The licentious nature of the Augustinian Black Canons, revealed in research for York University's Borthwick Institute, depicts Kirkham Priory, established in 1121 on the banks of the Derwent in Malton, as a hotbed of indiscipline.
The Archbishop of York is depicted as a baffled bystander amid the mayhem, trying to keep order among the canons, who were hugely popular with locals and who demonstrated a cunning that would have taxed today's Fraud Squad.
In the 13th century a prior explains in letters to the archbishop the case of a canon, Thomas, who forged two seals and applied them to forged letters, requesting money. On the run in Northumberland with these medieval- style credit cards, he obtained money to finance "high living the length and breadth of England". He was captured and had been in the priory jail for 17 years before the archbishop inquired of his crime.
For all the revelry, the clerics did good work. "They went out and about, helping people to interpret documents," said a spokesman for English Heritage, which runs the abbey. "They were a kind of social services for their day. They ... did a lot of good."Reuse content