Richard Copsey, O.Carm.

title.none: Logan, Runaway Religious in England (Copsey)

identifier.other: baj9928.9807.004 98.07.04

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Richard Copsey, O.Carm., Institutum Carmelitanum,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1998

identifier.citation: Logan, F. Donald. Runaway Religious in England, c. 1240-1540. Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought: Fourth Series 32. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Pp. 320. $59.95. ISBN: ISBN 0-521-47502-3.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 98.07.04

Logan, F. Donald. Runaway Religious in England, c. 1240-1540. Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought: Fourth Series 32. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Pp. 320. $59.95. ISBN: ISBN 0-521-47502-3.

Reviewed by:

Richard Copsey, O.Carm.
Institutum Carmelitanum

It used to be a common feature, in times past, that historians would enliven their accounts of monasteries and convents with stories of the monks and nuns who had leapt over the wall and their subsequent struggles against the religious and secular authorities. Charles Iggleston, a popular local historian in Kent during the early part of this century, in his account of the Carmelite friary at Aylesford, Kent, describes vividly how an enclosure at the back of the prior's room in the friary was "probably" used for walling up a recalcitrant friar and hypothesizes what the final scene might have been like. It seems almost impertinent to point out that the feature in question was more likely a rere-dorter or toilet! Hence, it is a great relief and pleasure to review Professor Logan's balanced and sympathetic study of runaway religious in medieval England. He has taken a topic, so often treated anecdotally, and, gathering as large a sample as he could trace, has studied its occurrence and underlying motivation.

Chapter 1 forms a helpful introduction as Dr. Logan, using an array of examples, illustrates what it signified to be an 'apostate religious', explaining how that term compassed a wide diversity of religious subjects who had made profession in a religious order and then returned, in some fashion, to the secular world. His examples show how a religious profession or the leaving of a religious community were not simple statements of fact but could involve all sorts of complexities. Individuals could deny that they had ever made a profession or, more commonly, that such a profession was invalid because they were under age or had a previous commitment which invalidated it such as marriage. Similarly, the leaving of religious life could have all sorts of connotations ranging from the obvious runaways who left because they were dissatisfied with religious life to those who were absent without the proper formal permission on what would otherwise be a legitimate activity such a studying at a university or on pilgrimage. In this chapter, too, Dr. Logan reveals an aspect which will recur throughout his book and that is how the stated reasons for, or the circumstances of, an apostasy are very often only the surface description of what is a much more complex event. There are often underlying motives and circumstances which only become evident as a case becomes better known.

Chapter 2 looks at the various options open to religious who were unsatisfied with their lot. Transfer to another community or to another religious order was one possibility although encircled with restrictions and difficulties. There was always a small but significant number of religious who sought a dispensation to change orders, some for very genuine spiritual reasons and others simply because any community appeared preferable to the one in which they found themselves. The male religious, as usual, had more options than were available to the nuns: for those who were ordained there was the possibility of obtaining a benefice and hence living in a parish, away from the religious community and the restrictions of religious obedience. As Dr. Logan explains, such dispensations increased rapidly during the papal schism when rival popes relaxed the regulations (and also sought to augment their finances). Although Dr. Logan deals with these dispensations in the context of religious who sought to escape from their community life, the problem was a far wider one and concerned a dangerous trend in religious life during the 1400's to grant more and more dispensations and special permissions. Paralleling the papal dispensations were similar smaller but equally invidious grants from priors general and provincials to individual friars giving special privileges to doctors of theology, jubilarians and individual friars. Reforming superiors sought to curtail these, but their actions were continually being thwarted by other, more indulgent superiors.

A third way of legally throwing off the bonds of religious obedience lay in securing appointment as an honorary papal chaplain. This largely legal fiction, available from 1380 onwards, procured for the fortunate religious (usually in return for a donation) exemption from the regular life and from obedience to his religious superiors. The practice was exacerbated when, for example, Walter Disse, a Carmelite friar and chaplain to John of Gaunt, was allowed to create fifty papal chaplains among those who gave support to Gaunt's so- called crusade in Spain. It is no wonder that the religious orders themselves were united in opposing the practice and sought to have the granting of such chaplaincies suppressed, which they largely succeeded in doing around 1415.

