The Virgin Mary in High Medieval England, A Divinely Malleable Woman: Virgin, Intercessor, Protector, Mother, Role Model
Cara Elizabeth Furman
TRICERATOPS: TriCollege Digital Repository, History Senior Thesis, Haverford College. Dept. of History, April 13, (2003)
This thesis examines the significance of the Virgin Mary in England between the late fourteenth century and early fifteenth century. In my investigation of three primary sources, Robin Hood tales, the Mystery Play s, and the Mary Play at N-Town, Mary served distinctly different purposes. Yet, in identifying what each group required from Mary, broader tensions in English society become apparent. For those disenfranchised from the Catholic clergy, Mary was another route to God. The Catholic Church, losing power as an institution, employed the ideal of Mary to teach parishioners to be a good Christian and later to defend Catholicism against reformist movements. One trait that remained constant for Mary was role as intercessor. For Catholics, she had a direct connection to God and could plead on people’s behalf. For Protestants, she saved souls as a model of faith. Though all technically Catholic texts, the primary sources in this chapter show both Catholic and Protestant ideas. Mary’s intercessary role illustrates how people were struggling between the ideals of the two religions.
In identifying what each source required from Mary, broader tensions in English society become apparent. From 1300 on, the English were becoming more urban with an increasingly large percentage of people living in the city. While the Black Death had decimated populations everywhere (ca.1350), the cities recovered faster than the rural areas. Laborers flocked from devastated countrysides to cities in search of work. The commercial urban economy provided the funds for a new aristocracy to develop. Guilds and small businesses led to a burgeoning middle class. An urban laboring class also developed, working under the new aristocracy and middle class. By the fifteenth century, a population economically and politically independent from the landed aristocracy had developed in the cities.