Thursday, August 26, 2010

Question from EborWin - Sources for rules governing women entering a religious house

Question from EborWin

[Sorry for the length of this question, but the submitter had several good related questions so I've combined them in to a single post. - Lara]

My first questions to this forum, although I’ve been a reader for a while. Getting up the guts….

I was driving this afternoon and it occurred to me that I didn’t know much about the requirements of procedures for the admission of girls or women into pre-Dissolution religious houses in England, say from 1500. (And they think texting while driving is bad?)

Each order, of course, would have their own specific admission rules and, probably, there were many intra-order variations and traditions as well. That’s interesting in itself, but I also would like to know what the official canonical requirements were at the top level. I’ve been running through the decrees for the various Western councils for another question, and but haven’t seen anything relevant yet on women in religion. I’d be surprised if there is anything there at all, really. I do have access to briefs and decretals, but my Latin is lackin’ some if its ve-ve-verve these days, and I am reluctant to commit several days to an exercise which will yield, I know, a lot of interesting information that I wasn’t looking for, and nothing of what I wanted. That is unless some kind fellow Tudor traveler gives me hope and then I will go off happily with shovel and pick.

Likewise, I’d like to understand the position of the candidate for admission under English law. I’m guessing that under normal conditions the head of house, abbess, prioress, would assume the role of the father, in locum parentis, but that’s just a guess. And how was the transfer done? This is a lazy question on my part, because I have read about this somewhere. I have a personal memory from when I read about this -- the postulant was put on a sort of revolving door and, whoosh!, a Nun! Strains from Sound of Music. End.

What I guess I’m really interested in is what people think about how Henry's peeps might have structured her settlement. What would Catherine of Aragon’s legal position be, should she have chosen to enter a religious house (which I don’t think was ever on her radar). She must have been offered, at the very least, an ‘anything you want’ deal, but how might that deal have worked? Would she be subject to an abbess? Might she just be a wealthy paying guest who prays, gets to travel to other convents (like a timeshare package with Ritz-Carleton)? [Unlikely, I think. Henry, even post an agreement, would not want Catherine wandering around, having people shout ‘God save the Queen’ to her.] Or, might she really be a prisoner like Queen Elizabeth (Woodville) at Bermondsey Abbey?

Has there been any work done on what actual canonical settlements might have looked at?

[It's a very technical question and so I'm really looking for a source that I can trust. The arcanity of it all is one thing, and so there could many plausible approaches the curia might have taken. I'd rather not fiddle with arcanity that is just plain wrong.]

Finally, is there a resource to get an idea of how the process might have worked in case, say, the Queen did decide to take the offer? Presumably, a papal dispensation or a 10-pack (charge by the bull, singles at full price, discounts for numbers greater?) would have been required to dissolve (or set aside, or annul (unlikely)) or some other magic word that escapes me at the moment regarding the marriage of Henry and Catherine of Aragon, complicated to the nth to begin with. [The interest here I think would be in the complexity of enterprise.] Or, are the examples of type of transaction so rare that it really was one case at a time? I will to go back to my L&P to see the proposal that Catherine consider a convent was ever fleshed out in letters to and from Rome – how it might work – what the pretenses (reasons) necessary to be given to make the separation valid canonically (because it couldn’t just be “because”, could it?). I don’t remember it, but that’s because I have memory issues.

What kind of frequency are we talking about regarding the 'get thee hither to a nunnery, wife'; was this kind of thing used as an alternative when an annulment was just not possible, and divorce, was a last resort, with terrrible consequences for everyone?

When the convent option was offered to Catherine, would she have had a general understanding of what such an offer would entail (standard procedure)? Might Wolsey have had a draft plan of what that exit might look like. [Or, did he have such a plan and Catherine stopped him after the first sentence because it was all a non-starter. I think the last is at least plausible. I’m certain that Catherine didn’t agree on principle so would have been entirely uninterested in useless details. Catherine was the daughter of Isabella, one of most renowned rulers of the age, and a woman. I believe Catherine saw Mary as the future “Isabella” of England. After that, there was Henry, and his issues (I’m over marginalizing here, pray), and her belief that God works his own ways and he worked it to be Mary. End of story. Don’t need to mention Anne Boleyn because it wasn’t about Anne; it was about no any 2nd wife. The heir, in her mind, was to be Mary. You can certainly see her point, I think. She traveled with her parents – saw some of the Re-conquest at near hand. [And, incidentally, I believe Henry knew that he could not allow Catherine to be reunited with her daughter because the combination of the two of them, even as a peaceful grouping at or near court, would be a permanent, in his face, reminder of not getting is own way.] There is nothing so daunting to a monarch as an heir with an eager following. His decision to separate them was fundamentally cruel, of course, and as time went on, increasingly and deliberately meant to be so; however, at bottom it was a sound political calculation from his perspective, at any rate.]]

That’s a lot. I must say asking the questions helped to shape my thoughts a bit better than they did this afternoon sitting in traffic. I promise any future submissions will be shorter.

I’m grateful for any feedback.


kb said...

Really good questions! What a way to pass time in a traffic jam!

You might be interested in Baker, J. ‘Female monasticism and family strategy: The Guises and Saint Pierre de Reims’, Sixteenth Century Journal 28 (1997), 1091-1108.

