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The Experience of Exile in Early Modern English Convents.

In April 1611, Abbess Joanna Berkeley of the English Benedictine convent in Brussels sent a report to the male superiors of the order about the state of her cloister. The document, which was intended to detail the monastery's size, financial situation and spiritual orientation, emphasized the persecution suffered by the nuns and their kin:
[A]lmost all the parents of these religious have suffered for their
constancy in the Catholic faith, either martyrdom or tortures, a long
imprisonment, or heavy and continued exactions, loss of their estates
or fortunes; some of them have died from the infection of prisons, or
have been obliged to fly their country and live in banishment. Nay,
even some of these very religious have been cast into prisons, others
dragged to the tribunals of heretics, and thereby exposed to the
greatest danger of losing their lives. (1)


The Brussels Benedictine abbey was the first post-Reformation foundation for English women, and it was established in 1598 by Elizabethan exiles under the leadership of Lady Mary Percy, the daughter of Thomas Percy, earl of Northumberland, beheaded in 1572 for his part in the Northern Rebellion against Elizabeth I. The emphasis on suffering for the faith which infused Joanna Berkeley's 1611 report reflects the experience of many nuns who were likewise the daughters of the Catholic diaspora in Spanish and French territories, or from recusant families withstanding heavy fines and sometimes imprisonment in England. The stories told by the women who founded and entered the other exiled cloisters in the first decades of the seventeenth century were similar in content and emotional register. Indeed the anguish of exile remained a constant motif in the nuns' writings, liturgies and piety into the eighteenth century, when most convents returned to English soil during the French Revolution.

English Catholic women comprised only a small proportion of displaced people during the religious upheavals of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It is estimated that between the 1480s and 1750s around a million Europeans of different religious persuasions went into exile. (2) There is a large scholarship on Protestant, particularly Calvinist, migrations, but recent research has identified thousands of Catholic emigres seeking respite in other territories, suggesting that, despite confessional differences, early modern Europeans shared a similar experience of dislocation from their homelands for reasons of faith. (3) Yet, as Jesse Spohnholz and Gary Waite have asserted, 'no single history of exile in early modern Europe exists'. (4) Individuals and groups might be forcibly expelled as members of religious minorities, but they might equally, indeed more commonly, choose to escape persecution or warfare at home to practise their confession in a foreign land. This was not an easy option and most religious refugees faced financial hardship, cultural difficulties, discrimination and isolation in host countries which were often struggling with their own local ramifications of religious, political and economic change. The experience of exiles and the strategies they developed for coping with the challenges posed by displacement have been the focus of recent scholarly attention. (5) This article examines the exile of English Catholic women who became cloistered nuns in expatriate convents in the southern Netherlands and France in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It argues that while there were commonalities with other early modern Catholic and Protestant religious refugees, the nuns' situation and their response to it was also shaped by the further degree of separation from homeland, kin, and familiarity presented by strict monastic enclosure.

The mandatory claustration of nuns by the 1298 papal bull Periculoso was reaffirmed by the Council of Trent. At the final session in 1563 Tridentine reformers decreed that all solemnly professed women must observe strict monastic enclosure. In 1566 cloistering was extended to tertiaries and other religious women, who previously had not been subject to its rigours. As with Periculoso earlier, ecclesiastical efforts to implement the rulings were met with varying degrees of compliance and defiance. While scholars have explored the ramifications of enclosure for women's spiritual, economic, and political capacities, and for family strategies in a period of rising marriage dowries, recent studies have emphasized the ways women negotiated and often subverted clausura. (6) Residing in convents established in the aftermath of Trent, English women joining contemplative orders accepted claustration as intrinsic to their monastic vocation. Some, like Augustinian prioress Margaret Clement in Louvain, celebrated its strictness, seeking to uphold its precepts beyond the expectation of the archbishop when she denied the mother of a sick nun entry into the cloister. (7) Yet the nuns also proved adept at manipulating enclosure to suit their spiritual and temporal goals. Clausura proscribed missionary activity in society at large in favour of a contemplative apostolate within convent walls, but it nonetheless provided a secure space from which to challenge the Protestant state fled by the nuns. The lived reality of exile inside a convent enclosure, coupled with the tropes nuns employed to understand, accommodate, negotiate, and resolve its challenges, were at the core of the religious women's experiences and accordingly informed their responses.

The past two decades have generated increasing scholarship on the English convents, which considers the composition and structure of the cloisters, the nuns' political activities, and their literary production. (8) Some of this research specifically addresses connections between exile, spirituality and identity in the English Catholic community abroad. (9) Most studies focus upon particular orders, convents or individuals, and there is a concentration on the seventeenth century. This article adopts a wider perspective, considering Augustinians, Benedictines, Carmelites, and Franciscans from several convents, and it spans the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries. While there were differences between religious orders and changes over time, it is possible to identify consistency too in the experience of exile and in approaches to handling the challenges it presented. Over two centuries, the nuns wrote about the trials, tribulations, and grief of displacement, yet they also interpreted their exile positively, embracing its challenges in their quotidian lives and pious regimes. They sought to alleviate the anguish of separation by engaging in efforts to secure its end and, thereby their return to England. These three strategies--articulation, appropriation and activism--were not universal, nor mutually exclusive, and they did not characterize different phases of the exiled experience. Instead the emigre cloisters used them to understand exile, endure it, and conquer it from within the confines of monastic enclosures. One might even go so far as to argue that certain nuns used expatriation and claustration to reinvent their contemplative apostolate. The experience of these convents suggests that although resident in continental towns and cities, their identity was rooted firmly in England, with the nuns considering themselves as English exiles first and foremost rather than as part of a wider international diaspora. This drove their responses to refuge abroad and established the cloisters as English Catholic enclaves where the nuns, and their compatriot emigres, gathered to grieve for their homeland but also to plan for their return to its shores.

