Wimple Wars: Music at the Centre of Controversies at the Monastery of the Glorious Assumption of Our Blessed Lady in Brussels

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


While the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 may have put an end to convents for English women domestically, the 16th and 17th centuries saw the opening of over twenty convents designed specifically for English women seeking a religious life. However, within a generation of the first convent opening its doors in Brussels, it became clear that the task of operating cloistered institutions in a foreign country - where language differences and cultural clashes were impossible to avoid - was potentially more difficult than anticipated. Recent scholarship by Emlie Murphy and Jaime Goodrich has examined the embarrassingly public accusations of emotional, physical and sexual abuse that plagued the Monastery of the Glorious Assumption of Our Blessed Lady in Brussels, with much discussion on the role of language differences within the convent resulting in miscommunication, mistrust, and intense factionalism. However, little attention has been paid to the ensuing struggles that continued to centre around the performance of the Divine Office. This paper will focus on reports of the violence surrounding Lenten services at the convent. It will focus on how disagreements over who was to sing what, who had the authority to decide singers, and general grudges between the nuns led to attempts on behalf of one faction (including such characters as Dames Aurea James, Lucy Bacon, Mary Phillipps, and more) to intimidate and embarrass the opposing side (including Dames Martha Colford, Marina Draycott, Christina Paris, and more) through disruption of musicking, purposeful misperformance of music, and physical altercations. It will discuss the context of this disruption within the highly liminal space of performance of Mass and the Divine Offices, given the openness of part of the chapel to local visitors, many of whom might have been concerned about the presence of English nuns in their locality. It will demonstrate how the convent’s place in exile and under the jurisdiction of a foreign authority meant the acceptance of behaviour and situations that ordinarily would not have been necessary. Lastly, it will discuss the role of disharmony in an English convent within the wider context of musical performance in exiled English convents in the Low Countries.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 7 Jul 2021
Event49th MEDIEVAL AND RENAISSANCE INTERNATIONAL MUSIC CONFERENCE - Colégio Almada Negreiros/online, Lisbon, Portugal
Duration: 5 Jul 20219 Jul 2021


Abbreviated titleMedRen 2021
Internet address


  • baroque
  • early music
  • musicology
  • convents
  • Musical Institutions
  • Early Modern Music
  • early modern women

Cite this