Writers in religious orders and their lay patrons in late medieval England
Manion, Christopher Edward
Doctor of Philosophy, Ohio State University, English, (
My dissertation explores how writers in religious orders and their readership were responding to changes in religious life in late medieval England. By the beginning of the fifteenth century, lay people were challenging traditional ideological boundaries between secular and religious social spheres. Moreover, religious houses, which had always been caught up in the vicissitudes of politics, found themselves enmeshed in the factional struggles that raged in England during the fifteenth century. In this context, I examine how religious writers represented cloistered forms of life for people who lived in the secular world, and how they represented a literate lifestyle once limited to men for a growing audience of women patrons and readers. Following an introduction that explores how ideological boundaries between religious and secular people were being contested in late medieval England, my first chapter examines how The Book of Margery Kempe presents one East Anglian merchant housewife who provocatively challenges those boundaries. My second chapter turns to the Benedictine monk John Lydgate as he confronts the hostile politics of his regal patrons in his Chaucerian poem The Siege of Thebes and in his Lives of Saints Edmund and Fremund, written for a young King Henry VI. My third chapter addresses the work of the Augustinian friar Osbern Bokenham, who struggles to turn a nativity of the Virgin Mary reflecting religious values into a more secular portrait of the Virgin’s mother Anne, and then attempts to recount the life of the ascetic princess Elizabeth of Hungary for a noble woman who could not afford to reject the world in any way. In my fourth chapter, I examine how Bokenham’s Norfolk confrere John Capgrave constructs a relationship between himself, his order, and his patron through his representation of the complex familial bond between Saint Augustine of Hippo, the supposed founder of his order, and the saint’s mother Monica. Ultimately, I reveal how these three religious writers attempt to maintain their identity as authoritative clerical figures and as professed members of their order, when their patrons, like Margery Kempe, are demanding work that challenges the ideological distinctions on which their identity depends.