, died, so that she was left heiress to the county of Boulogne. She was thereupon brought out of the convent at the instigation of Henry II, and married to Matthew, son of the Count of Flanders, who through her became Count of Boulogne. Thomas Beket, who was then chancellor, not primate, was incensed at this unlawful proceeding, and intervened as a protector of monastic rule, but the only result of his interference was to draw on himself the hatred of Count Matthew[587]. It is said that Mary returned to Romsey twelve years later. Her daughters were, however, legitimised in 1189 and both of them married.

Various letters found here and there in the correspondence of this period show how women vowed to religion retained their connection with the outer world. Among the letters of Thomas Beket there is one in which he tells his 'daughter' Idonea to transcribe the letter he is forwarding, and lay it before the archbishop of York in the presence of witnesses[588]. It has been mentioned that a sister of Thomas Beket was in 1173 abbess at Barking.

Again, among the letters of Peter of Blois (? c. 1200), chaplain to Henry II, are several addressed to women who had adopted the religious profession. Anselma 'a virgin' is urged to remain true to her calling; Christina, his 'sister,' is exhorted to virtue, and Adelitia 'a nun' is sent a discourse on the beauties of the unmarried life[589].

§ 3. The Order of St Gilbert of Sempringham[590].

The study of the order of St Gilbert, which is of English origin, shows how in this country also sympathy with convent life was spreading during the 12th century, and how, owing to the protection afforded to peaceful and domestic pursuits by the religious houses, many girls and women of the middle classes became nuns. From an intellectual point of view the order of St Gilbert has little to recommend it, for we know of no men or women belonging to the order who distinguished themselves in learning, literature or art. As a previous chapter has indicated, its purpose was chiefly to prevent women from drifting into the unattached and homeless class, the existence of which was beginning to be recognised as prejudicial to society.

The material for the study of the order is abundant. We have several accounts of the life and work of Gilbert, besides minute injunctions he drafted to regulate the life of his communities, and there are references to him in contemporary literature. The success of his efforts, like that of the men who founded combined orders of canons and nuns abroad, was due to the admission of women into his settlements regardless of their class and antecedents. Like Robert of Arbrissel his interest centred in women, but he differed from him in giving the supreme authority of his settlements into the hands of men. For the settlements which afterwards became double originated in Gilbert's wish to provide for women who sought him as their spiritual adviser. It was only in consequence of the difficulties he encountered that canons were added to the settlements.

Helyot likens the order of St Gilbert to that of Norbert, the founder of the order of Prémontré[591], but here too there are marked points of difference, for in disposition and character Gilbert was as unlike Norbert as he was to Robert; he had neither the masterfulness of the one nor the clear-sighted determination of the other. The reason of his popularity lies more in his gentleness and persuasiveness, and these qualities made him especially attractive to women.

Gilbert was a native of Lincolnshire, born about 1083, the son of a wealthy Norman baron and an English woman of low rank. His ungainly appearance and want of courtly bearing rendered him unfit for knightly service. He was sent to France for his education and there attained some reputation as a teacher. After his return home he devoted his energies to teaching boys and girls in the neighbourhood. His father bestowed on him two livings, one of which was at Sempringham. His chief characteristic was pity for the lowly and humble, and this attracted the attention among others of Robert Bloet, bishop of Lincoln (? 1123). For a time Gilbert acted as a clerk in Bloet's house, and after his death remained with his successor Alexander (? 1148) in a like capacity. With Alexander he consulted about permanently providing for those of the lower classes whom his liberality was attracting to Sempringham.

The first step taken by Gilbert was to erect suitable dwellings round the church of St Andrew at Sempringham for seven women whom he had taught and who had devoted themselves to religion under his guidance, and as they were not to leave their dwelling place, lay sisters were appointed to wait on them. He also provided dwellings at Sempringham for the poor, the infirm, for lepers, and orphans.

The order of Gilbert is held to have been established before 1135, the year of King Henry I's death[592]. The author of his life in Dugdale likens Gilbert's progress at this time to the chariot of Aminadab; to it clung clerics and laymen, literate and illiterate women, and it was drawn by Master Gilbert himself.

