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Locked Away in a Monastery

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My cell is so narrow, you may say, but oh, how wide is the sky!

Father Ted Crilly: That would be quite common you know. The favourite son would become a doctor and then the idiot brother would be sent off to the priesthood.
Father Dougal Maguire: Your brother's a doctor, isn't he?
Father Ted: Yes, he is.

A trope often found in a Standard Royal Court: When someone in power (e.g. the monarch) wants a person (e.g. an heir, a spouse, or a favorite) removed from public sight but are unwilling to kill them (e.g. because of Royal Blood, or because they actually just want to protect them), they will make them take the vows at a remote monastery/nunnery. This way, the newly-made monk/nun will be permanently restricted in movement and any voluntary or assisted attempt to return to secular life will be considered a sacrilege. Also, celibacy means they won't have children.

In a less permanent variation, convents of nuns are also a popular choice for wealthy families to place their daughters in until they marry: they'll have a strict upbringing, education, and more or less guaranteed virginity. Bonus points for not needing to provide the kid with class-relevant and expensive dresses while she is kept there.note  Such women might be forced to Take the Veil, usually if they had a substantial inheritance coming and the family wanted to keep control of it.


As the Real Life section shows this was very much Truth in Television for European (and especially Greek/Eastern Roman) royalty during the Middle Ages, where deposed or abdicated rulers and other undesirable claimants were often permitted to retire to a monastery (willingly or less so) as an alternative to killing them.

Sub-Trope of The Exile, Reassigned to Antarctica, and Kicked Upstairs (in the sense that the failed courtier of earthly monarchs is now serving the Lord of Heaven). Related to Man in the Iron Mask. Not Get Thee to a Nunnery, where it appears that someone is threatening a woman with this but it is actually a Double Entendre.



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    Anime and Manga 
  • Exploited in Romeo X Juliet, where Romeo's mother Lady Portia Montague willingly locks herself into a convent to dis-associate herself from her husband after he wipes out the whole Capulet clan.

    Comic Books 
  • Borgia Power And Incest does the safekeeping variation to Lucrezia. She's fetched back for her marriage: "Miss Lucrezia, I left a little girl here and in her place I find a beautiful young woman..."

     Fan Works 
  • After Cersei's "miscarriage" and blatant but deniable attempted murder of Lyarra and Gwyn in Bequeathed from Pale Estates gets Cersei sent to a brutal Mother House to cool the bad PR. Cersei is sent to a Mother House in hopes of either a) having her pray for her fertility and having the brutal nuns whip Cersei figuratively and literally into being a more humble and grateful person or b) having Cersei go crazy when all her comforts are taken away so Robert could be free to marry someone else.

  • At the start of Lady Ninja Kaede, the Emperor has banished Madam Yumeama to a covent to prevent her from employing her ninja sex techniques.
  • Sister Act is a version with a modern theme. After witnessing a murder committed by her mobster ex-boyfriend, Dolores is sent to a convent where she poses as a nun as part of a witness protection program.

