The position of an abbess or prioress in the middle ages was one of great responsibility, with care for both the spiritual and economic welfare of her convent. This book considers the power wielded by and available to such women. It addresses leadership models, questions of social identity and the varying perceptions of the role and performance of the abbess or prioress via a close examination of the records of sixteen female houses in the period from 1280 to 1540; the large range of documentary evidence used includes selections from episcopal registers, account rolls, plea rolls, Chancery documents, letters, petitions, medieval literature and comparative material from additional nunneries. The theme of conflict recurs throughout, as religious women are revealed steering their communities between the directives of the church and the demands of their budgets or their secular neighbours. The Dissolution and its effects on the morale and behaviour of the last superiors conclude the study.
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