Left nearly powerless by the wounds she received during the battle at the end of Immortal Warrior, Cwen the sorceress found refuge in the nunneries of England, eventually ending up at Kirklees, a Cistercian priory in the forests of what was traditionally known as the West Riding of Yorkshire. There, she worked her way up to Prioress (second to the Abbess), and that’s the point where we meet her again in Immortal Outlaw.
The Cistercians are an order of enclosed monks founded by St. Roger of Molesme in 1098 at Cisteaux, France. They were strict followers of the Rule of St. Benedict, which called for vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and dictated self-sufficiency and a simple life that included manual labor (St. Bernard was another famous founding member of the order.) Women were admitted to the order almost immediately, with the first nunnery opening at Langres in 1125. The nuns were known as White Ladies because of their white robes. I’ll confess right here that I screwed up on this point and talked about how Cwen liked her black robes, because they honored the old gods from whom she draws her power. Oops. I didn’t catch the mistake until well after galleys were done, and strangely, my usually perfect copy editor didn’t catch it either. However, in our favor, the nuns did wear a black hooded surplice over the white robes (as in the image of St. Alice of Schaerbeck to the left). Perhaps we can both be forgiven.
Kirklees was founded in 1155, during the reign of Henry II, with the grant of land confirmed in 1236 by Henry III. In addition to nuns, the house was used as a sort of boarding school by local noblemen intent on keeping their daughters out of trouble. This effort had mixed success: the young noblewomen brought luxuries and a sense of fun with them that sometimes spread to the nuns, and there are several recorded incidents when nuns ran off with priests or otherwise carried on scandalously, sometimes right on priory grounds; those stories inspired both Cwen’s magic-weaving in her cell and the story of Sr. Paulina and Fr. Renaud and their clandestine affair.
Kirklees escaped the initial rounds of the Dissolution in 1535, but was eventually surrendered in 1539, when only eight nuns remained. After the inmates left, the chapter house was razed and its stones eventually were used to build Kirklees Hall nearby. However, the gatehouse escaped the predations and still stands today, though parts were apparently rebuilt in the intervening centuries.In the traditional Robin Hood legends, it is in that same gatehouse that Robin meets his end, bled to death by his cousin, the prioress of Kirklees, whom he sought out when ill. When he realizes his cousin has betrayed him, Robin summons help with his hunting horn. It’s too late, however, and all Little John can do is help Robin shoot an arrow out the window, promising to bury him on the spot where it fell.
A well-marked grave exists at Kirklees today, surrounded by an iron railing and showing a Victorian era headstone in pseudo-Gothic English that claims it’s where Robin lies. Suspiciously, it lies a good 600 yards from the gatehouse — over twice the distance of a good medieval longbow shot. However, travelers to the area during the mid-16th century report visiting Robin’s grave in a different place, at about the right distance for a bowshot. And indeed, human remains were found in that spot during renovations of Kirklees Hall during the mid-18th century. It’s unclear wherther those remains were reburied at the spot now marked for Robin.
The Victorian headstone, pictured, reads:
Here underneath dis laitl stean
Laz robert earl of Huntintun
Ne’er arcir ver as hie sa geud
An pipl kauld im robin heud
Sick utlawz as his as iz men
Vil england nivr si agen
Whether Robin lies in the marked grave or not, both locations sit on private land, inaccessible to the public. Somehow, I think it’s appropriate that Robin remains as elusive to us today as he was to the Sheriff in the 13th century.