I. Articulating Exile

Recent studies by Christopher Highley and Katy Gibbons have argued that the scholars and clergy who left England early in Elizabeth's reign crafted Elizabethan Catholic identity. (10) First from Louvain, and then Douai and other places where specifically English seminaries and colleges were established, these men shaped the parameters of English Catholicism for the exiles and stay-at-home Catholics, as Highley terms them. For those abroad, the suffering of dislocation from homeland, kin, and estates was a prominent theme. (11) They also grappled with questions of loyalty to the crown and, in the aftermath of the Northern Rebellion in 1569, Protestants accused the emigres of being traitors who conspired with foreign powers to overthrow the English church and state. (12) The texts, debates and advice generated by the Elizabethan exiles not only defined English Catholic identity. They also provided their coreligionists who sought refuge abroad with a template for the emotional expression of religious exclusion, or, to use Peter Stearns' terminology, the 'emotionology' of Catholic exile. (13) They suggest that expatriation was an ongoing performance of grieving for dislocation from kin and country, and for the religious persecution meted out by the Protestant authorities both to themselves and to their coreligionists who remained in England. This was intensified by the life of uncertainty abroad, with little economic security and the danger of religious unrest and warfare in the country of refuge. In her study of exile literature written in English seminaries and colleges abroad during the century from Elizabeth's accession, Alison Shell points to grief, consolation and hope as common motifs. (14)

We can identity these tropes in William Allen's True, Sincere and Modest Defence of English Catholiques. Allen asked:
How manie have lost al their landes and goodes during life for flying
out of the Countrie for their co[n]science sake [...] How manie wander
in place wher they are not knowe[n] [...] How manie families therby
dissolved; into what povertie, miserie, and mishap their children are
driven [...]. (15)


He suggested that England's rejection of the true Catholic faith had cast it into 'extreme miserie' and worse calamities would befall his countrymen and women. (16) Yet out of this apocalypse salvation was possible through the penance endured by the persecuted Catholic minority, especially the suffering of the exiles. In a similar vein, Richard Bristow likened the refugees to the Israelites in Babylon, writing, 'we must bitterly weepe, sobbe, and sigh, to remember Sio[n] and the Temple of our Mother Jerusalem'. (17) And through these fervent prayers for God's mercy, they could 'make and ende of our miserable Captivitie, & [...] bring us al home againe'. (18)

As Jesse Spohnholz has noted,'Christians facing maltreatment throughout Europe during the Reformation, surely found solace and meaning in their hardships by seeing their experiences through the lens of biblical precedents and evocative models of Christian martyrdom, suffering and redemption'. (19) Geert Janssen has similarly suggested that some Netherlandish Catholic refugees in the 1570s 'found consolation in biblical parallels' and represented themselves as 'exiled Israelites [...] to fashion a more heroic image of exile'. (20) The Elizabethan Catholics evidently interpreted their exile in this manner, and their rhetoric of biblical suffering was articulated by subsequent generations of emigres, including the women who joined the exiled English cloisters in the seventeenth century. Like Abbess Joanna Berkeley in her report to the Benedictine order, other female monastic writers employed it to garner the pity and thereby support of clerical superiors, civic authorities, and patrons. In the 1650s, Abbess Mary Knatchbull of the Ghent Benedictines appealed to the citizens of Ghent for the 'releife of a community of virgins exilled and fallen into poverty for the only cause of Religion', protesting that the nuns':
poverty hath occurred through no excess of ours, but from the common
calamnity of o[u]r Nation or rather in way of suffering for justice as
being Religious and the children of Catholikes from whom the unjust
lawes of England now violently executed takes all their temporall
fortunes. (21)


In 1735 the religious women still used the motif to exert pressure. Writing to James Edgar, the secretary to the 'Old Pretender', James Francis Edward Stuart, seeking preferment for her cloister's confessor, Abbess Margaret Xaveria Arthur of the Ypres Benedictines emphasized her 'poor community that is exiled amongst strangers, in very low scircumstance'. (22) Such appeals reconfigured the difficulties of the expatriate life into positives worthy enough to inspire others to charity. But the motifs of grief, consolation and hope also infused the nuns' own historical accounts. Convent chronicles, written for internal rather than external consumption, detailed the deprivations and trials of exiled monasticism, suggesting that the anguish of persecution and displacement comprised a key element of the convents' collective identity.

Nuns' use of the rhetoric of exile in their dealings with people outside the cloister and to make sense of their own suffering is evident in the chronicle of the Augustinian house in Louvain, which related the hardship endured by the founding sisters. The convent was established in 1609 by English nuns in the town's Flemish cloister. The founders had no financial support from their former convent and relied upon charity from lay exiles. The five shillings in the procuratrice's purse paid the men who transported the nuns and their belongings to their new premises, and they had no salt for the egg they ate for supper their first night in the new foundation. (23) Over the coming months, the procuratrice, Elizabeth Shirley, feared the convent would fail for want of a regular income, and had people not dispensed charity at crucial junctures, this would indeed have happened. While the chronicler attributed the alms given as providential, it is evident that the nuns' plight as religious exiles, which was apparently advertised in the town, encouraged donations. A month into the venture they were given alms by a beguine who wanted to bestow it upon the English sisters 'who are alas! strangers out of your own country'. (24) The Augustinians drew upon the same exile trope when the infanta's confessor inspected their premises to judge whether they might be suitable for a Carmelite convent the princess hoped to found. Elizabeth Shirley 'fell down upon her knees and besought him to have compassion of poor banished religious, who if they were put out of this house had nowhere to go'. (25)

