This source book offers a comprehensive treatment of the solitary religious lives in England in the late Middle Ages. It covers both enclosed anchorites or recluses and freely-wandering hermits, and explores the relation between them. The sources selected for the volume are designed to complement better-known works connected with the solitary lives, such as the anchoritic guide Ancrene Wisse, or St Aelred of Rievaulx’s rule for his sister; or late medieval mystical authors including the hermit Richard Rolle or the anchorite Julian of Norwich. They illustrate the range of solitary lives that were possible in late medieval England, practical considerations around questions of material support, prescribed ideals of behaviour, and spiritual aspiration. It also covers the mechanisms and structures that were put in place by both civil and religious authorities to administer and regulate the vocations. Coverage extends into the Reformation period to include evidence for the fate of solitaries during the dissolutions and their aftermath. The material selected includes visual sources, such as manuscript illustrations, architectural plans and photographs of standing remains, as well as excerpts from texts. Most of the latter are translated here for the first time, and a significant proportion are taken from previously unpublished sources.
This section is concerned with what AncreneWisse calls
the ‘outer rule’ that governs ‘all outward behaviour,
how you should eat, drink, dress, say your prayers, sleep, keep
vigil’. 1 The emphasis is
on rules or guidance texts composed during the period covered by the volume,
though it should be stressed that the twin early classics, Aelred’s
material for the early Middle English
AncreneWisse (‘Guide for Anchoresses’), written in the
1220s, and the most complete and enduring of English anchoritic rules. It is
divided between an ‘outer rule’, which focuses on prayers and
other observances and the practicalities of daily life, and an ‘inner
rule’ that addresses the anchorite’s moral and spiritual life,
including discussions of sin, temptations, penance and love for
antiphons. The reclusory attached to the church of St Anne, Lewes
(Sussex), had a squint so positioned that, in order to see the high altar,
the anchoress there would have had to kneel in her own grave [ 29 ]. AncreneWisse elaborates
upon the practical and spiritual rationale for the open grave:
Admiring their own white hands is bad for many
the external walls of a parish
church, ‘under the eaves of the church’, as AncreneWisse puts it. 4
The foundations of a stone-built anchorhold at Leatherhead
(Surrey) indicate a building 2.43 m square. The plan of the reclusory at
Compton in the same county [ 8 ] was
even smaller, but it had two storeys, as did the
no-longer-extant cell occupied by John Lacy in Newcastle-upon-Tyne [ 23 ]. (See also
Frideswide’, in H. MayrHarting and R. I. Moore (eds), Studies in Medieval History presented to R. H. C.
Davis (London and Ronceverte: Hambledon, 1985), pp. 193–206.
J. Wogan-Browne, ‘ “Clerc u lai, muïne u dame”: women and Anglo-Norman hagiography in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries’, in C. M. Meale (ed.), Women and
Literature in Britain, 1150–1500 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993),
pp. 61–85. Cf., with particular reference to the AncreneWisse, Bella Millett, ‘Women
in no man’s land: English recluses and the development of vernacular literature in
: Studies in Ancient and Mediaeval Rhetoric , ed. Anne King and Helen North, Ithaca and London, 1970, pp. 93–104); William J. Courtenay, ‘The Bible in the Fourteenth Century: Some Observations’, Church History 54:2 (1985), 176–87; Pim Valkenberg, ‘Readers of Scripture and Hearers of the Word in the Mediaeval Church’, in The Bible and Its Readers , ed. Wim Beuken, Sean Freyne, and Anton Weiler, Concilium 233:1 (London, 1991), pp. 47–57. For the Bible in medieval literature: Nicholas Perkins, ‘Reading the Bible in Sawles Warde and AncreneWisse’, Medium Aevum 72
well-known anchoritic rules (Aelred’s, and the AncreneWisse )
that also belong to approximately this period. But there is little evidence
for any concerted attempt to put hermits on a similarly well-ordered and
orderly footing before about 1400. Thereafter, however, things moved quickly
and, had Rolle been born a century later, his reception into the eremitic
life could have looked strikingly different.
Long associated with
79 Thomas, ‘Margaret of Teschen’s Czech prayer’; Thomas, Reading Women , p. 4.
80 Milner, ‘Sir Simon Felbrigg’.
81 Richardson, ‘A Bishop and his Diocese’, p. 60. For the background, see Gunn, AncreneWisse , pp. 91–138.
82 Kowaleski, ‘The French of England’, p. 115; Kowaleski, ‘French immigrants’, p. 213.
83 Curry, Bell, Chapman, King and Simpkin, ‘Languages in the military profession’, p. 75.
84 Alien Communities , pp. 50, 52
: ‘A letter on Virginity’, in Bella Millett and Jocelyn Wogan-Browne,
noblewomen and power
Medieval English Prose for Women: Selections from the Katherine Group and AncreneWisse (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), p. 7; these distinctions interlocked with
spiritual gradations based on virginity, marriage and widowhood (ibid., p. 21).
C. P. Lewis, ‘The formation of the honor of Chester, 1066–1100’, JCAS, 71 (1991),
J. H. Round, ‘King Stephen and the earl of Chester’, EHR, 10 (1895), 87