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Commerce, crime and community in England, 1300–1500

This book explores the legal actions of women living in three English towns – Nottingham, Chester and Winchester – during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. For the first time, it brings together women’s involvement in a wide range of litigation, including pleas of debt and trespass, as well as the actions for which they were punished under local policing and regulations. The book details the multiple reasons that women engaged with the law in their local communities, all arising from their interpersonal relationships and everyday work and trade. Through the examination of thousands of original court cases, it reveals the identities of hundreds of ordinary urban women and the wide range of legal actions that they participated in. This wide-ranging, comparative study examines the differing ways that women’s legal status was defined in multiple towns, and according to different situations and pleas. It pays close attention to the experiences of married women and the complex and malleable nature of coverture, which did not always make them completely invisible. The book offers new perspectives on women’s legal position and engagement with the law, their work and commercial roles, the gendering of violence and honour, and the practical implications of coverture and marital status, highlighting the importance of examining the legal roles and experiences of individual women. Its basis in the records of medieval town courts also offers a valuable insight into the workings of these courts and the lives and identities of those that used them.

Clare A. Lees

This article explores the contributions of women scholars, writers and artists to our understanding of the medieval past. Beginning with a contemporary artists book by Liz Mathews that draws on one of Boethius‘s Latin lyrics from the Consolation of Philosophy as translated by Helen Waddell, it traces a network of medieval women scholars of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries associated with Manchester and the John Rylands Library, such as Alice Margaret Cooke and Mary Bateson. It concludes by examining the translation of the Old English poem, The Wife‘s Lament, by contemporary poet, Eavan Boland. The art of Liz Mathews and poetry of Eavan Boland and the scholarship of women like Alice Cooke, Mary Bateson, Helen Waddell and Eileen Power show that women‘s writing of the past – creative, public, scholarly – forms a strand of an archive of women‘s history that is still being put together.

Bulletin of the John Rylands Library
Documentary sources

This book demonstrates that the discussion of non-aristocratic women can be securely grounded in archival documentation. It explores, with sensitivity and sophistication, the relationship between the picture which emerges from such sources and the literary and theological perceptions of womankind. The book provides a collection of documentary material, much of it previously unpublished, and guides the reader in the techniques needed to glean rich evidence of contemporary behaviour and assumptions from what can seem, at first sight, unpromisingly austere sources. It also demonstrates the variety of evidence that survives of English women in all walks of life from the time of Edward I to the eve of the Reformation. The book then provides substantial overview of current thinking about English medieval women below the level of the greater aristocracy. It also explores the life-cycle themes of childhood, adolescence, married life, widowhood and old age. The book then moves on to examine such topics as work in town and country, prostitution, the law, recreation and devotion. There is an element of caprice and artificiality in trying to divide the lives of medieval women under particular heads. This is especially true of the label 'devotion'. The culture of later medieval England was a Christian culture and Christian ideology permeated every aspect of life. The book recovers the experience of ordinary medieval women.

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P. J. P. Goldberg

The past decade or so has seen an explosion of writings on English medieval women. Only a proportion of this literature, however, represents the fruit of substantial archival work and there is an inevitable tendency for such studies to be primarily dependent on an individual source. 1 Much writing on medieval women has, moreover, drawn upon literary sources, a reflection of the way in which

in Women in England c. 1275–1525
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The Book of Margery Kempe and its antecedents
Diane Watt

Literature , edited by Stephen Greenblatt et al. 1 As its location alongside the works of Marie de France and Julian of Norwich in the Gilbert and Gubar anthology makes clear, the Book is positioned at the beginning of the English tradition of medieval women's writing, as a point of origin, whereas, as the Greenblatt volumes indicates, the vernacular English canon more broadly is seen to have a much earlier genesis, dating back to the seventh century and Caedmon's Hymn . As a consequence, and despite the widely

in Encountering The Book of Margery Kempe
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Mary C. Flannery

which medieval women were expected to adhere. As I will show, the lessons of medieval conduct literature for women are both reinforced and complicated by surrounding discourses concerning the nature of women, the pliability of youth, and the desirability of virginal maidenhood. I then turn to the conduct texts themselves, focusing primarily on four examples of conduct literature in Middle English and Middle Scots: the Middle English translation of Le livre du Chevalier de la Tour Landry pour l’enseignement de ses filles , and the poems How the Good Wife Taught Her