Foundation narratives of other seventeenth-century cloisters reveal the extent to which exclusion not only elicited sympathy and support from local Catholics, but also shaped the religious community's piety and identity. In 1644, a combination of overcrowding and the financial difficulties caused by civil war in England led to fifteen nuns leaving the Poor Clare convent in Gravelines to establish a new community in Rouen. Their first abbess, Mary (in religion, Mary of St Francis) Taylor, wrote of their journey to the Gravelines nuns, emphasizing the hardships endured by the founding sisters, which included bumpy and dangerous transportation in wagons, some less than comfortable nights at inns, dependence upon unreliable charity and, finally, their inability to find a suitable and affordable residence in Rouen. (26) Taylor's epistle to her former superior was steeped in the language of exile--not only from her homeland, but also from their initial place of asylum abroad, the Gravelines abbey. She termed her story a 'relation of our poor peregrination & banishment'. (27) Throughout she cast the travelling nuns as 'exiled pilgrims' whose status as refugees attracted the attention and pity of the French people they encountered, which did not always translate into material assistance. (28) Moreover, the women's journey was increasingly framed as a contemporary pilgrimage that mirrored Mary and Joseph's journey to Bethlehem and subsequent exile in Egypt. They had trouble finding accommodation, they were guided to suitable places by divine providence just as the three kings had followed the star, and in Rouen their humbly constructed temporary abode was akin to 'the holy stable'. (29) Presaged through the account by their identification with the holy family and encounters with various images of it in religious houses they visited, they named their new convent 'Jesus Maria Joseph'. Taylor explained that the prioress of a French Carmelite convent in Rouen:
hearing me say the devotion I had to enter our poor house, as Christ
enter'd the stable upon Christmas Eve, & that the title of it, was to
be the exile of Jesus Maria Joseph. She look'd upon a picture that hung
by, & bestow'd it for the first adornment of our altar.' (30)


Exclusion and the ensuing grief of dislocation were the tropes structuring the Poor Clares' narrative, but by identifying with the holy family the women were consoled. As the abbess acknowledged, Christ's 'poverty, incommodity, & sufferings exceeded ours'. (31) Written to inform and spiritually edify both the Rouen nuns and their former religious community in Gravelines, the foundation story articulated the sisters' exile and suffering as that of the holy family and legitimated the new convent's name and identity.

Stories of communal incommodity and distress instigated by expatriation were supplemented by hagiographical tales of individual affliction. These personal narratives were similarly framed within biblical, providential, and pious parameters, suggesting they performed a didactic function for nuns and convents alike. In Elizabeth Shirley's narrative of the life of Augustinian Prioress Margaret Clement, the biographer represented the Clement family's 'volentary exille' in Old Testament parallels. Margaret's parents 'thought it best with Lott to depart from Sodom' and abandoned financial security in England for exile in Bruges and Mechelen, 'with Abraham seeking onely to serve God'. (32) Other women's monastic vocations were attributed to the anguish of exile. Anne (in religion, Anne of the Ascension) Worsely was raised in Antwerp, and she wrote of her distress at the age of fifteen or sixteen when she realized that her emigre parents' straitened means and the lack of kinship networks abroad limited her future prospects. She accordingly entered a convent, making her vows at Mons in 1610, and resigning herself to life as a Carmelite nun as a form of purgatory to atone for her sins. (33) Yet, although Worsely attributed her religious vocation to expatriation and penitential piety, it proved providential also when she founded the first English Carmelite convent.

Rosalind Beiler has discussed the migration strategies of seventeenth-century German Pietists to the New World as 'regenerative', arguing that resettlement for religious reasons could offer the potential for a better life. (34) Anne of the Ascension Worsely apparently begged to differ before she entered the convent, and even during her early years as a nun. However, the religious life presented her with opportunities that would not have been her lot either in England or even if she had secured the means to make a good marriage abroad. She befriended Anne of St Bartholomew, one of Teresa of Avila's companions, and proceeded to found the initial English Carmelite cloister in Antwerp in 1619, becoming a respected prioress and spiritual leader. Yet it could be argued that the exile experience of her childhood equipped Worsely with the requisite skills to undertake this role. As an outsider whose family had experienced adversity at the hands of English Protestants, Anne of the Ascension was not afraid to confront those who threatened the spiritual rights of her religious community. When in 1622 the Carmelite friars attempted to alter the convent's jurisdiction, including the nuns' right to appoint confessors, to the male regional provincial of the order, she defied them, refusing to alter St Teresa's original constitutions, and won. (35) She and her sisters interpreted her fight to preserve Teresian heritage as a struggle against adversity, which inevitably involved pain and anguish on the part of the afflicted prioress. However, Worsely's resolute affirmation of Teresian spirituality against the wishes of the Carmelite hierarchy suggests that the experience of exile provided refugee nuns with a keen sense of their religious identity and an unwavering determination to articulate it not only to their host communities and to one another, but also to anyone who threatened it. Worsely's actions suggest that the displaced nuns, like the Netherlands Catholics studied by Janssen, might have articulated the grief of exile but they were far from passive victims, instead demonstrating a willingness to shape the terms of their exile as women following St Teresa. (36)

II. Appropriating Exile

Narratives of the affliction endured by religious emigres related by the Louvain Augustinians, Rouen Poor Clares, and Antwerp Carmelites were interpreted within a monastic framework, which helped nuns to make sense of--even embrace--suffering; both collectively, as the chronicle accounts attest, and individually, as evidenced in the hagiographies. Poverty and self-denial were fundamental tenets of the monastic vocation. So suffering for the faith might well be considered beneficial in religious life, which itself required mortification of the flesh and will. Obituaries, documents commemorating individuals' lives that also served a didactic function for other sisters, reveal the ways certain women appropriated affliction as a central feature of their personal piety. The Benedictine lay sister Cecilie Price, who had been imprisoned for her recusancy in England, 'which she most Patiently and Joyfully courageously suffred', maintained a self-imposed life of adversity in the cloisters of Brussels and Ghent. Exile from family and homeland was not sufficient penance for Price, whose obituary explained that she mortified her body 'by the rigour of austeritys, fasting, chains bracelets hair cloath and the like'. (37) The continuity between her earlier imprisonment and self-inflicted punishments in the enclosed convent is obvious.