Gilbert had entered into friendly relations with the Cistercian monks who were then gaining ground in Yorkshire, and William, first abbot of Rievaulx (? 1145-6), was among them. He had a good deal to do with Ailred (? 1166), a notable north-country man who came from Scotland to live at Rievaulx, and afterwards became abbot successively of Revesby and Rievaulx.

At this time there were no nunneries in the north of England, for the great settlements of the early English period had passed away and no new houses for women had been founded. The numbers of those who flocked to Gilbert were so great that he felt called upon to give them a more definite organisation. His friendship with Cistercian monks no doubt turned his eyes to Citeaux, and the wish arose in him to affiliate his convents to the Cistercian order. Having placed his congregations under the care of the Cistercians, he set out for Citeaux about 1146.

But his hopes were not fulfilled. At Citeaux he met Pope Eugenius III (? 1153) and other leading men. He cemented his friendship with Bernard of Clairvaux and entered into friendly relations with Malachy, bishop of Armagh (? 1148), who had introduced the Cistercian order into Ireland. But the assembly at Citeaux came to the conclusion that they would not preside over another religious order, especially not over one for women[593], and Gilbert was urged to remain at the head of his communities and Bernard and Malachy presented him with an abbot's staff.

He returned to England, burdened with a responsibility from which he would gladly have been free, and obliged to frame a definite rule of life for his followers. As one account puts it, 'he now studied the rules of all religious orders and culled from each its flowers.' The outcome of his efforts was the elaborate set of injunctions which now lie before us.

From these injunctions we can see how Gilbert's original plan had expanded, for his settlements consisted of bands of canons, lay-brethren, nuns, and lay-sisters. One set of rules is drafted for the canons who observed the rule of St Augustine and performed religious service for the double community, and a separate set for the laymen who acted as servants. And similarly there is one set of rules for the nuns who lived by the rule of St Benedict, and another for their servants the lay-sisters.

These rules suggest many points of similarity to the combined settlements of canons and nuns previously founded abroad, but there are also some differences.

In the Gilbertine settlements the dwellings of the men and women were contiguous, and the convent precincts and the church were divided between them. The men's dwelling was under the rule of a prior, but three prioresses ruled conjointly in the women's house. The arrangements in both convents were alike, and the duties of prior and prioress similar, but in all matters of importance the chief authority belonged to the prior who was at the head of the whole settlement. The property owned by Gilbertine settlements apparently consisted largely of sheep, and among the men we note a number of shepherds and a 'procurator' who bought and sold the animals. The ewes were regularly milked and the wool was either used in the house for making clothes, or sold. The lay-sisters were appointed to spin and weave and the nuns to cut out and make the garments.

There was one cellar and one kitchen for the whole settlement, for the cellaress in the women's house acted as caterer both for the canons and the nuns. Domestic duties fell to the share of the women. They cooked the canons' food as well as their own and handed the meals into the men's quarters through a hole in the wall with a turn-table, through which the plates and dishes were returned to them. They also made clothes for the whole establishment.

At the daily chapter held in the women's house the prioresses presided in turn, with a companion on either side. The cellaress reported to the prioress, who settled the allowances and gave out the food. She received information also from the 'scrutatrices,' the nuns whose duty it was to go the round of the house and report disorders, and according to whose reports she imposed the various penances.

We also hear in the women's house of a librarian ('precentrix[594]'), who had the keys of the book-case ('armarium'), which was kept locked except during reading time when the nuns were allowed the use of the books. There was to be no quarrelling over the books; the nun like the canon was directed to take the one allotted to her and not to appropriate that given to another. Simplicity of life was studied. Pictures and sculpture were declared superfluous and the crosses used were to be of painted wood. Only books for choir use were to be written in the convent, but while this holds good alike for the women and for the men, there is this further prohibition with regard to the nuns, that talking in Latin was to be avoided. 'Altogether,' says the rule[595], 'we forbid the use of the Latin tongue unless under special circumstances.'

