New book out on the history of Syon Abbey!

England’s Last Medieval Monastery: Syon Abbey 1415-2015, by E. A. Jones (Gracewing, 2015)

E.A. Jones, associate professor at the University of Exeter and principal investigator of the Syon at 600 project, has just published a new book that is a “short account of Syon’s long history, for general readers.” This is an excellent, much-needed overview of the institution available at a very reasonable price.


Link to the publisher’s listing is here:

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Special Report: Syon Abbey Workshop, November 2014

SPECIAL REPORT: “Syon at 600” Project – Syon Abbey Workshop @ Syon House, 7-9 November, 2014

by Sue Powell

Dr Eddie Jones of the University of Exeter was the organiser of this Syon workshop, which took place in the impressive, and even numinous (to us, at least) surroundings of Syon House, the seat of the Dukes of Northumberland since the late sixteenth century and in its present state since the mid-eighteenth century.

The workshop was the first in a series of three events, partly funded by an AHRC international network grant. 2015 events will be in April at Lisbon, and in July at Dartington Hall, Devon (see the Syon Abbey Society website at and the University of Exeter website at This first meeting (unlike many so-dubbed events) was a genuine workshop – twenty-five participants around one large table in a very pleasant Syon drawing room (the Northumberland Room). The twenty-five were privileged to attend such a meeting of minds, with plentiful discussion, opinions, questions, and valuable information and shared knowledge. Especially good was the mix of professional Syonistas (as one delegate called us), knowledgeable amateur enthusiasts, and postgraduate or recent postgraduate students at perhaps their first Syon conference, not to mention the blend of critics (the academics) and practitioners (the archaeologists).

After a welcome by Eddie Jones and Topher Martyn, head gardener (but clearly much more) at Syon Park, the first session of the afternoon was ‘Medieval Syon: Liturgy’, with talks by Ann Hutchison, Tekla Bude, and Delia Sarson (on the Myroure of oure Lady, extant Syon processionals, and the Office of the Guardian Angel, respectively). John Adams gave a spirited account of Thomas Betson’s herbal, which he and Stuart Forbes have transcribed from Betson’s notebook in Cambridge, St John’s College, MS 109 (E6) and which was published 19 November (see A wine reception followed, at which we were lucky enough to drink John’s ‘vintage’ (i.e. old) champagne, as well as enjoy wine, canapés, and informed tours of the main Robert Adams rooms led by Topher and his colleague Simon Hadleigh-Sparks. The whole group then adjourned to the Atash Persian restaurant for a very jolly meal, led by Topher through the moonlit conservatory of Syon Park to the dark streets of much more prosaic Brentford.

The Saturday morning sessions consisted of ‘Reading and Writing at Syon’ (Veronica O’Mara on the scribal evidence for nuns, and for Syon in particular, and David Harrap on the Musica Ecclesiastica, the Middle English versions of the Imitatio Christi), and ‘Syon People’ (Vincent Gillespie on Thomas Fishbourne and St Alban’s, vigorously responded to by James Clark, and Virginia Bainbridge on what she self-depracatingly called ‘Virginia’s holiday’, a very interesting uncovering of Syon-associated families in the Stanley territories of Cheshire and north Wales. The afternoon started with an introduction by Harvey Sheldon, recently retired from the Museum of London, on ‘Syon and Archaeology’, followed (just as the rain started) by a visit to the small museum below the first floor of the house and the gardens where the Time Team dig and then the more extensive Birkbeck College excavations have taken place since 2003. The afternoon ended with ‘Syon, Print and Protestantism’, when Brandon Alakas spoke on Richard Whitford and the scrupulous conscience and Philippa Earle on echoes of Walter Hilton in Whitford’s Book of Patience.

Early on Sunday Topher Martyn traced the development (or destruction) ‘From Syon Abbey to Syon House’, a very lively and informative talk, particularly interesting to me on the evidence for the demolition of the church (certainly by 1557, but, argued Topher, probably by 1549 since it would have spoiled the duke of Somerset’s view of his new triangular garden). Elizabeth Goodman and Victoria van Hyning talked on ‘The wandering years’, when the Syon sisters and priests were shuttled around the Low Countries. Elizabeth spoke on the parallel (and at times convergent) experiences of the Dominican nuns of Dartford, and Victoria on the pro-active role beyond England of Margaret Griggs Clement, the adopted daughter of Thomas More, and her family, particularly her daughter Margaret, first English prioress of the Flemish Augustinian convent of St Ursula. Finally, the conference ended with the period ‘Beyond 1594’, with an overview by Eddie Jones, an introduction by Caroline Bowden to the database of her fascinating project ‘Who were the Nuns?’, a prosopographical study of the English convents in exile 1600-1800 (, and an insight by Carmen Mangion into her study of nuns, including Birgittines, in the post-1940 period, particularly interesting for its extensive use of oral history.