In a cloistered environment where suffering infused corporate and individual piety, there was also a strong martyrological sensibility. Brad Gregory has argued against the self-fashioning of martyrs, suggesting that imprisonment for faith conversely engendered 'passivity in a double sense--both suffering and "being done unto"'. (38) However, the nexus between martyrdom and asceticism encouraged many nuns not only to appropriate the metaphor to describe any form of affliction befalling them, like illness, but also to pursue forms of ascetic discipline which inflicted pain. (39) This was far from passive and represented what Gregory terms 'the passion for passion in post-Tridentine Catholicism'. (40) Inspired by stories of priests executed on the English mission, a path unavailable to cloistered religious women, several women strove to achieve martyrdom within their convent. Elizabeth Burrow, who was professed an Augustinian lay sister in Louvain in 1616, had desired 'either to become a religious or else to be made a martyr'. (41) Dorothy Barefoot, a Benedictine lay sister at Ghent, suffered physical infirmity and spiritual doubts, but nonetheless imposed additional mortifications of the flesh and spirit upon herself. Tobie Matthew observed that 'her very life was a kind of martyrdom to her'. (42) Benedictine choir nun, Mary Mouson, who died at Ghent in 1658, 'did persecute & punish her poor body to an extreamity: martyring herself continually', according to her obituary. (43) So it could be argued that the trope of martyrdom appealed to many enclosed nuns because it was attuned to monastic austerity, reflected their voluntary separation from the world and its pleasures, and enabled them vicariously to suffer at Tyburn for the faith with missionary priests.

The extent to which the martyrdom motif might define individual piety is evident in the life of the Carmelite nun Elizabeth (in religion, Teresa of Jesus Maria) Worsely, the younger sister of Anne of the Ascension. Professed in 1620, aged nineteen, Teresa of Jesus Maria welcomed suffering as a core element of her life. She reputedly said that 'to become perfect it must cost us our flesh and blood', and she practised what she preached. (44) Worsely inflicted rigorous penances upon her flesh, 'treating her Body as if it were without feeling'. In Holy Week and upon the feast days of martyrs she would seek permission to exact harsher discipline and on occasions had to be prevented from harming herself extensively by flagellating herself with 'a discipline which had spurs at the end' so that 'the place where she stood would be all swiming with blood'. (45) She desired to die young and her 'vehement desires of Suffering' were fulfilled in a life of regular sickness. During her final illness, when she was 'martyerd by a continuall fever', her pain was so intense she declared that her body seemed as if it were 'stretchd upon a Glowing gridiorn', later saying 'it seemes to me as if my breast was pierced with nails and all my flesh and interalls were pulld to peeces'. (46) As if this were not enough, when dying she struggled for breath and asked her confessor if 'our Dear Lord would have her dye in an act of Martyerdome', which he affirmed, likening her choking to the execution of priests on the English mission. (47) Metaphors of martyrdom were writ large in the Carmelite sisters' hagiography of their prioress. While Teresa of Jesus Maria Worsely's piety, illnesses and death might well have been fashioned as a prolonged death for her faith by her biographer, the narrative nonetheless suggests a particularly English Catholic tenor to her life. As an enclosed nun living in religious exile from her coreligionists across the Channel, Worsely (and her religious sisters) identified so closely with them that she performed their religious persecution within her cloister.

Separation from Protestant England encouraged other women to invent other modes of exilic performance. In 1664 Trevor, Lady Warner, entered the English Sepulchrine convent in Liege. She was an unusual postulant because she was married with two young daughters, aged four and two. She and her husband, both converts from Protestantism, had mutually agreed to separate to enter religious institutions. Their daughters were to be raised in convent schools. However, Lady Warner did not find the Sepulchrine monastic rule sufficiently rigorous and in 1666 she left the convent to join the more austere Poor Clares in Gravelines, making her final vows there in November 1667. Lady Warner (in religion, Teresa Clare of Jesus) did not want any contact with her daughters because she explained interaction with them would 'be no small prejudice and distraction to the quiet and advancement of my Soul'. (48) However, she was concerned that their Protestant kin might abduct and return the girls to England to raise them as 'heretics', so she arranged for them to live in the Gravelines cloister. She intended to eschew their company, and when they arrived in September 1667, Sister Teresa Clare of Jesus appropriated her children's presence as a form of penance. She did not:
in the least show any symptom of fondness or tenderness of passion
towards them; thinking it a Sacriledge, after the Sacrifice she had
made of them to God, to give way to her former Affections, or feelings
of Nature. This made her receive all their innocent Caresses, without
the least return: Which, as some of the Religious confest, was a
strange check, to their sensibility; which they could not help, whilst
they beheld this more than human comportment of Sister Clare towards
her Children: Knowing she lov'd them as much, as it was possible for
any Mother to do [...] which passion she so strangely stifl'd in this
moving circumstance [...]. (49)


Ultimately, as a form of penance, the abbess placed her in charge of the children's care, a task she successfully performed without any show of affection, according to her biographer. (50)

