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Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture: Authorship and Authority in a Female Community
 1903153433, 9781903153437

Table of contents :
List of Contributors vii
Acknowledgements x
List of Abbreviations xi
Introduction: Barking's Lives, the Abbey and its Abbesses / Donna Alfano Bussell with Jennifer N. Brown 1
I. Barking Abbey and its Anglo-Saxon Context
1. Barking's Monastic School, Late Seventh to Twelfth Century: History, Saint-Making and Literary Culture / Stephanie Hollis 33
2. The Saint-Maker and the Saint: Hildelith Creates Ethelburg / Lisa M. C. Weston 56
3. Goscelin of Saint-Bertin and the Translation Ceremony for Saints Ethelburg, Hildelith and Wulfhild / Kay Slocum 73
4. 'The ladies have made me quite fat': Authors and Patrons at Barking Abbey / Thomas O’Donnell 94
II. Barking Abbey and its Anglo-Norman Context
5. 'Sun num n'i vult dire a ore': Identity Matters at Barking Abbey / Delbert Russell 117
6. 'Ce qu'ens li trovat, eut en sei': On the Equal Chastity of Queen Edith and King Edward in the Nun of Barking’s 'La Vie d’Edouard le confesseur' / Thelma Fenster 135
7. Body, Gender and Nation in the Lives of Edward the Confessor / Jennifer N. Brown 145
8. Clemence and Catherine: The Life of St Catherine in its Norman and Anglo-Norman Context / Diane Auslander 164
9. Cicero, Aelred and Guernes: The Politics of Love in Clemence of Barking's 'Catherine' / Donna Alfano Bussell 183
10. The Authority of Diversity: Communal Patronage in 'Le Gracial' / Emma Bérat 210
III. Barking Abbey and the Later Middle Ages
11. Keeping Body and Soul Together: 'The Charge to the Barking Cellaress' / Alexandra Barratt 235
12. Rhythmic Liturgy, Embodiment and Female Authority in Barking's Easter Plays / Jill Stevenson 245
13. Liturgy as the Site of Creative Engagement Contributions of the Nuns of Barking / Anne Bagnall Yardley 267
Afterword. Barking and the Historiography of Female Community / Jocelyn Wogan-Browne 283
Bibliography 297
Index 325

Citation preview

Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture Authorship and Authority in a Female Community

YORK MEDIEVAL PRESS York Medieval Press is published by the University of York’s Centre for Medieval Studies in association with Boydell & Brewer Limited. Our objective is the promotion of innovative scholarship and fresh criticism on medieval culture. We have a special commitment to interdisciplinary study, in line with the Centre’s belief that the future of Medieval Studies lies in those areas in which its major constituent disciplines at once inform and challenge each other. Editorial Board (2012) Professor Peter Biller (Dept of History): General Editor Dr T. Ayers (Dept of History of Art) Dr J. W. Binns (Dept of English and Related Literature) Professor Helen Fulton (Dept of English and Related Literature) Dr K. F. Giles (Dept of Archaeology) Professor Christopher Norton (Dept of History of Art) Professor W. M. Ormrod (Dept of History) Professor J. G. Wogan-Browne (English Faculty, Fordham University) Consultant on Manuscript Publications Professor Linne Mooney (Dept of English and Related Literature) All enquiries of an editorial kind, including suggestions for monographs and essay collections, should be addressed to: The Academic Editor, York Medieval Press, University of York, Centre for Medieval Studies, The King’s Manor, York, YO1 7EP (E-mail: [email protected]). Publications of York Medieval Press are listed at the back of this volume.

Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture Authorship and Authority in a Female Community Edited by

Jennifer N. Brown and Donna Alfano Bussell


© Contributors 2012 All rights reserved. Except as permitted under current legislation no part of this work may be photocopied, stored in a retrieval system, published, performed in public, adapted, broadcast, transmitted, recorded or reproduced in any form or by any means, without the prior permission of the copyright owner First published 2012 A York Medieval Press publication in association with The Boydell Press an imprint of Boydell & Brewer Ltd PO Box 9 Woodbridge Suffolk IP12 3DF UK and of Boydell & Brewer Inc. 668 Mt Hope Avenue, Rochester, NY 14620-2731, USA website: and with the Centre for Medieval Studies, University of York ISBN 978 1 903153 43 7 A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library The publisher has no responsibility for the continued existence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this book, and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.

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CONTENTS List of Contributors




List of Abbreviations


Introduction: Barking’s Lives, the Abbey and its Abbesses Donna Alfano Bussell with Jennifer N. Brown


I. barking abbey and its anglo-saxon context 1. Barking’s Monastic School, Late Seventh to Twelfth Century: History, Saint-Making and Literary Culture Stephanie Hollis 2. The Saint-Maker and the Saint: Hildelith Creates Ethelburg Lisa M. C. Weston

33 56

3. Goscelin of Saint-Bertin and the Translation Ceremony for Saints Ethelburg, Hildelith and Wulfhild Kay Slocum


4. ‘The ladies have made me quite fat’: Authors and Patrons at Barking Abbey Thomas O’Donnell


II. barking abbey and its anglo-norman context 5. ‘Sun num n’i vult dire a ore’: Identity Matters at Barking Abbey Delbert Russell


6. ‘Ce qu’ens li trovat, eut en sei’: On the Equal Chastity of Queen Edith and King Edward in the Nun of Barking’s La Vie d’Edouard le confesseur 135 Thelma Fenster 7. Body, Gender and Nation in the Lives of Edward the Confessor Jennifer N. Brown


8. Clemence and Catherine: The Life of St Catherine in its Norman and Anglo-Norman Context Diane Auslander


9. Cicero, Aelred and Guernes: The Politics of Love in Clemence of Barking’s Catherine Donna Alfano Bussell


10. The Authority of Diversity: Communal Patronage in Le Gracial Emma Bérat


III. barking abbey and the later middle ages 11. Keeping Body and Soul Together: The Charge to the Barking Cellaress Alexandra Barratt


12. Rhythmic Liturgy, Embodiment and Female Authority in Barking’s Easter Plays Jill Stevenson


13. Liturgy as the Site of Creative Engagement Contributions of the Nuns of Barking Anne Bagnall Yardley


Afterword. Barking and the Historiography of Female Community Jocelyn Wogan-Browne







CONTRIBUTORS Diane Peters Auslander recently received her Ph.D. from the Graduate Center, City University of New York. She has published several articles and book chapters on saints and saints cults in the British Isles. She is currently teaching medieval history and women’s history at Lehman College, City University of New York. Alexandra Barratt is Professor Emeritus at the University of Waikato, New Zealand. She has worked for many years in the area of medieval texts for and by women. Her most recent monograph is Anne Bulkeley and her Book: Fashioning Female Piety in Early Tudor England (Brepols, 2009). In retirement she continues her work on the fifteenth-century English translator Dame Eleanor Hull, and has recently developed an interest in medieval manuscript waste in early printed books held in New Zealand Jennifer N. Brown is an Associate Professor of English and World Literature at Marymount Manhattan College. She has published widely on women and women’s writing in the Middle Ages, including the book Three Women of Liège: A Critical Edition of and Commentary on the Middle English Lives of Elizabeth of Spalbeek, Christina Mirabilis, and Marie of Oignies (Brepols, 2008). Her 2011 article in the Journal of the History of Sexuality, ‘The Chaste Erotics of Marie d’Oignies and Jacques de Vitry’, won the 2011 prize for Best Article of Feminist Scholarship on the Middle Ages, given biannually by the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship. Emma Bérat is a doctoral candidate in the English and Comparative Literature department at Columbia University. Her interests include multiculturalism, historiography and women’s literary culture in the high Middle Ages. Previously she has published on the relationship between clerk and female patron in Geoffrey Gaimar’s Estoire des Engleis. Donna Alfano Bussell is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Illinois, Springfield. Her research focuses on women’s participation in literary culture and depictions of women’s influence in liturgy and devotional texts. Publications include ‘The Fantasy of Reciprocity and the Enigma of the Seneschal in Marie de France’s Equitan’, Le Cygne: Journal of the International Marie de France Society 2 (2003), 7-48, and ‘Heloise Redressed: Rhetorical Engagement and the Benedictine Rite of Initiation in Heloise’s Third Letter’, in Listening to Heloise: The Voice of a Twelfth Century Woman, ed. B. Wheeler (New York, 2000). Forthcoming publications include a translation of the Anglo-Norman


Prologue of Adgar’s Gracial in Vernacular Literary Theory and Practices: The French of England 1130-1450, ed. Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, Thelma Fenster and Delbert Russell (Pennsylvania State University Press) and ‘Challenging Cluny in England: The Magdalene Liturgies at Lewes and Pontefract’, in Mary Magdalene in Medieval Culture: Conflicted Roles, ed. Peter Loewen and Robin Waugh (Routledge Press). Thelma Fenster, Professor Emerita, French and Medieval Studies, Fordham University, has published on Christine de Pizan, the medieval workings of fama, Arthurian women and gender. With Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, she codirects the French of England Project and has translated works by Matthew Paris. She is currently collaborating on a large anthology of literary prologues in the French of England. Stephanie Hollis is an Emeritus Professor of the University of Auckland, where she was until recently Director of the Centre for Medieval and Early Modern European Studies. Her publications include Anglo-Saxon Women and the Church: Sharing a Common Fate (Boydell 1992), and Writing the Wilton Women: Goscelin’s Legend of Edith and Liber Confortatorius (Brepols 2004). She is currently researching the literary culture of nunneries founded in the Anglo-Saxon period, and is working with Michael Wright on a translation and study of texts written by Goscelin for Barking Abbey. Thomas O’Donnell is Assistant Professor of English at Fordham University in New York City. Previously he was Lecturer in High Medieval Literature at the University of York. He has published on the English, French and Latin literary cultures of England between the years 975 and 1330, and his current book project explores community writing, networks, and identity in high-medieval English monasteries from before the Conquest until the mid-thirteenth century.. Delbert Russell, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, University of Waterloo, has edited La Vie de s. Laurent (1973), Le Légendier apostolique anglo-normand (1989), La Vie seint Richard de Cycestre (1995), La Vye de seynt Fraunceys (2002). His translation and introduction to four saints’ lives (George, Giles, Faith and Mary Magdalene) is in press (for the French of England in Translation Series, Arizona). He is currently collaborating with Mark Finkelstein on a new edition of Denis Piramus, Vie s. Edmund le rei, and with Jocelyn Wogan-Browne and Thelma Fenster on a critical anthology of medieval French literary theory written in England. Kay Slocum is Emeritus Professor of History and Humanities at Capital University. Her publications include Liturgies in Honour of Thomas Becket (Toronto, 2004) and several articles concerning Becket, most recently ‘Martir quod stillat primatis ab ore sigillat: Sealed with the Blood of Becket’, Journal of the British Archaeological Association (2012). Her current research concerns Barking Abbey. Jill Stevenson is an Associate Professor of Theater Arts at Marymount Manhattan College. She is the author of Performance, Cognitive Theory, and Devotional


Culture: Sensual Piety in Late Medieval York (Palgrave, 2010) and co-editor of Thresholds of Medieval Visual Culture (Boydell and Brewer, 2012). Her book Sensational Devotion: Evangelical Performance in 21st-Century America will be published by the University of Michigan Press in 2013. Lisa Weston is Professor of English at California State University, Fresno. Coeditor (with Carol Pasternack) of Sex and Sexuality in Anglo-Saxon England, she has written on Old English wisdom poetry as well as the literary culture of early-medieval monastic women. Her current research focuses on intersections of literacy, gender and sexuality in Anglo-Saxon England. Jocelyn Wogan-Browne is Thomas F.X. and Theresa Mullarkey Chair in Literature, Fordham University, New York, and formerly Professor of Medieval Literature, The University of York. She has published on medieval women’s writing, saints’ lives and medieval vernacularity and, with Thelma Fenster, co-directs the French of England research and teaching programme. Anne Bagnall Yardley is the author of Performing Piety: Musical Culture in Medieval English Nunneries (Palgrave 2006) as well as several articles on music in medieval nunneries. Yardley retired from Drew University, Madison, in 2011, having served most recently as Associate Professor of Music and Associate Academic Dean in the Theological School. She received her musicological training at Columbia University, where she was awarded a Ph.D. in 1975.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS We owe a great debt to our contributors and to all those who shared their work at the conference we organized on Barking Abbey, ‘Authorship and Authority: Barking Abbey and its Texts’, which was held at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York on 11 September 2009. We also want to express our appreciation to Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, whose scholarship never fails to illuminate the vitality of women’s literary culture and who first suggested this project on Barking Abbey. We could not have done without her guidance and encouragement all along the way. The conference on Barking Abbey would not have been possible without the assistance of the Center for Medieval Studies at Fordham University and the help of Maryanne Kowaleski, Director of the Center for Medieval Studies and Joseph Fitzpatrick S. J. Distinguished Professor, whose organizational skills and generosity are without parallel. Steven Kruger and Glenn Burger were also instrumental in organizing the conference and we thank them for expertly helping us to sort out myriad details. We are grateful for the financial support for that conference which was provided by the Department of English and the Certificate Program in Medieval Studies at CUNY Graduate Center, the Center for Medieval Studies at Fordham University and Margot Duley, the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois, Springfield. We were fortunate to have worked with Caroline Palmer, the Editorial Director for Boydell & Brewer, whose enthusiasm for the volume and prompt reply to every query kept us on track. Peter Biller, who fell heir to our volume in his role as general editor at York Medieval Press, merits special thanks for his perceptive comments, especially in matters of translation and revision, and his patience with our learning curve as first-time editors. Finally, we would like to acknowledge the support of our institutions, Marymount Manhattan College and the University of Illinois, Springfield, for providing resources that allowed us to organize the conference and complete our editorial tasks.


ABBREVIATIONS ANTS ANTS OPS Bede, Historia ecclesiastica

Anglo-Norman Text Society ANTS Occasional Publication Series Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, ed. B. Colgrave and R. A. B. Mynors, Oxford Medieval Texts (Oxford, 1969) Bell, What Nuns Read D. N. Bell, What Nuns Read: Books and Libraries in Medieval English Nunneries, Cistercian Studies Series 158 (Kalamazoo MI, 1995). Bell, ‘What Nuns Read: D. N. Bell, ‘What Nuns Read: The State of the QuesState of the Question’ tion’, in The Culture of Medieval English Monasticism, ed. J. Clark (Woodbridge, 2007), pp. 113–33 BnF Bibliothèque nationale de France Goscelin, ‘Texts’ Goscelin of Saint-Bertin, ‘Texts of Jocelyn of Canterbury which Relate to the History of Barking Abbey’, ed. M. L. Colker, Studia monastica 7 (1965), 383–460. Language and Culture Language and Culture in Medieval Britain: The French of England c. 1100–c. 1500, ed. Jocelyn WoganBrowne with C. Collette, M. Kowaleski, L. Mooney, A. Putter and D. Trotter (York, 2009) Ordinale and The Ordinale and Customary of the Benedictine Nuns of Customary of Barking Abbey (University College, Oxford, MS 169), Barking Abbey ed. J. B. L. Tolhurst, Henry Bradshaw Society 65–6 (London, 1927–8) PL J.-P. Migne, ed., Patrologia Latina (1844–55) Saints’ Lives Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, Saints’ Lives and Women’s Literary Culture: c. 1150–1300 Virginity and its Authorizations (Oxford, 2001) Virgin Lives Virgin Lives and Holy Deaths. Two Exemplary Biographies for Anglo-Norman Women: The Life of St Catherine, The Life of St Lawrence, trans. J. Wogan-Browne and G. S. Burgess (London, 1996) Wilton Women Writing the Wilton Women: Goscelin’s Legend of Edith and Liber confortatorius, ed. S. Hollis with W. R. Barnes, R. Hayward, K. Loncar, and M. Wright. Medieval Women: Texts and Contexts 9 (Turnhout, 2004)


This book is dedicated to Jo Ann McNamara. We would also like to dedicate it to our husbands, Jeffrey Nemanick and Sidney Bussell, and our boys, Nathaniel and Connor.



Barking’s Lives, the Abbey and its Abbesses Donna Alfano Bussell with Jennifer N. Brown

In hoc etenim monasterio plura uirtutum sunt signa patrata, quae et ad memoriam aedificationemque sequentium ab his qui nouere descripta habentur a multis; e quibus et nos aliqua historiae nostrae ecclesiasticae inserere curauimus. (‘In this monastery [at Barking] many miracles were performed which have been written down by those who were acquainted with them as an edifying memorial for succeeding generations and copies are in the possession of many people. Some of these we have taken care to insert into this History.’)1

Barking Abbey’s importance is attested in England’s early recorded history, Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (c. 731), written by the monk known to us as the Venerable Bede.2 Bede’s account of the miracles witnessed at the abbey, based on a now lost Barking libellus, gives us a glimpse of its first abbess, Ethelburg (d. 675), and other notable women who were associated with the abbey’s founding (c. 666) or the life of its community.3 Bede records that Barking was founded by Erkenwald, abbot of Chertsey (Surrey) and later bishop of London (675), for his sister Ethelburg. Bede’s history not only provides one of the earliest surviving accounts of the abbey, but also sheds light on the energy that the nuns of Barking put into the creation and circulation of their establishment narratives. Bede’s account of the miracles outlines a process of authorship and transmission: the miracles are witnessed, told, transcribed, memorialized and circulated. He foregrounds the foundresses’ authority and the pastoral influence of the abbey. This emphasis serves his larger project of writing a definitive history of the English Church that demonstrates the Church’s integration of lay and monastic culture, often exemplified in the mixing of vernacularity

1 2


Bede, Historia ecclesiastica iv.7, pp. 356–7. We would like to thank Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, Peter Biller, Nicole Rice and the external reader for York Medieval Press for their many helpful suggestions on this introduction. The libellus contained the miracles of Ethelburg and also substantiates the connection between Barking and the East Saxon royalty. See B. Yorke, ‘The East Saxon Kings’, in Anglo-Saxon England 14, ed. P. Clemoes (Cambridge, 1985), pp. 1–36 (pp. 2–5).


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture and Latinity in Bede’s history.4 The story of Cædmon’s Hymn, Bede’s famous account of the ‘birth’ of vernacular poetry in Abbess Hild’s monastery at Whitby, is the paradigmatic example of a Benedictine abbess affording space to the vernacular in the religious life. Under Hild’s authority, Cædmon’s song is evaluated by learned men. On her invitation, Cædmon becomes a monk and receives instruction in holy stories and songs. With Hild’s blessing (her embrace of his God’s gifts in him), many of his teachers imitate Cædmon’s English because it animates their holy stories so beautifully.5 Bede’s account of women in Anglo-Saxon Benedictine communities like Barking likewise shows that the women themselves are not only cognizant of this complex relationship between lay and religious, but that they are also instrumental in creating a space for the vernacular voice in monastic life.6 The essays in this volume capture other moments in this creative process and elucidate how a legacy of literacy and learning is carried forward, especially through the central and high Middle Ages. 4



See A. J. Frantzen’s analysis of the attention paid to the laity in early English monasticism, The Literature of Penance in Anglo-Saxon England (New Brunswick NJ, 1983), pp. 61–3, and 76–7, 82–6, 122–74; C. Jenkins’s discussion of Bede’s concern for the ‘unlearned’, ‘Bede as Exegete and Theologian’, in Bede: His Life, Times, and Writings, ed. A. Hamilton Thompson (Oxford, 1969), pp.  168–72; and R. Ray’s assessment of Bede’s synthesis of Augustine for the literati and the ‘lector rudis’, ‘What Do We Know about Bede’s Commentaries?’, Recherches de théologie ancienne et médiévale 49 (1982), 5–20 (pp. 11–18). On the structural reasons for this concern with the laity, especially in relation to the minster model, see J. Blair, ‘Debate: Ecclesiastical Organization and Pastoral Care in Anglo-Saxon England’, Early Medieval Europe 4 (1995), 193–212, and G. Bonner, ‘Anglo-Saxon Culture and Spirituality: A Paper Read at the Fellowship Conference in Winchester, 1973’, in his Church and Faith in the Patristic Tradition,Variorum Collected Studies (Aldershot, 1996), XV, 543. Hild invites Cædmon, a lay brother, to take monastic vows after she and her advisors recognize his gift for translating sacred history or doctrine into English song (Bede, Historia ecclesiastica iv.24). Other miracles in the fourth book of Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica also suggest that Anglo-Saxon nuns understood that God could speak to them through anyone in or around their community (e.g. in iv.8, that of the child Æsica who, as he dies of the plague, cries out three times for Eadgyd (Edith), a nun of Barking, who immediately contracts the same illness and follows the boy into heaven). These miracles register the connection between secular and monastic forms of religious life and the importance of the surrounding parish. See R. Gilchrist’s discussion of the double minsters, double monasteries and ‘family monasteries’, an early, transient form of religious community for men and women that may have been run by the laity: Gender and Material Culture: The Archaeology of Religious Women (London, 1994), pp. 25–30. There is a great deal of recent scholarship on vernacularity and literary culture in insular territories. Two new collections of essays reflect the depth and breadth of the emerging scholarship on this issue: Conceptualizing Multilingualism in England, c.  800–1250, ed. E. M. Tyler (Turnhout, 2011); and Medieval Multilingualism: The Francophone World and its Neighbors, ed. C. Kleinhenz and K. Busby (Turnhout, 2010). On Anglo-Norman, see J. Wogan-Browne, ‘What’s in a Name: the “French” of “England”’, in Language and Culture, pp. 1–16; and I. Short, ‘On Bilingualism in Anglo-Norman England’, Romanische Philologie 33 (1979–80), 467–79.


Barking’s Lives, the Abbey and its Abbesses Barking Abbey and its abbesses Barking Abbey began as a Benedictine double house of men and women in the seventh century. It was reborn as a women’s community after the Viking invasions of the ninth century and remained so until the dissolution of the monasteries.7 Barking is situated about eight miles east of medieval London, positioned at the high point of a marsh near the River Roding in an area that is now part of East London. The abbey, which was built using brick left behind by the Romans, was one of several royal foundations established during the conversion of the Saxon nobility to Christianity during the late seventh and early eighth centuries.8 The Blessed Virgin Mary was its spiritual patron but, from its inception, Barking Abbey had many noteworthy earthly benefactors. In addition to Bede’s writings, which indicate the importance of Barking’s abbess, Ethelburg,9 there is a series of Anglo-Saxon charters that record royal grants from the last third of the seventh century through to the early eighth century, and then again from the tenth century to the early eleventh.10 The 7 8

Barking was surrendered in 1539. On the foundation date, see n. 10 below. For example, Ely and Whitby. This overview is largely paraphrased from the invaluable discussion in B. Yorke, Nunneries and the Anglo-Saxon Royal Houses, II (London, 2003), pp. 18–38 (pp. 22–4), hereafter Nunneries. See also the excellent history of Barking Abbey in S. Foot, Veiled Women, 2 vols. (Aldershot, 2000), II, pp. 27–33. 9 Although Ethelburg’s relationship to this royalty is not understood, she was clearly favoured. See Yorke, ‘The East Saxon Kings’, pp. 2–3; and Nunneries, p. 18. 10 The abbey was established during the joint reign of Sæbbi (c. 664, d. 694) and Sighere (c. 664, d. 688). Erkenwald’s schedule of grants indicates that the founding may have been initiated earlier through another East Saxon king, Swithfrith, who possibly ruled jointly for a time with Swithhelm (d. 663). Swithfrith’s gift of forty cassati (hides) of land at Bercingas and Beddanham for a double monastery is now generally considered the founding charter. Œthelred, one of Sæbbi’s kinsman, granted the new foundation 75 manentes (hides) under Sæbbi’s writ in 686 x 688. Swæfred (Suebred), Sæbbi’s son, confirmed his father’s grant and gave another gift to an unnamed women for the founding of a religious house at Nazeing (Nazingbury) in the late seventh century. Nazeing, a double monastery near Barking, may have been an early daughter house of Barking that later became part of the abbey. The register at Chertsey and the charter of Holidred (another of Sæbbi’s kinsmen) further substantiate Barking’s foundation. Yorke provides a helpful discussion of the early evidence and often overlapping reigns of the East Saxon kings, ‘The East Saxon Kings’, pp. 4–5, 19–20, n. 104. See also C. R. Hart, ‘The Charters of Barking Abbey’, in The Early Charters of Eastern England, ed. C. R. Hart (Leicester, 1966), pp. 117–45; E. Mitchell, ‘Patrons and Politics at TwelfthCentury Barking Abbey’, Revue bénédictine 113 (2003), 347–64; W. Locks, Barking Abbey in the Middle Ages (London, 1913); E. A. Loftus and H. F. Chettle, A History of Barking Abbey (Barking, 1954); and ‘Houses of Benedictine Nuns: Abbey of Barking’, in The Victoria County History of England: A History of the County of Essex, II, ed. W. Page and J. H. Round (London, 1907), pp. 115–22 ( report.aspx?compid=39832); hereafter VCH Essex, II. Barking’s earliest abbesses are also noted in the Nova legenda Anglie. C. R. Hart and S. Miller have made some of the early charters related to Barking Abbey available online ( chartwww/barking.html). See also L. M. C. Weston’s contextualization of the early charter evidence in this volume.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture earliest of these charters indicate that the commonly accepted founding date, c. 666, should be considered a rough estimate at best.11 The skill of Barking’s abbesses and their connections to the centres of royal power contributed greatly to the abbey’s resilience as well as its prestige.12 The impetus to maintain such an abbey may have come from laywomen as the retirement of widows to monasteries was embraced throughout England, perhaps influenced by Frankish nunneries and those in Northumbria.13 Ethelburg was followed as abbess by her mentor Hildelith (d. c. 712), and both women were regarded as the founders of Barking through much of the abbey’s history and as icons of learnedness and devotion.14 Their images, along with those of the Virgin Mary and an iconic Lady Abbess, are part of the abbey’s seal.15 After Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica (finished 731), our information about Barking’s early history is meagre. There is a gap in the record between Bede’s eighth-century account and the Viking raid of c. 870 that destroyed the abbey.16 The Barking community probably remained in some form after its destruction by the Danes, either in exile or at least in cultural memory.17 The refounding of Barking as a women’s community occurred in the early years of the tenth-century Benedictine Reform.18 The Ilford Hospital charters 11








Perhaps as early as c. 660–4 since Swithfrith probably died before Swithelm (c. 664). See D. P. Kirby, The Earliest English Kings, 2nd edn (London, 2000), p. 83; B. Yorke, Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England (London,1997), pp.  48–55; and Nunneries, pp. 18, 29. The foundational study is E. Power’s pioneering investigation Medieval English Nunneries c.  1275–1535 (Cambridge, 1922). For a reconsideration of Power’s assessment of abbesses and prioresses, see V. Spear, Leadership in Medieval English Nunneries (Woodbridge, 2005). The East Saxon royalty consolidated its embrace of Christianity during the rule of Sæbbi; the abbey promoted his cult, suggesting it was actively promoting insular monasticism. Aldhelm (d. 709?) dedicates De virginitate to Hildelith and the nuns of Barking and praises them as ‘spiritual athletes’ who strive to achieve erudition in (their understanding of) divine doctrine. See M. Gretsch, The Intellectual Foundations of the English Benedictine Reform (Cambridge, 1999), p. 172, and L. M. C. Weston’s chapter for this volume. The seal dates from its surrender in 1539. An illustration is contained in a surrender document for Stratford Langthorne Abbey, Essex Record Office, Reference Code I/ Mp 18/1/52; see SEAX: The Essex Archives Online ( details.asp?DocID=278229). The seal is reproduced on the cover of this volume. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle contains a general account of the Viking raids in Essex and elsewhere. For a recent edition, see M. J. Swanton, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (New York, 1998). Foot argues persuasively that the community might well have sought refuge elsewhere until the re-founding (possibly in the first third of the tenth century); see Veiled Women, II, p. 29, n. 2, and, on the Ilford charters, pp. 29–31. See also notes 19, 42 and 49 below. A reconstruction dated to the early tenth century is consistent with the analysis of Saxon pottery shards from the Barking site that indicates Danish control from 870–2 through to c. 896 and c. 901–12; M. Redknap, ‘The Saxon Pottery from Barking Abbey, Part I: Local Wares’, London Archaeologist 6 (1991), 353–60. Edmund I made Dunstan abbot of Glastonbury (940 x 946), an event that marks


Barking’s Lives, the Abbey and its Abbesses (c. 946–51) provide the earliest attestations to the abbey’s re-establishment.19 These reforms to monastic practice and liturgical observation (bringing English monasticism into alignment with the Benedictine Rule) were aided by the consolidation of power under the West Saxon kings, who began to impose ‘a semblance of political unity’ on the insular kingdoms.20 King Edgar’s21 commission of the Regularis concordia22 coincides with his and Queen Ælfthryth’s (Alftrudis’s) aggressive support of additional reforms that enhanced royal control over the monasteries.23 Barking’s legacy as a women’s religious house was soon affected by the imposition of royal interests. Wulfhild, the founder and abbess of Horton Abbey, was installed as Barking’s first abbess (c. 965) following its refounding during Edgar’s reign. But when his son Ethelred II assumed the throne (c. 978), the queen mother Ælfthryth sent Wulfhild back to Horton and took over the abbacy herself for nearly twenty years.24


20 21 22



the beginning of the Benedictine reform movement led by four prominent churchmen (in addition to Dunstan, Oswald, bishop of Worcester, Oda, archbishop of Canterbury, and Æthelwold, bishop of Winchester); see J. Hill, ‘The Benedictine Reform and Beyond’, in A Companion to Anglo-Saxon Literature, ed. P. Pulsiano and E. Treharne (Oxford, 2001), pp. 151–69 (pp. 151–2). Charters of Æthelstan (c.  936) and Eadred indicate the re-founding. (Eadred succeeded his brother Edmund I to the throne; r. 946–55.) For further analysis, see Veiled Women, II, pp.  30–3. Eadred’s gift to Barking (950) is one of several benefactions to religious communities in Essex between 946 and 950 (among the Ilford Hospital charters, See Mitchell, ‘Patrons and Politics’, pp. 348–9. See S. Keynes, ‘England, 900–1016’, in The New Cambridge Medieval History, c. 900– 1024, ed. T. Reuter, 7 vols. (Cambridge, 1995–2004), III, pp. 456–84 (p. 456). Edgar (the Peacemaker, r. 959–75) was the son of Edmund I and the great-grandson of Alfred the Great. One of the foundational texts of the reform movement, this guide and customary was drawn up at a council at Winchester (c. 970) called by King Edgar. It is addressed to monks and nuns and is designed to unify monastic observance. Ælfthryth, Edgar’s second wife, was the mother of Ethelred II (the Unready). On Ælfthryth’s coronation, her Marian image in the Benedictional of Æthelwold and Bishop Æthel­wold’s preface to the Regularis concordia, see P. Stafford, Queen Emma and Queen Edith: Queenship and Women’s Power in Eleventh-Century England (Oxford, 2001), pp. 162–3. Ælfthryth was able to do this under new supervisory powers granted by the Regularis concordia. This ‘office’ drew its power from the queen’s association with the king. Queens also had power materially over their own holdings (dower) and courts; they could found or re-found monasteries on their own lands, and could receive grants from their husbands and sons. Sometimes royal grants occurred before widowhood, e.g. Henry I’s first wife Edith-Matilda was probably given charge of the abbacy on Ælfgifu’s death; and Stephen’s appointment of his wife Matilda, perhaps following the precedent in Henry I’s grant. Henry I exercised more direct control over monastic holdings than had his predecessors. See Yorke, Nunneries, pp.  87–9; and P. Stafford, ‘Emma: The Powers of the Queen in the Eleventh Century’, in Queens and Queenship in Medieval Europe: Proceedings of a Conference Held at King’s College London April 1995, ed. A. J. Duggan (Woodbridge, 2008), pp. 3–23, and Spear, Leadership, pp. 59–90.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture Barking’s history is augmented by the Flemish Benedictine cleric Goscelin (or Jocelyn) of Saint-Bertin (and later, Canterbury) (fl. 1053–1107). He was one of the most prolific and highly regarded hagiographers of his day, travelling to monasteries and cathedrals throughout England to gather material for his liturgies and vitae.25 Ælfgifu (Ælfgiva) the eleventh-century abbess of Barking (c. 1066–c. 1086)26 who showed hospitality to William the Conqueror in 1066 before he entered London, commissioned Goscelin to compose the lives of Barking’s founding abbesses (c. 1087). Goscelin did so using both Bede and living witnesses, including Wulfruna (Judith), an elderly nun at Barking and the abbey’s sacristan, whose memories augment Bede’s account. According to Goscelin’s account of the Viking invasion, the abbess and other women remained defiantly in the church and secured the doors against the onslaught rather than flee into the surrounding woods. The Vikings set the barricaded building on fire, killing the women who were trapped inside.27 These women are memorialized as tenacious guardians of their community, and this is consistent with Goscelin’s representation of the abbey’s founders in a heroic mode. Wulfhild is likewise connected to Ethelburg by an enduring concern for the abbey’s welfare. According to Goscelin, Wulfhild escapes Edgar’s heavy handed attempts at seduction, and is later granted the Barking abbacy in recompense.28 When she loses the abbacy to Edgar’s widow Ælfthryth, Wulfhild leaves Barking with her nuns, lamenting but prophesying their return in twenty years. After the time elapses, St Ethelburg appears in a vision to Ælfthryth, who is now ill. Ethelburg rebukes the queen for her maltreatment of the abbey and Ælfthryth, repentant and fearing her own death, brings Wulfhild and her nuns back to Barking. In Goscelin Ælfgifu found both a skilled poet and an author who had confidence in women’s knowledge. His confidence, however, was controversial enough (presumably for audiences outside Barking Abbey) that Goscelin felt it necessary to defend the validity of his witnesses’ accounts, which he did with aplomb.29 25

26 27

28 29

Among them: Ely, Ramsey, Canterbury, Wilton and Barking. Goscelin’s subjects are quite varied and include the lives of several tenth-century abbesses. See Goscelin of Saint Bertin: The Hagiography of the Female Saints of Ely, ed. R. C. Love (Oxford, 2004); Wilton Women; and n. 29 below. On Goscelin’s life and career, see The Life of King Edward who Rests at Westminster, ed. F. Barlow, 2nd edn, Oxford Medieval Texts (Oxford, 1992) pp. 133–49. On Goscelin’s liturgies, see R. Sharpe, ‘Words and Music by Goscelin of Canterbury’, Early Music 19 (1991), 94–7. See also Mitchell, ‘Patrons and Politics’, pp. 348–9; cf. S. M. Johns, Noblewomen, Aristocracy, and Power in the Twelfth-Century Anglo-Norman Realm (Manchester, 2003), pp. 39–50. On the possible dates for Ælfgifu’s death, see V. Morton with J. Wogan-Browne, Guidance for Women in Twelfth-Century Convents (Cambridge, 2003), p. 141. For a translation, see Morton, Guidance for Women, p. 148 and, on Ethelburg’s defence of the church (in the form of a wolf, a lion and a bear) during a later series of Viking invasions during Ethelred II’s reign, pp. 146–7. See Yorke’s discussion of the dynastic implications, Nunneries, pp. 156–7. Elisabeth van Houts discusses Goscelin’s vigorous defence of female witnesses, including Wulfruna, against the accusation that women’s accounts could not be taken


Barking’s Lives, the Abbey and its Abbesses The abbesses of Barking had much to protect. Barking was the third-richest women’s religious house at the time of the Domesday survey, c. 1086,30 after Wilton and Shaftesbury Abbeys, and it remained third in assets among women’s communities at the time of the dissolution (1539), behind only the women’s houses of Syon and Shaftesbury.31 The abbey’s holdings at the time of the Domesday Book were primarily in Essex, but also in Kent, Surrey, Middlesex, Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire.32 The abbey’s charter was reconfirmed several times in the transition to Norman power and again in the transition to Angevin rule. Each affirmation betokens leveraged loyalties as well as noble bloodlines, although Barking is not as well attested in contemporary pre-Conquest sources as the wealthy southern nunneries associated with West Saxon royalty.33 The women of Barking Abbey were nonetheless well connected, educated and, more often than not, politically astute. Many of Barking’s abbesses came from royal or elite baronial families and included several queens and princesses such as Edith-Matilda (c. 1086, Henry I’s queen),34 Matilda (c. 1139, Stephen’s queen), and Maud (1175, Henry II’s daughter).35 The abbess of Barking was well positioned to extend the abbey’s holdings as well as manage them. Beginning under




33 34 35

as authoritative; see Memory and Gender in Medieval Europe 900–1200 (Basingstoke and Toronto, 1999), pp. 50–3. See also G. Whalen’s discussion of the differences between insular and Norman expectations of nuns, ‘Patronage Engendered: How Goscelin Allayed the Concerns of Nuns’ Discriminatory Publics’, in Women, the Book and the Godly: Proceedings of the St Hilda’s Conference 1993, ed. L. Smith and J. H. M. Taylor (Cambridge, 1995), pp. 123–36 (pp. 124–30). Goscelin wrote six texts related to Barking Abbey: the Life and Miracles of St Ethelburg; the Life and Miracles of St Wulfhilda (d. c. 1000); longer and shorter versions of the Translations of Saints Ethelburg, Hildilitha and Wulfilda; a vision concerning their translations; and Lessons for the Translation of St Hildilitha. His narratives also mention three other abbesses: the unnamed late ninth century abbess who ruled at the time of the Viking destruction of the abbey; Lifledis, who ruled during the early eleventh century; and Goscelin’s patroness Ælfgifu. See Goscelin, ‘Texts’, pp. 386–7, 391; and Morton, Guidance for Women, pp. 140–55, 146, n. 10. In addition to VCH Essex, II ( =39832&strquery=Domesday), see The Victoria County History of England: A History of the County of Essex, I, ed. H. A. Doubleday and W. R. Powell (London, 1903), 448; hereafter VCH Essex, I, online at the Internet Archive ( details/victoriahistoryo01doubuoft). See also Domesday Book: Essex, ed. John Morris (Andover, 1992), P. H. Sawyer, The Domesday Book: A Reassessment (London, 1985) and J. Crick, ‘The Wealth, Patronage, and Connections of Women’s Houses in Late Anglo-Saxon England’, Revue bénédictine 109 (1990), 154–85. The Anglo-Saxon nunneries favoured by royal families remained among the richest women’s houses both at the time of the Domesday Book and the dissolution; see Yorke, Nunneries, p. 72, and Foot, Veiled Women, II, p. 33. See K. Bailey, ‘The Middle Saxons’, in The Origins of Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms, ed. S. Bassett (London, 1989), pp. 108–22 (p. 114), Foot, Veiled Women, II, p. 33, n. 2, and VCH Essex, II ( See Foot, Veiled Women, II, p. 33, and S. Hollis’s contribution to this volume. Edith-Matilda (d. 1118) became abbess at some time following Ælfgifu’s death c. 1086. Matilda is the Latin form of Maud.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture the reign of William the Conqueror, the office of abbess at Barking carried the rank of baron with its attendant obligations to raise levies for war and provide knight service.36 The abbey’s holdings generated good revenues in rents and dues from fishing and shipping and gave the abbey privileges of hunting. These resources required careful cultivation and oversight.37 Today only the barest outlines of Barking Abbey can be seen in its ruins;38 yet the abbey’s prominence, both materially and politically, remains visible in the archaeological evidence.39 Provisions were made for the abbess and thirty nuns at its surrender, which reflects a median in the abbey’s population, which ranged from approximately twenty to thirty-eight nuns.40 The most obvious indicators of its wealth are the improvements brought about through many building programmes undertaken by its abbesses, with some of the most ambitious early improvements wrought by Ælfgifu41 and Adelidis (Adeliza, 36






Other abbesses who held this rank were at Wilton, Shaftesbury, and Winchester. See Locks, Barking Abbey, pp. 46–8; Loftus and Chettle, History, p. 29. Abbesses who could appeal directly for royal support were often in a better position to protect the material well-being of their communities, although this often required that they remind new occupants of the throne of their historical obligations; see Spear, Leadership, pp. 61–3. See n. 45 below on Barking’s economy and markets, which were shaped by its proximity to major waterways and arable marshlands. W. Sturman’s doctoral thesis makes the most of the available evidence and draws perceptive inferences about the available economic and natural resources, e.g. marshland for pasture; estuaries and ponds for fish and oysters; digging clay for pottery and use of the tile-kiln; and, of course, access to hunting and woodland resources, and income from rents; see ‘Barking Abbey: A Study in its External and Internal Administration from the Conquest to the Dissolution’ (dissertation, University of London, 1961), pp. 70–235 (pp. 73–9, 102–7, 109, 119–20). A copy of the thesis can be obtained at http://qmro. First excavated in 1911. See A. W. Clapham, ‘The Benedictine Abbey of Barking’, Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society 12 (1911), 69–87. Clapham’s plan is reproduced in K. Slocum’s article in this volume (Figure 1). We would like to express our gratitude to Clive Tolley, who in the process of editing this volume generously provided an excellent copy of Clapham’s groundplan. See Gilchrist’s study of the archaeological evidence, which outlines various expansions of the abbey; Gender and Material Culture, pp.  30, 66, 88–9, 97–9 and 113–43. See also L. M. C. Weston’s perceptive analysis of the documentary and archaeological evidence, ‘The Saintly Female Body and the Landscape of Foundation in Anglo-Saxon Barking’, Medieval Feminist Forum 43 (2007), 12–25 (pp. 14–18). M. D. Knowles and R. N. Hadcock, Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales (London, 1971), p.  210. For further documentation on Barking’s population and other resources, see ‘Barking Abbey’, Monastic Matrix ( According to Goscelin, Ethelburg, Hildilith and Wulfhild were all reburied in a prominent position under the abbey’s choir; his ‘triple’ translation narratives were designed to promote a major reconstruction project undertaken during Ælfgifu’s tenure. See also Goscelin, ‘Texts’, pp. 389–97, and P. A. Hayward, ‘Translation Narratives in Post-Conquest Hagiography and English Resistance to the Norman Conquest’, AngloNorman Studies 21 (1999), 67–93. See also E. van Houts, who discusses the conditions that support collaboration between men and women in the composition of saints’ lives and miracle collections (Memory and Gender, pp. 53–8), and J. Wogan-Browne, who observes that Goscelin’s account emphasizes the abbess’s spiritual motivation for the


Barking’s Lives, the Abbey and its Abbesses d. 1166).42 But more telling perhaps is the attention paid to its less visible facilities: Barking’s plumbing and kitchens. The abbey had a sophisticated sanitation system more akin to that found in men’s monasteries in the high Middle Ages. It also had a kitchen for cooking meat located near its infirmary.43 Such amenities might be seen as luxuries, and they were not often found in women’s communities both for this reason and financial ones,44 but the presence of these features demonstrates that a high standard of living was expected and that the abbesses were able to hire and pay for the required expertise and labour. Barking’s abbesses maintained this standard by managing their properties very carefully. For example, when Henry I’s queen Edith-Matilda was abbess, she had to ford a stream to reach the abbey. She subsequently authorized the building of two stone bridges over branches of the River Lea at Stratford-byBow and had them connected by a causeway.45 She saw to the future maintenance of the bridges by securing land grants to generate continued funding. The management of these properties in lean times also required the abbess to apply the resources of her family’s prestige and her position as a baron in deliberations with the king. After flooding severely damaged Barking’s properties in 1377, for example, the abbey, under Maud Montagu (1377–93), sought and was granted a reprieve from obligations owed to the Crown, although this was only the beginning of the fiscal toll such natural disasters would take on the abbey.46 These resourceful negotiations characterized the tenure of several abbesses of Barking. In an example from the fifteenth century, John Rigby, who held various tenements of Barking Abbey, cut off the water supply running to the abbey through Cranbrook lands in a quarrel with the abbess, Katherine de la Pole (1433–73). He successfully obtained the additional income he wanted,


43 44 45


translation project and its connection to her leadership, ‘Dead to the World? Death and the Maiden Revisited in Medieval Women’s Convent Culture’, in Guidance for Women in Twelfth-Century Convents, trans. and ed. V. Morton with J. Wogan-Browne (Cambridge, 2003; repr. pb, 2012), pp. 157–80 (pp. 178–80). Adelidis, the sister of Payn FitzJohn, was granted the abbacy by King Stephen. Her tenure continued during Henry II’s rule. She founded the Hospital of St Mary, Ilford. When Adelidis died in 1166, the abbacy remained vacant until it was granted to Mary Becket in 1173. See ‘Hospitals, Ilford’, VCH Essex, II. The Benedictine Rule allowed meat to supplement the diet of those who were ill. Gilchrist, Gender and Material Culture, pp. 44, 126; and Spear, Leadership, pp. xiv–xvi. Barking Abbey particularly benefited from its proximity to waterways such as the Thames, and Barking Creek, a tidal river connecting the River Roding and the Thames. Fishing, farming, pasturing and milling grain were historically important to Barking’s economy. See n. 37 above and ‘The Ancient Parish of Barking: Agrarian History, Markets and Fairs’, The Victoria County History of England: A History of the County of Essex, V, ed. W. R. Powell (London, 1966), pp.  214–19, online at http:// This begins a period of repeated flooding and expenses for the abbey that continued into the early fifteenth century, ultimately depleting its assets considerably, requiring very careful spending on food and other necessities. On the management of food resources during the mid-fifteenth century, see A. Barratt’s contribution to this volume.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture but only until Katherine secured an alternative watercourse. Maud Montagu and Katherine de la Pole dealt successfully with the the kinds of crises that the head of any religious house would confront. The record of their responses is a reminder of the material foundations of literary culture. Barking was well served by abbesses (and other women) who were both highly regarded in their social milieu and capable of responding effectively to the community’s pragmatic needs and coping with hardship. Barking’s holdings were granted directly from the king after its refounding (c. 946), and its abbesses were appointed by the Crown until 1215, when, with the help of papal favour and a clever electoral sleight of hand, the nuns ushered King John’s choice for abbess, their prioress Sybil, into a very quick retirement. The nuns substituted their choice, Mabel of Boseham (1215–47), a skilled administrator who completed extensions to the church and proved to be an ardent defender of Barking’s interests.47 Although John was determined that the position should give no possible advantage to his enemies, the replacement was deftly handled. It demonstrates both the nuns’ determination to hold onto their autonomy, and their success in exercising self-governance at a tense moment in John’s reign.48 The energies of court culture and religious life mutually informed one another at Barking Abbey, and these interconnections allowed for other kinds of influence and activities. Like many women’s religious communities of the high Middle Ages, the abbey was also integrated into its neighbouring community, operating a school and a hospital, and attending to the needs of the poor.49 We catch a glimpse of Barking’s involvement with the ‘outside’ world in Archbishop Peckham’s admonitions to the nuns of Barking in 1279 and 1308.50 His warnings reveal a community that was too engaged with the world outside the cloister for the archbishop’s liking.51 Among other things, Peckham orders that the nuns be separated from other worshippers at Mass, 47



50 51

Elections became common at Barking in the thirteenth century, beginning with Sybil’s abbacy, but the chosen abbess had to be approved by the king. Loftus and Chettle, History, pp. 31–2. Because of pressure from the pope to allow elections, John refrained from appointing the abbess. The king was not, however, going to allow anyone associated with rebel barons to occupy the abbacy. His daughter Maud was elected abbess in 1247. For John’s letters to the bishop of Winchester on his priorities for the election, see Women of the English Nobility and Gentry 1066–1500, ed. J. Ward, Manchester Medieval Sources (Manchester, 1995), pp. 209–13 (p. 153). One of Barking’s leper hospitals was founded at Ilford during Adelidis’s abbacy, and re-endowed by Maud (Henry II’s daughter), who succeeded Mary Becket in 1175; Loftus and Chettle, History, pp. 29–30. Reprinted in Women of the English Nobility, ed. Ward, pp. 209–13 (n. 154). Ecclesiastical documents, including episcopal registers and records of visitation, have their own ideological structure and rhetorical purposes. There have been several valuable studies that address the role of such documents in the debate over nuns’ enclosure and the desire both to curtail nuns’ engagement with the community outside the cloister and to narrow their activities within the cloister. See n. 53 below.


Barking’s Lives, the Abbey and its Abbesses that children should not be allowed to perform in their mystery play on Innocents’ Day, that there should be no talk in the abbey parlour after sunset, that refreshments should be distributed by the cellaress only at specified times in accordance with certain protocols, that priests should have access to the sacraments without going into the nunnery, that men (including confessors, physicians, fathers and brothers) should only be allowed access to the nunnery under certain circumstances, and that the sisters should only be allowed to exit the monastery in exceptional circumstances (such as the death of a parent). This final instruction did nothing, however, to prevent the abbess of Barking from going on pilgrimage in 1331.52 Peckham’s proscriptions suggest that he found himself contending with nuns who had their own ideas as to how the abbey should be run. His admonitions register the women’s enjoyment of performance and conversation and highlight Barking’s engagement with its neighbours and the variety of people connected to the abbey. Their manner of life contrasts sharply with the life of strict enclosure for religious women that the pope sought to enforce in the late thirteenth century.53 The presumption among the clerical leadership, of course, is that the women who used their economic and political resources to participate so actively in their surrounding community were not attending to spiritual matters. The evidence of Barking’s library, its textual production and the works associated with the abbey, however, show that the nuns took their devotional reading and spiritual obligations quite seriously.


Yolande de Sutton (1329–41); S. S. Morrison, Women Pilgrims in Late Medieval England (London, 2000), p. 48, quoted in Spear, Leadership, p. 156 (n. 86). 53 Formulated in Boniface VIII’s 1298 decretal, Periculoso. E. Makowski posits that the ‘de facto economic and administrative and liberty’ enjoyed by nuns in Western Europe during the late thirteenth century was among the factors that motivated men’s interest in the stricter enclosure of all women religious; see E. M. Makowski’s analysis in Canon Law and Cloistered Women: ‘Periculoso’ and its Commentators, 1298–1545 (Washington DC, 1999), p.  11. On why this decree was difficult to enforce, see S. Salih, Versions of Virginity in Late Medieval England (Cambridge, 2001), pp.  117–40. Oliva observes that there seems to be a double standard in episcopal responses to monks’ and nuns’ conduct. She demonstrates that the degree of the Barking nuns’ engagement with the parish, their properties, and the life of their household was also typical of Norwich nunneries (where nuns were often connected to the local parish because many of them came from parish gentry); see M. Oliva, Convent and Community in Late Medieval England: Female Monasteries in the Diocese of Norwich, 1350–1540 (Woodbridge, 1998), pp.  72–94. N. Bradley Warren’s study of episcopal visitation highlights the anxiety reflected in these records about the unmediated textual, material, and symbolic exchange facilitated by women’s conversation, reading and literary patronage. She notes that the heightened concern with nuns’ conduct among bishops corresponds to clerical efforts to license translation and to reinforce a hierarchy between Latin and the vernacular; see Spiritual Economies: Female Monasticism in Later Medieval England (Philadelphia, 2001), pp. 14–29, 49–54.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture Barking’s books: the library and the abbey’s literary culture The patronage of texts by its abbesses helped to shape Barking Abbey’s literary culture.54 Poets and texts travelled into and out of the abbey just as they did any religious community that had the resources to support textual production. Barking’s abbesses used these resources to define the abbey’s significance for internal and external audiences, respond to the debates of their day, and illuminate the nature of women’s (and men’s) spiritual and material lives. The extant commissions of three notable Barking abbesses suggest this range of purposes. In addition to Ælfgifu’s commission of the lives of Barking’s founding abbesses by Goscelin of Saint-Bertin,55 Mary Becket (1173–5) commissioned Guernes (Garnier) de Pont-Sainte-Maxence to compose La Vie de St Thomas le martyr de Cantorbrie in honour of her brother Thomas Becket. Yet another travelling poet, Adgar, wrote Le Gracial (Miracles of the Virgin), possibly during the abbacy of Maud, Henry II’s daughter (1175–98). Barking’s wealth placed it among the ‘big five’ women’s communities in England in the late Middle Ages.56 In addition to Barking, these were the abbeys of Wilton (founded c. 830), Shaftesbury (f. 888), Amesbury (f. c. 979), and Syon (f. 1415).57 Of this group, Syon, a Bridgettine foundation, the youngest member and the only one to survive in exile after the dissolution, has far and away the greatest number of surviving texts from the sisters’ library, at fifty-seven (forty-six manuscripts, eleven printed books).58 Barking’s library, with fifteen surviving items (including one printed book), has the second-largest number of extant holdings after Syon, with another twenty-one items associated with Barking (if not provenenaced to its library) that were inherited by William Pownsett, Barking’s steward at the time of the abbey’s dissolution.59 Mary C. Erler’s research has elucidated additional items that may have belonged to Barking.60 As with Syon, there is an emphasis on Middle English devotional 54

55 56



59 60

Bell, What Nuns Read. The catalogue in What Nuns Read provides the essential framework for assessing the extant material. See also Bell’s follow-up study, ‘What Nuns Read: State of the Question’. See n. 41 above. The ‘big five’ is Bell’s term for the five nunneries with an annual income of over £500. These five comprise 4 per cent of the 132 houses assessed c. 1535; see Bell, What Nuns Read, p. 10–11. Bell, What Nuns Read, p. 10, n. 40; On Wilton’s founding, and re-founding, see ‘Houses of Benedictine nuns: Abbey of Wilton’, in The Victoria County History of England: A History of the County of Wiltshire, III, ed. R. B. Pugh and E. Crittall (London, 1956), pp. 231–42, online at Bell, ‘What Nuns Read: State of the Question’, pp. 113, 116. There are books or records of books from only 40 per cent of the nunneries surveyed (58 of the 144), but the number of surviving manuscripts for women’s communities is comparable to that of men’s communities which were not cathedrals or converted into cathedrals in 1540–1. This is discussed below; see also J. Wogan-Browne’s afterword for this volume, n. 9. In What Nuns Read, Bell records seven, or possibly eight, for Shaftesbury (pp. 163–8), six for Amesbury (pp.  103–5), and four for Wilton (pp.  213–14). Erler attributes additonal manuscripts to all of these, including Barking and Syon (London, British


Barking’s Lives, the Abbey and its Abbesses texts in Barking’s collections of fifteenth-century works.61 Approximately half of the surviving books from the sisters’ library at Syon are liturgical and about two thirds of the remaining half are devotional works composed in English.62 This is a distribution that David N. Bell argues is fairly typical of the collections that he surveys, and it reflects the late fourteenth and fifteenth century proliferation of vernacular texts responding to the demands of lay and monastic audiences and the advent of print.63 Barking was also one of three insular nunneries whose records mention a librarian; it also had a book cupboard (armarium), which is rare.64 This evidence indicates a varied library.65 We can assess the items that have been catalogued by Bell in addition to those suggested by Erler’s perceptive study of ex libris inscriptions, pressmarks and other indications of ownership. By considering what the surviving texts may be able to tell us about the relationship between resources (social as well as material), reading interests and priorities in literary production, we can get some idea about what other books the library at Barking may have contained. Latin texts comprise about fifty per cent of Barking’s late-medieval library, and most of these are contained in manuscripts copied between the tenth and thirteenth centuries. Approximately one third of these texts are for use in liturgical observance.66 The non-liturgical Latin texts in Barking’s library include excerpts from patristic and scholastic texts (e.g. Augustine’s De doctrina, and Peter Comester’s Historia scholastica) as well as commentaries and models for liturgical items.67 The Latin saints’ lives in Cardiff, Public Library I.381 (including Goscelin’s vitae) and the glossed copies of the Song of Songs and Lamentations (the latter preceded by theological excerpts to guide the

61 62



65 66 67

Library MS Harley 100, a psalter and book of hours); see M. C. Erler, Women, Reading, and Piety (Cambridge, 2006), pp. 139, 141–2, 145–6. For Bell’s response to Erler’s attributions, see Bell, ‘What Nuns Read: State of the Question’, pp. 126–8. Bell, ‘What Nuns Read: State of the Question’, pp. 122–3, 126–7. This may reflect the value of owning such books (for religious practice) after the dissolution rather than their previous prevalence or relative importance; see Bell, ‘What Nuns Read: State of the Question’, p. 116. Printing enterprises flourished in religious communities that had the resources to support this activity, including Syon, until the dissolution. See E. A. Jones and A. Walsham, ‘Introduction’, in Syon Abbey and its Books: Reading, Writing, and Religion c. 1400–1700, ed. E. A. Jones and A. Walsham (Woodbridge, 2010), pp. 1–38 (pp. 25–7, n. 85); cf. Bell, What Nuns Read, pp. 36–8 and Bell, ‘What Nuns Read: State of the Question’, p. 116. The percentage of English books at Syon corresponds to the percentage of English texts overall for extant holdings at nunneries. The others are Syon and Nunnaminster; see Bell, What Nuns Read, pp. 41–2, 45, 64–5. The account of the librarian and armarium is from the ordinal presented to Barking by its abbess Sibilla de Felton in 1404 (Bell, What Nuns Read, p. 115, item 14). See also Ordinale and Customary of Barking Abbey, p. 68, cf. p. 70 For discussion of the evidence of insular libraries and women’s scribal activities in a Western European context, see J. Wogan-Browne’s Afterword in this volume. This number is fewer than the rough average Bell finds for nunneries overall. Bell, What Nuns Read, p. 108, item 4.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture reading) in Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Laud lat. 19, for example, may have been used for refectory readings.68 It is difficult to characterize the contents of the manuscripts provenanced to any medieval library since various texts may be coincidently adjacent in any given manuscript. For example, there are two administrative documents, a record of a tithe of land granted to Abbess Ælfgifu and an eleventh-century list of lands (in Old English) held by Gilbert in Essex, copied into one of the manuscripts provenanced to Barking (Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodl. 155). This manuscript also contains four Gospels (in Latin) with Jerome’s prefaces and sections of Eusebius in the margins and a list of liurgical Gospels.69 We can, however, ascertain something about the literacy and literary culture of communities from the texts contained in their libraries. One question that arises from any consideration of the contents of Barking’s library (and that of other nunneries with substantial collections) is what they indicate about the co-existance of Latin and vernacular languages. Alexandra Barratt argues persuasively that the Latin texts found in nunnery libraries show that abbesses expected their nuns to be able to read Latin texts and apply the material to their devotional lives in a sophisticated manner. The evidence accumulated since Barratt’s study presents a compelling case for the use of Latin at prestigious female houses well into the fourteenth century. It was used for activities essential to the life of the community, for example for recording administrative transactions, for reading devotional works and sometimes other genres and for communicating with spiritual advisors and other prelates.70 An increase in the number of vernacular texts, especially those in English, during the late Middle Ages may reflect shifts in the domains of Latin and the vernacular rather than a decline in Latin literacy. One place where the Latinity of Barking’s nuns was sustained throughout the high and late Middle Ages was in the reading, composition and performance of the liturgy. The liturgy at Barking is one of the focal points of this volume because several items in the abbey’s library demonstrate that the nuns saw liturgy as a site of composition. These items also suggest that the nuns were engaged in adapting the liturgy. The surviving liturgical works from Barking include calendars, a hymnary and an ordinal commissioned by Abbess Sibilla de Felton (1394–1419), whose contributions to the Barking library show her to have been a force behind textual production during her tenure.71 Several of the Latin liturgical items listed in Bell’s 1995 catalogue are 68 69 70


Both manuscripts were in Barking’s library; Bell, What Nuns Read, p. 108, 111, items 3 and 12. Bell, What Nuns Read, p. 111, item 10. ‘Small Latin? The Post-Conquest Learning of English Religious Women’, in AngloLatin and its Heritage: Essays in Honour of A. G. Rigg, ed. S. Echard and G. R. Wieland (Turnhout, 2001), pp. 51–65 (pp. 58–61); cf. Bell’s reassessment of nuns’ Latinity, Bell, ‘What Nuns Read: State of the Question’, pp. 121–3. About one quarter of the catalogued items are associated with Sibilla de Felton; besides the ordinal, these include two devotional works in English, and one in French;


Barking’s Lives, the Abbey and its Abbesses from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Some have inscriptions recording Sibilla de Felton’s commission.72 In any case, the overall impression of this substantial group of texts is that the late Middle Ages was a productive time for the organization, compilation, revision and translation of Latin liturgical materials at Barking. This productivity may register the expansion of liturgical obligations in monastic life in the late Middle Ages.73 Liturgical scholarship was a flourishing field of clerical study within and outside the universities.74 Its impact is evident at Canterbury since liturgy there underwent significant innovation, especially in the establishment of Becket celebrations. These innovations would have been of interest to the nuns at Barking, who showed reverence for Becket’s relics and whose library included John Beleth’s late twelfth century treatise on the liturgy and another work possibly attributable to Stephen Langton, the archbishop of Canterbury (1207–28), who studied and lectured at the University of Paris and who was responsible for many of the liturgical changes.75 A possible link between Barking and Canterbury is suggested by the mention of Odo of Canterbury in Guernes’s epilogue to his Life of Thomas Becket, composed for Mary Becket at Barking Abbey.76 An interest in liturgical innovation at Barking persisted until 72





Bell, What Nuns Read, items 1 (pp. 107–8), 11 (p. 111), 14 (pp. 115) and 15 (pp. 115–16). Some of these items include Latin and English texts. Bell, What Nuns Read, items 2, 7, 9, and 14 (pp. 108–15). Of these, there are four items with a probable or known Barking provenance: item 14 (Oxford, University College, MS 169, the Barking Ordinal) contains the inscription recording Sibilla de Felton’s commission; item 7 (London, British Library, MS Cotton Otho A.v), which was damaged in the Cotton Fire of 1731, and has a calendar identical to that in the ordinal but now consists of only five folios (the remains of a paschal table and Calendar, with an explanation of the Calendar in English); items 2 and 9, respectively a hymnary (Cambridge, Trinity College, MS 1226) and a substantial collection of prayers and devotional material in Latin and English (?Nijmegen, University Library, MS 194), which do not have inscriptions identifying them with Sibilla de Felton’s commission. J. G. Clark, ‘Monasteries and Secular Education’, in Monasteries and Society in the British Isles in the Later Middle Ages, ed. J. Burton and K. Stöber (Woodbridge, 2008), pp. 145–67 (p. 165). R. E. Reynolds, ‘Liturgical Scholarship at the Time of the Investiture Controversy: Past Research and Future Opportunities’, Harvard Theological Review 17 (1978), 109– 24. E. Mazzo, The Celebration of the Eucharist: The Origin of the Rite and the Development of its Interpretation (Cambridge, 1999), pp. 176–8, 199–227; T. M. Thibodeau, ‘From Durand de Mende to St Thomas More: Lessons Learned from the Medieval Liturgy’, in his Ritual, Text, and Law: Studies in Medieval Canon Law and Liturgy (Farnham, 2004), pp. 83–94. Summa de ecclesiasticis officiis; and Summa de vitiis et virtutibus; Bell, What Nuns Read, item 4. On the veneration of Becket at Barking, see A. Yardley, Performing Piety: Musical Culture in Medieval English Nunneries (New York, 2006), pp. 201–2. See also K. Slocum, Liturgies in Honour of Thomas Becket (Toronto, 2004). Texts and poets travelled between Canterbury and Barking, as evidenced by the epilogue of the Vie S. Thomas that Guernes composed at Barking, in which the poet thanks the nuns for their hospitality and mentions Odo of Canterbury, who was a member of Becket’s circle. Odo was nominated twice by Christ Church for the archbishopric after Becket’s death, but Henry rejected the nomination both


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture its surrender, as attested in the will of Pownsett (d. 1554). It lists ‘Certayne bookes yn the Abbey of Barkynge’, including William Durand’s summa on the liturgy Rationale divinorum officiorum (1286),77 which, among many other topics, examines the liturgy in relation to the architectural spaces where it is performed.78 Celebrations at Barking such as the feast of the Holy Innocents and the Visitatio sepulchri provided ample opporutnity for the nuns to take the initiative in creative engagement. Such creativity was suggested in Durand’s very popular eight-book compendium, for example, by his exhaustive attention to the meaning of various symbols which could promote vivid exegesis, poetic interpretations and allegorical enactments of important feasts.79 Additionally, as Yardley notes, ‘observing and participating in liturgical rituals’ on a smaller scale met educational and communal objectives such as preparing younger women for leadership in the community.80 The Barking library not only reflects the interests of the nuns, but also indicates that reading and performance were integral to the life of the community. In the ordinal that Sibilla de Felton commissioned, reading was treated as a sacramental responsibility, as envisaged in the Benedictine rule. In accordance with the Rule,81 each nun was assigned one book to read during the year.82 As indicated by the Barking Ordinal, during the first week of Lent, the community gathered in chapter for a ritual in which the librarian read out the assignments, and each nun accounted for her reading from the previous year. If a nun had not completed the reading, she prostrated herself before the abbess and received a penance. This ritual also establishes a process for the circulation of Barking’s texts within the nunnery. The number of catalogued items with ex libris inscriptions suggests that some nuns had their own items so we do not know what was in the armarium and what the nuns already had in




80 81


times. Guillelmi Duranti Rationale divinorum officiorum, ed. A. Davril and T. M. Thibodeau with B. G. Guyot, 3 vols., Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Medievalis 140, 140A and 140B (Turnhout, 1995–2007). For a summary of the contents of Durand’s compendium and its transmission beginning in the late thirteenth century, see Thibodeau, ‘From Durand of Mende to St Thomas More’, p. 84. This is one of the most authoritative and frequently translated works on medieval liturgy. In this eight-book summa, Durand provides comprehensive coverage of the symbolism of Church art and architecture, rituals of worship, vestments, and mystical interpretations of the Roman rite. For a thorough introduction to this text, see The ‘Rationale divinorum officiorum’ of William Durand of Mende: A New Translation of the Prologue and Book One, trans. T. M. Thibodeau (New York, 2007). Thibodeau, ‘From Durand of Mende to St Thomas More’, pp. 85–7; cf. A. Findlay’s discussion of the use of the altar in the Barking Visitatio in her chapter ‘Sororities’, in Playing Spaces in Early Women’s Drama (Cambridge, 2006), pp. 153–4. Yardley, Performing Piety, pp. 182–3. Chapter 48 of the Rule (‘Daily Work’) provides instructions for weekly and Lenten reading, along with recommendations that those who do not comply be punished or given other work to do so that they are not idle. This is from Bell’s account, Bell, What Nuns Read, 41–2; in Ordinale and Customary of Barking Abbey, p. 68.


Barking’s Lives, the Abbey and its Abbesses their possession.83 The ordinal’s record also indicates that there were sufficient materials in the library to share reading material with children residing at the abbey; it includes warnings in Latin and French about how children – as well as nuns – were to treat these precious items: no scribbling, no cutting things out, no leaving them open in the cloister or choir, no unauthorized lending to people outside the convent.84 Barking’s collection of vernacular texts additionally attests to the flourishing of vernacular devotional writing in the late Middle Ages. There are two collections of French items: vies des pères and related texts from the thirteenth century (belonging to Sibilla de Felton) and an extensive and varied set of texts from Elizabeth de Vere (d. 1537).85 The remaining five miscellanies owned by Barking in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries contain texts entirely or almost mostly in English. These include a range of treatises and devotional material. Some seventy per cent of Barking’s texts were in English, which is not surprising since literary production in English increased markedly during the fifteenth century to serve a growing English readership.86 However, counting the number of English items is misleading as an indicator of the relative importance of English and French in the nuns’ reading.87 In Barking’s library, the density of material in one of the French collections illustrates the point. Oxford, Magdalen College, MS lat. 41, gifted to the abbey by Elizabeth de Vere, is packed with French devotional and moral texts ranging from vitae of saints to contemptus mundi meditations. The collection awaits further evaluation as a whole, but it certainly defies simple counting as ‘one’ item compared with many English ones. Barking’s library also reflects the nuns’ interest in contemporary trends in 83


85 86


The rule against owning private property was not always strictly kept. See Gilchrist, Gender and Material Culture, p. 19; for further discussion of convent libraries and book ownership, see Oliva, Convent and Community, pp. 61–70. Ordinale and Customary of Barking Abbey, pp. 27, 68; some of this shared reading may have come from the liturgy composed by the nuns. As A. B. Yardley has shown, the hymns for Ethelburg and Erkenwald, along with items in the ordinal, collectively suggest a large, unique repertoire. Developing this repertoire gave the nuns many opportunities for innovative composition and performance in Latin. See also Yardley’s discussion of the education of children at Barking Abbey and their role in performances, especially for the feast of the Holy Innocents, Performing Piety, pp. 181–5. Bell, What Nuns Read, pp. 112–14 (item 13). The percentage of English texts in Barking’s library corresponds to Bell’s observations that about two-thirds of the vernacular texts in nunnery libraries were composed in English. A. Taylor’s discussion provides useful perspective on this readership and the role of monasteries in book production; ‘Authors, Scribes, Patrons and Books’, in The Idea of the Vernacular: An Anthology of Middle English Literary Theory, 1280–1520, ed. J. Wogan-Browne, N. Watson, R. Evans and A. Taylor (University Park PA, 1999), pp. 353–65. See also Bell, What Nuns Read, 69–75; cf. D. Bell, ‘Monastic Libraries: 1400–1557’, in The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain, 1400–1557, ed. L. Hellinga and J. B. Trapp, 3 vols. (Cambridge, 1999), III, pp. 229–54 (p. 243). About half of the items in Bell’s catalogue produced in the fourteenth or fifteenth century contain at least some Latin texts. The Latin texts are usually either liturgical items (e.g. hymns) or devotional literature (e.g. prayers, scripture).


