Medieval nun faked her death for a life of sex, archives reveal

The saga was discovered by archivists at the University of York

Despite pledging herself to a life of chastity, obedience, and devoutness in a 14th-century convent, it wasn’t long before Joan of Leeds had a change of heart. Allegedly besieged by “the way of carnal lust”, she decided to leave the convent for a more earthly life in a town 64 kilometers away. With the help of accomplices, she faked an illness, crafted a fake dummy and tricked her fellow sisters into burying it, using the distraction to escape the convent for Beverly.

However, then-Archbishop William Melton soon caught wind of what he called a “scandalous rumour” and immediately wrote to the Dean of Beverly of the arrival of the Benedictine nun, claiming that she had “impudently cast aside the propriety of religion and the modesty of her sex.”

After faking her own death, Melton continued, “and, in a cunning, nefarious manner … having turned her back on decency and the good of religion, seduced by indecency, she involved herself irreverently and perverted her path of life arrogantly to the way of carnal lust and away from poverty and obedience, and, having broken her vows and discarded the religious habit, she now wanders at large to the notorious peril to her soul and to the scandal of all of her order.”

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