Teresa Clare of Jesus Warner's physical and emotional detachment from her little daughters can be interpreted as an integral element in her quest as a novice and nun to 'die to the world' and dedicate herself and all her affections to God alone. It is presented as such by her clerical biographer, who was at pains to emphasize her success at stifling maternal in favour of divine love.Yet one might also consider the nun's aloofness as an extension of her exile from kin in England. Her family was Protestant and she earnestly desired their conversion, in particular that of her father, Sir Thomas Hanmer. For his part, Sir Thomas was appalled at his daughter and son-in-law's conversion and decision to separate to enter religious institutions. While apparently he was prepared begrudgingly to accept their Catholicism and exile abroad, he would not countenance their dissolved marriage, and he refused to tender his blessing or to answer her letters. (51) Teresa Clare of Jesus begged his favour and yearned for his conversion in letters which displayed nothing of the emotional indifference she exercised towards her children, signing herself 'Your most passionate and affectionate Poor Child'. (52) It would seem that the geographical and confessional separation from her father, exacerbated by her filial disobedience, drove her strong desire to save his soul and to be restored in his affection. The reality and repercussions of this exile encouraged the otherwise dispassionate nun to freely articulate her feelings in a way she deemed inappropriate with her daughters. Indeed one might interpret her disengagement from them as an alternative form of exile. It comprised an emotional severance from the kin living in close proximity as not only a monastic penitential exercise of mortification but also as a means to mitigate the anguish of genuine separation from her father and her fears for his salvation. Sister Clare accordingly rejected cherished objects of worldly affection within the cloister, emotionally exiling herself from her children, and suffering for her separation from them and from her English relatives, to save not only her own soul, but also theirs.

Teresa Clare of Jesus Warner offers one of the more complicated responses to the suffering of exile in a monastic enclosure. However, like Teresa of Jesus Maria Worsley, Cecilie Price, and Mary Mounson, she chose to alleviate the pain of expatriation by embracing a penitential piety. The adoption of tropes which allied their experiences in the cloister with the suffering of their coreligionists across the Channel encouraged active participation in the English mission. Distance and enclosure walls proved surmountable barriers to individuals and communities determined to end exile and return the religious cloisters to English soil.

III. Active Exile

Over the course of the 200 years that most of the convents spent abroad, they remained optimistic regarding the future of Catholicism in England and their eventual homecoming. As the Elizabethan expatriates had intimated in biblical references, the exiles' suffering would ultimately be rewarded by restoration to their homeland, just as the Israelites had returned. The nuns' narratives of hardship and their piety deeply rooted in tropes of suffering accordingly contributed to this end. However, in addition to articulating and appropriating exile, the cloistered refugees extended the metaphor of penitential endurance to precipitate the end of their displacement. They did so via the traditional monastic medium of prayer, but also through open defiance of the English Protestant state, and engagement in political subversion.

Within the confines of the monastic enclosure, the most obvious course of action was subversive prayer. As Mary Gouge, the abbess of the Poor Clare convent in Gravelines, explained in a 1611 petition to stay-at-home Catholics for financial assistance:
We [...] forsooke our Country, Parents and freindes [...] to the ende
that since we wer not able (in respect of our sex) to doe great
matters, yet we might at the least by Penance and Prayer conjoine our
selves unto those which labour in Gods vineyard, namely in our
afflicted Country of England [...]. (53)


The Gravelines Poor Clares were not alone in dedicating spiritual devotions towards the demise of their confessional enemies. Their daughter-house at Rouen was founded in 1644 in part to pray for the conversion of England. The nuns recited the Litany of the Saints each night for this purpose. (54) Liturgies to expedite an end to their exile continued into the eighteenth century. In 1700 the Poor Clare abbey in Aire agreed to offer a mass each Wednesday 'for the good & Conversion of England' as part of a charitable bequest. (55) Particular rituals aligned the nuns' pious proclivities for suffering and martyrdom with devotional activism directed towards returning home. At the Paris Augustinian cloister in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the religious ceremonies surrounding the nuns' relics of St Justin the Martyr were dedicated in part to the conversion of England and extirpation of the heretics. (56) Other cloisters asserted their missionary intent, likening their efforts to those of the sixth-century Christian mission to the British Isles. It was hoped that the 'shyning sanctiitie' of the Brussels Benedictine nuns who founded the first exiled monastery might 'brighten our country', as had St Augustine of Canterbury who 'brought and taught unto the English people the first knowledge and belief in the true God and his deer sonne and our saviour, Christ Jesus'. (57) The Augustinian convent in Paris celebrated the feasts of St Edward the Confessor and St Gregory the Great with rites dedicated to 'the conversion of England'. (58) Through such liturgical practices the emigre cloisters expressed their defiance of the English religious and political establishment and mustered their spiritual forces against the Protestants in order to secure a return to their homeland.

Geert Janssen has argued that many Netherlandish Catholic refugees in Cologne and Douai became 'radicalised' by the experience of exile, and devised strategies for regaining the Low Countries for the Habsburgs. (59) Similarly, although constrained by monastic enclosure, English nuns became convinced that the surest means of ending their exile and returning home was through an engagement with politics in their homeland, and they accordingly threw their support and resources behind the Stuart monarchs. Their families were royalists during the Civil War, and in the aftermath of the execution of Charles I, described by Abbess Anne Neville of the Pontoise Benedictine abbey as 'that horrible sacrilegious murther', Catholic exiles on the continent declared their support for his exiled son. (60) Elizabethan debates about Catholic loyalty to the monarch and state were refined. The exiles were loyal to the Stuarts, and disloyal to what they considered to be the illegitimate regimes of the 1650s. The restoration of Charles II did little to diminish the nuns' support for the Stuarts, despite disappointment when it came to religious toleration. The accession of the Catholic James II in 1685 seemed the fulfilment of the decades of prayers and religious rituals dedicated to such an outcome. Three years later all hopes were dashed when James and his family sought refuge in France, in a political exile which was to be permanent. Throughout these transitions the exiled nuns' loyalty to the Stuarts did not waver, despite the complicated changes this entailed when it came to loyalty to the English state.

