David Rollason

title.none: Burton, The Monastic Order in Yorkshire, 1069-1215 (Rollason)

identifier.other: baj9928.0103.001 01.03.01

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: David Rollason , Durham Uni.,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2001

identifier.citation: Burton, Janet. The Monastic Order in Yorkshire, 1069-1215. Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought, Fourth Series, No 40. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Pp. xxii, 352. $69.95. ISBN: 0-521-5529-X.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 01.03.01

Burton, Janet. The Monastic Order in Yorkshire, 1069-1215. Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought, Fourth Series, No 40. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Pp. xxii, 352. $69.95. ISBN: 0-521-5529-X.

Reviewed by:

David Rollason
Durham Uni.

This meticulously produced book is developed on the basis of the author's Ph.D. thesis, "The Origins and Development of the Religious Orders in Yorkshire c.1069-c.1200", (unpublished dissertation, University of York, 1977). Readers of the latter will be familiar, for example, with Burton's interesting discussion of the foundation of Selby Abbey, and her very convincing discussion of role of the ambitious Abbot Stephen in the development of Whitby Abbey, and the move of its religious community under Stephen's leadership first to Lastingham in the southern fringes of the Yorkshire Moors, and then to found St Mary's Abbey in York. Here Burton's evaluation of the complex textual evidence (set out also in her "The Monastic Revival in Yorkshire: Whitby and St Mary's, York", in Anglo-Norman Durham 1093-1193, ed. David Rollason, Margaret Harvey, and Michael Prestwich [Woodbridge, 1994], pp. 41-51) is entirely convincing, and enable us to use Stephen's remarkable testament as a valid and authentic historical source.

The present book is a mine of information. In the first half, it sets out with exemplary clarity the history of the various religious orders in Yorkshire. Thus chapters are devoted to the Black Monks, the alien monks and Cluniac priories, the Regular Canons, the Cistercians, and communities of nuns. In the second half, chapters are devoted to "the monastic world", "founders, patrons and benefactors", monasteries and the landscape", financing the monastery: the management of economic resources", and "cultural influences and identities". Burton explains in her introduction that the first part "explores the dynamics of monastic expansion, discussing the influences on both its chronological development and its geographical pattern". The justification for presenting the history "by congregation or order" is that this accords broadly with the sequence of development in Yorkshire. The result is useful rather than illuminating. This section of the book will be of immense value to students and researchers as a reference guide, but it is less clear how far it really advances our understanding of why the period saw such "dramatic growth" of the monastic order in Yorkshire, as the blurb expresses it. We are left with considerable insight into important personalities--Stephen of Whitby, Benedict of Selby, Walter Espec--but much less understanding of the fundamental causes of the growth. Nor are we really left especially clear as to what was or was not characteristic about monastic development in Yorkshire. On the one hand, Burton is not very trenchant on her reasons for choosing to study Yorkshire in the first place, which rest on a very generalised statement that it offers "a coherent geographical and territorial unit with a historic identity". On the other, she makes little attempt really to set it in context; even her section on "Yorkshire and the wider monastic world" is nothing more than a rather cursory study of the links between Yorkshire monasteries and those elsewhere rather than a real attempt to discern what made Yorkshire distinctive.

The second part of the book is of similar character. The various aspects of monastic life are handled with erudition and clarity, and scholars should be extremely grateful to Burton for providing them with so much. Here too, however, real insights into the processes at work in the explosion of monasticism are not really on offer. A chapter on "Monasteries and the landscape", for example, makes important contributions to such subjects as monastic assarting and colonisation of marginal land; but it is seriously handicapped by its lack of really detailed attention to topography and historical geography (the chapter does not even have a map), and its conclusions that "financial assets of all kinds...were conveyed to the religious orders in great numbers" and that the Cistercian estates were most closely associated with the colonisation of marginal land are hardly revelatory. It is disappointing too that Burton's account of monastic architecture is both cursory and located at the end of the book. Although there are lucid and useful accounts of developments in architecture (notably the important new excavations of the abbey church at Fountains), and there are interesting conclusions about the interchange of fashion in monastic building, the subject is not pursued in real depth (the book has no plans or illustrations), and there is no sense that the architectural evidence is really being used to inform the wider analysis rather than being an appendage to it.

In short, this is a scholarly and impressive book which deserves to be widely used, but it does not always pursue topics in the depth or detail, or with attention to interdisciplinary approaches, which this reviewer would like to see; and, perhaps because of its objectives and wide range, it is consolidating our knowledge and understanding more often than it is offering new insights.