witness. The first of the ‘MiddleEnglish Mystics’, Richard
Rolle, was likewise sought out as a spiritual director, and after his death
was revered as a saint. Much of his writing touches (sometimes quite
defensively) on his life as a hermit: his improvised entry into the vocation
is [ 47 ] (and see [ 21 ] for an excerpt from his writings).
And Walter Hilton (whose advice to recluses lies behind [ 25 ]) spent time as a solitary himself
In confirmation of the which purpose and vow with my own hand I have put
to [added] the sign of the cross.
The Rule of St Linus
Linus succeeded St Peter to be the second pope. We can be
certain, however, that he had nothing to do with the MiddleEnglish
‘rule’ for hermits that bears his name. (Compare the
attribution of the Rule of Celestine [ 46 ].) In fact, this short text is
enduringly influential works of guidance for English anchorites. Two
separate translations into MiddleEnglish survive, though only one of them
is complete. This excerpt is from the longer version which was made around
the middle of the fifteenth century in the south of England, with the title
‘A Treatise that is a rule and a form of living pertaining to a
Translated from the MiddleEnglish, chapter 3 of MS Bodley 423
characteristically rhapsodic writing on the love of God and contemplation with open and engaging advice and encouragement like
this, written from one solitary to another, and between friends.
Translated from Rolle’s MiddleEnglish, ‘The
Form of Living’, i.56–85, 92–107; vii.28–51, in
English Writings of Richard Rolle, Hermit of Hampole , edited by H.E.
Allen (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1931).
Some are deceived with too much desire and delight
recluses’, although, in the many medieval works in
which it is used, the title speculum is often best translated as
something like ‘encyclopaedia’. The treatise has a number of
associations with the Carthusian order, and may have been connected with the
reclusory at Sheen Charterhouse, Surrey, founded in 1417. A MiddleEnglish
translation of the Speculum was made around the middle of the
fifteenth century, and was intended
strongly, and Langland makes explicit
the contrast between the ‘lewd hermits’ of his day and the
ideal of the Desert Fathers. 13
Translated from the MiddleEnglish verse, William Langland,
Piers Plowman: The C-Text , edited by Derek Pearsall (Exeter:
University of Exeter Press, 1994), IX.58–60; 187–212.
All the world’s labourers that truly and
Dying . Each offers a
different approach to the lay experience, seeking to provide a means
whereby spirituality could be encouraged and hope confirmed, without
going to extremes. The lack of extremism is important: it is too easy to
place too much emphasis on the ‘MiddleEnglish mystics’, and
judge others by their yardstick. 58 Yet mysticism almost by definition is a
rarity: the majority had to live
being one of that select group of English writers of the late
fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries generally labelled
‘the MiddleEnglish mystics’. 6
He entered the Augustinian house of Thurgarton in Yorkshire in
1384, and died in 1396. His writings, in Latin and English, are
extensive, although there are some doubts about precisely which
Translated from Three
Middle-English Versions of the Rule of St Benet , ed. E.
Kock, Early English Text Society, original series, 120 (1902),
This is the manner in which a
novice shall be made and received into religion.
In the beginning, when she has
made her petition and asked the house, and