In Chapter 3, Dr. Logan tries to answer the difficult questions of how many apostate religious there were and why did they seek to leave religious life. His conclusions as to the numbers involved is a very tentative calculation that between 3.6 and 7.3 per cent of the total number in England during that period. However, as he is quick to point out, this estimate is very approximate and is dependant on a number of factors. Many of the apostates who feature in his lists were not canonically apostate in the full sense of the term either because the censure was being used as part of some internal dispute in the religious order or because their absence is interpretable in other ways. Even more important is the fact that the number of known apostates is dependant on our surviving records and clearly the names that have been preserved only represent a fraction of the total. Although Dr. Logan's calculations are interesting here, it is doubtful whether they add anything significant to our knowledge. Perhaps his final comment is the most apt and as informative as one can be: "Yet the picture of fugitive monks hiding in every village or on the run from village to village, peopling the roads of medieval England, clearly exaggerates. Apostasy constituted a perennial but not dominant characteristic of medieval English religious life." [p. 73]

In his analysis of the reasons for apostates leaving religious life, Dr. Logan contents himself with listing the various features of religious life which could lead an individual to contemplate such a radical step. This section is one of the weaker parts of the book, which is disappointing, as it is the aspect of religious apostasy which most demands some deeper explanation. Dr. Logan is very conscious of the limited nature of his sources and so hesitates to make any sweeping conclusions. As he says: "In the overwhelming majority of the incidents of alleged apostasy, the records stand silent about the reasons." [p. 74] His finding that celibacy did not feature as frequently as modern readers might suspect is a welcome corrective to some sensationalist accounts, and his sensitive and objective account of the specific problems faced by women religious is illuminating, especially his finding that pregnancy was an issue in only six of the cases he studied out of a total of 116.

Chapter 3 turns attention to the role played by the secular authorities and how they cooperated with the religious superiors in tracing, detaining and returning runaway religious. From the middle of the thirteenth century onwards, the religious orders turned increasingly to the secular authorities for help, and the names of individual religious appear frequently on royal writs to sheriffs and other royal officials with instructions for their apprehension and arrest. Dr. Logan looks at the procedure involved, where the runaway religious went, the legal appeals against such writs and the likelihood of the secular authorities in returning such religious.

In Chapter 4, Dr. Logan extends his survey to look at the reception that runaway religious received on their return to their monastery or convent. Although religious houses were the initiators of the search for their errant members, there were many occasions when individual communities were not particularly keen to see their wayward members return. For monks or nuns who had played truant a number of times or who had created disturbances inside the monastic enclosure, it is perhaps not surprising to find that their communities were not overjoyed to see them return once more. An example of this (which Dr. Logan does not give in his book) is of the Carmelite friar from Marlborough, John Smyth, who was arrested in Oxford in 1495 after he had arrived wearing secular clothes and in the company of a woman. When the local Carmelite prior was asked to take care of him, he replied that Smyth had apostatized many times before and he would not take any responsibility for him without first consulting with his provincial. Dr. Logan looks at the sanctions and punishments which might be imposed on returning apostates, their loss of seniority, detention in a cell, whipping, fasting, etc. Although the range of sanctions looks severe, Dr. Logan points out the way in which the bishops and other church authorities were keen to see returning apostates received with Christian charity and forgiveness.

The final chapter takes the survey into the period immediately preceding the Reformation, the 1530's. Although this does broaden the picture given of departures from religious life, there is no doubt that the factors at work in these years are much different from those previously considered. Dr. Logan's coverage of the period up to the dissolution of the religious orders by Henry VIII is balanced and interesting, but it is an area which has been well covered by other historians and in more depth. Dr. Logan's focus on fugitive religious is a distinguishing slant but, in reality, the departures recorded in the Lambeth Faculty Office Registers and the comments of the commissioners as they visited the monasteries are aspects well known and well covered by Reformation historians.