The Stuart royal family's periods of exile in the very places where the religious cloisters were located marked a major transition in the nuns' response to displacement. While they did not cease to yearn for distant kin and their lost homeland, they assumed a more active role in securing an end to this separation, which they believed was possible via a Stuart restoration. The religious houses were well-placed to assist the royalist, and later Jacobite, exiles with the financial, spiritual and communications networks they had established during their own lengthy exile. In addition to prayers and religious rituals directed towards this end, certain convents provided more concrete assistance. Abbess Mary Knatchbull of the Ghent Benedictines assisted Prince Charles and his royalist ministers during the 1650s, arranging loans, conveying sensitive correspondence and channelling news and intelligence about the political situation in England. In September 1659, in a letter to Sir Edward Hyde reporting a delay in the delivery of letters from England, the abbess assured Charles's chancellor 'It will be [B.sup.d] [i.e. Blessed] nuse [w.sup.ch] bringes the account of his [Ma.sup.tys] safty and good success in his designes where he is for [w.sup.ch] all o (r) prayers are dayly offered'. (61) Mary Rose Howard of the Brussels Dominican cloister performed a similar role for James Francis Edward Stuart in the 1720s. (62) Other communities became meeting places for royalists and Jacobites and they transported Catholic and Jacobite materials between the continent and their families in England. (63) No longer distant from the active struggle to restore the faith in their homeland, they could engage in it directly from within their monastic enclosures by providing concrete as well as spiritual support to the cause.

However, active exile did not necessarily ease the pain of separation from kin and homeland. Mary Rose Howard in 1724 explained to James Francis Edward Stuart, the son of James II, that although she did not write so frequently she was nonetheless 'not less active' in his service. Moreover, she reassured him that the Dominicans' 'daly prayers' were for him, the queen and their son 'with whome we are animated to suffer all persecutions, both in our frinds & fortuns'. (64) The trope of suffering thus remained constant throughout the cloisters' expatriation. By the eighteenth century, the nuns were able to enlist it to identify with the plight of the exiled Stuarts. Yet the proximity of the exiled royal family eased also their pain of separation, providing consolation and hope. The Stuarts' presence lifted the spirits of the Catholic exiles and encouraged them to anticipate the end of their exile. In 1709 an increasingly infirm Abbess Mary Caryl of the Dunkirk Benedictines asked her brother who was secretary to Mary of Modena at St Germain-en-Laye to relay her respects to the exiled queen, commenting that although she had good reason to be depressed about most things, she was not despondent about a Stuart restoration. (65) Mary Rose Howard assured James Francis Edward Stuart in 1726, 'my solitud would be doubly happy to heare that news [of your restoration], whilst I have long suffered life with impatience & death in desire, yet my [sic] thinks this last news would compleate my desirs on earth'. (66) The nuns identified with the Stuarts' plight, understanding the emotional and practical experiences of dislocation only too well.

And this is where the Stuarts' political exile connected so well with the nuns' religious exile, revealing how they adapted their emotionology of exile over time to incorporate new circumstances. They did this in their chronicles, which detailed the trials and tribulations of the putative monarchs and their supporters. Thus, they integrated their own stories of suffering and loss with those of the Stuarts. As Mary Rose Howard in 1724 reassured James Francis Edward when explaining that local rents which kept her cloister afloat were greatly reduced, and she had not received any from England for four years:
Not that I complaine, wee glory to suffer with [y.sup.r] Magesty & as
banished from our country for our religion, to all losses wee redily
conforme and are parfectly easy in. (67)


Sharing exile with the Stuarts eased the distance between the nuns and their homeland, and the associated sorrow of displacement, and with their royal allies nearby they remained hopeful that an end might be within reach. Even after the failure of several Jacobite uprisings, the cloisters continued to anticipate a Stuart restoration. The deaths of James Frances Edward in 1766 and his son, Charles Edward, in 1788 were mourned, but so long as a Stuart heir remained, even one as unlikely as Henry Stuart, Cardinal of York, the convents maintained their prayerful resistance to the British state. In the end, the nuns returned to their homeland not through their prayers or political activism, but as a consequence of the French Revolution and their Protestant compatriots' compassion for the plight of the exiled women suffering at the hands of the revolutionaries.

Ultimately it was hope for an end to exile which rendered the suffering it entailed bearable. Within their monastic enclosures, the nuns reconfigured the parameters of dislocation from kin and country by writing about the hardship and grief of expatriation, and by envisaging this pain as a potential medium for resolving the separation from kin and the spiritual fracturing of their homeland. Some women inhabited both the cloister and an imagined spiritual landscape of imprisonment, torture and martyrdom for their adherence to the Catholic faith. By appropriating the anguish of exile as a key trope in their personal piety, they worked for their own salvation, and that of family and coreligionists at home. Through their own physical pain and denial of self they hoped that, like the missionary priests and martyrs, they might secure a Catholic future for England. Yet, as the decades passed, and the political situation evolved, many nuns were increasingly persuaded that they might actively work towards the goal of returning their country to the Catholic fold, thereby restoring their convents to English soil. Sharing the experience of exile with the royal family and engaging in activities designed to restore Charles II in the first instance, then James II and his heirs latterly, activism partially staunched the emotional distress generated by separation from kin and country and allowed the nuns to believe that they might achieve their goal. Indeed despite claustration behind walls, gates, and grilles, and their marginal status as refugee women, the nuns effectively both embraced and circumvented the limitations presented by enclosure and exile to counter the physical and emotional distance between their convents and England. A lengthy exile, spanning nearly two centuries, gender, and monastic enclosure ensured that their experience differed from that of other religious emigres whose dislocation rarely lasted as long and in the most part was conducted in daily interaction with host communities. The nuns' religious vocation and separation from local people invariably shaped their response to exile and the mechanisms they developed to endure it.

The University of Adelaide

Claire Walker (*)

(*) This research was conducted by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (project number CE110001011). The author would like to thank Sally Fisher, Lisa Di Crescenzo, Anne Scott, Susan Broomhall and the anonymous Parergon reviewers for comments which have improved the article. She is grateful to the private religious archives for permission to cite their manuscripts and thanks librarians in the Barr Smith Library at the University of Adelaide and at the National Library of Australia for making accessible the microfilm of the Stuart Papers, Royal Archives, Windsor. The Stuart Papers are cited by the permission of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

(1) Chronicle of the First Monastery Founded at Brussels for English Benedictine Nuns A.D. 1597 (Bergholt: St Mary's Abbey, 1898), p. 62.