  • In the Arcia Chronicles, Charles Tagere wanted to do this to his hunchback son Alexander but died before Alexander came of age. Charles' heir then overruled his father's decision and made Alexander a general. Also, this trope always goes horribly wrong with women who are sent to become nuns of the Cialinan Order: the Order is, in fact, an Ancient Conspiracy of power-hungry witches.
  • This happens to Amena, Count D'Elmont's first "love" in Love in Excess.
  • Happens to one of the corrupt Arendish somethings in one of the Belgariad/Malloreon/whatever prequel novels.
  • The Elenium:
    • This was the punishment of Arissa, the very wanton sister of the previous king. She was sent to a convent because she couldn't be executed, and made life miserable for everyone there. This ended up backfiring on the main characters. The convent was lightly defended and the nuns were massacred when Arissa's accomplices sprung her.
    • A minor character (a Pelosian noble) ships his son off to a monastery (with the threat of forcing him to take vows and turning the inheritance over to a cousin) after the son tries bullying a party of Church Knights. He also announces that he'll be sending his wife to a convent, since it was her spoiling of her only child that produced a son who would try to bully Church Knights.
  • The Highborn in Chronicles of the Kencyrath sends those who are too obviously Shanir (i.e. weird) to the Priest's College and out of the way.
  • Angelina Dorma is sent to a nunnery in the end of The Shadow of the Lion.
  • Eventually happens to Maria Clara on Noli Me Tangere.
  • A rather long subplot in The Forest of Hands and Teeth focuses on the protagonist joining the Sisterhood because she has no other options in her outrageously strict society, although she desperately does not want this. Subverted because, like everything else in the novel, it goes horribly awry.
  • In the original Hans Christian Andersen version of The Little Mermaid, the prince falls in love with a young woman from the local nunnery who finds him shortly after the mermaid pulls him from the water. Resigned to never being with her, the prince considers marrying the mermaid, when it is revealed the young woman was never a nun, but a princess being educated there. (And in some versions, she was his arranged fiancée as well.) They marry and live happily ever after. The mermaid...not so much.
  • In Sharpe's Honour, la Marquesa de Casares el Grande gets confined in a convent so she can't contradict the faked evidence that's supposed to convict Sharpe for murder.
  • This is common as both a threat and an actual practice in the Videssos books. Not surprising as the Empire of Videssos is the Byzantine Empire with magic. People who just need to be out of the public eye can get exiled to a monastery in the capital, but the people who need to be Reassigned to Antarctica get sent to a monastery in Prista, on the border with the Pardrayan steppes.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, The Night's Watch is frequently used for this purpose. While it's a military order, its location on the edge of civilization in the frozen North and the vows of chastity and non-inheritance its brothers take mean that anyone sent there is rendered fairly harmless. Two examples stand out:
    • Sam Tarly, in particular, was ordered by his father to join the Watch so that his much younger brother could become the heir in his stead. The possibility of his joining religious or scholarly orders was raised, but brusquely dismissed by the extremely militant father.
    • Aemon Targaryen does this twice over, first by joining the Maesters who give up all claim to their family name (at the time, he was far down the line of succession), then being assigned to the Night's Watch. However after his father's death he was offered the opportunity to leave the Maesters, the High Septon offering to absolve him... but he turned it down so his younger brother Aegon could become King. Aemon then joined the Night's Watch so he couldn't be used to oppose his brother.
  • This is how Fernanda Buendia del Carpio deals with her daughter Meme in One Hundred Years of Solitude, after she has Meme's secret boyfriend Mauricio gunned down when he was sneaking into their home.
  • Variation in Sidney Sheldon's The Other Side of Midnight, in that it's the result of a coincidence: Catherine, fleeing her would-be murderers, is rescued by nuns but is now amnesiac. It turns out that this particular order of nuns is supported by Constantin, who knows her but lets her be — so the world will think she was murdered and he can get revenge on the would-be culprits for his own reasons.
  • The corrupt regents in the Heirs of Saint Camber trilogy do their best to push Javan into taking vows so they can name the younger and more malleable Rhys Michael as Alroy's heir. It doesn't work, so they murder him a year into his reign so that Rhys Michael ends up on the throne anyway.
  • Brother Aiden in The Monk And The Viking was sent to a monastery as a toddler because he was illegitimate.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Degrassi: The Next Generation two-parter "Accidents Will Happen," Manny (a Filipino-Canadian) is terrified of telling her parents about her pregnancy, because she doesn't want to end up like her cousin back in the Philippines who got sent to a convent.
  • In Pushing Daisies, Aunt Lily sends Olive to a nunnery to protect the secret she accidentally blabbed, although that lasts for a very short time. And Aunt Lily knew about the nunnery because she was sent there herself as a youth to hide a pregnancy.
  • The Cadfael series uses this at least once or twice. In one episode, "The Devil's Novice," the main suspect in a murder is sent to live in Brother Cadfael's monastery, because the clergy are not subject to secular law.
  • In The Nanny episode, "The Kibbutz", Maxwell considers sending Maggie to a Swiss convent over the winter break to stop her from spending the entire break making out with her boyfriend.
  • In Salamander, former cop Carl Cassimon resigns from the force after killing a man in a bungled operation. He is also suffering guilt over an affair with his best friend's wife. He elects to lock himself away in a monastery to work out his guilt (he doesn't actually take any monastic vows). Although this is, admittedly, in Belgium. Where monks brew (and drink) seriously good beer, and the monastery is equipped with other aids to spiritual contemplation such as a snooker table and Internet-capable computers.
  • In The Tudors this is put forward as an option for Queen Catherine of Aragon, as it was in real life. Obviously, she doesn't take it.
  • Attila: After Honoria conspires to usurp her brother Valentinian as ruler of Rome, he sends her away to a puritanical Christian convent in the Eastern Roman Empire. She tries to get out of there by promising Attila half the Roman Empire as dowry if he marries her, which is just the pretext that he had been waiting for.
  • A variant in Blackadder: In "The Archbishop", King Richard IV totally doesn't have the Archbishop of Canterbury assassinated and then appoints Prince Edmund (second in line to the throne and The Unfavorite) to replace him, the idea being to ensure that the Church does what Richard wants as well as getting Edmund out of court. Edmund manages to get himself expelled from the priesthood and excommunicated by the end of the episode.