It's in English so no pick and shovel required. It discusses the political aspects of placing female members of the Guise family in convents. The endowments provided ensured the women would move up the hierarchy and become local power brokers serving the wider dynastic goals. The article makes clear that entry with financial backing brought privileges including freedom of movement.

kate said...

Great questions...where to start. Henry as you know was attempting to divorce Catherine based on a passage in Livaticus. He convinced himself that his relationship with her was incestious as she had previously been married to his brother Arthur, disppite a special despensation by the Pope. He was convinced he would never have live male issue with her as this was a punishment from God for their marraige. He was unable to divorce her based on this arguement because at the time her nephew The Holy Roman Emperor Charles held the Pope hostage and Charles didn't like the idea of his beloved Aunt being dethroned and put pressure on the Pope to deny Henrys request dispite Cardinal Campaggio etc.. so wouldn't the convent have been a real boon to him? Women of that time, espically pious women could take the veil(holy orders) and renounce marraige thereby freeing their husbands to remarry. Husband could also send their wives to a nunnery as a sort of captive for some displeasure or offense. Henry played on Catherines piety , but lost that bet as she was first and foremost Mary's mother and crowned queen of England. There was usually a dowery paid for young women, as far as establish married women, well I just can't wait to hear what everyone else has to say on the subject

Foose said...

These are interesting questions. One thing to be aware of is that Catherine of Aragon was already, long before the annulment suit was proposed, a member of the Third Order of St. Francis. According to Garrett Mattingly, she wore the habit under her clothes and followed the rule established for such tertiaries.

This might point to her convent option, as envisioned by the Church, Wolsey and Henry, being a Franciscan convent -- with the queen moving from being a member of the Third Order to the Second Order, a Clarissan nun (a "Poor Clare" in the common parlance). (The convent option is always mentioned with the specification of the queen entering the religious life; some royal women could merely "retire" to a convent and live there without becoming nuns, but Wolsey, Henry and the Church seem to all have been focused on requiring both convent and vows.)

Catherine had been a dedicated protector of Franciscans since her arrival in England, restoring the convent of Observant friars in Greenwich among other favors. (In return, the friars were among the loudest champions of the validity of her marriage.)

The split between Conventual Franciscans (a more "worldly" order, utilizing the "permeable cloister" model where the religious might periodically cross the boundary and act in the secular world or enjoy certain privileges prohibited by the rule) and the Observant Franciscans (very strict, fanatically following the original rule of the founder on poverty, chastity and obedience) had been an important issue for sovereigns in the 15th century. Catherine's parents, Ferdinand and Isabella, were vehement advocates of the Observant, rather than Conventual, Franciscan order. Nuns and friars of the Conventual houses were subject to earnest persuasion and open harassment to adopt the rigid Observant rule (not just in Spain; the reform of the Franciscan order was a concern to religious and secular authorities in a number of Christian states in the 15th century). In 1517, all the Conventual houses in Spain were closed.

Consequently, Catherine may have resisted being sent to a convent not only because she had no vocation and believed her marriage valid, but also because the convent designated for her by her own actions and convictions (and probably cheerfully approved by Wolsey and Henry when they thought about it) was the type where she would be under the very strictest kind of rule. (By contrast, Henry's aunt Bridget, a professed Bridgettine nun, was able to visit her sister Queen Elizabeth at court.) She probably had no problem with poverty and chastity, and even ordinary obedience to the religious authorities; but having embraced Observant rule as a Franciscan nun she would not be able to speak out against the new marriage or argue Mary's rights without violating her vows. Moreover, any threat of interference by her nephew Charles V on her behalf would have been substantially reduced.

Jeanne de Valois, the discarded French queen whose situation is often considered analogous to Catherine's, founded her own Franciscan Contemplative order that emphasized emulating the virtues of the Virgin Mary. I don't know if this was ever considered for Catherine. Jeanne was the daughter and sister of two kings of France, and due a certain gingerly consideration in her own country by her ex-husband that Catherine might not have been able to leverage in England.

These are just surmises on my part, by the way. Interesting works to consult:

-The Permeable Cloister, by Elizabeth A. Lehfeldt

-A Pernicious Sort of Woman: Quasi-Religious Women and Canon Law in the Later Middle Ages, by Elizabeth Makowski

Both available for viewing in large part on Google Books.

Foose said...

It's also worth noting that some sources indicate that before the Dissolution there were only three Franciscan nunneries (called abbeys) in England: in Aldgate (London); at Denney (in Cambridgeshire); and Brusyard (in Suffolk). That may narrow down the prospective locales of Catherine's enclosure once she took vows. On the other hand, it might suggest that she would have sought -- or been encouraged -- to establish her own convent; I don't think any of these Franciscan abbeys, except for Aldgate, is well-known or particularly associated with the Crown or previous queens.

Foose said...

More reading indicates that Campeggio arrived in England in October 1528 with the proposal that the queen "enter religion" (a proposal she rejected). I assume, and I may be wrong, that this was a suggestion that she take full vows as a nun.

However, in December (two months later), Henry's envoys asked the Pope to sanction the queen entering the "religio laxa" (to go into a cloister without becoming a nun), or as Scarisbrick describes it in his Henry VIII, "for Catherine to enter some 'lax' religious house" (which conveys a somewhat different sense than the first definition). Quite possibly there was never any intention of enforcing full vows on the queen, or perhaps Henry's advisors had modified the original proposal by Campeggio in hopes of making it more palatable to her.