(2) Jesse Spohnholz and Gary K. Waite, 'Introduction', in Exile and Religious Identity, 1500-1800, ed. by Jesse Spohnholz and Gary K. Waite (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2014), pp. 1-7 (p. 2).

(3) Religious Diaspora in Early Modern Europe: Strategies of Exile, ed. by Timothy G. Fehler and others (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2014); Geert H. Janssen, 'The Exile Experience', in The Ashgate Research Companion to the Counter-Reformation, ed. by Alexandra Bamji and others (Farnham: Ashgate, 2013), pp. 73-90.

(4) Spohnholz and Waite, 'Introduction', p. 3.

(5) David van der Linden, Experiencing Exile: Huguenot Refugees in the Dutch Republic, 1680-1700 (Farnham: Ashgate, 2015); Exile and Religious Identity, ed. by Spohnholz and Waite; Religious Diaspora, ed. by Fehler and others; Catholic Communities in Protestant States: Britain and the Netherlands c. 1570--1720, ed. by Benjamin Kaplan and others (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009); Ole Peter Grell, Brethren in Christ: A Calvinist Network in Reformation Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).

(6) Elizabeth A. Lehfeldt, 'The Permeable Cloister', in The Ashgate Companion to Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe, ed. by Jane Couchman, Allyson M. Poska, and Katherine A. McIver (Abingdon: Routledge, 2013), pp. 13--31 (pp. 20--23); Silvia Evangelisti, Nuns: A History of Convent Life 1450-1700 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), pp. 55--65; Ulrike Strasser, 'Bones of Contention: Cloistered Nuns, Decorated Relics and the Contest over Women's Space in the Public Sphere of Counter-Reformation Munich', Archive for Reformation History, 90 (1999), 255--88.

(7) 'The Life of Margaret Clement by Elizabeth Shirley', in English Convents in Exile, 1600-1800, vol. 3, Life Writing, vol. 1, ed. by Nicky Hallett (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2012),

p. 16.

(8) Laurence Lux-Sterritt, English Benedictine Nuns in Exile in the Seventeenth Century: Living Spirituality (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2017); Jenna Lay, Beyond the Cloister: Catholic Englishwomen and Early Modern Literary Culture (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016); Jaime Goodrich, 'Nuns and Community-Centered Writing: The Benedictine Rule and the Brussels Statutes', Huntington Library Quarterly, 77 (2014), 287-303; Victoria van Hyning, ' Expressing Selfhood in the Convent: Anonymous Chronicling and Subsumed Autobiography', British Catholic History, 32 (2014), 219--34; The English Convents in Exile, 1600--1800: Communities, Culture and Identity, ed. by Caroline Bowden and James E. Kelly (Farnham: Ashgate, 2013); Nicky Hallett, The Senses in Religious Communities, 1600--1800 (Farnham: Ashgate, 2013); Claire Walker, Gender and Politics in Early Modern Europe: English Convents in France and the Low Countries (Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).

(9) Claire Walker, 'The Embodiment of Exile: Relics and Suffering in Early Modern English Cloisters', in Feeling Exclusion: Religious Conflict, Exile and Emotions in Early Modern Europe, ed. by Giovanni Tarantino and Charles Zika (London: Routledge, forthcoming); Liesbeth Corens, 'Saints Beyond Borders: Relics and the Expatriate English Catholic Community', in Exile and Religious Identity, ed. by Spohnholz and Waite, pp. 25--38; Caroline Bowden, 'The English Convents in Exile and Questions of National Identity c. 1600--1688', in British and Irish Emigrants and Exiles in Europe, 1603--1688, ed. by David Worthington (Leiden: Brill, 2010), pp. 297-314.

(10) This concurs largely with research on Catholic refugees in the Habsburg Netherlands by Judith Pollmann, Catholic Identity and the Revolt of the Netherlands, 1520--1635 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011); and Geert J. Janssen, 'The Counter-Reformation of the Refugee: Exile and the Shaping of Catholic Militancy in the Dutch Revolt', Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 63 (2012), 671--92.

(11) Christopher Highley, Catholics Writing the Nation in Early Modern Britain and Ireland (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 24; Katy Gibbons, English Catholic Exiles in Late Sixteenth-Century Paris (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2011), pp. 135--36.

(12) Highley, Catholics Writing the Nation, pp. 49--53; Gibbons, English Catholic Exiles,

pp. 127--32.

(13) Peter N. Stearns with Carol Z. Stearns, 'Emotionology: Clarifying the History of Emotions and Emotional Standards', American Historical Review, 90 (1985), 813--36.

(14) Alison Shell, Catholicism, Controversy and the English Literary Imagination, 1558--1660 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 175--93.

(15) William Allen, A True, Sincere and Modest Defence of English Catholiques (Rouen, 1584), p. 178.

(16) Allen, A True, Sincere and Modest Defence, pp. 166--67, 171.

(17) Richard Bristow, A Briefe Treatise of Diverse Plain and Sure Wayes to Finde Out the Truth (Antwerp, 1574), fol. 136r.

(18) Bristow, A Briefe Treatise, fol. 136r.

(19) Jesse Spohnholz, 'Calvinist and Religious Exile during the Revolt of the Netherlands (1558--1609)', Immigrants and Minorities, 32 (2014), 235--61 (p. 236).

(20) Janssen, 'Counter-Reformation of the Refugee', p. 676.

(21) Douai Abbey, Berkshire, Benedictine Nuns of Oulton BO, 'Appeal to the Citizens of Ghent: 'An account of y (e) necessitys of y (e) Community'.

(22) Windsor, Royal Archives, Stuart Papers 184/51 (microfilm), Margaret Xaveria Arthur to James Edgar, 18 November 1735.