  • In The Lady's Not for Burning, Alizon is an example of the guest-upbringing version, and has just left the nunnery to prepare for her Arranged Marriage. She mentions that her father had at one point despaired of finding husbands for all his daughters (she's the youngest of six) and considered making the arrangement permanent.
  • Mentioned in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing: When Hero has been falsely denounced as unfaithful, the priest's Plan B is to quietly ship her off to a nunnery where she can live out the rest of her days in anonymity.

    Video Games 
  • In the Mass Effect series, Asari with the Ardat-Yakshi genetic defect are given a choice between isolation in a monastery or execution. The Ardat-Yakshi are effectively succubi and their condition causes them to kill people by mating with them; the rationale is that because the effects are addictive, they cannot be trusted to naturally abstain from sex/murder if allowed amongst the general populace. We meet three full-fledged Ardat-Yakshi during the course of the games (codex entries suggest that there is actually a "spectrum"). The first one fled when presented with the option of going to the monastery and has become an opportunistic, sociopathic Serial Killer and a walking argument for their seclusion. The other two agreed to the monastic seclusion and are perfectly normal, moral people. There are references to some of the Ardat-Yakshi imprisoned alongside them being allowed supervised reintegration into asari society because they proved during their isolation that they have both the desire and the willpower to do so.
  • This can happen in Crusader Kings. It's treated just like death in the first game. This trope makes a return in the second game's '"Sons of Abraham"' expansion - however, this time the characters remain in your court and may serve as advisers and chaplains, while disinheriting inconvenient dynastic members from the line of succession. Doesn't stop factions from trying to install them into power, though.
  • Final Fantasy Tactics: Princess Ovelia spent her childhood being brought up in a monastery before the plot started. Or at least, that's the "official" story. The truth is, the real princess died at a very young age, so the royal family picked an orphan around the same age to pass off as the princess.
  • In the Dragon Age series:
    • In Dragon Age: Origins, Alistair, a bastard son of King Maric, was sent away to a monastery at age 10 for safekeeping. He trained for the The Order of Templars, but joined the Grey Wardens before taking the vows.
    • Sebastian, third prince of Starkhaven in Dragon Age II, was given to the priesthood in his late teens for being a complete embarrassment to his family. Unusually for this trope, he grew to like his new state and matured rapidly into one of the most reasonable party members.

  • In Blindsprings, the Alt Text of this comic describes Princess Tamaura as having lived in one prior to being made priestess in place of her sister Aliana, something that earned Aliana's ire. It's also been strongly implied that Tammy is actually a Heroic Bastard who was born out of wedlock, suggesting this was another reason she was sent away.

    Western Animation 
  • In the ending of The Crumpets episode "Super Pfff", the titular character was supposed to be punished for performing poorly in his internship by meditating for a week in a monastery along with his rich cousin. Instead, Cassandra, who is disguised as Pfff so she can prevail a Love Triangle for him, gets airlifted by the helicopter.

