Religious Life for Women, C.1100-C.1350: Fontevraud in England

Religious Life for Women, C.1100-C.1350: Fontevraud in England

Religious Life for Women, C.1100-C.1350: Fontevraud in England

Religious Life for Women, C.1100-C.1350: Fontevraud in England


This is the first detailed study of the Order of Fontevraud's English monastic houses. During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the Order was notably prestigious and autonomous, renowned both for the prayerfulness of its members and for their independent management of their affairs. Sister Berenice Kerr's study of Fontevraud's English establishments (Amesbury, Nuneaton, and Westwood) opens up a wide range of insights and information about monasticism and religious life for women in the middle ages.


At the beginning of the twelfth century there were about fifteen religious houses for women in England, all of them Benedictine. During the next fifty years this number increased by more than 300 per cent and continued to increase. This book is an attempt to add to the understanding of religious life for women in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, in particular the life lived by women in the English foundations of the Fontevraud Order, often termed 'double' houses. Founded specifically for women, and independent of any male control, Fontevraud was unique among the new orders in that it integrated into its structure a group of chaplains whose role was to serve the needs of the nuns. Within this order, from the time of its institution, the women were dominant and remained so until the end.

A necessary preliminary to understanding the order is an understanding of the life of the founder. Robert of Arbrissel was essentially a hermitpreacher who, almost despite himself, became a founder when he was constrained by authority to stabilize the group which followed him by giving them permanent shelter and a rule of life. the foundation of the order is thus seen in its social and historical contexts and its development is examined as an evolutionary process rather than as an isolated phenomenon.

A common and mistaken view of medieval religious women is that they were all members of the aristocracy. in the case of the Fontevraud Order, however, this was generally the case. At the beginning, Robert's following was a heterogeneous group which included reformed prostitutes and beggars and probably had a substantial middle-class element as well as noble women. However, within a short time of the order's foundation Robert returned to his life of preaching and confided direction to two noblewomen. Whenever new houses were established, it was Robert's practice to place noblewomen in charge of them. the aristocratic direction of the order was thus present from the early days, and, far from being a corruption of the ideal, was really necessary for its survival.

The first fifty years of the history of Fontevraud was a period of rapid growth and expansion, during which the order, which had become closely identified with the comital house of Anjou, attracted powerful patrons and . . .

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