Eanswith (sometimes Eanswythe or Eanswide) was an Anglo Saxon princess who founded the first nunnery in England.
She was the granddaughter of Bertha of Kent, and her family were the first Anglo-Saxon royals to convert to Christianity – at the time a very new religion. Kent was a powerful kingdom and Eanswith would have been one of the most highborn women in England.
Eanswith was clearly beloved by her father, King Eabald, who helped finance her plans to build the nunnery. He also listened to his daughter when she refused a proposal of marriage from a neighbouring prince.
The Benedictine Folkestone priory was completed in about 630, and Eanswith quickly moved in and adopted a monastic lifestyle, along with a number of other women. It was the first religious settlement for women in the British Isles.
After her death in 640, Eanswith was canonised as a saint by the Catholic Church. Her feast day is celebrated on 12th September.
Unfortunately the site founded by Eanswith eventually eroded into the sea, though a second building, Folkestone Priory, was constructed further inland in 1137. This site included a church dedicated to St Mary and St Eanswith, and contains Eanswith’s remains.
Woman under Monasticism – Lina Eckenstein
A Companion to British Literature, Volume 1: Medieval Literature, 700 – 1450 – Heesok Chang, Robert DeMaria, Jr., Samantha Zacher