(23) The Chronicle of the English Augustinian Canonesses Regular of the Lateran, at St Monica's in Louvain (Now at St Augustine's Priory, Newton Abbot, Devon), ed. by Adam Hamilton, 2 vols (London: Sands, 1904--1906), i, 64--8, 71.

(24) Chronicle of St Monica's, i, 73.

(25) Chronicle of St Monica's, i, 75.

(26) 'Rouen Chronicle of the Poor Clare Sisters, vol. 1', in English Convents in Exile, 1600-1800, vol. 1, History Writing, ed. by Caroline Bowden (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2012),

pp. 4-26.

(27) 'Rouen Chronicle, vol. 1', p. 4.

(28) 'Rouen Chronicle, vol. 1', pp. 4, 13, 16, 18, 20, 24.

(29) 'Rouen Chronicle, vol. 1', pp. 16, 19, 21, 22, 26. See Janssen, 'Counter-Reformation of the Refugee', p. 676, for a similar example of Netherlander Poor Clares from Antwerp in Trier, who cast their narrative on the model of the Exodus story and the life of St Paul.

(30) 'Rouen Chronicle, vol. 1', p. 26.

(31) 'Rouen Chronicle, vol. 1', p. 26.

(32) 'Life of Margaret Clement', p. 7.

(33) 'Short Colections of the Beginings of Our English Monastery of Teresians in Antwerp with Some Few Perticulars of Our Dear Deceased Religious', in English Convents in Exile, 1600--1800, vol. 4, Life Writing II, ed. by Katrien Daemen-de-Gelder (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2013), pp. 4--5.

(34) Rosalind J. Beiler, 'Migration and the Loss of Spiritual Community: The Case of Daniel Falckner and Anna Maria Schuchart', in Enduring Loss in Early Modern Germany: Cross Disciplinary Perspectives, ed. by Lynne Tatlock (Boston: Brill, 2010), pp. 369--95 (p. 377).

(35) 'Short Colections', pp. 38--40.

(36) Janssen, 'Counter-Reformation of the Refugee', pp. 679--81.

(37) 'Obituary Notices of the Nuns of the English Benedictine Abbey of Ghent in Flanders, 1627--1811', in Miscellanea, 11 (London: Catholic Record Society, 1917), pp. 13--14.

(38) Brad S. Gregory, Salvation at Stake: Christian Martyrdom in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), p. 133.

(39) Gregory, Salvation at Stake, p. 313.

(40) Gregory, Salvation at Stake, p. 272, 275--87.

(41) Chronicle of St Monica's, i, p. 159.

(42) Tobie Matthew, The Life of Lady Lucy Knatchbull, ed. by David Knowles (London: Sheed and Ward, 1931), pp. 190--91.

(43) 'Obituary Notices Ghent', p. 70.

(44) 'Short Colections', p. 81.

(45) 'Short Colections', pp. 84--85.

(46) 'Short Colections', pp. 85--87.

(47) 'Short Colections', p. 89.

(48) [Edward Scarisbrick], The Life of the Lady Warner of Parham in Suffolk. In Religion Call'd Sister Clare of Jesus (London, 1691), p. 144.

(49) [Scarisbrick], The Life of Lady Warner, pp. 151--52.

(50) [Scarisbrick], The Life of Lady Warner, pp. 152--53, 178, 185--89.

(51) [Scarisbrick], The Life of Lady Warner, pp.190--98.

(52) [Scarisbrick], The Life of Lady Warner, pp.193--95, 196--98.

(53) Archives of the Archdiocese of Westminster, series A, vol. 8, no. 24, fol. 89. 'Concerning the beginning of the Poor Clares in Graveling and their rule'.

(54) Francesca Steele, The Convents of Great Britain (London: Sands, 1902), pp. 50--51.

(55) Hereford,The Poor Clare Monastery, MS Aire Register, [Part 4, fol. 17], Benefactors.

(56) Claire Walker, 'Political Ritual and Religious Devotion in Early Modern English Convents', in Emotion, Ritual and Power in Europe, 1200--1920: Family, Church and State, ed. by Merridee Bailey and Katie Barclay (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), pp. 221--39.

(57) Peter of Lucca, A Dialogue of Dying Wel, trans. by R.V. (Antwerp, 1603), sig. A3.

(58) Archives of the Archdiocese of Westminster, Paris Augustinian MS 'Diurnall', i, 332, 340, 350, 355, 364.

(59) Janssen, 'Counter-Reformation of the Refugee', pp. 682--89.

(60) 'Abbess Neville's Annals of Five Communities of English Benedictine Nuns in Flanders, 1598--1687', ed. by M. J. Rumsey, in Miscellanea, 5 (London: Catholic Record Society, 1909), p. 31.

(61) Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Clarendon 64, fol. 258 (r), Abbess Mary Knatchbull to Sir Edward Hyde, 23 September 1659.

(62) Claire Walker, '"When God shall Restore them to their Kingdoms": Nuns, Exiled Stuarts and English Catholic Identity, 1688--1745', in Religion and Women in Britain, c. 1660--1760, ed. by Sarah Apetrei and Hannah Smith (Farnham: Ashgate, 2014), pp. 79--97 (pp. 87-89).

(63) Walker, '"When God shall Restore them to their Kingdoms"', pp. 94--96.

(64) Windsor, Royal Archives, Stuart Papers 74/113 (microfilm), Mary Rose Howard to James Frances Edward, 2 June 1724.

(65) London, British Library, MS Add. 28,226, Caryll Papers, fol. 138, Abbess Mary Caryl to Sir John Caryll.

(66) Windsor, Royal Archives, Stuart Papers 90/127 (microfilm), Mary Rose Howard to James Frances Edward, 18 February 1726.

(67) Windsor, Royal Archives, Stuart Papers 74/113 (microfilm), Mary Rose Howard to James Frances Edward, 2 June 1724.
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