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English Nuns and the Law in the Middle Ages


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In late medieval England, cloistered nuns, like all substantial property owners, engaged in nearly constant litigation to defend their holdings. They did so using attorneys (proctors), advocates and other "men of law" who actually conducted that litigation in the courts of Church and Crown. However, although lawyers were as crucial to the economic vitality of the nunneries as the patrons who endowed them, their role in protecting, augmenting or depleting monastic assets has never been fully investigated. This book aims to address the gap. Using records from the courts of the common law, Chancery, and a variety of ecclesiastical venues, it examines the working relationships without which cloistered nuns could not have lived in fully enclosed but self-sustainingc communities. In the first part it looks at the six mendicant and Bridgettine houses established in England, and relates the effectiveness and resilience of their cloistered spirituality to the rise of legal professionalism in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. It then presents cases from ecclesiastical and royal courts which illustrate the work of legal professionals on behalf of their clients.

Elizabeth Makowski is Ingram Professor of History, Texas State University.


This carefully researched book deserves a wide readership. ENGLISH HISTORICAL REVIEW

A meticulously researched and precisely written study. ... An engaging and useful book. PARERGON

Provides a valuable treatment of this neglected, and richly documented, dimension of monastic life. ... [It] will be welcomed by ecclesiastical and legal historians alike. THE RICARDIAN

An elegant and masterful study of a little known aspect of the history of nuns in later medieval England. HISTORIANS OF WOMEN RELIGIOUS


First Published: 15 Nov 2012
13 Digit ISBN: 9781843837862
Pages: 218
Size: 23.4 x 15.6
Binding: Hardback
Imprint: Boydell Press
BIC Class: HBLC1

Details updated on 15 Feb 2016


  • 1  Introduction
  • 2  Cloistered Spirituality and English Nuns
  • 3  Legal Professionalism and English Lawyers
  • 4  Letters of Appointment and Routine Business
  • 5  Proceedings at Common Law
  • 6  Chancery Suits
  • 7  Episcopal Arbitration
  • 8  Papal Appeals
  • 9  Conclusion
  • 10  Appendix
  • 11  Bibliography