Isabella Hoppringle lived from about 1470 to 26 January 1538. She was the Prioress of the Cistercian convent at Coldstream during a turbulent period in Anglo-Scottish Relations and, allegedly, an English spy. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Isabella Hoppringle came from a branch of the Borders-based Pringle family, who provided prioresses to the Cistercian convent established at Coldstream for nearly a century until the Reformation of 1560. Her father was Adam Hoppringle (or Pringle, depending on your source) of Burnhouse Tower. In 1505, Isabella succeeded her aunt Margaret Hoppringle as Prioress, presumably on the latter's death.
Coldstream was almost as close to the border with England as it was possible to get, divided from it by just half the width of the River Tweed. And while the two countries had just signed a Treaty of Perpetual Peace, sealed by the marriage of James IV of Scotland with Margaret Tudor, sister of Henry VIII, it probably took a real optimist to believe that peace would last. During this uncertain period Isabella Hoppringle seems to have managed her relations with both England and Scotland skillfully, playing them off against one another as needed to secure her convent. She also became a close confidante and friend of Margaret Tudor.
Conflict inevitably returned to the border after war flared between England and France, and the latter called from support under the terms of the "Auld Alliance" from Scotland. In September 1513 James IV of Scotland led an army across the border at Coldstream. They were annihilated by an English army at the Battle of Flodden, three miles to the south-east, on 9 September 1513. Up to 10,000 Scots were killed including the king, an archbishop, two bishops, 11 earls, 15 lords and 300 knights: in effect a whole generation of the Scottish nobility. In the aftermath of the battle, Isabella Hoppringle and her nuns helped tend to the wounded and recover and bury the bodies of the dead.
The convent at Coldstream was left unscathed by English troops in the aftermath of the battle. Many believe that this was because Isabella was an active English spy: according to one source, "one of the best and most assured spies" that the English had in Scotland. On her death in 1538, Isabella was succeeded as Prioress (and, it is said, as an English spy) by her relative Janet Pringle.
This biography draws on research first published in "The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women".