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture composition and production. In Bell’s studies, women’s libraries often contain more up-to-date material in devotional reading than do men’s.88 Erler’s investigations into the circulation of books among women bear this out and also demonstrate that women were important supporters of new technologies in book production, especially in the case of nuns, who owned half of the incunabula known to have been owned by women.89 This interest is evident at Barking, which had a copy of Wynken de Worde’s 1495 Vitas patrum.90 The library at Barking also includes works that were at the leading edge of vernacular theology and translation in the fourteenth century, such as the Cleansing of Man’s Soul, and Nicholas Love’s Mirror of the Life of Christ. Both works are responsive to controversies surrounding Wycliffe’s proposed reforms; Love’s Mirror was approved by Archbishop Arundel for circulation around 1410 and owned by Sibilla de Felton in the earliest years of its episcopally sanctioned circulation.91 The securing of these works for the Barking library attests to the abilities of abbesses like Sibilla de Felton, who could fit au courant interests into the mainstream: for example, London, British Library, MS Add. 10956 contains Wycliffite translations of the books of Tobit and Susanna and Wycliffite versions of the Magnificat and Benedictus, as well as two Latin prayers to Ethelburg. This combination of Latin and the vernacular places these Wycliffite translations in a context of Latin composition. These fifteenth-century collections of English texts are another rich site of inquiry which deserve further exploration.92 What these vernacular miscellanies illuminate especially well are the relationships between religious and lay noblewomen that nourished the abbey’s literary culture.93 A. I. Doyle’s indispensable study anchors our understanding 88 89

90 91 92


Bell, ‘What Nuns Read: State of the Question’, pp. 131–3; cf. ‘Medieval Monastic Libraries’, pp. 243–4. Erler, Women, Reading, and Piety, p.  117 and her study on the circuits of book exchange and travel, ‘The Abbess of Malling’s Gift Manuscript (1520)’, in Prestige, Authority and Power in Late Medieval Manuscripts and Texts, ed. F. Riddy (York, 2000), pp.  147–57. See also n. 63 above on Syon; and Wogan-Browne’s analysis of the Lambeth Apocalypse regarding women as consumers and agents in the production of reading, pushing clerics to respond in new ways to meet their demands, ‘“Cest livre liseez . . . chescun jour”: Women and Reading, c. 1230–1430’, in Language and Culture, pp. 239–53 (p. 249). Bell, What Nuns Read, p. 110 (item 8). A. I. Doyle, ‘Some Books Connected with the Vere Family and Barking Abbey’, Essex Archaeological Society Transactions, ns 25 (1958), 239–43 (pp. 240–1). For example, see the study by Nicole R. Rice situating the Wycliffite Tobit and Susanna in relation to late-medieval concepts of virginity and chastity; ‘“Temples to Christ’s Indwelling”: Forms of Chastity in a Barking Abbey Manuscript’, Journal of the History of Sexuality 19 (2010), 115–32. For a re-evaluation of Lollard texts and the composition of late-medieval devotional literature, see K. Kerby-Fulton, Books under Suspicion: Censorship and Tolerance of Revelatory Writing in Late Medieval England (Notre Dame IL, 2006), pp. 13–14, 397–400. On the importance in general of these relationships in late-medieval culture, and the connection between social community and textual community, see F. Riddy, ‘“Women Talking about the Things of God”: A Late Medieval Subculture’, in Women


Barking’s Lives, the Abbey and its Abbesses of the interpersonal facet of Barking’s library in the late Middle Ages by outlining the abbey’s connections to its influential patrons.94 His work elucidates the close ties between baronial families in northern England and nunneries around London and in East Anglia through noblewomen such as Elizabeth Scrope, whose first marriage made her a Beaumont, ‘then Vere, the Countess of Oxford’.95 Elizabeth de Vere’s sister Ann was a nun of Barking, as was another cousin, Margaret, who was its chantress in the early sixteenth century. The connections between these women highlight the fact that familial ties also often bound different nunneries together. Another Margaret, the aunt of Elizabeth’s first husband William Beaumont, was prioress of Dartford, as was Joan, another relative (perhaps Elizabeth’s aunt or cousin), further deepening the sociopolitical connections between Barking and Dartford.96 Books circulated throughout these webs of extended family for many generations. Margaret, Elizabeth’s cousin, who was Barking’s chantress in 1527 (the same year that Elizabeth’s sister Ann was the cellaress), received a pension at the dissolution that apparently included the former Foyle manuscript, which contains Nicholas Love’s Mirror. Its ex libris inscription names Sibilla de Felton and Margaret Scrope, and Margaret’s gift of this item to Agnes Gowldewell.97 In addition to familial connections, friendships and other ties between the medieval gentry and nobility animated the life of Barking Abbey, manifesting themselves in the library through book ownership and networks of literary patronage. William Pownsett’s fifteenth-century will provides another clue to the number and variety of texts in Barking’s library. As indicated above (p. 00) he inherited a collection of Latin and vernacular texts, but it is unclear whether all or some of them were in the abbey library, or whether, as some scholars have suggested, the books belonged to Pownsett or to a priest associated with Barking.98 All of Pownsett’s texts have relevance to the functioning of the abbey or thematic ties to works known to have been in its library. For example, Barking’s focus on liturgical performance is suggested by Pownsett’s copy of Durand’s Rationale divinorum officiorum (noted above), while his excerpts from law books, and a legal treatise (Vocabularis iuris utriusque) may have served as a reference on administrative or judicial matters. Moral or exegetical works in Pownsett’s list, including various biblical commentaries, sermons and Haimo of Auxerre’s commentary on the Pauline epistles, may have been useful for devotional reading or liturgical composition, while Peter Lombard’s Sententiarum libri IV may have appealed to those interested in the theology of the

94 95 96 97 98

and Literature in Britain 1150–1500, ed. C. Meale (Cambridge, 1993), pp. 104–27. Doyle,‘Books Connected with the Vere Family’, pp. 239–43. Ibid., pp. 232–3. Ibid., pp. 233–4. Bell, What Nuns Read, 107, cf. 111, item 11. An argument put forward when it was wrongly assumed that nuns would not have the required level of Latinity needed to read many of these works; Bell, What Nuns Read, pp. 117–20.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture schools.99 The Pownsett list, like the library’s catalogue, also reflects an interest in popular, newly available printed works such as Caxton’s popular edition of Aesop’s Fables; and Erasmus’s Enchiridion militis Christiani (Handbook of a Christian Knight). The works by Lombard and Erasmus each suggest the intersection between the genres of moral instruction and courtly poetry.100 Finally Pownsett’s list includes works by classical authors that are often found in male monastic libraries, but that could also have appealed to the nuns at Barking, namely those of Cicero (De officiis), Virgil (perhaps a printed edition of Opera omnia), and Aristotle (Ethica).101 More insight into Barking’s library and reading practices is provided by the Campsey Collection, which was owned by the Augustinian priory of Campsey (Suffolk) in the fourteenth century.102 This collection indicates Barking Abbey’s importance in a literary community that includes the priory at Campsey by the end of the thirteenth century.103 It contains the two hagiographic lives known to have been written by the nuns of Barking Abbey and eleven other saints’ lives. The first quire, containing three vitae, is datable to the early fourteenth 99 100




We would like to thank Peter Biller for his insights on Lombard and readers’ interests in theology. See for example, N. Ciccione’s discussion of Lombard’s fourth book and Aristotle’s Poetics in Béroul’s Tristan; ‘To Love or Not to Love’, in The Court Reconvenes: Courtly Literature across the Disciplines: Selected Papers from the Ninth Triennial Congress of the International Courtly Literature Society, British Columbia, Vancouver, 25–31 July 1998, ed. B. Altmann and C. Carroll (Cambridge, 2003), pp. 231–40. For any number of reasons, including an interest in lay education or the intersections between classical thought and devotional praxis in monastic life; see Bell, What Nuns Read, p. 117; Clark, ‘Monasteries and Secular Education’, pp. 150–3, 160–4. On the value of Virgil in monastic culture, see also C. Baswell’s study, Virgil in Medieval England: Figuring the Aeneid from the Twelfth Century to Chaucer (Cambridge, 2006). Campsey was founded by Theobald de Valoignes. On the social and political networks of this powerful family, see Saints’ Lives, pp.  174–5; D. Russell, ‘The Campsey Collection of Old French Saints’ Lives: A Re-examination of its Structure and Provenance’, Scriptorium 57 (2003), 51–83; and V. Blanton, Signs of Devotion: The Cult of St. Æthelthryth in Medieval England, 695–1615 (Philadelphia, 2007), pp. 173–227. Digitized manuscripts and additional information can be found on the The Electronic Campsey Project ( A very helpful tabulation of the manuscript’s contents can also be found in J. Wogan-Browne, ‘Powers of Record, Powers of Example: Hagiography and Women’s History’, in Gendering the Master Narrative: Women and Power in the Middle Ages, ed. M. C. Erler and M. Kowaleski (Ithaca NY, 2003), pp. 71–93 (pp. 74–9). The manuscript description for London, British Library, MS Additional 70513, can be found at the British Library Online Manuscript Catalogue: ASP?VPath=arevhtml/54106.htm&Search=’Campsey’&Highlight=T. Women’s literary culture thrived where there was a tradition of literacy. Studies of the Campsey-Barking nexus complement studies that challenge the narrative of ‘decline and decadence’ in late-medieval religion. In addition to Erler’s study, Women, Reading, and Piety, other notable investigations include: Syon Abbey and its Books, ed. Jones and Walsham; Oliva, Convent and Community; and P. Lee, Nunneries, Learning and Spirituality in Late Medieval English Society: The Dominican Priory of Dartford (York, 2000).


Barking’s Lives, the Abbey and its Abbesses century; the remainder, containing ten vitae, is datable to the last quarter of the thirteenth century and includes three vernacular lives composed by nuns: the life of Etheldreda of Ely (Vie s. Audree), composed by ‘Marie’, the Vie d’Edouard le confesseur (hereafter Edouard) by the anonymous Nun of Barking, and the Vie s. Catherine (hereafter Catherine) by Clemence of Barking.104 This collection also contains Guernes’s Vie s. Thomas Becket. The variety of saints’ lives in the Campsey collection suggests a blending of ‘past’ and ‘present’; institutional identity is explored by integrating the hagiography of an Anglo-Saxon tradition into the vernacular hagiography of the ‘present’.105 A more extensive expression of translatio studii (bringing Latin and learning into the vernacular) is visible in the extensive fifteenth-century miscellany of French moral texts that Elizabeth de Vere contributed to Barking’s library, now Oxford, Magdalen College, MS Lat. 41.106 Barking Abbey’s library, some or all of the items on Pownsett’s list, what is known of Barking’s texts and the Campsey manuscript together provide a glimpse of a vibrant textual community such as the one first described at Barking by Bede. The totality of the evidence from the Anglo-Saxon to the latemedieval era shows a community of women who had sophisticated interests and were active contributors to literary culture, both within and outside the cloister. Additionally, the contents of the library indicate that Barking nuns authored or commissioned a variety of texts. Some of these texts were for liturgical feasts and celebrations, and two are the aforementioned Anglo-Norman verse hagiographies: the Barking Edouard and Catherine.107 The linguistic and 104




There is also a complete French prose version of the Edouard, London, British Library MS Egerton 745, which was composed for the de Châtillon family near Amiens; see D. W. Russell, ‘The Cultural Context of the French Prose Remaniement of the Life of Edward the Confessor by a Nun of Barking Abbey’, in Language and Culture, pp. 290–302 (p. 290). Excerpts from the Barking Catherine have been discovered in other works; see Wogan-Browne and Burgess, Virgin Lives, p. xxiv, and, regarding the identification of a section of the Barking Catherine in a pseudo-Turpin chronicle, see J. Wogan-Browne, ‘Women’s Formal and Informal Traditions of Biblical Knowledge in Anglo-Norman England’, in Saints, Scholars and Politicians: Gender as a Tool in Medieval Studies, ed. M. van Dijk and R. A. Nip (Turnhout, 2005), pp. 85–109 (pp. 107–8). E. Campbell elucidates some of the other programmatic emphases suggested by the selection of texts, including the women’s interest in Christian pedagogy as a topic in its own right and the mimetic potential of this interest; see Medieval Saints’ Lives: The Gift, Kinship and Community in Old French Hagiography (Cambridge, 2008), pp. 186–90, 202–3. See also S. Gorman, ‘Anglo-Norman Hagiography as Institutional Historiography: Saints’ Lives in Late Medieval Campsey Ash Priory’, Journal of Medieval Religious Cultures 37.2 (2011), 110–28; and J. Zatta, ‘The Vie seinte Osith: Hagiography and Politics in Anglo-Norman England’, Papers in Language and Literature 41 (2005), 306–38. Doyle, ‘Books Connected with the Vere Family’, pp. 232–3. These items register the influences of St Augustine, Bernard of Clairvaux and Innocent III (De miseria), along with the teachings of more recent or contemporary authorities such as St Louis and Hugh of St Victor. Clemence’s Catherine was probably composed after the Nun’s Edouard. The precise dates of composition remain an open question, although the Nun’s Edouard can be


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture intellectual sophistication of the literary community at Barking, and the capacity of its women as authors, is manifested in the two Anglo-Norman lives.108 As such, they occupy a central place in the scholarship on women’s contributions to a major change in insular poetry in the high Middle Ages. The Nun’s Edouard is an example of royal hagiography, c. 1161, around the time of the establishment of the cult of Edward the Confessor (r. 1042–66),109 while Clemence’s Catherine revises the ancient virgin martyr legend of the scholarly saint Catherine of Alexandria who bests fifty pagan clerics in debate.110 Additionally, neither the Nun’s Edouard nor Clemence’s Catherine stayed at Barking; they were excerpted more than once, demonstrating that the reputation of Barking Abbey reached beyond East Anglia. The manuscript distribution of Barking texts testifies to the community’s wider influence, as suggested by the Campsey manuscript and by Delbert Russell’s study of the continental prose remaniement of Clemence’s Catherine.111 The copying and excerpting of the Barking lives provides a tantalizing glimpse into lay and religious women’s devotional reading. Because so many of the texts discussed in this volume have the moral or spiritual edification of their audience(s) as a stated or implied purpose, it is worth taking a few moments to consider what makes devotional reading so appealing. Although women’s literary culture at court or in the convent may well have encompassed secular and documentary texts (e.g. romances, historiography, wills, charters) to a degree that we have not yet been able to ascertain, the genres of religious literature (e.g. liturgical, theological and devotional, especially those of spiritual biography and hagiography) remain among the most abundant sources

108 109



more securely dated than Clemence’s Catherine because it must follow its source, Aelred’s Vita Edwardi Regis (by 1163). See Bell’s discussion of the dating of Aelred’s vita in his entry, ‘Ailred of Rievaulx (1110–1167)’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004), See n. 103 above. The Nun’s Edouard exists in three manuscripts, all from the late thirteenth century, and all incomplete. Two were produced in England, namely the Edouard in the Campsey manuscript (fols. 55v–85v), and Rome, Vatican Library, MS Reg. Lat 489, fols. 1r–35r; the third is a Picard version in Paris, BnF, fr. 1416, fols. 157r–181r. On the interpolation of the Nun’s Edouard in Wace’s Brut, see D. Russell, ‘The Campsey Collection’, and Complete copies of Clemence’s Catherine exist in three manuscripts: Paris, BnF, MS nouv. acq. fr. 4503 (c. 1200); Paris, BnF, fr. 23112 (second half of thirteenth century); and the one preserved in the Campsey manuscript, London, British Library, MS Additional 70513, formerly MS Welbeck ICI. See The Life of St. Catherine by Clemence of Barking, ed. W. MacBain, ANTS 18 (Oxford, 1964), available online, http://margot. See D. Robertson’s study of the scriptrix of the Picard Clemence manuscript in The Medieval Saints’ Lives: Spiritual Renewal and Old French Literature (Lexington KY, 1995), Appendix, pp. 262–4. Wogan-Browne also points out that William de Briane, the Oxford author of the Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle, uses Clemence’s Catherine for the theological dispute of Roland and Feragus; see ‘Women’s Formal and Informal Traditions’, p. 107.


Barking’s Lives, the Abbey and its Abbesses of information for women’s education and literacy in the Middle Ages. As a result, Erler concludes, ‘it is hard to deny the cultural centrality of a literature of spiritual formation’ for women.112 For medieval women, the authority that accrues from reading and book ownership often has to be justified in terms of its contribution to their spiritual well-being, or in their contribution to the spiritual formation of others. For example, according to Margaret of Scotland’s chaplain Turgot, the queen’s literacy is instrumental to the religious education of her husband Malcolm III and her children.113 Her biography, presented to her daughter Queen Edith-Matilda (Henry I of England’s first queen and abbess at Barking during the late eleventh century), provides a context for habits such as reading sacred texts and questioning learned men. But even in a saintly queen, literacy is constrained; although Turgot praises her reading, he attempts to limit Margaret’s value as an example for noblewomen in general. Women’s literacy and their relationships with the men who mediate it, often in the role of confessor or spiritual advisor, are always fraught with questions concerning voice and authority.114 One way medieval women negotiate these issues is through the texts of spiritual formation that are central to the life of a women’s community like Barking, poised at the conjunction of court and cloister. The conventions of religious genres, especially hagiography, allow for the encoding of mixed or paradoxical messages that navigate the divisions as well as the similarities among their readers. Simon Gaunt demonstrates that Old French hagiography, for example, can inscribe a united textual community, neutralizing differences of gender and class even as it complicates how different audiences perceive the relationship between individual, community and larger institutions.115 His astute distinction makes it clear that, although the unity posited in hagiography does not necessarily reflect the audience’s experience, the sense of shared perspective that the narrative could create for its audiences was valued. This volume contributes a new chapter to the recent scholarship on women’s use of Latin and vernacular texts in insular territories.116 There are linguistic 112 113


115 116

Classifying medieval texts as religious or secular can be quite problematic, however; see Erler, Women, Reading, and Piety, p. 4. Margaret of Scotland (c.  1046–93, canonized 1250). See L. Huneycutt,‘The Idea of the Perfect Princess: The Life of St Margaret in the Reign of Matilda II’, AngloNorman Studies 12 (1989), 81–7, and Matilda of Scotland: A Study of Medieval Queenship (Woodbridge, 2003), pp. 73–100, 109–24. As M. C. Erler and M. Kowaleski observe, much of the recent scholarship on women’s religious culture in the Middle Ages demonstrates that women often created strategies and spaces of self-authorization that would allow them to act from within subordinated social positions. ‘Introduction: A New Economy of Power Relations: Female Agency in the Middle Ages’, in Gendering the Master Narrative: Women and Power in the Middle Ages, ed. M. C. Erler and M. Kowaleski (Ithaca NY, 2003), pp. 1–16 (pp. 4–7). S. Gaunt, Gender and Genre in Medieval French Literature (Cambridge,1995), pp. 183–96. See, for example, M. D. Legge’s ground-breaking studies on monastic and nunnery


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture distinctions to be made between pre- and post-Conquest phases in Barking’s library and textual production, yet much of the scholarship here underscores the difficulty of identifying a dominant language at any given time. English becomes prominent in many domains, Latin maintains pride of place in the Church, in the universities and in specialized areas of knowledge and AngloNorman French continues to be an important language into the fifteenth century.117 However, even the notion of a linguistic domain is being re-examined. Elizabeth Tyler argues that complementary as well as specialized uses of language co-exist, for example, when French, English and Latin are all used for the writing of history and poetry.118 Current scholarship’s awareness of multilingualism encourages investigation across the range of Barking’s records. The co-existence of languages reflected in the Barking library is not just a matter of happenstance. It reflects the strategic value of cultivating networks of family, Church and trade that crossed ethnic and linguistic territories.119 Barking may have been important in the teaching of French. Chaucer’s Prioress is a notable literary embodiment of the role played by a well-placed women’s religious community like Barking in facilitating language instruction both within and outside the cloister. Like other women of her convent, the Prioress speaks the French of England rather than the French of Paris: ‘Frenssh she




Anglo-Norman texts: Anglo-Norman in the Cloisters: The Influence of the Orders on Anglo-Norman Literature (Edinburgh, 1950) and Anglo-Norman Literature and its Background (Oxford, 1963). See also R. Dean and M. B. M. Boulton’s foundational guide, Anglo-Norman Literature: A Guide to Texts and Contexts, ANTS OPS 3 (London, 1999), and Alexandra Barratt’s anthology, which exemplifies the fact that women’s writing embraces texts for as well as by women, Women’s Writing in Middle English (London, 1992, 2nd edn 2010). On the connection between women’s devotional practices and literary production, see B. Millett, ‘Women in No Man’s Land: English Recluses and the Development of Vernacular Literature in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries’, in Women and Literature in Britain, 1150–1500, ed. C. M. Meale (Cambridge, 1996), pp. 86–103; and in the same volume, Wogan-Browne, ‘“Clerc u lai, muïne u dame”: Women and Anglo-Norman Hagiography in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries’, pp. 61–85. Several essays in Language and Culture outline these issues. For an overview see M. Bennett, ‘France in England: Anglo-French Culture in the Reign of Edward III’, pp. 320–33, and T. W. Machan, ‘French, English, and the Late Medieval Linguistic Repertoire’, pp. 363–71. On the domains where French flourished, see S. Downes, ‘A “Frenche booke called the Pistill of Othea”: Christine de Pizan’s French in England’, pp. 457–68. N. Watson raises the provocative question of the role of Anglo-Norman in the advancing fortunes of English, ‘Lollardy; The Anglo-Norman Heresy?’, in Language and Culture, pp. 164–78 (pp. 335–40). E. Tyler, ‘Old English to Old French’, in Language and Culture, pp. 164–78 (pp. 166–7). See also R. J. Dean and M. B. M. Boulton’s list of Anglo-Norman prayers composed in the late Middle Ages, Anglo-Norman Literature, pp. 392–8. For example, see B. Venarde, on the resemblance of female monasticism in tenthand eleventh-century England to that of Ottonian Saxony. Women’s Monasticism and Medieval Society: Nunneries in France and England, 890–1215 (Ithaca NY, 1997), pp. 26–7. See also J. T. Schulenburg, ‘Women’s Monastic Communities, 500–1100: Patterns of Expansion and Decline’, Signs 14 (1989), 261–92.


Barking’s Lives, the Abbey and its Abbesses spak ful faire and fetisly / After the scole of Stratford atte Bowe’.120 William Rothwell puts forward a persuasive argument on the essential role of religious communities in language acquisition.121 As he demonstrates, the AngloFrench and Anglo-Latin documentary context requires a working knowledge of the French of England. These languages were essential for estate management, administration, law or diplomacy. The commentary on the Prioress’s speech may additionally register a link between Chaucer and Barking Abbey. An Elizabeth Chausir (1379) or Chaucey (1381) (in another context) was admitted to Barking with the support of John of Gaunt.122 Regardless of whether this Elizabeth was related to Chaucer, Rothwell suggests that he, and others, appreciated the work of language education provided by institutions like Barking. Elizabeth Chausir, like Madam Eglantine, would no doubt have obtained an education in a French suited to an insular, polyglot culture. This volume conceives of literary culture as a space of compositional activity that connects spheres of women’s experiences and perspectives.123 It also contributes to the growing body of scholarship on the varieties of Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman female monasticism and its relationship to lay devotional practice.124 In doing so, this volume follows another recent trend in the 120

121 122 123


The ‘General Prologue’, in The Riverside Chaucer, ed. L. D. Benson (New York, 1986), quoted in Harvard Chaucer, ‘The General Prologue’: An Interlinear Translation, 124–5 ( Chaucer’s reference to a French mannered after ‘the school of Stratford atte Bowe’ is often seen as a sly, derogatory commentary on the Prioress’s character and her excessive attention to the fine manners of courtly life. If this is ironic humour, however, everyone in England who speaks Anglo-French is part of the joke. Even if they want to imitate Parisian French, they speak insular varieties imbued with their own idiosyncracies and prejudices; see Machan, ‘French, English, and the Late Medieval Linguistic Repertoire’, in Language and Culture, pp. 364–6; cf. in the same volume, Watson, ‘Lollardy: The Anglo-Norman Heresy’, p. 337. W. Rothwell, ‘Stratford-atte-Bowe Re-visited’, The Chaucer Review 36 (2001), 184–207 (pp. 203–4). Ibid., pp. 203–4, n. 17. With the understanding that these perspectives are often mediated and difficult to tease out of the extant evidence. D. Watt rightly cautions that women must negotiate distinct positions for themselves compared with men in a given text (e.g. as implied and ideal audiences), which affects how their voices are embedded in the collaborative processes of patronage and production; see Medieval Women’s Writing: Works for and by Women 1100–1500 (Cambridge, 2007), pp. 13–18, 158–9. See also C. M. Mooney, ‘Voice, Gender, and the Portrayal of Sanctity’, in Gendered Voices: Medieval Saints and their Interpreters, ed. C. M. Mooney (Philadelphia, 1999), pp. 1–15 (pp. 12–14), and J. Coakley, ‘Women’s Textual Authority and the Collaboration of Clerics’, in Medieval Holy Women in the Christian Tradition c.  1100–c.  1500, ed. A. Minnis and R. Voaden (Turnhout, 2010), pp. 83–104 (pp. 96–8). There are too many to list here, but a few remarkable studies include: S. Foot, Monastic Life in Anglo-Saxon England, c. 600–900 (Cambridge, 2009), and Veiled Women; J. T. Schulenburg, Forgetful of their Sex: Female Sanctity and Society, ca. 500–1100 (Chicago, 2001); R. Gilchrist and M. Oliva, Religious Women in Medieval East Anglia: History and Archaeology c. 1100–1540 (Norwich, 1993) and the rich collection of essays in Language and Culture.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture investigation of literary culture at particular houses or regional constellations of communities. The essays collected here fill a gap in the current scholarship not only on Barking Abbey but also on medieval women’s devotional practices by assessing Barking’s literary culture in the central and high Middle Ages rather than the late-medieval and early-modern period, more often the subject of recent work. For example, Paul Lee’s study of the Dominican priory at Dartford in the later Middle Ages demonstrates that literary culture was thriving at the priory in the fifteenth century in ways that reflect the various literacies present in late-medieval England.125 This point is born out by similarities between the reading interests of nuns at prestigious communities like Barking, Syon and Dartford in the late Middle Ages and those of the laity.126 The collection The studies presented in Authorship and Authority at Barking Abbey do not offer a grand narrative of literary production at Barking Abbey. Instead they give microhistorical accounts of Barking as a ‘literary territory’: that is, as one that occupies a place within a broad network of religious and curial life where women read, wrote and acted as patrons in various ways to suit particular times and purposes.127 These essays both owe and contribute much to the scholarship that investigates the complexities of the community of Barking and its texts. We have grouped the essays here into roughly chronological sections both to highlight the distinct challenges of each period and to allow the reader to see the community’s engagement with questions of authorship and authority over time. The first section, ‘Barking Abbey and its Anglo-Saxon context’, deals primarily with Barking’s foundation and the energy put into building its literary culture. Stephanie Hollis examines the early traditions of education and literacy in ‘Barking’s Monastic School, Late Seventh to Early Twelfth Century: History, Saint-Making and Literary Culture’. She argues that the cultivation of learning at Barking (culminating in the Anglo-Norman lives of the twelfth century) was accomplished despite the hardship and poverty that characterized 125



As discussed by M. B. Parkes in his study, ‘The Literacy of the Laity’, in Literature and Western Civilization, ed. D. Daiches and A. Thorlby, 6 vols. (London, 1972–6), II, pp. 555- 77. P. Lee, Nunneries, Learning and Spirituality, pp. 136–8, 141–2, 147–8. Although the interrelation of secular and religious women’s literary culture is not an emphasis in this volume, it is worth keeping in mind that these connections are present. Their influences in textual production and consumption is an area that bears continued investigation. Mitchell’s ‘Patronage and Politics’ provides a glimpse into these relationships at Barking Abbey, as does her prosopographical investigation of this nunnery. A term that Wogan-Browne uses in regard to the Campsey manuscript in ‘Powers of Record, Powers of Example’, p. 92. See also D. Robertson’s study of Barking as a literary ‘foyer’, ‘Writing in the Textual Community: Clemence of Barking’s Life of St. Catherine’, French Forum 21 (1996), 5–28.


Barking’s Lives, the Abbey and its Abbesses the first centuries of the abbey’s existence. Hollis attributes this achievement to the emphasis on female learning at the heart of the abbey’s communal life. In ‘The Saint-Maker and the Saint: Hildelith Creates Ethelburg’, Lisa M. C. Weston outlines the construction and subsequent portrayal of the abbey’s two founding abbesses, Hildelith and Ethelburg. She demonstrates that Hildelith redefines Ethelburg, as represented in texts by Aldhelm and Boniface and contemporary charters to suit Barking’s needs and, in so doing, shapes the abbey’s community. Kay Slocum likewise examines saint-making and Barking, but reconstructs ceremonial performance at the abbey from translatio texts rather than from vitae, in her contribution to the volume, ‘Goscelin of Canterbury and the Translation Ceremony for Saints Ethelburg, Hildelith, and Wulfhild’. Using the lives of the saints written by Goscelin, as well as other codicological and archaeological evidence, Slocum suggests a format and content for the translation ceremonies of three important early abbesses of Barking. These opening chapters only hint at the complexity of women’s leadership during Barking’s early period and the importance of this legacy to the abbey’s refounding, but, in doing so, they point to the community’s interest in cultivating its literary and public reputation. Thomas O’Donnell’s chapter, ‘“The ladies have made me quite fat”: Authors and Patrons at Barking Abbey’, elucidates the informal manner in which the nuns could commission a poet’s work and the value that these less visible customs of patronage have for integrating the pre- and postConquest identities of the abbey. He argues that the nuns of Barking enhanced their reputation by creating a literary profile through which they could strengthen their relationships to other institutions. Focusing on the works of Goscelin of Saint-Bertin and Guernes de Pont-Sainte-Maxence, O’Donnell also expands the notion of ‘patron’, suggesting that, beyond specific commissions, the nuns of Barking provided access, material and subject matter to important authors, actions which enrich literary patronage. The second section of the collection, focused on the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, is the largest, reflecting the economic and political prominence of Barking Abbey during this period. These chapters owe much to the modern scholarly attention given to the two Anglo-Norman lives composed by nuns at the abbey in late twelfth or early thirteenth century. We open the section with an essay by Delbert Russell, who brings fresh insights to the open question of whether the anonymous Nun of Barking, the author of the Barking Edouard, is to be identified with Clemence of Barking, author of the Barking Catherine. In ‘“Sun num n’i vult dire a ore”: Identity Matters at Barking Abbey’, Russell reviews the critical history of the discussion and fully contextualizes the Nun’s and Clemence’s statements on gender, authorship and language, showing the features they share that are distinctive to the context of Anglo-Norman literary production. Through this analysis Russell offers new evidence for Clemence as the author of both works. Following Russell’s chapter, we move into several focused analyses of the lives themselves. Thelma Fenster, in ‘“Ce qu’ens li trovat, eut en sei”: On the Equal Chastity of Queen Edith and King Edward’, examines how the Nun


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture of Barking recasts both the Latin vita of Edward and the role of Edith for the wealthy female community she served, as well as for the Angevin court and king to whom her Edouard is dedicated. Fenster argues that in bringing Queen Edith’s own chastity to the forefront of her narrative, the Nun represents the chastity inherent in conventual living at Barking Abbey.128 Jennifer N. Brown assesses how the Nun structures the Latin vita of Edward so that she draws attention to the other women in the life – those who receive Edward’s healing miracles. She contrasts the Nun’s depictions of these events with those of Aelred and the later life by Matthew Paris to demonstrate how the Nun uses the gender (of both author and subject) to link Edward to the people of his country generally and the nuns of Barking Abbey specifically. Diane Auslander’s ‘Clemence and Catherine: The Life of St Catherine in its Norman and Anglo-Norman Context’ draws attention to the limitations placed on women’s intellectual and spiritual pursuits in the late twelfth century and argues that the Barking Catherine is actually a political commentary on Henry II’s kingship, with Henry as an intentional parallel to the Emperor Maxentius in the martyr legend. She also suggests that the Nun’s Edouard may complement the political emphasis of the Barking Catherine. Donna Alfano Bussell’s chapter on Clemence of Barking’s life of Catherine of Alexandria, ‘Cicero, Aelred and Guernes: The Politics of Love in Clemence of Barking’s Catherine’, explores one such emphasis in the Barking Catherine. Bussell posits that Clemence is influenced by Aelred of Rievaulx’s treatise on spiritual friendship, but that Clemence expands on Aelred by situating friendship in the political sphere in much the way Cicero does. Bussell suggests that the Barking Catherine may be responding to the images of the the court’s submission to the martyred Becket like those found in Guernes Vie, which was composed for Barking the during Mary Becket’s abbacy. The section closes with Emma Bérat’s chapter, ‘The Authority of Diversity: Communal Patronage in Le Gracial’, which explores the Anglo-Norman Marian miracle collection Le Gracial, the first vernacular representative of a genre that would subsequently flourish, and one dedicated to an Abbess Maud who was very probably the abbess of Barking. Bérat reads Le Gracial as a negotiation between a female francophone and English culture, and speculates that Barking may have been its home given the expected reading audience implied in the text itself. The final section addresses Barking Abbey in the later Middle Ages. This is an important period in the abbey’s history as the abbey continued to flourish and maintained a prominent position within medieval English society into the fifteenth century. Although the corpus of Middle English and French manuscripts in the abbey’s library is too voluminous to be comprehensively discussed in this volume, which focuses primarily on the high Middle Ages, the chapters in our final section provide insight into the abbey’s life in this later period. These chapters also highlight several directions for further study. For example, administrative documents in general remain a greatly under-utilized 128

See also Rice, ‘Temples to Christ’s Indwelling’, pp. 117–18.


Barking’s Lives, the Abbey and its Abbesses resource for understanding the material circumstances of women’s lives and their social connections. Alexandra Barratt’s ‘Keeping Body and Soul Together: The Charge to the Barking Cellaress’ provides a careful analyses of a fifteenthcentury document describing the cellaress’s duties. Barratt argues that the charge to the cellaress was clearly written by a woman who had herself served as cellaress, and that as such it should be included among the few surviving works by medieval English woman, and studied for the information it gives us about Barking’s daily and spiritual life in the fifteenth century. In ‘Rhythmic Liturgy, Embodiment and Female Authority in Barking’s Easter Plays’, Jill Stevenson demonstrates the value of theories of perception and cognition for exploring the performance of the Easter plays at Barking Abbey and suggests that these theories have implications for how we read Clemence’s Catherine. She observes that the nuns of Barking were attuned to the rhythmic qualities of spiritual devotion and argues that a philosophy of enactment was essential to the nuns’ identity at Barking. We conclude this section with a contribution that complements the studies by Weston, Slocum and Stevenson on this aspect of Barking’s communal life, Anne Bagnall Yardley’s ‘Liturgy as the Site of Creative Engagement: Contributions of the Nuns of Barking’. Yardley argues that the nuns of Barking Abbey likely had a hand in the writing and composition of their liturgy. Through a close reading of the Barking Ordinal, Yardley points to several places where she sees critical and creative engagement of the nuns in the shaping of their liturgy. We close the collection with an afterword by Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, ‘Barking and the Historiography of Female Community’, in which she highlights the value of Barking Abbey for understanding the historiography of female community and nuns’ literary culture in insular territories, and the abbey’s particular importance as a place of literary patronage and of vernacular and Latin composition. WoganBrown provides much needed perspective on the challenges facing scholars who study insular women’s literacy and intellectual life. The library holdings provenanced to insular women’s communities, for example, are meagre when compared both to the holdings of wealthy men’s communities in England and to those of prestigious women’s communities elsewhere in medieval Europe. Wogan-Browne considers the possible explanations for these discrepancies (including but not limited to the depredations of Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries) and outlines some of the questions that these contrasts invite, such as what we see as normative in insular women’s literary history (especially in light of the continental evidence) and what we could learn from a careful study of the manuscripts provenanced to Barking’s library. During the process of organizing the Barking Abbey conference and this subsequent volume, we have had the privilege of learning more about the abbey’s significance from our colleagues than we could have ever anticipated. This collection belongs to a cross-disciplinary conversation on nunnery culture covering many more topics that deserve further investigation. Because insular religious women relied on a range of informal networks and processes of engagment specific to their institutions and regions, we still know relatively


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture little about how they pursued their interests. Each period in Barking’s history, each manuscript from its library, each connection within the community’s social nexus could become a productive focal point for additional study. We hope that this volume of essays, which offers a sustained assessment of one remarkable community of women, provides for these new directions in scholarship.


I barking abbey and its anglo-saxon context

chapter one

Barking’s Monastic School, Late Seventh to Twelfth Century: History, Saint-Making and Literary Culture Stephanie Hollis

Of the seven religious houses for women founded in the late ninth and early tenth centuries with varying degrees of support from the Wessex royal family, only Barking was established on the site of an ancient double monastery.1 It therefore has an unassailable claim to have been ‘the home of the longest lived tradition of female learning and literacy in British history’.2 Bell suggests that this long tradition of learning and literacy – which he regards as having been inseparably related to an equally long existence as a wealthy and aristocratic institution – explains the composition of Anglo-Norman vitae by Barking nuns in the second half of the twelfth century.3 Barking’s tradition of learning and literacy was not, of course, an unbroken one. The disruption to monastic life that followed in the wake of the ninthcentury Danish invasions is well known. The female community at Barking from the time of its mid-tenth-century refoundation until its dissolution had no tangible connection, other than the ruined buildings it occupied, with the mixed community of monks and nuns who had previously inhabited the site, although the ongoing importance that the later community attached to its early history and the continued spiritual presence of its first two abbesses is evident in the works Goscelin was commissioned to write for Barking c. 1086. The effects of the Norman Conquest on religious communities, by contrast, seem to have been gradual, though inexorable, except when Anglo-Saxon heads of houses and members of communities were ejected or in open conflict with the Norman hierarchy. Barking’s transition from an institution that was culturally Anglo-Saxon and predominantly English-speaking to an Anglo1

2 3

Few if any of the double monasteries survived the first wave of Viking invasions; attempts to refound them as female communities were generally short-lived. B. Yorke, Nunneries and the Anglo-Saxon Royal Houses (London, 2003), pp. 60–3; S. Foot, Veiled Women, 2 vols. (Aldershot, 2000), I, pp. 145–97. Single-sex houses for women are unknown in the early Anglo-Saxon period. There was some kind of monastic community at Barking before Edgar granted it to Wulfhild in the late 940s, but there is no evidence of any earlier refoundation; Foot, Veiled Women, II, pp. 28–33. J. Wogan-Browne and G. S. Burgess, ‘Introduction’, Virgin Lives, p. xxv. Bell, What Nuns Read, pp. 62–77.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture Norman establishment is likely to have been especially prolonged owing to the longevity of its last Anglo-Saxon abbess, Ælfgifu, who died c. 1114. The question ultimately addressed by my study is whether Clemence’s authorship of an Anglo-Norman vita of St Catherine does represent a continuation of the tradition of Latin learning that Ælfgifu and her community inherited from Wulfhild, the nunnery’s mid-tenth-century founder – a tradition of learning which, I argue, Barking maintained, prior to the Norman Conquest, not because it was a wealthy aristocratic institution but despite its relative poverty and lack of court connections. In examining the evidence of Barking’s tradition of learning and literacy comparatively and within a broad historical context I hope also to show that this tradition was not an undifferentiated one. The flourishing of monastic schools taught by abbesses in double monasteries during the late seventh and early eighth centuries typifies the enthusiasm for learning that female religious shared with their male counterparts during that period, and reflects Anglo-Saxon churchmen’s acceptance of monastic women as participants in the pursuit of learning and the advancement of the missionary Church. Barking as a centre of learning in the time of Abbess Hildelith was therefore not unique. Its reputation as the only double monastery to have authored a Latin text might be an artefact of the surviving documentation, but, as far as it is possible to determine, the standard of Latin literacy achieved by Hildelith and the nuns she taught was unusually high. In the late tenth and eleventh centuries, however, when female communities were few and marginalized, and when enthusiasm for Latin learning among the religious orders was generally (though not universally) in decline until the 1080s, there is evidence of a tradition of Latin literacy at Barking. But, lacking the wealth and court connections that were inseparable from Wilton’s high reputation as a centre of learning, Barking does not appear to have developed a culturally sophisticated milieu. Its relative isolation from continental literary influences seems to have continued to some extent into the early twelfth century, despite the recovery of the nunnery’s fortunes through William the Conqueror’s restoration of its rights and properties, which underlies Abbess Ælfgifu’s rebuilding project and the associated commissioning of vitae by Goscelin. Clemence’s Anglo-Norman recasting of a Latin vita, I conclude, almost certainly depended on the transmission of an Anglo-Saxon tradition of Latin literacy, but also marks a cultural and linguistic change at Barking that is otherwise undocumented. Hildelith’s monastic school, the Barking libellus and Goscelin’s vitae of St Ethelburg and St Hildelith Whatever the precise cause of the destruction of the double monastery at Barking, its library did not survive. The only narrative record of Barking’s early history available to the female community founded by Wulfhild c. 960 (prior


Barking’s Monastic School to Abbess Ælfgifu’s commissioning of Goscelin c. 1086) was therefore Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica.4 Owing to the widespread destruction of written records during the first Viking raids, Bede is, indeed, the only surviving near-contemporary narrative source available to modern scholars for most aspects of the history of the Anglo-Saxon period before c. 731. Bede did not aim to give a fully representative history of the double monasteries.5 Were it not for the fortunate survival of Aldhelm’s prose De virginitate (c. 700) among the manuscripts taken to the Continent by Anglo-Saxon missionaries before the Viking raids, we would have only the faintest intimation that Barking in the time of Abbess Hildelith (c. 695–c. 716) housed a monastic school.6 Its existence is obliquely hinted at in Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica, since Bede mentions more than once that his account of Barking is based on a written source. But without Aldhelm’s testimony, Bede’s identification of its authors as people who were acquainted with the miraculous events that took place at Barking7 would scarcely seem sufficient grounds for assuming that the Barking liber or libellus8 – which evidently came into existence after the death of Hildelith in c. 716 and before Bede completed his Historia in c. 731 – was written by nuns of the community who had been taught by Hildelith.9 Despite the paucity of extant documentation, there is evidence (direct or indirect) of at least a dozen monastic schools taught by abbesses at the forty or so double monasteries known to have been founded before 735.10 The one taught by Hildelith came into existence too late to make the kind of vital contribution to the survival of the Church in England that Whitby under Hild 4 5

Bede, Historia ecclesiastica iv.1–10, pp. 354–64. S. Hollis, Anglo-Saxon Women and the Church: Sharing a Common Fate (Woodbridge, 1992), pp. 243–70. 6 Aldhelm: The Prose Works, trans. M. Lapidge and M. W. Herren (Woodbridge, 1979), pp. 59–132 (pp. 59–62). 7 ‘In hoc etenim monasterio plura uirtutum sunt signa patrata, quae et ad memoriam aedificationemque sequentium ab his qui nouere descripta habentur a multis’ (‘In this monastery many signs and miracles were performed which have been written down by those who were acquainted with them as an edifying memorial for succeeding generations and copies are in the possession of many people’). Bede, Historia ecclesiastica iv.7, p. 356. 8 Bede refers to his Barking source once as a liber (‘book’) and once as a libellus (‘little book’); ibid., iv.10–11, p. 364. 9 Hildelith (unusually) does not appear to have taught the male members of her community. Aldhelm’s De virginitate makes no mention of them among her pupils, and it is addressed only to the nuns. Additionally, the libellus appears only to have related the experiences of the female community. (Historia ecclesiastica vi.6, p. 358, does report a remark by one member of the male community to another, but it refers to the appearance of a miraculous light in the burial ground, for which the nuns are the primary witnesses.) 10 Whitby, Barking, Wimborne, Minster-in-Thanet, Hartlepool, Hackness, Bath, Inkberrow, Repton, the Wessex monastery of Bugge, daughter of King Centwine, the north Wessex monastery of Cyneburg and the Mercian monastery of Abbess Æthelburg. The identity of some of the monasteries that housed the women whose names are known from the Boniface correspondence remains uncertain.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture made by educating men who became priests and bishops.11 Nor, although Boniface is known to have been in contact with Hildelith, does Barking appear to have educated the men and women who joined the mission to the Continent, as the Wessex double monasteries did, although it might have played a role in equipping women to teach at other double monasteries in the south of England.12 Barking is, however, thanks to Aldhelm, the best-attested of the early monastic schools taught by women. It may also have attained an exceptionally high standard. The high level of Latin literacy attained by early Anglo-Saxon women has become a truism since Fell’s pioneering study.13 It is certainly an important index of attitudes to women in this period that Boniface and Lull, like Aldhelm, encouraged women of their acquaintance to pursue knowledge of God through the study of books and held them in high regard as letterwriters, teachers and scribes.14 Not all compliments can be taken at face value, however, and it must be admitted that neither the quality nor the quantity of the surviving literary output of early Anglo-Saxon women is very impressive. It consists of a handful of letters and poems included in the Boniface correspondence, of varying technical competence – though some do show signs of the study of metrics and rhetoric15 – together with the vitae of Willibald and Wynnebald, written on the Continent by a missionary nun, Hygeburg of Heidesheim, which are not notable for their clarity or grammatical accuracy.16 The vita of Gregory the Great composed at Whitby in the time of Hild’s successor Ælfflæd (c. 680–714) might have been written by a female member of the community: Colgrave considered it reflected badly on both the Latinity and the library resources of Whitby.17 This is in marked contrast to the survival of 11 12

13 14




Bede, Historia ecclesiastica iv.23, p. 408. Cuthburg, named among Hildelith’s students in the prologue to De virginitate, trans. Lapidge and Herren, p. 59, is thought to have been the founder of the Wimborne monastery, alma mater of the famously learned missionary nun Leoba. C. Fell, Women in Anglo-Saxon England and the Impact of 1066 (Bloomington IL, 1984), pp. 109–28. Lull joined Boniface (the head of the Anglo-Saxon mission to the Continent) in the early eighth century, and subsequently succeeded him as archbishop of Mainz. A letter from Lull and his companions to Abbess Cyneburg, ruler and presumably teacher of the north Wessex double monastery where they received their earliest education, asks her to correct the letter’s unpolished prose and write in return a few words of her own; see Die Briefe des heiligen Bonifatius und Lullus, ed. M. Tangl, Monumenta Germaniae Historica Epistolae Selectae I, 2nd edn (Berlin, 1955), no. 49, p. 80. C. Fell, ‘Some Implications of the Boniface Correspondence’, in New Readings on Women in Old English Literature, ed. H. Damico and A. H. Olsen (Bloomington IL, 1990), pp. 29–43. Vita Willibaldi episcopi Eichstentensis and Vita Wynnebaldi abbatis Heidenheimensis, ed. O. Holder-Egger, Monumenta Germaniae Historica Scriptores 15.1 (Hannover, 1887), pp. 86–117. The Earliest Life of Gregory the Great by an Anonymous Monk of Whitby, ed. and trans. B. Colgrave (Lawrence KA, 1968), p. 55.


Barking’s Monastic School vitae of the founder abbesses of the double monasteries in Gaul, at least one of which was written by a nun.18 Disproportionate destruction of the literary output of early Anglo-Saxon women is the most probable explanation for the quantity and perhaps also the quality of what survives. The extant letters and poems exchanged between men and women in the Boniface circle are evidently the haphazard survivals of much more extensive networks of correspondence that linked together monastics of both sexes throughout England and across the channel. Aldhelm’s prose De virginitate is evidence of another network, likewise favouring the preservation of male compositions, since it is an epistolary book written in response to lost letters from Hildelith and nine other nuns, and he urges them to write to him again.19 The three surviving works written for women, by contrast, testify to a high level of reading competence.20 Aldhelm’s difficult verbal pyrotechnics suggest that the standard of literary culture attained by the Barking nuns was exceptionally high. He wishes to delight as well as to instruct; he is, quite frankly, showing off in the hope that his work will be so ‘pleasing to their intelligence’ that they will urge him to turn his prose treatise into an even more flamboyantly difficult metrical version.21 Here, as occasionally in Lull’s letters, and more soberly in Boniface’s, we sense the acceptance of women as members of a shared aesthetic and intellectual community, engaged in the same religious endeavour, of which the practical corollary was that at least a few women (mostly abbesses of royal birth) were able to participate directly in ecclesiastical politics and the advance of the Church.22 Such attitudes are nowhere in evidence in the late Anglo-Saxon period, and the exchange of letters and poems between male and female religious is not found again until the closing decades of the eleventh century. Assuming that Hildelith’s students understood Aldhelm’s work well enough to admire it – and he did subsequently compose a metrical version – Hildelith undoubtedly deserved his admiration for her as a teacher. The lost letters that she and her students wrote to Aldhelm may well have been equally deserving of the praise he lavished on them. His remarks on the curriculum, unfortunately, make it hard to determine whether the Barking school was in touch with the 18



21 22

For example, at Chelles, with which Anglo-Saxon female communities in the south had strong links, a life of Abbess Bathild was written shortly after her death in the late seventh century by one of her nuns. In addition to a dozen or so extant letters to or by women in the Boniface correspondence, four letters to a Mercian abbess (Æthelburg-Eugenia) are extant in the correspondence of Alcuin of York, and one from Aldhelm to Abbess Sigegyth. For Bede’s exegetical commentary for an unnamed nun, see In Habucuc, ed. J. E. Hudson, Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Medievalis Series Latina 119B (Turnhout, 1983), pp. 370–409; for Boniface’s account of the Much Wenlock monk’s vision for Abbess Eadburg, see Die Briefe des heiligen Bonifatius und Lullus, no. 10, pp. 7–15. De virginitate lix, trans. Lapidge and Herren, p. 131. Hollis, Anglo-Saxon Women and the Church, chs. 3, 9.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture new learning brought by Theodore and Hadrian in 669.23 Bede and Aldhelm were, which is why they were so confident of belonging to an educated elite. What Aldhelm describes does not quite accord with the trivium introduced by Theodore’s mission, which does seem to have been studied at some of the Wessex double monasteries, and although Barking’s literary studies went far beyond the rudiments – for the nuns read chronicles and histories as well as scripture and exegesis – Aldhelm makes no mention of the mathematical and scientific studies introduced by Theodore’s mission, which were what Bede particularly valued.24 The high standard of literary culture at Barking is also suggested by the fact that it is the only double monastery in England known to have produced a written account of its history, although an account of the founder abbess of Minster-in-Thanet and her daughter Mildrith, originating in the reign of Abbess Eadburg when she elevated Mildrith to sainthood, might have been committed to writing in the eighth century.25 Paradoxically, then, the double monastery which housed one of the leading monastic schools in the country was known to succeeding centuries only through the account given by Bede (highly selective, he emphasizes) in his enduringly authoritative Historia. This gives the impression that the women in the community were largely preoccupied with portents of dying and visions of the dead – paradoxically, again, because when female religious in the later Middle Ages begin to cultivate visionary experiences, it is a sure sign that they are no longer being encouraged to keep abreast of the scholarly endeavours of their male counterparts. There are, however, some evident ways in which Bede’s abridgement has altered the character of his source. What he was looking for was supernatural signs and miracles that made manifest the saint-worthiness of Ethelburg and her successor. But the Barking libellus was not a hagio­graphical commemoration of Ethelburg (much less of Hildelith), for Bede was evidently unable to find anything in his source that resembled a conventional hagiographical life-story. As the Barking nuns for whom Goscelin rewrote Bede’s account of Ethelburg were acutely aware, Bede’s account does not even have a death-bed scene.26 In any case, Barking in the time of Hildelith did not regard Ethelburg 23


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See Bede, Historia ecclesiastica iv.2, pp.  132–4. Here and elsewhere Bede stresses that Theodore and Hadrian were exceptionally learned in both secular and sacred literature; he particularly mentions that they taught the art of metre, astronomy and ecclesiastical computation, as well as sacred music. Theodore, having been educated at Tarsus, had been in contact with many of the leading scholars and thinkers of his time, and Bede was especially impressed by the fact that Theodore and Hadrian taught both Latin and Greek, which, unlike Latin, had been hitherto unknown in England. De virginitate iv, trans. Lapidge and Herren, p. 62. The trivium, consisting of grammar, metrics and rhetoric (Aldhelm replaces the last with ‘spelling’) was widely studied at male houses after Theodore’s arrival. S. Hollis, ‘The Minster-in-Thanet Foundation Story’, Anglo-Saxon England 27 (1998), 41–64. Vita et virtutes sanctae Ethelburgae virginis, in Goscelin, ‘Texts’, pp.  398–417; see


Barking’s Monastic School as a saint. Hildelith did not elevate her to sanctity by reburying her above ground in the church, she merely moved the remains of all those buried in the cemetery into the church because the monastery was short of burial space. The Barking libellus thus seems to have been not a hagiographical commemoration of the first two abbesses but a chronicle history of notable events that took place during their reigns – generically similar to Bede’s history of his own monastery, in fact, and to the Minster-in-Thanet foundation story27 – and hence reflecting the study of chronicles and histories in the curriculum taught by Hildelith. Further confirmation of the non-hagiographical nature of the Barking libellus is the fact that Bede also found in it the source of his account of the last days of an East Saxon king called Sebbi, whose story has no bearing on the sanctity of Ethelburg and her successor, but would not have been out of place in a chronicle history of Barking, since the monastery was connected from its foundation with the East Saxon royal house.28 There is a case to be made that the events Bede singles out for narration are entirely representative of those that the nuns of Barking regarded as worthy of record, even though they were writing after the plague that decimated the community in the time of Ethelburg had passed over. But Bede’s account of the last days of Sebbi is in a different style. He tells us a good deal more about the facts of his life than we need to understand the purport of the vision portending his death, and given that Bede was much more interested in monk-kings than monastic women, it is likely that the libellus narrated more factual historic information about the monastery than Bede considered relevant to the account he chose to give of instances of divine grace bearing witness to the holy lives of Ethelburg and her successor. Unlike William of Malmesbury, Goscelin gives no sign of recognizing Hildelith in Bede’s account as the magistra for whom Aldhelm wrote De virginitate.29 Instead, Goscelin endows Ethelburg in his vita with the reputation as a scholar and a teacher that rightly belonged to Hildelith. Hildelith, being clearly less of a candidate for sainthood than Ethelburg in Bede’s Historia, is merely described by Goscelin as the pupil of Ethelburg. Ethelburg herself is said to have acquired her learning by word of mouth from her brother, Bishop Eorconwold (who had been taught by St Augustine’s companion and successor, Archbishop Mellitus, Goscelin claims), and also by her own reading of the scriptures. Knowing that Bede regarded true scholarship in the monastic schools as having originated with the arrival of Theodore and Hadrian, Goscelin also intimates that Barking in the time of Ethelburg benefited from their

27 28 29

dedication and viii, pp. 398, 408. I am deeply indebted to Michael Wright for his translation of these texts. Hollis, ‘Minster-in-Thanet’. Bede, Historia ecclesiastica iv.11, pp. 364–8; E. A. Loftus and H. F. Chettle, A History of Barking Abbey (Barking, 1954), pp. 8–13. William of Malmesbury, Gesta pontificum Anglorum ii.73.13, ed. and trans. M. Winterbottom and R. M. Thomson, 2 vols., Oxford Medieval Texts (Oxford, 2007–9), I, p. 228.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture teaching.30 So, too, in his lectiones for St Hildelith he mentions that she imitated Ethelburg in her studies as well as in her holy way of life, and gestures vaguely towards some kind of connection between Hildelith’s care of her community and the study of Greek and Latin introduced by Theodore and Hadrian.31 This is as likely an explanation as any of the origins of Hildelith’s learning,32 but it is not likely that Goscelin got this from an independent tradition, for although he contrives to give the impression that he drew upon the Barking libellus as well as Bede’s Historia, he relates no contemporary event that is not recognizably derived from Bede. His allusions to the libellus are merely a strategy for implying that his amplifications of Bede have written authority.33 In the texts that Goscelin wrote for Barking, its history is characterized by recurrent events and motifs; the past is a source of authorizing precedents for the present, but the present also shapes the image of the past. In transforming Ethelburg into a notable scholar and monastic teacher, Goscelin projects back into the past the handing-on of an educational tradition within the community from teacher to pupil which is discernible in his vita of Wulfhild. In locating the origins of Barking’s educational tradition in its founder abbess (and tracing it through her back to St Augustine’s mission and the origins of Christianity in England), Goscelin is presumably implying a continuity between the transmission of learning from Ethelburg to her successor and the Barking monastic school in his own time taught by Abbess Ælfgifu, who had as a child been the ‘bright hope’ of her magistra.34 Barking’s monastic school c. 960–1086 and its milieu: Goscelin’s vita of Wulfhild For the late tenth and early eleventh centuries the documentary record is fuller, and now includes vernacular as well as Latin writings, but there is even less in the way of direct testimony to monastic women’s participation in literary culture. No works written by monastic women survive from this period, not even a single letter, though there are a few more traces of lost works attributable to their authorship, including, almost certainly, a written vita of Wulfhild of Barking. Nor are there any works specifically composed for monastic women prior to the vitae Goscelin was commissioned to write by Abbess Godiva of Wilton (perhaps not long after the Conquest, but certainly before 1080) and by her Barking counterpart, Ælfgifu (in c. 1086).35 His vita of Wulfhild of Barking 30 31 32 33 34 35

Vita sanctae Ethelburgae i–ii, xi, pp. 400–2, 410–11. Lectiones de sancta Hildelitha v–vi, in Goscelin, ‘Texts’, pp. 455–8 (pp. 456–7). Later-medieval tradition claimed that Hildelith taught Ethelburg at one of the double monasteries in Normandy and was subsequently brought to England to succeed her. Vita sanctae Ethelburgae, dedication and iv, xi, pp. 398, 404, 411. ‘The Recital of a Vision’ i, in Goscelin, ‘Texts’, pp. 452–4 (p. 453). Some key reformist texts, including the Benedictine Rule itself, were specifically translated (but not composed) for female communities.


Barking’s Monastic School (died c. 1000), like his vitae of Edith of Wilton (died c. 984) and her mother Wulfthryth (died c. 1010), are of particular interest because they are the earliest narrative accounts we have that allow us to gain, through a haze of hagiography, some insight into the late tenth and early eleventh century history of these two nunneries.36 Fell opined that ‘the equality of sexes that flourished in the eighth century in [Latin] learning and in literacy was replaced in the tenth century by equality in ignorance’.37 I think, rather, that Latin literacy ceased to be a universal aspiration for monastics and was cultivated in the Benedictine reform period only by the most aspiring – which was probably not what King Alfred envisaged when he promulgated his vernacular education programme c. 890. Whereas a few highly educated monks in the late tenth and early eleventh century are well known to us, it is difficult to identify highly educated nuns. In this period, too, disproportionate destruction of works written by and for monastic women doubtless played a part, but the fact that the seven nunneries barely figure in the surviving documentary record of the Benedictine reform period is symptomatic of their marginalization by churchmen. In the more orthodox and settled environment of the Benedictine reform, when, in theory at least, female communities became segregated and enclosed, churchmen no longer required their assistance as teachers and scribes in advancing the conversion and no longer regarded them as partners in the same spiritual and intellectual endeavour. Whereas evidence of learned nuns is at best scanty and oblique, we do have direct testimony to the standard of literary culture attained by a few of the secular women who were educated in the nunneries. There is, indeed, more evidence of books having been owned by high-status women in the secular life, as well as by women pursuing a religious vocation outside the cloisters as recluses and vowesses, than is available for the nunneries, and the surviving works written for women in the late Anglo-Saxon period are the Latin eulogies commissioned by queens and Ælfric’s vernacular homily on Judith for vowesses.38 Foremost among the late Anglo-Saxon nunneries was Wilton, where the daughters of the rich and powerful were being educated at least as early as 955 by a woman called Ælfgyth who witnessed a charter as the magistra of Wilton.39 Its pre-Conquest alumnae included Wulfthryth, the second wife of King Edgar and subsequently abbess of Wilton, and their daughter St Edith, who is portrayed by Goscelin as an exemplary exponent of the multiplicity of accomplishments befitting an educated royal woman. These included a noble intellect capable 36

37 38 39

Vita sanctae Edithae virginis, ed. A. Wilmart, ‘La Légende de Ste Édith en prose et vers par le moine Goscelin’, Analecta Bollandiana 56 (1938), 5–101, 265–307; Vita et virtutes sanctae Wulfildae virginis, in Goscelin, ‘Texts’, pp. 418–34. Fell, Women in Anglo-Saxon England, p. 128. S. Hollis, ‘Wilton as a Centre of Learning’, in Wilton Women, pp. 307–38 (pp. 308, 327–35). Cartularium Saxonicum, ed. Walter de Gray Birch, 3 vols. (London, 1885–93), no. 917, II, p. 85.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture of all kinds of thought, perceptive ardour in reading, and hands as elegant as they were accomplished in painting and in writing, whether as a scribe or as an author.40 Wilton alumnae also included Queen Edith (c. 1029–75), whose literary attainments are eulogized in the vita of Edward the Confessor that she commissioned; she is said to have been a diligent reader of religious and secular books, and to have excelled as an author of prose and verse.41 Retaining its position as the alma mater of women of the Wessex royal house well beyond the Conquest, Wilton also educated Gunhild, daughter of Harold Godwinson, whose epistolary style Anselm admired in the 1090s, as well as Matilda II, wife of Henry I, who was a notable literary patron and letter-writer, and also reputedly an author. As the daughter of a minor nobleman, Eve, for whom Goscelin wrote the Liber confortatorius c. 1080, was atypical, for Wilton was above all a royal nunnery, and its standing as a centre of learning, known to us chiefly because it educated high-status women who left their mark on the historical record, was inseparable from its wealth and its royal connections.42 A monastic school at Barking whose pupils included girls being educated both as secular pupils and child oblates is mentioned by Goscelin only in the context of the childhood education of Abbess Ælfgifu,43 but it presumably had a role in educating lay women before the 1040s. Unlike Wilton, Barking had neither wealth nor royal backing until William the Conqueror, doubtless persuaded by Abbess Ælfgifu, confirmed its lands and customary privileges.44 This made it possible for Ælfgifu to embark on the building project that, according to William of Malmesbury, raised Barking to a position of the greatest importance both by the size of its community and the beauty of its buildings, though without in any way undermining the royal associations that continued to make Wilton socially pre-eminent; it was to Wilton that the widowed Queen Adeliza, for instance, retired between marriages in 1135. Barking’s relative poverty is strikingly apparent if we compare Goscelin’s vitae of the late tenth century saints of Wilton and Barking. His account of St Edith and her mother Wulfthryth evokes an ethos of sophisticated luxury and high culture reminiscent of the Ottonian royal nunneries, such as Gandersheim, where Otto I’s niece Abbess Gerberg was the mentor of the well-known dramatist Hrotsvitha (c. 935–c. 1002), whose works included a eulogy of Otto and a history of the nunnery. It was, doubtless, just such a centre of literary and artistic excellence shedding sanctified glory on the reigning dynasty that King Edgar intended to create at Wilton when he employed 40 41 42 43


Vita Edithae sanctae xi, pp. 68–9. The Life of King Edward who Rests at Westminster i.2, ed. and trans. F. Barlow, 2nd edn, Oxford Medieval Texts (Oxford, 1992), p. 22. Hollis, ‘Wilton as a Centre of Learning’, pp. 327–35. This seems the most plausible interpretation of ‘Erat huic dudum puellulae et coetaneae scolae monasterialis magistra bonae memoriae’ (‘A little while before this there had been a well-remembered mistress of the monastic school of little girls and those of like age’). ‘Recital of a Vision’ i, p. 453. Presumably, puellulae refers to little girls vowed to God, and coetaneae to secular pupils. The Early Charters of Essex, ed. C. Hart, 2nd rev. edn (Leicester, 1971), p. 79.


Barking’s Monastic School two Ottonian scholars, one with artistic credentials, to tutor his daughter Edith.45 The same may have been true of Romsey, the sister nunnery of Wilton, founded by Edgar (r. 943–75) and his third wife Ælfthryth; its physical remains suggest Ottonian influence, but it is unfortunately known to us almost entirely through fourteenth-century sources.46 Perhaps its monastic school was less suitable for educating girls for the secular life, for although Matilda II is said to have been taken to Romsey as a child by her aunt Christina – who had presumably had the same opportunities as Matilda’s mother, the famously well-educated St Margaret of Scotland – most contemporary sources affirm that Matilda II was educated at Wilton.47 The early history of the two nunneries that Ælfthryth founded after Edgar’s death, Amesbury and Wherwell, is particularly obscure.48 That William of Malmesbury in the 1120s was unable to discover anything about their saints (or Romsey’s) gives the impression that they were in the cultural doldrums until the introduction of nuns from France in the late twelfth century.49 Amesbury’s contribution of verses to the mortuary roll of Abbess Matilda of Caen (1113), however, albeit only two lines, suggests that these two nunneries might repay closer scrutiny.50 I have found no direct testimony to the teaching of girls intended for the secular life at Shaftesbury and Nunnaminster, both of which certainly had a literary culture. As they were Alfredian foundations, however, one would expect them to have been implementing at least to some extent Alfred’s call to teach all young persons of the free-born classes to read vernacular texts and Latin to the more able (or, alternatively, those intended for the religious life).51 Barking was not a royal foundation in the sense that the Wessex nunneries were, and Goscelin’s account of Wulfhild’s refoundation is more a criticism than a celebration of the Wessex monarchy. In giving her the monasteries of Barking and Horton, Edgar was not exercising regal munificence but, as Goscelin tells 45 46


48 49



Vita sanctae Edithae vii, pp. 50–1. See Foot, Veiled Women, II, pp. 149–55; S. Hollis, ‘The Literary Culture of the AngloSaxon Royal Nunneries: Romsey and London, British Library, MS Lansdowne 436’, in Nuns Literacies in Medieval Europe: The Hull Dialogue, ed. V. O’Mara, V. Blanton and P. Stoop (Turnhout, 2012), pp. 20-9. See, for example, Eadmer: Historia novorum in Anglia iii, ed. M. Rule, Rolls Series 81 (London, 1884), pp. 122–3; cf. William of Malmesbury, Gesta regum Anglorum: The History of the English Kings v.418, ed. and trans. R. A. B. Mynors, R. M. Thomson and M. Winterbottom, 2 vols., Oxford Medieval Texts (Oxford, 1998), I, p. 754. For the education of St Margaret, see Hollis, ‘Wilton as a Centre of Learning’, pp. 333–4. Foot, Veiled Women, II, pp. 21–5 (Amesbury), 215–19 (Wherwell). William of Malmesbury, Gesta pontificum Anglorum ii.78.7, ii.87.3, pp. 276, 296. Bell, What Nuns Read, pp. 103–5 (Amesbury), 212–14 (Wherwell). Amesbury became a priory of the order of Fontevrault in 1177. Rouleaux des morts du IXe au XVe siècle, ed. L. Delisle, Société de l’histoire de France 135 (Paris, 1866), pp.  178–278 (no. 13, p.  180). See further Hollis, ‘The Literary Culture of the Anglo-Saxon Royal Nunneries’. It is unlikely that King Alfred used ‘young persons’ (gioguð) to mean only boys; Asser reports that, at the time he was writing (893), the king’s youngest daughter was receiving the same (vernacular) education at court as her eldest brother. Asser’s Life of King Alfred lxxv, ed. W. H. Stevenson, rev. edn (Oxford, 1959), pp. 58–9.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture it, compensating Wulfhild for attempting to rape her; he also appears to have been restoring to her a family inheritance he had confiscated.52 Subsequently, Goscelin reports, Edgar’s wife Ælfthryth, bribed by envious office-holders at Barking, exiled Wulfhild and her supporters to Horton for twenty years and plundered Barking’s possessions.53 The poverty of the exiled community is typified by the anecdote that revolves around Wulfhild and one of her nuns struggling to carry water on their shoulders because they were unable to afford servants.54 Wulfhild’s tendency to waive the rent of indigent tenants is a further visible cause of impoverishment. In rejecting Edgar’s rapacious desire to make her his queen, Wulfhild deliberately abnegated royal power and luxury, but her delight in serving and obeying her inferiors while wearing the cheapest clothing and labouring along with them at the washing and cleaning55 – at a time when Wulfthryth was rebuilding the walls at Wilton and purchasing a spectacularly expensive relic of the True Cross, and Edith constructed a magnificent chapel for St Denis and embroidered an alb adorned with gold and precious stones for herself – looks like an asceticism born of necessity as much as choice.56 Matters were no better at Barking decades later, after the nunnery had been looted by the Danes, when the nuns could scarcely afford clothing for themselves and had to rely on the generosity of the faithful for hangings to adorn the shrine of St Ethelburg.57 By the time Abbess Ælfgifu could afford to replace the seventh-century church, the houses of the local citizenry were encroaching upon the nunnery.58 If only by virtue of its geographical location, Barking lay outside the purview of the Wessex royal house, and not until the seat of power definitively shifted from Winchester to London with the Norman regime was the abbess of Barking able to score a coup for her nunnery when the conqueror fortuitously needed somewhere to stay while he awaited the building of the Tower.59 Unlike the Wessex nunneries, Barking received no further royal grants after its refoundation, nor did it receive as a member of its community any immediate female relative of a ruling monarch.60 Apart from Wulfhild, whom Goscelin identifies as a descendant of a collateral branch of the Wessex royal house, only her successor Lifflæd is said to have been of a distinguished lineage.61 For Barking, then, there is no royal alumna whose reputation, entirely merited or otherwise, testifies to its standing as a centre of learning. There is, however, one identifiable woman who, judging by her location and family connections, might possibly have been 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61

Vita sanctae Wulfildae iv, pp. 423–4. Ibid., ix, pp. 428–9. Ibid., vii, p. 427. Ibid., iv, pp. 424–5. Translatio sanctae Edithae vii, p. 274; Vita sanctae Edithae xiv, xx, xvi, pp. 73, 86–7, 79. Vita sanctae Wulfildae xv, xvii,pp. 433, 434. De translatione vel elevatione sanctarum virginum Ethelburgae, Hildelithae ac Wulfildae iii, in Goscelin, ‘Texts’, pp. 435–52 (p. 438b). Loftus and Chettle, History, p. 22. Foot, Veiled Women, II, pp. 28–33. Vita sanctae Wulfildae i, vii, pp. 419–20, 427.


Barking’s Monastic School educated at Barking, a wealthy vowess called Æthelgifu, who in her late tenth century will bequeathed a book to the monks at Bury, probably a deluxe liturgical book. There is perhaps a reflection of Barking’s egalitarian ethos in the fact that Æthelgifu had taught her three bondwomen, who were granted their freedom in her will, either to read or to recite from memory an entire Psalter.62 Goscelin’s vita of Wulfhild does not encourage the conclusion that Barking compensated for its material poverty by cultivating spiritual riches and the life of the mind. There is nothing comparable to the lyric mysticism of spiritual marriage that pervades Goscelin’s vita of St Edith, or her riposte to Bishop Athelwold’s criticism of her fine clothing,63 in fact, barely any suggestion of literary, artistic or intellectual leanings on the part of the Barking community. In the reported speech of Wulfhild that Goscelin describes as sui abiectione (‘selfdeprecating’) we might perhaps have the authentic tone of a late tenth century blue-stocking. Seriously injured in a fall which she understood to herald her approaching death, she remarked, with appropriate scriptural echoes: ‘We little old ladies fall, like a leaning wall and a tottering house’ (‘“Ruimus”, ait, “uetulae, ut inclinata paries et protinus ruitura domus”’).64 Wulfruna-Judith, who appears from the dedicatory prologue to have been Goscelin’s principal (if not his sole) informant for Wulfhild’s vita,65 addresses St Ethelburg and St Wulfhild with a blunt, colloquial familiarity that echoes Wulfric of Kent’s plain-man’s chivvying of St Hildelith in Goscelin’s draft version of the translation of the Barking saints when her tomb becomes immovably stuck.66 Perhaps Wulfruna’s homely communing with St Ethelburg and St Wulfhild is more sophisticated than it appears. Certainly her lack of deference towards them is of a piece with Wulfhild’s rejection of earthly hierarchy (she regarded herself as the mother of her subordinates, not their queen),67 and one could postulate an independently thought-out theological rationale for the words that accompany her ejection from the church of a tiresomely importunate pilgrim: ‘Pray outside. St Ethelburg can cure you outside if she wants to, because we’re not going to let you in’ (‘Foris ora, foris te curet sancta Ethelburga si uult, nam interius te non admittemus’).68 There is at very least a clear recognition here that the saint cannot be compelled by human importuning to perform a miracle, and, in the light of this, we might choose to regard the demands that Wulfruna herself makes upon St Ethelburg as a form of ironic posturing in which she mocks what she knows to be a naive expectation that the saint will do her bidding – as, for instance, when she has lost her keys, she reportedly says: ‘Why are you tormenting me like this? You know perfectly well the whereabouts 62 63 64 65 66 67 68

The Will of Æthelgifu: A Tenth-Century English Manuscript, ed. D. Whitelock (Oxford, 1968). Vita sanctae Edithae xii, pp. 70–1. Vita sanctae Wulfildae x, p. 429. Ibid., p. 418. Vita sanctae Wulfildae xv–xvii, pp. 433–4; De translatione vel elevatione sanctarum xi, p. 449b. Vita sanctae Wulfildae iv, pp. 424–5. Vita sanctae Ethelburgae xviii, p. 415.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture of what I’ve lost, and you don’t answer when I ask you’ (‘Quare me tantum tribulas? Bene enim nosti ubi sit quod perdidi nec respondes querenti’).69 Whether or not that is what Goscelin meant by describing Wulfruna’s words as having been spoken with a degree of aggression from the depths of her faith, it is surprising that he did not subject the vita of Wulfhild to the thoroughgoing elevation of style and sentiment that characterizes his rewriting of his sources, as we can see from comparing his two versions of Ælfgifu’s translation of the Barking saints – any undignified events or remarks that appear in the draft version made for the Barking community are omitted or glossed over in the revised version, presumably intended for the London clergy. Yet the vita of Wulfhild retains traces of the lack of fashionable courtly stylishness that was liable to trigger the kind of Norman prejudices that moved the first Norman abbot of Abingdon, according to a thirteenth-century source, to prohibit commemoration of the feasts of St Athelwold and St Edward the Martyr on the grounds that they were ‘English rustics’ (‘Anglicos rusticos’),70 and prompted dissident Norman courtiers to refer sarcastically to Wilton-educated Matilda II and her husband Henry Beauclerc as ‘Godric and Godiva’.71 The apparent purpose of the vitae of all three Barking saints commissioned by Abbess Ælfgifu was, after all, to counter the objections of the Norman bishop of London to her translation of these saints into her newly built church. Was the vita of Wulfhild, with its occasional lack of polish and overall absence of anything like the opulent glamorization of the vita of St Edith of Wilton that Goscelin dedicated to Archbishop Lanfranc, intended by Ælfgifu as a deliberate assertion of cultural nationalism that challenged the bishop of London’s notions of propriety? The archdeacon who deputed for him when Ælfgifu, willy-nilly, went ahead with the translation, evidently considered that it was being conducted with insufficient ceremony,72 and Goscelin’s dedicatory address to Maurice in his vita of Wulfhild does seem a little truculent.73 Would such a motive necessarily be out of keeping with Ælfgifu’s understandable willingness to give her support to the Norman monarchy and her undoubted grasp of the centrality of architectural splendour to Norman conceptions of cultural superiority? Or was it just that Goscelin ran out of time to revise the vita of Wulfhild and suspected that Maurice and his clergy were too prejudiced against Anglo-Saxon women and their saints ever to read it anyway?74 69 70

71 72 73 74

Vita sanctae Wulfildae xvi, p. 434. Quoted by P. A. Hayward, ‘Translation-Narratives in Post-Conquest Hagiography and English Resistance to the Norman Conquest’, Anglo-Norman Studies 21 (1998), 67–93 (p. 88). L. L. Huneycutt, Matilda of Scotland: A Study in Medieval Queenship (Woodbridge, 2003), pp. 73, 138. De translatione vel elevatione sanctarum ix, p. 444b. Vita sanctae Wulfildae,p. 418. See G. Whalen, ‘Patronage Engendered: How Goscelin Allayed the Concerns of Nuns’ Discriminatory Publics’, in Women, the Book and the Godly, ed. L. Smith and J. H. M. Taylor (Cambridge, 1995), pp. 123–35.


