On the blog of the Museum of the Order of St. John, Nancy Mavroudi writes about the nuns of the Order:
If we were to generalise, we would probably say that Hospitaller women were primarily wealthy, noble women, from aristocratic or powerful families who, in many cases were even forced to join the Order by their families for spiritual benefits – the Order’s blessing for the family. However, although popular, such generalisations are not always accurate. To start with, there is evidence that many women joined voluntarily, simply because they so wanted. Joining a community of Sisters could bring about a change in their lives in which they themselves might have found comfort – especially given that, as discussed in further detail below, the Order could potentially be a more privileged and safe space to be.
Also, not all women had to be wealthy to become Sisters, although this would have been an advantage. There is often evidence that women from all walks of life would be admitted to the Houses, regardless of their financial situation but rather because of their skills that might have matched the practical needs of specific Houses. Those skills ranged from baking and cooking, to farming and to numeracy/literacy, and administration skills. For example, according to the religious tradition around St Ubaldesca (whose portrait can be found in the Order Gallery in our Museum) she came from an underprivileged background. Her father was a baker and their family was struggling to make ends meet; still she was able to join the House in Pisa and was later renounced (sic) Saint.
She describes their duties and contribution to the work of the Order:
The house of Mynchin Buckland, according to British History Online, was founded in 1166:
Nobles and royalty granted pensions to the nuns in the twelfth through fourteenth centuries. It was, of course, dissolved under Henry VIII:
On 10 February 1539 (fn. 35) the sisters appeared in their chapter-house and formally surrendered their house and its endowments to the king at the hands of John Tregonwell and William Petre. The Popham family had obtained a large amount of their property on lease, and the action of the prioress accounts probably for the favourable arrangements which were made for her and the sisters. The prioress received a pension of £50 a year, and pensions were granted to thirteen sisters as well as to Sir William Mawdesley, confessor to the house. (fn. 36) The prioress also received a gift of £25 (fn. 37) by way of gratuity.
In Cardinal Pole's pension list, 1556, there are payments entered to seven sisters still alive and drawing their pensions.
Note that the Museum of the Order of St. John, while reflecting often on the pre-Reformation Hospitaller Order is a modern foundation, as its website states: