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The introduction places the sources that follow in the rest of the book in a broader historical context, including a sketch of the history of the solitary lives in the West from biblical times to the Reformation, and the development of hermits, anchorites, and monks, as distinct categories of vowed religious. Focusing on late medieval England, it considers the solitary lives alongside other ‘semi-religious’ vocations, the popularity of the vocations across the period, including questions of the class and gender of hermits and anchorites, and developments within the vocations between 1200 and the end of the Middle Ages.

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