Barking’s Monastic School Wilton’s wealth and royal connections gave it access to continental learning and scholarship as well as to courtly sophistication, particularly through the employment of male clerics like the two Ottonian scholars who tutored St Edith, and Goscelin himself, who was informally, if not officially, the teacher of Eve. Nunnaminster, too, though poorer than both Wilton and Barking, similarly benefited from its proximity to the centre of power. Its abbess, c. 1032–c. 1047, was the former magistra of an Ottonian nunnery (St-Maryat-the-Capitol in Köln), and an eminent literary scholar from the monastery of St Quentin was in residence there during her reign.75 Without these connections, Barking appears to have been reliant on its own resources to create an educational tradition. Wulfhild, Goscelin relates, was educated with her sister Wulfthryth at Wilton; she is celebrated, however, as a model of abstinence and devotion, not for her learning.76 Wulfhild in turn taught her successor, Abbess Lifflæd, and, at a later date, Wulfruna-Judith.77 Wulfruna, though accorded special status as the pupil of Wulfhild, is not celebrated for her learning either, and does not seem to have ever been made abbess, but she was evidently an expert scribe, for Goscelin relates that a missal copied by her was stolen by a Norman priest.78 As his eulogy of St Edith of Wilton demonstrates, penmanship in the Anglo-Saxon period was not thought of as a specialized skill without relation to functional literacy, and Wulfruna also appears to have been the schoolmistress who taught Abbess Ælfgifu. Abbess Ælfgifu’s schoolmistress, who figures in Goscelin’s account of the vision in which St Ethelburg authorizes Ælfgifu’s translation of the Barking saints (‘The Recital of a Vision’), is not named in that account.79 But in another of Ælfgifu’s visions of the saint, which originally formed the twenty-second chapter of the vita of Ethelburg,80 Wulfruna plays the same role as the schoolmistress in the earlier vision, similarly acting as a kind of spirit guide who instructs Ælfgifu to advance into the presence of Ethelburg to receive what she seeks. The highly textual nature of the instruction Wulfruna gives in this vision seems to confirm her identity as the childhood teacher of Ælfgifu. This vision is one of the very few episodes reported by Goscelin that obliquely evinces the presence of a literary culture at Barking. The vision suggests, perhaps, dissatisfaction with Goscelin’s vita, as well as with Bede’s version of the lost libellus, for it arises from a discussion Ælfgifu had been having about ‘the book of the Life of St Ethelburg from which Bede records that he took what he put into his history’ (‘de libro vite sancte Ethelburge 75

76 77 78 79 80

Osbert of Claire, Vita sanctae Eadburgae xxi, xxiii, ed. S. J. Ridyard, Royal Saints of Anglo-Saxon England: A Study of West Saxon and East Anglian Cults (Cambridge, 1988), pp. 259–308 (pp. 296, 297). Vita sanctae Wulfildae iv, pp. 424–5. Ibid., dedication and vii, pp. 418, 427. Vita sanctae Ethelburgae xx, pp. 416–17. ‘Recital of a Vision’ i, p. 453. Colker, in Goscelin, ‘Texts’, pp.  395–6, argues convincingly that the text of John of Tynemouth (c.  1325) represents the missing chapters of Goscelin’s Vita sanctae Ethelburgae.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture se quo Beda de memorat excepisse que indidit historie sue’),81 and it implicitly fulfils the desire of Ælfgifu and her community to know more about the saint, which had been an additional motive for the commissioning of Goscelin’s vita.82 Echoing Goscelin’s statement that Ethelburg taught her community all of the virtues ‘by examples and by lessons’ (‘et exemplis et documentis’),83 Wulfruna exhorts Ælfgifu to read the sealed documents she will find in Ethelburg’s tomb, and then explains to her that these are accounts of the virtues by which the saint ascended to heaven. Ælfgifu understands Wulfruna to have revealed to her the exemplary model of patience in suffering that she was seeking, which was not to be found in the existing written accounts of the saint – it was as if Wulfruna had said to her: ‘You were looking for her Life/life. This is it. Imitate it with patience’ (‘Quesisti eius uitam, ista est: imitare cum patientia’).84 Book ownership and production in the late tenth and eleventh centuries: authorship and literary commissioning Very few of the books that are known to have been owned by Wilton have survived, and none of them pre-dates the twelfth century.85 The relatively high number of volumes in Barking’s possession at the dissolution suggests that in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, when, it is generally held, education in the nunneries, particularly Latin literacy, was at a very low ebb, Barking was exceptional. As Bell points out, apart from Syon, Barking and Nunnaminster are the only nunneries known (in the late Middle Ages) to have had a librarian.86 Nunnaminster’s Latin literacy in the tenth and eleventh centuries is, in fact, better attested than Barking’s, since the two prayer books it owned at the dissolution (the Book of Nunnaminster and the Galba Prayer book) have additions made in the tenth and eleventh centuries by a number of members of the community, at least some of whom, by their use of grammatically feminine forms, can be identified as women, rather than clerical employees of the nunnery such as chaplains. Also surviving from Nunnaminster is a collection of moral and homiletic writings copied by a scribe, c. 1100, who adds a coda identifying herself as female; it contains somewhat later additions by the scriptrix and two others, almost certainly nuns.87 This manuscript is thought to reflect a strong tradition of scribal copying by women at Nunnaminster originating with an early tenth century scriptorium 81 82 83 84 85 86 87

Vita sanctae Ethelburgae xxii, p. 396. See n. 80 above. Ibid., dedication and viii, pp. 398, 408. Ibid., ii, p. 402. Vita sanctae Ethelburgae xxii, p. 396. See n. 80 above. Hollis, ‘Wilton as a Centre of Learning’, pp. 306–13. Bell, What Nuns Read, pp. 41–2, 107–20. P. R. Robinson, ‘A Twelfth-Century Scriptrix from Nunnaminster’, in Of the Making of Books: Medieval Manuscripts, their Scribes and Readers, ed. P. R. Robinson and R. Zim (Aldershot, 1997), pp. 73–93.


Barking’s Monastic School responsible for the production of a group of manuscripts which include the Parker manuscript of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.88 Wulfruna’s reported copying of a missal, now lost but evidently of high quality, may likewise be an indication of a tradition of scribal copying at Barking. The one surviving pre-Conquest manuscript owned by Barking is mostly datable to a period when Wulfruna was active there; it is a copy of the Gospels made by two scribes (the main hand is early eleventh century, the other is late tenth century). Corrections made in a number of early eleventh century hands show that the manuscript was used by literate readers.89 Robinson found good reason to believe that the Nunnaminster scriptrix was English-speaking.90 Closer study of the linguistic affiliations of the users of twelfth-century manuscripts could help to cast light on the extent to which Latin learning was sustained at religious houses after the Conquest by native speakers of English, or alternatively, given a new impetus by speakers of French. The Barking Gospels are clearly associated with English rather than French speakers. One of the flyleaf additions (c. 1100) lists in English a number of properties owned by Barking. The other records an attestation made by Abbess Ælfgifu in the early twelfth century (before c. 1118) and is copied in a contemporary hand; as this could likewise have been in the vernacular, it suggests an easy familiarity with the use of Latin at least for administrative purposes.91 A nunnery’s ownership of scriptural and liturgical books is a reassuring sign of educational respectability, but does not in itself reveal anything about its intellectual and spiritual life.92 If it were possible to narrow down to the first half of the eleventh century an inscription on a manuscript containing the Consolatio of Boethius which states that it was given to Horton by a woman called Ælfgyth the Good,93 we would be in a position to make very large claims about the intellectual orientation of Barking’s sister community and its Latin reading competence, since the Consolatio was one of the texts translated into English as part of Alfred’s educational reform. As Barratt points out, this Latin copy was intended to be read, since it has prose glosses to help readers whose knowledge of poetic diction was insecure.94 Horton, unfortunately, at some 88 89 90 91 92

93 94

Ibid. Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 155. Robinson, ‘Twelfth-Century Scriptrix’, p. 76. C. Hart, ‘An Early Charter of Adam of Cockfield, 1100–1118’, English Historical Review 72 (1957), 466–9. Barking doubtless owned copies of all of the works Goscelin was commissioned to write for it, but although Cardiff, Public Library, MS I.381, fols. 81–120 (containing only the vitae of Ethelburg and Hildelith, together with vitae of Edith and Edward the Martyr) was in Barking’s possession at the dissolution, it is likely to have originated from Wilton; S. Hollis, ‘Goscelin’s Writings for the Wilton Women’, in Wilton Women, pp. 213–39 (pp. 233–9). Madrid, El Escorial, Real Biblioteca, MS e.II.1. A. Barratt, ‘Small Latin? The Post-Conquest Learning of English Religious Women’, in Anglo-Latin and its Heritage: Essays in Honour of A. G. Rigg on his 64th Birthday,


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture unknown time before c.  1075 – most likely when Ælfgifu became abbess of Barking in the 1050s – was turned into a male community.95 Ælfgifu was one of a number of heads of predominantly English religious communities who sought to defend their indigenous saints and in some case their own offices against Norman hostility by commissioning written vitae.96 That Barking, following the lead of Wilton, commissioned Goscelin for this purpose does not mean that neither of these communities had a competent Latin author. Some Norman objections to the cults of English saints had a theologically valid basis, but ethnic prejudice also played a part, and Goscelin evidently thought that misogyny did, too.97 Only a male cleric equipped by his continental education to write Latin in a style acceptable to Norman ecclesiastics had a chance of commanding sufficient authority to counter Norman prejudices. Shaftesbury was evidently unable to secure the services of an author as well qualified as Goscelin, and the vita of its patron saint, Edward the Martyr, might even have been written c. 1080 by a nun of the community. The same seems to have been true of Nunnaminster.98 A much more telling indication of the literary culture of a religious community is whether or not it had written records relating to its saint before the Norman invasion prompted a defensive flurry of hagiographical documentation. It is sometimes argued that late Anglo-Saxon religious houses did not feel the need for written vitae of their saints, particularly when the saints were purely local ones. To put that another way, when there were capable Latinists motivated to promote a cult at a national level, written lives were produced; witness the vitae of Bishop Athelwold written shortly after his death (984) by two of his former students, Ælfric of Eynsham and Wulfstan the Cantor. The martyrology read by St Edith of Wilton in the late tenth century included vitae of her aunt, Edith of Tamworth, and her grandmother, Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury, presumably written down in the first place by members of their communities.99 Given the reputation for authorship accorded to Wilton alumnae, it is extremely surprising that when Goscelin dedicated his vita of St Edith of Wilton to Archbishop Lanfranc c. 1080 he conveyed a very strong impression that there was no existing vita of the saint; the politics of St Edith’s cult might conceivably be the explanation for this. Goscelin did, however, make use of

95 96 97 98


ed. S. Echard and G. R. Wieland, Publications of the Journal of Medieval Latin 4 (Turnhout, 2001), pp. 51–65 (pp. 60–1). D. Knowles, C. N. L. Brooke and V. C. M. London, The Heads of Religious Houses: England and Wales, I. 940–1216, 2nd edn (Cambridge, 2001), pp. 53, 213. Hayward, ‘Translation-Narratives’, p. 89. Whalen, ‘Patronage Engendered’. Edward, King and Martyr, ed. C. E. Fell, Leeds Texts and Monographs, ns 3 (Leeds, 1971). Osbert of Clare was asked in the 1130s to re-write for the monks of Pershore, who had acquired relics of Eadburg of Nunnaminster, an earlier written life of the saint with which they were dissatisfied. No earlier vita of Eadburg survives, but Ridyard, Royal Saints, pp. 23–37, deduces that Osbert made use of a mid-eleventhcentury vita from Nunnaminster. Vita sanctae Edithae vii, pp. 49–51.


Barking’s Monastic School sources that he described in his prologue to the vita of St Edith as ‘local books’ (‘patriis libris’, which presumably meant vernacular writings),100 and in his translatio of St Edith he drew upon an account of a rather spectacular miracle attributed to her which was recorded in the vernacular at the instruction of Abbess Brihtgifu in whose reign it occurred.101 Records of particularly notable events relating to a religious community and its saint(s), usually in the vernacular, seem to have been more commonly in the possession of late Anglo-Saxon religious houses than fully developed Latin vitae; that might also have been the case in the early Anglo-Saxon period. The accounts of Abbess Ælfgifu’s translation of the Barking saints and the visionary appearance of St Ethelburg that Goscelin wrote at Ælfgifu’s request, although in Latin since they were part of her polemical countering of the bishop of London’s opposition, perhaps also reflect a long-standing tradition of chronicling important events – at first in Latin and later in the vernacular – which underlies the establishment of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Goscelin’s allusion to existing accounts of St Wulfhild in his dedication to the bishop of London might not be entirely unambiguous.102 Like the author of the Shaftesbury vita of Edward the Martyr, however, Goscelin appears to have drawn on both oral and written sources, using a written source for the vita proper, and oral report for the translatio (consisting, in Goscelin’s vita, of the narration of posthumous miracles together with an expanded retelling of the removal of Wulfhild’s remains from London to Barking and the account of a further translation carried out by Abbess Lifflæd thirty years later) which was made,


See patrius 4 (b) in Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources, ed. D. R. Howlett et al. (Oxford, 1975–), IV, 2149c. 101 S. Hollis, ‘St Edith and the Wilton Community’, in Wilton Women, pp.  242–75 (pp. 272–5). 102 ‘Vita . . . Vulfildae . . . in ore multorum recitatur ut in libris’, Vita sanctae Wulfildae, p. 418. The natural way of reading this is undoubtedly: ‘The life . . . of Wulfhild . . . is recited in the mouths of many, as it is in books’. As Michael Wright points out (personal communication) Goscelin is bent on asserting, in the dedication to Bishop Maurice, that the sanctity of Wulfhild is credible even though the witnesses on whose oral testimony he draws are mere women. It would therefore be desirable in these circumstances for Goscelin to be able to affirm the existence of written accounts of Wulfhild. But if there were in fact no written accounts, Goscelin’s decision not to repeat the verb in the sentence quoted above would allow him to retain plausible deniability if Maurice (or any other contemporary reader) discovered the lack of the previously existing written accounts of Wulfhild which he had assumed from his reading of Goscelin’s dedication, and accused the author of falsehood. Goscelin could simply claim that the omitted verb was intended to be read as implicitly subjunctive (i.e. ‘the life . . . of . . . Wulfhild is recited in the mouths of many . . . as though in books’). Cf. Goscelin’s dedication to Archbishop Lanfranc in Vita sanctae Edithae, pp. 37–8, where he asserts that the oral testimony of the nuns of Wilton on whose testimony he bases his vita of Edith has as much authority as books do, because of the nuns’ high birth and religious lives. See also the translation in T. O’Donnell’s chapter in this volume.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture presumably to Goscelin himself, by the recently deceased Wulfruna-Judith.103 The source on which the vita proper was based most probably came into being not long after Wulfhild’s remains were carried from London to Barking for burial, since the evident purpose of the miracle which concludes this section is to assure the sister community that still remained at Horton that, although Wulfhild’s body had been taken to Barking, her spiritual presence remained efficacious at the nunnery where she had spent twenty years in exile, and continued to unite the two communities as closely after her death as they had been during her lifetime.104 From the little that is known about book production and ownership in the late tenth and eleventh centuries, then, it seems that Barking, like Nunnaminster, maintained a respectable standard of functional literacy despite being significantly less wealthy than Wilton (and Shaftesbury), and despite lacking the royal connections and hence the access to courtly and continental literary culture that Nunnaminster and the other Wessex nunneries had. If, as seems probable, Barking already had some kind of written vernacular account of St Wulfhild before the Norman invasion, it was – in an age when many English religious houses no longer felt themselves engaged in the kind of heroic act of discovery that Aldhelm evokes when he depicts the nuns of Barking studying under Hildelith as a swarm of bees venturing into unknown territory under her leadership to plunder the honey of contemplation for themselves – keeping abreast of all but the very best of them. Whether Abbess Ælfgifu’s commissioning of Goscelin was simply a polemical strategy incidental to the implementation of her plan to give Barking the high profile and physical eminence under the Norman regime that it had not enjoyed under the Anglo-Saxon monarchy, or whether she sought, at the same time, to raise the level of literary culture at Barking, is difficult to determine. She may, indeed, have wished to redirect the cultural ethos of the nunnery along more visionary and affective lines. In commissioning Goscelin to write vitae and also to record the contemporary miracles and visions accompanying her translation of the Barking saints, she clearly demonstrated her understanding of the importance that written documents had come to assume under the Norman regime, and this is echoed in the vision in which Wulfruna-Judith shows her the hidden documents in the tomb of Ethelburg. But her other vision shows her seeking a very different kind of knowledge of the saint through entirely non-textual means. That St Ethelburg in this vision authorizes Ælfgifu’s translation of the Barking saints reflects the soundness of her political instincts; in the misogynistic circumstances in which she found herself, direct visionary authorization was a more effective means of disposing of the bishop of London’s objections than reasoned argument. But when the saint assumes the form of a small child and allows the abbess to hold her to her bosom, Ælfgifu is pioneering a form of spiritual experience not hitherto recorded in England which female religious would be increasingly 103 104

Vita sanctae Wulfildae xii–xvii, pp. 431–4. Ibid., x–xi, pp. 430–1.


Barking’s Monastic School encouraged to cultivate in the following centuries.105 In effect, she authored a new dimension to the recorded image of the saint, but because Goscelin recorded the vision as a separate item rather than as a chapter of the vita, it did not pass into mainstream tradition. The twelfth century: Clemence of Barking and the letters of Osbert of Clare What Ælfgifu does not seem to have been able to do is to gain for Barking the kind of cultural eminence that the Wessex nunneries retained by their crossChannel connections. The nunneries whose support Archbishop Anselm solicited and with whom he exchanged affectionate letters were Wilton, Shaftesbury and Nunnaminster.106 Further, there is no extant copy of Barking’s entry on the 1113 mortuary roll of Matilda of Caen. This is a matter of chance insofar as the roll is preserved only in an eighteenth-century copy which, frustratingly, records only the titles of the concluding entries, including those of Barking and Romsey.107 But the fact that the messenger(s) who carried the roll visited as a single group the other five nunneries in Wessex while leaving these two until last suggests that they were regarded as less important. Nineteen of the English and French women’s houses which contributed entries to the 1113 mortuary roll included Latin verses. The incomplete copying of this roll unfortunately deprives us of the opportunity to discover whether Barking laid claim to membership of the elite community of men and women in religious houses, epitomized by the Loire school poets, who composed verses reflecting a new interest in the study of classical humanism. In addition to the unexpected couplet from Amesbury mentioned above, there are three substantial poems from Nunnaminster (one written by a niece of Abbess Matilda) which echo a Horatian ode, and a set of verses from Shaftesbury quoting verbatim from Virgil’s Eclogue 5.108 There are no verses included in the Wilton entry, a puzzling omission, since Wilton c.  1090–c.  1100 was home to the ‘famous verse maker’ Muriel of Le Ronceray, praised by the three leading poets of the Loire school (Baudri, Hildebert and Serlo of Bayeux), 105 106

‘Recital of a Vision’ iii, p. 454. S. N. Vaughn, St Anselm and the Handmaidens of God: A Study of Anselm’s Correspondence with Women, Utrecht Studies in Medieval Literacy 7 (Turnhout, 2002), pp. 167–70. Anselm also sent two letters to Romsey, but one is explicitly and the other implicitly reproving, and Romsey was not one of the three nunneries to whom he sent blessings in his 1098 letter to the archdeacon of Canterbury. 107 Rouleaux des morts, ed. Delisle, pp. 277–8. 108 Edited with translation by D. Sheerin, ‘Sisters in the Literary Agon: Texts from Communities of Women on the Mortuary Roll of the Abbess Matilda of La Trinité, Caen’, in Women Writing Latin from Roman Antiquity to Early Modern Europe, ed. L. J. Churchill, P. R. Brown and J. E. Jeffrey, 3 vols. (New York, 2002), II, pp. 93–131 (pp. 101–11, 121–2).


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture who evidently did not regard her as the only poet at Wilton.109 Wilton was, however, one of the very few houses which contributed verses to the 1122 mortuary roll of Abbot Vitalis of Savigny.110 As one of the longest-surviving Anglo-Saxon heads of religious houses in the post-Conquest period, Ælfgifu (died c. 1114) prolonged the English cultural ethos at Barking well beyond the turn of the twelfth century. That the existence of a (relatively) well attested tradition of education at Barking and Nunnaminster in the late tenth and eleventh centuries is matched by evidence of an atypically high standard of literacy in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries suggests, at least superficially, a continuous tradition of learning. But the relationship between the tradition Ælfgifu represented and the efflorescence of Anglo-Norman metrical vitae at Barking is not a straightforward one. Although Clemence of Barking’s Anglo-Norman translation of the vita of St Catherine may seem ‘not entirely unsurprising’ given the abbey’s long (though discontinuous) tradition of Latin learning,111 to a high degree it represents a radical break with the Anglo-Saxon past. Not only does it mark decisively the shift to a French communal identity, replacing the reading of a text in Latin by English speakers with listening to the oral delivery of a composition in Norman French, ‘more pleasing’ to Clemence’s hearers than either Latin or English.112 It advances a very different kind of saintly heroine from the nunnery’s own native saints whose cults Abbess Ælfgifu and her community had promoted so persistently: a universal saint in fashionable courtly guise; highly educated, but remarkable for her verbal eloquence in debate, not as a reader of books; death by spectacular martyrdom instead of an ordinary humdrum holy life. Insofar as Clemence of Barking’s vita of St Catherine suggests a wealthy aristocratic audience of French speakers with an interest in fashionable court culture, Wilton – which moreover had a tradition of female authorship dating back to St Edith – might have seemed a more likely site than Barking for this development. Given the almost exclusively Latinate nature of Matilda II’s literary patronage,113 she is unlikely to have been responsible as Barking’s secular overlord for effecting a change in the nunnery’s culture. Adelidis, abbess of Barking c. 1136–66, as a widow with powerful baronial connections, is a much more prospective candidate.114 109 110 111 112 113 114

G. A. Bond, The Loving Subject: Desire, Eloquence and Power in Romanesque France (Philadelphia, 1995), p. 141. Rouleaux des morts, ed. Delisle, pp. 282–344 (no. 153, pp. 328–9). Wogan-Browne and Burgess, ‘Introduction’, Virgin Lives, p. xxx. Virgin Lives . . . Life of St Catherine, p. 3. Huneycutt, Matilda of Scotland, pp. 125–43. I am here advancing the abbacy of Adelidis as a critical turning point rather than claiming that Clemence’s Life of St Catherine was written during her abbacy. The current dating of Clemence’s work (and the Barking Life of Edward), after 1163 and before 1189, makes it impossible to assign it to a particular abbacy, because the abbacy was vacant from Adelidis’s death in 1166 until the appointment of Becket’s sister Mary in 1173, and she was succeeded by Maud (1175–c. 1200). Agnes, abbess at some time between 1114 and 1122, given the relative shortness of her reign and


Barking’s Monastic School Clemence’s ability to read the Latin vita on which she based her AngloNorman, however, almost certainly did derive from an educational tradition handed down from Abbess Ælfgifu to her Anglo-Norman successors. There must be some margin of doubt, however, because Abbess Adelidis’s knowledge of Latin might not have been acquired at Barking; she could conceivably have been educated in France before her marriage, or by a tutor in her own home. Like the English vernacular education policy of King Alfred, the use of Anglo-Norman carried with it the risk of cutting religious houses off from the accumulated learning of the West unless there remained always at least one member of the community willing and able to undertake translations from Latin. Osbert of Clare’s learned and elaborately courtly correspondence with Abbess Adelidis and three of her nuns in the 1130s and 1150s (his own two nieces and the niece of Queen Adeliza) makes it likely that Clemence, writing at some time after 1163 and before 1189, was not alone in her ability to read Latin.115 Conscious perhaps of following in the footsteps of Aldhelm, Osbert assumed the role of educational mentor to the nuns of Barking. Identifying strongly as a cultural nationalist in his promotion of native English saints, his vita of St Eadburg of Nunnaminster shows that, like Goscelin, he recognized learning as an exemplary characteristic of an Anglo-Saxon female saint. But his letter to Adelidis, like Clemence’s vita of St Catherine, is indicative of a break with the Anglo-Saxon past, revealing as it does the diminished role of learning in the ideal of female sanctity as well as decreased interest in the nunnery’s native saints. In recommending St Ethelburg as an exemplary model to Adelidis, Osbert incorporates Goscelin’s depiction of her (not found in Bede) as a reader of the scriptures, but whereas in Goscelin’s vita this study of the scriptures is undertaken to enable Ethelburg to teach the nuns of her community, in Osbert’s letter, Ethelburg’s study of the scriptures is subordinate to the overall pursuit of virtue, just one of the four cardinal virtues by which she ascended into the heavens as if in a chariot of gold. Urging Adelidis to ensure that the nuns of her community imitate the example of St Ethelburg, he appears to assume that neither she nor her nuns were familiar with the nunnery’s own patron saint, and he refers them for further information, not to the vita Ælfgifu commissioned Goscelin to write, much less to his account of Ælfgifu’s vision of the saint as a source of higher authority and incarnate consolation, but to the account given by Bede in his Historia.116

the lack of impact on the documentary record, seems unlikely to have influenced the culture of Barking. See Knowles et al., Heads of Religious Houses, p. 208. 115 The Letters of Osbert of Clare, Prior of Westminster, ed. E. W. Williamson (Oxford, 1929), nos. 42, pp, 153–79 (to Adelidis), 21, pp. 89–91 (to Margaret), 22, pp. 92–6 (to Celia), 40, pp. 135–40 (to Ida). All but the last are translated by Vera Morton in Guidance for Women in Twelfth-Century Convents, trans. V. Morton with J. WoganBrowne (Cambridge, 2003), pp. 21–49, 111–20. 116 Letters of Osbert of Clare, ed. Williamson, no. 42, pp. 177–8.


chapter two

The Saint-Maker and the Saint: Hildelith Creates Ethelburg Lisa M. C. Weston

According to Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica, Erkenwald, bishop of London, founded Barking Abbey in the late seventh century for his sister Ethelburg at a place called in Berecingum.1 A supernatural sheet of light from heaven later showed Ethelburg where she should site a cemetery for the community’s women (iv.7); this and other miraculous visions confirmed the holiness of both the abbey and Ethelburg herself. Ethelburg was succeeded as abbess, as Bede’s account relates, by ‘a handmaid dedicated to God, by name Hildelith, who for many years, that is until extreme old age, governed the monastery very diligently, keeping regular discipline, and providing the things that appertained to general use’ (‘Successit autem Aedilburgi in officio abbatissae devota Deo famula, nomine Hildilid, multisque annis, id est, usque ad ultimam senectutem eidem monasterio strenuissime, in observantia disciplinae regularis, et in earum quae ad communes usus pertinent rerum providentia praefuit’).2 Hildelith plays Martha to Ethelburg’s Mary, as it were: she is the good provider, the maintainer of discipline, the diligent and responsible housekeeper. Most notably, ‘because of the narrowness of the place wherein the monastery was built’, Hildelith ‘thought it best to have the bones of the servants and handmaids of Christ, which were in that same place, taken up and all removed to the church of the blessed mother of God and there buried in one place’ (‘Cui cum propter angustiam loci in quo monasterium constructum est, placuisset ut ossa famulorum famularumque Christi quae ibidem fuerant tumulata, tollerentur, et transferrentur omnia in ecclesiam beatae Dei genetricis, unoque conderentur in loco’).3 The translation of the bones and building of a new cult focus are sanctioned retroactively by the miracles that will occur in years to come. One specific miracle finds its way into Bede’s narrative: the wife of a local nobleman is cured of her sudden blindness by a 1

2 3

Barking Abbey’s history, linked with the life of King Sebbi of Essex, appears in Bede, Historia ecclesiastica iv.6–11. For further discussion of the abbey’s history and founding charters, see the introduction to this volume. Bede, Historia ecclesiastica iv.10. Ibid.


The Saint-Maker and the Saint visit to the abbey’s church with its reburied ‘saints’. Beyond that, ‘how often the brightness of the heavenly light appeared, how often and how great was there a fragrant odour of a marvellous sweetness, and other signs’ in Barking’s church of Mary, mother of God. One may read about such things, Bede continues, ‘in that very book out of which we have taken these things’ (‘Quoties ibi claritas luminis caelestis, quanta saepe fragrantia mirandi apparuit odoris, quae alia sint signa ostensa, in ipso libro de quo haec excerpsimus, quisque legerit, inveniet’).4 That no longer extant book – Bede’s source for these events, the earlier miracles, and the history of the evangelization of the East Saxons more generally – commemorates the community’s origins, and the holy lives and deaths of its first members, as remembered, interpreted and evaluated in Hildelith’s Barking. It thus represents Hildelith’s parallel translation of Ethelburg’s textual as well as physical body, and both translations entail a significant ideological re-visioning of Barking Abbey. If we know Ethelburg as a saint, it is because Hildelith made her one. What we can know of Hildelith herself, however, depends upon what we can reconstruct from a small number of contemporary sources. Aldhelm addresses her as a model reader whose literacy promotes new expressions of gender and spiritually reproductive sexuality. Boniface, too, cites her as a reliable informant and valued participant in Southumbrian political and cultural life. Extant charters also suggest her active engagement with the difficult work of maintaining a monastic house after its founder’s death. Such sources allow us to tease out the influences that situate Hildelith and her saint-making in early eighth century Southumbrian literary, theological and political culture. Reading these texts in conjunction with what Bede’s narrative conveys about the lost Barking libellus allows us to speculate about the specific shape of Hildelith’s ideological redefinition of her community. Hildelith’s Barking in context The so-called Hodilred Charter represents arguably the most reliable documentary evidence of Barking’s origins. In this charter a nobleman named Hodilred (Ethelred), kinsman of Sebbi, king of the East Saxons, grants to Hedilburga (Ethelburg) various estates to augment her monastery at Beddanhaam.5 A marginal note from around the year 1000 designates this ‘seo boc to 4 5

Ibid. Although extant only in a later copy, the Hodilred Charter (London, British Library, MS Cotton Augustus ii.29) may well date to the lifetime of the historical Ethelburg. P. H. Sawyer, Anglo-Saxon Charters: An Annotated List and Bibliography (London, 1968), dates the original of the charter (no. 1171) between 685 and 694, probably more precisely 690–3. Dorothy Whitelock argues that it is possibly the earliest extant East Saxon charter, English Historical Documents (1955; 2nd edn, Oxford, 1979), I, pp. 446–7. For discussion of manuscript features arguing for transcription at a later date, see C. Hart, The Earliest Charters of Barking Abbey (Colchester, 1953). For


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture Beorcingon’, ‘the “book” or deed to Barking’, even though it records only early gifts to the already established monastery: the donation of the original core of Beddanhaam itself remains the vacant focus of an implied narrative of monastic creation from these and earlier donated family estates. Significantly, Erkenwald appears in this charter not as the abbey’s founder, but only as a witness to Ethelred’s donation. Barking is here configured as created out of family lands. The disposition of those lands after the deaths of Ethelburg and Ethelred, and indeed after that of King Sebbi, constitutes the most immediate context for Hildelith’s action, especially the composition of the lost Barking libellus. In doing so Hildelith may be acting upon pre-existing connections between Barking and Faremoûtiers-en-Brie, one of the Frankish monasteries with the longest history of training Anglo-Saxon royal women in monastic life. Barbara Yorke, for example, has argued that the Barking libellus was heavily influenced by Jonas of Bobbio’s Vita Columbani abbatis et discipulorumque eius.6 Written around 640, the vita draws from the memories of many of the saint’s disciples, including Burgundofara, abbess of Faremoûtiers. The early seventh century women she governed were prompted to commemorate their founder’s sanctity for very practical reasons, the dynastic power politics involving their earlier patron, Erchinoald, mayor of the palace of Neustria. The Frankish Erchinoald shares a name and conceivably some blood connection with Ethelburg’s brother, Erkenwald, bishop of London. As Yorke suggests, ‘towards the end of the seventh century the East Saxons came under the overlordship of the West Saxons whose recent bishops included Agilbert and his nephew Leuthere, who had belonged to a faction in dispute with that of Erchinoald. Barking therefore may have experienced the same need as Faremoûtiers to protect itself by demonstrating the impeccable spiritual credentials of its nuns through instances of divine approval’.7 If not in conjunction with wider political connections, the need may have stemmed from realignments of East Saxon allegiances after Sebbi’s death, or indeed from the very local exigencies of sustaining the monastic community after Ethelburg’s death and the severing of direct blood ties with the family from whose estates Barking had been created. Some of the narrative parallels between the Barking libellus and the Vita Columbani are suggestive. Yorke notes especially how ‘an account of how a nun at Barking who was about to die asks those attending her to put out a light which only she can see, recalls the very similar request of the dying Eorcentrude at Faremoûtiers’ in the second half of the vita.8 The sheet of light which


7 8

discussion of the charter as implicit foundation narrative, see also L. Weston, ‘The Saintly Female Body and the Landscape of Foundation in Anglo-Saxon Barking’, Medieval Feminist Forum 45 (2007), 12–25. B. Yorke, ‘“Carriers of the Truth”: Writing the Biographies of Anglo-Saxon Female Saints’, in Writing Medieval Biography 750–1250, ed. D. Bates, J. Crick and S. Hamilton (Woodbridge, 2006), pp. 49–60. Ibid., pp. 57–8. Ibid., p. 52.


The Saint-Maker and the Saint designates the women’s cemetery at Barking most explicitly echoes the first part of Peter’s vision in Acts 10.11, in which a similar sheet of light, followed by the spectacle of a myriad of animals, clean and unclean, offered to him as food, validates his decision to baptize the gentile Cornelius. The Vita Columbani also references this text, more obliquely, when an angel sanctions the saint’s decision to begin a mission to the Wends by drawing out a map of the world and urging Columbanus to eat what he wishes of the fruits of his labor. Antonio Sennis calls attention to this incident in Jonas’ text as a model for the role of vision and miracle in the marking out and validation of monastic space as sacred – always already sacred, even when originally secular – and therefore subject to evangelization.9 A confluence of multiple visions has the effect of remodeling and ‘discovering’ a pre-existing landscape – whether missionary territory on the Continent or the more domestic space of a donated family estate in Essex – to be holy and newly sanctified. The textual connection between the libellus and the Vita Columbani also implies that Barking was originally founded after the Hiberno-Frankish Columbanian model. The link with Faremoûtiers particularly may indeed suggest that Ethelburg was originally trained there, and perhaps governed her Beddanhaam according to the Columbanian Rule. Certainly like that continental abbey Barking was originally a double house. Bede attributes Erkenwald’s foundation to his desire to create a place in which his sister ‘might become the mother and nurse of many women devoted to God’ (‘In quo ipsa Deo devotarum mater ac nutrix posset existere feminarum’).10 His parallel foundation of Chertsey for himself and other men implies a more strictly Roman, Benedictine paradigm of gender separation. The description of Barking which follows from the libellus, however, makes clear that Barking housed a ‘double choir’ of both monks and nuns. Hildelith’s career as abbess, then, takes place within a particularly complex political and cultural context. Bede’s account of Erkenwald’s foundations twins Barking and Chertsey in his efforts to institute ‘the best and most regular monastic discipline’ (‘Regularibus disciplinis optime’).11 Those efforts coincide with his appointment (by Theodore, archbishop of Canterbury) as bishop of London. The previous bishop, Milletus, had been driven back to Canterbury two generations earlier after the death of the first Christian king of the East Saxons. It was the patronage of the pious Sebbi (and his political connections with both Kent and Mercia) that allowed London to be re-established 9

A. Sennis, ‘Narrating Places: Memory and Space in Medieval Monasteries’, in People and Space in the Middle Ages, 300–1300, ed. W. Davies, G. Halsall and A. Reynolds (Turnhout, 2006), pp. 275–94 (pp. 279–80). On the evangelizing and conversion of landscapes from pre-Christian to Christian, see also J. Howe, ‘Creating Symbolic Landscapes: Medieval Development of Sacred Space’, in Inventing Medieval Landscapes: Senses of Place in Western Europe, ed. J. Howe and M. Wolfe (Gainesville FL, 2002), pp. 208–13. 10 Bede, Historia ecclesiastica iv.6. 11 Ibid.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture as the diocesan capital of Essex. Created out of family estates, likely after the Hiberno-Frankish model, Hildelith’s Barking became more closely tied to the ecclesiastical control of London and Canterbury. Those connections allowed Hildelith and Barking to claim greater prominence and cultural authority in late seventh and early eighth century Southumbria. Hildelith reads Aldhelm Hildelith’s active participation in that wider contemporary culture is argued by two contemporary Anglo-Latin texts. Hildelith is prominent first in Aldhelm’s dedication of his Prosa de virginitate. The Justina and Cuthburg, Osburg, Aldgith and Scholastica, Hidburg and Berngith, Eulalia and Thecla whose names follow Hildelith’s have traditionally been read as other members of the Barking community. More likely, however, as Scott Gwara has suggested, they should be identified as other Southumbrian abbesses, who, with Aldhelm, formed a geographically widespread emotional and textual community.12 Hildelith and her spiritual sisters are addressed in the Prosa de virginitate as educated and sensitive readers, and it is in regard to the reception and replication of Aldhelm’s treatment of virginity that Hildelith’s translations of Ethelburg are revealed to be more ideologically complicated than simple domestic practicality would explain. We can only wonder whether Hildelith was singled out as primary addressee because in her no-longer extant letters (to which Aldhelm refers in his dedication) she had expressed some particular interest in the ideology of Aldhelmian virginity. Given the prominence awarded in the Barking libellus to Ethelburg’s vision-validated authority and her spiritual maternity, and the choice of Mary, mother of God, as special patroness of Barking’s dead, we might suspect that Hildelith was an attentive reader of the text. The need to forestall the imminent danger of Barking slipping back to secular status after its founder’s or patron’s death represents a very pragmatic reason for Hildelith’s promotion of Ethelburg’s cult. It does not, however, adequately explain the specific shape Hildelith gave to the establishment of Ethelburg’s spiritual authority and thus to the grounds of Barking’s survival and future identity. The landscape in which a monastery like Barking was founded was, before all else, a dynastic landscape rich in ancestral stories and associations. Like the bodies that inhabited it, the monastery was a contested 12

Aldhelmi Malmesbiriensis Prosa de virginitate, ed. S. Gwara, 2 vols., Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Medievalis Series Latina 124 (Turnhout, 2001), I, pp. 47–53. All citations of Aldhelm’s text below are from this edition, II, pp. 27–761. For textual communities, see B. Stock, The Implications of Literacy: Written Language and Models of Interpretation in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries (Princeton NJ, 1983). Barbara Rosenwein defines an emotional community as one ‘in which people adhere to the same norms of emotional expression and value-or devalue-the same or related emotions’; see B. Rosenwein, Emotional Communities in the Early Middle Ages (Ithaca NY, 2006), p. 2.


The Saint-Maker and the Saint site, the conversion of a secular site, potentially virgin and sacred and yet also potentially apostate. Hildelith’s translation of the bones of both monks and nuns from originally separate cemeteries into one common resting place, the abbey’s church of Saint Mary, may respond to Aldhelm’s text. Most particularly, it may realize the text’s theorizing of virginity as a disruption of secular constructions of gender and sexuality. At Hildelith’s Barking, in death if not in life, the space of virginity can be beyond gender. For Aldhelm the virgin body is an unnatural body in need of constant re-construction and discipline. Of the examples of perfect virginity Prosa de virginitate singles out, John the Evangelist particularly exemplifies virginity as the possibility of miraculous transformations not only of shrubbery into gold and pebbles into jewels but also of the human body ‘against the customary law of creation’ (‘Contra creaturae ritum’).13 Free will, strengthened and stimulated by divine inspiration as revealed in the reading of scripture, supported by communal discipline and prayer, has the power to reorganize sexuality and the gendered, sensual body. Every virgin, male or female, of whatever earthly lineage, is the child of Ecclesia by the Logos: ‘the Church, striking vitally into the hearts of men with the double-keen sword-edge of the two Testaments, fertilizes through the chaste seed of the Word the offspring who are the lawful heirs of eternity’ (‘Ecclesia vero bis acuto testamentorum mucrone hominum vitaliter corda transverberans hereditariam legitimae aeternitatis sobolem casto verbi fecundat semine’).14 In Aldhelm’s text, Mary, the Blessed Virgin Mother, embodies the Church’s spiritual fertility which results, through prayer and (more significantly) the reading and imitation of texts, in the (re)production of virginity in other bodies. Aldhelm imagines his readers as her unnaturally natural children, ‘adoptive daughters of regenerative grace brought forth from the fecund womb of ecclesiastical conception through the seed of the spiritual Word’ (‘Adoptivas regenerantis gratiae filias ex fecundo ecclesiasticae conceptionis utero spiritalis verbi semine progenitas per maternam’).15 Consequently, the maternal care of these children is enacted by women like Hildelith, abbesses training the virgins who exercise ‘the most subtle industry of their minds and the quality of (their) lively intelligence through assiduous perseverance in reading’ (‘Sagacissimam animorum industriam et vivacis ingenii qualitatem assidua lectionis instantia’).16 The concept of spiritual maternity is constructed, of course, particularly in opposition to physical maternity. We can but guess whether or not Hildelith was perhaps one of the few among Aldhelm’s circle of abbesses who was actually a physical virgin. The women were as likely to be divorced or widowed as never married, and as likely to have borne children in the past as to be 13

Aldhelm, The Prose Works, trans. M. Lapidge and M. Herren (Cambridge, 1979), pp. 59–132 (p. 80): 23.25–6. 14 Ibid., p. 62: 5.6–9. 15 Ibid., pp. 59–60: 2.8–9. 16 Ibid., p. 61: 3.19–21.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture physically intact. (This fact has been used to explain Aldhelm’s inclusion of chaste widowhood within the larger category of virgin.) They are, in short, Anglo-Saxon female bodies constructed during a period in which the advent of Christianity provoked many changes in kinship relations, and consequently definitions of gender and legitimate sexuality.17 Names like Justina, Scholastica, Eulalia and Thecla would seem to identify women without kin in the secular world, although their non-Germanic names do find them ‘ancestors’ and histories within the text itself. These namesakes, like John the Baptist, may burn ‘with the torrid ardour of chastity’ (‘torrido castitatis ardore’),18 but most of the Prosa’s virgins find virginity the fragile prize of a struggle to reject the duties of earthly kinship, especially the propagation of the family line. So also the text’s readers, whose names like Cuthburg, Osburg, Aldgith, Hidburg, Berngith, and indeed Hildelith proclaim (even somewhat proudly, perhaps) membership within specific high-status kin-groups. They name bodies gendered and positioned, probably from birth, as potential objects trafficked between aristocratic male subjects to forge alliances. Within a kinship-based gender economy, the women’s legitimate – ‘natural’ – sexuality served the kin group: loyalty to the family entailed identification with its dynastic interests and adoption of its desire to reproduce and continue the line. Although, as has been frequently noted, sexual assault is more overt and literal in the lives of female virgins like Lucia, Agnes, Daria and Dorothea, both male and female virgins face and resist secular marriage as a form of institutionalized rape. Chrysanthus, for example, is imprisoned and starved by his father before being forced into marriage with Daria, the bride he subsequently converts to Christianity and virginity. Julian is similarly coerced into marrying, but subverts secular marriage by converting his bride, Basilissa; Cecelia likewise converts both her husband and her brother-in-law. For them, secular marriage and dynastic reproduction must be enforced (albeit futilely) through violence. Paul the Hermit, ‘betrayed in violation of the laws of nature by a deceitful brother-in-law . . . and prostituted from the first immaturity of adolescence’, rejects sexuality and embraces monastic exile ‘where the attractions of carnal filth grow faint’ (‘A pellaci genero . . . contra iura naturae proditus et publicatus a primaevo pubertatis, . . . qua carnalis spurcitiae blandimenta fatescunt’).19 Yet apostasy is always a threatening possibility. Having rejected family and marriage and entered a monastery, Malchus feels his ascetic ardour cool; the temptations and duties of the secular world lead him to abandon the community. Yet, captured by pirates, sold into slavery, and ‘forced at the point of a sword into abandoning the glories of the chastity he longed for – which he had preserved in 17

C. Lees and G. Overing, Double Agents: Women and Clerical Power in Anglo-Saxon England (Philadelphia, 2001), esp.  pp.  17–39; and C. Pasternack, ‘Negotiating Gender in Anglo-Saxon England’, in Gender and Difference in the Middle Ages, ed. S. Farmer and C. Pasternack (Minneapolis, 2003), pp. 107–42. 18 Aldhelm, The Prose Works, trans. Lapidge and Herren, p. 80: 23.10–11. 19 Ibid., p. 87: 28.14–20.


The Saint-Maker and the Saint his native land – he preferred to die transfixed cruelly by the sword rather than to defend his life by profaning the laws of chastity’ (‘Optatae castitatis insignibus, quae in genitali solo servaverat, carere stricta machera extorqueretur, malluit mucrone transfossus crudeliter occumbere quam pudicitiae iura profanando vitam defendere’).20 Interestingly, Aldhelm’s account omits the female slave with whom Malchus is partnered; this omission heightens the rhetoric of rape and makes Malchus even more the sexual victim of his captors. If the ‘affection of baser love’ and ‘the kindling of marital wantonness’ is a sexuality based in the dynastic concerns of kinship ties and enforced by violence, the ‘divine delectation’ of virginity ‘rejoices at being a companion of angelic chastity’ (‘Differentia inter divinae dilectionis munificentiam et infimi amoris diligentiam: una se angelicae castitatis comitem fore gratulatur, altera se maritalis lasciviae fomitem’).21 Yet to remake oneself like an angel itself requires no little struggle: ‘the future eminence of the angelic life is now in a certain sense seized by violence beforehand by the male and female followers of intact virginity’ (‘Futura angelicae vitae celsitudo ab illesae virginitatis sectatoribus ac sectatricibus’).22 For human beings brought into this world through ‘the natural womb’, to choose virginity is to ‘spurn the laws of nature’ in order ‘to exist as an inseparable fellow of angelic chastity’ (‘Quam materna fecunditas genuine nativitatis matrice in mundum edidit, . . . spretis naturae legibus individuus angelicae castitatis comes existere’).23 Becoming virgin thus entails a reorientation of gender and sexuality within an alternate monastic kinship with competing desires. It calls for a radical reinscription of self against secular conceptions of nature. Such an ideal, unnaturally natural monastic virginity is far more difficult to embody and perform within secular ‘natural’ bodies and spaces. It is therefore perhaps quite proper that the most unnaturally natural monastic virgin body really exists only in text – and that it is not even a human body. It is, rather, that of the bee that gathers the nectar of scriptural flowers through reading, and then transmutes that nectar in its body to build the honeycomb it inhabits as well as to produce its progeny.24 Aldhelm’s bee reproduces itself through parthenogenesis: ‘robbing the flowering fields of pastureland of an ineffable booty she produces her sweet family and children, innocent of the lascivious coupling of marriage, by means of a certain generative condensation of a very sweet juice’ (‘Florentes saltuum cespites ineffabili praeda depopulans dulcia natorum pignora, nesciens coniugii illecebrosa consortia, fetosa quadam suavissimi suci concretione

20 21 22 23 24

Ibid., p. 91: 31.36–9. Ibid., p. 73: 17.6–8. Ibid., p. 74: 18.1. Ibid., p. 74: 18.7–9. The metaphoric bee enjoys a long classical literary history that is largely derived from Book IV of Virgil’s Georgics. For many patristic writers, the bee’s careful collection of nectar from the flowers of the field, as well as its apparent asexuality and lack of gender, render it an apt image for the devout and studious virgin.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture producit’).25 From the ‘honey-bearing petals of marsh-marigolds or the purple flowers of mallows’ Aldhelm’s bees ‘gather honey moisture drop by drop in their mouths . . . [and] as if with the treacle must of sweet wine made for royal feasts, they struggle eagerly to fill the greedy receptacles of their stomachs’ (‘Modo melligeris caltarum frondibus seu purpureis maluarum floribus incubantes mulsa nectaris stillicidia guttatim rostro decerpunt et velut lento carenae defruto, quod regalibus ferculis conficitur, avida viscerum receptacula certatim implere contendunt’).26 The hall for that royal feast too has its origin in the flowering textual fields of Scripture and the bees’ virginal bodies: ‘at another moment, swarming round golden-yellow willows and the saffron tips of broom they transport their fertile booty in the numerous loadings of their thighs and hips, out of which they build waxen castles’ (‘Modo flavescentes saliculas et crocata genestarum cacumina circumvallantes fertilem praedam numerosis crurum et coxarum oneribus advehunt, quibus cerea castra conficiunt’).27 The community constructs a home out of the bodies themselves formed and nourished by textual flowers through a queerly liquid, non-phallic fecundity: ‘pressing together the smooth flower-clusters of ivy and the tender buds of blossoming lime-tree, they construct the multi-dimensioned edifice of the honey-comb with angular and hidden cells’ (‘Modo teretes hedararum corimbos et levissimos florentis tiliae surculos constipantes multiformem favorum machinam angulosis et opertis cellulis construunt’).28 Like bees, Aldhelm’s readers similarly advance out into ‘the flowering fields of scripture’ where ‘with thirsty curiosity’ they settle now upon the writings of prophets of the Old Testament, now upon the Gospels, now upon the commentaries of the Fathers of the Church (‘Per florulenta scripturarum arva late vegans bibula curiositate decurrit’).29 Yet even the most utopian, poetic images of community are anxiously fragile. The monastic virgin, like the angel and the bee, may be theoretically beyond gender difference: a virgin like Eugenia may reject gender, cut off her long hair and ‘take service in the monastic army not like a woman, but against the laws of nature’ as a man (‘Coenobialis militiae tirocinium non muliebriter quaesitura rasis cincinnorum criniculis sub tonsura masculini sexus contra iura naturae’).30 In this guise, in hagiographic narrative, she may thus safely join an otherwise all-male community, and it is ironically another woman, Melanthia, who threatens her with shame. Like her, the nuns reading her life must become the masculine soldiers who, in a metaphor which foregrounds gender anxiety, do not turn their backs ‘effeminately’ (‘muliebriter’) towards the enemy.31 Nevertheless, the text’s ‘double choir’ of male and female exemplars, and the choirs of monks and nuns who read it, must still observe segregation by gender. 25 26 27 28 29 30 31

Aldhelm, The Prose Works, trans. Lapidge and Herren, p. 62: 5.4–6. Ibid., p. 61: 4.6–11. Ibid.: 4.11–14. Ibid.: 4.14–16. Ibid.: 4.25–6. Ibid., p. 110: 44.13–16. Ibid., p. 68: 11.30.


The Saint-Maker and the Saint How, then, might Hildelith have responded to her reading of Aldhelm’s text? In scripture – I Peter 2.4–9, Ephesians 2.21, II Corinthians 5.1 – believing Christians constitute the ‘living stones’ of the Church. The Prosa de virginitate accordingly erects an ‘edifice of chaste behaviour’ from the stones of virginal lives, the male lives forming an ‘anything but crumbling foundation of integrity’ upon which rise the walls of complementary female lives (‘Qui nequaquam nutabundo integritatis fundamento castae conversationis structuram sustentabant’).32 Aldhelm’s conceit draws attention to the corporeal effects of reading, the physicality of the text as a ‘place’ where gender and sexuality are continually constructed and reconstructed in the act of reading. The ‘edifice of chaste behaviour’ of the Prosa de virginitate in effect builds from virgin lives a type of church-in-text.33 At Barking Hildelith would move the bodies of both monks and nuns into a single church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. Hildelith and the Boniface Circle A generation later an older Hildelith is also credited with similar literary competence and equal cultural authority by Aldhelm’s disciple Boniface. In one of the five extant letters sent to Eadburga, abbess of either Minster-in-Thanet or (more likely) Wimbourne, Boniface relates the vision (some years previously) of a monk at another Southumbrian monastic house, Abbess Milburga’s Much Wenlock.34 Although his letter cites as his source the direct testimony of the visionary monk himself, Boniface initially learned of the incident, he says, from Hildelith of Barking. The letters which document Boniface’s friendships with his own group of female correspondents rely stylistically – even formulaically – on Aldhelm’s language, and it is possible Hildelith represented a living link with the older writer. The so-called Boniface Circle constituted a community grounded in Latin literacy. Echoes and citations of Scripture and verbal formulas mined from each other’s previous letters add to the production of a self-conscious,

32 33

Ibid., p. 106: 39.2–3. Significantly, in doing so the text singles out as examples of perfect virginity the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint John the Evangelist, two figures fundamentally significant in the architecture and iconography of medieval English women’s religious houses. R. Gilchrist, Gender and Material Culture: The Archaeology of Religious Women (New York, 1994), especially pp. 25–36,133–43; see also S. Hollis, Anglo-Saxon Women and the Church (Woodbridge, 1992), p. 110. 34 Die Briefe des heiligen Bonifatius und Lullus, ed. M. Tangl, Monumenta Germaniae Historica Epistolae Selectae I (Berlin, 1955), Ep. 10. Boniface’s letter detailing the vision of the monk at the double monastery of Much Wenlock seems, moreover, to have circulated fairly widely in England as well as the Continent, and was later translated into Old English; see K. Sisam, Studies in the History of Old English Literature (Oxford, 1953), pp.  199–224. On the identification of Eadburga, see P. Sims-Williams, Religion and Literature in Western England 600–800 (Cambridge, 1990), p. 209.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture self-reflexive, shared aesthetic, a dense and multiple intertextuality.35 Aldhelm’s De metris and De pedum regularis as well as his poetic compositions constituted a substantial influence on Anglo-Saxon education and literacy, especially in the Southumbria of Boniface and his correspondents.36 His understanding of verse as mathematically precise schema, and his use of alliteration and repetition of set phrases in similar metrical environments, all create a model for formulaically reproducible – and even reproductive – literary language capable of creating a sophisticated literate subjectivity and identity.37 Whether Hildelith was herself the author of an alternative (and no longer extant) written account of the Much Wenlock vision is a matter for conjecture. The apparent interest in visions shown by Hildelith (as well as Milburga, Eadburga and Boniface himself) certainly finds an echo, however, in the Barking libellus with its narrative of visions within the Essex monastery.38 At Barking, such perimortem visitations often ratify pre-existing relationships either within an individual monastic house or across the distance, ostensibly separating members of a prayer community. Besides the heavenly light that selects the site of the nuns’ cemetery, when Ethelburg dies her companion Torhtgyth sees 35 36



A. Orchard, ‘Old Sources, New Resources: Finding the Right Formula for Boniface’, Anglo-Saxon England 30 (2001), 15–38. As Christine Fell has noted, the ninth-century manuscript, Vienna National­bibliothek Lat. 751, a major source of the Boniface Circle letters, collects them together with a selection of Aldhelm’s letters and a unique copy of his Carmen rhythmicum. Aldhelm’s verse form in this work – a form of which he may well be the inventor – is echoed and imitated within poems and letters collected within that same manuscript. In fact, Fell suggests that the compilation of Vienna 751 can be associated with Boniface’s disciple and successor Lul, who in one of his own letters requested that a correspondent in England send him Aldhelm’s prose and poetic works. C. Fell, ‘Some Implications of the Boniface Correspondence’, New Readings on Women in Old English Literature, ed. H. Damico, A. Hennessey Olsen, and M. Osborn (Bloomington IN, 1990), pp. 29–43 (p. 35). For Aldhelm’s poetic originality see Aldhelm, The Poetic Works, trans. M. Lapidge and J. L. Rosier (Cambridge, 1985), p. 171; and A. Orchard, The Poetic Art of Aldhelm (Cambridge, 1994). For Aldhelm’s influence on later Anglo-Latin and Old English authors, see C. Ruff, ‘The Place of Metrics in Anglo-Saxon Latin Education: Aldhelm and Bede’, Journal of English and Germanic Philology 104 (2005), 149–70; and M. Lapidge, ‘Aldhelm’s Latin Poetry and Old English Verse’, Comparative Literature 31 (1979), 209–31. Also of interest is the discussion of the formulaic nature of Aldhelmian and Bonifatian literacy in M. T. Hussey, ‘Transmarinis Litteris: Southumbria and the Transmission of Isidore’s Synonyma,’ Journal of English and Germanic Philology 107 (2008), 141–68, and M. B. Parkes, ‘Rædan, areccan, smeagan: How the Anglo-Saxons Read’, Anglo-Saxon England 26 (1997), 1–22. One shared characteristic of the women, including Hildelith, to whom the Prosa de virginitate is dedicated, is also an interest in visions and visionary texts. (Gwara, Prosa de virginitate, I, p.  26.) If gifts of prophecy and vision provide evidence of spiritual and political authority in the Barking libellus, they are equally at issue in virginity as constructed in Aldhelm’s Prosa de virginitate. Within Aldhelm’s text, such powers of prophecy and vision notably provide clear proof of the holy virginity of Elijah (20.1–2) Daniel (21.39–40) and John the Baptist. (23.4–5). And although the Visio Sancti Pauli is not explicitly referenced, Aldhelm’s Paul silences a false pagan sorceress and thus proves his own visionary acumen (24.5–7).


The Saint-Maker and the Saint her shrouded body, shining as brightly as the sun, drawn up to heaven by the golden cords of good deeds. The saint herself subsequently appears in separate visions to both Torhtgyth and a second anonymous nun to guide them, in turn, to heaven (Bede, Historia ecclesiastica iv.9). The young boy Esica is similarly tied to his guardian Edith, who dies at the same moment, as is another anonymous Barking nun to the ‘man of God’, her spiritual mentor, who appears to tell her to prepare her soul (iv.8). Such visitations become the common currency of cultural exchange both within an individual monastic house and across the distances separating members of a wider prayer community. Hildelith’s Barking as represented in the libellus is thus by no means exceptional: similar visions recur throughout seventh- and eighth-century England. Hild’s death at Whitby is made known simultaneously to a ‘beloved companion’, perhaps Ælfflæd, her niece and successor as abbess, and to the nun Begu at the affiliated house in Hackness, who hears the sound of the bell that calls the community to prayer for the dead and sees the roof of the abbess’s cell open, light flood the room, and Hild’s saintly soul drawn up to heaven (Bede, Historia ecclesiastica iv.23). A monk of Chad’s community at Lastingham likewise overhears ‘the sound of heavenly rejoicing’ (much as in Gregory’s Dialogues) announcing the saint’s death. In many of these instances the visions validate and ratify pre-existing friendships. Ethelhun learns of his own death and the delayed fate of his companion Egbert in the same dream (iii.27). The bond between Cuthbert and Herebert is even stronger: a vision predicts that the two will die and be carried to heaven together (iv.29). That Hildelith shares visionary accounts with Milburga, Eadburga and Boniface means that she participates in a cultural world much wider than the the kingdom of the East Saxons. Her transmission of the vision may also, however, have been a canny political move. Visions also seem to have been of strategic ideological importance to Anglo-Saxon dynastic politics. In Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica visions often validate a king’s exercise of secular political power, especially within the context of a crisis in kingship. Sebbi of the East Saxons, for example, was a ‘king who opted out’ and preferred monastic life to an earthly throne, and who in an appropriately monastic fashion learns of his impending death from angelic messengers.39 A subsequent miracle at his burial confirms his virtue and potential sanctity; significantly it occurs in the presence – and perhaps even validates the succession – of his son, Sighard, co-ruler after Sebbi with his brother Swefred (iv.11). Sebbi’s story came to Bede in the same Barking libellus as Ethelburg’s: Hildelith’s literary interest in such miracles and visions also serves the pragmatic goal of ensuring Barking’s survival. The Much Wenlock vision is also potentially highly political. Like the earlier Anglo-Saxon visionaries Fursey and Dryhthelm, the anonymous monk of 39

C. Stancliffe, ‘Kings Who Opted Out’, in Ideal and Reality in Frankish and Anglo-Saxon Society: Studies Presented to J. M. Wallace-Hadrill, ed. P. Wormald, D. Bullough, and R. Collins (Oxford, 1983), pp. 154–76.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture Boniface’s letter provides a vividly imagined otherworldly landscape of both salvation and damnation.40 One evildoer is identified by name: King Coelred of Mercia. Coelred was, by all accounts, a controversial and problematic figure in Mercian politics, the notorious successor of the more ostensibly holy Coenred and Æthelred, both of whom died as monks.41 By naming Coelred the Much Wenlock vision also suggests the degree to which visions and the spiritual authority they implied could be of strategic ideological importance to Anglo-Saxon dynastic politics. The narrative’s textual if not liturgical damnation of a royal figure still living at the time of the vision, either to promote his reformation or to call into question the legitimacy of his rule, moves the vision from the generally doctrinal to the specifically political. Possibly the intended target of the vision, at least as retold by Boniface in the letter, may not have been Coelred himself so much as his successor (and one time rival) Æthelbald.42 Barking, like many other monastic houses throughout southern England, had an interest in Mercian dynastic politics and the legitimization (or de-legitimization) of Coelred and his line: Coelred’s predecessor Æthelred enjoyed some influence in the London area during Sebbi’s reign. Hildelith rewrites Barking Hildelith’s involvement in the circles of both Aldhelm and Boniface argue for her engagement with the major Anglo-Latin literary movements of her day. Both the Prosa de virginitate and the Much Wenlock vision narrative share significant cultural and political concerns with the Barking libellus. Moreover, 40

All three visions share literary antecedents, notably Gregory’s Dialogues and the apocryphal Visio Sancti Pauli. Boniface’s narrative echoes the Vita Sancti Fursei – Bede’s source for his version (iii.19) as well as an influence on the contemporary Vita Sancti Guthlaci – and likely Hæmgisl’s lost account of Dryhthelm’s vision, also cited by Bede (v.12). See Sims-Williams, Religion and Literature, pp. 243–72. See also A. J. Kabir, Paradise, Death and Doomsday in Anglo-Saxon Literature (Cambridge, 2001), pp. 77–110. In the vision of the monk of Much Wenlock, as in Fursey’s vision, the cleansing fires involve elements of psychomachia: where Fursey sees the four fires of Falsehood, Covetousness, Discord and Cruelty burning in a gloomy, hellish valley, Boniface’s visionary confronts the personifications of his personal sins. As in Dryhthelm’s vision, the monk also reports on the grim fates awaiting others, including an unnamed abbot who finds salvation as well as two people who do not, an equally anonymous woman who stole a distaff and a man who refused to fulfil his obligation to free a slave owned in common with his dead brother. 41 Sims-Williams, Religion and Literature, p. 96. In another, later letter (Die Briefe des heiligen Bonifatius und Lullus, 57) Boniface in fact reminds Æthelbald of Coelred’s sins and fate as he advises him about proper relations between Church and Crown. 42 It is not known whether the Much Wenlock vision furthered the influence of either the anonymous monk or (more likely) his royal abbess upon Coelred, whose name does actually appear on one of Wenlock’s charters. Other abbesses, as well as saintly bishops and queens, certainly claimed that right and responsibility. Guthlac also prophesied against Coelred and supported the exiled Æthelbald; see Sims-Williams, Religion and Literature, p. 271.


The Saint-Maker and the Saint that Bede draws so explicitly from the libellus, produced during Hildelith’s abbacy and likely in conjunction with her translation of the abbey’s holy dead, similarly testifies to her authority and influence. But the extent and nature of Hildelith’s ideological redefinition of Barking can also be observed in the way the so-called Erkenwald Charter rewrites the foundation narrative inscribed within the earlier Hodilred Charter.43 Responding to an implied anxiety about the integrity of the abbey’s claims, the Erkenwald Charter rhetorically invokes the authority to re-donate lands previously conceded ‘by gifts of kings in the name of this monastery, so that [the women of Barking] may enjoy them lawfully and peacefully, intact and in the same state as they were given, as set out in the charters of donation’.44 These lands include, first, forty hides ‘called Berecingas and Beddanhaam’ given by Swæfred, son of and (after 693/4) co-ruler with Sebbi (‘Quarum prima fuit, quae mihi a Suidfrido rege data fuerat 40 cassatarum et appellatur Berecingas et Beddanhaam’).45 Although the strategic double naming of the monastery site underscores the primacy given to this donation, whether this accurately represents the initial foundation, must, of course, remain a matter of conjecture. The second donation, however, recognizably reiterates the Hodilred Charter’s narrative of augmenting the abbey’s original foundation. Indeed, it duplicates all but verbatim the wording of that charter’s grant of lands at Ricingahaam, Bydanhaam, Daeccanhaam, Angenlabeshaam and Widmundesfelth (‘Secunda quae ab Oedilredo tradita fuerat 75 manentium et appellatur Ricingahaam, Bydenhaam, Daeccanhaam, angenlabeshaam cum campo qui dicitur Uuidmundes felth’).46 A third donation from ‘the same Oedilred’ of ten hides at Celta cannot be so substantiated (‘Terra tertia quae ab eodem Oedilredo data fuerat 10 manentium appellatur Celta’).47 Subsequent donations within this charter disclose Barking’s widening political connections. The fourth and eighth concern grants of land at Isleworth (Middlesex) and Swanscomb and Erith (Kent) made by King Æthelred of Mercia (‘Quarta, quae ab aedilredo rege data fuerat 53 manentium, et vocatur gislheresuuyrth. . . . Octavia quae appellatur Suanescamp et earhyth donata ab aedilredo rege 40 cassatarum’).48 The fifth donation’s grant by King Cædwalla of Wessex, of 70 hides iuxta Hydabur[na] called Badoricesheah can likely 43

44 45 46 47 48

The charter is virtually impossible to date with any accuracy, since analysis must be based primarily on John Jocelyn’s early sixteenth century transcript (London, British Library, MS Cotton Vespasian A.ix, fols. 112–13). Even the subsequently lost “original” itself was almost certainly a fabrication – in fact, it is self-reflexively a compendium – stitched together from a collection of (for the most part) now long-lost original charters. Both the Erkenwald and Hodilred charters were later endorsed by J. de Colet ‘iiii non’ Marcii anno dni Mcccvi’, giving the compilation a terminus ante quem of 1306. C. R. Hart, ed., The Early Charters of Eastern England (Leicester, 1966), p. 9. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture be authenticated by independent witness of a separate charter associated with lands in the London area (‘Quinta iuxta Hydabur[na] donata ab [C]aeduualla rege 70 manentium appellatur Badoricesheah’).49 The Battersea Charter (London, Westminster Abbey WAM I) shares with the Erkenwald Charter an identical opening invocation, and cites 68 hides, including 20 ‘on the west bank of the river called Hidaburna’, given by Cædwalla and confirmed by Æthelred, granted in the document to the church of the Blessed Mary.50 If that church is to be identified with Barking, it is significant that the source charter, if not necessarily the gift itself, may date from the time after Hildelith’s translations, perhaps in response to the abbey’s new cult site.51 The sixth and seventh donations concern lands in London. The first, of one hide iuxta Lundonium from Wulfhere of Mercia, must date from early in Barking’s history if it is genuine: Wulfhere died in 675.52 The other, from a laywoman named Cwoengyth, may well imply Barking’s growing reputation outside the monastery proper as a locus of sanctity and of spiritual authority beyond the immediate dynastic line. If Cwoengyth is not the libellus’s anonymous noblewoman cured of her blindness at Ethelburg’s newly translated grave, she is surely someone very like her.53 Equally significant, however, is the way the charter further invokes authority by framing its reinscription of these donations within an introductory text which rewrites Barking’s foundation legend along lines familiar from Bede’s frame for the libellus miracles and visions: Ego Ercenuualdus episcopus provinciae East Saexanorum, servorum dei servus, dilectissimis in Christo sororibus in monasterio quod appellatur 49 50

51 52 53

Ibid. ‘Qua propter ego . . . abs[qu]e meritorum p[re]cedent[iu]m prerogative pontificali nominee functus aliqua[m] terra[m] aeccl[esi]ae beatae .  .  . [probably, but not certainly, Mariae] libent[er] impendere decreui. His locorum limitib[us] designatum, id est in batrices ege xviii manentes et alibi in villa[m] quæ vocabulo fungitur Watsingaham xx. Ex occidentali uero plaga fluminis cuius vocabulum est Hidaburna xxx cassatas. Quam videlicet terra[m] a venerando rege Ceduuala acceptam et ab aethelredo regali culmine freto roboratam in cassatas sexaginta viii’, see Sawyer, Anglo-Saxon Charters, no. 1248, and Hart, Early Charters, text p. 20, trans. p. 21. Although dating from the second half of the eleventh century, the Battersea Charter (London, Westminster Abbey, WAM I) is probably a copy of an earlier authentic document. That Cædwalla is designated as venerando may suggest that the Wessex king had died well before the writing of the deed, and that this initial grant to the unknown ego of the text predates the grant to the church of the Blessed Mary (perhaps Barking) by some years. The use in the charter of a verbal formula that also occurs in the letters of Boniface and Aldhelm may also support this dating. Hart, Early Charters, p. 20. Ibid., p. 9: ‘Sexta iuxta Lundoniam unius manentis data a uulfario rege’. Ibid.: ‘Septima supra vicum Lundoniae data a Quoenguyda uxore .  .  . aldi 10 manentium’. At the time of the Conquest, as the Domesday Survey records, Barking owned twenty-eight houses there, and a share in a church, most likely All Hallows by the Tower. Certainly the existence of that church dating back to the earliest days of Barking Abbey is witnessed archaeologically by the presence of a late seventh century arch in the fabric of the nave.