    Real Life 
  • Subversion: Louis VII was sent to a monastery for safekeeping until the intended heir died, and he had to be brought back.
  • This was popular in Russia during multiple coups, mostly as a way to dispose of queens.
  • A common way for a Byzantine emperor who could see the end coming to depart with his eyes intact note  was to abdicate and join a monastery, knowing that the monastery is where he would end up anyway.
  • The Carolingian Pepin the Short, upon seizing the throne of the Frankish Empire, promptly sent his Merovingian predecessor Childeric III and his son Theuderic to a monastery, to get rid of any potential rival claimants. The fact that the supposedly less-civilized Franks used this expedient—rather than the aforementioned Byzantine (and supposedly more Christian) eye-removal—to get rid of rivals to the throne has not been lost on historians, although exile to monasteries was a common treatment for political enemies under the Byzantines as well — said enemies tended to die of undisclosed causes a short while later.
  • Henry Benedict Stuart, the younger brother of "Bonnie Prince Charlie" (who would have been the heir to the Jacobite claim on the throne of Britain and Ireland, as Charlie had no legitimate children) monasticized himself as an official declaration that he knew when to fold 'em. Henry went on to become an extremely high-ranking and influential Vatican official, and to this day remains one of the - if not the - longest-serving Cardinal in the history of the Catholic Church.
  • In a slight variation, Richard I of England forced his illegitimate half-brother Geoffreynote  to become Archbishop of York in order to remove him as a potential rival. He then appointed a number of Geoffrey's personal enemies to important posts in the Diocese of York, thus making it impossible for the Archbishop to get anything done without having a major fight on his hands. Chroniclers at the time were divided as to whether this was a calculated political move or just Richard being a spiteful jerk (although a bastard, Geoffrey was the only one of Henry II's sons to be present at his death bed, and remained loyal to him while Richard sided with Philip II of France).
  • There are multiple subversions from Japanese history (most notably in the years 1086 to 1185) where emperors abdicated to join a (Buddhist) monastery. This was a political machination generally intended to keep power for themselves, acting behind the scenes. At the time, the emperor was required to participate in so many rituals of state and religion that he literally had no time to do anything else except eat and sleep—abdication was the option if the emperor actually wanted to get some concrete political work done.
  • King Mongkut of Thailand. This is an unusual example in two ways. First, he was a monk before being king, not after. Second, he'd actually joined the monastery of his own free will - it was, and is, a tradition in Thailand that young men should spend a few months living as monks before taking up their careers. However, while he was in his "temporary" stay at the monastery, his father died and, though he was rightful heir, the nobility put a half-brother of his on the throne instead. Mongkut spent the next 27 years living as a monk before the other king (Rama III) died and he finally ascended to the throne.
  • An intentional case: Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor abdicated and retired to a monastery, leaving half of his empire to his son Philip and the other half to his brother Ferdinand, since he had found ruling it simply exhausting (due to both its size and being constantly at war, mostly with France). Note that he did not become a monk, though he did participate in some devotions.
  • A now-debunked Conspiracy Theory claimed that Russian President Vladimir Putin did this to his former wife Lyudmila while they were estranged, used to explain the lack of attention directed at her by the Russian media (seeing as it's rare for any Russian First Ladies to appear in public, this was likely just a fallacy started by one of his detractors).
  • An old urban legend in New Orleans, Louisiana goes that the attic of the Old Ursuline Convent in the French Quarter was used to store coffins containing vampires. This example also takes the trope title a bit too literally, as it's also said that the convent's attic entrance and windows are sealed off with thousands of "blessed" brass screws.
  • This is an actual punishment in Catholicism. A priest who has committed a particularly grave sin (e.g. desecration of the Eucharist or breaking the Seal of Confession) can be sentenced to spend the rest of his life in a contemplative monastery as a condition of having his excommunication lifted and receiving absolution.
  • Julie d'Aubigny had an affair with a young woman whose parents responded to the scandal by sending their daughter to a convent. Julie, in one of her most famous stunts, responded to this by sneaking in to see the girl, and then putting the body of a dead nun in the girl's bed, sneaking out, and burning the place down to cover their tracks.
  • Anna Komnene, daughter of Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos, retired to a convent after being implicated (rightly or wrongly) in a plot to assassinate her younger brother (the Emperor John II) after their father's death. Much like Charles Vnote  centuries later, she did not take the veil, but enjoyed secular status within the walls of the monastery, where she spent her days in prayer, study, and writing a biography of her father.


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