Reader Services – Curious Finds – “Nuns’ Buns”

This Curious Find comes to us from Christina Brindley who is researching images of female piety and the development of post-reformation Catholicism in the Diocese of Chester 1558-1630.

Christina discovered an amusing poem written by an unknown English nun in Louvain.

The poem is regarding English nuns who decide that they would rather join an English monastery than a Dutch one, and so erect one in the same town, though as the surrounding text indicated “…they knew not of the temporal means to compass so great a business.”


The nuns were promised £500 out of England to begin the cloister, however “hereupon began crosses and troubles to arise”, as many were not so keen to assist in the enterprise and several of their friends turned quite contrary to them.

A house was found to begin the monastery and the nuns sent money to the Abbot that it belonged to. However the Abbott told them that he could not make any assurances that his house could be used as their monastery, leaving the nuns in considerable doubt.

Eventually the Abbott accepted the proposal and the nuns were given formal licence from the Archbishop, absolving them from their obedience to their cloister and appointing them to go onto the new monastery.

The nuns humbly asked the Dutch Mother for household items that they could take with them to their new home, as they had scarce resources to buy food to live. Further assistance was granted to them by the English, who contributed books.

Relieved that their troubles seemed behind them, the nuns prepared to embark on the journey to their new monastery. After a tearful farewell to their Dutch Sisters, a Mr Worthington, brother-in-law to one of the nuns, led them without their knowledge to his own house, where he had prepared for them a great dinner. There they met with the Rector of the English College who brought them mincemeat and fruit tarts.

The poem that follows is described as “a most comical little drawing of the dinner scene at Mr Worthington’s done by one of the sisters present, [which] shows their exuberant gaiety in all their troubles.”

“I leave you to guess our dear Mother’s surprise
At finding a table well covered with pies.
Old Mr Worthington played them a trick
And old Father Fenn entered into it quick…
They talked of the Convent they’re going to found
Tho’ alas! In their pockets they had not a pound.
To be Proc. In those days was I’m sure very bad
And many a time has she felt very sad…
Though many from friends they’d already bespoken,
Yet promise like pie-crust is made to be broken.”

I think we can agree that the nuns deserved their feast after all of their troubles.

The item Christina was studying is The Chronicle of the English Augustinian Canonesses of St. Monica’s at Louvain 1548 to 1625, edited by Adam Hamilton, and the reference number for the book is R28564.

1 comment on “Reader Services – Curious Finds – “Nuns’ Buns”

  1. Reblogged this on Early Modern Ballads and commented:
    If you’re out there somewhere, Christina, I hope all is going well!

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