The Saint-Maker and the Saint Berecingas, habitantibus, quod deo auxilliante construxi, concedo ut tam vos quam posteri vestri in perpetuuam, ut constructum est, ita possideatis. (‘I, Erkenwald, bishop of the province of the East Saxons, servant of the servants of God, grant to you, most beloved sisters in Christ living in the monastery called Berecingas, which I built with God’s help, so that both you and also your successors possess [it], as it has been built, in perpetuity.’)54

Erkenwald here supplants the Hodilred Charter’s citation of Ethelred and Sebbi as founder and guarantor, and takes the abbey from kin-group to ecclesiastical control. The abbey’s site is here called Berecingas, the regional name, as in Bede, not the specific Beddanhaam of the Hodilred Charter. In this variation, however, Erkenwald’s foundation is not for Ethelburg specifically but rather more generally for the women of the monastic community as it continues through time and space after her death. Indeed, one could say that the identities of the sainted abbess and her spiritual daughters have fused: they have become the ‘most dear sisters in Christ’ for whom Erkenwald built the abbey. Despite this, however, the rhetoric of the narrative preface reveals a pervasive anxiety about the abbey’s ability to maintain its geographical and political integrity. No bishop, it decrees, who inherits jurisdiction over Barking by virtue of succession to Erkenwald’s office should presume to use his power to usurp the congregation’s independence and self-regulation. Rather, ‘he shall govern only those things which are concerned with the welfare of souls, the ordination of priests, and the consecrations of the nuns’. And, most particularly, ‘the holy community which for the love of God offers praises to Him in that place, its abbess having died, is to elect a successor from among their own number, acting in the fear of God’ (‘Et ne quis presul cuius libet sit ordinis, vel qui in locum meum successerit, ullam in eodem monasterio exerceat potestatem, nec sui viris ditione contra canonum decreta inquietudines aliquas facere presumat. Ea vero tantum faciat in predicto monasterio, quae ad utilitatem animarum pertinet, ordinationes sacerdotum, vel consecrationes ancillarum dei. Ipsa vero sancta congregatio, que propter dei amorem ibidem deo laudes exhibit, moriente abbatissa, ex seipsa sibi aliam eligat dei timorem.’)55 The charter thus reiterates not only Barking’s land holdings but also its authority to define and govern itself. The emphasis on these latter rights may suggest that the charter was created during a period when these rights were especially imperiled: the refoundation of the house by Wulfhild during the later Anglo-Saxon period of monastic reform is one such possibility, as is its consolidation in the wake of the Norman Conquest. But an origin during Hildelith’s abbacy is also possible, as Barking resituates itself within greater Southumbria after its foundress’s death and in response to local political realignments. Hildelith’s rewriting of Barking’s history, in both libellus and in charter, testifies to her active engagement with the maintenance of a monastic house after 54 55

Ibid. Ibid. The last clause reiterates a statute from the Benedictine Rule.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture its founder’s death as something more stable than a ‘family monastery’. Ultimately Hildelith herself would be culted as a saint. In the early twelfth century Goscelin would write a set of Lecciones de sancta Hildilitha for her successor Ælfgifu and the women of a later, refounded Barking Abbey. In the event, however, Goscelin’s lecciones add nothing about Hildelith’s life to what little Bede offers in his Historia ecclesiastica beyond the date of her death, 24 March, the vigil of the Annunciation. For Goscelin this coincidence strengthens the abbess’s link with her ultimate role model, the Virgin Mary. Indeed, Goscelin’s Lecciones are much better known for their vivid and compelling picture of Barking Abbey’s destruction by Vikings in 870.56 As the church burns around them, the unnamed – and, more to the point, unnamable – abbess comforts her equally anonymous companions by reminding them that the palm of martyrdom and eternal glory await them in heaven. Glory in heaven, perhaps, but oblivion here on earth: the women epitomize the loss of memory that divides the later community from earlier generations. It is ironic and yet strangely appropriate that Goscelin should so couple Hildelith’s commemoration with the rupture in memory occasioned by the martyrdom of her ninth-century successor. Hildelith’s most well-known role in Barking’s history is, after all, her construction of memory, her creation of Ethelburg. Her fostering of her predecessor’s cult through implicit and explicit narratives of sanctity and, moreover, her ideological redefinition of her community established a base for the spiritual authority and literary creativity which would characterize Barking for many generations to come.


‘Tempore videlicet quo beatus rex Aedmundus ab his immolatus est Dei hostia’: see Goscelin, ‘Texts’ (Lection 2, p. 455).


chapter three

Goscelin of Saint-Bertin and the Translation Ceremony for Saints Ethelburg, Hildelith and Wulfhild Kay Slocum

During the Middle Ages the relics of saints were often translated, or ‘re-buried’ – that is, they were moved to a different location or to another shrine within the same church. This process, which often included an elaborate public ceremony, was generally undertaken in order to provide a more impressive site for the remains. The translations, which were regarded as the outward recognition of heroic sanctity, were an important aspect of the cult of saints and the development of monastic establishments. Closely connected with the memory of particular church dedications, they often established continuity and enhanced the reputation of the monastery.1 Typically, the noble foundresses of nunneries such as Barking were culted as saints by their successors, and the liturgical celebrations of the translation of their remains required new liturgical readings. These accounts, which form a sub-genre of hagiographic writing, contain narratives about the transfer of relics which emphasize and provide testimony for the power of the saintly remains. In late eleventh century England, translation liturgies were important vehicles for solidifying the Anglo-Saxon and Norman religious connections, which, as discussed below, became important to the leaders of the new regime. This article will provide an example of this historical phenomenon by exploring the liturgies for the translation of the remains of three of the earliest abbesses of Barking Abbey, written by Goscelin of Saint-Bertin. •

Goscelin of Saint-Bertin, sometimes called Goscelin of Canterbury, born about 1035, was one of the most important hagiographers of the eleventh century.2 1


A discussion of translations is presented in P. Geary, Furta Sacra: Thefts of Relics in the Central Middle Ages (Princeton NJ, 1978, rev. edn 1998), pp. 11–15. See also M. Otter, Inventiones: Fiction and Referentiality in Twelfth-Century English Historical Writing (Chapel Hill NC, 1996), pp. 31–4. Goscelin spent the last two decades of his life at Canterbury, where he accomplished a significant body of work; hence, some scholars refer to him by the alternate name. Frank


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture Originally from the Benedictine monastery of Saint-Bertin at Saint-Omer in Flanders, he arrived in England around 1058, and subsequently travelled to various convents, writing the biographies of many local saints. His works include vitae of three of the earliest and most revered abbesses of Barking – Ethelburg (666–c. 693), Hildelith (c. 693–c. 720) and Wulfhild (c. 963–82 and 992–1000). In addition to the vitae, Goscelin wrote two versions of the translation of these holy women; these accounts are divided into twelve lections, with one narrative being a condensation of the other. The lections contain much fascinating information about the three abbesses, and deal, as well, with the problems of a fourth abbess, Ælfgifu,3 in effecting the translation in the years following the Norman Conquest of 1066. According to the Ordinale of the abbey (Oxford, University College, MS 169) the translation of the abbesses was celebrated twice during the year, on 7 March and 23 September.4 The ceremony of 7 March contains an incipit which refers to the lections of Goscelin, indicating that his work was used as part of the liturgy. The translation ceremony also contains a hymn to St Ethelburg which may be found in a manuscript once in the possession of Barking Abbey, now at Trinity College, Cambridge.5 The texts of this hymn include material which reflects the hagiographical writings of Goscelin. Although the abbey church at Barking was destroyed at the time of the Reformation, a speculative ground plan of the building was drawn from the excavations by Arthur Clapham in 1911. This plan, the directions in the Ordinale and Customary, the hymn in the Cambridge manuscript and the lections

3 4 5

Barlow provided an overview of Goscelin’s life and works in Appendix C, The Life of King Edward who Rests at Westminster, ed. and trans. F. Barlow, Oxford Medieval Texts (Oxford, 1992), pp. 133–45. The most comprehensive analysis remains T. Hamilton, ‘Goscelin of Canterbury: A Critical Study of his Life, Works and Accomplishments’ (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Virginia, 1973). R. Love has discussed Goscelin’s contributions in Goscelin of Saint-Bertin, The Hagiography of the Female Saints of Ely (Oxford, 2004) and Three Eleventh-Century Saints’ Lives, Oxford Medieval Texts (Oxford, 1994), pp. xxxix–xlviii, xcvii–ci, cix–cx. See also the comments in A. Gransden, Historical Writing in England, c. 550–1305 (Ithaca NY, 1974), pp. 107–11. D. Knowles and C. N. L. Brooke, The Heads of Religious Houses: England and Wales, 940–1216 (Cambridge, 1972), p. 208. Ordinale and Customary of Barking Abbey, pp. 200–1, 308–11. Cambridge, Trinity College, MS 1226 (in the James catalogue, shelfmark O.3.54). Scholars attribute the hymnal to Barking Abbey because it incorporates three hymns for St Ethelburg, one for St Erkenwald, and one for St Wulfhild. Further, the first section of the manuscript correlates almost exactly with the corresponding section of the Barking Ordinale. Although the hymnal dates from the fifteenth century, an analysis of the contents demonstrates that three quarters of the hymns were listed in the standardized repertoire represented by the so-called New Hymnal from the tenth century. Hence, it may be considered to be representative of liturgical practice at Barking during the centuries prior to the fifteenth. See the discussion in A. Yardley, Performing Piety: Musical Culture in Medieval English Nunneries (New York, 2006), p. 192, and in Yardley’s chapter in the present volume. The manuscript is also listed in Bell, What Nuns Read, p. 108.


Goscelin of Saint-Bertin and the Translation Ceremony of Goscelin furnish information which enables a partial reconstruction of the translation ritual within the abbey church. It is the purpose of this article to analyse the translation lections of Goscelin as hagiographical evidence, and to suggest a possible version of the service, tracing the ritual disposition within the architectural framework, and speculating as to how the work of Goscelin was incorporated into the ceremony. •

The Benedictine abbeys of St Mary of Barking and St Peter of Chertsey were founded in or about the year 666 by St Erkenwald, who was named bishop of London somewhat later.6 This information comes from the Historia ecclesiastica by Bede, who tells us that Erkenwald appointed his sister, Ethelburg, as abbess, and that she ‘proved herself worthy in all things of her brother the bishop, both by her own holy life and by her sound and devoted care for those who were under her rule; and of this heavenly miracles were the witness’ (‘condignam se in omnibus episcopo fratre et ipsa recte uiuendo et subiectis regulariter ac pie consulendo praebuit, ut etiam caelestia indicio fuere miracula’).7 Bede does not discuss the life and organization of the monasteries, but focuses instead upon the miracles observed at Barking. He stresses the degree to which Ethelburg and her sisters were devoted to strict observance, and remarks that ‘a devoted servant of God named Hildelith [Hildelitha] succeeded Aethelburh [Ethelburg] in the office of abbess’. Presiding over the monastery until she was very old, Hildelith was, according to Bede, ‘most energetic in the observance of the discipline of the Rule and in the provision of all such things as were necessary for the common use’ (’strenuissime et in obseruantia disciplinae regularis et in earum quae ad communes usus pertinent rerum prouidentia praefuit’).8 Barking Abbey was destroyed during the Danish invasions of the ninth century (c. 870), and was officially refounded by King Edgar during his reign (959–75).9 He appointed Wulfhild as abbess, and she joined her predecessors Ethelburg and Hildelith as the three major saints commemorated in the abbey services. Wulfhild ruled from c. 963 to 982, and again from 992 until her death in 1000.10 6

The exact date of the foundation is uncertain but 666, as given in the Chertsey Register (British Library, MS Cotton Vitellius A.XIII, fol. 10), is generally accepted. 7 Bede, Historia ecclesiastica iv.6, pp. 356–7. 8 Bede, Historia ecclesiastica iv.10, pp. 362–3. It is evident that Hildelith attended to practical as well as spiritual matters. Realizing that the convent’s ground space was limited, she decided that the bones of the monks and nuns should be exhumed and transferred to a single tomb in the church. 9 See E. A. Loftus and H. F. Chettle, A History of Barking Abbey (Barking, 1954), pp.  15–16, for a discussion of the Danish invasions. Although there is no direct evidence that the abbey was destroyed, circumstance, legend and hagiographical evidence indicate that the convent was burned. 10 For the details of Wulfhild’s life see Loftus and Chettle, History, pp.  19–20, and M. Esposito, ed. ‘La Vie de sainte Vulfhilde par Goscelin de Cantorbéry’, Analecta


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture By the late eleventh century Barking was once again flourishing, at least in a relative sense, as documented by the Domesday Book. The survey reveals that the convent was one of only nine fully organized nunneries in England, and that it was exceeded in income only by Shaftesbury.11 The policy of William the Conqueror with regard to existing religious houses, carried out by Lanfranc, seems to have involved gradual change accompanied by the infusion of a new spirit; this was applied, apparently without friction, at Barking, although, as discussed below, Abbess Ælfgifu faced opposition from the Norman bishop of London, Maurice. As Eileen Power, E. A. Loftus, and more recently Emily Mitchell have pointed out, the succeeding abbesses were chosen from the new ruling classes, and they brought Norman culture and ‘the passion for new and statelier buildings’ to the abbey.12 The ‘passion’ for the new architectural style was already evident when the abbey church was rebuilt in the grand and impressive Norman manner late in the eleventh century, during the tenure of Ælfgifu, who probably became abbess between 1051 and 1066.13 As may be seen in partial form in Figure 1, this late eleventh or early twelfth century church was cruciform in shape; it consisted of a long nave with aisles and two western towers; shallow transepts, with one apsidal eastern chapel in each arm; and an aisled presbytery of five bays, terminating, in all probability, in three graduated apses.14 It is interesting to note that the cloister of the abbey is on the north, rather than the more usual southern position.15 This choice may have been a result of adaptation to the topography and the somewhat restricted nature of the site at Barking, although the cluster of nunneries in the south-east of England with northern cloisters does not give conclusive evidence of this theory. In fact, as Roberta Gilchrist has remarked, the placement may have had symbolic significance, resulting in the choice of this particular architectural form. She points out that Christian symbolism had long equated opposites with the attributes of north and south. For example, the north of a

11 12




Bollandiana 32 (1913), 10–26. See also D. H. Farmer, ‘The Progress of the Monastic Revival’, in Tenth-Century Studies, ed. D. Parsons (London, 1975), pp. 10–19 (p. 14). D. Knowles, The Monastic Order in England, 2nd edn (Cambridge, 1966), pp. 136, 702. Loftus and Chettle, History, p. 29. See also E. Power, Medieval English Nunneries: c. 1275 to 1535 (Cambridge, 1922; repr. New York, 1964), pp. 42–94, for a discussion of the origins of the women who joined the religious orders. A more recent article by E. Mitchell, ‘Patrons and Politics at Twelfth-Century Barking Abbey’, Revue bénédictine 113 (2003), 347–64, discusses the connections between the twelfth-century abbesses and the monarchy. Loftus and Chettle, History, pp.  21–3. See also Knowles and Brooke, The Heads of Religious Houses, p.  208, and Goscelin, ‘Texts’, p.  388. For a discussion of her achievements, see Guidance for Women in Twelfth-Century Convents, trans. V. Morton (Cambridge, 2003), p. 141. Ælfgifu was confirmed in office by William the Conqueror, and was his host at Barking while the Tower of London was being built. Nunnery churches were generally either of cruciform or parallelogram plan, with the latter being much more numerous. See the discussion in R. Gilchrist, Gender and Material Culture: The Archaeology of Religious Women (London, 1994), p. 97. Ibid., p. 129.


Goscelin of Saint-Bertin and the Translation Ceremony

Figure 1. Ground plan of Barking Abbey by Alfred William Clapham, from The Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society (1911) church was associated with night and cold, and the southern part represented warmth and light. The colder, darker, damper northern cloister may have been thought more appropriate for religious women, and was regarded as more suited to female piety and penitence.16 Other symbolic ideas equated the Old Testament with the north, and the New Testament with the south. Further, the male gender was associated with the sun and the south, whereas the female represented the moon and the north. The placing of cloisters on the north in nunneries may refer to such binary oppositions.17 Another theory traces the lineage of north-cloister nunneries back to their Anglo-Saxon origins, suggesting that the northern orientation was identified 16

R. Gilchrist, ‘Unsexing the Body: The Interior Sexuality of Medieval Religious Women’, in Archaeologies of Sexuality, ed. R. Schmidt and B. Voss (London, 2000), pp. 89–103 (p. 101). 17 Gilchrist, Gender and Material Culture, p. 133.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture with the Saxon tradition of the double house, and signified female piety. Perhaps Barking, which was founded on the site of an earlier double monastery, featured a north cloister in order to reaffirm and call attention to the lineage of the Barking abbesses discussed in Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica, thereby redefining their collective identities and seeking Norman patronage.18 This would have been an architectural statement akin to the writing of vitae and liturgical services, to be discussed below. In the early thirteenth century the east end of the twelfth-century church was taken down and an important extension was erected in its place, which is evident in the fully developed ground plan; as with the earlier reconstruction, this rebuilding grew out of the desire to provide a more dignified and appropriate place for the shrines of Ss Ethelburg, Hildelith and Wulfhild. After the second reconstruction, the relics of the saints were once again moved to the new saints’ chapel. As may be seen on the ground plan, it was divided by columns into three equal aisles, three bays long from east to west; from the centre aisle a Lady Chapel projected two bays further east. The shrine of St Ethelburg was probably located in the centre aisle of the saints’ chapel, with the shrines of St Hildelith and St Wulfhild on the sides.19 These shrines were the ‘goal’ of the processions which took place on the feastdays of these saints and during the celebrations which commemorated the translations of their remains, as described in the fourteenth-century Ordinale and Customary. Between 1086 and 1091 (probably closer to the earlier date),20 Ælfgifu commissioned Goscelin of Saint-Bertin to write vitae of Ethelburg and Wulfhild and lections for Hildelith, as well as lessons for the translation ceremony in which the relics of the holy women were moved to the newly enlarged church.21 Although proof is lacking, it is tempting to think that Goscelin, because of his musical expertise, might have composed music for the ceremonies as well as the lessons, a point to which I will return later.22 18 19


21 22

Ibid., p. 137. A. W. Clapham, ‘The Benedictine Abbey of Barking’, reprinted for the Morant Club from the Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society 12 (1911), 69–87 (pp. 10–11). See this volume, Introduction, n. 38. Love has suggested that the translation occurred in 1087, basing her contention on internal evidence. In his account, Goscelin wrote that the translation took place on Laetare Sunday, which fell on 7 March in 1087 (though also in 1092). Love, Three Eleventh-Century Saints’ Lives, p. xliii, n. 165. For a different perspective on Ælfgifu’s commissioning see T. O’Donnell’s chapter in this volume. William of Malmesbury remarked that Goscelin was ‘distinguished as a scholar and as a skilled musician .  .  . in the celebration of English saints he was second to none since Bede, and in music he won the palm next after Osbern’. William of Malmesbury, Gesta regum Anglorum: The History of the English Kings, ed. and trans. R. A. B. Mynors, R. M. Thomson and M. Winterbottom, 2 vols., Oxford Medieval Texts (Oxford, 1998), I, p. 593. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online at http:// points out, however, that appreciation for the verbose style of his works lessened during the twelfth and following centuries.


Goscelin of Saint-Bertin and the Translation Ceremony The ceremony for the commemoration of the translation of the three abbesses was celebrated at duplex rank23 on 7 March and 23 September; it incorporated a condensed version of the lections of Goscelin summarized below, as indicated by the incipit Diem solemnem. The ceremony included a procession, probably similar to the one described for Ethelburg’s feast day. According to the Ordinale and Customary, after terce the abbess or the cantrix began a specified versicle in the middle of the choir; when the verse was finished the procession began, complete with ‘ecclesiastical apparatus’, i.e. led by a priest carrying the cross, who was followed by two boys bearing candles, and then by priests vested in silk copes and two deacons with thuribles. Next came the abbess carrying her pastoral staff, followed by the convent in order of rank. The procession went around the cloister and then back to the inside of the church, circling around the shrine of St Ethelburg, where the participants bowed to the shrine. The nuns sang the antiphon Ethelburga mater while two priests censed the shrine, and the chaplain said a versicle and prayer to St Ethelburg. Processions ‘around the shrine’ also took place on the octave of the translation celebrations.24 There was, in addition, a procession, which should ‘never be omitted’, to the shrine of St Hildelith on the octave of her feast.25 Goscelin’s hagiographical programme, together with his other accounts of saints’ lives, made a significant contribution to the fusion of Anglo-Saxon and Norman culture; indeed, as Stephanie Hollis has remarked, ‘he was foremost among the authors who recreated the Anglo-Saxon past for the Norman regime’.26 Goscelin wrote at least partially in response to the widespread desire for Latin vitae which seems to have been generated by the Norman clergy and the governing authorities following the Conquest in 1066.27 The Normans expected an established saint’s cult to give evidence of textual support in the forms of vitae and liturgy, and Goscelin’s pen provided this necessary foundation.28 Further, as Vera Morton has pointed out, continuity with the AngloSaxon hagiographical tradition became very important to the Normans, who 23

24 25 26 27


In the liturgical year saints’ days and important feasts were ranked according to their degree of importance and liturgical solemnity: totum duplex, duplex, semiduplex and simplex. The designation duplex (or double) indicated a major feast. Ordinale and Customary of Barking Abbey, pp. 200–1, 308–11. Ibid., p. 209. The octave was the eighth day following a feast, which was often the occasion of another celebration. Wilton Women, p. 222. See the discussion by G. Whalen, ‘Patronage Engendered: How Goscelin Allayed the Concerns of Nuns’ Discriminatory Publics’, in Women, the Book and the Godly: Selected Proceedings of the St Hilda’s Conference, 1993, I, ed. L. Smith and J. H. M. Taylor (Cambridge, 1995), pp.  123–35. S. Ridyard, in ‘Condigna Veneratio: Post-Conquest Attitudes to the Saints of the Anglo-Saxons’, Anglo-Norman Studies 9 (1986), 179–206 (p.  205), argues that the inspiration for post-Conquest hagiography lay with the Norman clergy, who saw that the tradition of English saints could be useful to them; hence, they fostered the documentation of saint’s lives. Whalen, ‘Patronage Engendered,’ p. 126.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture eventually absorbed many saints and cults into their own history.29 The translation ceremony was closely linked with Goscelin’s vitae of the holy women. As Richard Sharpe writes in his discussion of Goscelin’s works concerning St Augustine and St Mildreth, the association of hagiographical production with liturgical events eventually became well established, and he points to those writings at Canterbury as ‘the first major instance [of this] in Anglo-Norman England’.30 I would suggest that the earlier hagiographical and liturgical programme at Barking was an equally important example. Several decades ago Martin Colker observed that the hagiographical writings concerning Barking were no doubt designed to create a ‘favorable climate of opinion’ for the translation of the saints and the eleventh-century reconstruction of the abbey church.31 More recently, Paul Antony Hayward and Georges Whalen have expanded this interpretation by pointing out that Ælfgifu probably needed to persuade the hostile Norman bishop Maurice to lend his support to the saints of Barking Abbey during the period following the Norman Conquest. At this time the conquerors may have been attempting to impose the pattern of episcopal control of convents which was prevalent in Normandy,32 and Goscelin’s female hagiographic subjects projected an independent attitude which would have been unfamiliar to the Norman ecclesiastical authorities; thus, the actions of the women required spiritual justification.33 The abbesses’ worthiness to continue in office, and indeed the survival of their Anglo-Saxon cult, was dependent upon the ability to establish their own value; this was, in part, confirmed by the continuing recollection of miracles which occurred at their shrines, as provided by the vitae of the holy women and the liturgical message.34 Ethelburg and her ‘twin lights’ were thus examples of patron saints who, in the words of Susan Ridyard, became ‘the vindicator[s] of the material and political status of the religious house upon which . . . [their] cult was centered’.35 Moreover, it was the translation narrative in particular which asserted the worth of the cult in the sight of God, bearing witness to its history and continuing viability.36 In constructing his accounts of Barking, Goscelin based his narrative on the descriptions given by Bede, but he also travelled to the convent to gather information for his lives of Ethelburg, Hildelith and Wulfhild. At this time he interviewed the nun Vulfrunna, also called Judith, who had known Wulfhild

29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36

Guidance for Women in Twelfth-Century Convents, trans. Morton, p. 140. R. Sharpe, ‘Goscelin’s St Augustine and St Mildreth: Hagiography and Liturgy in Context’, Journal of Theological Studies 41 (1990), 502–16 (p. 508). Goscelin, ‘Texts’, p. 388. P. A. Hayward, ‘Translation-Narratives in Post Conquest Hagiography and English Resistance to the Norman Conquest’, Anglo-Norman Studies 21 (1998), 67–93 (p. 81). Whalen, ‘Patronage Engendered’, p. 127. Hayward, ‘Narratives’, p. 93. Ridyard, ‘Condigna Veneratio’, p. 184. Hayward, ‘Narratives’, p. 89.


Goscelin of Saint-Bertin and the Translation Ceremony personally.37 Thus, his work incorporated much of the hagiographical tradition which had survived primarily in oral form. His lections for the translation of the three abbesses were written some time after Maurice, who is mentioned in Goscelin’s texts, became bishop of London in 1086, and before 1091, when Goscelin’s last datable work, the translation of St Augustine of Canterbury, was composed. Maurice, a former chaplain and chancellor of William the Conqueror, was the first Norman to be appointed to the see of London (1086–1107). His support of the Anglo-Saxon cults was vital, and Goscelin’s cycle composed for Barking seems to have been created in order to convince him to encourage and defend the cults of Ethelburg, Hildelith and Wulfhild, and to take a favourable view of the translation. This is clearly stated in the preface to the vita of Wulfhild, in which the ‘hierarch of the metropolis of London’ is urged, as ‘Christ’s good treasurer and jeweller’, not only to accept the statements about Wulfhild as proven, ‘but also [to] powerfully defend them’ against those who ‘prefer to condemn what they do not know rather than find out first’.38 It should be noted that this sort of invocation was not entirely unusual; it was a common device in post-Conquest hagiography, which, in order to engender favour with the new regime, often gave attention to the role of ecclesiastical dignitaries in the establishment of cults.39 Sometimes the hagiographers stated directly that certain kings or prelates ‘authorized’ a cult, but more often they subtly claimed that such individuals were involved in the translatio through which the cult was validated, and this subtle association is observed when Maurice agreed to the Barking translation, though he sent a substitute to the event. The lections of Goscelin written for the translation describe the events surrounding the first reconstruction of the church, and recount the difficulties encountered by Abbess Ælfgifu in her quest to rebuild the sanctuary. There are two versions of the lections, with one serving as a condensation of the other. Both were probably written by Goscelin, who is known to have created alternative versions of several of his works, for example, the Vita maior and the Vita minor of St Augustine of Canterbury.40 In the prologue to the Vita maior he explained that he wrote two versions, one longer than the other, because the brief one would comply more happily with needs of the ‘bored 37




E. van Houts, Memory and Gender in Medieval Europe, 900–1200 (Toronto, 1999), pp. 50–3. Van Houts asserts that Goscelin was among the first historians to utilize, and defend, the testimony of women as valid historical sources. Hayward, ‘Narratives’, p. 82, n. 62. The dedication of the vita of Edith to Lanfranc also appeals for protection for the nunnery at Wilton. See Whalen, ‘Patronage Engendered’, p. 128. See, for example, the translatio of St Edith, in which the saint ‘shone her light’ on her brother, King Aethelred, and two of the highest-ranking nobles in the land before appearing to Dunstan, archbishop of Canterbury, to urge her translation. The translatio has been translated by M. Wright and K. Loncar in Wilton Women, pp. 69–93. Goscelin, ‘Texts’, p. 392.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture external friends’ while the longer account would be more valuable to the ‘dear brothers’. The longer version of the translation of the holy women of Barking seems to fulfil a similar aim; it contains much information clearly directed to the internal community – material not included in the shorter lessons. It is also possible that the more succinct account was read at mealtime in the refectory, and the detailed version was used for devotional study by individual nuns.41 Lesson One in the longer version functions, in effect, as a prologue or preface (this material is not included in the condensed narrative). Using topoi common to medieval hagiographical writings, Goscelin invokes the universal presence of God, and makes clear the heavenly Father’s intention concerning the translation, providing assurance that ‘the clarity of future salvation lights up the tombs’ of the holy women. The virgins are carried and placed higher, ‘just like three glistening torches which gleam with an unfailing glow in the presence of the Lord of threefold majesty’. In Lesson Two these pearls promise the joy of resurrection, thus embodying the hope of the community for ‘wellbeing in this world and the next’.42 Ethelburg and her companions fly on wings of everlasting love towards the celestial marriage chamber, an image which reinforces the nuns’ vocation; the nuptial figuration was also used by Goscelin in his vitae of Edith and Wulfhild.43 The hagiographer then discloses his mission: he is called to record the circumstances of the translation, an event which is pleasing to God, as proved by divine revelations, signs and miracles. Thus, Goscelin establishes the triangular relationship between the Barking saints, God and the community which ‘sets the stage’ for recalling the translatio – a pivotal moment in the spiritual life of the abbey. In the condensed version, the ‘plot’ moves directly to the actions of Abbess Ælfgifu. This ‘devoted mother of the monastery proposed a new sanctuary with larger dimensions’, but she met with resistance on the part of Bishop Maurice.44 As Goscelin reports in the lections, the bishop and other Church authorities claimed that they were reluctant to disturb ‘such an ancient building’, and to remove ‘those holy virgins from their long sleep’. Confronted by this opposition, Ælfgifu ‘assailed the armory of God with her sisters’ through fasting, prayers and the chanting of psalms. 41 42



For a different view of the purpose of the two versions, see T. O’Donnell’s chapter in this volume. Goscelin, ‘Texts’, p. 435. See the discussion of the relationship of God to the process of translation in Hayward, ‘Narratives’, p.  68. Medieval literary prologues in general are analysed in A. Gransden, ‘Prologues in the Historiography of TwelfthCentury England’, in England in the Twelfth Century: Proceedings of the 1988 Harlaxton Symposium, ed. D. Williams (Woodbridge, 1990), pp. 55–81. As Stephanie Hollis has pointed out, Goscelin also uses this imagery in his Legend of Edith, whose life ‘is conceived as the journey of a betrothed woman who hastens towards marital consummation with the king of a foreign land in a fervent ecstasy of anticipation’. Wilton Women, p. 281. Hayward, ‘Narratives’, p.  81. Hayward points out that Goscelin’s account is somewhat ambiguous, since the Preface to the vitae contains a plea to Maurice asking him to defend the cults of Ethelburg and Wulfhild.


Goscelin of Saint-Bertin and the Translation Ceremony Lesson Three in the longer version presents the biography of Ælfgifu, which is not part of the condensed lections. Goscelin relates that, according to God’s will, her childhood was spent at Barking, where she ‘bloomed, full of favour, alert in understanding, filled with all kindness, full of milk and honey’. When she was fifteen, during the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042–66) she was elected abbess, and was confirmed by William, bishop of London (1051–75). Goscelin reports that she was ‘full of energy and power’, and cleared the monastic property of peasant holdings so that she might extend the church and the churchyard. In a piece of masterful propaganda he referred to the abbess’s achievements in her building programme as greater than those of Semiramis of Babylon and of Dido.45 Of course, as mentioned earlier, Goscelin wrote his account of the translation at the explicit request of Abbess Ælfgifu, and at the time his lections were no doubt designed to create a favourable view of the building project.46 In addition, the liturgical reminder of her independent action provided inspiration to generations of nuns. The hagiographer then goes on to explain the reason for the translation: the planned size of the new church was so great that the old structure, founded by Erkenwald and Ethelburg, obstructed it.47 Thus, Ethelburg and her companions Hildelith and Wulfhild would have to be moved from their ancient resting places; however, their new shrines in the extended chapel would emphasize their importance as the founding triumvirate of the abbey. Goscelin reports in Lesson Four that Ælfgifu was bitterly disappointed by the continuing resistance of Maurice and the other prelates, and complained to the nuns that she was sorry she had become involved in the project. One of the sisters, ‘as if by divine inspiration’, remarked that perhaps the saints preferred to be moved by their ‘own family’, rather than by ‘outsiders’.48 According to Goscelin, the next night Ethelburg herself intervened in the situation when she appeared in a vision to the abbess, saying that she ‘most certainly’ wished for the rebuilding to take place: ‘after the old monastery is destroyed a new monastery should be built in its place, and we will be placed in the spot where a seat will have been prepared’.49 The saint complained that her tomb was 45


47 48 49

Goscelin, ‘Texts’, p. 438. Goscelin also uses the simile of Semiramis in describing the building activities of Wulfthryth, the abbess of Wilton. Wright and Loncar in Wilton Women, p. 75. Pragmatic motivations are also evident in Goscelin’s Translatio of St Edith, where the nun’s community needed the assistance of a powerful supporter to recover lost lands. See Wilton Women, p. 234. Goscelin recounted similar difficulties in the rebuilding at St Augustine’s, Canterbury. See Sharpe, ‘Goscelin’s St Augustine’, p. 507. Goscelin, ‘Texts’, pp. 439–40. This vision is more thoroughly described by Goscelin in a separate account (ibid., pp.  452–4). In ‘The Recital of a Vision’ Goscelin relates that Ælfgifu was visited by Ethelburg as she was praying by her tomb. Ethelburg moved her sarcophagus towards the abbess, pushing her body towards the adjoining wall. Ælfgifu perceived this as a sign that the saint was constricted in her enclosure, and wished to have the area of the shrine rebuilt. ‘“Now make haste”, Ethelburg directed, “[. . .] take us out


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture ‘quite cramped’, and directed that her remains, as well as the venerated bodies of Hildelith and Wulfhild, be placed in a new sanctuary. Abbess Ælfgifu was made ‘joyful as a result of such a clear proclamation by blessed Ethelburg’, and was strengthened in her intent to rebuild and enlarge the church. Ethelburg eventually provided help of a practical variety, in addition to her spiritual encouragement. Goscelin reports in Lesson Five of the translation ceremony that Abbess Ælfgifu approached the tomb of the beloved mother in order to examine her body, accompanied by chosen nuns and assistants ‘skilled with iron tools’. In the longer version Goscelin’s words address the community directly, pointing to the abbess’s function as a model of saintliness to be emulated. Here I use Vera Morton’s translation: There [in front of the tomb] she bowed herself to the sign of heavenly approval and with all the others stretched out in secret piety to the anticipated achievement. With her nuns and faithful priests she contended in prayer and equipped the hand of the workman with a pearl to offer to God. May it be sweet and lovely for succeeding daughters to know clearly of the marriage settlement of this most blessed and loving woman, their mother.50

Both versions of the lections include a description of the tomb, which was sheathed in Parian marble. According to Goscelin, it was square in shape, and had a peaked top which gave the appearance of a hut; the sides were decorated with representations of Christ, the Cross and saints.51 In Goscelin’s account, when the workmen accompanying the abbess to the tomb had dug for some time, the burial places of the holy founder and the two blessed virgins were found, ‘their bones shining like glowing white milk’. As the men continued the excavation, a jingling sound was heard, and a treasure-trove of golden coins was found lying beside Ethelburg’s tomb. In another visitation on that same ‘exceptionally clear’ night, the holy abbess appeared once again, assuring them that she wished to be moved, and urging Ælfgifu to use the unearthed money to build the new sanctuary. (Lesson Seven in the short version, Eight in the long.) Goscelin tells us in Lesson Eight that the tombs of Ethelburg and her two companions were to be placed in the choir while the reconstruction was taking place. A ceremony was held to celebrate this transition, attended by the archdeacon in place of Bishop Maurice. When he observed that a huge crowd had gathered, he declared that anyone lacking the ‘cleansing of holy confession’ would not be allowed to approach the sacred place. Ethelburg again intervened, as a stone and establish us in the prepared place. These chambers press on us, the narrowness of the place constrains us, and the inadequate beds deform us.”’ However, the hagiographer reported that there was an additional reason: it was not simply that the saint’s resting place should be enlarged for ‘comfort’, but also because the choir singing psalms around the shrine did not have enough space to pass conveniently around the tomb (ibid., my translation). 50 Guidance for Women in Twelfth-Century Convents, trans. Morton, p. 153. 51 Goscelin, ‘Texts’, p. 441.


Goscelin of Saint-Bertin and the Translation Ceremony pier crushed the foot of a man who had not confessed. When he screamed in pain and was then extricated with the aid of friends, he prostrated himself in front of the tomb of the virgin, and was miraculously healed; he ‘rose up . . . and ran’. Goscelin reports that when the holy founder’s coffin was moved as far as the entrance to the choir, ‘it sank down there with so much weight that the carriers groaned and struggled in vain’ to move it further.52 Ælfgifu, although she rejoiced at the miracle, trembled at the omen. She sang psalms and prayed with her nuns, but to no avail – nothing helped. At last she remembered the golden coins which had been revealed in the vision, and when her assistants brought them to her, Ethelburg’s coffin ‘rose up with wings’, so that it seemed to impel those who carried it, rather than impeding their progress. The sacred body was then placed in the middle of the choir, ‘among the sweetness of all the saints’, where she would remain until she was enthroned in her new home. The coffins of her companions also showed independent initiative: Hildelith’s container adjusted itself to the space beside Ethelburg, and then ‘clung by the root’, proving immoveable. Wulfhild similarly established her coffin on the other side, joining ‘her light to the two torches sent ahead’ (Lesson Twelve). Goscelin closes his account with an assurance that he has carefully revealed the truth, and that we have been told of a new and glorious age of eternal purity, replete with the infinite joy of resurrection. Included in the services for Ethelburg’s feast day and the translation of the three abbesses were hymns, the incipits of which are included in the Barking Ordinale. The full texts with music are found in the fifteenth-century hymnal attributed to Barking, which also contains the text of a hymn for Ethelburg’s brother Erkenwald, and one for Wulfhild.53 The hymns were sung in several services at the abbey, including, in addition to vespers, matins and lauds on Ethelburg’s feast day and the octave of her feast, the Translation of Ethelburg, Hildelith and Wulfhild. These services included processions such as the one discussed earlier, and were enhanced by the original compositions in honour of the saintly abbess. From the Ordinale it is evident that laypersons were present for at least one of these services, and that they listened to a sermon and were granted indulgences in return for their veneration of Ethelburg. The verses of these hymns were printed by Dreves and Blume in Analecta hymnica,54 and they were mentioned by E. A. Loftus and H. F. Chettle in A History of Barking Abbey (1954). Loftus remarked that ‘The words are flat and uninspired, 52

53 54

The intervention of the saints by weighing down their coffins so as to make them immovable is one of the topoi which appears in Goscelin’s other writings. See, for example, the action of Wulfhild’s coffin described in his account of her burial and translation (Guidance for Women in Twelfth-Century Convents, trans. Morton, pp. 148– 50), or that of St Ywi described in the translatio of Edith (Wright and Loncar in Wilton Women, p. 74). Cambridge, Trinity College, MS 1226 (see above, n. 5). The hymn for Wulfhild is discussed by A. Yardley in her chapter in this volume. Analecta hymnica medii aevi, ed. G. Dreves and C. Blume, 55 vols. (Leipzig, 1866– 1922), IX, nos. 204, 206, 207, 208.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture but they show that the miracles worked by the founder and the first Abbess were still gratefully remembered’.55 I would agree that the text of the hymn for St Erkenwald is indeed ‘flat and uninspired’. As may be seen below, the words indicate that Erkenwald became bishop of London ‘by the command of God’, and praise him for his celibate life. The hymn for Erkenwald has four stanzas, each with four lines of eight syllables each, and, except in the last two lines of the second stanza, end-rhyme is evident.

De sancto Erconwald

1. Festiva dies annua Nobis refert solemnia, Qua Erconwaldus celicam Est translatus ad patriam.

The annual festal day Renews the ceremonies for us, In which Erconwald is Translated to the heavenly kingdom.

2. Qui primum abbas nobilis Vite fulsit in meritis Deique nutu deinceps Lundonie fit pontifex.

The one who, as abbot, first Supported in the merits of life And then, by the command of God, Became bishop of London.

3. Hic vitam duxit celibem, Per quam est nactus requiem, Ad anime proficuum Cursus finivit temporum.

He led a celibate life, Through which he obtained rest, To the success of the soul, He completed the time of the course of life.

4. Cujus nos prece Dominus Donis ditet celestibus, Conferat et perpetuam Cum patrono letitiam.

Lord, through his prayers, Enrich us with heavenly gifts, And let him bring everlasting happiness With God the Father.

5. Gloria tibi, Domine, etc.

The author of the hymn does not seem to have utilized the hagiographical sources, beginning with Bede, which present colourful accounts of the miracles of St Erkenwald, such as the healing capabilities of his horse-drawn twowheeled litter.56 In terms of structure, the hymns for Ethelburg are similar to those for her brother, but the texts for Ethelburg are quite different. It is evident that the author of these verses drew from the legends concerning the actions of the 55 56

Loftus and Chettle, History, p. 56. Bede, Historia ecclesiastica iv.6, pp.  354–5. See the discussion of hagiographical writings about Erkenwald by G. Whatley,‘Vita Erkenwaldi: An Anglo-Norman’s Life of an Anglo-Saxon Saint’, Manuscripta 27 (1983), 67–81. Whatley relates that the Vita Erkenwaldi follows Bede in describing the saint’s horse-drawn litter, which was preserved after the bishop’s death and became a powerful relic; even small splinters from the litter were reputed to possess healing properties. Expanding upon Bede’s account, the vita also reports that Erkenwald died ‘amid the odour of sanctity’ while visiting Barking Abbey (ibid., pp. 68–9).


Goscelin of Saint-Bertin and the Translation Ceremony saint. There are three sources for the legends concerning Ethelburg. The first is Bede, who tells of several miraculous occurrences at the convent. His famous Historia ecclesiastica was obviously utilized by Goscelin in writing his vitae of the Barking saints.57 In turn, extracts and summaries of Goscelin’s work are evident in the Nova legenda Anglie, initially compiled in the second quarter of the fourteenth century by John of Tynemouth, who made use of the work of both Bede and Goscelin, together with other materials.58 My analysis of the texts of the hymns is based upon a comparison of these three sources. Included in the vespers service before the matins commemoration of the translation was a hymn, Assit nobis, the full text of which may be found in the same hymnal.59 The hymn contains six stanzas, each with four nine-syllable lines which exhibit end-rhyme. It is evident that the author of the text of this hymn (as well as the remaining two hymns) drew from the legends of St Ethelburg recorded by Bede and Goscelin; indeed, Goscelin, well known as a musician, may himself have been the author and composer. Anne Bagnall Yardley has suggested two possibilities: Judith, the nun whom Goscelin cites as his source for the miracle legends, may have written the hymns, or the author may have been the nun Clemence of Barking, who wrote an Anglo-Norman version of the Life of Saint Catherine in the middle of the twelfth century.60 There has also been some discussion as to the possible date of the hymns, with Susan Boynton suggesting the late eleventh century, based upon the partial end-rhyme; this timeframe would coincide with Goscelin’s period of productivity.61 Whoever was responsible, it is clear that the aim was to create aural images which would inspire the listeners and remind them of the saint’s miraculous acts, thus increasing veneration for the first abbess.

De sancta Ethelburga Ad Vesperes 1. Assit nobis matris amore, Adsis, Ethelburga, favore,


58 59

60 61

Be present for us with your maternal love, Be present, Ethelburg, with your support,

Goscelin quotes from Bede in the long version of Lesson 10 (Goscelin, ‘Texts’, p. 447). Goscelin: ‘Has autem uirgines plerique diuinant fuisse Eadgitham et Tortgitham, quas sacer Beda in Aecclesiastica Hystoria sua ad beatam Aethelburgam iam Deo acceptam mirabili reuelatione inuitatione ac fide assumptas memorat’. Cf. ‘Cum autem et ipsa mater pia Deo deuotae congregationis Aedilburga esset rapienda de mundo, apparuit uisio miranda cuidam de sororibus, cui nomen erat Torctgyd . . .’ (Bede, Historia ecclesiastica iv 9, p. 360). John of Tynemouth, Nova legenda Anglie, ed. C. Horstman, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1901), I, xi–xxi. Cambridge, Trinity College, MS 1226, fol. 41r. A reproduction of Assit nobis from the manuscript (fol. 41r) may be seen in Yardley, Performing Piety (p. 193), with a modern transcription of the music, together with a musical analysis (pp. 195–7). Yardley points out in her chapter in the present volume that the only notated music uniquely associated with Barking Abbey is contained in this hymnal. Yardley, Performing Piety, p. 194. Ibid.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture Tu nos in Christo genuisti, You [who] have given birth to us in Christ Tu lactasti, tu solidasti. You [who] have nursed us, you [who] have brought us strength. 2. Nos custos jugi pietate De celesti sede tuere, Et nobiscum prompta manere Tecum fac et nos habitare.

O guardian, watch over us with unending piety from your heavenly throne, And grant that you remain ready at our side And that we may live together with you.

3. Assuevisti munere divo Hoc septum splendore superno Et suavi gratanter odore Nutu dulci mirificare.

You have become accustomed by [your] divine office gladly to exalt this convent With your celestial splendour And pleasingly agreeable odour.

4. Huic et pronam porrigis auram You both extend a wafting breeze to this [convent] Et multam das larga salutem, And give much good health in your bountifulness. Diversos morbos maculasque Here Jesus cures various diseases and ailments Hic Jesus curat, pia, per te. O pious one, through you. 5. Congaudent tua lumina bina Your twin lights rejoice together with you, Hildelit Wilfridque beata, Hildelith and holy Wilfrid, Nobis tres cece sua queque For us, three blind women have each been healed, Sanantur trina bonitate. By your threefold goodness. 6. Hinc trinum laudemus et unum Patrem, natum, pneumaque  sanctum, Nos solvet vestra prece trina, Qui regnat per secula cuncta.

Henceforth let us praise three and one, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, May He absolve you through threefold prayer. He who reigns forever.

In Assit nobis, after the customary request for the presence of the saint, the author refers to the ‘celestial splendour’ and the ‘pleasingly agreeable odour’ exuded by Ethelburg (stanza 3). These images were used by Bede in his narrative of Barking Abbey, when he remarked upon the frequent ‘brightness of a heavenly light’ and a ‘wonderful fragrance’, and ‘other signs also’.62 Goscelin waxed more eloquent in his vita of Ethelburg, referring to the saint’s ‘ethereal splendour’ and the odours of the ‘roses and lilies of Christ’, which were present in the church at Barking.63 ‘Here the place of the virgin is illuminated 62

Bede, Historia ecclesiastica iv.10–11, pp. 363–5: ‘in loco, quoties ibi claritas luminis caelestis, quanta saepe fragrantia mirandi apparuerit odoris, quae alia sint signa ostensa’. For an interesting discussion of Bede’s use of ‘light’ imagery, see D. Fry, ‘Bede Fortunate in his Translator: The Barking Nuns’, in Studies in Earlier Old English Prose, ed. P. Szarmach (Albany NY, 1986), pp. 345–62. 63 Goscelin, ‘Texts’, p. 402: ‘Videre erat hic paradysum Domini in virgineis floribus et virtutum aromatibus, videre erat in hac eclesia lunam inter sua sidera, cum


Goscelin of Saint-Bertin and the Translation Ceremony by her rays, is adorned with her flowers, burgeons with her aromas. Here [is] the pleasing beauty of paradise, the garden of the Lord, smelling of both cinnamon and balsam.’64 In stanza 5 of this hymn Ethelburg is joined by her ‘twin lights’, the saintly Barking abbesses, Hildelith and Wulfhild. Here the author of the verses refers to a miracle described by Goscelin, but not by Bede, in which three blind women came to the church, each praying to one of the saints. ‘Blood erupted from their eyes as evidence of faith’, and ‘they received the joys of sight at the same time’. In recounting this legend, Goscelin pointed out that the miracle occurred ‘So that a threefold example of the Lord would appear in the three torches of the virginal protectors of this church’, and further, that ‘a single grace of the Trinity commends our three saints as sharers in merit, of whom there is believed [to be] a single sacred joy and union in heaven as on earth’, echoed in the hymn stanza as ‘their threefold goodness’.65 Appropriately, the next stanza lauds the Holy Trinity. The hymn to be sung during matins, Lucent Ethelburge mira, calls to mind another of the many miracles of Ethelburg which appear in the vita by Goscelin. During the Danish invasions which occurred during the reign of Ethelred, the inhabitants of the convent fled to London for safety, leaving behind the sacred bodies of the saints. A cohort of the enemy approached the church in search of plunder, only to be met by a huge wolf, ‘standing guard like a most elite soldier’. Gnashing his huge jaws and teeth, he frightened the Danes away.66 Seeking another entrance, the enemy soldiers were confronted by a fierce bear, which drove them off.67 At a third door they met a huge lion, ‘roaring and attacking savagely’.68 At last, realizing that they had been driven away through divine means, they asked the guardian saints that they be admitted in peace. Entering, they offered abundant gifts rather than seeking booty.




67 68

caelestibus studiis et desideriis redolerent rosae Christi ac lilia et fere omnes accensis lampadibus superni amoris emularentur attentissimam ducem ad aethera, quam imitabilem fecerunt hinc alma merita inde ardua signa.’ Ibid., p. 411: ‘Hic virginalis locus suis illustratur sideribus, suis ornatur floribus, suis vernat aromatibus. Hic amenitas amabilis paradysi et cinamomum et balsamum aromatizans hortus Domini.’ Ibid. (vita of St Ethelburg xvii), p. 415: ‘Ut etiam trina illustratio Dominit in tribus lampadibus virginalium presidum appareret huius eclesiae, tres feminae cecae simul aduenere, quarum una orans ad sanctam Ethelburgam, alia ad sanctam Hildelitham, tertia ad sanctam Vulfildam, uidelicet ad singulas singuale, erumpente in argumentum fidei ex oculis cruore, lucis gaudia pariter suscepere quatenus tres sanctas nostras meritis consortes una commendet Trinitatis gratia, quarum una creditur sollemnis congratulatio et cohabitatio in caelo et in terra.’ Ibid., xiii, p.  413: ‘Approximantes ergo sacro loco prospiciunt immanem lupum pro foribus eclesiae vice ianitoris, excubantem vice electissimi militis, aspectu terribilem, quo solus ultro inuaderet multitudinem.’ Ibid.: ‘Querunt tutiores aditus, sed et ab alio hostio acrius exturbat propugnator ursus.’ Ibid.: ‘Dehinc tertium ingressum tentantibus restitit leo uastissimus arcetque longe refugos rugitu et impetus efferatus.’


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture Thus, according to the hagiographer, ‘Saint Ethelburg, who, with her lamp lit, watched for the approach of the Lord, is entitled to watch vigilantly over her own house and to regard the Lord as an advocate [in the form of] the wild beasts’.69

De sancta Ethelburga

1. Lucent Ethelburge mira Sublimiter miracula, Que trudit hostes efferos Et sanat egros anxios.

O wondrous Ethelburg Your miracles shine loftily, You drive away the savage enemy And heal the troubled sick.

2. Ursus, leo, lupus sacra Sua servant per te limina Arcentque longe noxios, Quos mox receptant credulos.

Bear, lion, wolf watch over their sacred shrines Through you, And they keep harmful people far away Whom they soon welcome back as believers.

3. Ferina sic ferocitas Hominum domatur per feras, Et qui rapaces venerant, Opima dona victimant.

The wild fierceness of men is tamed through wild beasts, And those who had come as plunderers Offer plentiful gifts in sacrifice.

4. Orare sueta debilis Ad corpus alme virginis, Hinc dum foras excluditur, Foris saluti redditur.

Accustomed while sick to pray At the body of the kindly virgin, While the door to the outside is shut, Here she is restored to health.

The hymn to be sung at lauds refers again to the ‘Light of Ethelburg’ in its opening stanza. There are several miracles, beginning with the record of Bede, which centre upon the salvific power of the saint’s light. Many of these refer to happenings in the convent and the environs, and all emphasize the correlation between the light of the saint and celestial luminosity.70 As the author of the hymn writes, ‘The actual sun [i.e. the light of Ethelburg] illuminates this [place] and promises grace by [its] heavenly signs’. The next stanza refers to another miracle of Ethelburg in which the Danes, ‘flooding in like a river’, were destroying the church and the tomb of the saint. In the act of demolishing the sculptures, they were stricken with ‘divine displeasure’, some being overcome with madness, others with blindness, and the rest by ‘various torments and calamities’. Through this ‘frightful experience’, the invaders were converted and turned towards veneration of St Ethelburg; 69

Ibid.: ‘Sic itaque sancta Ethelburga, quae cum lampade accensa uigilauit in Domini aduentum, uigilanter tueri suum meretur domicilium et defensorem in beluis habere Dominum.’ 70 See Fry, ‘Bede Fortunate in his Translator’; and more generally, B. Ward, ‘Miracles and History: A Reconsideration of the Miracle Stories Used by Bede’, in Famulus Christi: Essays in Commemoration of the Thirteenth Centenary of the Birth of Venerable Bede (London, 1976), pp. 70–6.


Goscelin of Saint-Bertin and the Translation Ceremony as a result they obtained her forgiveness and found the sanity and peace of mind they sought.71 The ‘thief of her church’, mentioned in stanza 3, refers to a priest who stole a book from the altar and took it with him ‘across the sea’. He decided to return to England after eight years, and brought the book with him, ‘not intending to give it back, but planning to keep it in his possession’. As his boat crossed the sea a tremendous storm occurred: ‘The waters were stirred up from the depths [. . .] mountains of water were raised up as high as the stars [. . .] everything threatened immediate death for the men on the boat.’ The storm continued for five days, until the priest finally shouted his ‘confession of iniquity’ to Ethelburg, and promised to return the book he had stolen. Immediately the waves subsided and it became ‘clearly obvious to everyone that the storm [had been] aroused by the indignation of Saint Ethelburg and settled by propitiation’.72 Afterwards the priest travelled to the shrine of the abbess, and ‘with bare feet approached Ethelburg’s tomb with the devotion of public prayer’.

De sancta Ethelburga Ad Laudes 1. Hec aula Christo concinat, Quo lux Ethelburga micat,

This convent sings in harmony to Christ, By whom the light of Ethelburg shines


Goscelin, ‘Texts’ (vita of St Ethelburg xv), p.  414: ‘Inundauerant solito Dani, ut fluuius sine obice effusi, et omnia se armis, cepisse rati, uacantem eclesiam sanctae Dei genitricis conculcare et tumbam almae Aethelburgae confringere sunt aggressi. Verum ubi unam et aliam imaginem contuderant, sicut adhuc conspicuum est in ipso lapide ut in suo caperenter scelere, continuo perculsi sunt diuina indignatione, et alii rabie alii cecitate reliqui diversis cruciatibus et cladibus sunt profligati. Hoc terrore in penitentiam et uenerationem sanctissimae Ethelburgae conuersi, indulgentiam et sanitatem expetitam citius sunt consequuti.’ 72 Ibid., xx, pp. 416–17: ‘Postquam ergo per octo annos hoc adulterino raptu abusus est, in Angliam redire studuit. Librum secum retulit non ut redderet sed ut in ecclesia quam alibi ambiebat ipse possideret. Ad ingressum itaque ipsius mota quies est pelagi, tumescere seuire impingere tota avis tempestatum cepit in illum unum ueluti in sacrilegum transgressorem aut ueluti quondam in unum perfugam Domini Ionam. Impugnantibus flabris ab imo uertuntur aequora, fluctuosi montes tolluntur ad sidera horrendisque hiatibus rei gerulam absorbere certant nauiculam. Dies uertitur in noctem presentemque uiris intentant omnia mortem. Sic ergo iactati nautae turbinibus per quinque adeo dies ab omni terra arcebantur, cum tandem presbiter, sui reatus memor, tali clamore profatur: “O sanctissima virgo Aethelburga, recognosco et confiteor meam iniquitatem, sicut uideo in me grassari hanc tempestatem et fraudatorem eclesiae tuae redarguere et spolium quod abstuli districtione loetali exigere. Se nunc, domina, non solum impunitatem verum etiam adiutorium tuum presumo quatenus in portum salutis deducar interuento tuo benignissimo [.  .  .]” Sic eo anxie orante, continuo omnis turbinum furor resedit, serenitas redit, nauis recto cursu in portum Dorobernensem applicuit quatenus omnibus claresceret palam illam procellam beatae Aethelburgae indignatione excitam et placatione sedatam. Presbiter postposita priori spe ad eiusdem opiferae uirginis oratorium recto contendit itinere nudisque pedibus ad ipsisus tumulum cum suplici ingreditur deuotione.’


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture Sol verus hanc illuminat The true sun illuminates her Gratamque signis comprobat. And promises grace by heavenly signs. 2. Hostes pavore luminis Pelluntur ede virginis Et mente capti lubricant, Ne busta sancta proterant.

Enemies are driven away in fear Of the light at the shrine of the virgin And the mad people become calm Lest they trample on the sacred tombs.

3. Ecclesie furem sue Jactat marino turbine, Tranquillitas mox redditur, Dum virgo votis poscitur.

Let her cast the thief of her church Into the turbulance of the sea, Soon tranquility is returned, While the virgin is called upon with prayers.

4. Ferratus hinc abscesserat, Qua caritas matris vocat, Cadunt regresso vincula Per caritatem diruta.

Thus bound, he was taken away As the love of the mother calls, Chains, torn asunder through love, Fall to the ground when he returns.

Clearly, the author of the hymns to Ethelburg sought out material from the hagiographers in order to obtain inspiration for composing the texts, and perhaps Goscelin, acclaimed as a musician as well as a hagiographer, created both the poetry and the music. Although material from his vita of Ethelburg and his lessons for the translation ceremony is not directly quoted in the hymns, the allusions to miracles which appear in these works clearly indicate a commonality of imagery. The hymns were created to inspire awe and devotion on the part of the listeners by portraying the spiritual virtues and holy qualities of the saintly abbess. In the texts her presence is made manifest through the splendour of her celestial light and her heavenly aroma. Her function as nurturing guardian, healer and intercessor is promised to those who believe in her powers, exemplified in the miracles cited in the verses. Ethelburg heals the blind, cures insanity, and protects against invaders. She does this both through direct means, as in the curing of the blind woman or the causing and calming of the storm at sea, and by indirect agents, as in the miracle in which the wolf, the bear and the lion ward off the Danish invaders at her behest. The hymns and the lections which formed a central component of the rituals of continuing recollection such as the liturgy for the translation of Ethelburg, Hildelith and Wulfhild served several purposes. First, the words of the ceremony offered justification to the participants and the listeners concerning the viability and worth of the cult of the holy women at Barking. This validation was particularly vital as an affirmation of the enduring value of the Barking saints during the amalgamation of Anglo-Saxon and Norman religious traditions. Secondly, the longer version of the lections offered a model to the nuns’ community for spiritual reflection, action and material resourcefulness. Finally, the ceremonies and the reading of the vitae and translatio served to establish a triangular community consisting of the convent, the laypeople and God. The details drawn from Goscelin’s vitae of the Barking saints and his lections for their translation, together with the hymns and the directions


Goscelin of Saint-Bertin and the Translation Ceremony contained in the Barking Ordinale and Customary, give us a minute but tantalizing view of ceremony at Barking Abbey, a world hidden from us by the dissolution of the monasteries and the concomitant destruction of materials which would make possible a more complete reconstruction of the medieval religious experience.


chapter four

‘The ladies have made me quite fat’: Authors and Patrons at Barking Abbey Thomas O’Donnell

The literary culture of Barking Abbey during the High Middle Ages was founded on the enthusiastic welcome had there by out-of-house authors. The nuns’ patronage shaped the careers of some of the most remarkable ecclesiastical writers of the age – Goscelin of Saint-Bertin, Osbert of Clare, Guernes de Pont-Sainte-Maxence – establishing a vibrant tradition of commemorative literature from which would emerge the in-house vitae of St Edward and St Catherine. But understanding the nature of the nuns’ literary activity before the time of Clemence of Barking requires us to think about patronage during the twelfth century in a new way. The image of a static, hierarchical relationship between patron and client must be discarded in favour of a model that recognizes medieval patronage as a vital exchange, in which the interests of both parties play across a wider, shifting field of collaborators and competitors, allies and rivals. I will argue that in the uncertainty of post-Conquest England, Barking acquired a rich literary corpus, which defined the Barking sisters’ collective identity through their relationship to their relics and their past. Furthermore, the act of patronage itself was used by the Barking community as a way to assert and enlarge its presence within a fluid and expanding network of patrons and artists across southern England. Their patronage not only exploited present networks, but it also created new ties and revived old connections. The royal household, which Emily Mitchell and others have seen as the primary driver of literary development at the abbey, was just one of the nuns’ points of reference, and not even the most important one.1 *

Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, Elizabeth M. Tyler, Sethina Watson and Emma Bérat all provided invaluable advice for the completion of this chapter. I acknowledge my debt to them and to this volume’s editors, whose meticulous attention averted a thousand disasters.


In ‘Patrons and Politics at Twelfth Century Barking Abbey’, Revue bénédictine 113 (2003), 347–64’, E. Mitchell sees Barking patronage as an extension of the presumed activity of Henry II’s court. This depends on an outmoded view of Henry and Eleanor’s pre-eminence as patrons of a ‘political’ vernacular literature. See K. Broadhurst, ‘Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine: Patrons of Literature in French?’, Viator 27 (1996), 53–84.


Authors and Patrons at Barking Abbey But what does patronage look like in a period brimming with texts but short on records of commission? In his discussion of twelfth-century patronage Ian Short restricted patronage to explicit commissions, involving ‘a specifically articulated contract between a named commissioner and an author [.  .  .] usually in return for remuneration or preferment’.2 Several examples of this kind of contractual understanding survive from Anglo-Norman England, especially when we include works sponsored by monasteries (which, for Short, constituted a separate category).3 Yet there also existed individuals and groups, like Barking, who provided the material or intellectual support for literary production without clearly ‘commissioning’ works beforehand. Though such arrangements fall outside a commonsense definition of patronage, it is hard not to see the agency of recipients and benefactors operating within texts written under these circumstances just as effectively as when the initiative lies with a patron. Thus, while the sisters of Barking did not explicitly ‘commission’ Goscelin to write the vitae of Ethelburg and Wulfhild (c. 1087), nevertheless they certainly provided him with the occasion for writing, supplied him with information, shaped his interpretation of events, and (finally) received and preserved the works in their book collection. The nuns were not the dedicatees of these vitae (that honour went to their diocesan, Maurice of London), but in every practical sense they were the patrons of Goscelin’s work.4 The basis of my account of Barking patronage is a close inspection of the evidence for Barking’s dealings with its best-attested client authors, Goscelin and Guernes, which highlights the range of interests and influences that formed the two men’s work for Barking. Then, in the second half of my chapter, I use the social and political associations traceable from Barking’s patronage of these two men as a foundation for thinking more broadly about what we might call Barking’s literary ‘profile’ before the end of the twelfth century. Such networks can also be traced in documents (such as benefactions and witness-lists) and in the commemorations offered by other literary evidence, in dedications and in biographical anecdotes. In order to grasp the meaning of Barking’s patronage, we do not only need to know what affiliations existed, but how the sisters of Barking appear to have understood their links with other institutions, valued them, and strengthened them through writing. 2 3


‘Patrons and Polyglots: French Literature in Twelfth-Century England’, AngloNorman Studies 14 (1992), 229–49 (pp. 231–2). The Estoire des Engleis by Gaimar was commissioned by Constance, the wife of Ralph Fitzgilbert; Benedeit wrote for either Adeliza or Edith-Matilda; and William of Malmesbury composed his Life of St Wulfstan at the request of Prior Warin of Worcester and his monks. Note that in this last example, as in many others, the work is presented as a token of friendship or as a sign of obedience; it is doubtful whether William received any ‘payment’ from the Worcester community. My thinking about agency, association and networks has been heavily influenced by B. Latour, Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory (London, 2005), pp. 27–86.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture The vitae of Abbesses Ethelburg and Wulfhild mentioned above appear in a heterogeneous collection of material authored by Goscelin. Only these two saints received full treatments in life-miracle combinations in the series, while Abbess Hildelith, shadowy even in Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica, is relegated to a set of lections. Two competing recensions of lections for the Translatio of the three abbesses accompany these, along with a description of a vision experienced by Abbess Ælfgifu, which does not seem designed for church performance but which does justify the removal of the saints’ relics to a newly constructed shrine. The emphasis on Ælfgifu’s building project implies that the immediate occasion for Goscelin’s work was probably the translation she orchestrated with some difficulty in 1087.5 Yet the leadership exercised by the nuns in the texts’ production sits somewhat awkwardly with the extant dedications of the two vitae to Maurice, bishop of London. Even if we assume that the nuns wished to win over Maurice to their interests by assigning the works to his protection, the dedications themselves, which read much more like the sentiments of Goscelin himself, complicate this view and suggest that a conventional definition of patronage does not account for the complex array of overlapping and competing agencies at work in the vitae.6 In order to trace Barking’s role in the texts’ production, and the community’s relation to Goscelin’s usual artistic practice, clues must be sought in Goscelin’s self-presentation within the dedications to Maurice and in the context of his biography. Goscelin’s Barking compositions, like most of his surviving work, were completed at a time of personal crisis.7 Goscelin’s protector in England, Hermann, bishop of Ramsbury and Sherborne, had died in 1078, and Hermann’s successor Osmund, bishop of Salisbury, did not retain Goscelin’s services further. Bitterly disappointed by this rejection, Goscelin spent the 1080s on the move, probably staying for a time at Peterborough, before visiting in quick succession Barking, Ely, Ramsey and ultimately St Augustine’s, Canterbury,




Goscelin, ‘Texts’, p.  388. Of these six works only the full vitae of Ethelburg and Wulfhild are signed by Goscelin, though considerations of style, transmission, and occasion make his authorship of the remaining four more than likely (ibid., p. 392). The date is from F. Barlow, ‘Goscelin of St-Bertin and his Works’, in The Life of King Edward who Rests at Westminster, 2nd edn, Oxford Medieval Texts (Oxford, 1992), 133–49 (pp.  140–1). On the controversy surrounding Ælfgifu’s building works, see P. A. Hayward, ‘Translation-Narratives in Post-Conquest Hagiography and English Resistance to the Norman Conquest’, Anglo-Norman Studies 21 (1998), 67–93 (pp. 81–4). In this way, Goscelin’s Barking compositions partially mirror his work for Wilton, where the sisters appear both as informants and patrons in the ‘Wilton’ version of the Vita sanctae Edithae. See S. Hollis, ‘Goscelin’s Writings and the Wilton Women’, in Wilton Women, pp. 217–44 (pp. 234–44). On Goscelin’s life and works, see Barlow, ‘Goscelin’; Hollis, ‘Goscelin’s Writings’; R. Sharpe, ‘Goscelin’s St Augustine and St Mildreth: Hagiography and Liturgy in Context’, The Journal of Theological Studies 41 (1990), 502–16. See also R. Sharpe, ‘Words and Music by Goscelin of Canterbury’, Early Music 19 (1991), 95–7.


