Community ID
Alternate Names
S. Mary of Sopwell, Sopewell, S. Albans
Medieval Location
From 940 to 1140 it may have been attached to the Benedictine male monastery of S. Albans. Traditionally, it was thought to have been founded in 793. After 1140 the convent was located a half a mile east of St. Alban's (Dugdale's Monasticon Volume 3, 364).
Modern Location
Corporate Status
S. Mary
Date Founded
940 (circa)
Date Terminated
Religious Order
Foundation Information

Elkins, Holy Women of Twelfth-Century England., establishes the foundation date as 1140 when nuns from S. Albans form the comunity. It began to grow shortly thereafter. Nuns resided here supported by alms and attended to the poor. Sopwell was founded on the site of an antique hermitage. S. Thompson believes that Geoffrey, abbot of S. Albans is the probable founder (Women Religious: The Founding of English Nunneries After the Norman Conquest, 229). S. Foot notes that there may have been a community of religious women loosely associated with the abbey for some time before the official 1140 foundation. Two abbots, Wulfnoth during the reign of Edgar, and Paul, after the Conquest, made attempts to regularize the women attached to St. Albans(Veiled Women, vol. 2, 157-158). According to Dugdale, the abbot of St. Albans, Vulsig, first attached the nuns to the male community. His successor, Wlnoth, moved the nuns away from the male monastery to their own community and set up a strict rule from them. It is not clear from Dugdale whether this new community, which was set up before the Danes overran St. Alban's in 930, was Sopwell (Dugdale's Monasticon Volume 2, 180). Matthew Paris seems to be Dugdale's main source. He does have a seperate entry for Sopwell that agrees with Elkins and Thompson (Dugdale's Monasticon Volume 3, 362-363).

Notable Heads

Agnes Wakefield is named in a lease of the community's property to Agnes Gascoyne. Juliana Berners, presumed author of the "Boke of st. Albans" was thought to have been a prioress at Sopwell in the 15th century. Unfortunately, this cannot be verified due to a gap in the records of the priory ranging roughly from 1430-1480. Joan Pygot was the last prioress of Sopwell (Dugdale's Monasticon Volume 3, 363).

Notable Members/Residents/Guests

Two holy women living at Eywood in 1140 moved Abbot Geoffrey to establish a regular community of nuns at Sopwell. During the time when Lady Margaret Wynter was at the monastery there were a number of high ranking visitors including: Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester (son of Henry IV) in 1427; Henry, Cardinal Beaufort in 1428; and Margaret Beaufort, the Duchess of Clarence, in 1429. Eleanor Hulle, a benefactor of St. Alban's, was rumored to have stayed at the priory which led to an attack by the famous thief William Wawe and his men. They were unable to find Eleanor Hulle and subsequently attempted to plunder the priory but the nuns and their property were saved by the intervention of some townsmen.

Population Counts

Circa 1330 there were 19 nuns; at about the time of suppression there were 9 nuns, but when the priory was suppressed in 1537 there were only 5 nuns (Medieval Religious Houses in England and Wales, 219).

Dependency Of

S. Albans priory


There was a visitation performed by Abbot Michael in 1338. He issues a number of injunctions including: the nuns were required to sing the mass of St. Alban once a week, no nun was to leave the dormitory before the bell had been rung or without permission, upon waking the nuns must attend a mass of our Lady and then occupy themselves with private devotions until Prime, which all but the sick were required to attend, ect. The injunctions went on to detail almost every aspect of the nuns daily routine, and they seem to be precautionary rather than a reaction to the actual behavior of the nuns.


Abbot Geoffrey of St. Albans, Henry de Albini and sons, Roland de Dinan, Richard de Tany, and Henry III. The nuns were also sometimes counted as benefactors including: Agnes Paynel, prioress Letitia Wyttenham, Cecilia Paynel, Margaret Euer and Lady Margaret Wynter.

Social Characteristics

Many of the nuns came from well-off families as evidenced by the incidents of benefaction by the nuns themselves. The powerful social connections of the nuns was utilized time and again by prioresses like Elizabeth Webbe who was put in place, and later deposed by, Abbot William Wallingford. Elizabeth was able to take her case to the Court of the Arches and was eventually reinstated. Elizabeth's success was tempered by the Abbot who sent two monks from S. Albans to beat her and have her imprisoned. Elizabeth seems to have leveled a number of charges against Abbot Wallingford and is believed to have been one of the sources for Cardinal John Morton's accounting of the Abbot, whom he investigated on the orders of Pope Innocent VIII (though he may not have made a formal visitation).


In 1535 the net income of the community was valued at over 40 pounds.

Literary Works

Juliana Barnes, a fifteenth century prioress of Sopwell, is supposed to have written "The Book Containing the Treatises of Hawking, Hunting, Coat Armour, Fishing and Blasing of Arms" also known as the "Boke of St. Albans."(Dugdale's Monasticon Volume 3, 363).

Architecture & Archaeology
State Of Medieval Structure

In 1539 the priory was bought by Sir Richard Lee who destroyed the foundation and built a house, later named Sopwell House. The house itself is now in ruins and there have been excavations at the site to try and recover some of the medieval structure.

Manuscript Sources

Manuscripts from St. Albans Abbey, 1066-1235
Dugdale's Monasticon Volume 3, 362-367, offer printed versions of some charters related to Sopwell.

Published Primary Sources
Miscellaneous Information

In 1163, the abbey of S. Albans tried to extend its jurisdiction over the nuns.

Admin. Notes

BOSB--Benedictine Order

WRL Project
Date Started
Date Finished