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‘Canonici Albi et Moniales’: Perceptions of the Twelfth-Century Double House



In contrast with recent assertions that the term ‘double house’ is both anachronistic and dysfunctional when used with reference to mixed communities of the twelfth century, this paper demonstrates that contemporary writers did in fact perceive a difference between religious houses that housed both men and women, and a small group of ‘houses of canons and nuns’. The absence of a more specific term was in itself an indication of the perceived novelty of such houses, which were seen as diverging both from earlier Anglo-Saxon mixed communities, and from other twelfth-century houses for men and women.



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1 Bateson, M., ‘Origin and early history of double monasteries’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society n.s. xiii (1899), 137–98 at p. 197.

2 A. H. Thompson, ‘Double monasteries and the male element in nunneries’, in The ministry of women: a report, London 1919, 145–64 at pp. 158–9; Godfrey, J., ‘The double monastery in early English history’, Ampleforth Journal lxxix (1974), 1932 at p. 19; S. Hollis, Anglo-Saxon women and the Church, Woodbridge 1992, 300; Halpin, P., ‘Women religious in late Anglo-Saxon England’, Haskins Society Journal vi (1994), 97111 at p. 107.

3 Bateson, ‘Origin and early history’, 138; P. Hunter Blair, The world of Bede, London 1970, 144. Another important definition is given in S. Hilpisch, Die Doppelklöster: Entstehung und Organisation, Münster 1928, 1. Hilpisch defines the double house as a community of men and women which formed a single unit, both legally and spatially.

4 E. Power, Medieval English nunneries, c. 1275–1535, Cambridge 1922, p. vii; J. E. Burton, The Yorkshire nunneries in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries (Borthwick papers lvi, 1979), 1; cf. Rigold, S. E., ‘The “double minsters” of Kent and their analogies’, Journal of the British Archaeological Association 3rd ser. xxxi (1968), 2737 at p. 27; Thompson, ‘Double monasteries’, 148, 163–4.

5 S. K. Elkins, Holy women of twelfth-century England, Chapel Hill, NC 1988, p. xvii; S. Thompson, Women religious: the founding of English nunneries after the Norman Conquest, Oxford 1991, 54, 56–73.

6 Elkins, Holy women, p. xviii.

7 See R. Gilchrist, Gender and material culture: the archaeology of religious women, London 1994; P. S. Gold, The Lady and the Virgin: image, attitude, and experience in twelfth-century France, Chicago 1995, esp. pp. 101–2; and B. L. Venarde, Women's monasticism and medieval society: nunneries in France and England, 890–1215, Ithaca, NY 1997. For an extreme example see M. Oliva, The convent and the community in late medieval England: female monasteries in the diocese of Norwich, 1350–1540, Woodbridge 1998, where the presence of canons at Shouldham, a Gilbertine house included in her sample of ‘nunneries’, is not mentioned until p. 196.

8 P. D. Johnson, Equal in monastic profession: religious women in medieval France, Chicago 1991, 6–7, 107.

9 See the introduction by Michel Parisse to K. Elm and M. Parisse (eds), Doppelklöster und andere Formen der Symbiose männlicher und weiblicher Religiosen im Mittelalter, Berlin 1992, 9–11.

10 For the concept of the double order see Hilpisch, Doppelklöster, 70–9.

11 J. E. Burton, ‘The “chariot of Aminadab” and the Yorkshire priory of Swine’, in R. Horrox and S. Rees Jones (eds), Pragmatic utopias: ideals and communities, 1200–1630, Cambridge 2001, 26–42; Gilchrist, Gender and material culture, 38, 77, 83–5, 90.

12 Printed in Gervasii cantuariensis opera historica, ed. W. Stubbs (RS lxxiii, 1879–80), ii. 414–49. For the dating of the work see Knowles, D., ‘The Mappa mundi of Gervase of Canterbury’, Downside Review xlviii (1930), 237–47.

13 Thompson, Women religious, 78, 111; Burton, ‘“Chariot of Aminadab”’, 26; Graves, C. V., ‘English Cistercian nuns in Lincolnshire’, Speculum liv (1979), 492–9 at p. 495.

14 The foundation charter is printed in Monasticon, vi. 974–5. Other misattributions include Catesby, Northamptonshire, described by Gervase as a house of ‘moniales de Simplingham’, although there are no known links between this house and the order of Sempringham.

