Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 February 2013
Administrative documents from English medieval female convents are relatively rare. Household accounts – those kept by household officers, or obedientiaries such as treasurers, cellarers and sacrists, for example – which detail their annual income, expenses and supplies that suggest a monastery's internal operations survive for only twenty-seven convents – about twenty per cent – of the 132 female houses in medieval England. Most of these accounts are either fragments, single documents or survive in pairs, date from the late fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries and are in Latin or English. Only about a third have been published. By contrast, significantly more accounts survive – and have been published and mined for all aspects of male monastic society and economy – for medieval England's roughly 7,000 male houses of monks and canons.
The survival of eight household accounts, which run sequentially from 1298 to 1303, from a relatively modest convent of Augustinian canonesses, Campsey Ash Priory, in the county of Suffolk – part of the diocese of Norwich – is thus a great boon. Though the nuns who kept these accounts do not identify themselves with a specific office, the content of their accounts indicates that these nuns were kitcheners, those who supplied the nuns' kitchens with food. While superiors and other obedientiaries – particularly the cellarers – also contributed to a convent's larder that fed, and clothed nuns, and their guests and employees, kitcheners were the obedientiaries who bought food specifically for the nuns' consumption.