This book offers a range of new perspectives on the character and reputation of English monasteries in the later middle ages. The later middle ages was an era of evolution in English monastic life in late medieval England. The book surveys the internal affairs of English monasteries, including recruitment, the monastic economy, and the standards of observance and learning. It looks at the relations between monasteries and the world, exploring the monastic contribution to late medieval religion and society and lay attitudes towards monks and nuns in the years leading up to the Dissolution. The book covers both male and female houses of all orders and sizes. The late medieval 'reforms' of the Benedictine Order included a relaxation of observances on diet, the common life and private property, and little of the Cistercians' primitive austerity can be found in late medieval houses of the order. Monastic spirituality can rarely be accessed through visitation evidence or administrative records, although an impression of the devotional climate within individual houses is occasionally provided by monastic chronicles. Looking beyond the statistics of foundation and dissolution alone, levels of support for the monastic ideal in late medieval England might also be assessed from the evidence of lay patronage of existing houses.
Monasticism in late medieval England, c. 1300–1535
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts covered by the sources in this book. The book surveys the internal affairs of English monasteries, including recruitment, the monastic economy, standards of observance and learning. It looks at the relations between monasteries and the world, exploring the monastic contribution to late medieval religion and society and lay attitudes towards monks and nuns in the years leading up to the Dissolution. In the preservation and dissemination of learning, the spread of Christianity throughout Europe, the periodic reform of the Church, the stimulation of the economy and much else, the monastic contribution to the medieval world needs no elaboration. The later middle ages was an era of evolution in English monastic life in late medieval England. In comparison to earlier centuries, the later middle ages witnessed few new monastic foundations and few major grants of property to existing religious houses.
The documents in this section illustrate the realities of monastic recruitment and economy in the later middle ages. They shed light on the qualifications and commitment required from new recruits to male and female monasteries; they indicate some of the economic problems faced by religious houses in the changing conditions of the period; and they also provide a flavour of the responses adopted by monasteries in the face of these difficulties.
The documents in this section discuss monastic life under The Benedictine Rule. The Benedictines, Cistercians, Cluniacs and many nunneries followed the sixth-century Rule of St Benedict, and other monastic orders were heavily influenced by its teachings.
This section observes comment on and criticism of monastic life in late medieval and early Tudor England, and includes not only literature, but also the political and financial manifesto of the Lollards, and an unusual but suggestive episode from fourteenth-century Exeter.