15 For the history of the order see B. J. Golding, Gilbert of Sempringham and the Gilbertine order c. 1130–c. 1300, Oxford 1995.

16 Monasticon, vi, pp. xix–xx.

17 The book of St Gilbert, ed. R. Foreville and G. Keir, Oxford 1987, 55.

18 Ibid. 51–3.

19 Walter Map, De nugis curialium, ed. M. R. James, C. N. L. Brooke and R. A. B. Mynors, Oxford 1996, 117; Foundation of Walden, 123.

20 The cartulary of Stixwold is preserved as BL, ms Add. 46701. A selection of the original charters of the house is printed in Danelaw documents, 278–89, esp. pp. 287–8. For Wykeham see EYC i. 300, no. 383; ii. 373–4, no. 1065.

21 For a discussion of the similarities between ‘English Cistercian’ houses, and Gilbertine houses see Elkins, Holy women, 84–91.

22 Bodl. Lib., ms Top. Lincs. d I fos 2r–v, 38r; Papsturkunden in England, ed. W. Holtzmann (Abhandlungen der Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen, Phil.-Hist. Klasse, neue Folge, xxv. 1–2; Dritte Folge, 14–5; 33, 1930–52), iii. 366–7, no. 236; The acta of Hugh of Wells, bishop of Lincoln, 1209–1235, ed. D. M. Smith (LRS lxxxviii, 2000), 213–14. It is unclear whether the bishop involved was Hugh of Avalon or Hugh of Wells, although Hugh of Wells is perhaps the more likely candidate: C. R. Cheney, Episcopal visitations of monasteries in the thirteenth century, Manchester 1931, 33, 98.

23 Cartulary of Blyth Priory, ed. R. T. Timson (Thoroton Society xxvii–xxviii, 1973), i. 194, no. 303; EYC viii. 168, no. 119.

24 Se the list given in Elkins, Holy women, 170–1.

25 For Legbourne see Bodl. Lib., ms Linc. Charters 1165; Transcripts of charters relating to the Gilbertine houses of Sixle, Ormsby, Catley, Bullington and Alvingham, ed. F. M. Stenton (LRS xviii, 1922), 102, no. 1; 105, no. 5. For Swine see n. 56 below. Canons and a master also appeared at Catesby, described by Gervase as a house of moniales de Simplingham, although there is no evidence for their presence before 1266: Monasticon, iv. 636.

26 Gervase, ‘Mappa mundi’, 440. For the relationship between Marton and Moxby see Thompson, Women religious, 65–6, and Burton, ‘Yorkshire nunneries’, 7–8.

27 Danelaw documents, 75–102; The Registrum antiquissimum of the cathedral church of Lincoln, ed. C. W. Foster (LRS, 1931–73), x. 276, no. 2940; Curia regis rolls preserved in the Public Record Office, ed. C. T. Flower, D. Crook and P. Brand, London 1922–2002, i. 346.

28 Monasticon, iv. 254.

29 Gerald of Wales, ‘Gemma ecclesiastica’, in Giraldi cambrensis opera omnia, ed. J. S. Brewer (RS xxi, 1861–91), ii. 247, trans. in The jewel of the Church, ed. J. J. Hagen, Leiden 1979, 188; Gerald of Wales, ‘Speculum ecclesiae’, in Giraldi cambrensis opera omnia, iv. 184.

30 ‘Gemma ecclesiastica’, ii. 74; ‘Speculum ecclesiae’, iv. 183.

31 Bateson, ‘Origin and early history’, 144–5.

32 Libellus de diversis ordinibus et professionibus qui sunt in aecclesia, ed. G. Constable and B. Smith, Oxford 1972, 4–5.

33 ‘Canonicos laicosque simul duplicesque sorores, Quadrifido positu continet una domus’: Nigel de Longchamp's Speculum stultorum, ed. J. H. Mozley and R. R. Raymo, Berkeley 1960, 84.

34 Book of St Gilbert, 134–63.

35 J. T. McNeill and H. Gamer (eds), Medieval handbooks of penance, New York 1990, 204.

36 C. H. Talbot, The Anglo-Saxon missionaries in Germany, London 1954, 207.

37 Bede, Historia ecclesiastica gentis anglorum, ed. B. Colgrave and R. A. B. Mynors, Oxford 1969, 293, 405–27, 461–3, 237–9, 355–65, 393–7.