Congratulations must go to Eddie, Topher and the archaeologists, in particular, although every single delegate at this conference deserves congratulations for their enthusiastic and learned participation. However, perhaps the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland and the staff of Syon House deserve most thanks, the former for their most generous hospitality in offering free of charge their splendid conference facilities, and the latter for their friendly and helpful assistance in ushering us in and out and round about throughout the conference.


Sue Powell

Emeritus Professor Medieval Texts and Culture (University of Salford)

Research Associate (Centre for Medieval Studies, University of York)

Visiting Research Fellow (Institute of English Studies, University of London)

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Syon at 600: New Website, Workshop Announcement

The AHRC-funded Syon at 600 project, run by Eddie Jones (principal investigator) and Vincent Gillespie (co-investigator), has an exciting new website:

The project’s second workshop, Syon in Lisbon, is appropriately based in Portugal and coming up soon: 20-22 April. If you are interested in participating please email Eddie Jones ( Don’t miss this opportunity to learn about Syon’s history, in the very convent buildings they inhabited in the beautiful medieval city of Lisbon, Portugal!

The project is also hosting a ‘Database of Researchers.’ Please enter your details in the online form in order to help develop a strong research network based on a wide range of scholars interested in Syon.

We are grateful to Eddie, and Vincent, for working on this important project for the sexcentenary year of Syon Abbey’s foundation!

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Symposium Announcement: Syon to Agincourt: 1415 and Beyond

Syon to Agincourt: 1415 and Beyond

Saturday, 25 April 2015, Graduate School, University of Hull, UK

This Marvell symposium is the third in an integrated series recently organized under the auspices of the Andrew Marvell Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies at the University of Hull. The aim of these specialist symposia, ‘Majesty: Constructing Royal Authority in Early Modern England’ (December, 2012); ‘New Directions in Medieval and Early Modern Studies’ (November, 2013); and ‘Syon to Agincourt: 1415 and Beyond’ (April, 2015) is to investigate particular topics from multi-disciplinary and different chronological perspectives that both reflect and complement the research interests of the members of the Centre.

The present symposium is focused on a seminal year in English history that saw — inter alia — the foundation of Syon Abbey in England, the condemnation of John Wyclif at the Council of Constance as a heretic, and the victory of Henry V at Agincourt. Such events had momentous consequences for the historic, religious, political, and literary development of the country — consequences that reverberated throughout English history. In intermingled ways these three events do much to reflect the feuding forces at work in England — and Europe — from the beginning of the fifteenth century onwards. In concentrating on the competing agendas of religious controversialists, the quest for military supremacy, and the development of royal reputation, this symposium aims to explore the different ways in which the country was shaped by such events.

Registration: £30 full fee; £20 for postgraduates

Booking: Please send the attached booking form, with a cheque for the relevant amount made payable to ‘The University of Hull’, to Dr Veronica O’Mara, Department of English, The University of Hull, Hull HU6 7 RX

Deadline: 9 March 2015 – please email regarding late registration


Saturday, 25 April 2015, Graduate School, University of Hull


9.45am–10am             Registration


Chair: Veronica O’Mara, University of Hull

Bridget Morris, York, ‘The Foundation of Syon in a European Perspective’

Eyal Poleg, Queen Mary, University of London, ‘1415: Constance, Syon, and the Nadir of English Book Production’

Sue Powell, Salford/York/London, ‘“Beleve stedfastly as Holi Chirch techeth”:  John Mirk and the Festial’

11.30am–12pm            Coffee

12pm–1pm                WAR AND REPUTATION

Chair: Lesley Coote, University of Hull

Gwilym Dodd, University of Nottingham, ‘Agincourt: England’s Hollow Victory’

Karen Watts, Royal Armouries, Leeds, ‘Agincourt: France’s Failed Tournament’

1pm–1.45pm              Luncheon


Chair: Amanda Capern, University of Hull

Sarah Peverley, University of Liverpool, ‘This noble prynce, pierlesse of regyment: Henry V and Agincourt in Hardyng’s Chronicle’

David Bagchi, University of Hull, ‘ “O Constance, be strong upon my side!” Contesting the Council in the Reformation’

Veronica O’Mara, University of Hull, ‘Syon Returns to Europe’

