Category Archives: Articles

My articles

Death and Judgment in Vices and Virtues

Vices and Virtues, a Middle English dialogue between the soul and Reason, existing uniquely in London, BL MS Stowe 34, was written at the turn of the thirteenth century at the time Jacques Le Goff claims Purgatory was born. It does not contain any mention of Purgatory, but it does refer to purgatorial cleansing and the possibility that the suffrages of the living can aid the dead.  (more…)

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Beyond Theory: From Body to Text?

This is the text of a paper I gave to a roundtable at the International Medieval Congress at Leeds in 2008, sponsored by the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship.

When I first saw the call for participants for this roundtable, I thought of books I’d looked at recently – Life After Theory and simply After Theory – and articles in newspapers and magazines questioning whether feminism was relevant to today’s young women (including an article in Marie Claire which asked three ad agencies to rebrand feminism).  There was also an article in the THES in January on ‘Last women standing’ on the decline and disappearance of women’s studies courses.  I thought of presenting a short paper on ‘Death of Theory: Death of the Body?’ questioning whether there is (still) a place in current literary study and criticism for feminist theory.  It seems feminism is still an issue . . . while I was preparing this, I read the email from Nicole Sidhu to the Med Fem list serv complaining of the continuing difficulty of getting feminist work published – but do we need to rethink the role feminism plays in academic studies when universities are themselves now seen as commercial providers of services to students who evaluate courses in terms of post-degree employability and income generation.

But I realised that I needed to answer a personal question: how far, if at all, did feminist theory (still) inform my own research and writing.  (more…)

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Stephen Langton and Magna Carta


Our esteemed leader may not know what ‘Magna Carta’ means (what do they teach at Eton if not Latin?) but I’m sure the educated and well-informed readers of this website know that it means ‘great charter’.  One of the main signatories of the charter, and someone involved in the negotiations that led up to the historic moment at Runnymede in 1215, was the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton. Langton’s precise contribution to Magna Carta is still a matter of debate, however; a paper written by David Carpenter and published only last year in the English Historical  Review is titled ‘Archbishop Langton and Magna Carta: His Contribution, His Doubts and His Hypocrisy’; it seeks to ‘expose the seeming hypocrisy of Langton’s conduct when set against the principles of the charter and the canons of his own academic thought’.  Langton is certainly an interesting and divisive character.  (more…)

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British Library MS Royal 12.c.xii

The manuscripts of the French translations of Edmund of Abingdon’s Speculum religiosorum (or Speculum ecclesiae), collectively called (for convenience) the Miroir de Seinte Eglyse [1] can be divided into two main categories:  those designed for a religious readership, and those intended to be read by lay people, with a shorter version of the ‘highly articulate exposition of contemplative prayer’ [2] found in the penultimate chapter 36.  Of the religious versions (‘A’ in Wilshere’s edition), A. D. Wilshere identified four which were addressed to female religious. [3]  One of these is found in a British Library manuscript, MS Royal 12.C.xii (hereafter R).

I have just found a full and helpful description of this manuscript on the University of Birmingham’s Manuscripts of the West Midlands website:

http://www.hrionline.ac.uk/mwm/browse?type=ms&id=77&titleid=9

This manuscript, from the first half of the fourteenth century, contains a trilingual miscellany.  It is not a large book (9 ¼” x 6” with 123 folios):  it is a book that could easily be held and read by an individual reader – an individual with a wide range of interests.  It contains a romance and a chronicle, medical and culinary collections, political satire, chiromancy, astrology and prognostications, as well as both the speculum of Edmund, here given the colophon [4] ‘Le livere ke seint Edmund de Punteneye fist e si est apele Speculum amicicie’, and hymns and prayers composed by Edmund.  [5] A full description is given in the introduction to the modern edition of Fouke le Fitz Waryn, [6] one of the French texts contained in the manuscript.  As the editors point out, ‘Royal 12 C. xii consists of eight originally independent units, each containing from one to four quires; these units we shall call “booklets”.’ [7]

The Speculum, along with a treatise on the Mass following it, is one of three booklets in a textura hand.  Most of the manuscript is in an anglicana script and, it would seem, in the hand of the compiler, who was also the compiler of the ‘Harley manuscript’, another trilingual miscellany, BL MS Harley 2253 (hereafter H).  Our understanding of R benefits from the study of H and of the Harley scribe, who we know was working in the Ludlow area in the first half of the fourteenth century.  R seems to have been compiled over many years; Carter Revard argues for the Harley scribe working on it ‘during  1316-40’.  [8] Revard suggests a possible patron for  the compilation of R:  Sir Laurence Ludlow, as ‘someone who might be expected to have shown an interst in the romance of Fouke le Fitz Waryn and even to have wanted a copy of it made for the household, in about 1324-26’.

