Women in the Northern Courts: Interpreting Legal Records of Familial Conflict In Early Fifteenth-Century Yorkshire
Wright, Sharon Hubbs
Florilegium, Volume 19 (2002)
In her pioneering study of medieval English nunneries Eileen Power brought to light the plight of Katherine Northfolk, a young heiress in fifteenth-century Yorkshire. The tale evoked Power’s pity in her discussion of nunneries as locations for the disposal of certain sorts of girls: the illegitimate, die deformed, the mentally ill, and the young heiress. Katherine Northfolk’s enforced entrance into the monastery of Wallingwells is one of four cases which Power drew from legal sources to support her assertion that many “little heiresses” were hurriedly and unwillingly professed with little or no recourse to the law.
Power was quite justified in grouping this case with others involving forced profession and theft of inheritance. However, her rendition of the Chancery Proceeding was not entirely faithful to the original and requires some correction (a task taken up shortly). In addition, Power was unaware of further documentation relating to the conflict over Katherine’s inheritance which might have led her to a more nuanced consideration of John Northfolk’s actions and a more hopeful prognosis for the future happiness of the young nun.