In an appendix at the end of the book and perhaps forming the pages that will be of most value to those who work in the same field, Dr. Logan gives a register of all the apostates that he found in his researches. These will prove a mine of information for anyone wishing to study this aspect of religious life. Overall, this register complements what is a very valuable and illuminating study. Dr. Logan writes well and interestingly, without needing to parade all the large amount of research that must have gone into this study. If there are to be any slight criticisms, one might be that it would have been nice to have seen more attention given to the reasons for leaving religious life. Some reference might have been made to the researches of other disciplines. In recent years, there has been a considerable amount of attention paid to religious life by psychologists and sociologists and their findings might have illuminated some of the historical evidence which Dr. Logan has uncovered.

Finally, one would hope that Dr. Logan will not abandon this topic now that he has produced his book. More biographical details are becoming available on the individual members of religious orders and the recent register of monks in cathedral abbeys by Dr. Joan Greatrex (published by Oxford University Press) is just one example. As such evidence accumulates, then it would be nice to see Dr. Logan continue his researches and perhaps produce a second edition. As an instance of the further information emerging, our Carmelite Institute here in Rome has been collecting material for a biographical register of Carmelite friars in England (hopefully to be published next year). Dr. Logan found 38 Carmelite apostates whereas from our own register, this number could be increased to 52 (not that we would wish to boast about it). Some of the extra information emerging, however, serves only to further complicate the issues. For example, Robert Saunford, who was cited as apostate from Oxford in 1312, was sufficiently trusted in 1304 and 1305 to be delegated to receive royal alms for the community. He appears again as a respected religious in 1318 when he was given permission to preach and hear confessions in the diocese of Bath and Wells. One wonders what led to his wandering abroad in 1312?

In a couple of instances, Dr. Logan misses details on what were quite famous cases. William Portehors, of the London house, who was signified for arrest in 1309 is in fact recorded in some of the chronicles. He was involved in a famous robbery at the London convent in 1306 when he opened the door to a gang of a dozen robbers who bound the members of the community and killed one of them before fleeing with £300 which had been lodged in the convent for safe keeping. Portehors fled with the gang and was cited for arrest by the sheriffs. From a later letter it appears that he crossed over to Ireland. A second well-known case is that of John Hawteyn whom, as Dr. Logan recounts (pp. 15 & 152), claimed that he had been placed in the London priory at the age of eight and hence never made a valid profession. This case is well documented in an unpublished document (Brit. Libr., Ms. Campbell Charters xx, 13). However, the case also features in the Paston letters where there are numerous references to Hawteyn and the story that emerges is somewhat different. Hawteyn was laying claim to the inheritance of Oxnead Manor in Norfolk, which was in the possession of Agnes Paston. Hawteyn stirred up trouble in the neighbourhood, leading a mob up to the manor to enforce his claim. His claim that he was not properly professed in the Carmelites was clearly designed to leave him free to claim this property. The Pastons defended themselves by supporting the Carmelites in the court case and, among the published edition of their letters, there is a declaration made by them and many of the villagers who knew Hawteyn and his parents which recounts the whole life story of Hawteyn. They claimed that he fled home in order to join the Carmelites, that he was of age when he was professed and they described his subsequent career. He had fled the Carmelites on a number of occasions and once, when escaping from Blakeney, he stole clothes as well as books from his uncle which he later sold. The Paston document, prepared for the court case, obviously reflects their interests, for Hawteyn was a danger to them. Following his release from the Carmelites, he pursued his claim to Oxnead through the Norwich courts, receiving support from the Duke of Suffolk. The death of the duke in 1451, though, deprived Hawteyn of a patron and the case appears to have been dropped.

However, this is an area in which a lot of information remains to be discovered and published. Dr. Logan's book is a very welcome addition to our knowledge and his researches do serve to bring a lot of light to what has been a subject full of individual anecdotes and badly in need of a balanced overall survey. His careful, judicial and well written account of his findings has produced a book which anyone studying medieval religious life should read.