Imagine. It’s the 15th or 16th century in merry old England. You’re a monk looking for some action on a Saturday night. Where do you go? Littlemore Priory of course!

In 1445 the priory was investigated because the prioress, Alice Wakeley, regularly hosted drinking sessions. At least one local monk often dropped by to party as did students from Oxford university which was a few miles away.

Gettin’ down was a habit in this priory.

Party in the cell!

The bishop sorted them out, at least he thought he did. Looking back now, chances are that not much changed.

Decades later in 1517 rumours were circulating again. I bet they were praying that the bishop (someone else by this time, no doubt) didn’t find out.

The bishop did eventually find out and sent another investigator, Edmund Horde.

Horde was told to “examining each member of the house, going into the minutest details.” I think that was already happening before he arrived.

His report was so damning that the bishop later visited personally. Seeing is believing I suppose.

The prioress at this time, Katherine Wells, had a daughter with a chaplain from Kent, Richard Hewes. Hewes visited Littlemore two or three times a year to administer the sacraments. Its sounds like the prioress would often get some individual attention from Hewes, for her spiritual wellbeing you understand.

Instead of getting none he got a nun.

Completely forgetting the seventh commandment Prioress Wells was robbing the place blind in to order to fund her lifestyle, her relatives and the dowry of the daughter she shared with Hewes.

At least one other nun had a child. The place must have been alive with the laughter of children.

Mass too was a time of joy, full of parlour games, gossip and laughter.

Wells was a tough boss though. She had an inclination to put nuns in the stocks for the slightest infraction, including complaining how many nuns were ending up in the stocks.

Apparently a nun would occasionally be sprung from the stocks. On one such occasion the nuns (the one previously locked up and her rescuers) went on to break a window and abscond to a local village where they remained for several weeks.

Wells also wasn’t beyond beating her subordinates. I suppose sometimes all the stocks were full.

Under Wells careful management the buildings were falling down, the nuns were wearing rags, the food was bad but most importantly the nuns couldn’t get a decent beer. No wonder they went to the local village.

The nuns often shared beds. When questioned about this the nuns cited the aforementioned structural problems but considering all the other stuff going on at the priory I have to wonder. They might have been nuns but it sounds like they were getting plenty.

Enough was enough. The bishop instituted a strict one-nun-per-bed rule.

Wells was eventually summoned to face the bishopric court. Among other allegations she faced a charge of incontinence, which didn’t have the same meaning it does today.

Wells was dismissed from her role as prioress but ordered to remain in place until a suitable replacement could be found. That showed her.

Wells wasn’t even defrocked. Whatever. Hawes had done that to her years earlier anyway.

We don’t know whether or not Wells was ever actually replaced as prioress before Littlemore itself was closed down in 1525. This information is lost to history. By 1525 the church needed money and one way to get it, and clean up a series of embarrassing scandals, was to dissolve priories like Littlemore. It was a win win really.

The priory had been around for a long time, centuries, and if you dropped by there was a good chance that the nuns would love you long time as well.

If you think the bishop’s punishment for Wells was a bit lukewarm, well perhaps that’s because he wasn’t particularly surprised by what he found. Maybe Wells was just a bit indiscreet and that was why she was punished.

So in the 21st century when it seems like everything is sex sex sex, remember that people in the past were just as horny as people today, perhaps more so. They also liked to party.

For the pedants: the order of the commandments actually varies between Christian denominations. Thou shalt not steal is counted as the seventh commandment by Catholicism and so it is counted here, as Littlemore Piory was a Catholic establishment.

The featured image is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and shows the only remaining building of the Littlemore Priory. More’s the pity, it sounds like the place would have been great fun, except for the stocks and the beatings.

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