How Joan of Leeds faked her own death to escape life in the convent

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In a 14th century nunnery, Joan of Leeds was fed up with her life of poverty, chastity and obedience and hatched a plan to fake her own death and escape to freedom.

After tricking her fellow sisters into burying a dummy they believed to be her body, Joan fled. But her freedom was short-lived as she was discovered and ordered to return to the convent by the Archbishop of York.

Joan’s story was recorded by medieval scribes and is among tales unearthed in archives held by the University of York.

Researchers have been exploring registers of archbishops between 1304 and 1405. Professor Sarah Rees Jones,said: “The Archbishops of York in the fourteenth century had incredibly varied roles. They carried out diplomatic work in Europe and Rome and rubbed shoulders with the VIPs of the Middle Ages. They were also on the ground resolving disputes between ordinary people, inspecting priories and monasteries and correcting wayward monks and nuns.”

Researchers are hoping to find out more about archbishops including William Melton, who led an army of priests and citizens to defend York against the Scots in 1319.

Prof Rees Jones said: “In the Middles Ages, York was an extremely important northern city on the frontline of the Scottish wars of independence.

“But unfortunately the fight didn’t go well for Melton and his army of clergy. Their lack of military training resulted in a reported 4,000 men dying on the battlefield and a further 1,000 are believed to have drowned in the River Swale trying to escape.”