By Sharon Wright
Canadian Journal of History, Vol.43:2 (2008)
Abstract: Literature and sermons about wrath were attractive to medieval people because they mirrored and amplified life in satisfactory ways: villains were punished, insults were avenged, and honour was restored. Tales of wrath and vengeance often drew the medieval audience directly into the intimate relationships and the homes of the characters affected by wrath. A Dominican exemplum recounts how God punished gamblers for defaming his mother Mary within his own home (the temple). The Welsh vengeance-quest of Peredur begins when a knight-errant enters Arthur’s home (the court) and assaults Arthur’s wife Queen Gwenhwyvar. The Wakefield master allows his audience to view the domestic conflict of Noah and his Uxor as they fight fiercely and comically about the ark.
In reality, wrath in the medieval communal sphere was more banal than remarkable. Medieval English manorial court records are replete with unneighbourly ill will and feuding over seemingly trivial issues; a few pence owed here, a fence post stolen there. Despite the large number of cases in which blood was drawn between neighbours and villagers, few court cases were concerned with the forms of insult, violence, and wrath that took place within the homes of manorial tenants. This disparity between the domestic intimacy of literature and sermons and the realities of the local courts is curious. This article considers how one community’s intervention into the wrathful relations of a local family illustrates the complex intersections between beliefs about gender, wrath, and vengeance, and the barrier between domus and communitas.