The cooking was done by the nuns in turn for a week at a time in compliance with a regulation contained in the rule of St Benedict. The librarian also had her week of cooking, and when she was on duty in the kitchen, gave up her keys to another nun. We hear also of the mistress appointed to teach the novices, and of the portress who guarded the approaches to the house.

The injunctions drafted for the canons and the lay members of the settlement are equally explicit. Directions are also given about tending the sick, who were to be treated with tenderness and care.

Girls were admitted into the company of the nuns at the age of twelve, but several years passed before they could be enrolled among the novices. At the age of twenty the alternative was put before the novice of joining the nuns or the lay-sisters. If she decided in favour of the latter she could not afterwards be promoted to the rank of nun; she was bound to observe chastity and obedience while she remained in the house, but she was not consecrated. A certain amount of knowledge of the hymns, psalms and books of service was required from the novice before she could make profession.

The scheme of life worked out by Gilbert met with success and numerous patrons were found to endow settlements on the plan of that at Sempringham. As the chronicler says, 'many wealthy and highborn Englishmen, counts and barons, seeing and approving of the undertaking the Lord had initiated and holding that good would come of it, bestowed many properties ('fundos et praedia') on the holy father (Gilbert) and began to construct on their own account numerous monasteries in various districts.'

The greater number of these settlements were situated in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, but judging by the extant charters the conditions and purposes of their foundations were not always the same. Sometimes the grant is made conjointly to men and women, sometimes reference is made to the prior only. In the earlier charters the women are especially noticed, in the later ones more account is taken of the men. As time went on the order gradually ceased to have any attraction for women, and at the time of the dissolution several foundations originally made for men and women were occupied only by canons.

Gilbert himself did not accept a position of authority in his order but became a canon at Bullington, one of its settlements. He appears to have been influential in wider circles and we find him several times at court. King Henry II visited him, and both the king and Queen Eleanor made grants of land to the order. Henry regarded Gilbert with so much favour that when he was summoned before the King's Court in London on the charge of having supported Beket in his exile, the king sent a message from abroad ordering his case to be reserved for royal judgment, which practically meant his acquittal[596].

Rapidly as the number of Gilbertine houses increased, the order did not remain entirely free from trouble, for even in Gilbert's lifetime distressing incidents happened which justified to some extent the scornful remarks of contemporary writers. One of these difficulties arose sometime between 1153 and 1166 in connection with a girl at Watton. A full account of the affair was written and forwarded to Gilbert by Ailred, abbot of Rievaulx[597]. This account illustrates pointedly the readiness of the age to accept a miraculous rendering of fact, and gives a curious insight into the temper of a community of nuns. Indeed such violence of conduct, and details of such behaviour as are here described show that the barbarity of the age, which so often strikes us in connection with camp and court, was reflected in the monastery.

Watton was among the older Gilbertine houses and had been founded before 1148 by a nobleman Eustace Fitz-John on property which had belonged to a nunnery during the early English period[598]. The settlement was among the larger Gilbertine houses; it owned property to the extent of twenty acres.

The girl had been placed under the care of the nuns of Watton at the suggestion of Murdach, abbot of Fountains (? 1153), and had given endless trouble by her unbecoming levity and hopeless laziness. 'She is corrected by word of mouth but without result, she is urged by blows but there is no improvement,' writes Ailred, who speaks of her as a nun without telling us that she had actually made profession.

She made the acquaintance of one of the lay-brothers who were engaged in repairing the women's dwelling. The two contrived to meet frequently out of doors until at last the nun's condition became obvious. Her fellow-nuns were so incensed at this discovery that they treated her with barbarous cruelty and would have put her to death had not the prioress intervened and had her chained and imprisoned. The anger of the nuns now turned against the lay-brother who had brought disgrace on their convent, and with a mixture of cunning and deceit they managed to discover him and have him terribly mutilated. 'I do not praise the deed, but the zeal,' says Ailred; 'I do not approve of bloodshed, but for all that I praise the virgins' hatred of such wickedness.' The esprit de corps among the nuns and their indignation evidently went far in his eyes to excuse behaviour which he would not describe as he did if he had not felt it altogether reprehensible.