Janet Clare, University of Hull, ‘ “Then call we this the field of Agincourt”: Elizabethan Memory and Commemoration’

3.45pm–4.15pm   Tea

4.15pm–4.45pm   GENERAL DISCUSSION

Chair: Elisabeth Salter, University of Hull

Syon to Agincourt: 1415 and Beyond

Saturday, 25 April 2015

 The Symposium takes place at the Graduate School, University of Hull, Hull HU6 7RX

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ACCOMMODATION (further information:

On campus University guest-houses (very limited availability so early booking is essential): 19–21 Salmon Grove, Hull, HU5 7RX (en-suite): single room: £39; double room (£61); twin room (£61); 3 Ferens Avenue, Hull HU6 7RX  (not en-suite): single room (£29); double room (£47; twin room (£47). Please book directly with the Accommodation Office on (01482) 466042 or

Mercure Royal Hotel Hull, 170 Ferensway, Hull, HU1 3UF (adjacent to the train and bus stations; nos 103, 105 come directly to the University; nos 15 and 115 stop at Cranbrook Avenue, a short walk from the main campus). Please book directly with the hotel on (01482) 325087 or via; for the University rate (below) cite ‘Syon to Agincourt Symposium/O’Mara’: single room (£50); twin room (£82); double room, with single occupancy (£72); double room for two people (£82).

Please return your completed form, together with a cheque for the registration fee made payable to ‘The University of Hull’, by 9 March 2015, to Dr Veronica O’Mara, Department of English, University of Hull, Hull HU6 7RX.

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Query regarding a “Mistress Daniel from Syon”

One of our members, Elizabeth Patton, has a query – if you can help, please email her at

Elizabeth writes:

“I am trying to find information about a “Mistress Daniel from Syon” whose name appears on a list of illegal Catholic imprints confiscated in the Marshalsea prison in about 1586.  She was to receive a copy of “resolutions” (later known as Persons’ Christian Directory), and the volume was to be provided “with clasps.”

I have not been able to track her name on WWTN; one possibility is that she was among the younger nuns, such as Elizabeth Sander, who were evacuated back to England because of the Calvinist threat in Mechlin, and she may have assumed an alias (or perhaps an alternate family name) while in England.

All thoughts are welcome.”

Elizabeth Patton
Senior Lecturer, Humanities Center
Director, Great Books at Hopkins (GB@H)
Johns Hopkins University

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Latest Birgitta Conference CFP: Devon, England, 21-24 July 2015

Eddie Jones and Claes Gejrot are happy to announce the CFP for the latest in the series of Birgitta conferences, this time on the topic of “Continuity and Change in the Birgittine Order.”

See the online CFP here, also pasted below:

Continuity and Change in the Birgittine Order

(Syon Abbey 1415-2015)

Dartington Hall, Devon, 21-24 July 2015

The Birgittine order, over its more than six centuries of existence, has seen many changes: periods of growth and decline, expansion and retrenchment, patronage and persecution; individual houses have been suppressed and restored, declined, revived, relocated, and finally closed; the Birgittine vine has put out new branches, some of which have taken, and some not. And all this against a backdrop of religious, political, and social upheaval and change, that has not always remained safely in the background.

Are there any constants? The office, perhaps, or the habit, the rule (or rules?!), the spirit of the saint herself … something intangibly, indefinably Birgittine? Is Birgittine identity about adherence to an essence or ideal, or something that is worked out in practice? Is the idea of charism useful, or an obstacle to historical analysis?

Such questions come into focus sharply this year, when England’s house of Birgittines, Syon Abbey, celebrates the six hundredth anniversary of its foundation by King Henry V in 1415. Those six centuries have seen dramatic fluctuations in fortune, and as many as twenty changes of abode, from the abbey’s medieval heyday by the Thames in Middlesex, through suppression under Henry VIII, restoration by Queen Mary, exile in the Low Countries and France, a two-hundred-year sojourn in Portugal, the return to south-west England, late twentieth-century downsizing, and closure of the convent in 2011. Rule and constitutions have been reinterpreted and rewritten; the office has been sung in Latin, abandoned for the Roman breviary, restored in Latin, and translated into English. The community has seen kingdoms rise and fall; lived through war, fire and earthquake, and responded to the councils of Konstanz, Trent and Vatican II.