in Practising shame
Mary C. Flannery

have shown, while medieval women were encouraged to practise shamefast behaviour, the success of this practice was partly dependent on its not appearing too ‘practised’. A woman's shamefast conduct should never appear calculated purely to achieve a certain effect on the viewer, but should rather appear to be conduct arising from genuine inner chastity. This ideal engaged women in a series of complicated gestures involving concealing and revealing, applying effort in order to appear effortlessly, authentically chaste. Complex as these gestures were for women, their

in Practising shame
Nest of Deheubarth

The book is an account of noblewomen in Wales in the high middle ages, focusing on one particular case-study, Nest of Deheubarth. Object of one of the most notorious and portentous abductions of the middle ages, this ‘Helen of Wales’ was both mistress of Henry I and ancestress of a dynasty which dominated the Anglo-Norman conquests of Ireland. The book fills a significant gap in the historiography - while women’s power has been one of the most vibrant areas of historical scholarship for thirty years, Welsh medieval studies has not yet responded. It develops understandings of the interactions of gender with conquest, imperialism, and with the social and cultural transformations of the middle ages, from a new perspective. Many studies have recently appeared reconsidering these relationships, but few if any have women and gender as a core theme. Gender, Nation and Conquest will therefore be of interest to all researching, teaching and studying the high middle ages in Britain and Ireland, and to a wider audience for which medieval women’s history women is a growing fascination. Hitherto Nest has been seen as the pawn of powerful men. A more general discussion of ideals concerning beauty, love, sex and marriage and an analysis of the interconnecting identities of Nest throws light on her role as wife/concubine/mistress. A unique feature of the book is its examination of the story of Nest in its many forms over succeeding centuries, during which it has formed part of significant narratives of gender and nation.

Editors: and

Encountering The Book of Margery Kempe illuminates the capaciousness of Margery Kempe studies in the twenty-first century. Through multiple, probing ‘encounters’, this innovative collection of essays generates and inspires interdisciplinary, overlapping, supportive, disruptive, and exploratory theoretical and creative approaches to the Book, and is a valuable new critical companion.

Structured around four categories of encounter – textual, internal, external, and performative – the volume suggests particular thematic threads yet reveals the way in which The Book of Margery Kempe resists strict categorisation. The fundamental unruliness of the Book is a touchstone for the analyses in the volume’s chapters, which define and destabilise concepts such ‘autobiography’ or ‘feeling’, and communities of texts and people, both medieval and modern. The chapters, written by leading scholars in Margery Kempe studies, cover a broad range of approaches: theories of psychoanalysis, emotion, ecocriticism, autobiography, post-structuralism, and performance; and methodologies including the medical humanities, history of science, history of medieval women’s literary culture, digital humanities, literary criticism, oral history, the Global Middle Ages, archival discovery, and creative reimagining. Deliberately diverse, these encounters with the Book capture the necessary expanse that it demands. Topics include the intertextuality of the Book, particularly in Europe; Kempe’s position within a global context, both urban and rural; the historicity of her life and kin; the Book’s contested form as a ‘life’ textualised and memorialised; and its performative, collaborative mode.

Encounters are dynamic, but they always require negotiation and reciprocity. This volume examines how encountering Kempe and her Book is a multi-way process, and paves the way for future critical work.

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An ecofeminist reading of Modor Monigra (R.84)
Corinne Dale

Recent studies of Exeter Book riddles and Old English literature have begun to reveal their ecological underpinnings, drawing on ecocriticism to explore the relationship between human beings and the rest of the created world. There is still much to explore in this growing field, including the relationship between the oppression of the natural world and the oppression of women. This chapter discusses Old English texts from an ecofeminist perspective, exploring the representation of, and forging links between, these two oppressed groups. It suggests that, where texts like The Wife’s Lament and The Order of the World depict both nature and women as dominated by an androcentric and anthropocentric worldview, a number of Exeter Book riddles challenge such depictions, offering us, for example, the depiction of water as both a feminine natural force and a celebrated monstrous female that is sellic (‘wonderful’) and freolic (‘free’). Drawing on recent ecofeminist scholarship in the field of eco-theology, this chapter suggests that certain riddles, including Modor Monigra (R.84), interrogate the human- and male-centred nature of wisdom and free early medieval women and the natural world from patriarchal oppression.

in Riddles at work in the early medieval tradition