17th-century nuns on the run

James Kelly shows how a surprisingly large number of Catholic women fled Protestant England to join European convents in the 17th and 18th centuries

Painting depicting medieval nuns. (Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)

This article was first published in the March 2012 issue of BBC History Magazine

Following the 1649 execution of Charles I, Catherine Holland, a young Protestant, moved abroad with her family. Her father, Sir John Holland MP, chose Bruges as their new home. During this time, Catherine recorded how she became aware of a convent of English religious women in the town. Her initial reaction was that she “thought it a miserable life always to be locked up in a prison; that manner of life did not then please me at all, and I little thought I was to be one of those. I thought them so unhappy.”

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