The latest in the series of Birgitta conferences will take place at Dartington Hall in Devon, England, 21-24 July 2015. Proposals for papers of 20 minutes duration will be welcomed by the organisers Eddie Jones and  Claes Gejrot by the deadline of 15 January 2015. The language of the conference will be English. We are equally interested in proposals on Syon Abbey, other Birgittine houses, or the order as a whole. Papers need not engage directly with the question of ‘continuity and change’, though this will be an advantage if we are over-subscribed. Recognising that the period has so far been under-explored, we will be particularly pleased to hear proposals that look at Birgittine experience since 1800.


Registration for the conference will be available on this site soon.

Sexcentenary event at Syon Park, 19 July 2015 

We imagine that many delegates will also be interested in attending a commemoration of Syon’s foundation that is being held in the grounds of Syon Park, Isleworth, site of Syon Abbey from 1431 until the dissolution, on Sunday 19 July 2015. (For location, see Organisation of the event is being led by the church of St Bridget of Sweden and Our Lady of Sorrows, Isleworth. It will feature an ecumenical service led by the archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols. We are involved in preparations for the event, and will provide further details as they become available.

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CFP on Syon for the Canadian Society of Medievalists 2015 Meeting

Stephanie Morley and Brandon Alakas send on the following CFP for the Canadian Society of Medievalists meeting, May 30-June 1, 2015. Complete details below.

Reflections on the Sexcentenary of Syon Abbey: Reading, Devotion and Reform

Founded in 1415 by Henry V, the Brigittine community at Syon Abbey had been since its inception a centre for orthodox reform. During the fifteenth century, Syon served as a model for other religious orders which sought a return to the stricter observance of previous centuries. By the time of the community’s expulsion in 1539, Syon had established its reputation as a prolific and vital source of vernacular devotional texts for religious and lay readers alike. Facilitating Syon’s promotion of orthodoxy, the Additions to the abbey’s rule press on the significance of books for the brothers and sisters of the order and underscore the intellectual and literary character of the institution. Recent scholarship has recognised Syon’s importance both as a source of continental spiritual writing and spirited Catholic reform, and as an early adopter of the printing press as a powerful tool for parochial instruction and the promotion of religious orthodoxy.

To mark the sexcentenary of Syon’s foundation, we invite abstracts for papers treating any aspect of the abbey’s participation in the devotional and literate culture of the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. Papers may examine individual texts and translations produced by the Syon brothers; consider the shaping of a readership, either religious or lay (or both), of vernacular theology; or survey the abbey’s participation, spiritually and politically, in the fraught years before the Act of Supremacy. Any and all disciplinary and methodological approaches are welcome in what we hope will be a valuable contribution to the myriad conversations about Syon Abbey during 2015.

The Canadian Society of Medievalists is an international inter-disciplinary society that holds its annual meeting every year at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, happening this year at the University of Ottawa in Ottawa, Canada, May 30-June 1, 2015.

Please send abstracts of no more than 300 words to the co-organizers by December 15, 2015. Electronic submissions are preferred.

Dr Stephanie Morley
Department of English
Saint Mary’s University

Dr Brandon Alakas
Department of Fine Arts and Humanities
University of Alberta, Augustana

CFP pdf document: CSM CFP 2015 Reflections on the Sexcentenary of Syon Abbey.

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Syon Abbey @ Syon House: A Workshop, 7-9 November 2014

Eddie Jones at the University of Exeter is pleased to announce the call of contributors for “Syon Abbey @ Syon House,” a special workshop to be held at Syon Park, 7-9 November 2014.  Please read the full call here

And copied below:

Syon Abbey turns 600 in 2015. We will be beginning our celebrations a little early, with a workshop to be held at Syon House, Syon Park, Isleworth, 7-9 November 2014. This is one of several events being held to mark the sexcentenary of Syon’s foundation. An academic conference will be held in association with the Swedish Birgittastiftelsen in Exeter in July 2015.

The principal focus for this initial workshop will be Syon Abbey from its late-medieval foundation to 1594, when the community’s post-dissolution wanderings ended with their arrival in Lisbon; 1594 was also (coincidentally) the year that their former home in Isleworth passed to its current owners, the Dukes of Northumberland, who built the present Syon House. Contributions on the transition from monastery to stately home will also be most welcome.

A highlight of the weekend will be the opportunity to ‘Walk about Sion, and go round about her : and tell the towers thereof’ in the company of our keynote speaker Harvey Sheldon, who directed the archaeological investigations here during the 2000s, and Topher Martyn, head gardener at Syon Park.

