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 Most of the latter are translated here for the first time, and a significant proportion are taken from previously unpublished sources.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

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E.A. Jones

Introduction Some time in the 1320s the young Yorkshireman Richard Rolle dropped out of Oxford and returned home. Soon afterwards, he took two of his sister’s dresses and his father’s rainhood to a nearby wood and, with a bit of amateur tailoring, fashioned a kind of habit for himself. Putting it on, he arrived at ‘a confused likeness to a hermit’ [ 47 ]. The anecdote makes it clear

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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

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Street, in Aldington (Kent) and as increasing numbers of visitors (and income) were attracted to the chapel it was provided with a hermit-chaplain named William. Though Barton subsequently became a nun of Canterbury the hermit remained one of her confidants. Barton’s notoriety increased in 1532 when she prophesied that, if Henry’s divorce went ahead, he would die a villain’s death. She was arrested in 1533 and she and five

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

speak truth to power. 1 Alongside the desert saints Anthony and Paul the First Hermit, eremitic discourse appealed to outspoken biblical models: the prophet Elijah and John the Baptist, the solitary voice crying in the wilderness. In the reign of King John, the hermits Robert of Knaresborough and Peter of Wakefield both confronted the king. Robert lived to enjoy royal patronage, but Peter (as readers of Shakespeare’s King John

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

in the parish of Aller in the Somerset Levels, seems to have been the home of two early fourteenth-century hermits. Perhaps, like many of their fellow hermits, they worked on the bridges and causeways that made the region’s low-lying wetlands passable (see further Chapter V , especially [ 37 ]). After some time, however, one of them decided to ‘graduate’ to the stricter life of an enclosed anchorite. His fellow hermit

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E.A. Jones

not displease anyone here that in my writing I bring such shameful things before pure and perfect people, for where there is the possibility of temptation, there a prudent explanation of how to resist it is necessary. For a true story bears witness that a certain hermit, reputed as most holy, while he was afflicted with the vice of mollicies , and did not do penance as if he considered it a sin, suddenly disappeared

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E.A. Jones

was also a man of piety, as revealed in his penitential, semi-autobiographical treatise Livre de seyntz medicines (‘Book of Holy Medicine’). 27 He supported a number of hermits and anchorites, besides founding this reclusory at Whalley in Lancashire. Whilst most of the records that have come down to us deal with the support of an individual solitary, this document sees Henry endowing an anchorite

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E.A. Jones

from the divine office. At the most basic level, the Dublin Rule [ 19 ] instructs a lay anchorite to substitute the repetition of a prescribed number of Our Fathers at each of the hours. This recalls a similar suggestion in some manuscripts of Ancrene Wisse , which in turn is modelled on the practice of laybrothers in the monastic orders. It will reappear later in this collection, in the rules designed for lay hermits [ 53

in Hermits and anchorites in England, 1200–1550