38 Hollis, Anglo-Saxon women, 134, 245–51.

39 Ailred, ‘De sanctimoniali de Wattun’, PL cxcv.789–96 at cols 789–90. For discussion of this incident see G. Constable, ‘Ailred of Rievaulx and the nun of Watton: an episode in the early history of the Gilbertine order’, in D. Baker (ed.), Medieval women (Studies in Church History, Subsidia i, 1978), 205–26, and Freeman, E., ‘Nuns in the public sphere: Ailred of Rievaulx's “De sanctimoniali de Wattun” and the gendering of authority’, Comitatus xxvii (1996), 5580.

40 Foundation of Walden, 123.

41 Ibid. There may perhaps be a hint of earlier influences in the word saeculis: ‘for centuries/in the world’.

42 Walter Map, De nugis curialium, 116–17.

43 Monasticon, vi, pp. xix–xx.

44 Book of St Gilbert, 57.

45 For the status of men at an Anglo-Saxon mixed community see Blair, J., ‘Saint Frideswide reconsidered’, Oxoniensia lii (1987), 71127 at p. 88.

46 See J. C. Dickinson, The origins of the Austin canons and their introduction into England, London 1950, and J. Herbert, ‘The transformation of hermitages into Augustinian priories in twelfth-century England’, in W. J. Sheils (ed.), Monks, hermits and the ascetic tradition (Studies in Church History xxii, 1985), 109–29.

47 See Bateson, ‘Origin and early history’, 183–94; Hunter Blair, World of Bede, 136.

48 See the privilege granted to Nun Cotham, cited at n. 22 above.

49 Gervase, ‘Mappa mundi’, 435, 438. He makes no reference to Harrold, an Arrouasian house of nuns and canons, supervised by a prior.

50 It is easy to see how such confusion might have occurred. The nuns of Fontevraud followed the Benedictine rule, so might have been expected to wear black habits. However, an early version of the Rule of Fontevraud refers to an unbleached, natural coloured habit: PL clxii.1079. Furthermore, Amesbury had earlier been a Benedictine house, so perhaps Gervase was also making reference to the change in affiliation.

51 Orderic Vitalis, Historia ecclesiastica, ed. M. Chibnall, Oxford 1969–80, vi. 279, 331; William of Malmesbury, Gesta regum anglorum, ed. R. A. B. Mynors, R. M. Thomson and M. Winterbottom, Oxford 1998–, i. 733, 786.

52 Walter Map, De nugis curialis, 69–117.

53 William of Newburgh, The history of English affairs, ed. P. G. Walsh and M. J. Kennedy, Warminster 1988, 77, 81.

54 For the mother house see Le Grand Cartulaire de Fontevraud, ed. J.-M. Bienvenu, Poitiers 2000. For English examples see the charters of Nuneaton printed in Danelaw documents, 238–60.

55 This is possible, given the close links between Swine and Nun Cotham: Monasticon, v. 493–4, 676–7.

56 A grant issued by Henry ii in 1181 refers to a master, canons, brothers and nuns at Swine: EYC iii. 78, no. 1363.

57 Burton, ‘“Chariot of Aminadab”’, 31.

58 Hilpisch, Doppelklöster, 70–80.

59 Elkins, Holy women, 55–60.

60 Although the surviving copy of the Gilbertine Institutes (Bodl. Lib., ms Douce 136) dates from c. 1220, there are references within this text, and within Gilbert's Vita to earlier confirmations by Eugenius, who died in 1153, and his successors, suggesting that a rudimentary version of the Institutes was in existence by the early 1150s.

61 Prémontré moved to separate men from women in the 1130s, before banning further recruitment towards the end of the century. Similar legislation against female recruitment was enacted at Arrouaise in 1197: H. M. Colvin, The white canons in England, Oxford 1951; L. Milis, L'Ordre des chanoines réguliers d'Arrouaise, Bruges 1969.

62 Graves, C. V., ‘The organization of an English Cistercian nunnery in Lincolnshire’, Cîteaux: commentarii cistercienses xxxiii (1982), 333–50 at pp. 337, 342–3.

63 Book of St Gilbert, 55–6.

‘Canonici Albi et Moniales’: Perceptions of the Twelfth-Century Double House



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