THE lives of exiled monks who refused abstinence, died in duels and went off to war have been revealed by new research.

The Monks in Motion project, led by Dr James Kelly, from Durham University, has brought together records of 16th and 17th century English and Welsh Benedictine monks exiled in Europe in a first-of-its-kind searchable database and uncovered some of their remarkable histories.

Among the stories uncovered in include that of Anslem John Mannock, who became a monk after becoming overwhelmed by guilt after he accidentally killing his brother by dropping a cannonball from a window and Maurus William Davies, who was imprisoned after refusing to comply with absence and is thought to have died in a duel.

Another monk to feature is Hugh Henry Starkey, who was expelled from the English College, Lisbon for unruliness, was readmitted after apologising and later had a leg blown off in the Civil War. He later served as a chaplain and was arrested and sentenced to death at the Oates Plot in 1679, but was reprieved.

Dr Kelly, from Durham University’s department of theology and religion, said: “The records provide a fascinating view into the lives of these monks who, far from living quietly in exile, were very much part of contemporary life.

“The records also show that these were men of the world, who joined the Order for a number of reasons and who were not afraid to rebel against the expected norms of society.

“Here was a group of men who committed to an illegal way of life and exerted religious, cultural and political influence even from the continent.”

The study has found examples of monks teaching works of Catholic controversy in the schools they ran, and illicit Benedictine publications being held within the personal collection of Catherine Braganza, the wife of King Charles II.

Records also show a number of exiled Benedictine monks fought in the English Civil War and French Revolution, and evidence of English Government spies secretly joining the Order.

The findings have been brought together in an innovative, fully open database of known Benedictines, available for scholars and the public to access.

It brings together a range of materials, including books, monastery records and letters, to build up a picture of Benedictine life from 1553 to 1800, and how they were plugged into both national and international events.

Users will be able to see biographical information for monks, including their family backgrounds and details of monastic life.

By including details of those who left monastic life, as well as lay brothers, Dr Kelly has also found that the number of Benedictines during this time is more than 30 per cent greater than previously thought.

Dr Kelly added: “The number of English and Welsh Benedictines was actually much higher than previous records suggested, showing that despite its illegality, there were many who were prepared to reject the establishment and enter a life that was proscribed in their homeland.”

The Monks in Motion research project was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and has studied the records and collections of Ushaw College, Ampleforth Abbey, Downside Abbey and Douai Abbey, as well as records in Italy, France, Germany and Spain.