Arthington Priory

Arthington Priory

The Priory (or rather Nunnery) of Arthington, in the West Yorkshire village of Arthington was established by Peter de Arthington - nothing remains of the Priory today.

Foundation of the Priory

Arthington gave the nuns "the place the whilk the said abby is byggyd on, with all the appurtenaunces." His son, Serlo, confirmed and added to his father's gift and, in turn, his own son Peter again confirmed the earlier gifts and also added "one acre of land in Tebecroft, and also all the watyre that thai may lede to make yam a milne with, and to thair other usez necessarez."

The Maltby church (near Doncaster) was given to the Priory and later formally appropriated to it by the Archbishop Alexander Nevill in 1378. The nuns were also given other gifts of local lands but the Priory remained a small house.

However, records show that all was not well at the nunnery; discipline had to be enforced on various nuns and, at one point, on the prioress herself.

ome history of the nuns of Arthington

Follow a visit to the priory on 9 June 1307, Archbishop William Greenfield wrote to the prioress and convent concerning four of the nuns. Dionisia de Heuensdale and Ellen de Castleford were, as a result of the visit, forbidden to go outside the precincts of the convent. Two other nuns, Agnes de Screvyn (who had resigned as the prioress four years earlier) and Isabella Couvel, seem to have claimed that certain animals and goods belonging to the nunnery were actually their own private property. As a punishment, the prioress ordered that they resign within three days.

There was also further discontent in the house later, as on 13 March 1311 the sub-prioress and convent were ordered to render due obedience to their prioress Isabella de Berghby. This was followed on 30 August by a letter to Mr. Walter de Bebiry, Dean of Ainsty, directing him to go to Arthington and inquire as to Isabella de Berghby and Margaret de Tang, nuns of the house, who appear to have had left the establishment - he was charged with finding find out with whom they had left and where they were now living.

It is clear that Isabella de Berghby had seemingly resented having another nun associated with the management of the nunnery, and in a fit of pique had cast off her habit and left; despite the unprofessional behavior of the prioress, she does not seem to have formally resigned the post of prioress and no successor seems to have been elected or appointed or would be until she returned.

On 19 September 1312 - eighteen months after Isabella' departure - Maud de Batheley was confirmed in office; within four days of her appointment the archbishop wrote to the new prioress informing her that the prodigal Isabella had come to him in the spirit of humility, and he had absolved her and lifted the threat of excommunication which she had incurred by leaving her house.

The archbishop instructed Maud to receive Isabella back, but that when she was there she was to take the last place in quire, cloister, dormitory, and refectory, and was not to go outside the cloister. Later, on 18 September 1315, Archbishop Greenfield visited Arthington and issued a series of injunctions to the nuns.

An account of all the goods of the house was to be made up by all the officers every year before the feast of St. Andrew, and shown to the prioress and three or four of the more discreet nuns. The sick were to be properly tended to in the infirmary as the means of the house allowed; silence was kept, and all who could were to attend the services.

The archbishop further instructed that no woman who was received as a sister of the house should be allowed to accept or wear the black veil; moreover neither the prioress nor the sub-prioress were to allow boys or indeed any secular persons to sleep in the dormitory. Also, in future, when the prioress or sub-prioress allowed any of the nuns to visit their parents or friends, a limit of fifteen days was to be allowed. If they did not return on time without a legitimate reason they were to be punished in chapter. Additionally, leave to go out of the nunnery was only to be granted once or twice a year.

Abbey of Cluny

The Priory - one of only two Cluniac Nunneries in England (the other being Delapré Abbey at Northampton) - later fell under the rule of the great abbey at Cluny in Burgundy; the Cluniac order was a branch of the Benedictines, which was a keystone to the stability that European society achieved in the 11th century. Partly owing to the stricter adherence to a reformed Benedictine rule, Cluny became the acknowledged leader of Western monasticism from the later 10th century.

A sequence of highly competent abbots of Cluny were statesmen on an international stage. The monastery of Cluny itself became the grandest, most prestigious and best endowed monastic institution in Europe. The height of Cluniac influence was from the second half of the 10th century until the early 12th century.

The dissolution

At the time of the dissolution there were nine resident nuns at the Priory, including the prioress, Elizabeth Hall, who was then forty-five. In the Priory records, which is headed "Domus monialium Arthyngton clunienc ordinis S [anct] i Benedicti." Against the name of each of the nuns, except the prioress, is written 'continue,' meaning that they wished to continue in their vows. The records further go on to say that "All these persons (including the prioress) be of good religious liffying and not slanderid." The ages of the nuns ranged between seventy-two and twenty-five years.

The Priory was formally surrendered by Elizabeth Hall on 26 November 1540. The annual value of the Priory at this time, according to the Valor Ecclesiasticus, was only £11/8/4, and at the date of the surrender the demesne lands were valued at a total of £5/8/4, whilst the actual Priory, along with its storehouses, gardens, orchards, etc were only valued at some 5 shillings a year.

After the dissolution

After the dissolution in 1543, the site was given by the King to Archbishop Cranmer. Later, apparently at the time of Charles I, a plain but substantial Hall was built on the site. The front doorway to the Hall, which is dated 1585, has evidently been removed from some older building. In 1822 the Hall was occupied as a farm house and was the property of the Earl of Harewood. In the old parish records it is described as "a large well-built, square house, on a fine elevation above the river".

Despite the loss of the ancient buildings, the 1822 records do have an entry that states: "ARTHINGTON NUNNERY, in the parish of Adel, upper-division of Skyrack, and adjoins the village of Arthington."

The Cluniac Prayer

"O God, by whose grace thy servants the Holy Abbots of Cluny, enkindled with the fire of thy love, became burning and shining lights in thy Church: Grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline, and may ever walk before thee as children of light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth, one God, now and for ever."

The Prioresses

The Prioresses were as follows:

*Sara - 1241
*Eleanor - 1299
*Maud de Kesewik - died 1299
*Agnes de Skrevin - succeeded 1299 and then resigned 1302
*Agnes de Pontefract - 1302
*Isabella de Berghby - 1311 (demoted after leaving from the priory without permission)
*Maud de Batheley - 1312
*Isabella Dautry - died 1349
*Isabella de Berughby - 1349
*Isabel de Eccope - between 1413-20
*Sibil Plesyngton - 1437
*Alice Raucestre - died 1463
*Marjorie Craven - 1463
*Katherine Willesthorp - 1475 (died 1484)
*Alice Mawde - 1484 (died 149)
*Elizabeth Popeley - 1492 (deprived 1494)
*Margaret Turton - 1494 (died 1496)
*Alice Hall - 1496
*Elizabeth Hall - 1532 - Priory surrendered 1540

1543: property given to Thomas Cranmer.


*'Houses of Cluniac nuns: Priory of Arthington', A History of the County of York: Volume 3 (1974)

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