Meanwhile the nun overcome by contrition was awaiting her delivery in prison; there she had visions of abbot Murdach who had died some years before. He first rebuked her, but then miraculously relieved her of her burden and restored her to her normal condition. The nuns though greatly surprised were convinced of the truth of the statement concerning the miraculous doings of Murdach because they found the nun's chains loosened. The prior of Watton sent for Ailred to enquire more closely into the matter. Ailred came, collected all possible evidence, and was convinced that there had been divine intervention on the girl's behalf. He wrote an account of what had happened to Gilbert, with these words as preface: 'to know of the Lord's miracles and of his proofs of divine love and to be silent about them were sacrilege.' What became of the girl we are not told. For trespasses such as hers the rule of Gilbert decreed life-long incarceration, but the canon for a like trespass suffered no punishment beyond being expelled from the settlement.

The old age of Gilbert was further troubled by the evil conduct of two men, Gerard a smith, and Ogger a carpenter. He had taken them into the order out of charity, but they greatly abused his kindness, appropriated the revenues of the order, and encouraged dishonesty and sexual irregularities. Their behaviour was productive of such results that it called forth a letter from Beket to Gilbert in which he says 'the greater our love, the more we are troubled and perturbed by hearing of things happening in your order, which are a grievance not only before the eyes of men but before the eyes of God.'

However letters in defence of Gilbert were written by Roger archbishop of York (? 1181), Henry bishop of Winchester (? 1171) and William bishop of Norwich (? 1174), who treat the occurrence as a misfortune and praise the order generally in the warmest terms. Praise from other quarters is not wanting, which shows that Gilbert's work was considered remarkable, especially with regard to the influence he had over women. William of Newburgh wrote of him: 'As far as this is concerned, in my opinion he holds the palm above all others whom we know to have devoted their energies to the control and government of religious women[599].'

Gilbert lived to an advanced age. Walter Map, writing between 1182 and 1189, speaks of him as over a hundred and well-nigh blind. He was buried at Sempringham, where his tomb became the goal of many pilgrimages and the scene of many miracles. He was canonised a saint of the Church by Pope Innocent II in 1202. One of the accounts of his life, written shortly after his death, says that the order at that time numbered thirteen conventual churches and contained seven hundred men and fifteen hundred women.

The East Riding Antiquarian Society has recently begun excavating on the site of Watton Priory, one of the oldest Gilbertine settlements, and has ascertained many particulars about the inner arrangements of this house[600]. It has found that the church, built on the foundations of a Norman church which had been destroyed by fire in 1167, was divided throughout its entire length by a substantial partition wall nearly five feet thick. The church served for both sexes of the community, which were kept separate by this partition. In some places remains of this wall were found up to the height of four feet; this was part of the solid foundation upon which, above the height of the eye, was erected an open arcade which made it possible for the whole community to hear the sermon preached on festal days from the pulpit. The parts into which the church was divided were of unequal size. Dr Cox, the president of the Society, who read a paper on the Gilbertine statutes, said that the full complement of the double house at Watton consisted of a hundred and forty women and seventy men, and that the larger part of the church was appropriated to the women and the smaller to the men.

It was further shown by the excavations that the dividing wall had in one place an archway, covering the door which was opened for the great processions of both sexes which took place on the fourteen great festivals of the year and at funerals. Remains were also found of an opening in the wall with a turn-table, so arranged that articles could be passed through without either sex seeing the other. Through this the chalice, when the canons' mass was over, would be passed back and restored to the custody of the nuns; no doubt this was constructed on the same plan as the opening through which the food was passed.

The cloister of the nuns lay on the north side of the transept and must have been about a hundred feet square, an alley of ten feet wide surrounding it. It is thought that the stone of which the house was built must have been brought up the Humber from Whitby. An early writer tells us that the nuns' dwelling at Watton was connected by an underground passage with the holy well at Kilnwick, and that the nuns by means of these waters performed wonderful cures[601].

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