Women, Heresy, and Crusade: Toward a Context for Jacques de Vitry’s Relationship to the Early Beguines
Benjamin A. Wright
A Mirror for Medieval and Early Modern Studies: Selected Proceedings of the Newberry Center for Renaissance Studies (2012) Multidisciplinary Graduate Student Conference
Jacques de Vitry (1165/70–1240) has been a familiar name in histories of the Beguines, which were religious communities not living according to an established rule and not bound by traditional monastic vows. Born at Vitry in Champagne sometime between 1165 and 1170, Jacques‘s clerical career took him to the University of Paris, the diocese of Liège (1210), and then to the Crusader port of Acre (1217) where he served as bishop until his return to Europe in 1227. A close friend of Cardinal Ugolino of Ostia, Jacques was appointed as cardinal archbishop of Tusculum near Rome after the latter was elected Pope Gregory IX. Jacques died on April 30, 1240.1 His association with Beguines received prominent treatment in Herbert Grundmann‘s 1961 publication, Religious Movements in the Middle Ages, which argued for Jacques‘s foundational role on the basis of a single letter.
Written a few days before September 29, 1216, Grundmann argued that this letter was an official permission that made possible religious communities living without a rule. Subsequent writers on the Beguines have avoided overplaying this alleged privilege acquired in August of 1216. However, as an historical actor, Jacques continues to hover patriarchally over accounts of the foundation of Beguine institutions. This paper seeks to clarify Jacques‘s privilege and its role in the Beguine movement in the first decades of the thirteenth century, demonstrating how Jacques sought to appropriate Beguine spiritualities and institutions for the politics of crusade rather than pave the way for Beguine institutions by establishing legal protection for religious women.