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19.09.30 Stöber et al., Monastic Life in the Medieval British Isles

19.09.30 Stöber et al., Monastic Life in the Medieval British Isles

Professor Janet Burton, monastic historian par excellence, is widely known for her studies of medieval monastic Britain. With Burton's work ranging from studies of monasteries in Yorkshire and Wales, to studies of Cistercian nuns, to her co-founding of the Journal of Medieval Monastic Studies, to her co-directing the Monastic Wales Project (, her Festschrift likewise celebrates her with a wide variety of studies. As one contributor so beautifully put it, Professor Burton has "stood...among these consolidated remains and talked of history and meaning" (53); and so have her colleagues, peers, and students done in this collection.

While the topics of the contributions to this collection are wide-ranging, in my mind, the essays break down into two camps: first, encyclopedic studies that provide solid foundations in how medieval monasteries worked (and/or how to perform research on how medieval monasteries worked); and second, insightful case studies that make new inroads into topics, persons, or events in British monastic history.

A great number of essays in the first grouping move to "escap[e] the twelfth-century prism" (92), telling the stories of monastic history in Britain after the thirteenth century. Martin Heale, in "'Like a Mother Between Father and Sons.' The Role of the Prior in Later Medieval English Monasteries," traces into the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries how the role of prior evolved alongside the evolution of the role of the abbot. James G. Clark, in "Cistercian Histories in Late Medieval England, and Beyond," argues that England's Cistercians continued to be "created" (3) by historical narratives in a variety of genres (liturgical, hagiographical, homiletic, exegetical, etc.) into the Late Middle Ages, a fact that has often been overshadowed by the abundance of studies of pre-thirteenth century and/or Benedictine historiography, and by the preponderance of focus on the Cistercians' other intellectual projects instead of history writing. Michael Carter, in "Art, Architecture, Piety, and Patronage at Rievaulx Abbey, c. 1300-1538," surveys the increase in art and architectural production at Rievaulx into the sixteenth century, using evidence of saints' cults, pilgrimage, and lay benefactors. In "'As for a nun': Corrodies, Nunneries, and the Laity," Brian Golding discusses corrodies, tracing them from their early status as a part of monastic almsgiving where "charity was melded with commemoration" (175), to their late medieval status as free-standing, cash-based commodities devoid of their earlier spiritual associations. In "The Last Days of Bridlington Priory," Claire Cross tells the sixteenth-century story of the late Augustinian canons at Bridlington Priory up through the seizure of possessions by Cromwell's officers. And in "Preaching to Nuns in the Norwich Diocese on the Eve of the Reformation: The Evidence from Visitation Records," Veronica O'Mara uses Norwich episcopal visitation records from 1492-1494 and 1514-1532 to piece together when, how, and what was preached to nuns in the later Middle Ages. (Edel Bhreathnach's "The World of Bishops in Religious Orders in Medieval Ireland, 1050-1230" and David Austin's "Strata Florida: A Former Welsh Cistercian Abbey and its Future" are exceptions to the collection's late medieval focus.) Many of the studies in this first grouping read as straight, meat-and-potatoes history, answering essential questions like who, what, when, where, and how things happened in the monastic past, and apt for assigning to students interested in the logistics of the monastic Middle Ages.

The outstanding examples of this brand of essay in the collection are those by Colmán Ó Clabaigh ("Formed by Word and Example: the Training of Novices in Fourteenth-Century Dublin") and Kim Curran ("Looking for Medieval Female Religious in Britain and Ireland: Sources, Methodologies, and Pitfalls"), which model, prescribe, and reflect on research methodologies in medieval monastic studies. Clabaigh's study of composite manuscript Trinity College MS 97, from the Abbey of Saint Thomas the Martyr, demonstrates well how the manuscript combined clerical and monastic elements to teach novices about the canons' "corporate identity" (49), while simultaneously showing readers how to best use a medieval manuscript to draw conclusions about monastic history. Curran's historiographical study describes how prosopographies have been used to study female religious in Britain and Ireland in the medieval and early modern periods, taking the opportunity to also succinctly list the challenges this fruitful methodology poses to the historian. Both of these essays are great tools for teaching students how to use unexpected sources to tell the tale of monastic history in the Middle Ages.

The handful of essays from this collection in the second category work to expand our knowledge of the medieval monastic landscape beyond the encyclopedic by asking the why's of medieval monastic history. In "Galwegians and Gauls: Aelred of Rievaulx's Dramatisation of Xenophobia in Relatio de Standardo," Marsha L. Dutton revises the dominant narrative that Aelred of Rievaulx was pro-peace and order by noting and explaining the xenophobia with which he tells the history of the 1138 Scottish attack against the Anglo-Norman army. Philippa Hoskin's "The Cloister of the Soul: Robert Grosseteste and the Monastic Houses of His Diocese" works to understand why Grosseteste had a reputation for treating monks, nuns, and canons in a supposedly "tyrannical" way, noting how such treatment was actually a part of Grosseteste's own larger pastoral model, defined in part by his academic and theological works. And in "The Abbey of Saint Benet of Holme and the English Rising of 1381," Andrew Prescott notably examines the motivations of both townsfolk and rural inhabitants during the rising of 1381, using these to better complete the larger picture of the fate of abbeys during the rising (particularly the burning of their records and the actions of their tenants) and the way the abbeys attempted to rebuild (and prosecute offenders) afterwards. These three essays represent some of the strongest work in the collection, and should be noted by specialists of Aelred, Grosseteste, and the English Rising of 1381 as essential parts of their respective historiographies.

Clark says, in his essay on Cistercian history writing, that "like their forbears, the [Cistercian] record of the past was still recognised for its currency in their wider world" (19). With such a collection as a tribute to her career, Professor Burton can rest assured that her record of the past also lives on, inspiring the scholarship of the present.