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The Cistercians in Yorkshire title graphic

How do we know about women’s involvement?


Charters, wills, legal cases and tombstones can all provide information regarding the kind of women who were involved with the Cistercian Order and the nature of their involvement. The tomb of Isabella Ros, who was interred in the galilee of the abbey church at Rievaulx in 1264, still bears her name. Isabella was a member of Rievaulx’s patronal family, and was seemingly the first member of her family to be buried at the abbey, the others preferring their Augustinian foundation at Kirkham.(3) Matilda of York, who was the countess of Cambridge, was a generous benefactor of Roche Abbey, Maltby. In her will of 1446 Matilda left one white vestment to the community so that every week, for seven years, a monk would pray for her soul and receive one penny for his work. Matilda stipulated where precisely she should be buried in the abbey church [see right] and how her soul should be provided for thereafter. In return, the monks received payment, gifts and the possibility of further patronage from her successors at nearby Conisbrough Castle.

Matilda of York’s will
I leave and commend my soul to God and the Blessed Mary and all his Saints, and my body to be buried in the monastery of Roche, in the chapel of the Blessed Mary, before her image, situated in the southern part of the church of the said monastery. A stone of alabaster should lie over my body, raised aloft like a tomb, with an effigy, after the manner which I will tell my executors.
Read more of Matilda’s will

Burial within Cistercian precincts was not confined to noblewomen. Women from all walks of life were benefactors of the Yorkshire abbeys and might request burial there. The monks of Fountains Abbey received grants of land from the wife of William the dyer and the daughter of Nigel the hosier of York.(4) The tomb of Perwyn of Doncaster and his wife, Isobel, lies in the centre of the nave at Roche Abbey, and is inscribed with the following rhymed inscription:

Here lygges Peryn of Doncastre and Ysbel his wife
A gude trwe brother whilome he was on lyfe
Jesus for Thy mercy bring them to blysse
Pater ni for yam whoso redis
[Here lies Perwyn of Doncaster and Isobel his wife. A good true brother while in life Jesus for Thy mercy bring them to bliss; Paternoster for those who read this.]

Perwyn and his wife were probably of middling standing and it is likely that in return for their gifts, they were included in the monks’ prayers and received spiritual benefits.(6)

Read more about the tombs at Roche Abbey.

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