chapter  8
22 Pages

Agency and Contagion: Further Aspects of Women’s Participation

Entry into a convent could take place with varying degrees of consent.1 At one end of the spectrum, some of those women who could afford to do so accepted entry into a convent as a nun as a matter of mature vocation, or at least voluntary submission to a regime of peace and chastity.2 Some embraced the religious life after having experienced the alternative of married life, retiring ‘to lede … lyffe in clennesse and devotion to goddes pleasure’, as one fifteenth-century widow-nun put it.3 The continued identification as nuns by some of those turned out of their convents by Henry VIII testifies to the existence of voluntary professions. Some women, indeed, went further than becoming nuns, and embraced the ultimate confinement of life as anchorites, a vocation which seems to have appealed more to women than to men, and which has been the subject of considerable recent work emphasising the importance of anchorites to medieval communities and thinking, and the paradoxical freedom which could accompany enclosure.4 At the other end of the spectrum, it is clear that girls and women might be forced to take

facto requirement of a dowry, they took few or no nuns from the lowest social orders: MEN, pp. 4, 9, 18-19; Marilyn Oliva, e Convent and the Community in Late Medieval England: Female Monasticism in the Diocese of Norwich 1350-1540 (Woodbridge, 1998), p. 7 and c. 2; Barbara Harris: ‘A New Look at the Reformation: Aristocratic Women and Nunneries 1450-1540’, Journal of British Studies, 32 (1993): pp. 89-113, 94.