One of the main purposes of the workshop will be to identify themes, questions, sources – and, perhaps, contributors – for a new, multi-authored history of Syon, that I would like to see completed by 2020, the 600th anniversary of the first professions and the beginning of community life proper at the Abbey. Consequently, I am looking not so much for offers of formal research papers, but short reports (15-20 mins) on work in progress (especially from graduate students and other voices new to Syon studies); presentations on untapped or under-explored sources for understanding Syon’s history, or methodologies and disciplinary approaches that have not so far been in the mainstream of work on the Abbey (which has been dominated by historians and literary scholars, most of them medievalists); reviews of relevant historiography (medieval reform, the Dissolution, the Marian restorations, early recusancy, etc). The emphasis throughout will be on roundtable discussion in a seminar-style setting, and numbers may be limited accordingly.

Expressions of interest and offers to contribute to the workshop (a few sentences of outline/rationale for what you want to say, plus a brief biography) should be sent to Eddie Jones by 8 October.

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Syon Abbey Sexcentenary Events

Here below is some information from E. A. Jones (University of Exeter) about upcoming events in 2015 in celebration of the 600th anniversary of Syon Abbey.


Syon at Six Hundred

The foundation stone of Syon Abbey was laid at Twickenham on 3 March 1415. This note is to alert you to two conferences dedicated to Syon’s sexcentenary. I will be organising them together with Vincent Gillespie (University of Oxford), Alexandra Walsham (University of Cambridge), and Carmen Mangion (Birkbeck University of London).

7-9 November 2014, Syon House, Syon Park, Brentford.

A weekend workshop held on the site of the medieval monastery. We will focus especially on medieval and reformation Syon, and the transformation of Syon Abbey into Syon House. (Coincidentally, the site passed to its present owner, the Duke of Northumberland, in 1594, the same year that the Syon community arrived in Lisbon.) There will be a chance to ‘Walk about Sion, and go round about her;  and tell the towers thereof’ (Ps. 48:11) in the company of Topher Martyn, head gardener at Syon Park, and Harvey Sheldon (Birkbeck University of London), who directed the archaeological investigation of the site in the 2000s.

22-25 July 2015, University of Exeter.

We will join forces with the Birgittastiftelsen (Birgitta Foundation) for their 2015 Conference, which will include a special focus on Syon during its centenary year. The University of Exeter now holds many resources for the study of Syon Abbey, including the medieval manuscripts and fragments, the early modern books, and the extensive archive. One of our aims is to highlight the potential of these materials for understanding the last 200 years of Syon’s history – a period that to date scholarship has barely touched. The conference will include a formal celebration of the sexcentenary on the feast of St Bridget, 23 July 2015, at which we hope to be joined by Sister Anne (as I am still learning to call the Abbess!).

We would like these events to launch a new phase of Syon studies that will culminate in a new, collaborative history of the community from its foundation until the present day. 

Further details of all these plans and events, and calls for papers, will appear on the Society’s webpages and elsewhere over the coming months.

Eddie Jones, University of Exeter

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Kalamazoo 2015 CFP: “Multidisciplinary Saint Bridget: In Honor of Syon Abbey’s 600th Anniversary”

At the International Medieval Congress at Kalamazoo, Michigan, in May 2015, the Syon Abbey Society is happy to be co-sponsoring a panel with the Hagiography Society. Read the description below, and please submit an abstract!

Multidisciplinary Saint Bridget: In Honor of Syon Abbey’s 600th Anniversary

This year, the Syon Abbey Society and the Hagiography Society are teaming up to offer a multidisciplinary panel devoted to Saint Birgitta of Sweden (c. 1303-1373), or Saint Bridget as she was known in England. Bridget became famous during her lifetime for her divine visions, her campaigns to bring the papacy back to Rome, her political activism, and her foundation of the Order of St. Saviour (or the Bridgettine Order as it is often called). The only British Bridgettine house, Syon Abbey, was founded in 1415 and flourished alongside the growing devotional cult surrounding Bridget and her texts in England. Syon Abbey is now recognized as one of the most vibrant literary and cultural monastic centers of late medieval England, and this panel will be one of several events in the US and UK to mark the sexcentenary of its foundation.

We invite abstracts for papers exploring any aspect of Saint Bridget and her cult in England or the Continent. Papers addressing connections to Syon’s sisters, brothers, texts, history, or influence are welcome but not required. We hope to form a panel that reflects a variety of disciplinary standpoints: e.g., music, liturgy, art, iconography, architecture, theology, textuality, manuscripts, textual transmission, early print, monasticism, gender issues, socio-politico-economic contexts.

Please email short abstracts to Laura Saetveit Miles, University of Bergen ( by September 15.

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