It is the romance Fouke le Fitz Waryn and the culinary recipes [9] that have attracted particular interest.  If we are interested in the Speculum there are two questions that need to be addressed.  Firstly, the Harley scribe acquired the text from somewhere, as the editors of Fouke, and Revard acknowledge. [10]  The text is in a textura hand, has the only example of an illuminated initial in the manuscript (at the opening of the text on f. 17r; it is in blue and gold but the image is unclear; Theresa Tyers has suggested the initial is similar to that in MS Royal 15 D II ), and the quality of vellum seems different – heavier? – than that of the rest of the manuscript.  It would appear to have been written for another book and a different readership.  The question, then, is for whom was it originally prepared. – maybe an institution such as a nunnery, rather than an individual.

The second question is from where the Harley scribe acquired this booklet, and why.

1] Edited as such, Mirour de Seinte Eglyse (St Edmund of Abingdon’s Speculum Ecclesiae), ed. A. D. Wilshere, Anglo-Norman Texts (London: Anglo-Norman Text Society, 1982)

2] Wilshere, Mirour, p. xi, (quoting Forshaw).

3] See stemma on Mirour p. xvii.

4]Definition of colophon in New Shorter OED: 2. A statement, sometimes with a device, at the end of a manuscript or printed book, giving information about its authorship, production, etc.

5] A description of contents is found in George F. Warner and Julius P. Gilson, Catalogue of the Royal Manuscripts, vol. 2 (London: British Museum, 1921).

6] Fouke le Fitz Waryn ed. E. J. Hathaway, P. T. Ricketts, C. A Robson and A. D. Wilshere, Anglo-Norman Texts (Oxford: Basil Blackwell for the Anglo-Norman Text Society, 1975).

7] Introduction to Fouke, p. xliv, with reference to P. R. Robinson, ‘“The Booklet”: a self-contained unit in composite manuscripts’ in A. Gruijs and J. P. Gumbert, Codicologica in Litterae Textuales, Leiden.

8] Carter Revard, ‘Scribe and Provenance’ in Studies in the Harley Manuscript: The Scribes, Contents, and Social Contexts of British Library MS Harley 2253, ed. Susanna Fein, TEAMS (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2000), pp. 21-109 (p. 72).

9] See, for example, Constance B. Hieatt and Robin F. Jones, ‘Two Anglo-Norman Culinary Collections edited from BL MSS Add. 32085 and Royal 12 C. xii’, Speculum, 61 (1986), 859-82.

10] ‘Perhaps the year after he copied this [1317], or a little later, he obtained a doctrinal and devotional treatise, the Merour d’eglise (fols, 17-30, with chapter headings in his hand), and a tract on the mass (fols. 30v-32v, of which the last five lines may be in his hand’, Revard, ‘Scribe and Provenance’ p. 70.

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Nosy Parker


In between Cranmer, burnt at the stake for his adherence to Calvinism under Queen Mary, and Archbishop Laud, executed in 1645 for his opposition to Puritanism, we find Matthew Parker, appointed Archbishop of Canterbury by Elizabeth I in 1559.  He is described in The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church as ‘a wise and tolerant, though hardly a forceful, archbishop, preferring scholarship to controversy’.  That might remind some of a more recent archbishop; if avoiding controversy meant avoiding execution, it probably wasn’t a bad thing. (more…)

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Was there an anchoress at Colne Priory?

A short article to be published in Essex Archaeology and History.  A recent Time Team dig at the site of Colne Priory in north Essex discovered the outline of a ‘mysterious room’ attached to the priory church.  Was this the cell of an anchoress enclosed at the end of the twelfth century? (more…)

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