Authors and Patrons at Barking Abbey where he was to make his final home.8 For his ecclesiastical hosts he composed saints’ lives and offices, while also bringing to completion texts he had begun while still in Hermann’s household (vitae of St Wulfsige of Sherborne and St Edith of Wilton)9 and his Liber confortatorius, a spiritual guide offered to Eve, a young hermit in Angers who had been raised at Wilton. The compliments later paid to Goscelin by the monastic literati Reginald of Canterbury and William of Malmesbury distort somewhat our view of Goscelin’s career in the 1080s, because they remember him as he was in his years of stability at St Augustine’s and minimize the compulsion under which he moved from place to place.10 In particular, William’s account of Goscelin’s lifework – ‘over a long time he wandered through bishoprics and abbeys, publishing memorials of distinguished learning for many places, second to no one after Bede in the celebration of the saints of England’ (‘Is multo episcopatus et abbatias perlustrans tempore, praeclarae scientiae multis locis monumenta dedit, in laudibus sanctorum Angliae nulli post Bedam secundus’) – reads more like a projection of William’s own practice into the eleventh century.11 The dedications with which Goscelin opens his works from his decade of homelessness speak to his efforts to secure a position, most notably through taking advantage of contacts he had perhaps insufficiently exploited until then. He had undertaken the vita of St Wulfsige for Bishop Hermann and the monks of Sherborne, for instance, but he dedicates the work to the hostile Bishop 8

For Goscelin’s state of mind at the beginning of this period, see his Liber confortatorius, where he compares Osmund to the pharaoh who did not know Joseph: C. H. Talbot, ‘The Liber confortatorius of Goscelin of Saint Bertin’, Analecta monastica 37 (1955), 1–117 (p. 29), translated in M. Otter, Goscelin of St Bertin: The Book of Encouragement and Consolation (Woodbridge, 2004), p.  26. For reconstructions of Goscelin’s peregrination, see Barlow, ‘Goscelin,’ pp.  140–1; Hollis, ‘Goscelin’s Writings’, pp. 221–4, recapitulates Barlow’s discussion with added reflections on Goscelin’s search for a new permanent position, and in Three Eleventh-Century Saints’ Lives, Oxford Medieval Texts (Oxford, 1996), R. Love suggests adding Winchcombe to the list of Goscelin’s patrons, albeit before Hermann’s death (pp. xlii–iv, xc–ci), and in Goscelin of Saint-Bertin, The Hagiography of the Female Saints of Ely, Oxford Medieval Texts (Oxford, 2004), pp. lxxi–viii, Love convincingly connects Goscelin to vitae of St Wærburh and St Amelberga. 9 For the vita of St Wulfsige, see C. H. Talbot, ‘The Life of Saint Wulsin of Sherborne by Goscelin’, Revue bénédictine 69 (1959), 68–85. For the Vita sanctae Edithae, see A. Wilmart, ‘La Légende de Ste Édith en prose et vers par le moine Goscelin’, Analecta Bollandiana 56 (1938), 5–101, 265–307, and now Wilton Women, pp. 17–93. 10 William and Reginald praised him as an accomplished composer of liturgical music. William of Malmesbury, Gesta regum Anglorum iv.342, ed. and trans. R. A. B. Mynors, R. M. Thomson and M. Winterbottom, 2 vols., Oxford Medieval Texts (Oxford, 1998–9), I, p.  592, and Reginald of Canterbury, ‘Gozelino monacho suo suus, amico amicus Raginaldus’, in F. Liebermann, ‘Raginald von Canterbury’, Neues Archiv 13 (1888), 517–56 (pp. 542–4). See also Sharpe, ‘Words and Music by Goscelin of Canterbury’. 11 William of Malmesbury, Gesta regum Anglorum iv.342. Barlow suggests that William’s opinion of Goscelin might have been influenced by the poems of Reginald: Barlow, ‘Goscelin’, p. 142, n. 74.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture Osmund.12 Likewise he addresses Archbishop Lanfranc in the Prologue to the Vita sanctae Edithae begun for Hermann and the nuns of Wilton. Goscelin’s dedications of his Barking vitae to Maurice thus seem to fit a pattern of selfpromotion suiting himself as well as his sponsors, bringing his talents and the interests of Goscelin’s hosts to the attention of men whose support they needed.13 When some of the connections between the subject matter and prospective patron seem somewhat stretched (such as the Vita sanctae Edithae to Lanfranc, based on the saint’s reputed birth in Canterbury and St Dunstan’s role in her education), it is possible to see Goscelin actively proposing new alliances and not merely recognizing established links between people and institutions. Goscelin’s dedications were assertions of community, and they looked beyond the connection between artist and patron. The dedications do more, of course, than simply convey Goscelin’s hopes of profitably travelling along the conduits of social networks; their depictions of his compositional methods also provide valuable insights into the process of artistic creation in Anglo-Norman monasteries. In the Barking vitae, he combined self-promotion with a commemoration of the nuns’ part in the texts’ genesis and a defence of their authority. He tells Maurice in the Vita sanctae Ethelburgae that the work follows Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica exactly, except that it is written ‘a little more copiously and agreeably’, as Goscelin had more room to work than his predecessor, who had been compelled to paint ‘his images smaller the more numerous [they were]’. Goscelin’s additions to Bede’s version are either common knowledge or given on the authority of reliable sisters; more than worthy of Maurice’s notice, the work also deserves his protection.14 12

Talbot, ‘Life of Saint Wulsin’: ‘Hec [miracula Wlsini], inquam, probatissima fratrum attestacione didiceram et eorum peticione cum uenerabilis prepositi Wlfrici affeccione scribenda susceperam memorabilique predecessori tuo Herremanno episcopo liberanda intenderam. Sed ecce dormitante me mors uelocioribus alis illum mihi preripuit et te cui scribam iuuentus aquile resituit [sic]’ (Prologue). (‘As I was saying, I had learned about these miracles of Wulfsige by the thoroughly proven testimony of the brothers, and at their request I undertook to write them with the good-will of the venerable Prior Wulfric, and I had intended to deliver them to your predecessor of good memory Bishop Hermann. But while I dozed, swift-winged Death snatched him from me and the youth of the eagle has made good the loss with you to whom I shall write.’) ‘The youth of the eagle’ is a reference to Psalm 103 (102).5, ‘your youth shall be renewed as the eagle’s’. All translations are my own here and throughout. 13 Hayward, ‘Translation-Narratives’, suggests that Maurice’s ‘rather officious part’ in the Barking translation ceremony, to which he objected at first, was a sign of his hostility to the nuns’ form of worship and an example of tensions between Norman and Anglo-Saxon religious life. Whether or not Maurice’s oppositions are ‘ethnically’ based, the nuns’ decision to effect the translation in Maurice’s absence might have made it expedient to court his favour after the fact. Cf. also K. Slocum’s chapter in this volume. For the possibility that Goscelin was looking to Lanfranc for employment, see Hollis, ‘Goscelin’s Writings’, p. 222. 14 ‘Beda uenerabilis, qui de multis historiam suam compegit, pauca ibi de libro uitae Sanctae Aethelburgae sumta perstringit ut pictor eo minores quo numerosiores


Authors and Patrons at Barking Abbey The Prologue to the Vita sanctae Wulfhildis confronts the potential problem of female witnesses more directly, and in so doing it creates an evocative picture of patronage at Barking: qvae pia svnt fidvs capiat pietatis amicvs:/ mavricvs ivgi vivat calamo gocelini. Vita sacratissimae uirginis Vulfildae late refulget et in populo et in ecclesiis et maxime in suis popularibus locis atque in ore multorum recitatur ut in libris . . . Videre hoderniae filiae grandeuas matres suae institutionis testantissimas suae sanctitatis. Notissima est adolescentioribus eius sanctimonialis discipula Vulfruna, Iudith cognominata, a primeuo flore sub ipsa educata, quae ad nostri regis Vuilielmi superuixit sceptra . . . Huius quoque generis fidelia testimonia non respuenda docet prima et angelica nuncia resurrectionis Domini Maria sanctarumque prophetissarum turba. Hec igitur decet tuam paternam excellentiam, O Lundonicae metropolis ierarcha, ut bonum nummularium et gemmarium Christi, non solum probabiliter assumere uerum etiam contra ferocium dentes potenter defendere qui ante malunt ignota damnare quam prenoscere. Sed sicut rebellis infidelitas reatum ita beniuola fides sortitur caritatis meritum quae amabiliter credit indiciis uirtutum. (‘let the true friend of godliness accept what are godly things: / may maurice live on by the never-failing pen of goscelin. The Life of the most holy virgin Wulfhild is famed far and wide among the laity, in churches, and most of all in the places of her people and it is told from the mouths of the multitude, as though from books.15 The daughters of today have witnessed the aged mothers of their foundation testify to her sanctity a great deal. Very well known among the young women was her monastic disciple Wulfruna, also known as Judith,16 who was brought up under her from her earliest flowering and who lived up until the reign of our King William . . . That faithful testimony of this kind is not to be disdained we learn from the angelic first messenger of our Lord’s resurrection Mary, and from the crowd of woman saints and prophetesses. Therefore it befits your fatherly excellence, O hierarch of the London metropole, not only to accept these things with approval, as the good treasurer and jeweller of Christ, but also to defend them stoutly against the teeth of the vicious who would condemn what they do not know rather than be taught. But just as rebellious faithlessness indicts itself, so well-disposed faith shares in the reward of charity that lovingly trusts in the evidence of miracles.’)17 imagines facit. Quae ergo paulo diffusius et commendatius ad appetitum desiderantium conor exponere’ (‘The Venerable Bede, who pieced together his Historia from many sources, touched lightly on a few things taken from the book about the life of St Ethelburg, as a painter makes his images smaller the more numerous they are. I therefore attempted to expound these things a little more copiously and agreeably’), Prologue. 15 See S. Hollis’s chapter in this volume, n. 102. 16 Judith also appears as Goscelin’s source in the Vita sanctae Ethelburgae ch. 13, where she recounts the saints’ miraculous defence of the church against the Danes. She was the abbey’s sacristan. His use of the perfect in relation to her (‘durauit’, ‘superuixit’) implies that she was dead at the time of writing. 17 Prologue.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture Goscelin’s claims for authority here are shared with Judith and her sisters, and he justifies the women’s authority with reference to Mary Magdalene and the ‘crowd of woman saints and prophetesses’.18 He opens a window onto the circulation of memories within the monastic community, revealing in particular how the younger generation acted to preserve the recollections of older colleagues, like Judith, who were presently passing away. Not insignificantly he implies that the combination of experience and the will to remember created a kind of family heritage, as the ‘daughters of today’ succeed to the memories of ‘aged mothers’.19 Such heirlooms ought to be cherished by Maurice if he is to be ‘the treasurer and jeweller of Christ’. Nevertheless, the heading of the Prologue to Wulfhild – ‘let the true friend of godliness accept what are godly things;/ may maurice live on by the never-failing pen of goscelin’ – publicizes neither the nuns’ authority nor the nuns’ collaboration with the monk, but rather Goscelin’s personal capabilities, as one who could present biographical material ‘more copiously and agreeably’ than even Bede himself. The good treasurer of Christ might be wise to maintain Goscelin the man as well as the memories he transcribed. In the context of Maurice’s episcopate, such hopes were not unrealistic. The bishop was a reformer, and his foundations included a community based on the relics of the obscure Anglo-Saxon saint Osith; we can well imagine the uses Maurice might have had for the talents of a hagiographer like Goscelin.20 As Goscelin’s early patronage relationships were temporary and their success depended to a large extent on the patrons’ own cooperation, the monk had to build his hopes for future commissions on the basis of present work. One hundred years later, the Barking-affiliated writer Guernes de PontSainte-Maxence described the support he received from the nuns in similar ways; his biography also bears some resemblance to Goscelin’s.21 He is 18

For additional analysis of Judith’s authority at Barking, see the chapter by S. Hollis in this volume. 19 For the competing commemorative cultures of women and monasteries, see Patrick J. Geary, Phantoms of Remembrance: Memory and Oblivion at the End of the First Millennium (Princeton NJ, 1994), pp. 1–133. For Goscelin’s use of Mary Magdalene to defend the authority of nuns (and of women in general), see E. van Houts, Memory and Gender in Early Medieval Europe 900–1200 (Basingstoke, 1999), pp. 50–2. 20 On Maurice’s reforming projects and his interest in Anglo-Saxon saints, see Hayward, ‘Translation-Narratives’, p. 83, and for the translation of St Erkenwald that occurred during Maurice’s reign, see the Miracles of Saint Erkenwald, ch. 5, in The Saint of London: The Life and Miracles of St. Erkenwald: Text and Translation, ed. and trans. E. G. Whatley, Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies 58 (Binghamton NY, 1989), pp. 100–65. 21 Our whole knowledge of Guernes comes from his self-presentation in La Vie de saint Thomas le martyr par Guernes de Pont-Sainte-Maxence, ed. E. Walberg, Acta Regiae Societatis Humaniorum Litterarum Lundensis 5 (Lund, 1922); a 1936 re-edition by Champion (as La Vie de saint Thomas Becket) is available online at For an English translation, see Garnier’s Becket, trans. J. Shirley (London, 1975). The completed poem is internally dated to 1174: ‘L’an secund que li sainz fu en s’iglise ocis,/ Comenchai cest romanz . . . / Al quart an fin i mis’ (6156–7, 6170).


Authors and Patrons at Barking Abbey nowadays remembered most of all as the author of a partially independent witness to Thomas Becket’s life, the Old French Vie de saint Thomas; he also figures largely in the literature on Anglo-Norman linguistic decadence, as the first French author to make an unambiguous connection between the dialect of the Ile-de-France and ‘good French’.22 Like Guernes, he was a peripatetic writer originally from the Continent.23 He had written a first draft of his poem on Becket based on hearsay (‘oïe’), but frustrated by perceived errors of fact and emphasis in the work he travelled to Canterbury in order to make corrections.24 He lived among the monks at Christ Church, Canterbury, for some time, but by 1174 he had been to Barking, where he was well received by Becket’s sister, the Abbess Mary, and the rest of the convent. One manuscript (Paris, BnF, MS fr. 13513) preserves an envoy, added to the conclusion of the Vie itself, in praise of Mary and Barking and of Prior Odo and his Christ Church community.25 Both communities receive the thanks due to them for their kindness to a wandering clerk, and Guernes winds up by stating an intention to return to the Christ Church community some day, ‘wherever my route might be . . . all for their great goodness, for I never saw any better in Christendom’ (‘quel part seit que mis curs . . . tut pur lur grant bunté; / Kar unc ne vi meillurs en la crestïenté’).26 It is usually assumed that the personal connection between the abbess and the saint was the reason for Barking’s interest in Guernes’s work, but it is also entirely possible that Mary Becket and the nuns of Barking numbered among Guernes’s informants, just as the nuns had supplied material to Goscelin. 22



25 26

For more on his point see my ‘Anglo-Norman Multilingualism and Continental Standards in Guernes de Pont-Sainte-Maxence’s Vie de saint Thomas’, in Conceptualizing Multilingualism in England, 800–1250, ed. E. M. Tyler (Turnhout, 2011), pp. 337–56. Guernes identifies himself and his home village in La Vie de saint Thomas le Martyr, 5877 (‘Guernes le Clers, del Punt Sainte Mesence nez’) and 6156 (‘Guernes li Clers del Punt fine ici sun sermun’). Guernes, La Vie de saint Thomas le martyr, 146–50. Guernes’s poem was based substantially on Latin works by Edward Grim and William of Canterbury, as well as the memories of the ‘amis saint Thomas’ and some additions apparently based on William FitzStephen; the slightly later Latin Life of Saint Thomas by Roger of Pontigny (‘Anonymous I’) draws on both Edward Grim and Guernes. See Walberg’s introduction to La Vie de saint Thomas le martyr, pp. xxvi–lv, and his monograph La Tradition hagiographique de saint Thomas Becket avant la fin du XIIe siècle (Paris, 1929). See also the summary comments in F. Barlow, Thomas Becket (London, 1986), pp. 1–9. For fragments of Guernes’s first draft, which was circulated against his wishes (Guernes, La Vie de saint Thomas le martyr 151–9), see I. Short, ‘An Early draft of Guernes’ Vie de saint Thomas Becket’, Medium Ævum 46 (1977), 20–34. Though most scholars have assumed that Guernes’s first draft was written in France, Guernes never actually says so. Short shows, however, that it was this first draft that became the source for Roger of Pontigny, leaving few traces elsewhere (31–2). This is our only evidence for a French circulation, let alone a continental origin, for the first draft. Printed by Walberg in La Vie de saint Thomas le martyr as Appendix I. Ibid., 20–2.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture The disjunctions between the literary scenes of the eleventh and late twelfth centuries are apparent in the differences between the two men’s work for Barking. From Goscelin, the Barking nuns obtained stories of founders and exemplars of particular importance for Barking’s self-understanding. The probable occasion for these compositions – namely, the translations of Barking saints to new quarters during Ælfgifu’s campaign of modernization and aggrandizement – married the nuns’ ‘sense of the past’ to the needs of the present.27 Guernes’s hero was, on the other hand, a modern, and his literary context was the booming polemic that engulfed Europe following the archbishop’s death.28 Goscelin’s rhyming, richly musical Latin was engineered to appeal to contemplatives,29 while his ostentatious learning marked his texts as authoritative for the audiences his patrons would have wanted to impress, including high-handed bishops and rival institutions. By contrast, Guernes’s style in the Vie de saint Thomas was in the austere, paratactic tradition of vernacular epic and would have resonated with an even broader audience: pilgrims, monks and nuns, and the ‘meint riche umme’ who spent money on Guernes’ defective first draft, despite the clerk’s best efforts to pull that version from the market.30 The late twelfth century witnessed a profusion of new literary modes, in both Latin and in the vernacular, enjoyed by both secular and religious elites, who were (after all) united by the same aristocratic origins in the world.31 As if to illustrate this fact, the apparatus of Guernes’s envoy highlights the aristocratic identity of the twelfth-century nuns of Barking, where the emphasis falls on concerns for worldly recompense and aristocratic ‘onur’: 27

28 29



The idea that post-Conquest English historiography was a political tool with an affective turn was most persuasively argued by R. W. Southern, ‘Aspects of the European Tradition of Historical Writing: 4. The Sense of the Past’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th ser. 23 (1973), 243–64. Southern’s position was importantly refined by S. Ridyard, ‘Condigna Veneratio: Post-Conquest Attitudes to the Saints of the Anglo-Saxons’, Anglo-Norman Studies 9 (1986), 179–206. For other views on Becket and Barking Abbey, see the chapters by Bussell and Auslander in this volume. The lections would, of course, have been read aloud, but even the vitae of Ethelburg and Wulfhild would have been enriched by the vocalized ruminatio typical of medieval monastic reading. See J. Leclercq, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God: A Study of Monastic Culture, trans. C. Misrahi (New York, 1974), pp. 77–83. For Goscelin’s style, see R. Love, ‘“Et quis me tanto oneri parem faciet?”: Goscelin of Saint-Bertin and the Life of St Amelberga’, in Latin Learning and English Lore: Studies in Anglo-Saxon Literature for Michael Lapidge, ed. K. O’Brien O’Keeffe and A. Orchard (Toronto, 2005), pp. 232–52 (pp. 241–4), and the sources cited there. For the epic elements in Guernes’s style, see T. Peters,‘Garnier de Pont-Ste-Maxence’s Vie de saint Thomas le martyr: A Study in Medieval Genre and Literary Opportunism’ (Ph.D. dissertation, Boston University, 1991), pp. 47–93. For Guernes’s audience, see Guernes, La Vie de saint Thomas le martyr, 158 (‘many rich men’). Guernes himself testifies to the growing demand for vernacular books when he accuses scribes of circulating the early, uncorrected version of his work (La Vie de saint Thomas le martyr,151–9). See Short, ‘An Early Draft’, and O’Donnell, ‘AngloNorman Multilingualism’.


Authors and Patrons at Barking Abbey L’abeesse suer saint Thomas, pur s’onur e pur le barun, M’at doné palefrei e dras; n’i faillent nis li esperun. Ne getai pas mes dez sur as, quant jo turnai a sa meisun! Ne ele n’i ad mespris pas; de mei avra tel gueredun: E devant halz e devant bas par tut eshalcerai sun nun. Meillur femme tresk’a Patras en nul liu ne trovereit l’un. E les dames m’unt fet tut gras, chescune d’eles de sun dun. Or lur duinst Deus tuzdis a tas pain e vin e char e peisun; E quant lur cors ert viuz32 e kas, Deus face as almes veir pardun. Ne dirai mes des ore ‘A(t) las!’, car servi ai seignur mult bun. De ço k’ai esté sovent las de rimeier sa passiun, Il me rent bien, neent a gas: assez me trove guarisun, Or, argent, robes en mes sas, chevals, autre possessiun. Se nuls me dit: ‘Guarniers, ou vas?’, tuz li munz est miens envirun. – Ne di si bien nun de Judas, quant il vent a confessiun. (‘The abbess sister of St Thomas, for the sake of lord Thomas and her honour, has given me a palfrey and clothes; not even the spurs were lacking! I made a lucky throw of the dice when I turned into her house! Nor will she be ashamed because of it; from me she will have this reward, that before high and low I will everywhere exalt her name. You could not find a better woman anywhere from here to Patras! And the ladies have made me quite fat, each of them with her own gift. Now may God give them all bread and wine and meat and fish in heaps, and when their bodies are old and weary, may God grant their souls true forgiveness. From now on I shall never say “alas”, for I have served a very good lord. For the weariness I often felt putting his passion into verse, he repaid me well, no joke! He finds for me a living in abundance: gold, silver, clothing in my bags, horses and other possessions. If anyone asks me, “Guernes, where are you going?”, the entire world is mine. I’ll say nothing but good of Judas (when he comes to confession)!’)

A guest received by Abbess Mary ‘pur s’onur et pur le barun’, Guernes presents Barking’s patronage as an expression of lordly prerogative and family affection. She provided Guernes with a horse and clothes – perhaps livery – and ‘the ladies [of Barking] have made me quite fat, each of them with her own gift’. For his part, he will repay them with praise and prayers, though these simply amount to further wishes for material abundance, as spiritual concerns sail off into the jocular: ‘I’ll say nothing but good of Judas (when he comes to confession)!’ But we should not suppose that Barking Abbey’s interest in Guernes’s work was purely seigneurial and based solely on aristocratic principles of genealogical commemoration.33 Becket’s connection to Barking goes deeper than Mary’s 32 33

MS: muz, corr. in Walberg’s notes. On the importance of genealogy in romance literature, see R. Bloch, Etymologies and Genealogies: A Literary Anthropology of the French Middle Ages (Chicago, 1983). Arguably the same interest in lineage was also on display in the Vita sanctae Wulfhildis, as the younger nuns are imagined to come into the inheritance of Judith’s memories. And we should also note that Guernes’s prologue handled the same


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture personal relationship to the saint. He had joined, or was about to, a select group of the abbey’s special patrons – including Ethelburg, Hildelith and Wulfhild – whose relics resided within the church. The fourteenth-century Barking Ordinale records the elaborate ceremonial performed on his feast day, when a portion of his remains was carried in procession around the church.34 This suggests that the position of the twelfth-century nuns vis-à-vis Becket would have been very similar to the relationship of Ælfgifu’s community with Ethelburg and her culted successors. The acquisition of a vita and ‘context’ for Becket’s relics making some mention of the saint’s local connections would no doubt have been a priority for the nuns, if they wished to integrate St Thomas within the abbey’s pantheon. And if we look closely at Guernes’s poem in praise of the Barking nuns, we can see that the material exchange between Barking and Guernes reflects the image of the relationship between St Thomas and his poet, which Guernes likewise represents in courtly terms: ‘From now on I shall never say “alas”, for I have served a very good lord. For the weariness I often felt putting his passion into verse, he repaid me well, no joke! He finds for me a living in abundance: gold, silver, clothing in my bags, horses and other possessions.’ The apparently secular exchange between the nuns and the clerk thus holds a fairly powerful spiritual dimension, the converse (perhaps) of the material benefits that accrue from the spiritual patronage of Ethelburg and Wulfhild in Goscelin. Guernes’s Vie de saint Thomas would therefore have conformed to the principles of hagiographical patronage as exemplified by Barking’s employment of Goscelin and by the literary productions of innumerable communities following the Conquest, where in each case a primary purpose was always to document and propagate the cults of local saints and their relics. I have no wish to minimize the differences in register and use that would have obtained between Goscelin’s Latin and Guernes’s French, but Guernes himself claims to have read the Vie de saint Thomas by the martyr’s tomb many times, making the French poem just as integral to the cult’s public performance as any Latin work.35 Indeed the later inclusion of the Vie de saint Thomas (along with the Barking Edward and Catherine) in the refectory readings at Campsey confirms that Guernes’s controversialism (his support for clerical immunity went even beyond the martyred archbishop’s) could be turned to hortatory, paraliturgical ends. Thus, even though the nature and circumstances of Guernes’s and Goscelin’s work for Barking Abbey differed from each other in some essential ways, the sisters’ concern to promote the histories and identities inhering within the relics they cared for can be seen as the underlying motivation for their liberality towards these wandering clerics. Additionally, Goscelin and Guernes presented profiles as professional writers whose similarities hint at the qualities Barking Abbey sought in its client authors. In the first place, both Guernes and Goscelin represent ‘cutting-edge’

34 35

issues of self-authorization that Goscelin dispatched in his dedications to Maurice. Ordinale and Customary of Barking Abbey, p. 35. Guernes, La Vie de saint Thomas le martyr, 6158.


Authors and Patrons at Barking Abbey authors for their times, and in other contexts we know that Barking writers insisted on the importance of keeping step with literary fashions: poems must please their hearers, and ‘estuet . . . le tens selunc la gent user’ (‘time must be spent as the people would wish it’).36 Goscelin’s importance for the development of post-Conquest hagiography is widely recognized, and though Guernes was much less influential in his time than Goscelin, his early declaration for Thomas, his critical engagement with the latest developments in law and his precocious championing of vernacular historiography place him within the vanguard of twelfth-century French writers. As Goscelin’s Barking vitae were evidently not his first compositions, his name was no doubt already in the making; the same might have been true for Guernes since he was far along with his Vie de saint Thomas, if not totally finished with it, by the time he paid his visit to Mary and her nuns. Furthermore, both men were revisers who re-engineered their works to appeal to the widest circle of readers possible. At St Augustine’s, Goscelin wrote a version of his Historia of St Augustine that could be appreciated by readers outside the abbey in addition to his vitae for the abbey itself, while his Vita sanctae Edithae exists in two recensions, one dedicated to Lanfranc and another seemingly meant for the use of the Wilton nuns. And since two different versions of lections for the translations of Æthelburh, Hildelith and Wulfhild survive, it seems likely that either Goscelin or one of his early readers adapted his work for the services of churches other than Barking.37 The pains that Guernes himself took in correcting the Vie de saint Thomas constituted one of the great themes of his authorial self-presentation.38 Such passion for revision shows how seriously both men took the business of publicity and perfection, but it also demonstrates their willingness to adapt work to suit their benefactors’ needs. Finally, the plain fact that these men were outside authors might have appealed to the nuns. While many monasteries did use ‘inside men’ to record their history in gesta, vitae, cartularies and so on, appealing to writers from without was by no means uncommon. Goscelin’s career would always have been a non-starter otherwise. In the eleventh century Folcard, abbot of Thorney, wrote for Archbishop Ealdred of York and dedicated a life of St Botwulf to Walkelin, bishop of Winchester. William of Malmesbury, Symeon of Durham, 36

Citations are from The Life of St. Catherine by Clemence of Barking, ed. W. MacBain, ANTS 18 (Oxford, 1964), 35–46 (46); hereafter Clemence of Barking, Catherine. 37 It will be noted that one version, Colker’s ‘Text 3’, minimizes reference to Abbess Ælfgifu’s biography. According to R. Gameson, The Manuscripts of Early Norman England (c.  1066–1130) (Oxford, 1999), nos. 203 and 204, the variant versions of the lessons for the three saints’ translation occur in the later half of Dublin, Trinity College, MS 176, written by a Kentish scribe in the first third of the twelfth century; the earlier portion of the manuscript, containing the vitae of St Ethelburg and St Wulfhild, was written around 1100, possibly at Barking. Colker reached the same conclusions about the dating of the hands (Goscelin, ‘Texts’, p. 393). 38 For example, Guernes, La Vie de saint Thomas le martyr, 150, 6161–79.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture Osbert of Clare and others took commissions from neighbouring communities in the twelfth.39 Besides the draw of personal talent, an outside author could bring with him or her valuable associations with previous and future patrons – indeed an artist’s previous patronage might have constituted his or her best asset quite apart from talent. From a close analysis of these two Barking authors, then, let us proceed to a broader consideration of Barking’s associations with other institutions, as mediated by Guernes’s and Goscelin’s works, including Wilton Abbey and its affiliated houses, the churches of Canterbury, the city of London, and Westminster Abbey. Within the densely packed network of individuals and communities that constituted Barking’s literary world and shaped its self-understanding, the royal court was just one important node. The link with Wilton was personified by Goscelin himself, who had served the nuns there as a younger man. The move from Wilton to Barking was probably more than a coincidence or an expression of Goscelin’s preference for women’s institutions, because the Barking sisters of Goscelin’s day took care to record their connections to the royal foundations of the south-west. They preserved the memory that the tenth-century Wulfhild had previously been a nun of Wilton who, after contriving to escape King Edgar’s advances, was rewarded with the abbacy of Barking.40 They also knew Wulfhild was expelled from her office by ‘toadies’ (officiarii), and Edgar’s queen Ælfthryth (Æthelred the Unready’s mother) was intruded. Wulfhild fled to Horton, a ‘personal monastery’ (‘hereditarium monasterium’) of hers near Wilton, destined to return some twenty years later.41 But the enduring connection between Barking and Horton was immortalized in a bipartite miracle where a blind and crippled woman was healed of both afflictions by travelling from Horton to Barking, and ‘so the one mother Wulfhild in her twinned places worked a double cure on one twice forsaken, and joined both monasteries as one with a twofold miracle’ (‘Sic unica parens Vulfilda in una dupliciter 39

As Love points out, Folcard’s ‘plaintive’ dedicatory prologues were calls ‘for patronage, as much for Folcard himself as for’ the saints he championed, Three Eleventh-Century Anglo-Latin Saints’ Lives, p.  xlv. In the combination of personal and hagiographic appeal, he would thus resemble his fellow Saint-Bertin alumnus Goscelin. 40 Vita sanctae Wulfhildis ii–iv. All melodrama aside, Goscelin makes the circumstances of Wulfhild’s appointment fit the pattern of tenth-century ‘reforming appointments’ elsewhere, claiming that the king restored the monastery to the status it had enjoyed in Ethelburg’s day: ‘regali munificentia ad antiquum statum temporis beatissimae uirginis Ethelburgae [monasterium Berkinge] reparauit, ipsiusque Vulfhilde nobile patrimonium ad uiginti quattuor uillarum mansiones adauxit, predictoque monasterio Berkinge tam numero sacrarum uirginum quam copia rerum coequauit’ (iv) (‘with royal generosity he restored [the monastery of Barking] to its ancient status in the time of the most blessed virgin Ethelburg, he enlarged the noble inheritance of Wulfhild herself to include the mansiones of twenty-four vills, and he rectified the aforesaid monastery of Barking both in its quantity of holy virgins and in its abundance of goods’). 41 Ibid., ix.


Authors and Patrons at Barking Abbey destituta geminam sospitatem in gemellis locis suis est operata, et utrumque cenobium bino miraculo in una coniunxit’).42 A further tradition recorded by Goscelin in the Vita sanctae Edithae makes his Wilton heroine, the illegitimate daughter of King Edgar and Wulfhild’s sister Wulfthryth, abbess of Barking for a short time.43 And if the Cardiff manuscript, which contains the sole witness to the lections for St Hildelith as well as the version of the Vita sanctae Edithae probably used in Wilton Abbey itself, was indeed made for Barking Abbey, as Richard Gameson has suggested,44 then we have another example of the sisters of Barking collecting specifically Wilton material and associating it with their own patrons’ cults. Conscious, therefore, of their links to Wilton and to the heartland of West Saxon women’s monasticism, Barking’s choice of Goscelin to represent its communal memories might indicate a deliberate exchange between Barking and Wilton specifically, or among the prominent women’s houses more generally. The religious houses of Canterbury, where Goscelin ended his career and where Guernes revised his Vie de saint Thomas, were also part of the background to Barking’s patronage. A brief political alignment between Christ Church and Barking in the 1170s seems in fact to have eased Guernes’s movement between the two houses. According to Gervase of Canterbury, Abbess Mary’s appointment in 1173 was thanks to Odo’s advocacy before Henry II, and was offered in consolation for the king’s refusal to concede in the larger issue of free election of archbishops by the monks of Christ Church.45 The preferment of a Becket sister in the 1170s was almost certainly part of Henry II’s compensation of the family for their losses (and Matthew Paris did indeed believe Mary’s nomination was meant as a gesture of penance), but Gervase’s account emphasizes instead the local political consequences of these reparations.46 Mary and Odo’s previous acquaintance implies that, despite Guernes’s assertion that his windfall was thanks to ‘Lord Thomas’ alone, the mutual patronage of a Life of St Thomas (which would serve the cultic interests of both Barking and Christ Church) was facilitated by the past association between his two main benefactors. 42 43 44 45


Ibid., xi. But see the entry for Barking in The Heads of Religious Houses, England and Wales, I: 940–1216, ed. D. Knowles et al., 2nd edn (Cambridge, 2001). Gameson, The Manuscripts of Early Norman England, no. 203 (regarding Cardiff, Public Library I.381). ‘Rex itaque priorem Odonem blande consolans .  .  . et instinctu Odonis prioris dedit abbatiam Berkingensem Mariae sorori Sancti Thomae Cantuarensis martyris. (‘And so the king consoled Prior Odo with flattery . . . and at the instigation of Prior Odo gave the abbacy of Barking to Mary, the sister of Saint Thomas the Martyr of Canterbury’). Gervase of Canterbury, Historical Works, The Chronicle of the Reigns of Stephen, Henry II, and Richard I, by Gervase, the Monk of Canterbury, ed. W. Stubbs, Rolls Series (London, 1879–80), I, p. 242. Pace Mitchell, ‘Patrons and Politics’, 358–60. For Matthew’s assessment, see Historia Anglorum, ed. F. Madden, 3 vols., Rolls Series (London, 1866–9), I, p. 376. For Henry’s personal support of Becket’s cult, see T. Keefe, ‘Shrine Time: King Henry II’s Visits to Thomas Becket’s Tomb’, Haskins Society Journal 11 (2003), 115–22.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture More than Canterbury, however, it is London that emerges as a primary influence over Barking’s extramural commissions. With his dedication to Maurice, Goscelin evidently intended to associate his Barking vitae with the diocesan centre. The nunnery’s connections to the city are furthermore commemorated in Goscelin’s texts themselves, as the nuns take refuge in London in times of war,47 buy clothes and supplies there,48 and turn to their ‘outside friends’ to gain support for projects within the cloister.49 Compared with the details of the nunnery’s relations with London, references to the royal court in Goscelin’s vitae are actually quite negligible. Memories of London also run through Guernes’s poem, when Guernes recounts the saint’s upbringing and early career, and surely this would have gratified an abbess who had deep roots in that city.50 We do not need to imagine Goscelin or Guernes emerging from the London throngs, or disappearing into them again, to see the city’s influence on the men’s work. Quite the opposite: Goscelin’s overtures to Maurice in the vitae of Ethelburg and Wulfhild, if they were sincere petitions for patronage, seem to have been wholly unsuccessful as far as his future employment was concerned, and after Guernes and his palfrey amble out of Barking Abbey’s precincts we hear from him no more. What matters is that a principal feature of both men’s work for the abbey was an authoritative reading of the community’s spiritual and temporal ties to the city, as these were embodied within the sisters’ collection of relics. Significantly these ties were not only ones of obligation or subservience, running from the hinterland sisters to the metropolitan centre. Goscelin insists on the value that Barking’s spiritual wealth should have for London and on how much London lost when Wulfhild’s body returned to Barking from the city. Nor were the Londoners insensible to the prestige Barking had to offer. The longest passage in the late eleventh or early twelfth century Miracles of St Erkenwald concerns the canons’ difficulties in extricating the body of Erkenwald from the nuns of Barking. After the bishop had died in the nunnery, and the nuns refused to return the body to St Paul’s, the ‘clergy and people of London’ (‘clerus and populus urbis londonie’) marched on Barking and snatched the body from inside the church, where it had been lying in state. A terrible storm, however, prevented them from crossing the River Hill back into the city. Only after the nuns, the monks of Chertsey (who claimed Erkenwald as their founder), and the Londoners agreed to leave the matter in God’s hands was a sign finally given to move the body to London.51 Further evidence for the importance of London within Barking’s extramural network comes from yet another text associated with the abbey: Adgar’s late twelfth century Gracial.52 Adgar’s work, the earliest collection of Marian 47 48 49 50 51 52

Vita sanctae Ethelburgae xiii, xx. This text and those cited in nn. 49 and 50 are from Goscelin, ‘Texts’. Vita sanctae Wulfhildis xv. Lections on the De translatione, iv. For the holdings of Abbess Mary’s father Gilbert in the city, see Barlow, Thomas Becket, pp. 10–16. Whatley, Saint of London, pp. 90–7. For more on Adgar and Barking Abbey, see E. Bérat’s chapter in this volume; and


Authors and Patrons at Barking Abbey miracles in a vernacular language, exists in three different states: a fragmentary version in London, British Library, MS Egerton 612, with forty miracles and an epilogue, but which opens in the middle of a chapter and lacks a prologue; a version in London, British Library, MS Additional 38664, with a prologue but without the epilogue, and containing just twenty-two miracles; and scraps of a version in Dulwich, Dulwich College, MS 22, which nevertheless preserves the same prologue as British Library, MS Additional 38664. Adgar has been tentatively identified with the curate of St Mary Magdalene’s in Milk Street, London, but even if this is not the case, his heavy praise for the canons of St Paul’s in Miracle XI (common to both the Egerton and Additional 38664 manuscripts) places him in a London milieu. The prologue preserved in MS Additional 38664, meanwhile, dedicates the work to ‘Dame Mahaut’ and the rest of the ‘people gathered together in God’. This ‘Mahaut’ has been identified with Mary Becket’s successor Maud Plantagenet and the ‘people’ with the sisters of the abbey. But in material unique to the Egerton manuscript (the epilogue and Miracle XX), a ‘bacheler’ Gregory is named as the instigator of the work. Because of this, and because the text of some of the miracles common to both manuscript versions appear differently in each one, M. D. Legge concluded that the version in MS Additional 38664 was a revision of the text in the Egerton manuscript carried out on the nuns’ behalf.53 Without the prologue to the Egerton manuscript (which conceivably could have referred to Maud as well), the situation remains far from clear, but if Adgar was indeed ‘rededicating’ his work to the Barking sisters, we have one more case of the abbey acquiring the work of an established author with connections to London. In addition to these contacts in London, Barking enjoyed a valuable association with Westminster Abbey. Little in the work of Guernes and Goscelin suggests this particular connection, but it defined literary production at Barking during the first half of the twelfth century in many ways, as both houses manoeuvred to establish themselves in an area where the powers of royal and ecclesiastical government were beginning to centralize. Cooperation between the two abbeys is most obvious in the Barking Life of St Edward translated from the Life of St Edward King and Confessor Aelred of Rievaulx produced for Westminster. Far from a sign of Angevin solidarity during the reign of Maud Plantagenet, the sisters’ investment in the religious culture of Westminster had begun much earlier than the reign of Henry II. The miraculous cure of a Barking nun, worked by St Edward ‘at a distance’ and included already in Aelred’s collection of miracles, implies that the Barking vita was the expression of a cult dating back to the late 1130s.54 on Adgar’s prologue, D. A. Bussell, ‘Adgar, Gracial: Prologue’, in Vernacular Literary Theory and Practice: The French of England, c. 1100–c. 1500. ed. J. Wogan-Browne, T. Fenster and D. Russell (forthcoming). 53 M. D. Legge, Anglo-Norman Literature and its Background (Oxford, 1963), pp. 187–91. 54 Aelred of Rievaulx, Vita sancti Edwardi regis et confessoris, PL 195, 757–90 (c. 41). F. Barlow, ‘The Development of the Cult of King Edward’, in Barlow, The Life of King Edward, pp. 150–63 (pp. 157–60).


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture Like the vitae of Ethelburg, Wulfhild and Thomas Becket, the French Vie d’Edouard ultimately followed from the abbey’s association with an iconoclast male author without a home, Osbert of Clare. A Westminster monk forced from his community in the 1120s but reinstated around 1134 (exiled, perhaps, because of his extreme opinions on Church reform), Osbert was a polemicist and an author of saints’ lives in the mould of Goscelin, and he spent a great deal of time on the move.55 He is best known as the author of the first explicitly hagiographic vita of St Edward the Confessor, written with an eye to securing a papal canonization for the king whose remains lay at Westminster.56 But like Goscelin he repaid the kindnesses of those who helped him in his exile with contributions to their house miracle collections, describing in one letter a miracle of St Æthelthryth (St Audrey) at Hyssington for the monks of Ely, composing a vita of St Eadburh for the monks of Pershore, and writing a lost book on the miracles of St Edmund for the monks of Bury. Osbert completed his Vita beati Eadwardi regis Anglorum after his return to Westminster and at a time when his personal connections to Barking were multiplying. His nieces Cecilia and Margaret had entered the abbey as nuns, and he corresponded with them as well as with the nun Ida (a niece of Adeliza of Louvain) and with the abbess, Alice (r. 1137–66).57 The miracle at Barking mentioned above, when Edward was supposed to have cured a nun of fever, which probably happened at this time along with the rest of the healings added to Osbert’s Vita beati Eadwardi regis Anglorum by Aelred,58 belongs to this context of increased interchange between Edward’s greatest champion and the sisters of Barking. Osbert’s letters to the nuns were all works of spiritual guidance different in tone and purpose from the letters Osbert wrote during his exile. But are they evidence of a patronage relationship between the nuns of Barking and the monk of Westminster? Osbert’s letter to Abbess Alice, ‘On the Armour of Chastity’ (c. 1157/1158), does not describe a specific commissioning from the community, but rather the bond of service and love subsisting between Obsert and Alice. He tells her, ‘you have wounded my heart, my sister bride, you have wounded my heart with charity and love’ (‘vulnerasti cor meum, soror mea sponsa, vulnerasti cor meum caritate et amore’).59 This spiritual love was prompted by hospitality at the monastery, where ‘with yesterday’s meal you restored me, you refreshed my mind, not my stomach, and you sent me off not loaded with delicacies but with favours. And on account of that, my lady, you provided for yourself a not unuseful knight [miles], and not with lucre but with 55

56 57 58 59

For Osbert, see J. A. Robinson, ‘A Sketch of Osbert’s Career’, in E. W. Williamson, ed. The Letters of Osbert of Clare, Prior of Westminster (London, 1929), pp. 1–20, and F. Barlow, ‘The Development of the Cult of King Edward’, on whose discussions I rely for the following account. M. Bloch, ‘La Vie de S. Edouard le confesseur par Osbert de Clare’, Analecta Bollandiana 41 (1923), 5–131. For Alice, see Mitchell, ‘Patrons and Politics’, pp. 350–3. Barlow, ‘The Development of the Cult of King Edward’, pp. 159–60. Letters of Osbert of Clare, ed. Williamson, no. 42.


Authors and Patrons at Barking Abbey love did you acquire an unfailing friend’ (‘nos hesterna solidasti refectione, refecisti mentem non ventrem, nec eduliis sed obsequiis oneratum remisisti. et iccirco, domina mea, comparasti tibi militem non inutilem, et amicum infatigabilem non aere sed amore redemisti’).60 Osbert’s typically exuberant language here includes tropes from a variety of discourses (including ‘romance’) to create a remarkably prismatic view of his relationship to Alice; nor does he exclude ‘dynastic’ concerns when he closes the letter by remembering his nieces Margaret and Cecilia who are under Alice’s care. Likewise, Osbert’s letter to Ida of Louvain (40), on the joys of virginity, artfully commemorates the royal lineage she put behind her to become a bride of Christ; such ‘excellence’ has commended her ‘above many religious women’ (‘supra multas sanctimoniae feminas commenderis’)61 and added authority to her request of a letter from Osbert on the joys of virginity. The spiritual responsibilities of Osbert and Alice would not have effaced their self-awareness as members of an aristocratic and politically active elite. Even a cursory glance at Osbert’s relation to Barking reveals the multitude of paths by which the abbey could approach its ‘external friends’, and the variety of material that became available to them by virtue of those connections. The links to Westminster created by the warmth of feeling between Osbert and his nieces Cecilia and Margaret, but fostered by the authority and generosity of Ida, Alice, and the whole community, lie behind the circulation of ideas that made the French Vie d’Edouard possible. With this in mind we can see that the royal associations of some Barking abbesses and administrators were only part of a large, shifting constellation of collaborators. Barking’s literary commemoration of the monastery’s part in dynastic politics reflects this. Goscelin’s commemoration of Barking’s Wilton connection in the Vita sanctae Wulfhildis and elsewhere should be taken as paradigmatic. The principal players in the drama included a royal couple (Edgar and Ælfthryth) and a royal princess (St Edith), and Barking could have used the link to the Wiltshire house to assert royal connections, yet Goscelin (or his informants) preferred to see these in the context of a web of women’s foundations like Horton and Wilton. If Barking did not see its ties to the monarchy in a one-dimensional way, it is equally true that, in its relations with the abbey, the Crown also appreciated the depth and complexity of Barking’s associations to the country’s elites. A striking example of this can be found in the manoeuvres by which Abbess Alice, the long-lived aristocrat who entertained Osbert and received his letters, was originally installed in the community by King Stephen. During the vacancy which preceded Alice’s appointment, c.  1136–7, Stephen issued a charter, in which he yields custody of the abbey to his queen, Matilda of Boulogne, ‘sicut Matildis regina amita sua unquam illam melius habuit’, that is, ‘as Queen Matilda her aunt once held it on better terms’. Matilda of Boulogne’s 60 61

Ibid. Letters of Osbert of Clare, ed. Williamson, no. 40.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture aunt was Henry I’s wife Edith-Matilda, who died in 1118, and who had also taken Malmesbury in hand when it lacked an abbot.62 Shortly thereafter, however, the abbey was entrusted to Alice, sister of the king’s cronies Eustace and Pain FitzJohn, effectively pressganging the community into Stephen’s party for the duration of his war with the Empress Matilda.63 Emily Mitchell argued that evidence such as this shows that Barking had been for some time a ‘royal institution’.64 Yet the indirectness of the evidence for Edith-Matilda’s administration of the Church, and the general obscurity surrounding Barking’s abbesses at this time, do not permit such a conclusion. Looked at from another perspective, the custodianship of Barking granted to Matilda of Boulogne and the abbacy later granted to Alice fit nicely with the pattern of the royal couple’s behaviour around London and in Essex. As Jean A. Truax has shown, Stephen and Queen Matilda involved themselves deeply in the life of the nascent capital: patronizing principal churches, settling petty cases, investing with local moneylenders and tradesmen.65 In the year after Alice’s appointment to Barking, Stephen’s illegitimate son Gervase was made abbot of Westminster. The support Stephen earned from London’s leading citizens was perhaps decisive in the expulsion of Empress Matilda in 1141.66 The custodianship of Queen Matilda in 1136, and the authority of Abbess Alice soon afterwards, might have kept the sisters of Barking within Stephen’s fold (if the fact that the abbey’s estates lay within the heartland of Stephen’s power in the Honour of Boulogne were not pressure enough). An additional element of this patronage, elaborated neither by Truax nor Mitchell, was the self-conscious imitation on the part of Queen Matilda of her saintly Anglo-Scottish aunt Edith-Matilda, which Stephen’s charter implies. Despite their personal preferences, Stephen and Matilda continued to favour the order of the Augustinian canons in the tradition of Henry I and his two queens, and Queen Matilda followed the precedent of Edith-Matilda in choosing the prior of Holy Trinity Aldgate as her confessor.67 When we consider the fact that Goscelin’s vitae for the Barking Abbey sisters stressed the community’s roots both in ‘metropolitan’ London and in the constellation of important nunneries in royal Wessex, the prestige of a Barking connection would have been desirable for any royal claimants. In this light, the abbey appears as a much 62 63

64 65 66 67

Regesta regum Anglo-Normannorum 1066–1154, ed. H. W. C. Davis et al. (Oxford, 1913–69), III, p. 31. The charter granting Barking to Alice is Regesta III, no. 32. Additional evidence for Alice’s relations with Stephen and Matilda is contained in the charters granted to her for her leper hospital at Ilford. See N. Vincent, ‘New Charters of King Stephen with Some Reflections upon the Royal Forests During the Anarchy’, English Historical Review 114 (1999), 899–928. See ‘Patrons and Politics’, pp. 348–56. J. A. Truax, ‘Winning over the Londoners: King Stephen, the Empress Matilda, and the Politics of Personality’, Haskins Society Journal 8 (1996), 42–61. Truax, ‘Winning’, pp. 60–1. Truax suggests their sympathies lay primarily with the order of Savigny, ‘Winning’, p. 55.


Authors and Patrons at Barking Abbey more interesting, autonomous institution than in Mitchell’s analysis: it was subject to royal authority to be sure, but it was more importantly an attractive source of the legitimist aura that Stephen and Matilda of Boulogne were at pains to secure. We must see Stephen and Matilda of Boulogne’s interventions in Barking less as a consequence of a self-evident privilege of English queens than as part of a more complex pattern, whereby Stephen and Matilda shored up support for their dynasty and fostered an identification of Matilda’s links to her popular aunt by cultivating London elites. In the time of Abbess Mary Becket, the web of connections negotiated by the community must have been more complicated still: the abbey had just finished a period under royal administration; the connection with Westminster was still fresh and perhaps still fruitful, while new connections with Christ Church would introduce Guernes into the community; and the abbess’s position visà-vis the king, who was simultaneously benefactor to her, a devotee of her brother’s new cult, and the longstanding enemy of her family, must have been ambiguous to say the least.68 The advent of Maud Plantagenet would have disturbed, though not erased, these arrangements. What emerges most clearly from even this hurried consideration of the abbey’s royal dealings is that the relationship to the court was far from one-dimensional, but ramified through many different lines: kinship, cult, personal memory, and the powerful interests of institutions both secular and ecclesiastic. And the traditions of patronage at Barking Abbey from the arrival of Goscelin until the composition of the Old French vitae of St Edward and St Catherine show that royal interests were indeed just one among many that shaped the body of literature that supported Barking’s self-understanding as a centre of religion and culture. In the foregoing discussion I have drawn attention to a number of channels whereby the Barking sisters acquired the materials for building a literary tradition that would establish them as one of the premier literary milieux in twelfth-century England, to say nothing of the only identifiable post-Conquest female community whose inmates penned creative work still extant. To some degree, a lack of materials and uncertainty regarding the succession of the early twelfth century abbesses make the argument for an unbroken tradition tenuous, but I would argue that the inconsistencies within the record, and the different orientations of Barking’s clients around the same cultic centre, point to important truths about monastic literary production. Namely, that the impetus to authorship or patronage – no matter how important such activity was for the community as a whole – often followed on the initiative of individual monastics and administrators, and that the networks established and elaborated by monastic patrons were not suggested by religious identities alone. Just as often, identities based on geography, family, or estate underlie ecclesiastic affiliations, when they do not in fact cut across them. And as monastic personnel changes, so do the particulars of the institution’s literary profile. 68

For Henry’s persecution of the entire Becket family, see Barlow, Thomas Becket, p. 126.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture The nuns of Barking exemplified these principles to a remarkable degree, and just as we can watch Goscelin attempt to capitalize on certain affinities between his work and his episcopal dedicatees in the hopes of eventual preferment, the sisters of Barking appear from the evidence not just to be existing within certain areas of influence but to be using their patronage as a way to consolidate old connections and to create new ones within the space created by their multidimensional, deeply layered identities. The Vita sanctae Wulfhildis, based on the memories of the community and of Judith the sacristan in particular, records the monastery’s affiliations with Wilton Abbey and the noble families of Wessex. In his letter to Ida, Osbert (miles and monachus) relates her spiritual ambitions explicitly to the royal status by which she commanded his attention, and when some time later the sisters of Barking sent Guernes away, a little fatter and on a new horse, they were not sending him into a vacuum. In English monasteries of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the complex negotiations of personal identity within the wider world in the service of the community are not always possible to trace, partly because monastic writers were so invested in presenting a collective identity transcendent of the personal bonds that would tie the religious to the corruption of the world. When we do hear the voice of the Barking community ‘from its own mouth’, it is this consolidated, harmonized, and monasticized whole that it wishes to present to the world: Jo ki sa vie ai translatee Par nun sui Clemence numee. De Berkinge sui nunain. Pur s’amur pris ceste oevre en mein. (‘I, who have translated Catherine’s life, am called Clemence by name. I am a nun of Barking, for whose love I undertook this work.’)69

Here Clemence, though she identifies herself, refers to none of the rest of her colleagues by name, invoking instead the singular Barking and ‘its love’. As I hope to have shown, there is some truth to the idea of a ‘monumental’ Barking whose institutional interests could be sustained over a long period of time, and Delbert Russell has certainly made a clear case for a ‘school’ style at Barking that could minimize the differences between the styles of individual authors active in the monastery (if there were in fact more than one).70 We thus ought not to doubt the sincerity of Clemence’s dedication, but neither should we ignore the fact that this united sisterhood was constituted by a diverse assortment of individuals – potential authors and potential patrons – and that it was only through the deeply layered social and political solidarities of such women that Barking authorship could be made possible.

69 70

Clemence of Barking, Catherine, 2689–92. See D. Russell’s chapter in this volume.


II barking abbey and its anglo-norman context

chapter five

‘Sun num n’i vult dire a ore’: Identity Matters at Barking Abbey Delbert Russell

‘For the moment, she does not wish to say her name.’ With these words the author of the twelfth-century Vie d’Edouard le confesseur deflects the gaze of her audience away from her own personal identity back towards the only name she reveals, that of the convent where she has written this work, the well-known foundation of Barking Abbey.1 At the period when this vernacular life was written, Barking Abbey’s long tradition of learning and royal connections had been revived following the Norman Conquest. With each successive modern study that demonstrates that in the twelfth century this was a sophisticated, learned community of women religious who were influential both politically and socially, our modern wish to lift the veil obscuring the identity of this writer becomes more pressing.2 Who was this anonymous nun of Barking, now generally accepted as one of the earliest women to write in French, who tantalizingly identifies her convent as Barking, but withholds her personal identity? Was she in fact the well-known Clemence of Barking, author of the other twelfth-century saint’s life written in French at this convent?3 Behind the impulse to identify the anonymous nun lurks, of course, the now widely accepted view that the Vie de St Catherine by Clemence rightfully merits a place alongside the works of Marie de France and Chrétien de Troyes in the modern critical pantheon.4 What if this gifted writer Clemence produced not one, but *

My thanks to Jocelyn Wogan-Browne and Thelma Fenster for their discussion of earlier versions of this article, and to the anonymous reader at York Medieval Press for helpful comments.


La Vie d’Edouard le confesseur: poème anglo-normand du XIIe siècle, ed. O. Södergård (Uppsala, 1948), 5308; see Appendix 1 below for the text of the epilogue where this declaration is made. On the tradition of learning at Barking, both before and after the Norman Conquest, see S. Hollis’s chapter in this volume, and the discussion in the Introduction above of the history of Barking Abbey. The Life of St Catherine by Clemence of Barking, ed. W. MacBain, ANTS 18 (Oxford, 1964). See W. MacBain, ‘Five Old French Renderings of the Passio sancte Katerine virginis’, in Medieval Translators and their Craft, ed. J. Beer, Studies in Medieval Culture 25


3 4


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture two, works? What was the reason for those enigmatic self-referential statements by the author of the Vie d’Edouard, and how should we interpret their meaning? With a substantial number of critical studies of these texts now available, along with the accessibility in electronic form of these two vernacular lives, the time now seems ripe to revisit this question.5 In what follows I will review earlier studies of the identity of the unnamed nun of Barking, and the conclusions critical studies have established about the nature of these two lives from Barking. I will also refocus the analysis by using a wider contextualization of the medieval authorial statements which have been so perennially problematic for modern critics. Until the mid-twentieth century, critical judgements regarding the Vie d’Edouard were very much products of the mindset that considered the French written in England to be a bastardized and debased form of continental French. A. T. Baker’s publication in 1907–8 of the fragment of the prologue to the Vie d’Edouard is a typical example: he called the fragment an ‘interesting instance of the debased state of French in England in the thirteenth century’.6 Östen Södergård’s opening comment on women writers in his critical edition of the text in 1948 now seems equally mistaken: ‘Le rôle qu’ont joué les religieuses dans la formation de la littérature médiévale en Angleterre est minime’ (‘The role played by female religious in the creation of medieval literature in England is minimal’).7 In the spirit of the times Södergård also takes at face value all authorial statements in the text, to characterize the anonymous nun of Barking as a modest, very humble writer, conscious of her atrocious French, who apologizes for her bad translation, undertaken against her will, but which she accomplished as best she could, in a cultural context where women writers needed to excuse themselves for their presumption in daring to undertake such a task. Despite these qualities in the author, however, Södergård’s linguistic analysis concludes that her language is ‘remarkably pure’, but he undercuts this praise by adding: ‘on pourrait même croire avoir affaire à un texte continental, de l’Ouest de France, naturellement’ (‘One could almost believe it to

5 6 7

(Kalamazoo MI, 1989), pp. 41–65, who notes: ‘Clemence’s Vie de sainte Catherine is, I believe, one of the most remarkable works of the latter half of the twelfth century, in its originality worthy to stand alongside those of Chrétien de Troyes and Marie de France’ (p.  63); D. Robertson, The Medieval Saints’ Lives: Spiritual Renewal and Old French Literature, Edward C. Armstrong Monographs on Medieval Literature 8 (Lexington KY, 1995), calls Clemence’s Life of St Catherine ‘arguably, the masterpiece of the passion genre in vernacular literature, a poem fully rewarding study on its own considerable merits’ (p.  55); S. Gaunt, Gender and Genre in Medieval French Literature, Cambridge Studies in French 53 (Cambridge, 1995), 228–33, calls it a ‘remarkable text’ (p. 228). See Appendix 2 for details on the electronic Campsey corpus which contains both of these texts from Barking. A. T. Baker, ‘Fragment of an Anglo-Norman Life of Edward the Confessor’, Modern Language Review 3 (1907–8), 374–5. Vie d’Edouard, ed. Södergård, p. 16.


Identity Matters at Barking Abbey be a continental text, from the west of France, of course’).8 Even as recently as 1995 the anonymous nun of Barking still received bad press: David Bell in his study of nuns and literacy dismisses the Vie d’Edouard as ‘no masterpiece (the author’s piety was greater than her poetry)’ and on the subject of the nun’s Latinity this same critic notes somewhat begrudgingly that she ‘seems to have had no difficulty in understanding Aelred’s text’.9 It is interesting to note that when the Vie de St Catherine first attracted scholarly attention it too risked being largely ignored or misrepresented. The first substantial critical note on this text was published in 1881 by Paulin Paris, who quoted extensively from the only known copy, the Picard manuscript then held at the Sorbonne.10 Using the evidence available to him, Paulin Paris affirmed that the name of the nun is derived from Domenica (it is written unequivocally as Dimence in the manuscript, a possible Picard form of ‘Dimanche’), and he believed the text to be a late thirteenth century recasting of an earlier French text by a nun in the north of France or Belgium. Since no convent with the name of Berchinge was known in this region, he asserted that the convent was of little importance, and that Dimence was likely not Latin literate.11 Luckily for Clemence, and for us, Gaston (son of Paulin) Paris discovered a second copy of the Vie de St Catherine, in the Bibliothèque nationale, which was edited by his student J. U. Jarník in 1894,12 then in 1903 a third copy was discovered in the Campsey manuscript. Sixty years later the first critical edition, based on all three manuscripts, was published by William MacBain.13 MacBain was the first critic to compare the two lives written in French at Barking. His article, ‘The Literary Apprenticeship of Clemence of Barking’, published in 1958, drew attention to elements of phonology, lexis and style which link the two lives, and proposed that Clemence of Barking was the author of both works.14 His comparative analysis of the vowel sounds admitted in rhymes shows no divergence between the two texts; likewise, the syntax and the morphology of both lives are consistent with being written by the same person. In his study of style, MacBain noted that both narratives include frequent authorial comment on the characters or their actions, not expressed in the source Latin text, and that these interpolations by the vernacular writer 8 9 10 11

12 13 14

Ibid., p. 102. Bell, What Nuns Read, p. 62. Now Paris, BnF, MS fr. 23112. P. Paris, ‘Soeur Dimence, auteur d’une vie de sainte Catherine’, Histoire littéraire de la France 28 (1881), 253–61. Gaston Paris notes that this unsubstantiated identification of Dimence, repeated by Paulin Paris, was first made by Arthur Dinaux in Les Trouvères brabançons (Paris, 1863), pp.  670–3; cf. G. Paris, ‘La Vie de sainte Catherine de soeur Clémence de Barking’, Romania 13 (1884), 400–3. Paris, BnF, MS fr. 4503. Dve verse starofrancouské legendy o sv. Katerine Alexandrinské, ed. J. U. Jarník (Prague, 1894). The Life of St. Catherine, ed. MacBain. William MacBain, ‘The Literary Apprenticeship of Clemence of Barking’, AUMLA: Journal of the Australasian Universities Language and Literature Association 9 (1958), 3–22.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture are often lyrical expansions, using the same rhetorical techniques in both lives, such as antithetical balance, the development of an image by near-repetition and extended word play. Although MacBain cited key passages from both texts, the limited length of his study precluded the detailed development of his arguments. As a result, his conclusion that the Vie d’Edouard was an early, less sophisticated work, compared with the mature, more self-assertive style found in the Vie de St Catherine, is not completely convincing. MacBain’s study did establish, however, that both the lives composed at Barking were written, so to speak, in the same accent, using the same syntactical rules, a necessary precondition to showing that both works were written by the same person. Now, a half-century later, electronic databases of medieval French texts, such as the MARGOT Campsey corpus at the University of Waterloo, allow us to test the validity of MacBain’s findings quickly.15 An example of an extended textual echo in the two Barking lives, cited by MacBain, is the following: Dunc veïssiez sa gent plurer, / Plaindre, gemir e duluser  (E_w4631–2); Iloc vit cristiens plurer, / Plaindre, gemir e duluser  (Kth179–80). (‘Then you would have seen her followers weeping, lamenting, wailing and grieving’; ‘There she saw Christians weeping. lamenting, wailing and grieving’)

This particular collocation, spanning slightly more than one complete line, is found only in the example cited. A test of the relative frequencies of the words plaindre, gemir and doluser and their derivative forms in the complete Campsey corpus reveals that these words are indeed used more frequently in the lives of Edward and Catherine than they are in the other lives in this corpus. This evidence pointing to lexical links between the two lives written at Barking is, however, only suggestive, not conclusive.16 Testing for the use of the phrase ‘nun disable’ (noted as ‘a favorite expression’ of Clemence in a 1996 study by Duncan Robertson)17 gives results which are more persuasive: the phrase ‘nun disable’ is used in the Campsey corpus 15

See Appendix 2 for details of texts in the electronic Campsey corpus, found on the MARGOT website: Line references cited from the MARGOT website use the sigla included in the electronic text. The fourteen lives included (of which five are in multiple copies) are of saints Elizabeth, Panuce, Paul the Hermit, Thomas Becket, Marie Magdalene, Edouard, Edmund arcesvesque, Audree, Osith, Fey, Modwenne, Richard, Catherine and Clement (the only non-Campsey text). 16 Examples of relative frequencies in the Campsey corpus: the infinitive plaindre/ pleindre is used four times in Edouard, seven times in Catherine, and only twice in Audree, once in Fey and Osith; words with the root gemi- are found seven times in Edouard, twice in Catherine, Richard, Audree, once in Edmund; words with the root dolu-/dolo- are the most frequent, being found seventy-three times in Edouard, thirtythree times in Catherine, eighty-nine times in Modwenne, seven times in Thomas, twelve times in Audree. 17 D. Robertson, ‘Writing in the Textual Community: Clemence of Barking’s Life of St. Catherine’, French Forum 21 (1996), 5–28 (p. 12).


Identity Matters at Barking Abbey only in the two lives written at Barking, the single example in the Vie d’Edouard mirroring perfectly a usage in the Vie de St Catherine.18 The standard dictionaries of medieval French indicate that disable is a relatively rare word.19 It persists in modern French mainly as a Canadian regionalism, in contrast to the standard form dicible, which is attested from the mid-fifteenth century, and indicible, which is attested from the fourteenth century.20 A similarly small, but telling, textual detail that links these two lives can be found in the emendation proposed by MacBain as a solution to the seeming lacuna between vv. 35 and 36 in the prologue to the Vie d’Edouard. Södergård argued that the lack of rhyme signalled a gap in the text, although the parallel structure of the two lines shows they function as one syntactic unit: De lur poer lur desir naist, Et lur poer lur desir prist [read: paist].  (E_w35–6)21

By emending prist to paist the lines make perfect sense, and the argument that the physical mechanics of scribal copying can easily lead to the misreading/miscopying of a for r is also completely plausible, supporting the view that the original reading was naist : paist. MacBain noted that this same rhyme is used by Clemence in the Vie de St Catherine (‘De sa grant largesce nus paist / E tut nostre bien del suen naist’, ‘His great generosity sustains us, and all our goodness is born in him’, 13–14), but he neglected to point out that it is in a passage which has similar thematics to the prologue of the Vie d’Edouard (the largesce in the Catherine prologue refers to the statement that God does not desire to hide his goodness from humans, ‘Sa bunté ne nus volt celer’, 9). The linking of desir and paist proposed at vv. 35–6 in the Vie d’Edouard is also found later in the text, within the line, at vv. 497–502, in another theological comment 18

‘Nun disable’ (‘indescribable, ineffable’) is found once in Edouard (‘sa nun disable bunté’, E_w982), and four times in Catherine (‘Car nun disable ert sa belté’, AKth597; ‘Le suen nun disable poeir’, AKth826; ‘E nun disable sa bunté’, AKth1190; ‘D’icel nun disable delit’, AKth1786). 19 disable is given only as a lemma in Altfranzösisches Wörterbuch, ed. A. Tobler and E. Lommatzsch, 12 vols. (Berlin, 1925–; Wiesbaden, 1955–), with a cross-reference to Dictionnaire de l’ancienne langue française, et de tous ses dialectes du IXe au XVe siècle . . ., ed. Frédéric Godefroy, 10 vols. (Paris, 1880–1902, repr. New York, 1961), where it is cited, with the sense ‘exprimable’ from Clemence (the Picard ms), and the XV joies N. Dame. In the online Anglo-Norman Dictionary, non disable (s.v. disable) is cited from one source only (not Clemence), with cross-reference to veirdisable, with one citation from Angier, Dialog Greg. ( 20 Cf. the online Trésor de la langue française, s.v. dire, where disable is labelled by nineteenth-century lexicographers as ‘vieux ou inusité’ ( 21 The context of these lines is: ‘Cum plus le veient, plus i tirent, / Cum plus en unt, plus en desirent. / De lur poer lur desir naist, / Et lur poer lur desir paist (ms. prist). / Il unt de l’esguarder poer / Et de l’enguard naist lur voler.’ (‘The more they see it, the more they are drawn to it, the more they have, the more they desire. Their desire is born from their power, and their power feeds their desire [or: their desire feeds their power]. They have the power to gaze in rapture, and from their gaze is born their desire’, E_w34–8).


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture on the relationships between desir, espeir, voleir and divine joie, in which volition and hope are eternally fed, yet remain unsated: Mes qui ci sul Deu desirent Et par bon espeir a lui tirent Cum il plus lur desir avereint De tant greignur joie i espereient Kar lur desir paist lur espeir Et l’esperance lur voleir.  (E_w497–502) (‘But those who desire only God, and who seek him with good will, the more they attain their desire, the more they hope for a greater joy, for their desire feeds their hope, and their hope increases their desire.’)

This passage is referring to Bishop Brih[t]wold’s vision (376–466) of the future of England and Edward’s kingship (expounded by St Peter to the bishop in a dream). This is a theological expansion by the author, not found in the Latin source, explaining how the bishop is sustained by his theological hope that things will change for the better in the future. As this last example demonstrates, it is the use of informed theological comment, expressed with an innovative vernacular lexis, which most closely links these two lives from Barking. These qualities have been explored by earlier critics, although the full import of this connection has only gradually emerged. For example, MacBain’s studies of the precocious use in the Vie d’Edouard of the vocabulary of courtly love to depict agape rather than eros are complemented by Catherine Batt’s analysis of the transformation of courtoisie to these same ends by Clemence in the Vie de St Catherine.22 MacBain notes that, in the Vie d’Edouard, ‘fin amur is used only of God’s love for man. Man’s response is parfite chasteé’.23 Batt analyses a similar ‘redirection’ of the standard courtly idiom by Clemence, in which courtly imagery becomes ‘an apposite language to explore the affective means by which the individual and soul may come to know God’.24 Batt, like other critics, notes that Clemence draws on a wide knowledge of literary forms and rhetorical devices in her work, ranging from liturgy to romance.25 One such element is Clemence’s theological awareness; Batt’s 22

23 24 25

W. MacBain, ‘Some Religious and Secular Uses of the Vocabulary of Fin’ Amur in the Early Decades of the Northern French Narrative’, French Forum 13 (1988), 261–76; MacBain, ‘Five Old French Renderings of the Passio Sancte Katerine Virginis’; W. MacBain, ‘Anglo-Norman Women Hagiographers’, in Anglo-Norman Anniversary Essays, ed. I. Short, ANTS OPS 2 (London, 1993), pp. 235–50; C. Batt, ‘Clemence of Barking’s Transformation of Courtoisie in La Vie de sainte Catherine d’Alexandrie’, New Comparison 12 (1991), 102–33. MacBain, ‘Some Religious and Secular Uses’, p. 272. Batt, ‘Transformation’, p. 102. The awareness displayed in Clemence’s work of other literary, liturgical and doctrinal writing has also been noted by others: see Robertson, Medieval Saints’ Lives, pp. 55–65; Robertson, ‘Writing in the Textual Community’; J. Wogan-Browne:


Identity Matters at Barking Abbey study shows that the theological discussion of savoir, poer and vuler in the Vie de St Catherine is very close to the later writing by Edmund of Abingdon in the Speculum Ecclesie (written at the beginning of the thirteenth century and later translated into the vernacular as Le Mirour de seinte eglyse) on the role of Divine grace in aiding humans to put their faith into action.26 The analysis of the theological context of these two lives from Barking is significantly expanded by Jocelyn Wogan-Browne in her 2001 study.27 In her view, Clemence assimilates effectively ‘the thought of Anselm of Canterbury (d. 1109) on the redemption’, and throughout Clemence’s text is concerned with ‘affect, desire and volition’.28 The best-known example of this is seen in Clemence’s treatment of the topos of Christ as the redemptive fruit on the tree of the cross (977–90). Here Clemence ‘extends Anselm’s union of argument and aesthetics’ in her skilful use of puns and verbal echoes which express ‘the “indescribable beauty” perceived by Anselm’, a beauty which Clemence also expresses with the unusual adjectival phrase nun disable, discussed above (‘nun disable [. . .] belté’, AKth597).29 Wogan-Browne argues, then, that the Vie de St Catherine ‘is more, not less, theologically aware than clerical Latin hagiography’, that this vernacular text engages more fully with theological debate than do the numerous Latin hagiographical texts by male authors.30 In turn, Thelma Fenster in her study of the Vie d’Edouard extends Wogan-Browne’s analysis of the use of Anselmian theology by Clemence, to demonstrate that the relationship between poer and voler is also a key element in the work of the anonymous nun of Barking. In addition, Fenster demonstrates that the Vie d’Edouard provides informed vernacular comment on the theological debates current in the twelfth century on the nature of marriage and chastity, including mutually agreed chaste marriage


27 28 29 30

‘“Clerc u lai, muïne ou dame”: Women and Anglo-Norman Hagiography in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries’, in Women and Literature in Britain, 1150–1500, ed. C. M. Meale (Cambridge, 1993), pp. 61–85 (pp. 67–8); J. Wogan-Browne, ‘Wreaths of Thyme: The Female Translator in Anglo-Norman Hagiography’, in The Medieval Translator IV, ed. R. Ellis and R. Evans, Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies 123 (Binghampton NY, 1994), pp. 46–65; and Saints’ Lives, pp. 223–56. Batt, ‘Transformation’, pp.  105, 117, notes 16, 17. Batt quotes from the Mirour 12 [XI], 21–6. This section dealing with the first of the seven virtues (fey, esperaunce e amur) explains the reason for Divine grace: ‘Mes pur ço ke nus n’avuns savoir, ne poer, ne vuler de nus meymes, pur ço nus a Deu duné fey pur paremplir la defaute de nostre pusance, esperaunce pur paremplir la defaute de nostre conussance, e veray amur pur ordener nostre volunté a l’un e a l’autre.’ (‘Because we do not of ourselves possess knowledge, power or volition, for this reason God has given us faith to overcome our lack power, hope to fill the gap in our knowledge, and true love to enable us to govern our relations with others.’) See Mirour de seinte eglyse (St. Edmund of Abingdon’s Speculum ecclesiae), ed. A. D. Wilshere, ANTS 40 (London, 1982), p. 34. Saints’ Lives, pp. 223–56. Ibid., p. 228. ‘ineffable beauty, indescribable beauty’, ibid., p. 240. Ibid., p. 245.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture between spouses. This debate is expressed principally through the creation of a theologically informed narrative voice for Edith, a deliberate departure from the Latin source.31 Although critical studies such as those mentioned above demonstrate that there are obvious intellectual continuities, as well as similar lexical reflexes, between the two vernacular lives written at Barking Abbey, to date there has been no consensus on the theory that Clemence wrote both works. This lack of consensus stems in part from the persistent interpretation of the self-referential statements by the anonymous nun as evidence, in MacBain’s words, of ‘poor self-image’.32 In my re-examination, below, of these authorial statements I argue that such an interpretation is no longer tenable, and that these are rhetorical devices not to be taken at face value.33 The anonymous nun’s characterization of her ‘faus franceis . . . d’Angleterre’ (‘false French of England’) is almost as well known to modern critics as the fourteenth-century description of the Prioress in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, a nun who spoke French ‘ful faire and fetisly / After the scole of Stratford atte Bowe’ (Prologue 124–5) – and critical misinterpretation of both statements is equally widespread.34 But the tide of scholarly opinion has turned, as Ian Short has noted.35 The critical bipolarities of the past, with their narratives of rise and fall, English versus French, vernacular versus Latin, lay versus religious, are now replaced by a sense of continuities and multilingualism.36 31 32 33

See T. Fenster’s chapter in this volume. MacBain,‘Anglo-Norman Women Hagiographers’, pp. 248–50. See, for example, the study of prologues in vernacular hagiography by WoganBrowne, ‘Wreaths of Thyme’, p.  52: ‘The prologues from Barking show women writers adapting and extending generic conventions of the hagiographic translator’s stance: though they testify to women writers’ need to develop particular strategies for entering into composition, they should no more be read as literal confessions of inability and modest timidity than those of male hagiographers.’ 34 See W. Rothwell, ‘Stratford atte Bowe Re-visited’, The Chaucer Review 36 (2001), 184–207, for a discussion and refutation of past (mis)interpretations. 35 I. Short, ‘L’Anglo-normand au siècle de Chaucer: un regain de statistiques’, in Le Plurilinguisme au Moyen Âge: Orient-Occident, ed. C. Kappler and S. Thiolier-Méjean (Paris, 2009), pp. 67–77 (p. 67): ‘Là où l’on voyait naguère confrontation et rupture, on a tendance aujourd’hui à discerner plutôt des zones d’empiètement et de flou; la continuité l’a emporté, dirait-on, sur le clivage’ (‘There where formerly we saw confrontation and rupture, we tend now instead to perceive shifting areas of overlap; continuity, it would seem, has won out over the idea of a fracturing into separate splinters’). 36 Jocelyn Wogan-Browne gives a detailed état présent of this new orientation of scholarship in ‘Introduction: What’s in a Name: The “French” of “England”’, in Language and Culture, pp. 1–13. William Rothwell’s numerous publications in this area, and his work as first editor of the Anglo-Norman Dictionary, are important agents in this shift of scholarly opinion: see De mot en mot: Aspects of Medieval Linguistics. Essays in Honour of William Rothwell, ed. S. Gregory and D. A. Trotter (Cardiff, 1997), for a bibliography of Rothwell’s publications, and the Anglo-Norman On-Line Hub ( for articles since 1996. See also Multilingualism in Later Medieval Britain, ed. D. A. Trotter (Cambridge, 2000).


