Editor: E.A. Jones

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 Most of the latter are translated here for the first time, and a significant proportion are taken from previously unpublished sources.

E.A. Jones

Introduction The life of an anchorite was not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly. The aspirant would assuredly want to spend some time pondering his or her vocation; seeking the views of friends, family and spiritual advisers; and ensuring that all material arrangements had been put in place, before making the momentous entry into a life of strict and irrevocable enclosure. Over time, it came

in Hermits and anchorites in England, 1200–1550
E.A. Jones

Inclusarum and Ancrene Wisse , continued to be read, re-copied and adapted for new generations of solitaries throughout the Middle Ages [ 12a ]. In Chapter II we considered how and from where anchorites received the material support necessary to sustain their way of life. Returning to one of those documents, the foundation of the reclusory at Whalley [ 13 ] is a particularly rich source of information

in Hermits and anchorites in England, 1200–1550
E.A. Jones

Introduction The fifteenth-century rule for anchorites, Speculum Inclusorum or Mirror for Recluses , is at pains to stress to its readers, and in particular to anyone contemplating taking on the life of an anchorite, the seriousness of such a decision. ‘After an absolute vow has been made, or this kind of life taken on with deliberation,’ the author reminds us, ‘it must of necessity be observed

in Hermits and anchorites in England, 1200–1550
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E.A. Jones

thirteenth and the sixteenth centuries: with anchorites, who lived a life of strict bodily enclosure in a ‘cell’, usually attached to a parish church; and hermits, whose vocation was less clearly defined and subject to fewer constraints. It represents the first comprehensive look at the two vocations in late medieval England in more than a century. 2 The solitary lives in the West before 1200 Medieval solitaries

in Hermits and anchorites in England, 1200–1550
E.A. Jones

Introduction We do not have much information about the size and design of anchorholds or reclusories: the documents rarely give details, and standing remains or archaeological evidence are both rare and rarely straightforward to interpret. 2 Though a priest-anchorite could, in theory, be spiritually self-sufficient, cells were almost invariably attached to a larger religious establishment, where

in Hermits and anchorites in England, 1200–1550
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E.A. Jones

associates (but not William the hermit) were executed for treason in 1534. 1 Another solitary was caught up in the affair. The Dominican Christopher Warener was an anchorite at Canterbury, and in 1533 was accused of having received Barton and one of her supporters at his reclusory. This he did not deny; as he says in his letter to Thomas Cromwell, he could hardly refuse to see them, since ‘I am a prisoner’. But he

in Hermits and anchorites in England, 1200–1550
E.A. Jones

procedures, and finally the liturgical ceremonial that were involved whenever an individual expressed the intention of becoming an anchorite. By the end of the Middle Ages, a comparable framework was in place for the vocation of hermit, though only as a much more recent development. A system of episcopal scrutiny and supervision of potential anchorites seems to have existed by the end of the twelfth century, and provides a context for the

in Hermits and anchorites in England, 1200–1550
E.A. Jones

Introduction The life of the hermit was less constrained than that of the anchorite, not only in the obvious sense – hermits were not confined within cell walls, but free to wander – but also in the absence of a rigid regulatory framework or precise set of expectations about what it should involve. (The late Middle Ages did see moves towards the regulation of hermits, and these are treated in the next

in Hermits and anchorites in England, 1200–1550
E.A. Jones

religious living in private religions are not of the Christian religion’. 3 Whilst hermits and anchorites might have escaped Wyclif’s critique of the lavish endowments of the friars and monastic orders, these most private of private religions certainly shared in his strictures against the elaborate, non-biblical forms and structures that separated the ‘religious’ from ordinary good Christian people. On the other

in Hermits and anchorites in England, 1200–1550