Who were the Nuns?

A Prosopographical study of the English Convents in exile 1600-1800

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Senior Officeholders

The evidence on office holding within the convents is patchy. Around a quarter of the nuns in the database are recorded as having one or more offices. However, the number and range of offices recorded varied greatly between convents.

Only the identities of the most senior officers, responsible for the management of the convents were recorded consistently. This analysis consquently concentrates on these senior officeholders (abbess/prioress/sub-prioress/superior).


In all 452 nuns (11.5% of the total dataset) held one or more senior office during her career

The evidence indicates that the earlier a nun entered a convent, the more chance she had of reaching high office. The median age of entering a convent for all nuns was 20. For nuns who went on to hold the senior offices, the median age was 18 (for nuns whose age of entry was recorded on entry) or 19 (for nuns whose age on entry has been calculated).

An analysis of the social status of these senior officeholders reveals that they were more likely to be the daughters of peers, knights, baronets and esquires than most nuns.

The officeholders were also more likely to have an association with the North East, North West, East Anglia or West Midlands than the majority of nuns.

Age at Entry to Convent Life

Social Status

Regional Associations

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