Identity Matters at Barking Abbey As a result, current assumptions about the linguistic abilities and cultural environment of the nun of Barking are now the reverse of those held by Baker and Södergård: the author of the Vie d’Edouard writes fluently in French, a language which was used for administrative purposes, both externally and internally at Barking Abbey (and was likely a daily language of the convent).37 So when the anonymous Barking nun says she knows a ‘faus franceis .  .  . d’Angletere’ because she did not go ‘ailurs’ to learn it (le quere ‘to seek it’), we should understand that she is indicating a difference in dialect or accent, rather than her linguistic incompetence. When she invites correction, where it is necessary, from her audience, from ‘vus ki ailurs apris l’avez’ (‘you who have learned [French] elsewhere’), she is acknowledging that her audience at Barking includes those who have been to the Continent to learn French, both those sent across the Channel to be educated in baronial households,38 as well as clerics who have studied in universities in France. Ian Short suggests that the comment by the twelfth-century writer Gervase of Tilbury that many nobles sent their children to France to ‘rid them of their barbarous native language’ implies that the children already knew French, and that their parents simply wanted to improve the prestige of their accent.39 In the last decades of the twelfth century Gerald of Wales and Walter Map, both educated in Paris, likewise emphatically and often expressed the view that the insular accent ‘was a sign both of intellectual ignorance and of social inferiority’.40 There is no doubt hyperbole in this intellectual snobbery, but their comments reflect a widespread tension, noted by Michael Clanchy, between learned clerics with university educations (usually acquired on the Continent), and those (often potential rivals) they considered unlearned, or illiterati. John of Salisbury, for example, called illiteratus anyone not familiar with the classical poets, historians, orators and mathematicians.41 37


39 40


See E. A. Loftus and H. F. Chettle, A History of Barking Abbey (Barking, 1954), pp. 55, 57, who cite as evidence the fact that the rules for electing a new abbess are in French, and purport to date from the early thirteenth century. M. Domenica Legge, ‘Anglo-Norman as a Spoken Language’, Anglo-Norman Studies 2 (1979), 108–17. She refers (p. 109) to boys and girls ‘sent to be fostered, and to act as pages and maids-in-waiting’, citing the example of William Marshall, sent to a cousin, Guillaume de Tancarville, chamberlain of Normandy. I. Short, ‘On Bilingualism in Anglo-Norman England’, Romance Philology 33 (1980), 467–79 (p. 471). Short, ‘On Bilingualism in Anglo-Norman England’, p. 474. See also Short, ‘L’Anglonormand au siècle de Chaucer’, for an extrapolated statistical analysis of the relative numbers and socio-economic status of speakers of French and English in England in the mid-fourteenth century: among the laity, 80 per cent were monolingual anglophones. This analysis is based on the dossier created in 1307 for the canonization of Thomas Cantilupe, bishop of Hereford, first analysed by M. Richter, Sprache und Gesellschaft im Mittelalter: Untersuchungen zur mündlichen Kommunikation in England von der Mitte des elften bis zum Beginn des vierzehnten Jahrhunderts, Monographien zur Geschichte des Mittelalters 18 (Stuttgart, 1979), pp. 173–217. See M. T. Clanchy, From Memory to Written Record, England 1066–1307, 2nd edn (Oxford, 1993), p. 230, citing John of Salisbury’s Policraticus VII.9, ed. C. C. J. Webb


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture The phonetic qualities that characterized the insular accent have often been inferred from the few literary texts where this accent is used for comic effect, the standard example being the confusion between fust (from estre), and fout (from foutre), used in the Roman de Renart.42 These literary caricatures mask, however, the more important reality that there was no single spoken norm in medieval French.43 The idea that speakers of medieval French aspired to a pure spoken ‘francien’ dialect of Paris is a modern invention; any medieval Francien norm that developed was that of the written language, originating in the French royal court, and beginning as late as 1300.44 As David Trotter has pointed out, French spoken in France was always dialectal, and in contact with neighbouring languages of both Romance and Germanic origin, so that ‘multilingualism in medieval France was the norm, not the exception’.45 Andres Kristol argues that at the end of the twelfth century insular French was understandably heterogeneous, and spoken with a strong local flavour by those who had no occasion to travel to the Continent, but that a local accent in itself does not imply a lack of mastery of the language.46 Kristol’s analysis of materials used to teach French in England in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries argues that the phonemes of insular French remain largely those of the Norman dialect, established as the norm by the first generation of Francophones in England after the Norman Conquest. In this sense French remains an indigenous language in England into the fifteenth century, although by the end of the twelfth century it was learned in schools, and no longer a mother tongue.47 Compared with its sister dialects on the Continent, the French lan-




45 46 47

(London, 1909), II, p. 126; at pp. 224–52 Clanchy discusses the shifting and subjective medieval meaning of literate and illiterate. Often cited; see A. M. Kristol, ‘La Prononciation du français d’Angleterre au XVe siècle’, in Mélanges de philologie et de littérature médiévales offerts à Michel Burger, ed. J. Cerquiglini-Toulet and O. Collet (Geneva, 1994), pp. 67–87 (pp. 67–8). Kristol cites the standard phonetic features of the French spoken in England, which can be deduced from these literary examples (p. 68, n. 3). See also the authoritative account of literary Anglo-Norman phonology and morpho-syntax by I. Short, Manual of Anglo-Norman, ANTS OPS 7 (London, 2007); and M. K. Pope, From Latin to Modern French with Especial Consideration of Anglo-Norman (Manchester, 1934, rev. repr. 1952, 1956). Ian Short calls Anglo-Norman ‘a full and independent member of the extended family of Medieval French dialects’, in his introduction to Manual of Anglo-Norman, pp. 11–37 (p. 11). D. Trotter, ‘Not as Eccentric as it Looks: Anglo-French and French French’, Forum for Modern Language Studies 39 (2003), 427–38 (p. 432). On the importance of royal courts on the written forms of medieval French, see S. Lusignan, La Langue des rois au Moyen Âge. Le français en France et en Angleterre (Paris, 2004), and S. Lusignan, ‘French Language in Contact with English: Social Context and Linguistic Change (mid-13th–14th centuries)’, in Language and Culture, pp. 19–30. Trotter, ‘Not as Eccentric as it Looks’, p. 435. Kristol, ‘La Prononciation’, p. 69. Ibid., pp. 76–7; Rothwell, ‘Stratford atte Bowe Re-visited’, p. 195, states: ‘The French of Stratford atte Bowe in Chaucer’s time was not a mere quaint and corrupt relic of a far-distant language of culture, the incoherent jargon of the lower classes in East London that, somewhat incongruously had found its way into the speech of a


Identity Matters at Barking Abbey guage spoken in England evolved precociously in some aspects, while in other respects it remained conservative.48 The awareness of dialectal difference which we see expressed in the prologue to the Vie d’Edouard is also explicitly stated in the prologues to two versions of the Vie de St Catherine. In her prologue Clemence comments that the earlier translation into rumanz that she is replacing was considered to have an unpleasing and corrupt rhyme: the rhyme is ‘vil tenue’ and ‘asquans corrumpue’; surely this can be seen as a reference to dialect and accent as well as acknowledgement that language changes over time.49 In the thirteenth-century continental French verse version by Gui, he also states in his prologue that he is replacing an earlier version, in which, ‘because the clerk who translated it was Norman, the rhymes did not please the French’.50 The anonymous nun’s reference to her insular accent, then, is not exceptional, and her self-deprecation is not to be taken at face value.51 Her modesty is false, rather than her French, in





highly respectable prioress, but a working language of government alongside Latin and English.’ Richard Ingham points out that in later Anglo-Norman some aspects of syntax evolved in parallel with contemporary continental changes, while Pierre Kunstmann has shown that in other areas of morpho-syntax Anglo-Norman evolved earlier than continental dialects. See R. Ingham, ‘The Persistence of Anglo-Norman 1230–1362: A Linguistic Perspective’, in Language and Culture, pp. 44–54; P. Kunstmann, ‘Syntaxe anglo-normande: étude de certaines caractéristiques du XIIe au XIVe siècle’, in Language and Culture, pp. 55–67. ‘Ele fud jadis translaté / [. . .] / Pur ço que li tens est mué / E des humes la qualité / Est la rime vil tenue / Car ele est asquans corrumpue’ (‘It was formerly translated . . . but because times have changed and the morality of men as well, the verse is considered bad, for it is somewhat imperfect’, AKth35–44). ‘Un clerc translatee l’avoit, / Mes, por ce que normant estoit / La rime qui fut fait ençois, / Si ne pleisoit mie au[s] François. / Por ce l’a mes amis tramise / Qu’elle sera en françois mise’ (‘. . . For this reason my friend sent it to me so that it can be put into French’), 19–24, in H. A. Todd, ed., ‘Vie de S. Catherine d’Alexandrie’, PMLA 15 (1900), 17–73. The La Clayette manuscript is now Paris, BnF, nouv. acq. fr. 13521, and the ‘Vie de s. Catherine’ is fols. 93v–108r; cf. S. Solente, ‘Le Grand Recueil La Clayette à la Bibliothèque nationale’, Scriptorium 7 (1953), 226–34. Similarly self-deprecating references to their own accent made by writers working in continental dialects are well known: Conon de Béthune, in his lyric poem ‘Moult me semont Amors’, datable to 1179, uses the imagined mockery of his Picard dialect by the royal French court as a metaphor for his own reluctance to declare his love for fear of mockery. Aimon de Varennes, from the region of Lyon, in Florimont (ed. A. Hilka (Göttingen, 1932), 13607 ss.), dated 1188, requests the indulgence of his French audience, who find his ‘langue . . . salvaige’ and states that ‘Romans ne estoire ne plest / As Fransois se il ne l’ont fet’ (‘neither romance nor history pleases the French unless they have written it themselves’); for both these texts see Littérature française du moyen âge, ed. P. Groult, V. Emond and G. Muraille, 3rd edn (Gembloux, 1967), I, pp.  171–2; II, pp.  102–5. On the other hand, Guernes de Pont-Sainte-Maxence flatters himself on his French dialect: ‘Mis languages est bons, kar en France fui nez’ (‘My language is good, for I was born in France’), 6165: La Vie de saint Thomas le martyr par Guernes de Pont-Sainte-Maxence, ed. E. Walberg, Acta Regiae Societatis Humaniorum Litterarum Lundensis 5 (Lund, 1922).


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture this well-known exordium fragment of her prologue: Si joe l’ordre des cases ne gart, Ne ne juigne part a sa part, Certes nen dei estre reprise Ke nel puis faire en nule guise. Qu’en latin est nominatif Ço frai romanz acusatif. Un faus franceis sai d’Angleterre Ke nel alai ailurs quere, Mais vus ki ailurs apris l’avez, La u mester iert, l’amendez.  (E_w1–10) (‘If I do not keep the cases in order / or do not join part to part, / I surely should not be reprimanded, / for there is no way I can do so. / What is nominative in Latin / I will put in the accusative in French. / I know only a faulty French of England / because I have not gone elsewhere to learn it, / but you who have learned French abroad, / correct my language wherever necessary.’)

How, then, are we to read the nun’s comments on syntax which precede the reference to her ‘faus franceis’? If, in keeping with the new scholarly awareness of multilingualism and women’s literacy in medieval England, we assume that this unnamed nun is a highly Latinate intellectual, who is informed about monastic theology, and who is also a translator into French, new possibilities of interpretation present themselves. The claim that she cannot write syntactical French is belied by the very words in which she makes this claim (2–4), for she uses the correct forms of the first person subjunctive in both a first conjugation verb (gart, without –e, from garder), and a third conjugation verb (juigne, with –e, from joindre), in vv. 1–2, to express an untrue hypothesis (1–2), and she makes the appropriate feminine grammatical accord of the past participle (reprise v. 3), a form which is confirmed by the rhyme (reprise : guise). On one level, this pretense of sloppy syntax in her French is simply an acknowledgement, by a writer who knows well the structures of both Latin and the French vernacular, that the French spoken in England is evolving from a synthetic to an analytic language, in which the case distinctions are no longer kept, one of the well-known precocious linguistic developments of Anglo-Norman. This linguistic change in their everyday language must surely have been known to educated twelfthcentury speakers of French (whose knowledge of Latin would make them very aware of grammatical case endings), and not just a phenomenon perceived centuries later by modern historical linguists.52 But we must also assume that this literate nun of Barking was keenly aware of the nature of monastic life, of the conflicts and tensions inherent in communal life. She no doubt heard tales of male monastic life from discussions (and gossip) with her male clerical spiritual advisors. The intellectual 52

See Kunstmann,‘Syntaxe anglo-normande’, in Language and Culture, pp. 55–8.


Identity Matters at Barking Abbey snobbery of the learned clerics directed at those they considered unlearned, noted above, can only have been intensified when it was a matter of potential rivalry between male and female learning. The nun of Barking must have been acutely aware of the possibilities for male jealousy that might be aroused by an overt display of intellectual ability in a woman religious. With these assumptions in mind, I suggest that these comments on the syntax of French by the nun of Barking are inspired by a typical monastic behaviour, noted in his Chronicle by Jocelin of Brakelond, a monk of Bury St Edmunds: this is the predilection among the unlearned monks for grammatical puns in Latin, used by them to mock their learned colleagues whom they consider to be overly proud of their learning. In her prologue the nun of Barking transfers this technique of mocking grammatical puns into the vernacular, and then feminizes it for her own purposes. In Jocelin’s detailed account of the dispute over the election of a new prior at Bury in the year 1200, he reports that the learned monks argue that they should be governed by a ‘mature, learned and articulate monk’ (‘hominem maturum, literatum et eloquentem’), not by one chosen from those ‘possessed of [only] a modicum of learning’ (‘mediocris scientie’), incapable of preaching the finer points of doctrine, someone whom they derisively describe as having the intelligence of ‘a log of wood’.53 But Abbot Samson out-manoeuvres the learned faction, and his favourite candidate, the unlearned Herbert, is elected. The following day the unlearned monks who have won the dispute ungraciously mock their learned colleagues by making grammatical puns in Latin at their expense: Tantum declinauerunt boni clerici nostri in claustro, quod omnes declinati sunt [. . .] Tantum locuti sunt de discrecione inter lepram et lepram, quod tanquam leprosi deiecti sunt (‘Our good clerks have declined so often in the cloister, that now they themselves have all been declined [. . .] They have prated so much of distinguishing “between leprosy and leprosy”, that they have been cast out as though they were lepers themselves.’)54

Could life at Barking Abbey, mutatis mutandis, have been all that different from life at Bury St Edmunds as it is depicted by Jocelin of Brakelond? By feigning to be grammatically incompetent in French the nun of Barking may be seeking to deflect possible jealousy of her intellect, while at the same time she is using a grammatical pun on the sexual meaning of the phrase ‘juindre part a sa part’ to remind her audience that she, a professed virgin, has 53

Jocelin of Brakelond, The Chronicle of Jocelin of Brakelond concerning the Acts of Samson, Abbot of the Monastery of St. Edmund, ed. and trans. H. E. Butler, Nelson’s Medieval Texts (New York, 1949), pp. 124–7. 54 Ibid., p. 130. The mockery scene is introduced by Jocelin as follows: ‘On the same day, certain illiterate brothers, both officers and cloister monks, gathered together and sharpened their tongues, that they might shoot arrows at the literate.’


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture removed herself from the sexual joining and reproduction of the lay dynastic marital economy. The reason why she should not be blamed is that as a professed virgin she is not allowed to be part of this dynastic economy (‘nel puis faire en nule guise’). The punning on gender, both grammatical and sexual, also draws attention to the fact that while in the (male) world of the cleric the morphological distinction between cases is necessary for understanding Latin, in the vernacular (female) linguistic context there is no morphological distinction possible between nominative and accusative feminine nouns in French. The only case markers in medieval French were found on masculine nouns (and even these were quickly disappearing). The closing reference in this exordium to those who have learned French outside England is perhaps meant to align the morphological differences between masculine and feminine syntactical genders in the vernacular with the educational and intellectual advantages which depend on sexual gender: the option of studying at the University of Paris was not open to women. This part of the exordium of the prologue, then, underlines the difference between the intellectual and linguistic world of a woman religious writer, and that of the male cleric. In the epilogue (5296–335) which precedes the miracles section of the Vie d’Edouard this cultural gender difference is addressed more directly.55 Here we find the nun of Barking using the standard topos of female submission to the world of the university-educated male cleric who is routinely the source of theologically informed intellectual writing. This is a standard rhetorical stance adopted throughout the medieval period by the most highly skilled and widely known women writers, such as Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim, Hildegard of Bingen and Christine de Pisan. Peter Dronke remarks that both Hrotsvitha and Hildegard showed ‘partly true, partly affected, modesty’ and until they had received official acceptance ‘by the “greater” masculine world [. . .] the temptation to hide or dissemble or abandon their talent was acute in both’.56 Joan Ferrante notes that, although all three of these women initially feel obliged to begin from this rhetorical posture of ‘the frail, ignorant woman’ whose little learning is in need of male correction, this does not prevent them from making ‘stunning criticisms of male authority’.57 The self-referential statements by the anonymous nun of Barking fall squarely within this tradition. As we have noted in her prologue, she deploys 55 56

See Appendix 1, below. P. Dronke, Women Writers of the Middle Ages: A Critical Study of Texts from Perpetua (†203) to Marguerite Porete (†1310) (Cambridge, 1984, repr. 1988), p. 147. 57 J. Ferrante, ‘Public Postures and Private Maneuvers: Roles Medieval Women Play’, in Women and Power in the Middle Ages, ed. M. Erler and M. Kowaleski (Athens GA, 1988), pp.  213–29 (p.  227). See S. Gaunt, Gender and Genre, pp.  229–33; his analysis furthers the view that Clemence is aware of being a woman writing for a community of women, in opposition to the more usual ‘implicitly masculine textual community’ of hagiography written by men.


Identity Matters at Barking Abbey (and subverts) the theme of her ignorance and incompetence which should be corrected by others. In her epilogue the emphasis is on humility, here based not only on the topos of female weakness, but also on the humility required by the Benedictine rule. What is significant here, however, is that the nun implies that her audience will first want to know where this vernacular work has been composed, before they seek to know the identity of the translator (5298–9, 5304–8). The most significant fact, in her view, is that the vernacular life was written at Barking Abbey; that it was written by a particular nun is of secondary importance to the fact that it is a product of a female community. The author’s decision not to name herself emphasizes the corporate reward for this work, rather than focusing on the author’s personal merits, a gesture which can be seen as authentic, in that she is following the example set by Edward himself, the virgin king who resolutely practised humility and secret acts of charity despite his regal power.58 This stance is also a traditional one, used, for example, by the author of the Vye de seynt Fraunceys, writing a century later, who also declines to give his name, saying it is sufficient that it is well known to God: ‘Suffist ke Deu ben set sun nun.’59 In its deployment of the topos of presumptive female learning the epilogue takes up again key words from Anselmian theology (‘puveir’, ‘vuleir’ and ‘plentive grace’) in its strategy to escape male displeasure. If the work shows weakness it is because of her ‘numpueir’ (5322), but it will be by the grace and goodness of the son of Mary, that the nun, a handmaiden of God, as a member of the ‘holy company’ (5324, 5331) of women religious in the abbey dedicated to St Mary, will join Edward as recipient of ‘plentive grace’ (5324) and ‘bunté’ (5334). The epilogue employs the standard topos of humility but it does so by invoking the solidarity of the female convent of Barking against possible male jealousy of their intellectual and theological attainments, and gives credit fully and always to the corporate body of women religious at Barking. Here is not an unwillingness to take credit, but rather a wish to identify as a member of a corporate body which, through the agency of the creation, by a woman, of ‘this life’ (‘ceste vie’, 5305, 5320), which is also a ‘new life’ (‘ceste vie nuvele’, 5327), will gain access ‘after the end of this earthly life’ (‘al trespas de ceste vie’, 5330) to the second ‘new life’ which they all will share with Edward in heaven (5331–5). 58

Charity, as Chrétien de Troyes reminds us in the prologue to Le Conte du Graal, is the opposite of vaingloriousness, and does not ‘vaunt her good deeds’ but ‘hides herself so well that none knows their existence [i.e. good deeds] save he whose name is God and charity’ (cf. Perceval, ed. W. Roach (Geneva, 1956), 39–46, trans. and cited in Dronke, Women Writers of the Middle Ages, p. 195). 59 See La Vye de seynt Fraunceys d’Assise, ed. D. W. Russell, ANTS 59–60 (London, 2002), 6399–404: ‘Pur le amur duz Jhesu Crist / Pur ly pryez ke se entremyst / De translater en fraunceys / Ceste vye de seynt Fraunceys, / Ke de ses pechez ayt pardun: / Suffist ke Deu ben set sun nun’ (‘For the love of Jesus Christ, pray for him who undertook to translate this life of saint Francis into French, that he may be pardonned for his sins: it is sufficient that God well knows his name’).


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture Although the narrative of Edward’s life does not offer the same possibilities as the Vie de St Catherine to foreground female learning, the rhetorical positions exploited by the unnamed nun of Barking are, in fact, very similar to those used by Clemence. Far from having a ‘poor self-image’, as part of a community of women the author of the Vie d’Edouard expresses, both implicitly and overtly, the importance of female learning. Because the discussion of female learning in the Vie de St Catherine is moved into the narrative itself, there is less need to authorize the female writer in the prologue and epilogue since the work itself is one long demonstration of female intelligence and logic. Nonetheless, both the prologue and epilogue by Clemence contain elements which are also found in the Vie d’Edouard: as noted above, Clemence uses the Anselmian topos of bunté, voleir and poeir (47–50), and her comments on language evolution imply an awareness of language similar to that expressed in the Vie d’Edouard. And while the author of the Vie de St Catherine does give her name in the epilogue, she also names her community as her intellectual patron, stating she has written out of a sense of corporate love (‘Pur s’amur pris cest oevre en mein’ ‘because of its [the community’s] love I undertook this work’, 2692). At the same time, the fact that Clemence is named in only one of the three extant manuscripts (the epilogue is omitted in the Campsey manuscript, and her name is given as ‘dimence’ in the Picard manuscript) could be seen as suggesting that the act of naming the author is almost perfunctory in the manuscript transmission of this text. This brings us back to the question implied in our title: how, or to what extent, did identity matter at Barking Abbey? Our analysis suggests that gender identity and religious identity mattered more than personal identity. But the re-interpretation of the Vie d’Edouard proposed above, which argues that this text is both sophisticated and literate and has much in common with the Vie de St Catherine, must surely demand that we reframe the modern questions regarding the identity of these writers as follows: Did Clemence have a colleague at Barking who was her equal in intelligence, who used similar innovative lexical terms in the informed exploration of sophisticated theological questions, and who was similarly sensitive to the importance of defending female learning against the possibility of male clerical intellectual arrogance and presumption? Or did both these vernacular lives spring from the mind of Clemence alone? Although there is at present no absolute proof that can be cited to give an incontrovertible answer to this question, in the end I think the points discussed above suggest strongly that Clemence wrote two saints’ lives, not one. At the very least, readers of the Vie d’Edouard should grant both the author and the text a measure of critical esteem closer to that now held by the Vie de St Catherine.60


See C. Rossi, Marie de France et les érudits de Cantorbéry (Paris, 2009), pp. 165–76, for speculation on the historical identity of Clémence.


Identity Matters at Barking Abbey Appendix 1. Epilogue of La Vie d’Edouard (vv. 5296–5335) Se nul de vus est desiranz Ki avez oi cest rumanz, De saveir en quel liu fust fait E ki de latin l’ait estrait, Par tel cuvenant le savreiz Que vus le pius Deu requerez Que il verai[e] merci face A cele quil fist par sa grace. En Berkinges en l’abeie Fu translate[e] ceste vie, Pur amur saint Edward la fist Une ancele al dulz Jhesu Crist. Mais sun num n’i vult dire a ore, Kar bien set n’est pas digne unkore Qu’en livre seit oi ne lit U si tres saint num ad escrit. Si requiert a toz les oianz, Ki mais orrunt cest soen rumanz, Qu’il ne seit pur ço avilé, Se femme l’ad si translaté. Pur ço nel deit hoem pas despire Ne le bien qu’il i ad desdire. Mercie crie, si quiert pardun Qu’el’emprist la presumptiun De translater [i]ceste vie. Desqu’ele n’est mielz acumplie, Or emblasmez sun numpueir, Kar aquité s’ad sun vuleir. Si requierez le fiz Marie Pur cele sainte cumpaignie Od ki maint cele Deu ancele, Ki fist ceste vie nuvele, Qu’il lur duinst sa plentive grace E lur joie en sei si parface Que al trespas de ceste vie Nus mette od cele cumpaignie U saint Edward ad ajusté Par sa grace, pur sa bunté, Ki regne e vit e regnera E est, e ert, e parmaindra. Amen. (‘If any of you who has listened to my narrative wishes to know where it was composed and who translated it from Latin, you will find out on condition that you ask God that he grant true mercy to the woman who, by his grace, wrote it. This life was translated in Barking Abbey; a handmaiden of sweet Jesus Christ composed it for the love of Saint Edward. But she does not wish to reveal her name at present, for she knows well that her own name is not


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture yet worthy to be heard or written in the same book where the very holy name [of saint Edward] is recorded. And she requests all those listening, and those who will listen in the future to this, her own narrative in French, that they not denigrate it because it was translated by a woman. No man / No one should reject it on that account, nor speak pejoratively of the good it contains. She asks for pity, seeking pardon for having the presumption to undertake this translation: that it has not been better done, blame her lack of strength, for she has completed it according to her own wishes. Pray to the Son of Mary on behalf of the holy religious order where the handmaiden of God lives, who has written this new Life [of Saint Edward]. May he grant them his full grace, and perfect their joy in him so that on leaving this life he may place us among the company where he has placed Saint Edward, through his grace, and his goodness, who lives and reigns, who is now and will be for evermore, Amen.’)

Appendix 2. The Electronic Campsey Corpus ( Lives in the Campsey manuscript (London, British Library, MS Additional 70513, formerly Welbeck I.C.1) 1. Vie de St Elizabeth, by Nicole Bozon, early 14th century. (414 lines) 1a. copy of this life from London, BL, MS Cotton Domitian A.XI 2. Vie de St Panuce, by Nicole Bozon, early 14th century. (214 lines) 3. Vie de St Paul le hermite, by Nicole Bozon, early 14th century. (300 lines) 4. Vie de St Thomas Becket, by Guernes de Pont-Ste-Maxence, 1170–4 (6180 lines) 5. Vie de St M. Magdalene, by Guillaume le clerc de Normandie, c. 1210–38 (712 lines) 5a. copy of this life from Paris, BnF, MS fr. 19525 6. Vie d’Edouard, rei et confesseur, by a nun of Barking, c. 1163–9 (6685 lines) 6a. copy of this life from Rome, Vatican Library, MS Reg. Lat. 489 6b. copy of this life from Paris, BnF, MS fr. 1416 6c. the prose remaniement of this life from London, BL, MS Egerton 745 7. Vie de St Edmund, arcevesque, by Matthieu Paris, c. 1255 (2020 lines) 8. Vie de St Audree, noneyne de Ely, by Marie, a nun, c. 1220–50? (4620 lines) 9. Vie de St Osith, by anon., c. 1190–1210? (1694 lines) 10. Vie de St Fey, by Simon of Walsingham, c. 1205–10 (1242 lines) 11. Vie de St Modwenne, by anon., c. 1230? (8692 lines) 11a. copy of this life from Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Digby 34 12. Vie de St Richard, evesque, by Pierre d’Abernon of Fetcham, 1276–7 (2911 lines) 13. Vie de St Katherine, by Clemence of Barking, 1180–1200 (2700 lines) 13a. copy of this life from Paris, BnF, MS fr. 23112 13b. copy of this life from Paris, BnF, MS nouv. acq. fr. 4503 Additional text, contemporary with the Campsey manuscript: 14. La Vie de St Clement, pape, author unknown, from Cambridge, Trinity College, MS R.3.46 (14,994 lines)


chapter six

‘Ce qu’ens li trovat, eut en sei’: On the Equal Chastity of Queen Edith and King Edward in the Nun of Barking’s La Vie d’Edouard le confesseur Thelma Fenster

The nun of Barking who composed La Vie d’Edouard le confesseur was at once the beneficiary of a rich Anglo-Saxon literary past and an innovator uniquely equipped to contribute to twelfth-century England’s rich store of creative works in French. When she set out to write the life of King Edward the Confessor, he had already been the subject of three Latin lives: hers would be the first Edward life in the French vernacular. The first of the Latin lives, commissioned by Edward’s wife, Queen Edith, was the Vita Aedwardi regis qui apud Westmonasterium requiescit (‘The Life of Edward who Rests at Westminster’), composed between 1065 and 1067. The second, Osbert of Clare’s Vita beati Eadwardi regis Anglorum (‘The Life of St Edward King of England’), based on the earlier work, was written in 1138 in the hope of seeing Edward sanctified; had the attempt not failed, Osbert’s abbey of Westminster, once rebuilt by Edward, would have benefited. Osbert’s work then became the source of Aelred of Rievaulx’s new Vita sancti Edwardi regis et confessoris (‘The Life of St Edward King and Confessor’), which appeared in 1163 to celebrate Edward’s translation to Westminster and his canonization two years earlier through King Henry II’s efforts.1 In its turn, Aelred’s work, ‘a piece of distinctly Angevin propaganda written for Henry II’,2 became the principal source for the French poem. Composed by 1


Vita Aedwardi regis qui apud Westmonasterium requiescit / The Life of King Edward who Rests at Westminster, ed. and trans. F. Barlow, Nelson’s Medieval Texts (London, 1962); Osbert of Clare, Vita beati Eadwardi regis Anglorum, ‘La Vie de S. Edouard le confesseur par Osbert de Clare’, ed. M. Bloch, Analecta Bollandiana 41 (1923), 5–131; Aelred of Rievaulx, Vita sancti Edwardi regis et confessoris, PL 195, 757–90; ‘The Life of Edward, King and Confessor’, in Aelred of Rievaulx, The Historical Works, trans. J. P. Freeland, ed. M. L. Dutton, Cistercian Fathers Series 56 (Kalamazoo MI, 2005), pp. 125–243. This chapter owes a great debt to Jo Ann McNamara, whose questions led me deeper into the nun’s poem. I am also grateful to Jocelyn Wogan-Browne and Delbert Russell for guidance and astute commentary on earlier drafts. R. M. Stein, ‘Multilingualism’, in Middle English, ed. P. Strohm (Oxford, 2007), pp. 23–37 (p. 34).


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture the nun some time between 1163 and the year of Henry’s death, 1189,3 the Vie d’Edouard particularly brings out ‘the sacred relation between the king and his land’;4 but at the same time, with Edward’s chastity the official reason for his sanctification, it is not surprising that the nun, attending more closely than did her predecessors to Edith’s situation, makes chastity the queen’s own personal, long-desired vocation. The narrator’s statement that ‘Ce qu’ens li trovat, eut en sei’ (‘Whatever was found in him was in herself’, line 1268) held a special meaning, and, as has been noticed by many modern readers of the poem, for the first time in any of the Confessor’s lives, Edith is given an opportunity to speak. Long a spoken language for the English aristocracy, French in twelfthcentury Britain was emerging as a ‘literary medium’, rupturing ‘the literary monopoly of Latin’, and marking a ‘vernacularisation of culture’.5 There were certainly precedents in England for such a move. Ian Short has argued that writing in another vernacular, English, paved the way for Anglo-Norman writing, and Elizabeth Tyler has further demonstrated that Anglo-Saxon convent culture, which valued education for women, influenced Anglo-Norman literary culture as a whole.6 The nun of Barking read Latin proficiently, and she may have been able to write in Latin, though the extent of her training is not known. Her ‘transposition’ of Aelred’s vita, however, speaks most of all to its author’s knowledge of French and of composition in the fashionable French octosyllable, the meter of important narrative poems being written in England by the many authors drawn to Henry’s court from the Continent.7 The nun herself characterizes her poem as a rumanz (lines 5297, 5313 etc.), a term 3 4 5 6


La Vie d’Edouard le confesseur: poème anglo-normand du XIIe siècle, ed. Ö. Södergård (Uppsala, 1948). On this, see Saints’ Lives, pp. 250–2. I. Short, ‘Verbatim et Literatim: Oral and Written French in 12th-Century Britain’, Vox Romanica 68 (2009), 156–68 (p. 162). I. Short, ‘Patrons and Polyglots: French Literature in Twelfth-Century England’, Anglo-Norman Studies 14 (1992), 229–49 (pp. 230–2). E. M. Tyler, ‘From Old English to Old French’, in Language and Culture, pp. 164–78. Two scholars in particular have led the way in Edouard studies; William MacBain and Jocelyn Wogan-Browne. See W. MacBain, ‘Some Religious and Secular Uses of the Vocabulary of Fin’ Amor in the Early Decades of the Northern French Narrative Poem’, French Forum 13.3 (1988), 261–78; W. MacBain, ‘Courtliness in Some Religious Texts of the Twelfth Century’, in L’Imaginaire courtois et son double, ed. G. Angeli and L. Formisano (Naples, 1992), pp. 371–86; W. MacBain, ‘Anglo-Norman Women Hagiographers’, in Anglo-Norman Anniversary Essays, ed. I. Short (London, 1993), 235–50; Wogan-Browne’s study of Edouard in Saints’ Lives, pp. 249–56; J. Wogan-Browne, ‘“Clere u lai, muïne u dame”: Women and Anglo-Norman Hagiography in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries’, in Women and Literature in Britain 1150–1500, ed. C. M. Meale, 2nd edn (Cambridge, 1996), pp. 61–85; and J. Wogan-Browne, ‘The Apple’s Message: Some Post-Conquest Hagiographic Accounts of Textual Transmission’, in Late Medieval Religious Texts and their Transmission: Essays in Honour of A. I. Doyle, ed. A. J. Minnis (Cambridge, 1994), pp. 39–54. I borrow the term ‘transposition’ from Short, ‘Verbatim et Literatim’, p. 160.


On the Equal Chastity of Queen Edith and King Edward that embraces the French language of the work but, equally significantly, its poetry: it is sometimes overlooked that transposing Latin prose into French necessarily meant recasting it in meter and in rhyme, a structure that required skill and education.8 The Vie d’Edouard served two communities whose separate boundaries were not always easily discernible.9 The nun, a francophone English woman of talent, a resident of the wealthiest female community in England and the closest to a major site of the Anglo-Norman court, had both opportunity and incentive to continue the work of legitimizing and enhancing the Angevin presence in England by attaching it, as others had done and would do, to Anglo-Saxon royal predecessors. At the same time, she broke new ground by transferring the telling of Edward’s history from the hands of a Latinate male clergy into those of a professional religious woman whose abbey housed many French-speaking residents. The nun’s decision to write in French may have answered a need to provide accessible materials to non-Latinate sisters,10 but there are equally good reasons to suppose that she wished to relate her reading of Edward’s life in the language she shared with both the cloistered and lay aristocracy as well as with royalty. The nun’s re-imagining of the queen’s character is played out especially in Edith’s own celebration of chaste marriage.11 In Aelred’s Vita sancti Edwardi, the narrator speaks for Edward and Edith, saying only that when they ‘came together as one, the king and queen covenanted to preserve chastity’, and he goes on to explain what the vow means (Edith is a bride in spirit alone, Edward a husband in name only, for they eschew the ‘marriage act’).12 But in the Vie d’Edouard, Edith’s part in the couple’s compact becomes a formal chastity vow; that in turn calls attention to the queen’s role in Edward’s renunciation of sexual congress. Further, the narrator of Aelred’s Vita sancti Edwardi adds that Edith, in the manner of a new Abishag, ‘warmed the king by her love but did not 8

Whereas writers in Latin could compose in poetry or prose (the first vita of Edward was a prosimetrum, and a Latin elegiac poem exists that may pre-date La Vie d’Edouard le confesseur), literary French prose did not appear before the thirteenth century. Tyler comments that ‘Poetry appears to have been central to the education of Anglo-Saxon royal women and this continued into the Anglo-Norman period’ (‘From Old English to Old French’, p. 174). 9 In Short’s view, the nun probably wrote La Vie d’Edouard le confesseur in the 1160s (‘Verbatim et Literatim’, p. 160), but for other datings, see E. Mitchell, ‘Patrons and Politics at Twelfth-Century Barking Abbey’, Revue bénédictine 113 (2003), 347–64 (p. 359), and C. Rossi, Marie de France et les érudits de Cantorbéry (Paris, 2009), p. 176. 10 On this see D. Robertson, ‘Writing in the Textual Community: Clemence of Barking’s Life of St. Catherine’, French Forum 21 (1996), 5–28. 11 Södergård, seeking to refute suggestions that there was more than one source for Edouard, argued that the nun followed Aelred very closely, but he admitted that she gave Edward’s story more life and more personality (La Vie d’Edouard le confesseur, ed. Södergård, pp. 27, 34). 12 Vita sancti Edwardi, PL 195, 748; ‘The Life of Edward the Confessor’, in Aelred, The Historical Works, p. 148.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture weaken him with lust, soothed him by her submission but did not soften him with desires’.13 The resulting simplicity of the scene is deceptive: the not-said beckons the reader towards the far greater complexity – what can be known about it – of the historical Edith’s position as daughter of the powerful Earl Godwin and queen to the man Godwin saw as his rival. Edith was an educated woman, a product of the prestigious Wilton Abbey, whose patron she later became, rebuilding its church just as Edward had rebuilt Westminster. The Vita Aedwardi regis author surely wished to please his patron, and his portrait of Edith reveals the qualities for which Edith herself wanted to be remembered. Thus his vita states that Edith participated in royal counsels, where ‘she shone above all . . . if she were heard’; her advice was highly valued, for ‘By her advice peace wraps the kingdom round / And keeps mankind from breaking pacts of peace’. As for Edith’s literacy, the author says that she will ‘read’, and ‘re-read’ his writing, and that she will think about it.14 The historian Pauline Stafford confirms that Edith ‘had a place in the ruling of eleventh-century England’ through her extensive land-holdings, the running of her household and the part she played in the royal household.15 When she became Edward’s widow, she was the richest woman in England. What emerges from a comparison of the two twelfth-century Latin vitae with their eleventh-century predecessor is a new literary representation of Edith, which restricts her public activities and her participation in matters of state. Osbert briefly grants that she is like another Minerva, but this has to do with her handiwork,16 not her wisdom. For his part, Aelred in fact praises her avoidance of public places in favour of reading or painting and embellishing fabric.17 In short, this new Edith is a victim of ‘enclosure’, in Wogan-Browne’s term, and of its occupations for women, embroidery and reading, a ‘repetitive stasis’ that in fact characterizes the ‘agenda’ in saints’ lives and treatises.18 It is true, as Stafford observes, that Edith’s literacy is mentioned in nearly all extant portraits of her;19 but this is not as hopeful as it may sound, for the queen’s ability to read has been re-fashioned as suitable only to gentlewomanly pursuits – a far cry from the critical reading Edith is said to have done in the eleventh-century life she commissioned. 13


15 16 17 18 19

Compare I Kings 1.4: ‘et quasi nove quaedam Abisac regem calefacit amore, nec dissolvit libidine, mulcet obsequiis, sed desideriis non emollit’ (Vita sancti Edwardi, PL 195.748; ‘The Life of Saint Edward the Confessor’ in Aelred, The Historical Works, p. 148). Vita Aedwardi regis, pp. 37, 81, 27, 91. The chapter in which Edith would have been described for the first time is missing and the modern editor borrows from Osbert of Clare and Richard of Cirencester’s Speculum historiale de gestis regum Angliae (Cambridge, University Library, MS Ff. I. 28) to complete it. P. Stafford, ‘Edith, Edward’s Wife and Queen’, in Edward the Confessor: The Man and the Legend, ed. R. Mortimer (Woodbridge, 2009), pp. 119–38 (p. 127). Vita beati Eadwardi, in ‘La Vie de S. Edouard le confesseur par Osbert de Clare’, p. 75. Vita sancti Edwardi, PL 195, 747D; ‘The Life of Edward the Confessor’, in Aelred, The Historical Works, p. 147. Saints’ Lives, p. 34. Stafford, ‘Edith, Edward’s Wife and Queen’, p. 125.


On the Equal Chastity of Queen Edith and King Edward Added to that, the influential early twelfth century historiographer, William of Malmesbury, who wrote briefly about Edith in his history of the English kings, finds Edith’s literacy distasteful. In his Gesta regum Anglorum he openly undermines her learning, admitting that she is schooled in ‘all the liberal arts’ and could astonish by her learning, but says she ‘had bad judgement in worldly matters’, little ‘personal beauty’ or ‘intellectual humility’.20 The circumstance that every life of Edward had to interpret was Edward’s and Edith’s failure to produce a child who could succeed to the throne. Edward was a saint for the privileged classes, and had little or no cult among the people. The Confessor’s fama sanctitatis had become well entrenched in twelfthcentury religious and secular aristocracies, as his reputation for chastity was managed into full-blown sainthood by Westminster Abbey and King Henry.21 Angevin claims would have been served implicitly by envisaging the couple’s childlessness as presaging the Norman ascendancy, and in the twelfth-century lives their lack of progeny was explained by their shared determination to live chastely. Any negativity surrounding Edith – her birth into the Godwin family; her alleged infertility; her purported adultery; her suspected involvement in the murder of Gospatric of Northumbria – was explained away or unmentioned. Again, William of Malmesbury states that some believed Edward had not wanted to produce a child whose mother was a Godwin.22 Aelred, and the nun after him, meet this claim with open refutations. First, Edith is carefully cleansed of the Godwin taint by being portrayed as an exception, a beautiful and talented ‘rose among thorns’23 (the rose was often a flower symbolic of the Virgin Mary). Second, narrators for both authors raise the issue frankly, both vigorously denying (the nun more than Aelred) any idea that Edward disdained Godwin’s daughter.24 William also reports that before her death Edith had been obliged to take an oath of chastity to satisfy those who accused her of adultery.25 None of this re-appears in Vita sancti Edwardi or in the Vie d’Edouard; 20




24 25

William of Malmesbury, Gesta regum Anglorum, The History of the English Kings, ed. and trans. R. A. B. Mynors, R. M. Thomson and M. Winterbottom, 2 vols., Oxford Medieval Texts (Oxford, 1998), I, pp. 354–5. Although Henry is twice praised in Edouard as glorius (107, 4989), whether the poem was dedicated to him is not known, given that a crucial part of the prologue is missing. William of Malmesbury, Gesta regum Anglorum, I, pp.  354–5. For the view that Malmesbury was intolerant of female sexual indiscretion, see K. A. Fenton, Gender, Nation and Conquest in the Works of William of Malmesbury (Woodbridge, 2008), p. 74. Suspicion of adultery may have been a further factor in Edith’s exile; see P. Stafford, Queen Emma and Queen Edith: Queenship and Women’s Power in Eleventh-Century England (Oxford and Malden MA, 2001), p. 265. Vita sancti Edwardi, PL 195, 747C; ‘The Life of Edward the Confessor’, in Aelred, The Historical Works, p. 147; La Vie d’Edouard le confesseur, ed. Södergård, 1257–8; the nun adds that Edith ‘de mal s’est desnaturee’ (1292). Vita sancti Edwardi, PL 195, 748B-748C; ‘The Life of Edward the Confessor’, in Aelred, The Historical Works, p. 148; La Vie d’Edouard le confesseur, ed. Södergård, 1419–62. William of Malmesbury, Gesta regum Anglorum, I, p. 353.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture even so, the Gesta regum Anglorum was surely known to both authors, given its circulation throughout the south of England.26 Thus in the Vie d’Edouard, where Edith’s virginity is enhanced by having her swear an oath in her own voice, two kinds of amelioration may have been on the nun’s mind: parity for Edith in regard to the virtue of chastity, the official reason for Edward’s sanctification in 1161, and historical rehabilitation of the queen’s reputation from such opinion as circulated through William of Malmesbury. La Vie d’Edouard le confesseur, at just under 7000 octosyllables arranged in rhyming couplets, is among the lengthiest lives of Edward. It follows the skeleton of Edward’s legendary life, recounting his illustrious Anglo-Saxon ancestry and his exile to Normandy as a child; the murder of his brother Alfred; his return to England in adulthood to assume the throne; his marriage to Edith and his death from illness and age. It features anecdotes exemplifying his goodness, reports of his miracles and stories of his visionary gifts.27 Devoted to praising Edward as an exemplar of the virginal life, the Vie d’Edouard raises the ecstatic expression of chastity to a fervent and joyous Anselmian rhythm, where it flourishes as a near-metonym for Edward himself and a label of superior cachet for the life of a nun and for Barking Abbey. Indeed, the mere promise of chastity confers power, for it is at the moment of pledging her chastity, and in order to do so, that the nun’s Edith speaks. When taken with the prologue to the poem, the vowing passage works to emphasize the matter of speech – that is, how one speaks and even whether one dares to; it foregrounds the effectiveness of speech, and it hints at why the nun wrote the life of Edward. The prologue has long attracted scholarly attention almost exclusively for the nun’s protestation, in line 7, that she knows only a ‘faus franceis’ of England (line 7). Her comments are incisively interpreted by Delbert Russell (see Chapter 5 of the present volume), who shows that the verb juigne (line 2), used, on the surface, to denote the correct joining of parts of speech in French, can also be read as the rejection of sexual congress. Si joe l’ordre des cases ne gart, Ne ne juigne part a sa part, Certes nen dei estre reprise Ke nel puis faire en nule guise. Qu’en latin est nominatif Ço frai romanz acusatif. Un faus franceis sai d’Angletere Ke nel alai ailurs quere.  (1–8) (‘If I do not respect the order of cases, or do not join each part to its proper part, I surely should not be reprimanded, for there is no way I can do so. What is nominative in Latin I will put in the accusative in French. I know a faulty French of England because I have not gone elsewhere to learn it.’) 26 27

R. M. Thomson, William of Malmesbury (Woodbridge, 1987, 2003), p. 39. See Södergård’s discussion of the manuscripts, La Vie d’Edouard le confesseur, ed. Södergård, pp. 46–50.


On the Equal Chastity of Queen Edith and King Edward Recalling that in Old French only masculine nouns were marked for nominative case, Russell further remarks that the nun’s observations about her syntax may capture how she envisaged the act of translating from Latin, perceived as masculine, into French, perceived as feminine.28 To this we might add that the nun’s double entendre may allude as well to her community of Barking, composed exclusively of women. That said, critics are agreed that she wrote in a perfectly good western dialect of French, which would have been like the dialect she shared with King Henry II, born in Le Mans.29 If the nun herself deploys this conventional modesty topos in the prologue, she has no hesitation in expressing herself later, through her character of Edith; unapologetic speech is possible where the practice of a chaste, female religious life is being advanced. Aelred dwells longer and more dramatically on Edward’s inner spiritual turmoil before the wedding than he does on the chastity vow: after agreeing to the barons’ exhortations for him to marry, Edward prays at length to Jesus, asking for help in remaining virginal; consequently, when the king and queen marry, their pledge of virginity appears anticlimactic. The nun too sees Edward’s prayer to Jesus before the wedding as crucial to the ongoing drama (her version, 177 lines of direct discourse (1145–1222), is even longer than Aelred’s), but the vowing scene unquestionably belongs to Edith. Here, Edward utters but four lines of direct discourse, and the rest of his request is recorded in free indirect discourse. In a way not unlike the effect produced when the Latin narrator speaks for Edith, free indirect discourse filters the king’s voice through the narrator’s, making the narrator an intermediary and putting Edward at a remove from the reader. Edith, who has been listening to Edward, seems to step from the shadows and address both Edward and the reader jointly. Joyful upon hearing her husband’s request, Edith replies: Bel duz sire, tres chier ami, Ou tut mun quer vus rend merci De la deseree requeste. A granter me trouverez preste, Kar ceo ai tuz jurs desiré D’offrir a Deu ma chasteé, Si cume jeo vus en requer 28

D. Russell, headnote to the nun of Barking’s La Vie d’Edouard le confesseur, in The French of England: Vernacular Theories and Practices 1100–1500, ed. J. Wogan-Browne, T. Fenster and D. Russell (forthcoming). 29 Case markers disappeared earlier in the western dialects of French, which included both Norman and Anglo-Norman; see P. Kunstmann, ‘Syntaxe Anglo-Normande: étude de certaines caractéristiques du XIIe au XIVe siècle’, in Language and Culture, pp. 55–67. On the nun’s sense of the value of her work, see L. Spetia, ‘. . .un faus franceis sai d’Angletere. . .’, Cultura Neolatina 59 (1999), 129–47, and for modesty topoi in Anglo-Norman prologues, see J. Wogan-Browne, ‘Wreaths of Thyme: Translatio and the Female Translator in Anglo-Norman Hagiography’, in The Medieval Translator IV, ed. R. Ellis and R. Evans (Exeter, 1994), 46–65.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture Ke ma preiere m’ait mestier, Ke vus endreit vus la guardez, Cume vus en requis m’avez. Or desirez le mien desir, Kar jeo ferai vostre plaisir. Cum seignur vus honurerai Et chastement vus amerai. Or vus en doinst Deus le poër, Si cum il ad fait le voler.  (1371–86) (‘Fair sweet lord, very dear ami, I thank you with all my heart for this longedfor request. You will find me ready to grant it, for I have always wanted to offer God my chastity, as surely as I ask you, in order that my prayer be useful to me [realized], that for your part you keep it [your chastity], as you have asked me to do. Desire my desire, for I shall do your pleasure. I shall honor you as lord and love you chastely. May God give you the power, as he did the wish.’)

Through those few lines of direct discourse, Edith gains a plasticity – and a role – briefly equal to Edward’s. To be sure, without Edward’s request, Edith could not pursue her own desire for chastity, but Edward too needs Edith to agree to his request. Further, Edith’s desire for chastity is emphasized as not simply a response to Edward’s. Her own desire, always already there, is revealed to be just as strong as Edward’s, just as inborn. This dispenses with any reading that sees the couple’s covenant as the imposition of one will upon another. The conversation is a performance, the enactment of an official exchange, for the two spouses are formally cancelling the conjugal debt and making a mutual compact to maintain marital chastity. The medieval marital debt gave both wife and husband the right to demand sex, as well as the obligation to supply it, but by contracting for a spiritual marriage, Edward and Edith have consented to forgo sexual relations, for reasons of piety.30 Edith’s answer ends on the Anselmian vocabulary of poër and voler, placed at the rhyme: may God give Edward the power to maintain himself as a virgin now that God has given him the will. By means of these terms, Edith puts the maintaining of virginity in the realm of will and determination, for both partners.31 Her words imply that Edward too could be the partner who initiates sexual relations, should he fail to exercise self-control. In that case, the responsibility for Edith’s having to break her own vow would belong to Edward. 30

D. Elliott, Spiritual Marriage: Sexual Abstinence in Medieval Marriage (Princeton NJ, 1993), p. 3. 31 In the first quarter of the fourteenth century the Barking life of Edward was put into French prose in a French manuscript (now London, British Library, MS Egerton 745), created for the de Châtillon family, counts of St Pol. In her prose speech Edith asks God to give to both Edward and herself the power to remain chaste, rather than Edward alone (see D. Russell, ‘The Cultural Context of the French Prose Remaniement of the Life of Edward the Confessor by a Nun of Barking Abbey’, in Language and Culture, pp. 290–302).


On the Equal Chastity of Queen Edith and King Edward As a performed compact, a mutual vow of chastity required witnesses. Aelred had already alluded to the official nature of such an agreement by explaining that the couple did not think they needed any witness to the bond but God.32 The nun goes one step further: certainly, God is understood to be the couple’s witness, but because the exchange is in dialogue rather than narration, it occurs in present time, the reader’s time, and not in the past time of narrative. This bestows upon the public for the Vie d’Edouard the privilege of witnessing the covenant as well as the opportunity of ‘seeing it with their own eyes’, which in medieval jurisprudence could constitute proof. In staging this dialogue between Edith and Edward, the nun appeals to contemporary interest in Christian marriage theory, which in the twelfth century was in process of formation, though not without ambivalence and unease. Dyan Elliott’s research has shown that there were ‘competing sexual discourses, which generated considerable confusion’. In one view, procreation in marriage, under certain conditions, was a good thing; but the clergy, while registering its scepticism about the conjugal act, nonetheless condemned as heresy the dualism practised by the Cathars, for whom procreation was evil and chaste marriage the rule.33 The monk Hugh of St Victor (d. 1142), however, accepted the idea of a marriage in which both spouses, sharing a mutual love, agreed to chastity, and later decretals by Pope Alexander III made mutual consent between a man and a woman key to a chaste Christian marriage. This put chaste marriage ‘once again at the center of matrimonial theory’, as Elliott observes.34 To be fair, however, it must be said that not even the nun’s portrait of Edith comes close to depicting the queen with the kind of agency and participation claimed for her in the eleventh-century vita. As we have seen in Edith’s speech, immediately after uttering her vow she defers to her husband, swearing obeisance to him by promising to do his pleasure and honour him as lord (1382–3). Her words reveal a contemporary concern to inhibit the putative freedom a vow of chastity could offer to the wife. That is, although the medieval conjugal debt was said to confer equality on spouses where the rights and obligations governing sexual relations were concerned, in practice heterosexual relations assured women’s subordination in marriage. Chastity was felt to undermine that structure and a declaration of obeisance was required to re-assert a husband’s authority.35 It is also true, in Edouard, that while the king’s relationship with God will continue to be personal and unmediated, Edith’s will be channelled through Edward. Over the course of roughly a century, then, the literary portrait of Edith changed in revealing ways. Commissioned by the historical Edith first in the 32 33 34 35

Vita sancti Edwardi, PL, 195, 748; ‘The Life of Edward the Confessor’, in Aelred, The Historical Works, p. 148. Ibid., p. 134. Ibid., pp. 138–9. Ibid., p. 157.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture interests of her family, then to serve her needs as a widow, it subsequently passed through the hands of clerics whose limited, courtly stylization of Edith was just enough to make her an appropriate spouse for the exalted Edward. The nun of Barking, on the other hand, perceived that Edward’s example could speak for her abbey as well, in part by restoring importance to Edith, not in secular affairs but in spiritual ones. At bottom, of course, Edward’s sanctification had political motives that would not have been served by Edith’s beatification, but the Barking nun nonetheless found in Edith a figure who could strengthen a woman’s claim to the life of the mind and heart, and to the capacity for a deep spirituality. In this way, Edith, a symbol of the politicization of gender, also comes to represent Barking Abbey and the superior chastity that is the hallmark of conventual life. Edith has taken her place in the abbey’s fund of cultural capital.


chapter seven

Body, Gender and Nation in the Lives of Edward the Confessor Jennifer N. Brown

Edward the Confessor, whose death without an obvious heir permitted William the Conqueror to claim the English throne, left a varied hagiographical record.1 During his life, Queen Edith, his wife, commissioned the first vita from a monk of Saint-Bertin.2 This narrative ends with Edward’s death and the arrival of William, omitting usual hagiographical addenda concerning miracles or other post-death stories concerning the saint. In 1138, Osbert of Clare follows with a more traditional hagiography,3 and a bid for Edward’s canonization (which did not, in the end, happen until 1161). But it is Aelred of Rievaulx’s 1163 vita,4 written for the translation of Edward’s relics, that would shape all subsequent narratives about Edward’s life. The first surviving vernacular translation of Aelred’s vita is written in Anglo-Norman by the anonymous nun of Barking Abbey.5 Her Vie is dated between 1163 and 1189.6 1


3 4

5 6

I am grateful for the help of the Saturday Medieval Group with the first revision of this chapter, particularly Steven Kruger, Glenn Burger, Sylvia Tomasch and Matthew Goldie. I would also like to thank Donna Bussell and Christopher Bradley for their comments and suggestions for revision. Finally, I am grateful to the anonymous reader for York Medieval Press, who pointed out some additional errors and sources I had missed. Naturally, any remaining errors are my own. The Life of King Edward who Rests at Westminster, ed. and trans. F. Barlow, Nelson’s Medieval Texts (London, 1962). The Latin vita is also in Lives of Edward the Confessor: I. La Estoire de seint Aedward le rei. II. Vita beati Edvardi regis et confessoris. III. Vita Æduardi regis qui apud Westmonasterium requiescit, ed. H. R. Luard (London, 1858). M. Bloch, ed. ‘La Vie de S. Edouard le confesseur par Osbert de Clare’, Analecta Bollandiana 41 (1923), 5–131. A. Rievallensis, ‘Vita S. Edwardi regis’, PL 195, 737–90. There are two translations of this vita: Life of St. Edward the Confessor by St. Aelred of Rievaulx, trans. J. Bertram (Southampton, 1990), and ‘The Life of Saint Edward, King and Confessor’, trans. J. P. Freeland, in Aelred of Rievaulx, The Historical Works, ed. M. L. Dutton (Kalamazoo MI, 2005), pp. 123–243. La Vie d’Edouard le confesseur: poème anglo-normand du XIIe siècle, ed. Ö. Södergård (Uppsala, 1948). The date is disputed, but at the minimum it must succeed Aelred’s vita, composed by 1163, and precede the death of Henry II, to whom it is dedicated, in 1189. Södergård places it at Becket’s murder in 1170 at the latest. In ‘The Literary Apprenticeship


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture This text is followed by Matthew Paris’s renowned illustrated version, also in Anglo-Norman, dated c. 1230–50.7 While Paris may have been familiar with the nun’s version, he does not draw from it, and instead uses Aelred’s vita as his main source supplemented by other near-contemporary documents, such as Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia regum Brittaniae.8 From 1300 to the first half of the fifteenth century, Middle English versions of the life were also produced in both prose and verse.9 All of the early iterations of the vita of St Edward the Confessor reflect an anxiety about the fractured and broken body of England. That Edward has no heir is both implicitly and explicitly a major theme in these texts, and much of the narrative is about Edward’s death, Harold’s questionable ascension to the throne, and William’s ultimate triumph. Concerning Matthew Paris’s Estoire de seint Aedward le rei, Christopher Baswell has written that it is a narrative full of contradictions and ‘fiercely attentive to royal lineage that hinges on a virgin and childless king, concerned with legitimacy yet celebrating William the Bastard’.10 of Clemence of Barking’, AUMLA: Journal of the Australasian Universities Language and Literature Association 9 (1958), 3–22, W. MacBain argues that the Vie must have been written before 1170. M. D. Legge, Anglo-Norman Literature and its Background (Oxford, 1963), pp. 246–7, places the Vie at 1163. J. Wogan-Browne extends the late date that MacBain proposes to 1189 in ‘“Clerc u lai, muïne u dame”: Women and Anglo-Norman Hagiography in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries’, in Women and Literature in Britain 1150–1500, ed. C. M. Meale (Cambridge, 1993), pp. 61–85 (p. 83 n. 39), and writes: ‘Södergård’s argument that the nun of Barking could not speak benevolently of Henry II after the murder of Becket is not conclusive. After the murder may be exactly when a reworking of the Aelred vita would be most wanted by the king’, in Saints’ Lives, p. 251 n. 84. See also E. Mitchell, ‘Patrons and Politics at Twelfth Century Barking Abbey’, Revue bénédictine 113 (2003), 347–64, who argues that the life was written after 1177. 7 La Estoire de seint Aedward le rei: Attributed to Matthew Paris, ed. K. Y. Wallace (London, 1983). For a translation, see The History of Saint Edward the King by Matthew Paris, trans. T. Fenster and J. Wogan-Browne, Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies 341: The French of England Translation (Tempe AZ, 2008). Laurent suggests that the most compelling dates for Paris’s Estoire are either January 1236, for the marriage of Henry III to Eleanor of Provence, or October 1247, for the feast of St Edward celebrated at Westminster following its reconstruction in 1245. Laurent favours the latter date. See F. Laurent, Plaire et édifier: les récits hagiographiques composés en Angleterre aux XIIe et XIIIe siècles (Paris, 1998), p. 63, and F. Laurent ‘“A ma matere pas n’apent de vus dire. . .” La Estoire de seint Aedward le rei de Matthieu Paris ou la “conjointure” de deux écritures’, Revue des sciences humaines 251 (1998), 127–53 (p. 127). The Estoire survives in only one manuscript, Cambridge, University Library, MS Ee.3.59. A digital reproduction of the manuscript may be viewed on the Cambridge University Library website: 8 See The History of Saint Edward the King by Matthew Paris, trans. Fenster and WoganBrowne, pp. 41–3 for information on Matthew Paris’s sources. 9 The Middle English Verse Life of Edward the Confessor, ed. G. E. Moore (Philadelphia, 1942). 10 C. Baswell, ‘King Edward and the Cripple’, in Chaucer and the Challenges of Medievalism: Studies in Honor of H. A. Kelly, ed. D. Minkova and T. Tinkle (Frankfurt, 2003), pp. 16–29 (p. 20).


Body, Gender and Nation The vita’s preoccupation with fertility and succession is never explicitly stated, but exposes itself repeatedly in metaphor and interpretation by the hagiographers. For example, Edward’s dream about a tree that gets uprooted and then later reroots itself is subsequently read by Aelred and the nun as signalling the rupture of England’s kingship with the Norman Conquest and its reinstatement with Henry II. Matthew Paris replaces Henry II with his own patron, Henry III, and by extension Henry III’s wife Eleanor of Provence, to whom the Estoire is dedicated.11 But the vita also represents this broken body of England in another way – in the description of the miracles attributed to Edward both during his life, and, most importantly for a saint, after his death. Baswell has effectively argued that the healing of the cripple Guil Michel (Edward’s first healing miracle), particularly in Matthew Paris’s version of Edward’s life, addresses some of the questions surrounding the narrative: ‘What is the progeny of chaste kingship? In a work so preoccupied with lineage and legitimacy, where can Edward’s fertility be located and what are its means?’12 He suggests that the ‘stable’ body of Edward couples with the ‘unstable’ one of Guil Michel, providing ‘a necessary complement, a completion, to the chaste, isolated royal body’.13 Here, I would like to build on Baswell’s work, to develop a similar attention to body and metaphor in the Nun of Barking’s Vie, as well as to direct my focus towards the miracles involving women. The Nun’s Vie betrays its particular interest in women and women’s bodies most clearly in its treatment of Queen Edith. As Jocelyn Wogan-Browne has shown, ‘the Barking Life is the only version to give Edith a point of view and to add a speech for her . . . on the wedding night’,14 demonstrating the Nun’s concern with giving agency to Queen Edith, silenced in the other texts. In this way, the Nun of Barking’s rewriting of the vita is more than simply a translation from Latin to Anglo-Norman or from prose to poetry (octosyllabic rhyming couplets throughout). The Nun also adds small details, rewording and dialogue that alter the tenor or meaning of Aelred’s text. For example, while Aelred writes that the traitorous Godwin (Edith’s father) is a ‘thorn that has produced a rose’, the Nun instead says that Edith is ‘a rose that comes from a thorn’, as well as praising her for changing from her father’s nature.15 Wogan-Browne also provides examples suggesting that the Nun, more than her counterparts, is ‘insistent . . . on the sacred relation between king and land’.16 While the Nun generally sticks closely to Aelred’s text in substance, her subtle and direct changes effectively make for a different portrait of the king and his actions. 11

12 13 14 15 16

I have explored the dream of the tree and its implications in J. N. Brown, ‘“Cut from the Stump”: Translating Edward the Confessor’s Dream of the Green Tree’, in The Medieval Translator XIII, ed. D. Renevey and C. Whitehead (Turnhout, 2010), pp. 57–70. Baswell, ‘King Edward and the Cripple’, p. 20. Ibid., p. 28. Wogan-Browne, ‘“Clerc u lai, muïne u dame”’, p. 70. Wogan-Browne discusses this inversion, as well as other innovations of the Nun’s language, ibid., p. 69. Saints’ Lives, p. 252.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture In this chapter, I look at the Nun’s Anglo-Norman version of Edward’s life in relation to Aelred’s vita and Matthew Paris’s Estoire and discuss how some of Edward’s miracles reflect an anxiety about the body politic of England and its rulership, both in its past and its present. England had been traumatized by the events of 1066 and its aftermath and it is only with Henry II that a real attempt is made to unite the Norman and the Anglo-Saxon cultures and people; the vita of Edward was written as part of that project. I examine two miracles in particular: the healing of a woman afflicted with scrofula during Edward’s life, a miracle for which Edward becomes known (as successive kings of England and France also would be), and the healing of a nun at Barking Abbey after Edward’s death. Both of these events point to a particular relationship between the legend of Edward and women’s bodies, but they also reflect a larger anxiety about the infertile, diseased body of England in need of being made healthy. It does not take a great leap to see that the bodies of Edward’s lives represent the ‘body’ of England. Although ‘England’ was in itself murkily defined – does it include Wales, Scotland or France? – there had been since Ælfric, as Kathy Lavezzo explains, a sense of both ‘Engla Londe as one kingdom and a single gens Anglorum’.17 Hugh Thomas further explains that even though the ethnic identities of the English were transitional in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, ‘because of intermarriage, cultural change, and adaptation to England, the invaders and their descendants progressed, perhaps gradually, perhaps swiftly, from a unitary Norman identity to a unitary English one, possibly through a mediating Anglo-Norman phase’.18 He reminds us that ‘AngloNorman’ is a modern identification and that an inhabitant of twelfth-century England would consider himself either ‘French’ or ‘English’, and more likely the latter. Despite Edward’s own ties to Normandy, he was widely considered the last English king and William as the first Norman one. With Henry II and Henry III, the cult of Edward is reinforced as a symbol of a return to Englishness and a king who represents England as a whole. This is reflected not only in the kings’ own devotions, but of their people as well. As Thomas argues, ‘whatever the doubts of some members of the first generation of immigrants, their descendants displayed widespread, public, and no doubt often genuine devotion to saints associated with England and the English’.19 Edward’s hagiographers were also working in a generic tradition where saints themselves were frequently used as synecdoche. This tradition precedes the Norman Conquest; for example, according to Virginia Blanton, the twelfth-century monastic history of the abbey of Ely, the Liber Eliensis, emphasizes ‘that although the monastery at Ely was destroyed during the Danish 17

K. Lavezzo, Angels on the Edge of the World: Geography, Literature, and English Community, 1000–1534 (Ithaca NY, 2006), p. 32. 18 H. Thomas, The English and the Normans: Ethnic Hostility, Assimilation, and Identity 1066–c. 1220 (Oxford, 2003), p. 71. 19 Ibid., p. 294.


Body, Gender and Nation invasions, [Saint] Æthelthryth’s corporeal purity remained undisturbed within the sanctity of her sarcophagus’.20 This allows for the refoundation of Ely to be legitimized in its continuation of Æthelthryth’s sanctification of the land. Similarly, Goscelin of Saint-Bertin’s vita of St Werburgh the Virgin, also of Ely, describes her uncorrupted corpse as lasting ‘for a very long time under angelic protection, namely up until the time of the heathens, and the evil day when by God’s most just ordinance this homeland of the English was given over to the swords of gentiles’ (‘Durauit diutius sub angelica custodia hic honor illesi corporis, usque ad tempora scilicet paganorum et diem malorum, quando iustissima Dei dispensatione hec patria Anglorum tradita est gladiis gentilium’).21 The late-medieval hagiographer Henry Bradshaw extended this analogy in his own life of St Werburgh, likely reflecting the centuries of tradition. Catherine Sanok explains that ‘Bradshaw represents the patron saint of his own abbey . . . as a figure for the continuity of English community, most conspicuously in the miraculous preservation of her body, which remains intact for hundreds of years. When it disintegrates during the Danish invasions – to protect it from infidel hands – Werburge’s body no longer just symbolizes the integrity of the community she represents: she actively protects it, warding off invasion by “innumerable barbarike nacions”.’22 In the case of Edward the Confessor, his relationship to England as a whole is even more pronounced. The tradition of treating saints as metaphors for the land dovetails with that of representing rulers’ health and bodies as mimetic to that of their kingdoms. For example, Kirsten Fenton describes the twelfth-century history of William of Malmesbury as centring part of its narrative on King Vortigern’s ‘body and his inability to control it’, which becomes ‘a metaphor and a means of criticising not only his masculinity but also his rulership’.23 Edward is both saint and king, inviting this kind of metaphoric structure in all of his hagiographers. His shrine at Westminster was a major pilgrimage site and the location for the coronation of English kings, so that everything with which he was associated also carried the weight of its national significance. The two healing miracles I discuss here are not the only instances where Edward is a healer; indeed, he is depicted as one throughout his vitae, but these moments are particularly telling in terms of his relation to women in general and Barking Abbey in particular. The miraculous cure of the woman with scrofula begins with an account of the disease and its horrific effects. Aelred writes:

20 21 22 23

V. Blanton, Signs of Devotion: The Cult of St. Æthelthryth in Medieval England, 695–1615 (University Park PA, 2007), p. 133. Goscelin of Saint-Bertin, The Hagiography of the Female Saints of Ely, ed. and trans. R. C. Love (Oxford, 2004), pp. 48–9. C. Sanok, Her Life Historical: Exemplarity and Female Saints’ Lives in Late Medieval England (Philadelphia, 2007), p. 83. K. A. Fenton, Gender, Nation and Conquest in the Works of William of Malmesbury (Woodbridge, 2008), pp. 103–4.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture Adolescentula quædam tradita nuptiis duplici laborabat incommodo. Nam faciem ejus morbus deformaverat, amorem viri sterilitas prolis ademerat; sub faucibus quippe quasi glandes ei succreverant, quæ totam faciem deformi tumore fœdantes, putrefactis sub cute humoribus, sanguinem in saniem verterant, inde nati vermes odorem teterrimum exhalabant. Ita viro incutiebat morbus horrorem, sterilitas minuebat affectum. Vivebat infelix mulier odiosa marito, parentibus onerosa. Rarus ad eam vel amicorum accessus propter fetorem, vel aspectus viri propter horrorem. Hinc dolor, hinc lacrymæ, hinc die noctuque suspiria, cum ei vel sterilitas opprobrium, vel contemptum infirmitas generaret.24 (‘A certain young woman, given in marriage, was suffering from two misfortunes. Illness had deformed her face, and unfruitfulness in childbearing had deprived her of her husband’s love. Something like acorns had grown under her jaw, and this unsightly swelling had marred her whole face; the fluid under her skin putrefied and corrupted her blood, and worms breeding in it gave off a disgusting odour. The disease struck her husband with horror, and her sterility weakened his affection. The unhappy woman lived on, despised by her husband and a burden to her parents. Her friends seldom approached her because of the stench, and her husband seldom looked at her because of his horror. Sorrow, tears, and sighs resulted, day and night, while her sterility brought hatred on her and her infirmity contempt.’)25

Although Aelred writes that there are two sorrows here, her deformity and her ‘sterility of offspring’, it is made clear by the end of the description that these are related – she is unattractive to her husband, thus there is no heir. Although Aelred is careful (twice!) to point out that the woman has lost her husband’s affection not because of her looks but because of her inability to conceive, he also comments on both the husband’s horror and revulsion at her corrupted body. He implies that her unfruitfulness may be due to a lack of sex with her repulsed husband, not an inability to conceive. The husband does not lose his love entirely; his affection (affectus) is diminished (minuo) by the affliction, but Aelred does not use the stronger term for love (amor) or imply that it is entirely withdrawn.26 The Nun greatly expands the incident about the scrofulous woman from Aelred’s version. She pays particular attention to the female body, an attention that indicates her position as a member of an all-female community with a female reading audience. First, the woman is introduced: Une chaitive femme esteit, Ki en dulur e en turment Usad sa vie e sun juvent. De duble dulur ert destreinte, 24 25

PL 195, 761. ‘The Life of Saint Edward, King and Confessor’, in Aelred, The Historical Works, p. 179. 26 Thanks are due to Peter Biller here and throughout the text for his close reading of the Latin and the points he made regarding its translation.


