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.