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Bossy Bishops & Naughty Nuns


Kirklees Priory was founded in the twelfth century by Reinor de Fleming, the manor lord of Clifton, West Yorkshire. The Rule was Cistercian and at first very strict, but as time passed, the White Ladies (so called because of the colour of their undyed habits) became less dedicated to the religious ideal. Many of them were the unwanted daughters of gentry with no real vocation to the cloistered life. The sisters were often admonished by visiting bishops for indulging in worldy ways, keeping dogs, trimming their habits up, going out dancing and for inviting men onto the holy premises !

In 1300 Pope Boniface VIII published a Papal Bull, PERICULOSO, which forbade such unnunly goings on, but the nuns threw the document after the bishop who came to deliver it, and chased him off the premises. In 1315 there were scandalous reports in circulation about the nuns of Kirklees. It was reported that one Alice de Raggid, deceived by the allurements of frail flesh, in great levity of mind, hath gone forth from her house and hath wandered in great peril, having long ago put off her religious habit. Later on, two more nuns, Elizabeth de Hopton and Joan de Heton, along with the rebellious Alice (who must have returned to the nunnery by then) were accused of admitting both clergy and laymen to   the secret places of the monastery from which there is suspicion of sin and great scandal arises. No wonder Robin came to such a sticky end among such flighty creatures !

The nunnery was finally dissolved, with the other Yorkshire monasteries, by Henry V111 IN 1539, after which Kirklees Hall was built on the nearby hillside, using the stones of the fallen priory. Only the gatehouse, where Robin died, was left standing. Today, like the grave, it is danger of being lost to our heritage as it is allowed to slowly crumble away, unchecked and unhindered by any official attempts to prevent the destruction.

The prioress who killed Robin, either intentionally or accidentally, has never been identified. Existing lists of prioresses are incomplete, plus no one knows for certain exactly when Robin died, though the pseudo medieval inscription on his Gothic-style grave states 24 December,1247. This may have been a miswriting of an earlier inscription, as 1347 is the estimated date of death for Robin Hood of Wakefield.

The grave of Prioress Elizabeth de Stainton is still standing in the grounds of Kirklees, a short distance from the gatehouse, but obviously there would have been many more unexcavated graves in the area as the nuns were there for over four hundred years. A large house now stands on the priory ruins. Another known prioress was Dame Mary Startin, who was in office in 1347 maybe she was the murderess ! According to the ballads, the prioress had a lover, Red Roger of Doncaster, who helped her in her evil task, though Robin managed to rise from his deathbed and kill him before expiring !

Victorian visitor to Robin Hood's Grave wrote:

I had the strangest emotions when I first stood over the grave of this old forest hero. I stood there and had no words, nor can find any now to tell what my feelings were. Brave hearted Robin ! Thou hast found a fit resting place in this glorious park, among these solemn yews and silent trees.

If only he knew the deplorable state of the grave today !!!!


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