Body, Gender and Nation Mult l’anguisot sa duble pleinte. L’une ert qu’enfant ne pout aveir, Que tut en out perdu l’espeir. L’altre ert si fiere enfermeté Que n’esperot nule santé.27 (‘There was a wretched woman who spent her life and her youth in pain and torment. She was afflicted with a double pain; her double complaint anguished her greatly: one was that she could not have a child, something of which she had entirely given up hope. The other was that she had such an overpowering infirmity that she could not hope to be cured.’)28

Although this passage is followed with a more in-depth, and, indeed, gruesome depiction of the scrofula and its effects, the Nun’s introduction to the woman is markedly different from Aelred’s; it reverses the order in which the woman’s two sorrows are listed. For Aelred, the physical deformity is the most important and her inability to conceive second. For the Nun, the barrenness is the primary pain in the woman’s life. Further, Aelred states up front that she had ‘lost her husband’s love through her inability to conceive’, but the Nun makes no mention of the husband. She focuses on the woman – her feelings about her barrenness and her disease – and not how this has affected her marriage. It is not until much later (thirty-four lines into the description) that the Nun mentions the husband at all. After describing the worms who lived in the woman’s rotten wounds, the Nun writes: Li verm unt la char devuree, Dunt si grant puür est gettee Que nuls ne la volt aprucier Pur li conforter ne aidier. Sun espus pur ceste puür L’eschive de nuiz e de jur. E pur ço mains chiere l’aveit Qu’ele enfant aver ne poeit. . . . La chaitive bien entendi Qu’en despit l’aveit sun mari.29 (‘The worms had devoured her flesh, which gave off such a great stench that nobody wanted to get close to her either to comfort or to help her. Her husband avoided her night and day because of this stench. As a consequence of this, he held her less dear and she could not have a child . . . The poor woman understood only too well that her husband held her in contempt.’) 27 28

La Vie d’Edouard le confesseur, ed. Södergård, 3086–94. All of the quotations taken from the Nun of Barking are followed by my own translations, arrived at with a lot of help. I am particularly grateful for the help in the translations from Emma Campbell, who made them much more elegant, and pointed out important use of vocabulary. Any errors are my own. 29 La Vie d’Edouard le confesseur, ed. Södergård, 3105–9, 3119–20.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture Again, the Nun has re-characterized the woman in her translation as notably different from the woman Aelred imagined. While Aelred focuses on the family and husband’s revulsion, the Nun turns the perspective around to focus on the effect this revulsion has on the woman: she lacks the emotional and physical help that she needs. The Nun’s woman does not simply repel everyone, but the people cannot offer her any help. The Nun’s concern is the lack of empathy and aid directed at the suffering woman. The Nun also discusses the reasons the husband avoids his wife in a different manner from Aelred. For Aelred, the husband’s love was lost as a result of her ‘sterility’, but for the Nun the stench of the wounds keeps him away, the lack of a child being only secondarily mentioned. I think this is an important distinction: for Aelred, the woman is most upset about her disfigurement, the husband about the lack of progeny; for the Nun, this is completely reversed. This does, in fact, seem to be a gendered difference. Aelred’s woman suffers from a kind of vanity, and her husband’s ‘contempt’ at her barrenness is presented as a normal reaction. The Nun, perhaps more sensitive to the conditions and frustrations of women who cannot conceive, places this as the woman’s primary concern and makes the woman’s appearance and stench the husband’s major complaints. With a simple re-ordering, the Nun entirely recasts the incident. While both Aelred and the Nun demonstrate a concern for the unhealthy English realm, Aelred shows the general anxiety of the country about the lack of a legitimate heir (an anxiety resolved by the end of the miracle), while the Nun’s concern and anxiety are more for the country’s health as a whole. The miracle that ultimately heals the scrofulous woman reinforces the notion of the king as a healer, but also becomes part of the legend of all the English kings; the disease eventually becomes known as ‘The King’s Evil’ with the belief that the touch of the monarch would reverse its effects. Aelred writes about how the afflicted woman is eventually healed through Edward’s touch: Jubetur tandem in somnis adire palatium, ex regiis manibus sperare remedium, quibus si lota, si tacta, si signata foret, reciperet ejus meritis sanitatem. Expergefacta mulier, sexus simul et conditionis oblita, prorumpit in curiam, regis se repraesentat obtutibus, exponit oraculum, auxilium deprecatur. Ille more suo victus pietate, nec sordes cavit, nec fetorem exhorruit. Allata denique aqua, partes corporis quas morbus foedaverat propriis manibus lavit, locaque tumentia contrectans digitis, signum sanctae crucis impressit. Quid plura? Subito rupta cute, cum sanie vermes ebulliunt, resedit tumor, dolor omnis abcessit: admirantibus qui aderant tantam sub purpura sanctitatem, tantam sceptrigeris manibus inesse virtutem. Paucis vero diebus substitit in Curia mulier regiis ministris necessaria ministrantibus, donec obducta vulneribus cicatrice incolumis rediret ad propria. Verum ut nihil deesset regi ad gloriam, pauperculae nihil ad gratiam, donatur sterili inopina fecunditas, ventrisque sui desiderato fructu ditata, facile sibi mariti gratiam conciliavit.30 30

PL 195, 761–2.


Body, Gender and Nation (‘Eventually in a dream she was ordered to go to the palace and to expect a remedy from the royal hands. If washed or touched or signed by them, she would receive healing by the king’s merits. When the woman wakened, oblivious of both her sex and her condition, she rushed to the court, presented herself before the king’s scrutiny, related the prophecy, and besought his aid. Persuaded by his loving kindness, he neither avoided the foulness nor shuddered at the stench. Once water had been brought, he washed with his own hands the parts of her body that the illness had marred; pressing the swollen places with his fingers, he marked them with the sign of the holy cross. What more shall I say? Her skin suddenly cracked, worms came bubbling out along with the corrupted blood, the swelling subsided, and all pain left her. Those present marvelled at such holiness under the purple, such power in the sceptred hands! For a few days the woman remained at court with the royal servants serving her; then she returned to her own home healed, her wounds covered by a scar. That the king might lack no glory and the poor woman no grace, she proved unexpectedly fertile; enriched with the desired fruit of the womb, she easily found favour with her husband.’)31

Edward is depicted as Christ-like, reflecting the Gospel story where Jesus humbles himself by washing the feet of his disciples (John 13.5), as well as the instances when Jesus heals the sick by his touch, especially lepers, who face the same kind of revulsion and ostracism as the scrofulous woman. This comparison of Edward to Jesus demonstrates his extreme piety and his love for the common and suffering people of his country. Edward ultimately can do here what the husband cannot – he is the engenderer of the woman’s heir but by proxy. The chaste, heirless king possesses the power of fertility. In much the same way that the vitae depict Edward’s bestowal of the throne on either Harold or William (depending on the hagiographer), Edward is thus responsible for an heir other than his own. Aelred has written Edward as a healer, a uniter, who makes a family whole again. Aelred’s early concentration on the woman’s (and hence Edward’s) lack of progeny becomes all the more powerful when he posits Henry II as the awaited heir in his interpretation of Edward’s dream vision of the Green Tree. Robert Stein writes that through the vita Aelred ‘constructs Edward primarily as a figural and material double of Henry Plantagenet, a celebration and guarantee of the legitimacy of his rule’32 and that by the end of the vita, ‘Henry has become Edward’s son and heir’.33 The Nun again offers a significantly different version of events from Aelred’s. She transfers some of Edward’s healing powers to God, and depicts another kind of whole family at the end of the episode. She writes: ‘Issi ad Deu cel cors guari / Par le rei Edward, sun ami’ (‘Thus God cured this body / through king 31

‘The Life of Saint Edward, King and Confessor’, in Aelred, The Historical Works, pp. 179–80. 32 R. M. Stein, Reality Fictions: Romance, History, and Governmental Authority, 1025–1180 (Notre Dame IL, 2006), p. 74. 33 Ibid., p. 75.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture Edward, his friend’).34 She ascribes less power to Edward here than Aelred does, first giving the credit for the miracle to God, who works through the vehicle of Edward. Her ending also reflects a different understanding of the miracle and its meaning: A sa maison est returnee Joiuse, enterement sanee. Mult s’en esjoï sun mari E si parent e si ami. Ne remist pas sa joie a tant, Aprés ço tost cunceut enfant. Si ad Deu lu rei honuré E repleni de grant bunté, Qui par lui la femme sana E a baraigne enfant duna.35 (‘She returned to her house overjoyed and completely healed. Her husband rejoiced greatly at this, as did her family and friends. Nor was her joy later diminished; [for] afterwards, she quickly conceived a child. God has honoured the king and filled him with great virtue; through him, He healed the woman, who was barren, and gave her a child.’)

Unlike Aelred’s ending, in which the change in appearance and the production of a child lead to her regaining her husband’s affections, for the Nun, the husband is joyful at her return and the child is a product of that joy. The husband’s role is diminished, and the child is posited as a product of the woman’s health. Emma Campbell suggests that many of the lives in the Campsey manuscript (which contains the Nun’s Vie of Edward) are intentionally focused on the body and its role in a community: ‘Learning to reinterpret the body – particularly the female body – and its place in social and symbolic systems is . . . part of the didactic function of a number of texts in the manuscript. In certain cases, this reinterpretation is also explicitly constitutive of community.’36 Here, the woman is integrated not only into the community of her family but that of England as a whole (she is no longer an outcast). While the family is healed and united at the end of the Nun’s story (as in Aelred’s), the glory and credit is given foremost to God, not Edward. Both versions of the miracle, Aelred’s and the Nun’s, need to be read in terms of their royal audience as their texts are closely tied to the contemporary court and its king. The two hagiographers are writing under Henry II and use the vita as a way of validating his reign and constructing him as an inheritor of Edward the Confessor’s legacy, a link that Henry II (and later Henry III) were extremely interested in making. Aelred’s vita was commissioned for 34 35 36

La Vie d’Edouard le confesseur, ed. Södergård, 3227–8. Ibid., 3242–52. E. Campbell, Medieval Saints’ Lives: The Gift, Kinship, and Community in Old French Hagiography (Cambridge, 2008), p. 198.


Body, Gender and Nation the translation of Edward’s relics. Nicholas Vincent suggests that ‘it was more than mere coincidence’ that 13 October was chosen as the date for the translation of Edward’s relics, and that ‘we should bear in mind here that the Battle of Hastings had been fought on Saturday 14 October 1066, and that the canonization of St Edward was widely linked to prophecies of Henry II as the heir to St Edward who would unite the stock of Normandy and England’.37 Aelred’s new vita is one of many formal gestures Henry II would make to link him with Edward’s legacy, mostly in his attention to Westminster Abbey.38 While Aelred clearly promotes Henry II, the Nun may have reasons to be more ambivalent due to the fact that in 1173 Thomas Becket’s sister, Mary, was appointed abbess of Barking by the king, possibly as a way to pacify some of Thomas’s angry supporters.39 Although her Vie is dedicated to the king, his popularity at the abbey may have been questionable under Abbess Mary’s leadership. By 1177, it appears that Barking was under the leadership of someone much closer to Henry II, his illegitimate daughter Matilda. Because the date of composition of the Vie is between 1163 and 1189, it is unclear who was abbess, and thus what the predominant feeling towards Henry II may have been at the time of its writing. Françoise Laurent suggests that the intended destination of the Nun’s vita may not have been Henry II’s court, but rather the abbess of Barking, who, whether it was Mary Becket or Matilda, had close ties to the royal family.40 When the Nun ascribes Edward’s capacity for healing primarily to God, it can seemingly work in two ways. In one sense, it can further validate Henry II as the heir of Edward, and here, sanctioned by God. In another sense, though, it makes Henry II less likely to be seen as England’s healer because he did not have the divine power attributed to his predecessor. Barking Abbey’s connections to Thomas Becket may have made the Nun less enthusiastic about Henry II than perhaps she at first seems. While the Nun expands Aelred’s narrative about the scrofulous woman, Matthew Paris shortens this incident. Paris wrote not for Henry II, but rather dedicated his Estoire to Eleanor of Provence, wife of Henry III, another king invested in being linked to Edward’s reign. It was Henry III who successfully petitioned the papacy to have Edward’s feast day made part of the Roman calendar, and who named his own son after the saint.41 If a gift on the occasion of the rededication of Westminster Abbey in 1247, the Estoire (notably named a ‘history’ and not a ‘life’) deliberately draws a parallel between the subject



39 40 41

N. Vincent, ‘Pilgrimages of the Angevin Kings of England’, in Pilgrimage: The English Experience from Becket to Bunyan, ed. C. Morris and P. Roberts (Cambridge, 2002), pp. 12–45 (p. 25). See P. Binski, Westminster Abbey and the Plantagenets: Kingship and the Representation of Power, 1200–1400 (London, 1995) for information on both Henry II’s and Henry III’s relationship to Westminster and how this extends to their interest in Edward. Mitchell, ‘Patrons and Politics at Twelfth-Century Barking Abbey’, p. 353. Laurent, Plaire et édifier, p. 66. Binski, Westminster Abbey and the Plantagenets, p. 52.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture of the narrative and its dedicatees.42 In his depiction of the miracle, Paris gestures towards the mystical and physical devotional practice of affective piety by having Edward actually drink the woman’s blood in order to heal her. This kind of action, seen in other saints (most notably Catherine of Siena who drank the pus from lepers’ wounds), humbles Edward so completely that it serves only to magnify his sanctity for the readers of the Estoire: Quant out fa(it) de la croiz signacle, Issent verms de la quiture, Si en but li sancs a dreiture. Cesse li maus e la püur, La leidesse e la dolur. A l’ostel s’en va garie E quite de la maladie. La char se restore tute, Kar morte est ranclë e gute, E ki barainne estoit a l’hure Puis out bele porteüre. Tut cist k’unt veu la vertu Louent le haut seignur Jesu E prient le ke lunges gard Lur dreiturel rei Aedward.43 (‘When Edward made the sign of the cross, vermin came out of the pus, and he drank the blood. The illness and the stink ceased, as well as the pain and disfigurement, and the woman went home cured of the malady. Her flesh was completely restored, for the festering and the sores had been destroyed; and this woman, who had so recently been barren, had a fine child. Everyone who saw the wonder praised the lofty Lord Jesus and prayed to him to watch over their rightful King Edward for a long time to come.’)44

Matthew Paris’s Vie of Edward, the latest of the three, re-casts Edward in terms of affective piety. This kind of devotional behaviour is usually linked to 42

Fenster and Wogan-Browne write that the word estoire ‘has multiple resonances for this account of Edward’s life. It would have suggested vernacular history, as in some medieval chronicles, and it was also a fashionable term of vernacular poetics, used by romances and chansons de geste, or French medieval epic. The term estoire can also mean “illustration,” and as such it alludes reflexively to its manuscript environment, where it is embellished by a cycle of large-format color illustrations’, in The History of Saint Edward the King by Matthew Paris, trans. Fenster and WoganBrowne, p. 2. Laurent points out that Paris’s narrative effectively ends on the word estoire, meant to convey that the text should function like a kind of auctoritas for the reader and emphasizing that it is not simply a vita (Plaire et édifier, pp. 84–5). Laurent further examines the ‘two strands’ of Paris’ narrative (hagiographic and historic) in ‘“A ma matere pas n’apent de vus dire. . .”’. 43 Estoire de seint Aedward le rei, ed. Wallace, 2668–83. 44 The History of Saint Edward the King by Matthew Paris, trans. Fenster and WoganBrowne, pp. 87–8.


Body, Gender and Nation women and lends a mystical quality to Edward and his miracle-working. This incident is also coupled with another nod towards affective piety in this text where Christ appears to Edward at the elevation of the Eucharist, a miracle directly preceding the story of the scrofulous woman.45 This connection both humbles Edward – not only will this saintly king touch the scrofulous woman, whose own husband refuses to touch her, but he will actually drink her blood – but it also emphasizes Edward’s extreme determination to make things whole and right. While Aelred and the Nun were both writing for Henry II, and hopefully anticipating a peaceful reign, this had not come to pass, as his reign was plagued by civil war and familial battles. When Matthew wrote, he had to recast Henry III as the rightful inheritor of Edward’s rulership, hoping that he would be seen as the healer after the troubles of Henry II and the subsequent reigns of his sons Richard I and John. In magnifying Edward’s sanctity and role as healer, Matthew silently does so for Henry III as well. These two Eucharistic miracles (seeing Christ in the host and drinking blood to heal the woman) serve Henry III’s purposes in linking him clearly to Edward the Confessor. As Nicholas Vincent explains: Much of Henry III’s relic collection, we can assume, passed from his private chapel to the monks of Westminster . . . Henry III sought to establish a series of shrines fit to rival the greatest in Christendom. The best known of Henry’s gifts to Westminster, a portion of Christ’s blood sent to the King from the Holy Land, was ceremonially processed through the streets of London before being deposited at the Confessor’s shrine on 13 October 1247, the Confessor’s feast day. Here we find the pilgrim king, processing barefoot, with his eyes fixed on the relic which he carried before him, walking beneath a pall borne of four spears, around both the abbey and the royal apartments at Westminster.46

Henry III was explicitly linking himself to Edward and Edward to the Eucharist with the relic of the Holy Blood. Matthew Paris’s reinforcement of Edward’s link to Eucharistic piety further serves to enhance his king’s own reputation for holiness. The second occasion in Aelred’s vita on which Edward heals a woman from illness occurs after his death. This time, Edward’s healing powers are directed at a nun rather than a married woman or potential mother. This diversity of miracle beneficiaries shows Edward as a healer for all his subjects, but by naming the nun as one from Barking Abbey, Aelred constructs a visible link between this powerful and politically connected abbey and Westminster, so closely associated with Edward. In this miracle story, a nun of Barking, after two years of fever and close to death, has a dream where ‘on her way to visit her own country and her parents again’ (‘ad patriam propriam parentesque revisendos’),47 she is told to stop at Westminster Abbey, see Edward’s tomb and 45 46 47

PL 195, 786–7. Vincent, ‘Pilgrimages of the Angevin Kings’, pp. 36–7. PL 195, 787; ‘The Life of Saint Edward, King and Confessor’, in Aelred, The Historical


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture pray for healing. Although the trip to Westminster is described as a diversion from her main journey home, it seems the site is postulated as a pilgrimage destination. Edward’s tomb holds the same healing power as he himself held in life. The nun’s companion in her dream tells her: ‘The noble King Edward is there, and if you visit his tomb with devotion and faith, he will easily obtain from the Lord God the refreshment by which your body will regain its original vigour’ (‘Est ibi, inquit, nobilis rex Edwardus, cujus si cum devotione ac fide sepulcrum inviseris, facile tibi a Domino Deo suo refectionem qua corpus tuum pristinum vigorem recipiat impetrabit’).48 Again, Edward serves as intercessor, petitioning God on the behalf of his people. Upon awakening, the nun walks into the chapel at Barking, lies before the altar and prays to Edward: Credo, inquit, Domine, paratam mihi apud sanctum sepulcrum tuum, secundum quod mihi promissum est, si illud adiero, sanitatem; sed quid opus est hoc labore meo, imo periculo meo? Erit enim non parvum meae quietis dispendium vecturam quaerere, viaticum procurare, socios itineris providere, praecipue in eundo et redeundo audire multa, multa videre quae mentem extollant et adimant gravitatem, et vel ipsa nugari, vel otiari, vel talia facientes attendere. Quid igitur necesse est ut sacri corporis tui praesentiam quaeram, cum spiritu praesens sis, et cernenti creatorem angusta sit omnis creatura? Scio certe, scio quod in ea luce quae penetrat omnia, mea tibi patet miseria, et cum sis particeps summae illius potestatis, si voluntas adfuerit, non deerit facultas. Dic proinde verbo et sanabitur ancilla tua.49 (‘I believe, my Lord’, she said, ‘that healing is ready for me at your holy tomb, according to what was promised me if I would go there. But what is the point of this labour, indeed this risk to me? For it will cause me no small loss of my inner peace to seek food, to find provisions, to provide companions for my journey, and especially to go and come to hear and see many things that will lift up my mind and take away my seriousness, and to waste time in these things, to be idle, or to notice others doing such things. Why must I seek the presence of your sacred body when you are present in spirit? To one who sees the Creator, all creation is small! I know, surely I know, that in the light that penetrates all things my wretchedness lies open to you, and since you are a partaker of the supreme power, if you have the will, you do not lack the ability. Then say the word and your handmaid will be healed.’)50

The woman begins to feel better after this plea, and increases her prayers to Edward over the next few days until ultimately ‘she was restored to perfect health, and she rendered thanks to the holy King Edward as long as she lived’ (‘Cum autem tertiae tribulationi eodem quo prius occurrisset antidoto, Works, p. 238. PL 195, 787; ‘The Life of Saint Edward, King and Confessor’, in Aelred, The Historical Works, pp. 238–9. 49 PL 195, 787–8. 50 ‘The Life of Saint Edward, King and Confessor’, in Aelred, The Historical Works, p. 239. 48


Body, Gender and Nation perfectae reddita sanitati, sancto regi Edwardo quoad vixerit gratiarum retulit actiones’).51 This miracle again deliberately reflects a Gospel passage; the narrative resonates with the New Testament story (incorporated into the liturgy) demonstrating a centurion’s faith in Jesus when he begs on behalf of his servant lying sick at home; although ‘he is not worthy’, Jesus need ‘only say the word and he should be healed’ (Matthew 8.8, Luke 7.7). The passage and the miracle story not only tie Edward to Jesus, but also posit Edward as a king who continues to take care of his country and his subjects even after death. He again functions as a kind of synecdoche: the king’s body is in Westminster, but his powers pervade his realm. Matthew Paris omits the Barking Abbey miracle (as he does with most of the posthumous miracles from Edward’s vita), focusing on Edward’s healing powers while alive. Indeed, he may have intentionally been trying to replace the Nun’s vita with his own, and drawing particular attention to Barking Abbey and its links to Edward would have been counter-productive.52 Conversely, the Nun has all of the miracles that Aelred mentions, and – for obvious reasons – the Barking Abbey one is an important inclusion. In the Nun’s version, the sick nun is introduced as follows: ‘ceste merveille ad puis oïe / Une dame en nostre abeïe, / Ki Berkinges est apelee’ (‘I have since heard this miracle [about] / a woman of our abbey / which is called Barking’).53 Through this introduction the hagiographer links herself to Barking, to the subject of the miracle, to Edward and to Westminster. The healing miracle which should take place in Westminster has been transferred to Barking, making it in itself a kind of holy place. In the Nun’s version, the sick nun’s dream companion does not need to tell her whose tomb is at Westminster and instead tells her: ‘Un noble rei i truverum Ki volentiers nus recevra E le dulz Jhesus requera Si que vostre sancté avrez Si bonement l’en requerez’.54 (‘We shall find there a noble king who shall gladly receive us and ask sweet Jesus to grant you your health if you ask for it properly.’)

51 52

53 54

PL 195, 788; ‘The Life of Saint Edward, King and Confessor’, in Aelred, The Historical Works, p. 239. Laurent suggests most strongly that Paris would certainly have known the Nun’s Vie and that while her version expresses doubt about the legitimacy of writing in Anglo-Norman, his Estoire would be a deliberate replacement that not only links Henry III’s court to Edward’s, but fully valorizes the language and culture in which he is writing. See Laurent, Plaire et édifier, pp. 120–1. La Vie d’Edouard le confesseur, ed. Södergård, 6442–4. Ibid., 6485–9.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture Edward is not initially named, simply referred to as a ‘noble king’, but a few lines later the nun ‘prays to saint Edward for mercy’ (‘a saint Edward merci crie’)55, knowing who the king at Westminster would be. The author gives her nun of the miracle the intelligence and foreknowledge that Aelred denies her by making it evident that she does not need to be told who could intercede for her at Westminster. In addition, the Nun has also omitted the companion’s advice to visit the tomb ‘with devotion and faith’, presumably assuming that any nun of the abbey would not need this obvious directive. The nun’s prayer to Edward also reflects a different perspective from that Aelred had offered: ‘Sire’, fait ele, ‘tres bien crei Que ma sancté avrai par tei, Si j’eüsse tun cors requis, Si cum en dormant m’est pramis. Mais certes tu n’as nul mestier De faire mun cors travaillier, Ne d’altre part, sire, ne sai Cument la cure sufferai De cumpaignuns, de chevals quere, Ne mult ne suil aler par tere E pur ço m’est mult a cuntraire, Beaul sire, de cest eire faire, E certes, se vus bien vulez, Tres bien guarir ci me purrez. Par mun venir n’iert esforcié Ne par mun remaindre emperié, Sire, la vostre grant vertu De rendre a mun cors sa salu. E si crei bien que vus veez Cum il est ici turmentez. Bien sai que en cele lumiere, Ki senz obscurté maint entiere, Esguardez la meie dulur. Pur ço vus pri qu’aiez tendrur. Par un sul mot, se vus vulez, Cele vostre ancele guarrez.’56 (‘Lord’, she said, ‘I well believe that my health would be restored through you if I were to seek out your body, just as it was promised me in my sleep. But surely you have no need to make my body suffer and, what is more, lord, I do not know how I shall bear the responsibility of finding travelling companions and horses, nor am I very used to travelling on land and for these reasons I am most opposed, dear lord, to making this journey; and, surely, if you wanted to, you would just as well cure me here. Lord, your 55 56

Ibid., 6495. Ibid., 6496–521.


Body, Gender and Nation great power to restore my body to health would neither be strengthened by my coming nor harmed by my staying. And I firmly believe that you see how [my body] is tormented here. I know full well that in this light which remains pure [and] without darkness you see my pain. For this reason, I beg you to have compassion. If you wanted to, you could heal this handmaid of yours with a single word.’)

As with the first miracle, the Nun has reshaped this one from Aelred’s text. Here, the nun in the miracle still asks Edward to heal her in situ rather than have her travel to Westminster, but she omits some of the demanding tone of the original text. Whereas Aelred has the nun challenging ‘no small loss of . . . inner peace’57 it would cause her to prepare for and undertake the journey, the Nun instead has the nun questioning how she would be capable of bearing such a weighty responsibility. Again, the Nun’s text casts a much more favourable light on her female subject, resisting the profile that Aelred has supplied for her. The Nun also omits Aelred’s sentence that ‘the sights and sounds on the journey’ would upset the nun, and that she would ‘waste time in these things, to be idle, or to notice others doing such things’.58 Instead, the Nun gives her nun logical reasoning, commenting that the journey would weaken her and that remaining behind (without intervention) would do her no good either. This miracle also speaks directly to its audience about pilgrimage and its possibilities, and would resonate particularly with both friends and critics of Henry II. In the vita, Edward defers plans to fulfil a vow to go on pilgrimage to Rome because he is needed in England, and his people beg him to stay. Edward receives a papal bull exempting him from his vow, provided he build a monastery in honor of St Peter. Miraculously, a hermit also has a vision from God exempting Edward from the trip, and with both the pope’s blessing and the vision to support his plans, Edward builds Westminster Abbey. Just as Edward does not go on his sworn pilgrimage, and instead builds a place that will become a local pilgrimage site, the nun does not go on her journey, and through Edward allows Barking to become a place of healing. Similarly, Henry II had made a vow to the archbishop of Tyre that he would go on crusade in 1170,59 and although not on an official ‘pilgrimage’, a crusader was considered a kind of pilgrim; in fact, the term ‘pilgrim’ was more often used than ‘crusader’.60 However, Henry II does not act on this vow, even though he repeats it over the next several years to others, including swearing it to papal 57 58 59


‘The Life of Saint Edward, King and Confessor’, in Aelred, The Historical Works, p. 239. Ibid. I would like to thank Nicholas Paul for pointing this out to me and directing me to appropriate sources. C. Tyerman, England and the Crusades, 1095–1588 (Chicago, 1996), p. 40. C. Morris, ‘Introduction’, in Pilgrimage: The English Experience from Becket to Bunyan, ed. C. Morris and P. Roberts (Cambridge, 2002), pp. 1–11 (p. 2).


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture legates as penance for the murder of Thomas Becket.61 Henry II is largely criticized for postponing his trip (he does eventually take up the cross in 1188), and the idea of a pilgrimage not taken would have immediately brought Henry to mind for the readers of either Aelred’s vita or the Nun’s Vie of Edward. Rather than adding to the criticism of Henry, however, both allow for another interpretation: a replacement for the promised pilgrimage through good works and God’s grace. The connection between Edward the Confessor and the miracle of the nun’s healing at Barking Abbey alone may be enough to explain why the Nun chooses Edward as the subject of her vita. It is not clear when the miracle takes place, and it could very well have been within the Nun’s memory – or at least the institutional memory of the abbey – that Edward’s healing power had been at work there. This too draws a link between Henry II and Edward with Barking as the lynchpin. Henry II was invested in Barking, first through its connections to Thomas Becket, and later through the appointment of his daughter Matilda as abbess. Henry is linked to Barking, Edward to Westminster, and here in one of the final miracles of the vita a line is drawn between the two. In a country scarred by rulers’ tyranny and errors from Harold through to Henry III, it is clear why every king would want to be linked to the peaceful reign, stable kingship and ‘Englishness’ associated with Edward. Significantly, it is the Nun’s version of Edward’s life that would eventually make its way to the Continent. It is extant in three thirteenth-century manuscripts (two English, one Picard), as well as an early fourteenth century French prose manuscript.62 The later French prose version ‘adds a unique second miracle effected at Barking Abbey, at the end of the narrative, for which there is no known source’.63 The miracle is short, and appears to mimic the earlier healing of the nun: Il fist un autre miracle en l’abeie de Berkingnes, d’une nounain qui fu tant forment malade du mal du flanc qu’ele en cuidoit mourir. N’ele ne se povoit seir ne gesir. Mais ele reçut santé par les merites de saint Edouart aprés l’invocacion qu’ele fist a lui. Et qui vauroit touz les miracles du saint roy metre en escript, trop li estouverroit longuement metre. Or prions Dieu que par les merites saint Edouart il nous doinst venir a la gloire pardurable. Amen.64 (‘There was another miracle at Barking Abbey, involving a nun who was so seriously ill with a sickness of the abdomen that she thought she would die 61 62

Tyerman, England and the Crusades, p. 40. See D. W. Russell, ‘The Cultural Context of the French Prose Remainement of the Life of Edward the Confessor by a Nun of Barking Abbey’, in Language and Culture, pp. 290–302. 63 Ibid., p. 295. 64 See the Campsey Project:, for an electronic version of all the Anglo-Norman lives of Edward. These are lines EgE_w2970 to EgE_w2979.


Body, Gender and Nation of it. She could neither sit nor lie down, but she was restored to health by the powers of Saint Edward following the prayer that she made to him. Whoever wanted to set down in writing all the miracles of the saintly king would need far too much time to finish it. Now let us pray to God that through the powers of Saint Edward he might grant that we achieve everlasting glory. Amen.’)

This miracle is the final word in the fourteenth-century copy of the Nun of Barking’s Vie. Clearly Barking remained a site of miracles associated with Edward and continued to serve as a kind of Westminster-in-proxy for those who could not get to the shrine. The text implies that there may have been other Barking miracles as well, enfolded in the miracles that are too numerous to put into writing. The added miracle gestures again towards Edward’s legacy and his continued symbolic fertility: the miracles continue to multiply even when the king is long dead. Ultimately, these miracles help construct Edward as a saint and king deeply concerned with the health and wholeness of his female subjects, but also one who is posited foremost as a healer and someone who makes a diseased and broken body – of a country or a woman – healthy once again.


chapter eight

Clemence and Catherine: The Life of St Catherine in its Norman and Anglo-Norman Context Diane Auslander

Some time between 1173 and 1199, Clemence, a nun of Barking Abbey in Essex, England, took up the work of translating the Life of St Catherine of Alexandria into the Anglo-Norman vernacular, also known as the French of England. Her source is a Latin text, the Vulgata, composed in the mid-eleventh century. She is true to this source as to the organization of events and the events themselves, but inserts her own voice, speaking through her heroine to weave her own views into the work, making it far more than a mere translation. It is curious, however, that she chose this life of a North African saint, so alien to her chilly island home in the north that had its own abundance of illustrious saints, several of whom were former abbesses of Clemence’s own abbey of Barking. One reason may be that in Britain Catherine is associated with women from quite early, particularly with elite matrons, who are encouraged, in the vita, to follow the example of the virgin Catherine.1 Another reason may be the value of Catherine’s example for female religious, especially as an icon of women’s scholarship. Her association with theology would have had great appeal for the learned Clemence. In this chapter, I explore another possible motivation behind her choice of material: that this vita provided her with the opportunity to participate in the political and religious discourse of her day. Jocelyn Wogan-Browne and Glyn S. Burgess point out that ‘the Latin legend implicitly configures virgins, matrons and clerical men in an allegiance against secular power’.2 This hagiographic confrontation resembles the conflict between ecclesiastical and secular authority that was so evident in twelfth-century England in general and in the reign of Henry II (r. 1154–89) in particular. Therefore in this chapter I argue that Clemence takes the legend’s stance against secular power and adapts it to her own twelfth-century English context, resulting in a work that displays elements of political commentary and even a critique of royal power. I begin with a brief synopsis of the legend, discuss the origins of the cult and its associations with secular power in northern Europe and 1 2

Virgin Lives, p. xxiii. Ibid., p. xxxiv.


Clemence and Catherine England and outline its possible links to Barking Abbey. Finally I consider the political and cultural context in which Clemence wrote and its possible influence on her work. Catherine was one of the early virgin martyrs. She converted to Christianity in North Africa early in the fourth century, a superbly learned woman skilled in rhetoric, law and theology. After inheriting her father’s estate, she administers it with skill, wisdom and compassion. When the Emperor Maxentius orders everyone in his empire to make sacrifices to the pagan gods, she is moved to confront him. He calls together the best minds in the land to dispute with her. She not only beats them at their own game, but also converts them. The emperor is enraged by this turn of events, and by Catherine’s subsequent refusal to give in either to his lust or to his promises of wealth and power. Every attempt to gain the upper hand is met with reasoned argument. Although Catherine is beaten, imprisoned and starved, she is sustained by her faith. Maxentius’s wife and his best friend and adviser, Porphiry, visit her in prison and are converted by her example. She instructs and comforts the empress, who then defends both Catherine and Christianity to the emperor in front of his court. The emperor is the most tortured figure in the legend, and Clemence highlights his torment in her version of the vita. Despite his power, the emperor is unable to impose his will on this lone Christian woman. The harder he tries to control her, the faster his own followers are converted by the logic of her arguments and the strength of her faith. When he has a special wheel devised to torture her, God intervenes. The wheel is destroyed, killing four thousand of his pagan subjects. When the empress defends Catherine in court, the emperor is thwarted again; he is torn between his love for his wife and the need to assert his own authority. The emperor decides to execute his wife for the treason of defying him publicly. Maxentius expresses his dilemma while mourning his loss: ‘Laissier ne pois que ne t’ocie; / assez m’ert pur mort puis ma vie’ (‘I cannot avoid having you put to death, but thereafter my life will be a living death’).3 He must then execute his best friend Porphiry, who buries the empress against Maxentius’s wishes. Finally, in his frustration, the emperor has Catherine decapitated, whereupon ‘sun sanc sa nature perdi, / car blancs laiz de sun cors eissi’ (‘her blood lost its ordinary nature, for it flowed there as white as milk from her body’).4 The emperor is a slave to his own will while Catherine, through submitting her will to God, is free to realize what she desires. Catherine’s legend is noted for its flexibility: its plot and characters can be used to teach a number of different lessons or express different points of view. Clemence took full advantage of this flexibility, which may be another 3 4

The Life of St. Catherine by Clemence of Barking, ed. W. MacBain, ANTS 18 (Oxford, 1964), 2273–4; Virgin Lives, p. 35. The Life of St. Catherine, ed. MacBain, 2623–4; Virgin Lives, p.  42. Catherine is the patron saint of a wide variety of persons and occupations: wetnurses, wheelwrights and anyone having anything to do with wheels, theologians, philosophers, clerks, students, schoolchildren, universities, and the dying.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture reason why she chose Catherine as her subject. As mentioned, in her translation Clemence inserts her own voice not only to emphasize certain aspects she thought important, but also to promote new concepts and even introduce new characters. For example, at the beginning of the Vulgata, the emperor Constantine ejects the evil Maxentius from Rome, forcing him to flee to Alexandria, where he encounters Catherine. Here Clemence adds the character of Constantine’s mother, Helena, whose devotion to Christianity earned her elevation to sainthood. In addition, Clemence makes extensive use of the language of courtoisie, particularly in the application of courtly language to the divine. As Catherine Batt states: ‘In her portrayal of St Catherine, Clemence takes one stage further the link courtly conventions establish between social elevation and moral superiority’ and again ‘Clemence promises us access to the divine through the courtois, while showing how only in God may that human language find its unifying logic and love’.5 In the disputations between Catherine and the emperor and between Catherine and the philosophers, Clemence stresses the importance of love. In these encounters she demonstrates her understanding of the theology of Anselm and his new emphasis on love as an expression of religious devotion. Although the Vie does not include the sacred marriage that becomes part of Catherine’s later legends, it does speak of God as the saint’s lover and bridegroom. Clemence was not only interested in love and its relationship with logic, but also its relationship with power. The quotation above, depicting the emperor as torn between his lust for power and his love for his wife, is a case in point. She chose this vehicle not only to express herself, but also to express ideas she wished to explore and to which this vita is particularly well suited. Prominent among those issues Clemence examines in her translation is the conflict between religious and secular authority as played out in the confrontation between Catherine and Maxentius.6 In this regard it is important to look at the association of the cult of St Catherine with the ruling elite of Normandy and England. The origins of Catherine’s cult are difficult to ascertain. According to legend, angels carried her body to Mount Sinai, where her cult reputedly began.7 The miraculous oil exuded by her body was placed in vials that served as relics. Aside from these vials and a few suspect bones, there is no extant material evidence that Catherine herself ever existed. In the late twelfth century, Catherine’s cult was known in Europe, but she did not become one of the most popular virgins in Christendom until after the dissemination of the Legenda aurea in 1260. The first we hear of the cult in Europe is at Rouen. Three finger bones, claimed to be Catherine’s, were enshrined at the abbey of Sainte-Trinité-du-Mont some 5 6 7

C. Batt, ‘Clemence of Barking’s Transformation of Courtoisie in La Vie de sainte Catherine d’Alexandrie’, New Comparison 12 (1991), 102–23 (pp. 103, 115). See D. Bussell’s chapter in this volume. According to Walsh, there is no evidence of relics of St Catherine at Sinai until c. 1000; see C. Walsh, The Cult of St. Katherine of Alexandria in Early Medieval Europe (Aldershot, 2007), p. 41.


Clemence and Catherine time during the 1030s. Legend has it that the bones were brought there by Symeon of Sinai in 1030, the same year in which the abbey was founded by Goscelin, viscount of Rouen. Goscelin was an important nobleman with ties to the ducal family. He entered the monastery shortly before his death and handed its control over to Duke Robert I (1027–35). The relics, however, were actually acquired later in the decade, when they were probably given to the abbey by the duke. It was after this transaction that the abbey came to be associated with St Catherine.8 The unsubstantiated account of how the bones were acquired provided a semi-miraculous event that fulfilled the monastery’s need for ‘relics from a non-local, universal saint: one who would confirm the institution’s power and importance’ and presumably suit the greater ambitions of the Norman dukes.9 The monastery at Rouen became the centre of Catherine’s cult in northern Europe and acquired a new dedication as the Abbey of the Holy Trinity and St Catherine. The importance of her cult there was based, at least in part, on its strong connection with the Norman dukes, whose success in asserting their power in Normandy had much to do with their patronage of saints and saints’ cults. When the Viking (Norman) leader Rollo first settled in the area around Rouen in 911, his conversion to Christianity was at least as important as his military skill in establishing a strong foundation on which his descendants could build their power and increase their territory: Crucial to this success stood the Christian piety that Norman historical tradition so avidly attributed to Rollo in recounting his baptism. The Normans’ authority stemmed from their conversion as much as from royal grant; their legitimacy depended on their Christianity. For this reason, Norman rulers took pains to demonstrate their Christian identity: they endowed monasteries, restored bishoprics, and embraced reform [. . .] both actions and stories thus promoted the identity on which Norman authority rested.10

The Normans gathered and preserved the relics and cults of those holy men and women whose lives and blood were part of the physical, political and social landscape of northern France. By doing so they transformed themselves from pagan Norse barbarians into cultured, pious, French-speaking Christians. In extending their power beyond Rouen and its environs, they used the monasteries of upper Normandy to take over ancient monastic sites in lower Normandy so that, as Cassandra Potts remarks, ‘the dukes linked indigenous religious traditions in the west to their own rule’.11 The Norse also adopted the French 8

C. Walsh, ‘The Role of Normans in the Development of the Cult of St. Katherine’, in St. Katherine of Alexandria: Texts and Contexts in Western Medieval Europe, ed. J. Jenkins and K. J. Lewis (Turnhout, 2003), pp. 19–35 (p. 19). 9 Ibid., p. 22. 10 S. K. Herrick, Imagining the Sacred Past: Hagiography and Power in Early Normandy (Cambridge MA, 2007), p. 2. 11 C. Potts, ‘When the Saints Go Marching: Religious Connections and the Political Culture of Early Normandy’, in Anglo-Norman Political Culture and the Twelfth-


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture language, assimilating French culture rather than setting themselves apart from it. By the time they conquered England, they could consider themselves both as superior exemplars of their own brand of Frenchness and as the embodiment of contemporary Christian orthodoxy. Their continued use of the French language emphasized their dominant position as conquerors, differentiating themselves from the Anglo-Saxons and asserting their connections across the English Channel. Their patronage of the cults of Anglo-Saxon saints, however, went a long way towards bridging the gap between the cultures, providing a common spiritual discourse for a society divided by more than just language. After the Conquest, however, language barriers created convenient categories for intolerance, elitism and exclusion, but also gave new expression and interpretations to the legends of the saints whose cults gave meaning to the English landscape. Thus local English holy men and women provided the newcomers with tools to translate the Anglo-Saxon past into a form that could be used in the service of the Anglo-Norman present and future. Catherine, however, was a universal saint and her espousal by the Norman ruling house is indicative of their ambition to make an impact on the greater Christian world. They took this ambition and Catherine herself across the English Channel with them in 1066. It is possible, however, that the saint arrived slightly before them as there is some reason to believe that Edward the Confessor brought a vial of Catherine’s miraculous healing oil from Rouen in 1041 when he returned from exile in Normandy to become king of England.12 The first mention of her name in England, however, is in a Winchester calendar from the mid-eleventh century.13 This is indicative of the saint’s continued association with ruling power because, as Katherine Lewis observes, since Winchester was England’s capital at the time, ‘it seems likely that the cult of St Katherine began at the centre of royal government and was spread across the country from there, as most of the references to St Katherine in this early period are found in the south of the country’.14 Catherine’s feast day appears on early calendars of Christ Church Cathedral, Canterbury, and St Alban’s Abbey, and it may have been celebrated at St Augustine’s monastery in Canterbury as well.15 Thus while Catherine was probably associated with royal power in England through the patronage of Edward and William, she also enjoyed some degree of recognition in other contexts, particularly at some of England’s most prestigious ecclesiastical institutions. The saint did not, however, seem to have particular significance for Barking Abbey prior to Clemence’s literary endeavours on her behalf, although it is likely that a copy of the Vulgata was available there. Century Renaissance, ed. C. W. Hollister (Woodbridge, 1997), pp. 17–31 (p. 26). K. L. Lewis, The Cult of St Katherine of Alexandria in Late Medieval England (Woodbridge, 2000), pp. 52–3. 13 Walsh, The Cult of St. Katherine of Alexandria in Medieval Europe, p. 45. 14 Lewis, The Cult of St. Katherine of Alexandria in Late Medieval England, p. 53. 15 Walsh, ‘The Role of the Normans’, p. 30. 12


Clemence and Catherine Barking’s history, resources and connections provided a rich atmosphere for the production of hagiography. Located a short distance to the east of London in the county of Essex, Barking reaped the benefits of its proximity to power as well as of the agricultural and commercial prosperity its location afforded. In the late twelfth century, Barking represented the cutting edge of female monasticism. Some of the nuns of Barking came from the cream of Anglo-Norman society, although many may have been from lesser, or even Anglo-Saxon, nobility.16 Clemence’s background and social standing are unknown, but her skilled use of the French of England indicates that she was Anglo-Norman or had close Norman ties. The abbey was a centre of learning and had an enviable library that included religious works, saints’ lives, biblical material and patristic literature.17 Not only did it survive the Norman Conquest, but it also ‘became the most important nunnery in the country’, perhaps as a result of the favour shown to it by William the Conqueror.18 As is well known, the abbess of an institution like Barking had to function as a baron in the world; holding and attending courts, negotiating for land and goods, overseeing the management of estates and protecting abbey property from encroachment, theft or seizure.19 The abbey was founded around 666 by Erkenwald for his sister Ethelburg. It was closely associated with the East Saxon royal house and boasts three important Anglo-Saxon saints; Ethelburg herself, her successor Hildelith and Wulfhild, who, like Catherine, held fast to virginity despite the fervent attentions of a king, namely Edgar of Wessex (r. 959–75).20 Although it was part of a dynamic community of Anglo-Saxon foundations absorbed in the pursuit of knowledge and literary production, it did not quite achieve the prestige of the royal monastic houses of Wessex.21 In 870, the original abbey at Barking was destroyed, along with its library, by the Vikings. King Edgar of Wessex restored it as a Benedictine monastery for women in the late tenth century, 16

17 18 19 20 21

K. Cooke, ‘Donors and Daughters: Shaftesbury Abbey’s Benefactors, Endowments and Nuns c.  1086–1130’, Anglo-Norman Studies 12 (1990), 29–46. In her study of Shaftesbury, Cooke states that ‘very soon after the Conquest, the abbey began drawing its recruits from the ranks of the new Norman families in the south-west, and that these families, while important local landowners, were very often families of comparatively modest means’ (p. 45). She also suggests that her findings have import beyond Shaftesbury as they may be useful in ‘assessing the role and function of other nunneries in Anglo-Norman England’ (p. 44). See the introduction to this volume. E. A. Loftus and H. F. Chettle, A History of Barking Abbey (Barking, 1954), p. 21. Ibid., p. 27. See also the introduction to this volume. Unless otherwise specified, the information on Barking’s history is from S. Hollis’s chapter in this volume. See also the introduction to this volume. In the tenth century King Alfred ‘initiated a new phase in the foundation of royal nunneries, though all the royally sponsored new foundations lay within the confines of pre-ninth century Essex’, although he did not support earlier foundations with the exception of Barking: B. Yorke, Nunneries and the Anglo-Saxon Royal Houses (London, 2003), p.  72. However, Yorke notes that ‘the history of the foundation from the time of its inclusion in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History to around the mid tenth century is a blank’ (ibid.).


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture when it participated in the tenth-century reform movement and was given estates and benefited from royal patronage.22 After his conquest of England, William I removed himself from the dangers of London to the relative safety of Barking Abbey while his men built a fort on London’s Tower Hill, on land owned by the abbey. The nuns must have been hospitable as William confirmed them in their possessions and accepted the homage of Anglo-Saxon leaders while he was there, which enhanced the abbey’s prestige. In the late twelfth century, the residents of the abbey welcomed important visitors from the higher ranks of both the ecclesiastical and secular nobility. One such visitor was the clerc, Guernes de Pont-SaintMaxence, author of La Vie de St Thomas Becket, who visited the abbey during the abbacy of Mary Becket, Thomas’s sister.23 The nuns would have been aware of the news these people brought and the ideas they discussed. Barking was one of the rare women’s institutions that could be compared to its male counterparts, as described by Wogan-Browne: ‘Only the most wealthy and prestigious nunneries resembled institutional male monasticism in the nature of the experiences and resources available, such as access to large libraries, traditions of institutional continuity and internal culture and a continuous history of collective experience in legal and social dealings outside the religious community.’24 During the period when Clemence was translating her Life of St Catherine, Barking was part of a network of royal, noble and ecclesiastical connections that stretched from England to the Continent and beyond. It participated in and was affected by the dynamic developments of the ‘twelfthcentury renaissance’. The twelfth century saw the increasing centralization of both ecclesiastical and secular governments, the rediscovery of classical works and the subsequent changes in the areas of education and intellectual pursuits. The century also experienced climatological changes and technological advances that led to an increase in wealth, prosperity and population, especially in England. Monasteries profited from these developments both in material wealth and the growing numbers of those seeking to live the monastic life. In addition to these benefits, Barking also enjoyed access to at least some of those at the centre of these developments. It is inconceivable that the nuns of Barking, with their royal connections and prime location, would not have been affected by these many developments or that this cultural ferment would not have had an influence on the learned Clemence and her literary endeavours. As mentioned, little is known about Clemence herself except that which she chooses to tell us at the end of the vita: ‘Jo ki sa vie ai translatee, / par nun 22 23

Loftus and Chettle, History, p. 18. In his epilogue, Guernes thanks Mary Becket for the palfrey she had given him in gratitude for his efforts to preserve her brother’s memory. See T. O’Donnell’s chapter in this volume. 24 J. Wogan-Browne, ‘“Clerc u lai, muïne u dame”: Women and Anglo-Norman Hagiography in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries’, in Women and Literature in Britain, 1150–1500, ed. David Wallace (Cambridge, 1993), pp. 61–85 (p. 62).


Clemence and Catherine sui Clemence numee. / De Berkinge sui nunain. / Pur s’amur pris cest oevre en mein’ (‘I who have translated her life am called Clemence by name. I am a nun of Barking, for the love of which I took this work in hand’).25 In her prologue, Clemence tells her audience that she is translating the vita into the vernacular ‘pur ço que plus plaise as oianz’ (‘so that it will be more pleasing to those who hear it’).26 Although Clemence’s work is meant to be read by or to the nuns, her use of the word segnurs (‘lords’) in direct speech indicates that she anticipated a noble or even royal audience both within Barking and beyond.27 This is also demonstrated by her choice of language. According to Rosalind Field, there is an increased use of the vernacular after Stephen’s reign and, ‘in writing in the vernacular, these clerks are not simply popularizing or patronizing, but moving onto the territory of those whose actions and decisions are vital to the future of the realm’, i.e. the small group of elite lords who wielded power in England.28 The main source for Clemence’s translation, the Vulgata, is written in what Wogan-Browne has called ‘elaborate’ Latin. Clemence’s translation reveals the depths of her knowledge of and expertise in that language.29 In an age when literary production in the vernacular was becoming common, the use of vernacular French may have had particular resonance for women in trilingual England. Latin was still the most prestigious language, often co-opted by men, whereas English held the lowest status. French, therefore, provided a middle ground available for elite women. In discussing Marie de France’s use of French in the translation of insular narratives, Susan Crane highlights the fact that ‘French was at the same time the vernacular of elite milieux in contrast to English, so that Marie’s claim to be translating from the English of Alfred or from oral Breton tradition into written composition aligned her work more fully with high culture and learning than would choosing to write in French on the Continent’.30 The particular form of French used in England emphasizes both the close association of England with the greater world and the island’s distinctive separateness. For Barking, the use of the French vernacular was a hallmark of its alliance with the powerful ruling elite of England and of its literary reputation in the twelfth century. Between 1163 and 1189, an anonymous nun of Barking translated Aelred’s Life of St Edward the Confessor into the French of England.31 There has been some argument among scholars as to whether Clemence is the 25 26 27 28

29 30


The Life of St. Catherine, ed. MacBain, 2689–92; Virgin Lives, p. 43. The Life of St. Catherine, ed. MacBain, 34; Virgin Lives, p. 3. Virgin Lives, p. xxviii. R. Field, ‘Children of Anarchy: Anglo-Norman Romance in the Twelfth Century’, in Writers in the Reign of Henry II, ed. R. Kennedy and S. Meecham-Jones (Basingstoke, 2006), p. 259. Virgin Lives, p. xxvi. S. Crane, ‘Anglo-Norman Cultures in England, 1066–1460’, in The Cambridge History of Medieval English Literature, ed. David Wallace (Cambridge, 1999), pp.  35–60 (pp. 46–7). See the introduction to this volume and the chapters by other contributors, especially Fenster, Russell and Brown.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture nun who translated this vita as well as Catherine’s, but there is little consensus. This translation of Edward’s vita shows, however, that the nuns were interested in Anglo-Saxon saints. As a royal saint, the Confessor had particular importance in the context of the relationship between secular power and the divine. The fact that both Edward’s and Catherine’s vitae were written in the same place around the same time by women dedicated to the religious life may indicate that they were linked in some way, perhaps as part of a programme aimed at exploring the proper relationship between the Church and secular rulers. As mentioned, Edward seems to have had early association with the cult of St Catherine. This connection also provides a link between the two lives written at Barking Abbey. Edward himself had strong familial and cultural connections to Normandy and its dukes and his legend became immensely important to the image of Norman and Angevin royal authority in England.32 These later kings were active in recovering and reworking the Anglo-Saxon past, particularly with regard to royal saints. In discussing the patronage of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, Crane also observes that the vernacular verse chronicles and romances associated with Angevin courts are, in their preoccupation with the insular past, the most characteristic literature of the dynasty. They illustrate that for the early Plantagenets, as for the Normans before them, England holds a crucial ideological function as the only kingdom among the shifting territories each dynasty controlled.33

The same can be said for hagiography. The cults of Anglo-Saxon royal saints were usually political creations intended to enhance the authority and legitimacy of Norman and Angevin royalty.34 In the words of Patrick Geary: Those who could control the past could direct the future . . . the right to speak the past also implied control over that which gave access to the past – the ‘relics’ by which the past continued to live into the present. How these tangible or written relics of the past were preserved, who preserved them, and who could therefore make them to disappear were thus fundamental aspects of power and authority.35

St Catherine, as noted earlier, was not an Anglo-Saxon saint. She was a saint who spoke for early Christian communities against the arbitrary injustice of an authoritarian, pagan emperor. Therefore Clemence’s decision to translate the life of this early virgin martyr suggests a desire to engage with contemporary discourses on the exercise of power by a Christian prince. 32

33 34 35

For the enduring significance of the cult of St Edward the Confessor to England’s royalty, see P. Binski, ‘The Cult of St. Edward the Confessor’, History Today 11 (2005), 21–7, and his consideration of Westminster Abbey in P. Binski, Becket’s Crown: Art and Imagination in Gothic England, 1170–1300 (New Haven CT, 2004). Crane, ‘Anglo-Norman Cultures’, p. 48. S. J. Ridyard, The Royal Saints of Anglo-Saxon England (Cambridge, 1988), p. 236. P. Geary, Phantoms of Remembrance: Memory and Oblivion at the End of the First Millennium (Princeton NJ, 1996), pp. 6–7.


Clemence and Catherine Clemence certainly could have chosen a saint closer to home, for example, any one of those illustrious abbesses from Barking’s Anglo-Saxon past, perhaps, or one of the Anglo-Saxon female saints, such as Leoba, whose lives demonstrate great learning, administrative ability and dedication to God. In the eleventh century Goscelin of Saint-Bertin revised the lives of several such Anglo-Saxon female saints, working them into admirable models for the conquering Normans. Three of these saints were Barking abbesses, including St Wulfhild, who, as mentioned, defied a king to maintain her virginity.36 It would seem that such a model would have appealed not only to Clemence and the nuns of Barking but also to her wider Norman audience. Again, her choice of Catherine indicates a special significance, particularly with regard to contemporary changes in the nature of the veneration of saints.The twelfth century brought centralization to saints’ cults just as it did to almost everything else. It is in the twelfth century that one begins to see a turning away from the veneration of saints of the early Christian era in favour of more recently departed saints. This may have stemmed not only from increasing ecclesiastical control over matters of religious life and devotional practice, but also particularly from the attention paid to the process of canonization. In England, Thomas Becket, who was canonized in 1073 only three years after his murder, is the prime example. Jane Tibbetts Schulenburg, however, indicates that this new focus on the recently dead had only a minor impact on female saints. In spite of a substantial increase in the number of female institutions in the twelfth century, there is only a slight rise in the number of female saints in that period. This may have been a consequence of ecclesiastical centralization, clerical misogyny and the popularity of Marian devotion.37 If Clemence had wanted to find a contemporary local holy woman as her focus, she could not have done so, certainly not one to rival Becket. Clemence may have perceived a special bond between Catherine and Mary and, perhaps, a similar bond, based on their royal connections, among the foundations of Barking, Fontevraud and the original site of Catherine’s cult, Sainte-Trinité-du-Mont. The Angevins had a particular attachment to Fontevraud Abbey, first through William IX of Acquitaine and Philippa of Toulouse and continuing through Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Located in the Loire valley on the borders of Anjou and Poitou, Fontevraud, like Barking, was a royal foundation, answering to no one but the pope and the king. It was established early in the twelfth century as a large, wealthy double monastery that would be governed by an abbess and that generally favoured women. The women’s monastery was 36

Ridyard comments that ‘the most striking attribute of the Norman churchmen is not their skepticism towards, their contempt of or their hostility to the English saints: rather it is their businesslike readiness to make the heroes of the past serve the politics of the present’. (Ridyard, ‘The Royal Saints’, p. 251.) 37 J. T. Schulenburg, ‘Sexism and the Celestial Gynaeceum: from 500 - 1200’, Journal of Medieval History 4 (1978), 117–33.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Barking, too, was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, with an additional dedication to Ethelburg, the founding abbess. Barking’s Marian dedication reflects the increasing popularity of universal saints, which may also have influenced Clemence’s choice of material. Clemence has Catherine give high honour to the Virgin Mary in several speeches that have no precedent in the Latin source, saying for instance that ‘Ceste sule est empereriz, / par qui tut li munz est guariz. / Ceste sule est dame e reine, / a qui tute rien est acline’ (‘she alone is the empress by whom the whole world is healed. She alone is the lady and queen before whom all things bow down’).38 Another important female icon in the vita is the Sybil whom Catherine cites in her debate with the pagan philosophers in order to demonstrate that even their own pagan authorities recognize the truth of Christ’s death and resurrection. The Sybil was a popular figure in the Middle Ages as a prophet and seer who provided a female authority for Christ’s redemption of mankind.39 In this role the Sybil was embraced by most authoritative Christian writers, including Augustine.40 The oracles of the Tiburtine Sybil, wherein she is described as the daughter of King Priam of Troy and Hecuba, his queen, were particularly favoured by medieval scholars. According to legend, the Sybil came to Rome at the invitation of the Emperor Trajan, where she was asked to interpret a dream that a hundred Roman senators had shared, but could not understand. This Sybil is shown debating with Hebrew priests and prophesying the coming of ‘the Last World Emperor, Constans, who will reign for 112 (or 120) years, gain the whole world for Christ, defeat Gog and Magog, and finally hand over the Christian Empire to God the Father and Jesus Christ’.41 Clemence’s translation opens with a similar description of the emperor Constantine: Qu’en Rume ot jadis empereur Ki mult par ert de grant vigur. Constantius out nun sun pere, La bone Heleine fud sa mere. Il meime ot nun Costentin; A lui fud tut le regne aclin. A saint’ iglise pais dunad Aprés les diz anz qu’il regnad. Icest Maxentiun venqui ki sun regne out a tort saisi. Vers Alisandre l’enchaça U il .xxx e cinc anz regna Aprés ices trente cinc anz Fist as crestiens peines granz. 38 39 40

The Life of St. Catherine, ed. MacBain, 1763–6; Virgin Lives, p. 29. Saints’ Lives, p. 229. B. McGinn, ‘Teste David cum Sibylla: The Significance of the Sibylline Tradition in the Middle Ages’, in Women of the Medieval World, ed. J. Kirshner and S. F. Wemple (Oxford, 1983), pp. 7–35. 41 Ibid., p. 26.


Clemence and Catherine (‘In Rome there was once an emperor of immense power. His father’s name was Constantius, and his mother was the good Helen. He himself bore the name of Constantine, and the entire realm was under his sway. He granted peace to the holy church after reigning for ten years. It was he who defeated Maxentius, who had wrongfully seized power, making him flee as far as Alexandria, where he reigned for thirty-five years. After these thirty-five years he was the cause of much suffering for the Christians.’)42

In this description, in her dream interpretation, in her debate with the philosophers and in her beauty, Catherine has much in common with the Tiburtine Sybil. Wogan-Browne suggests that ‘the name Sybil connoted a specific tradition of women’s convent writing for Clemence of Barking’.43 Clemence’s use of the Sybil anchors both herself and Catherine in an ancient tradition of female authority that also includes Mary. Clemence makes no apology for being a woman raising her voice in a man’s world and neither does Catherine. The amazement of Maxentius and his philosophers at the erudition of a mere woman indicates that Clemence was aware that such authoritative and learned speech was considered unusual for women, but she makes no acknowledgment of this gender bias. Carolyn Walker Bynum proposes that medieval women, particularly religious women, did not think of themselves as different from or other than anyone else in terms of their spiritual understanding and expression: ‘women sheltered by special religious status, especially those raised in convents, rarely spoke of female weakness as a bar to theological expression or religious practice’.44 Perhaps one reason Clemence chose Catherine was as a justification not only of women’s monasticism, but also of female authority based on learning. Perhaps, too, this tradition of female authority exemplified by the Sybil and by Catherine authorized Clemence to enter the discourse on the proper relationship between secular rulers and those of the Church. In a century of increasing control by the Church over its institutions, however, learning came to be associated more with cathedral schools than with monastic institutions like Barking and, as such, it excluded women.45 These and other changes diminished opportunities for women in the Church. Universities such as Oxford were beginning to develop, but these excluded women as well. It is perhaps ironic that Catherine is considered the patron saint of universities. As Jo Ann McNamara has pointed out, however, we have no information on how or why women were barred from the universities, but there may have been debates about women and learning during the late twelfth century in which educated women such as the nuns of Barking could have participated.46 It is 42 43 44 45 46

The Life of St. Catherine, ed. MacBain, 53–66; Virgin Lives, p. 4. Saints’ Lives, p. 229. C. W. Bynum, Fragmentation and Redemption: Essays on Gender and the Human Body in Medieval Religion (New York, 1991), p. 167. M. L. Colish, Medieval Foundations of the Western Intellectual Tradition (New Haven CT, 1998), p. 175. Dr McNamara made these comments during a discussion at the Friends of the Saints meeting in New York City on 11 September 2001.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture interesting to speculate that Clemence chose to translate the life of a woman of superior intellectual achievements, a woman speaking with authority comparable to that of Mary or the Sybil, as a part of this debate. Barking Abbey, however, was enjoying a period of brilliant literary production grounded in a female authority, both historical and contemporary, that nourished the poetic abilities of one or more of its nuns. It is impossible to say whether Clemence was aware of the trends that could or would significantly restrict women’s freedom to learn and ability to participate in the life of the Church. If so, she could not have chosen a better protagonist than Catherine to stand against the forces of misogyny in contemporary ecclesiastical culture. As the twelfth-century Church progressed towards centralization and increased control over its institutions, secular authority was not far behind, especially in England. Clemence was writing during the reign of either Henry II or Richard I (r. 1189–99). When Henry came to the throne, he had to restore order in an England that had suffered chaos and civil war during Stephen’s reign (r. 1135–54). The county of Essex, where Barking is located, supported Stephen during the time of trouble, but it was a passive support. The county remained relatively peaceful and Essex foundations such as Barking grew and prospered. Since Essex was intact and flourishing, Henry used it as ‘a basis on which to rebuild a royal government for the whole kingdom’.47 Henry’s manifest intention was to restore England to the peace and abundance that existed at the time of the reign of his grandfather, Henry I (r. 1100–35). With regard to the Church, Anne Duggan makes clear that ‘Henry’s recuperation of what he believed were the rights of his Ancestral Crown as exercised by his royal grandfather, included the re-establishment of the Norman regime in respect of the Church’ and that ‘the king’s aim was to draw clearer boundaries between his jurisdiction and that of the Church, and between what should be decided on the island and what should be appealed to Rome’.48 Duggan also demonstrates that there was a pattern of ‘persistent intervention’ by Henry in Church affairs and ‘a degree of acceptance, willing or not, on the part of Church authorities’.49 This indicates that, contrary to earlier historical assessments, there was tension between Henry and the Church long before the Becket incident and that there was little to interfere with the king’s influence on the ecclesiastical institutions and offices within his purview. According to Michael Clanchy, the Norman and Angevin kings envisioned a centralized government based on the models of the Roman and Carolingian empires.50 Together with his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry II brought most 47 48

49 50

E. Amt, The Accession of Henry II in England, Royal Government Restored (Woodbridge, 1993), p. 80. A. J. Duggan, ‘Henry II, the English Church and the Papacy, 1154–76’, in Henry II: New Interpretations, ed. C. Harper-Bill and N. Vincent (Woodbridge, 2007), pp. 154– 83 (p. 170). Ibid., p. 162. M. T. Clanchy, England and its Rulers 1066–1272: Foreign Lordship and National Identity, 2nd edn (London, 1998), pp. 80, 93.


Clemence and Catherine of France under the rule of the English Crown, thus solidly connecting England to the wider world. Although plagued by rebellion within his own family, Henry managed to get most of England under control, maintain his French territories and gain some grip on Scotland, Wales and part of Ireland, all of which required his constant and personal attention. Many writers likened his realm to the Roman Empire and pictured Henry as a latter-day Roman emperor, although his detractors pictured him as Nero rather than Constantine.51 He was constantly busy protecting and maintaining all his holdings, but he and his entire dynasty made no secret of their preference for their French lands and their need for England’s financial resources to support their efforts to keep hold of them. Henry’s control of England and its wealth, including, or perhaps especially, religious foundations such as Barking, was vital to this effort. It may have been seen as a sign of royal favour that Henry began appointing the abbesses at Barking, even installing his own relatives in that key position. This arrangement would have brought both benefits and disadvantages to the abbey, but the advantages for Henry were considerable. The king could, for example, exercise some degree of economic control over the abbey’s lands and resources through his appointments. The case of Amesbury, another well-endowed preConquest abbey, provides a counter-example. In 1177 Henry completely displaced the nuns there and replaced them with nuns from his favourite French foundation, Fontevraud. The ostensible reason for this radical disruption was the promiscuity of the abbess of Amesbury, who was said to have had three babies. The real reason may have been that, in 1160, this abbess had defeated the king and the archbishop in a bitter and apparently armed fight to defend the abbey’s property against the depredations of a royal appointee.52 In transferring Amesbury to Fontevraud, Henry deprived the abbey and its abbess of whatever independence they had had and subjected them to the royal will. Barking Abbey, like Amesbury or even Fontevraud, was a Benedictine foundation. Benedict had conceived of monastic institutions as legal corporations with the abbot or abbess as chief overseer elected by the community and bound to consult the community when decisions needed to be made. The freedom to make such decisions and to elect their own abbesses must have been precious to Barking. Between 1153 and 1160, the same archbishop who had been involved in the Amesbury conflict, Theobald, sent a letter to the abbess of Barking, accusing her of cohabitation with a man who was probably her estates manager. At the time, the abbess was involved in a dispute with a priest over tithes, a situation eerily similar to that of Amesbury.53 It was after this incident that Henry began to appoint abbesses to Barking. His appointment of Thomas Becket’s sister as 51 52 53

Ibid., p. 80. S. K. Elkins, Holy Women of Twelfth-Century England (Chapel Hill NC, 1988), p. 146. Duggan cites this incident as an example of the English Church’s acceptance of Henry’s control as the complaining priest in this instance ‘renounced his appeal to the papal audience, and presented a royal mandate’; see Duggan, ‘Henry II, the English Church and the Papacy I’, p. 162.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture abbess was perhaps in partial expiation of his guilt over the archbishop’s murder. Mary Becket may have been appointed out of guilt, but she would still have been beholden to Henry and subject to his authority. Through these appointments he was able to control the revenues of this wealthy and important house. Elkins states that ‘in this situation, the nuns of Barking turned increasingly to literature, one of the outlets that remained open to them’.54 Field notes that the civil war of Stephen’s reign was a period ‘engaged in debate in Latin’, but that after a generation the vernacular takes precedence. This was particularly in romances, which ‘offer evidence that the anxieties of the audience about the state of the country are recognized and also that the audience is instructed in the qualities of good rule . . . and the equal dangers of . . . unchecked royal rule’.55 Catherine’s defiance of the emperor could easily have been a literary defiance of Henry that the Barking nuns could not express any other way, especially as, at the time Clemence was writing, her abbess would most likely have been Henry’s illegitimate daughter, Maud.56 The order Henry and the Church brought to England meant changes not only to Barking Abbey, but also for the entire monastic way of life. These changes were not usually beneficial to women, as Bruce Venarde points out: There were by the late twelfth century fewer bishops of the kind that had so often fostered religious women and participated in the foundation of monasteries for them in the eleventh and early twelfth centuries. The bishops of the late twelfth century were administrators, regulators who may well have regarded as troubling the ancient organizational anomaly of west European monasticism, in particular its inclusion of women.57

In their efforts to gain more control over their realms, both ecclesiastical and secular authorities were eliminating or further restricting not only the freedoms, few but precious, of religious women, but also the value of their contributions to the religious life. As noted above, Henry II was eager to gain control not so much of women in the Church, but over the Church in general, at least in those areas where ecclesiastical interference affected his ability to govern his realm effectively. Clemence, if indeed she was writing during the time of Henry II, may have seen the English king as a new Constantine, rescuing England from the chaos of Stephen’s reign. It is more probable, however, that she thought of him as Maxentius, and not just for his having gained control of the abbesses and resources of Barking. Henry was a difficult if brilliant man, whose usual modus operandi was to make promises and then not deliver on them, to vacillate and equivocate, 54 55 56 57

This quotation and the information on Henry’s actions with regard to Amesbury and Barking are from Elkins, Holy Women, pp. 148–9. Field, ‘Children of Anarchy’, p. 258. Loftus and Chettle, History, p. 30. B. L. Venarde, Women’s Monasticism and Medieval Society: Nunneries in France and England, 890–1215 (Ithaca NY, 1997), p. 159.


Clemence and Catherine holding out for a better deal, or a better time.58 Maxentius is also portrayed as vacillating and impulsive. Both Maxentius and Henry were unable to control those closest to them, especially their queens. Maxentius’s empress is converted by Catherine, who instructs her in the Christian faith and comforts her in her martyrdom. This incident is seen as providing the most exemplary material in the vita. It also pushes Maxentius into his worst crisis and forces him to some of his most violent behaviour: Ore ne sai jo a quel fin traire, Quant jo mun voleir ne pois faire, N’a quele cure mun quer juenge, Lant tute honur de mei s’esluinge. Jo en serrai mult avilé E des miens le meins reduté Que ma femme issi me hunist E pur tel folur me guerpist, Jeo ki sui reis et emperere. Et de cest regne guvernere (‘Now I do not know what to aim for, when I cannot realize my desire, or to what concerns my heart should turn when all honour flees from me. I shall be much despised and the least feared of all my people, when my wife shames me in this way and abandons me on account of such folly, I who am king and emperor of this realm.’)59

Maxentius had his queen mutilated and executed because she betrayed him for a new faith. Henry too was betrayed by his wife. Drawn together by ‘physical attraction and love of power’, Henry quickly established control over the powerful Eleanor.60 Nevertheless, she joined their sons in rebellion against Henry in open warfare in 1173–4, the earliest period in which Clemence could have been writing. In 1174 the king imprisoned her in Old Sarum castle, where she remained for fifteen years. She was allowed to leave only for those occasions during which she was expected to perform her queenly duties. It is hard not to see a parallel between a story of a tyrant who viciously punishes his queen for committing treason by publicly betraying him by for the sake of Christ and the real king, Henry II, whose wife treasonously betrays him on the battlefield and is immured in a castle, a kind of living death, because of it. Clemence must have been struck by this parallel that so reflected her interest in the relationship between love and the misuse of power. Catherine’s legend would be subversive then and even dangerous. 58 59 60

J. Gillingham, Richard I (New Haven CT, 1999), pp. 101–2. The Life of St. Catherine, ed. MacBain, 2215–24; Virgin Lives, p. 36. E. A. R. Brown, ‘Eleanor of Aquitaine Reconsidered: The Woman and her Seasons’, in Eleanor of Aquitaine, Lord and Lady, ed. B. Wheeler and J. C. Parsons. (Basingstoke, 2002), p. 11.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture The armed rebellion of his own wife and children, the imprisonment of Eleanor and the continued power struggles within his immediate family, as well as the hostility of the French king Philip Augustus, constantly challenged Henry’s ability to maintain control and enforce his own will. Maxentius’s will was similarly challenged. Becket, Henry’s best friend, betrayed him by standing up for what he conceived to be the rights of the Church just as Maxentius’s best friend, Porphiry, betrayed him by embracing Christianity. Both men had their friends killed. Right or wrong, Becket stood up to the most powerful secular authority in Western Europe at the time in defence of the Christian Church. Porphiry, too, defended his faith against the power of the emperor. Catherine herself, perhaps as a personification of ecclesia, stood against the usurpation of ecclesiastical autonomy and power by a secular lord. This makes the role of Constantine and his mother, Helena, introduced into the legend by Clemence, particularly significant. These two together present an image of the Church triumphant, of righteous Christian lordship in which the will of the king is in proper subjection to the will of God and his Holy Church. Maxentius’s persecution of Christians in general, and of Catherine in particular, demonstrates that his will is not in proper alignment with the divine. His actions therefore bring him nothing but misery and frustration. Henry’s persecution of Becket and thus of the Church and his usurpation of monastic control also indicate an improper relationship with God. Henry suffered the consequences in the rebellion of his sons and his humiliation at the hands of a Church eager to avenge Becket’s murder. It is interesting to note here that, in the fifteenth century, Capgrave provides the following description of a supposed argument between Henry II and the patriarch of Jerusalem over Henry’s refusal of the request by both the pope and the patriarch to lead an army to the Holy Land to take back Jerusalem: But the Patriarch said to him: ‘Hitherto thou hast reigned gloriously, but henceforth He whom thou hast deserted will desert thee’ . . . And, when the king on hearing these words, warmed with anger, the Patriarch offered him his head and neck, saying: ‘Do unto me as thou didst unto Thomas (Becket). I would as fain be killed by thee in England as by the infidels in Syria, for thou art worse than any Saracen.’61

This refusal to participate in what was perhaps the most important Christian endeavour of the Middle Ages, certainly the most important military endeavour on behalf of the Church, marked him as suspect even in his own time. Even Gerald of Wales, a cleric who depended on Henry for patronage, remarked on his refusal to crusade. J. D. Hosler states that Gerald often praised Henry lavishly, but also notes that His other writings reflect a definite animosity, such as his criticism in the Expugnatia Hibernia of Henry’s refusal to crusade on behalf of Heraclius. In another book, Gerald repeatedly calls the king a blasphemer, judges his 61

J. Capgrave, The Book of the Illustrious Henries (Whitefish MT, 2004), p. 84.


Clemence and Catherine marriage to Eleanor to be scandalous . . . and dubs Henry’s rebellious sons the ministers of divine justice.62

The Church saw him as a kind of heathen and he was certainly in danger of excommunication during the Becket dispute.63 It would not have been difficult to picture Henry II as a Maxentius in the flesh. If, however, Clemence was thinking of Richard as she worked, the focus would have been entirely different. Modern history portrays Richard as a bad, absentee king and a rebellious son who cared only for war and fighting. But, as John Gillingham points out, that is not the way his contemporaries saw him. Unlike the impulsive Henry, Richard committed himself to a popular cause, the Crusade, and fulfilled his vow despite many hardships and setbacks. His campaign to regain Jerusalem for Christendom had great resonance for the medieval popular imagination: England’s rulers believed that they lived on the edge of the world and increasingly in the twelfth century they aspired to reach the centre, that Jerusalem which was both a real place and a symbol of contact with the divine, the umbilical cord of the earth. Viewed in this way, the aims of Richard I in particular can be seen in their medieval perspective.64

Richard was the only English king to personally involve himself in this great struggle between Islam and Christianity, thus playing out his destiny on a world stage. Gillingham tells us that Richard was long thought of as ‘the greatest of English kings’ and that he was included in the company of such icons of courage as Arthur, Charlemagne and Roland.65 Richard went to fight in the most righteous cause of all and he left behind in England able and efficient administrators, not the least of whom was his mother, Eleanor, to see to his kingdom. If Clemence was writing in the time of Richard, it would have been easy to picture him as a kind of Constantine righting the wrongs of a tyrannical Henry, or perhaps putting a rebellious John in his place or even as defeating, or trying to defeat, the forces of evil under the leadership of the formidable Saladin. In this scenario, newly freed Eleanor becomes a modern-day Helena standing side by side with her son, supporting him with her good advice and preserving the relics of the true faith. It is even possible that, at this time, with rumours of heresy crossing the Channel and Jerusalem in the hands of the infidel, Clemence thought of her literary effort as her own crusade in defence of her beliefs and her God. I believe, however, that Clemence was focused on Henry as the villain of the piece. If she did have Henry in mind, this is an extraordinary instance 62 63 64 65

J. D. Hosler, Henry II: A Medieval Soldier at War, 1174–1189 (Leiden, 2007), p. 129. Henry II, ed. Harper-Bill and Vincent, p. 59. Clanchy, England, p. 13. Gillingham, Richard I, p. 1.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture of a woman engaging publicly in political commentary and criticism of royal power. It may be that Henry’s excoriation by the Church following the murder of Becket empowered her to do this.66 Perhaps, too, the popular clamour for Becket’s sainthood played a role, as may be hinted at in the previously mentioned visit by Becket’s hagiographer to the abbey. The author of a life of Becket coming to the abbey to do research would have brought the whole incident with all its implications regarding the conflict between ecclesiastical and secular power to Barking. This would have provided an exciting and immediate context for Clemence’s translation. It also gives insight into views of the time as Clemence must have been at least somewhat assured that most of her audience would recognize Henry in the vie and would sympathize with her portrayal of their mercurial and heavy-handed king. In conclusion, I would like to suggest that the thematic relationship between the two famous saints’ lives produced at Barking in this period bears further examination. I have not discussed the anonymous Nun of Barking’s La Vie d’Edouard le confesseur in this chapter, but it is possible that Clemences’s Catherine is an inversion of the Edouard. The Barking Edouard portrays a king who upholds and patronizes the Church wholeheartedly, submits his will to God and is himself a saint. The subsequent Life of St Catherine, conversely, depicts a wilful and vicious pagan king who attacks the Church through its holy defender, Catherine, and eventually executes her. The legendary pagan emperor may be the literary personification of a contemporary Christian king who acts like a pagan and attempts to impose his own will on God’s Church by attacking that Church both literally (through the murder of Becket, defender of the rights of the Church) and legally (through such vehicles as the Constitutions of Clarendon). The possibility that there may have been a thematic connection between these two texts authored at Barking seems worth a closer look.


For an alternative view, see D. Bussell’s chapter in this volume.


chapter nine

Cicero, Aelred and Guernes: The Politics of Love in Clemence of Barking’s Catherine Donna Alfano Bussell

This chapter examines the political relevance of love and spiritual friendship in Clemence of Barking’s La Vie de St Catherine d’Alexandrie.1 Her Catherine extends the work of the Barking La Vie d’Edouard le confesseur (Edouard) by using the conventions of romance to explore the sacramental love that holds the body politic together and binds it to Christ in friendship.2 I argue that Clemence derives her model of friendship from Aelred of Rievaulx’s De spirituali amicitia,3 a widely circulated revision of Cicero’s De amicitia (Laelius) for the monastic life.4 I also posit that Clemence’s emphasis on spiritual friendship can be seen as a response to the tensions caused by the Becket controversy, which were further amplified by some of the literature and liturgies composed to commemorate his martyrdom.5 Becket’s death had a direct impact on the 1





Hereafter, Catherine. I am grateful to Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, Chris Baswell and Thelma Fenster for making invaluable suggestions early in the development of this chapter. I am also indebted to Jennifer N. Brown, Nicole R. Rice, Mary Edsall, Denise H. Long and Stephanie Ebersohl for their comments on later revisions and to the external reader for York Medieval Press for several very helpful suggestions. My argument owes much to C. Batt, ‘Clemence of Barking’s Transformations of Courtoisie in La Vie de sainte Catherine d’Alexandrie’, New Comparison 12 (1991), 102–33 (p. 105); and to J. Wogan-Browne, Saints’ Lives, see especially pp. 249–50. In Aelredi Rievallensis, Opera omnia, I, ed. A. Hoste and C. H. Talbot, Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Medievalis (Turnhout, 1971), pp. 281–5. Latin citations are from this volume, pp. 279–350. The translations are from Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship, trans. M. E. Laker (Kalamazoo MI, 1974). See De spirituali amicitia, pp.  281–5; see also D. Roby, ‘Introduction’, in Spiritual Friendship, trans. Laker, pp. 38–9; M. L. Dutton, ‘Introduction’, in Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship, ed. M. L. Dutton, trans. L. C. Braceland (Collegeville PA, 2010), pp.  xxiii–xxv. Unless otherwise noted, citations and translation of Cicero’s De amicitia (Laelius) are from Cicero: De senectute; De amicitia; De divinatione, ed. and trans. W. Falconer (Cambridge MA, 1923). On Cicero in the Middle Ages, see C. Mews, ‘Cicero and the Boundaries of Friendship’, Viator 38 (2007), 369–84 (nn. 2, 3 and 4, pp. 369–70) and C. DeMayo, ‘Ciceronian Amicitia in the Letters of Gerbert of Aurillac’, Viator 38 (2007), 319–37. The effects of the Becket conflict are relevant to the entire period of dates advanced by scholars for her Catherine, which extends from the last third of the twelfth century to the


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture abbacy at Barking and provides an essential context for Clemence’s Catherine.6 This impact is visible in Henry II’s appointment of Mary Becket to the abbacy (1173–5) and in the commissioning of Guernes of Pont-Sainte-Maxence’s La Vie de St Thomas le martyr de Cantorbrie at Barking during her tenure. As I discuss below, Clemence’s Catherine emphasizes issues of coordinate power central to this controversy. In doing so, Clemence’s revision could be seen as a corrective to penitential, images that place Becket (and, by extension, the English episcopacy) in the light of God’s favour and the secular court in a secondary, submissive position vis-à-vis episcopal authority. In De spirituali amicitia, Aelred defines spiritual love in expansive images that suggest its generative capacity rather than its exclusivity. This love, caritas, the selfless love of God and neighbour, is different from cupiditas, the love of self, partly because it is the ‘fountain and source of friendship’.7 Spiritual friendship does not encompass the whole of caritas (which extends to enemies as well as friends), but its essential characteristics are vital to a functioning community in Aelred’s view.8 In both Aelred’s and Cicero’s understanding of friendship, the powerful have an obligation to consider both their capacity for friendship and the quality of their friends since these factors will affect the well-being of the polity as a whole. Aelred takes his cue from Cicero, who argues that a leader’s capacity for true friendship in private life has public consequences.9


7 8


very early thirteenth century; see J. Wogan-Browne and G. S. Burgess, ‘Introduction’, Virgin Lives, pp. xxii–xxiv. On the literature produced to commemorate Becket (and, to a lesser extent, exonerate Henry), see A. J. Duggan, ‘The Cult of St Thomas Becket in the Thirteenth Century’, reprinted in A. J. Duggan, Thomas Becket: Friends, Networks, Texts and Cult, Variorum Collected Studies Series (Aldershot, 2007), IX, 21–44; A. G. Rigg, A History of Anglo-Latin Literature 1066–1422 (Cambridge, 1992), pp. 77–83; and The Lives of Thomas Becket, trans. M. Staunton (Manchester, 2001). On the early biographers, see F. Barlow, Thomas Becket (Berkeley CA, 1986) pp. 3–9. Citations are from La Vie de Saint Thomas Becket par Guernes de Pont-Sainte-Maxence, ed. E. Walberg, Acta Regiae Societatis Humaniorum Litterarum Lundensis 5 (Lund, 1922; 2nd edn Paris 1936). The 1936 re-edition by Champion is available online as Translations are from Garnier’s Becket, trans. J. Shirley (London, 1975). See J. R. Sommerfeldt’s perceptive analysis, Aelred of Rievaulx on Love and Order in the World and the Church (Mahwah NJ, 2006), pp. 22–7. Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, ed. Dutton, pp. 1, 49. Aelred distinguishes spiritual love from worldly love. Spiritual love is characterized by a similarity in the pursuits and habits of life among those who choose what is good. These commonalities bind (conglutinat) them to one another. His two other types of love create weaker connections. Worldly love is found among those who hope for preferment and those who have the power to nourish or reward these ambitions. Aelred’s third type, carnal love, is the common cause that unites those who pursue vice (De spirituali amicitia 1.38; 1.37–42). De amicitia iv.14-15 (pp. 122–4), xii.40–2 (pp. 150–4), xx.75-6 (pp. 182–4); and B. Fiore, ‘The Theory and Practice of Friendship in Cicero’, in Greco-Roman Perspectives on Friendship, ed. John T. Fitzgerald (Atlanta GA, 1997), pp. 59–76; and H. Hutter, Politics as Friendship: The Origins of Classical Notions of Politics in the Theory and Practice of Friendship (Ontario, 1978).


Cicero, Aelred and Guernes Although Aelred does not proffer spiritual friendship in De spirituali amicitia as a model for princely behaviour, its relevance for a Christian court can be seen, for example, in Aelred’s praise of Edward the Confessor.10 So, while his treatise on spiritual friendship is concerned with life in the cloister, its principles apply to the court and are probably shaped by Aelred’s experiences as a courtier and his involvement in another disputed investiture.11 Clemence’s translation12 of Aelred’s precepts for her audience can be similarly situated in an environment where Church and Crown are in conflict. The timeliness of her Catherine is suggested by John of Salisbury’s observation that friendship is more relevant to the functioning of the court than it is to the monastery.13 The origins of the royal authority and the means of securing the baronial loyalty (‘love’), for example, are issues important to those who are aware of the disputes that plague the Henrician court, especially in the later years of his reign.14 The language of love in affective spirituality and bridal mysticism can provide an especially powerful discourse for assessing the quality of the love manifested in curial culture. The lover’s movement towards perfection can be seen both in the context of particular (special or private) friendships and in his (or her) relationship to the community as a whole.15 As I discuss in detail below, Clemence considers the types of love that are on display in the court that she creates within her narrative, and assesses their effect on her characters’ motives and actions. By doing so, she vernacularizes the discourse on friendship in religious life. Clemence uses this discourse to comment on the quality of baronial relationships in private and public (e.g. in the tyrant’s love for his queen and his attitude towards his subjects; in the queen’s love of God and the mourners’ love for her). 10 11

12 13



See Sommerfeldt, Love and Order, pp. 126–8. He was King David of Scotland’s seneschal and went to Rome on behalf of the Cistercians during the investiture dispute over King Stephen’s choice for bishop of York. See J. R. Sommerfeldt’s studies: Aelred of Rievaulx, Pursuing Perfect Happiness (Mahwah NJ, 2005), pp. 1–5; and Love and Order, pp. 130–46. In the full interpretive sense, as described by Wogan-Browne; see Saints’ Lives, p. 227. In the Policraticus, which is critical of Henry II’s court. John remained a member of Becket’s inner circle throughout the controversy. See C. Nederman, ‘Friendship in Public Life During the Twelfth Century: Theory and Practice in the Writings of John of Salisbury’, Viator 38 (2007), 385–97 (p. 392). For example, in the struggle over succession, the difficulties of managing insular and continental territories, and continued conflict over the archbishopric of Canterbury. Benoit’s depiction of the Conqueror (whose exemplary largess secures his vassals’ devotion) provides insight in terms of ‘love’; see H. B. Teunis,‘Benoit of St Maure and William the Conqueror’s Amor’, Anglo-Norman Studies 12 (1989), 199–209. Aelred sees friendship as a way of experiencing God’s indwelling (De spirituali amicitia 1.70) and as a path towards perfection (1.8; 1.13–15; 2.9; 2.18, 2.49). See also, C. Stephen Jaeger, Ennobling Love (Philadelphia, 1999), pp. 36–53 and 198–210; B. P. McGuire, Friendship and Community (Kalamazoo MI, 1988) pp.  xxix–xl; Roby, ‘Introduction’, to Spiritual Friendship, trans. Laker, pp. 15–28 and 29–40; and B. Olsen, La Réception de la litérature classique au Moyen Age (IXe – XIIe siècle) (Copenhagen, 1995), pp. 95–131.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture The remainder of this chapter falls into three sections that illuminate Clemence’s pedagogy on love and friendship. I first examine the rhetoric associated with Becket’s transformation from courtier to martyr-bishop to argue that the politicization of his episcopacy is registered in Clemence’s Catherine. I then discuss Clemence’s application of Aelredian precepts of spiritual friendship to this problem, especially in the Catherine’s prologue and epilogue, and again at the points of civic fracture that she elaborates upon in the legend’s martyrdom dramas.16 In this section, I demonstrate that her Catherine’s concern with civic fracture is a response to the vexing political landscape surrounding Becket’s martyrdom, and argue that this environment is exemplified in Guernes’s controversial attitudes towards the barony in his Vie de St Thomas Becket. Clemence’s revision of the legend’s martyrdom dramas, not coincidently, also demonstrates the value of women’s friendship in court culture in this conflicted era. This value is consistent with Aelred’s reading of Eve as Adam’s ‘first friend’ and builds on the Marian incarnational theology of Catherine’s argument to the pagans in Clemence’s revision. Finally, I address Clemence’s depiction of tyranny in relation to Cicero’s and Aelred’s treatises. Choosing sides: Becket, Henry and Barking Abbey As the friendship between Henry and Becket soured, their division reverberated throughout Henry’s realm and arguably throughout much of Western Christendom.17 When their rhetoric became increasingly strident in the final stages of the dispute, Becket in particular relished dramatic, hagiographic flourishes to make his case. By March 1170, Becket, who was seeking Pope Alexander III’s support, called Henry a ‘treacherous king’.18 By July 1170, in another letter to the pope, Becket’s condemnation was even more vivid. He likened Henry to the tyrants of the martyr legend, implying (selectively) that the English king had violated his coronation oath.19 Yet, for all Henry’s 16 17

That is, the martyrdoms of rhetoricians, the queen, Porphiry and, of course, Catherine. See U. R. Blumenthal, The Investiture Controversy: Church and Monarchy from the Ninth to the Twelfth Century, 2nd edn (Philadelphia, 1995) pp. 154–9, 164–73. 18 The Correspondence of Thomas Becket: Archbishop of Canterbury 1162–1170, ed. and trans. A. J. Duggan, 2 vols., Oxford Medieval Texts (Oxford, 2000), Letter 270, ‘To Pope Alexander III, after 3 March 1170’. Becket’s rhetoric no doubt encouraged the pope in his arguments against provisions of the Constitutions of Clarendon. See C. R. Cheney, From Becket to Langton: English Church Government 1170–1213 (Manchester, 1956), pp. 108–11. 19 To Pope Alexander III (Duggan, Letters, Letter 300). Becket also reportedly compared himself to Canterbury’s first martyr bishop Alphege (Ælfheah, d. 19 April 1012), who is remembered for defending the rights of the barony as well as those of the English Church. See Edward Grimm’s account in Lives of Thomas Becket, trans. M. Staunton, p.  199; M. K. Lawson, Cnut: The Danes in England in the Early Eleventh Century (London, 1993), pp. 140–3; and F. M. Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford, 1989), pp. 383–4.


Cicero, Aelred and Guernes equally intemperate rhetoric,20 Becket’s death was both a personal shock and a public humiliation for the king. It was also a setback in Henry’s effort to establish firmer boundaries between his legal purview and that of the Church.21 But Becket’s murder made his rhetoric prophetic. The archbishop would be remembered as the martyr who stood up to an Angevin king. Henry was consequently compelled to show his fealty to Rome by submitting to papal stipulations on royal power.22 His penance not only extended the drama, but also highlighted the public consequences of a king’s defiance of the episcopacy.23 Henry performed his submission fully, more than once, and perhaps most remarkably at Canterbury by bowing before the Church’s prelates. He was struck multiple times with the rod wielded by monks as well as by several bishops.24 The Becket controversy continued to have emotional currency for the monks at Christ Church well into the thirteenth century.25 One of the most openly rebellious expressions of moral ire and its political consequences can be found in a lengthy Latin verse Catherine legend that was composed for Christ Church in the late twelfth or early thirteenth century, possibly during Stephen Langton’s disputed tenure as archbishop (1207–28),26 the Ut super omne melos, whose author, Richard, identifies himself in the epilogue.27 When the queen shifts her loyalties from Maxentius to Christ in Richard’s version, the tyrant calls her a traitor, a disease infecting his entire household. This is because the queen has adopted Catherine’s persona and has censured her husband publically: ‘Tempora nanque morae rapit, intonat, increpat ore, / Predicat audienti’ (‘For 20 21



24 25

26 27

Evoked by Henry’s legendary outburst: ‘Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?’ Albeit one that Henry handled adroitly in several respects; see A. J. Duggan,‘Henry II, The English Church, and the Papacy, 1154–76’, in Henry II: New Interpretations, ed. C. Harper-Bill and N. Vincent (Woodbridge, 2007), pp. 154–83 (pp. 173–6). On 21 May 1172 at Avranches, 30 May in Caen, and 12 July 1174 at Canterbury. Becket was canonized in 1173. See R. Bartlett, England under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075–1225 (Oxford, 2002), pp. 401–8; and A. J. Duggan, ‘Ne in dubium: The Official Record of Henry II’s Reconciliation at Avranches’, English Historical Review 115 (2000), 643–58. On the literary and liturgical production commemorating Becket (and, to a lesser extent, exonerating Henry), see Duggan, ‘The Cult of St Thomas Becket’; A. G. Rigg, A History of Anglo-Latin Literature 1066–1422 (Cambridge, 1992), pp. 77–83; and The Lives of Thomas Becket, trans. M. Staunton (Manchester, 2001). William of Newburgh, Histories ii.35. Available online: halsall/source/williamnewburgh-becket1.html. See J. Ziolkowski’s observation on the polemical quality of the literature production at Canterbury in the later part of the twelfth century, Nigel of Canterbury, The Passion of St. Lawrence, Epigrams, and Marginal Poems (New York, 1994), pp. 16–38. Langton identified himself with Becket during this exile and instituted the Office of the Translation and the Jubilee celebrations at Canterbury. Either at Christ Church or at St Albans for presentation at Christ Church. Citations from ‘Ricardus, Passio Sancte Katerine: Ut super omne melos’, in Vitae sanctae Katherinae, ed. A. P. Orbán, Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Medievalis 119.1 (Turnhout, 1992); translations are mine.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture she seized her opportunity, she thundered, she rebuked boldly, she preached to the listening king’, VI.1–4, 16–17). Richard’s extensive revision of the queen’s and Porphiry’s personas mark their transformations into episcopal proxies for Catherine. Their martyrdom causes widespread revolt against the tyrant. Richard’s revision thus celebrates episcopal courage in an era when Becket was being promoted in terms that had to be provocative to the Crown. New liturgies established for Becket’s feast and translation (also by Langton) described the martyred archbishop as the defender of the English episcopacy and the ‘vox populi’ of England.28 These new liturgies and Richard’s Ut super are not, however, simply outlets for monastic anger; they could be used to leverage advantage in on-going disputes during which, for example, ecclesiastical and baronial interests could be aligned against the throne.29 As Paul Binski observes, Becket became one of the most successful models of the politicized sanctity that ‘ecclesiastical corporations’ could use to advance their interests.30 Given the polarizing effects of the conflict, and the promotion of Becket as a defender of secular baronial as well as ecclesiastical interests, it is not surprising that Clemence’s Catherine has been seen as taking one side or the other: i.e. either as sympathetic to Henry or to Becket.31 Becket’s relics were shown great reverence at Barking into the late Middle Ages, indicating the esteem in which he was held at that time. Yet opinions about Becket and the significance of his martyrdom were probably mixed at Barking just as they were elsewhere for some time in the generation or two following Becket’s death.32 Clemence’s revision of the Catherine legend, unlike Richard’s Ut super, might very well register nuanced or even contradictory sympathies among the nuns at Barking about the dispute, Henry’s penance, or the development of Becket’s cult. The situation is further complicated by the impact on the abbey’s administration. Clemence’s Catherine may look back on an abbacy filled twice in rapid succession by women who were from families on the opposite sides of the dispute.33 28

29 30 31

32 33

See K. Slocum, Liturgies in Honour of Thomas Becket (Toronto, 2004), pp. 242–6, 310. In the ninth lesson, first vespers, for office of the translation (Sarum Breviary), Becket is placed among the angels to intercede especially on behalf of England’s people (gens Anglorum). For example, in Langton’s work on the Magna Carta. Becket’s Crown: Art and Imagination in Gothic England 1170–1300 (New Haven CT, 2004), pp. 23–6, 82–7, 129–31. E. Mitchell suggests a pro-Henrician environment revitalized by Maud’s appointment; ‘Patrons and Politics at Twelfth-Century Barking Abbey’, Revue bénédictine 113.2 (2003), 347–64; cf. C. Rossi’s discussion of Clemence’s Catherine in the context of Mary Becket’s abbacy, Marie de France et les érudits de Cantorbéry (Paris, 2009). I am grateful to Dr Rossi for providing an unpublished copy of this volume. English abstract: See also D. Auslander’s argument on royal power in this volume and V. Blanton, Signs of Devotion: The Cult of St. Æthelthryth in Medieval England, 695–1615 (University Park PA, 2007), pp. 181–3, especially n. 24. See B. Smalley, The Becket Conflict and the Schools (Oxford, 1973). On assertions of prerogative, see Saints’ Lives, pp. 181–2.


Cicero, Aelred and Guernes The abbacy had been vacant for at least six years (since the rule of Adelidis, c. 1138–66) when Henry appointed Becket’s sister Mary to the position as part of his penance.34 Whatever sympathies Mary Becket or her successor Maud (Henry II’s daughter) may each have generated in her own right, Henry’s inattention to Barking may have been foremost among the nuns’ concerns. The abbey’s ability to exercise influence or obtain needed boons would be greatly diminished without a well-connected abbess at court.35 Guernes of Pont-Sainte-Maxence’s Vie de St Thomas le martyr de Cantorbrie, composed during Mary Becket’s tenure, suggests the complexity of Barking’s position following Becket’s death.36 On one hand, Guernes’s Thomas indicates that both men deserve sympathy. Although his epilogue is quite light-hearted, Guernes’s poem does not shy away from the fact that Becket, like Henry, was a complex and sometimes contradictory man.37 At one moment, for example, Guernes’s Becket asserts that he is above Henry because ‘“Quant pur jugier sera tuz li munz asemblez, / Li prelat respundrunt pur les reis corunez. / Tant est greindre lur fais e plus pesant asez”’ (‘“When all the world shall be gathered for judgement, then the prelates will answer for the crowned kings, so much the greater and heavier is their burden”’).38 But later, as Becket seeks reconciliation, there is a hint of sorrow and perhaps regret in his reference to the close conversations they once enjoyed: ‘“Sire Reis, fait li il, forment ai desiré / Qu’une feiz vus eüsse veü e avisé, / E que jo buche a buche eüsse a vus parlé”’ (‘“My lord king . . . I earnestly long to see you once and speak with you face to face”’).39 Yet it is Becket’s earnest hierocratic vision that prevails. In the end, the king and those among the barony who fought Thomas become the archbishop’s vassals.40 In this tableau, the humbled court becomes part of the king’s public, penitent body. Nonetheless, the king must continue to discipline unruly members of this baronial body. He must contend with ‘insolent people’ who would foolishly do great harm to the realm.41 34


36 37

38 39 40 41

On the abbacy of Adelidis as a turning point in Barking Abbey’s literary culture, especially in regard to audience and the formulation of the saintly heroine, see S. Hollis’s chapter in this volume (n. 114). The Barking Edouard may have been composed during this vacancy in the abbacy (Saints’ Lives, pp. 250–1). On the baronial rank of Barking’s abbess, see the introduction to this volume. See T. O’Donnell’s chapter in this volume. Regarding Henry, Guernes is careful to have the bishop of London parse Henry’s confession; he distinguishes between the crime of ordering Becket’s murder (of which Henry is innocent) and the folly of speaking the angry words that inadvertently lead to Becket’s death (Henry’s sin); La Vie de Saint Thomas Becket, ed. Walberg, 5966–95. La Vie de Saint Thomas Becket, ed. Walberg, 2993–5. Ibid., 3048–50. Ibid., 5906–19. Shirley’s translation is ‘insolent’ (p. 162) from ‘Il ad a governer une gent pauteniere’ (6087). The connotation of ‘pauteniere’ (s.v. ‘pautener’, Anglo-Norman Dictionary) is a little difficult to pin down, but the context suggests boorish or childish behaviour that needs to be managed by a strong ‘parental’ (i.e. royal) hand. For another


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture The court’s submission to Church and king in Guernes’s Thomas, no matter how nuanced by mutual regret, is still simplistic. His characterization of the barony was bound to cause some discomfort among the nuns at Barking. Guernes’s narrative may also remind the nuns of the absence of a Barking abbess at court throughout this conflict. Intentionally or not, his Thomas demonstrates the synergistic relationship between the poetics of Becket hagiography and the politics of Canterbury.42 It is blissfully unmarked by any acknowledgement that a complex web of loyalties runs through Barking, which encompasses Henry’s itinerant, cross-Channel Anglo-French court and many venerable insular families as well as an insular Church.43 From the nuns’ perspectives, Barking’s particular interests as a community and the nuns’ various connections within an extensive social network might well take precedence over a rather abstract loyalty to an English Church represented primarily by Canterbury. Guernes’s commentary on the barony suggests that the poet did not fully appreciate the interests of his audience at Barking (beyond Mary Becket’s). The abbey would need to honour its obligations to king, Church and family. Veneration for Becket might need to be balanced with any number of pragmatic concerns in the fluid insular political landscape of the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. Canterbury’s relationship with Rome and the English throne remained unsettled throughout this era, and its competition with York continued. Additionally, disputed episcopal elections coincided with significant baronial challenges to the Crown. Baronial loyalties could be quite malleable in the tumult of Angevin succession and Church–Crown negotiations over rights and liberties. Ecclesiastical support could be useful for a barony seeking leverage in negotiations with the king.44 We cannot know whether Clemence’s Catherine responds specifically to the stilted vision of courtly submission and baronial unruliness in Guernes’s Thomas, but his account foregrounds one of the most problematic implications


43 44

example, cf. Adgar’s use of ‘pauteniere’, s.v. ‘enticer’, Anglo-Norman Dictionary. Guernes’s treatment of royal-baronial relationships is complex, but he faults both the barony and the king’s sons for their destructive, rebellious behaviour and notes that Henry must rule through fear. Managing these subjects is burdensome (and implicitly accounts for some of Henry’s intemperate behaviour); La Vie de Saint Thomas Becket, ed. Walberg, 6086–93, 6140–55. Guernes’s epilogue praises Odo, his patron at Canterbury (La Vie de Saint Thomas Becket, ed. Walberg, Explicit 16A–22A; Odo was a member of Becket’s circle, and one of the candidates put forward (twice) for the archbishopric after Becket’s death. Henry rejected Christ Church’s choice both times, and Odo worked with the monks against Baldwin (Henry’s choice). He was also part of a delegation sent to Rome to complain about the archbishop of York. On Odo’s role in Mary Becket’s appointment to the abbacy, see T. O’Donnell’s chapter in this volume. See the introduction to this volume. See the introduction to this volume and N. Vincent, ‘The Court of Henry II’, in Henry II: New Interpretations, ed. C. Harper-Bill and N. Vincent (Woodbridge, 2007), pp. 278–334 (p. 310, pp. 306–11).


Cicero, Aelred and Guernes of Becket’s martyrdom for Barking. Clemence uses Aelred’s model of spiritual friendship to modulate the rigid hierocratic images embodied in Becket. Aelred provides the ethical framework for a revision of the Catherine legend that suggests an alternative view of ecclesiastical supremacy in Church– Crown relationships. A virgin martyr legend that celebrates clerical learning would not appear to be a logical choice for this purpose. In fact, Catherine of Alexandria is a martyr specifically associated with the defence of ecclesiastical privilege, and her iconography was periodically employed for such purposes during the Investiture Contest.45 Christina Walsh, in her excellent study of the Catherine cult in the early Middle Ages, notes that the Catherine legend was used strategically by prelates such as Geoffrey Gorron, Lanfranc and Anselm in their conquest of the insular ecclesiastical establishment.46 Such men became ‘Catherines’ in their spheres of influence, but it is precisely this association that Clemence exploits. She relies on her audience to recognize the legend’s subtext of ecclesiastical pre-eminence, just as Richard does (in Ut super). Clemence, however, does something more. She complicates the legend’s association with clerical influence by emphasizing that the Church’s goal should be the coordination of powers, which is achieved through the praxis of spiritual friendship. This is why her Catherine legend is concerned with inclining the will towards caritas for the sake of the polity as a whole. Reasons to bow: love, unity and fellowship in Aelred and Clemence Clemence begins her Catherine by invoking the premise that animates the hierocratic vision of fealty dramatized in Henry’s penance, namely that everyone (even the king and his court) ought to bend his or her will to God: ‘Beneurez est ki s’i alie / E a cel grant bien sun cuer plie’ (‘Blessed is he who allies himself with him / and bends his heart to his great good’, 15–16). But where Guernes (and other Becket hagiographers) are specific about the ordering of Church and Crown before God (in the tableau around the episcopal martyr), Clemence is general. Her introductory image does not place an ecclesiastical or episcopal figure between the soul and God. In fact, Clemence goes out of her way to model a pedagogical approach that de-politicizes submission to God. Adopting the strategies of syllogistic argument and allegorical exegesis, Clemence proposes precepts, and then illustrates them so that the quality of actions


See C. Walsh, The Cult of St Katherine of Alexandria in Early Medieval Europe (Aldershot, 2007), pp. 115, 145. 46 Lanfranc established the Catherine observance in the calendars at Christ Church and at St Augustine’s abbey; Anselm dedicated an altar to Catherine at Christ Church during the Investiture Contest; see C. Walsh, ‘The Role of the Normans in the Development of the Cult of St Catherine’, in St Catherine of Alexandria: Texts and Contexts in Western Medieval Europe, ed. J. Jenkins and K. J. Lewis (Turnhout, 2003), pp. 19–35 (pp. 31–2).


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture and motives can be examined without reference to time, rank or person.47 The primary arena of action is internal, eternal and invisible. This is the sphere where the motive of love pertains. The question that Clemence poses in her prologue is thus not so much who should bow to whom in matters of spiritual or temporal purview, but how the human soul can be taught to love what is good, particularly the good of spiritual friendship. Clemence’s point is reminiscent of Aelred’s teaching on the will as a manifestation of love in the Speculum caritatis: ‘the will itself is nothing other than love, and good or bad will should not be called anything but good or bad love’.48 Aelred’s description of spiritual friendship, which is characterized by its unity, stability and abundance, provides another insight into this question of bending the will towards good. A sense of unity is particularly important as a measure of the heart’s progress towards God.49 The same divine bond that ties humanity to God also allies men with each other to create ‘one heart’, as Aelred outlines in his revision of Cicero’s depictions of like-mindedness: Itaque amicus in spiritu Christi adhaerens amico, efficitur cum eo cor unum et anima una; et sic per amoris gradus ad Christi conscendens amicitiam, unus cum eo spiritus efficitur in osculo uno.  (2.21) (‘Thus friend cleaving to friend in the spirit of Christ, is made with Christ but one heart and one soul, and so mounting aloft through degrees of love to friendship with Christ, he is made one spirit with him in one kiss.’)

Aelred also argues that the covenants of monastic life that impose unity, particularly the proposition that everything is held in common, move one along the path towards perfection and make working for one’s own interests especially illogical: Quid enim ineptius esse potest quam amicitiam hactenus extendi, ut in officiis uel obsequiis uicem quis rependat amico, cum onmia illis debeant esse communia, quibus nimirum esse debet et cor unum et anima una?  (2.67) (‘For what can be more absurd than to extend friendship to the mere mutual repayment of one’s friend through services and compliments, since all things ought to be in common among those who should indeed be of one mind and one soul?’)


48 49

Clemence’s strategy is consistent with the allegorization of the soul in the biblical exegesis. On this style of argument in the theology of the Paris schools, see R. Newhauser, In the Garden of Evil: The Vices and Culture in the Middle Ages (Toronto, 2005), pp. 76–7. 2.18.53; cf. The Mirror of Charity, trans. E. Connor (Kalamazoo MI, 1990), pp. 36–40, 200. See Mews, ‘Cicero’, pp. 372–3, 381 on Aelred’s use of Bernard’s model of spiritual maturation.


Cicero, Aelred and Guernes The mingling of spirits was commonplace in the rhetoric of friendship.50 But Aelred’s disquisition on unity in response to brotherly squabbling would be particularly resonant for Clemence in light of the Becket controversy: that is, two brothers vying for their master’s friendship as if it were a scarce resource available to only one of them (cf. 2.19–20, 2.66). These contentious protégés, Walter and Gratian, eagerly point out the other’s shortcomings. Aelred ends their quarrel by arguing that for God, and for religious men like himself, such contests are absurd because there is abundance, not scarcity, when it comes to spiritual friendship: inter eos qui sibi amicitiae glutino copulantur, omnia iucunda, omnia secura, omnia dulcia, omnia suauia sentiuntur.  (2.19) (‘among those who are bound in the bond of friendship, all joys, all security, all sweetness, all charms are felt.’)

Notably, Aelred’s choice of ‘glutino’ (lit. by means of ‘paste’ or ‘gum’) reinforces that notion that the strong bond in spiritual friendship, unlike that created in other types, allows many to enjoy its plentiful gifts.51 Similarly, Clemence makes God’s bounty the organizing ethic of her Catherine. She uses her prologue in the same way Aelred uses Walter’s and Gratian’s quarrel, that is, to demonstrate that God’s abundance is the ‘glue’ that stabilizes the social order. Everyone in the order of God’s creation holds one possession in common, namely, God’s unchanging goodness:52 Sa bunté ne nus volt celer, Mais cumunement demustrer. De sun bien suffist chascun Car il sul est a tuz commun. De sa grant largesce nus paist E tut nostre bien del suen naist. Beneurez est ki s’i alie E a cel grant bien sun cuer plie Que mueisun de tens ne nue Ne lai ne [re] prent ne argue.  (9–14) (‘[God] does not conceal his bounty from us but wants to show it openly [cumunemunt]. His goodness suffices for everyone. For it alone is common 50

For example, in Gundulf’s letters to Anselm of Canterbury; see H. M. Canatella, ‘Friendship in Anselm of Canterbury’s Correspondence’, Viator 38 (2007), 351–68 (p.  359, n. 63). For another perspective, see McGuire, Friendship and Community, pp. 210–12. 51 See n. 8 above on Aelred’s use of ‘conglutinat’ to define spiritual friendship and distinguish it from worldly and carnal types of friendship, which do not bind people together so securely (De spirituali amicitia 1.38). 52 Citations are from The Life of St. Catherine by Clemence of Barking, ed. W. MacBain, ANTS 18 (Oxford, 1964); translations are mine or from Virgin Lives, as noted.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture to all. From his great largess he feeds us and all our goodness is born of his. Blessed is he who allies himself with him and bends his heart to this great good that time’s change does not alter and is neither upset nor unsettled by human law.’)

Clemence’s emphasis on the unifying power of God’s goodness also evokes Aelred’s discussion of friendship and the social order in the first book of De spirituali amicitia.53 He argues that God willed ‘ut omnes creaturas suas pax componeret, et uniret societas’ (‘that peace should order all his creatures and that fellowship should unite them’, 1.28, 1.53).54 Duncan Robertson was the first to describe the broad, unifying civic programme in Clemence’s work; he observes that her lyrical romance invites courtly, as well as monastic, readers to become ‘citizens’ in the monastic textual community.55 The unifying logic of romance in Clemence’s Catherine is integrated into a rhetorical programme that uses the theology of the incarnation to bridge the difference between religious and secular life.56 Clemence regards the incarnation as a chivalric act like no other. It is the highest expression of Christ’s desire for his beloved, which animates the whole of the created world and everyone in it: Grant materie nus ad duné D’aveir bone volunté. Car nostre amur tant desira, Que tut rien pur nus cria. Il meime devint criature Par sa bunté, nient par nature.  (2651–4) (‘He has given us every opportunity to manifest our goodwill, for he so greatly desired our love that he created everything for us. He himself became a created being, through his bounty, not through his nature.’)57

As in her prologue, Clemence’s representation of the soul’s relationship to God revises the paradigm of submission. The beloved’s response to Christ is modelled by Catherine, who, as Clemence notes: ‘E s’amur li guereduna / Sulunc ço qu’en ot le poeir, / Ne remest mie en sun voleir’ (‘with her love [she] 53


55 56 57

On bunté, voleir and poeir, see D. Russell’s article in this volume, and J. Wogan-Browne, ‘Wreaths of Thyme: the Female Translator in Anglo-Norman Hagiography’, in The Medieval Translator IV, ed. R. Ellis and R. Evans (Exeter, 1994), pp. 46–65 (pp. 52–3). On Clemence’s translation and interpretation of Anselm’s doctrine of redemption, see Saints’ Lives, pp. 227–31. Cf. 1.28; see Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, ed. Dutton, pp. xlii–iii. On Aelred’s attempt to implement this ideal in his dealings with kings and bishops, see B. P. McGuire, Brother and Lover: Aelred of Rievaulx (New York, 1994), especially ‘The Politics of Peace’, pp. 76–7; and on the distinction between public and private, pp. 108–9. Robertson, ‘Writing in the Textual Community: Clemence of Barking’s Life of St. Catherine’, French Forum 21 (1996), 5–28 (pp. 16–18, 22–4). See Wogan-Browne’s discussion of fin’amor and God’s model of social as well as personal relations in the Barking Edouard (Saints’ Lives, p. 253). Virgin Lives, p. 42.


Cicero, Aelred and Guernes rewarded [Christ] as far as she had the power to do so, so that no part of her will remained unexpressed’, 2682–4, Virgin Lives, p. 43). Catherine’s impressive clerical knowledge has a purpose outside itself. It must be used to incline the will towards love, which implicitly makes cultivating commonality throughout the social order a way of loving God in return. Clemence, none too modestly, claims this same pastoral motive (‘Pur s’amur’, 2692) for her own work. Clemence’s authorial self-positioning as a magisterial yet loving guide to love parallels Aelred’s construction of his own narratorial persona. This is suggested by Aelred’s adaptation of Matthew 18.19–20, which he uses in the first line of the first book of De spirituali amicitia: ‘Ecce ego, et tu, et spero quod tertius inter nos Christus sit’ (‘You and I are here, and I hope Christ is between us as a third’, 1.4–5). The image of the three together is intimate yet it leaves no doubt about the relative authority of each of the participants without foregrounding the hierarchy. The Aelredian narrator is connected to his charges through Christ. This tripartite relationship provides a model for Aelred’s authority. By placing Christ between himself and his charges, he can fulfil his responsibilities as teacher and pastor and yet be co-equal with those in his care. They are connected to each other and to God through Christ’s friendship. It is this inclusive episcopal dynamic that Clemence’s Catherine explores. The many references to amity in Clemence’s narrative reinforce her poetic programme by showing how fully courtly society can be drawn into Christ’s friendship. This is why the saint is not the only one described as ‘l’aime Deu’. Others are, or may become, God’s beloved by loving (i.e. willing) what is good. The pagan rhetoricians, for example, suffer ‘Pur amur al bon criatur’ (‘for the love of a good creator’) just as the saint does (1152). The labels of friend, neighbour and companion, which occur frequently throughout Clemence’s Catherine, are not, therefore, simply the commonplaces of courtoisie. This lexicon underlines the essential socio-political logic of pastoral triangulation in authorship and authority, which contrasts a court based on spiritual friendship with one based on worldly friendship.58 Clemence’s revision presents spiritual friendship as an enticement to conversion. Friendships between lay and religious people are the means by which love crosses temporalities. The inhabitants of the heavenly court eagerly welcome the inhabitants of the temporal court into their society. This is evident when Catherine introduces the queen to her heavenly attendants as the one ‘Qu’il l’acumpainast a mei / E la maist a dreite fei’ (‘who will accompany me on the path of true faith’, 1609–11). It is repeated when the saint expresses the hope that the knight Porphiry will likewise ‘Si m’en face un compainun’ (‘become a companion’, 1614–19) so that they may all enjoy the reward that awaits them in the heavenly city that ‘Deu pramet a ses amis’ (‘God promises his friends’, 1710). The matrons and maids who weep for Catherine as they follow the saint have already experienced this sense of welcome. As they follow her to her decollation, they bewail the loss of someone whom they regard as ‘lur cumpaine et 58

See n. 8 above on Aelred’s definition of worldly love.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture lur veisine’ (‘their companion and neighbor’, 2528). The mourners’ reasoning, which is unique to Clemence’s Catherine, also suggests the power of women’s friendship for uniting those in lay and religious vocations. The value of women as friends and patrons is often linked to their significance as mothers, especially in the figures of Eve and Mary.59 The ideal­ization of motherhood is well integrated into the Marian devotion and the incarnational theology of Catherine’s argument, which emphasizes the virgin’s womb as the instrument of divine largess: Pur ço que murir ne poeit En la nature u il esteit, Se vesti de char e de sanc Qu’il recut d’un virginel flanc. Sa nature pas ne muad, Mais nostre par soe honurad. La sue ne pot ester enpeirie, Mais la nostre par soe essalcie.  (955–62) (‘Since he could not die in himself in the nature in which he was, he covered himself in flesh and blood, which he received from the virgin’s womb. He did not change his nature, but honoured ours by his own. His could not be harmed, but ours was exalted by his.’)60

In a small but essential touch, everyone in Clemence’s Catherine has a mother, even Maxentius (2389).61 Women, by virtue of their sex, are another reminder 59

See C. A. Atkinson, The Oldest Vocation: Christian Motherhood in the Middle Ages (Ithaca NY, 1991), pp. 101–43 (p. 111); on maternal imagery in romance, see P. Sheingorn, ‘The Maternal Behavior of God: Divine Father as Fantasy Husband’, in Medieval Mothering, ed. J. C. Parsons and B. Wheeler (New York, 1996), pp. 77–99 (p. 83); and J. Fellows, ‘Mothers in Medieval English Romance’, in Women in Medieval Britain 1150–1500, ed. C. Meale (Cambridge, 1993), pp. 41–60 (pp. 42–4). 60 Virgin Lives, p. 17. 61 Cf. Gui’s late thirteenth century Vie de St Catherine, a continental French revision composed in a western dialect which almost certainly relies on Clemence’s Catherine for the section on the debate. His section on the Trinity closely parallels the same material in Clemence (cf. Clemence’s Catherine 873–4 and Gui’s Catherine 733–5; Clemence’s Catherine 895–902 and Gui’s Catherine 747–51). Gui, however, appears to change the emphasis of Clemence’s text when it comes to the rhetorician’s statement of faith. His revision follows Clemence’s closely until Gui has the pagans refer to their own status as literate men and the patrimony of clerical knowledge (re-masculinizing this domain and highlighting Catherine’s exceptionality as a female ‘clerk’): ‘De science avions passez / Tretoz les clers qui soient né’ (‘In wisdom, we have surpassed all clerks ever born’, 831–4). As W. MacBain first noted, the prologue to Gui’s Catherine refers to a Norman life that may be Clemence’s. There is also an appeal to Christ’s friendship in Gui’s prologue. See H. A. Todd, ed., ‘La Vie de sainte Katherine d’Alexandrie as Contained in the Paris Manuscript La Clayette’, PMLA 15 (1900), 17–73; W. MacBain, ‘Five Old French Renderings of the Passio Sancte Katerine Virginis’, in Medieval Translators and their Craft, ed. J. Beer, Studies in Medieval Culture 25 (Kalamazoo MI, 1989), pp. 41–66; and T. Foster’s discussion


Cicero, Aelred and Guernes of the ‘glue’ of divine creation and incarnation that binds them to each other and to God regardless of the conditions of birth, rank or vocation. The wisest of the rhetoricians demonstrates his appreciation of Catherine’s Anselmian soteriology62 when he suggests that their new-found friendship with God likewise follows a matrilinear path that would have been impossible without having first received the Creator’s gift of physical birth: Certes, fait il, dreit emperere, Unques puis que nus porta mere, N’oimmes femme si parler, Se si sagement desputer.  (1077–80) (‘Truly, since our mothers bore us, we have never heard a woman speak so, or debate so wisely.’)63

Clemence also highlights women’s capacity for pastoral care as another avenue for spurring spiritual regeneration. The analogical sense of maternity is suggested in the conversion of the fractious crowd (who are arguing about whether to believe Catherine). Their rebirth is suggested in Aelredian terms when one voice replaces the cacophony of many, but they need Catherine to complete the process of rebirth:64 Trestuit a une voiz crierent E l’amie Deu apelerent, Que les face regenerer Par saint baptesme esmonder.  (1133–6) (‘Everyone with one voice cried out, calling to God’s beloved to regenerate them and cleanse them by holy baptism.’)65

This is another moment of pastoral triangulation. Catherine’s victory is twofold. She is both the warrior of dialectic and the mother who facilitates Christ’s entry into the crowd’s human nature.


63 64


of Gui’s poem, ‘Clemence of Barking: Reshaping the Legend of Saint Catherine of Alexandria’, Women’s Writing 12 (2005), 13–27. On Clemence’s use of Anselm, see J. Wogan-Browne, ‘Women’s Formal and Informal Traditions of Biblical Knowledge in Anglo-Norman England’, Festschrift for Anneke Mulder-Bakker: Saints, Scholars and Politicians: Gender as a Tool in Medieval Studies, ed. M. van Dijk and Renee A. Nip (Turnhout, 2005), pp. 85–109. Wogan-Browne and Burgess also describe Christ’s care for Catherine as ‘maternal’; ‘Introduction’, Virgin Lives p. xxxii. cf. E. Bérat on Le Gracial’s miracle of the pregnant abbess (XLIX) in this volume. Virgin Lives, p. 19. Martyrs are true friends because they make a multitude of believers into one heart and one soul (De spirituali amicitia 1.28–9). On Aelred’s other uses of maternal imagery, see M. L. Dutton, ‘Christ Our Mother: Aelred’s Iconography for Contemplative Union’, in Goad and Nail, ed. R. E. Elder (Kalamazoo MI, 1985), pp. 21–45. Virgin Lives, p. 20.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture This full sense of women’s capacity is consistent with Aelred’s appreciation of women’s worth as friends and companions. He is not unique on this point,66 but he makes the case for women’s friendship explicitly and in opposition to Cicero’s estimation of women’s abilities.67 Aelred’s case for women is grounded in one of Cicero’s most important principles: namely, the paradoxical notion that where true friendship exists between those of inferior and superior condition, it will be characterized by a sense of equity which benefits both parties.68 He argues that women’s equity in friendship is divinely established with God’s creation of Eve: Nec certe de simili, uel saltem de eadem materia hoc adiutorium diuina uirtus formauit; sed ad expressius caritatis et amicitiae incentiuum, de ipsius substantia masculi feminam procreauit. Pulchre autem de latere primi hominis secundus assumitur, ut natura doceret omnes aequales, quasi collaterales; nec esset in rebus humanis superior vel inferior, quod est amicitiae proprium.  (1.57)69 (‘It was from no similar, nor even from the same material that divine Might formed this help mate, but as a clearer inspiration to charity and friendship he produced the woman from the very substance of the man. How beautiful is it that the second human being was taken from the side of the first, so that nature might teach that human beings are equal and, as it were, collateral, and that there is in human affairs neither a superior nor an inferior, a characteristic of true friendship.’)70

Cicero’s dismisses women as ‘weak’ because friendship calls for a toughness that is important to the masculine domain of public life. This is not the case for Aelred, or for Clemence, who each appreciate the importance of noblewomen’s patronage and influence in a range of decisions that have public as well as private consequences.71 In fact, in Clemence’s Catherine, women fulfil Eve’s promise by being ‘equal’ and ‘collateral’ in human affairs in the manner of kings and other powerful members of the barony. They create a multi-layered communal life. The power 66

67 68 69 70


See, for example, J. M. Ferrante, To the Glory of her Sex: Women’s Roles in the Composition of Medieval Texts (Bloomington IN, 1997), and C. M. Mooney, ‘Voice, Gender, and the Portrayal of Sanctity’, in Gendered Voices: Medieval Saints and their Interpreters, ed. C. M. Mooney and C. W. Bynum (Philadelphia, 1999), pp. 1–15. As ‘mulierculae’ (weak women) because they, along with the poor and unfortunate, cannot tolerate the demands of friendship (De amicitia, xiii.46–7, pp. 156–8). De amicitia, xix.69, p. 178. On the need for companionship see De amicitia, xxi.81, p. 189. Compare Wogan-Browne and Burgess on Clemence’s revision of the creation story, giving both men and women the power over good and evil, Virgin Lives, p. 18 and n. 46. See S. Gaunt’s comparison of how men and women might regard Catherine’s body, Gender and Genre in Medieval French Literature (Cambridge, 1995), pp. 196, 230; cf. D. Watt on Clemence’s awareness of the ‘dangers of hostile reception’ and ‘defiance of clerical privilege’, Medieval Women’s Writing (Cambridge, 2007), pp. 74–80.


Cicero, Aelred and Guernes of women’s friendship is indicated, for example, in her Catherine’s description of the queen’s mourners who weep ‘Pur l’amur a la bone reine’ (‘for the love of the good queen’, 2336). The esteem for the queen extends throughout the social order and binds her dependents to each other as well as to the queen: Pur l’amur a la bone reine. Plurent chevalier e sergant E li veillard e li emfant; Plurent valiez et esquiers; Par tut esteit li dois pleners. Et en la vile et al chastel Plurent bachelers et damisel. Mut par vunt grant dol démenant Li bourgeis et li peisant. Plurent i dames et meschines En chambres et en sales perines  (2336–44) (‘For the love of the good queen, knights and men-at-arms cried, all wept, the old and the young; the pages and squires wept; everywhere there was mourning; in the village and the castle, bachelors and young lads wept. The townsmen and the peasants displayed great sorrow. Ladies and maidens wept in their chambers and stone hall.’)72

Both lay and religious women would be engaged in the management of their estates, knowledgeable about local commerce, and involved in charitable work in a manner consistent with their rank and holdings. But beyond registering these realities, this description also demonstrates that her rule creates an integrated, functional social order. There are visible and material benefits of this kind of ruler’s pastoral love for his, or her, subjects. The best example of the integration of spiritual and temporal realms may be in Clemence’s elaborate description of heaven and the Blessed Virgin, Barking Abbey’s patron saint. It is Mary who cares for the poor and the wretched: ‘as dolur[u]s deport; / [. . .] as orphanins cunfort’ (‘a joy to the sorrowful and . . . the consolation of orphans’, 1759–60). On one hand, the Virgin’s care for the needy makes this passage a natural reminder of the charitable work carried out by Barking and other religious communities. On the other hand, however, Clemence’s account of heaven is remarkable because, like her prologue and epilogue, it shows that women participate in the unifying work of the incarnation wherever a court may be (on heaven or on earth).73 Mary’s maternity extends to everyone since she ‘sule est empereriz, / Par qui tut li munz est guariz’ (‘alone is the empress by whom the whole world is healed’, 1763–4) and ‘sule est dame e reine, / A qui tute rien est acline’ (‘alone the lady and queen before whom all things bow down’, 1765–6). 72 73

Virgin Lives, p. 38. Compare Guernes’s description of the wretchedness produced by baronial greed and ‘insolence’, 6090–3.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture While Clemence does not suggest that heaven’s empress (Mary) and the tyrant’s queen enjoy an equivalent status, she does indicate that these queens are greatly loved because they love their subjects in ways that stabilize the polity as a whole. Clemence’s depiction of this love corresponds to the discussion of justice and mercy in Aelred’s political philosophy; it also pointedly counters any recommendation (like that made by Guernes in his Thomas) that a king should rule through fear.74 Aelred not only praises Edward the Confessor for treating the royal treasury as a resource for the poor (as noted above), but also for being a father to orphans and a champion to widows. Similarly, he praises David of Scotland’s mercy by observing that widows and orphans wept for him because he had consoled and comforted them. Although Aelred acknowledges that kings must strike a balance between being loved and feared, an ideal king, in Aelred’s view, prefers the former to the latter.75 Clemence’s Catherine registers a similar position. Both men and women, both secular and religious, contribute to the governance of the entire body politic through their ability to sustain friendships that express Christ’s love.76 Reasons to abandon a friendship: fear and tyranny in Cicero, Aelred and Clemence Clemence’s Catherine also addresses the fear that produces division. At the beginning of the narrative, following the prologue, her revision identifies fear as an instrument of political control that destroys the promise of the incarnation. Before the first encounter between the saint and the tyrant, her Catherine elaborates on the Catherine legend’s pre-history to account for the absence of peace in Alexandria.77 Clemence contrasts Constantine who ‘A saint iglise pais dunad’ (‘granted peace to the holy church’, 59) with Maxentius, the tyrant whom Constantine formerly defeated. Maxentius has returned and does not care whether he is obeyed ‘pur amur’ (‘for love’) or ‘pur pour’ (‘for fear’, 89). Either works to the tyrant’s advantage, although fear (instilled by threats) is more effective, as Clemence’s revision of Maxentius’s summons suggests: ‘Li fort empereur Maxence Mande comunement saluz. 74

75 76 77

In expressing sympathy for Henry, Guernes argues: ‘Se Normanz nel cremeient, Engleis e Angevin / E Bretun e Waleis, Escot e Peitevin, / Mult avreient tost fait tut le regne frarin’ (‘If the Normans were not afraid of [Henry], and the English and the Angevins, and the Bretons, and the Welsh, Scots, and Poitevins did not all fear him, they would reduce the whole kingdom to want and misery in a moment’), La Vie de Saint Thomas Becket, ed. Walberg, 6091–3, Garnier’s Becket, trans. Shirley, p. 162. Sommerfeldt, Love and Order, pp. 126–8. Compare De custodia interioris hominis, repr. in Memorials of St. Anselm, ed. R. W. Southern and F. S. Schmitt, Auctores Britannici Medii Aevi 1 (Oxford, 1969), p. 358. See D. Auslander’s discussion of this topic and the political context of Henry II’s court, in this volume.


Cicero, Aelred and Guernes Si come est dutez e cremuz. Que tuit viengent a curt oir Sa volenté e parfurnir. Se nul de vus le cuntredit Ja pois n’avrad de mort res Ceste parole est entendue E sa manace mult cremue. Que pur amur, que pur pour Tuit s’asemblent al nommé jur.  (80–90) (‘“The great Emperor Maxentius sends greetings to one and all. Whether he is loved or feared, let everyone come to court to hear his will and carry it out. If anyone speaks out against him, he will have no escape from death.” These words were heard and the threat was greatly feared. Whether from love or fear, everyone assembled on the appointed day.’)78

Clemence also acknowledges that everyone can be motivated to comply if they are afraid, at least for a while.79 Even Catherine, who is saddened by tumult, is initially, and briefly, fearful (169–73, 179–84). In Clemence’s Catherine, the tumult caused by fear is difficult to distinguish from that caused by worldly love. Both fear and worldly love are concerned with the self. This self-centredness makes it easy for many people to esteem the rich and powerful since it is through their favour (or lack thereof) that one’s fortunes rise or fall. Clemence highlights this connection in one of her Catherine’s more substantial segments of narratorial observation, which occurs immediately following Catherine’s victory over the pagan clerics. As noted above, the crowd is not completely won over by the debate alone. In fact, the audience is more confused and chaotic than ever following the debate, so much so that the onlookers break into distinct factions: Ele s’est teue a itant. Merveillent sei petit e grant De ço qu’ele ad issi parlé, Sun dit issi par dreit pruvé. Ki dune oist gent estriver, L’un desdire, l’altre granter! Se li uns dit qu’ele ad dreit, Li altres dit einz les deceit.  (1011–18) (‘With this, she was silent. Everyone great and small marvelled at the way she had spoken and proved her claims rightfully. You should have heard all 78 79

Virgin Lives, p. 4. See Wogan-Browne’s discussion of the ‘psychopathology of secular power’ and ‘pagan parodies of divine versions of love and power’, J. Wogan-Browne ‘“Clerc u lai, muïne”: Women and Anglo-Norman Hagiography in the Twelfth and Thirteen Centuries’, in Women and Literature in Britain, ed. C. M. Meale (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 61–85 (p. 67), and in Saints’ Lives, p. 238.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture the people arguing, some denying what she said, [an]other agreeing. If one said that she was right, another said rather that she was deceiving them.’)80

Since they all recognize that Catherine has proven her claims, the contest is no longer about doctrinal truths per se. It is now about whom these onlookers love and why. Those who choose the ‘self’ (i.e. the ‘love that fails in time of need’) do so because they seek personal advantage; they ‘love’ the rich without any regard for virtue (1042–54). Intriguingly, this worldly love lends itself to a hyper-awareness of hierarchy. It underscores the difference between those who need favours and those who have the power to grant them. Clemence’s Catherine is clear about where the fault lies. Whereas the crowd’s fear is treated sympathetically before the saint’s intervention on their behalf, the crowd’s argumentativeness following the debate is treated critically. The use of ‘lien’ (a synonym for family lineage or bond) evokes the Augustinian image of the two cities. Each person’s choice reveals his or her inclination towards good or ill: Se l’un dit mal e l’altre bien, Car nes tient pas tuz un lien, Ne tuit n’eissirent d’un’ estrace.  (1021–3, emphasis mine) (‘If one speaks evil, another speaks good, for they are not all held by the same tether and they do not all spring from the same source.’)81

By invoking the subjects’ moral agency rather than the tyrant’s cruelty at this point, the scene is a savvy commentary on complicity. At the level of the story, the crowd, comprised of the great and the small, is given the ethical task of choosing whom to love. At the level of audience (which is directly addressed by the narrator), readers are also given an ethical task by being reminded that loyalties in curial culture are mutually constructed, at least in so far as the quality of love and the capacity for equity are concerned. Most of her Catherine ’s scrutiny of ethical behaviour in relation to the body politic, however, is focused on those in power. Both Aelred’s and Cicero’s treatises provide insight into Clemence’s extensive attention to the tyrant and his disputes with those who are closest to him, although Clemence’s characterization of the tyrant Maxentius may have also been influenced by Ciceronian descriptions of the tyrant. Cicero’s treatise on friendship addresses the tyrant and the politics of fear more fully than Aelred’s does, arguing that fear distorts not only the tyrant’s relationships to his subjects, but also his subjects’ relationship to him because they must put on the pretence of friendship: Quis enim aut eum diligat, quem metuat, aut eum, a quo se metui putet? Coluntur tamen simulatione dumtaxat ad tempus. Quod si forte, ut fit plerumque, ceciderint, tum intellegitur quam fuerint inopes amicorum.  (53)

80 81

Virgin Lives, pp. 18–19. Ibid., p. 18, emphasis mine.


Cicero, Aelred and Guernes (‘For can anyone love either the man whom he fears, or the man by whom he believes himself to be feared? Yet [tyrants] are courted under the pretence of affection, but only for a season. For when by chance they have fallen from power, as they generally do, then it is known how poor they were in friends.’)

In Cicero, tyrants reject friendship for the sake of wealth and power. His description of this kind of man is worth quoting in full because it illuminates the psychology of Clemence’s Maxentius: Nam quis est, pro deorum fidem atque hominum! qui velit, ut neque diligat quemquam nec ipse ab ullo diligatur, circumfluere omnibus copiis atque in omnium rerum abundantia vivere? Haec enim est tyrannorum vita, nimirum in qua nulla fides, nulla caritas, nulla stabilis benevolentiae potest esse fiducia, omnia semper suspecta atque sollicita, nullus locus amicitiae.  (52) (‘For what person is there, in the name of gods and men! who would wish to be surrounded by unlimited wealth and to abound in every material blessing, on condition that he love no one and that no one love him? Such indeed is the life of tyrants – a life, I mean, in which there can be no faith, no affection, no trust in the continuance of goodwill; where every act arouses suspicion and anxiety and where friendship has no place.’)

Clemence’s tyrant not only displays this relational poverty and the accompanying paranoia described by Cicero, but also a degree of self-awareness not suggested in Cicero. Maxentius recognizes that his influence is diminishing. Having lost the queen to Christianity (2186), followed by Porphiry (2357–82), the tyrant exclaims, ‘“Jo sui serf e nient emperere”’ (‘I am a slave rather than emperor’, 2390) because the Christians have taken ‘everything’ away by taking his closest friends (2390–1). Although Maxentius wrongly blames the Christians for his inability to maintain vital friendships, he is right about not being able to hold onto power without friends. Aelred’s characterization of his closest friendships provides an instructive contrast to Maxentius’s manipulation of the queen and Porphiry in Clemence’s Catherine. Aelred begins the prologue of De spirituali amicitia by remembering how much he cherished his earliest childhood friendships: ‘me gratia plurimum delectaret [. . .] ita ut nihil mihi dulcius, nihil iucundius, nihil utilius quam amari et amare videretur’ (‘it gave me the greatest pleasure . . . Nothing seemed sweeter to me, more delightful, more valuable than to be loved and to love’, Prologue 1).82 His lifelong study of friendship only increases his conviction that life simply cannot be happy unless one has friends.83 This is one of the foundational premises of Clemence’s Catherine, especially with regard to the nobility. Catherine praises the reciprocity of loving and being loved, and, in doing so, synthesizes much of Aelred’s later advice on the obligations of 82

Spiritual Friendship, trans. L. C. Braceland, with one change: ‘delightful’ instead of ‘pleasant’ for iucundius. 83 De spirituali amicitia 3.76–7.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture friendship in her use of term ‘covenant’. The term ‘covenant’ conveys both the mutuality of desire and the stability of the bond that divine love engenders: Car Jhesu Crist le mien espus Est de m’amur si cuveitus, Que ja avum fait cuvenant Que amie sui e il amant [. . .] Jel resai bien qu’il aime mei E jo raim lui par itel fai, Que jo ne m’en partirai mie Pur rien nule que l’um me die  (1357–60, 1367–70) (‘For Jesus Christ, my bridegroom so desires my love that the two of us have already made a covenant that I am his beloved and he is my lover [. . .] I am fully aware that he loves me in return and I for my part love him with such faith that I shall never abandon him for anything which anyone may say to me.’)84

Catherine’s declaration of love and loyalty parallels Aelred’s emphasis on loyalty as the foundation of a stable friendship.85 This espousal provides the Aelredian counter-example to the tyrant’s narcissism. One of the great ironies in Clemence’s revision is that although Maxentius does not love he wants to be loved and, in fact, demands to be loved in a spiritual as well as worldly way. In an elaborate lament, the tyrant condemns his wife while declaring his need for her comfort: ‘“Reine, u averai ge confort / Aprés ta doleruse mort”’ (‘O queen, where will I go for comfort after your painful death?’, 2171–2). Because Maxentius cannot use his power to regain the queen’s love, he will use it to kill her and maintain his ability to rule through fear: Jo en serrai mult avilé E des miens [le] meins reduté, Que ma femme issi me hunist E pur tel folur me guerpist  (2219–22) (‘I shall be much despised and the least feared of all my people when my wife shames me in this way and abandons me on account of such folly.’)86 84

Catherine calls Christ her love, her king and her spouse in the Vulgate text; there is no mention of mutual love or a covenant (1102–3, pp. 200–1). (The Latin source, the Passio St Katerine, is the basis for many revisions of this legend. It is often referred to as the ‘Vulgate’ text, and is a mid- to late eleventh century composition with several manuscripts of English provenance, probably through Rouen. There is a ‘short’ and a ‘long’ version; Clemence’s revision follows the narrative of the ‘long’ version.) Citations from Seinte Katerine: Re-edited from MS Bodley 34 and Other Manuscripts, ed. S. R. T. O. D’Ardenne and E. J. Dobson, Early English Text Society Supplementary Series 7 (London, 1981). See also the introduction in The Life of St. Catherine by Clemence of Barking, ed. MacBain. 85 De spirituali amicitia 3.88. 86 Virgin Lives, p. 36.


Cicero, Aelred and Guernes Through this speech of self-justification, Clemence also exposes the tautology of self-regard. The tyrant’s desire has no object outside of itself: Poi me valdra [puis] mun poeir, Quant perdu avrai mun voleir; [Kar desque mun voleir me faut, De ceo ke ne voil, mei ke chaut?] Quel joie purrai jo aveir De puissance cuntre voleir?  (2203–8) (‘My power is of little use to me when I have lost what I want. For I cannot have what I want, what do I care for what I do not want? What joy can I have from power which contradicts desire?’)87

Maxentius is truly alone well before he is abandoned by anyone. Since he rejects the divine love that motivates the incarnation, the tyrant cannot imagine the ‘other.’ He does not understand the abundance of ‘the good’ that makes spiritual friendship so robust and stabilizing. It is through the particular friendship between Maxentius and Porphiry, however, that Clemence’s Catherine most fully interrogates the political consequences of worldly friendship masquerading as spiritual friendship. When Maxentius mourns his queen’s betrayal of him, he argues in general, courtly language that he had loved the queen more than she had loved him (2189–94). In contrast, Maxentius describes Porphiry’s love for him in more compelling detail. They seem to share a spiritual friendship: Porfirie, que jo tant amoe E sur tuz humes m’afioue, Il esteit cure de ma vie, Mun confort et tute ma aie. Ja ne fusse si curecuis, Ki’l ne [me] feist tut joius. Maistre fu a mes granz laburs, A tuz afaires mun succurs.  (2397–404) (‘Porphiry, whom I loved so much and in whom I trusted above all men, was the guardian of my life, my comfort and my helper. I have never been so angry that he could not fill me with joy. He took care of all my great undertakings and supported all my concerns.’)88

This description of Maxentius’s love for Porphiry is yet another passage on the bond of friendship that is unique to Clemence’s revision. Her elaboration echoes Aelred’s praise for one of his dearest friends: Ipse spiritus mei reclinatorium, dolorum meorum dulce solatium; cuius 87 88

Ibid., p. 26. Ibid., p. 39.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture amoris sinus excipiebat laboribus fatigatum, cuius consilium recreabat tristitia uel moerore demersum. Ipse commotum pacificabat; ipse leniebat iratum. Quidquid minus laetum emergebat, referebam ad eum; ut quod solus non poteram, iunctis humeris facilius sustinerem  (3.126–7) (‘He was the refuge of my spirit, the sweet solace of my griefs, whose heart of love received me when fatigued from labors, whose counsel refreshed me when plunged in sadness and grief. He himself calmed me when distressed, he soothed me when angry. Whenever anything unpleasant occurred, I referred it to him, so that shoulder to shoulder, I was able to bear more easily what I could not bear alone.’)89

Maxentius’s friendship, however, puts Porphiry in a bind. Since Porphiry is also a ‘very great friend’ (2318) to the queen, he must defy Maxentius’s orders so that she can be properly buried. The confrontation that ends the friendship between a pagan prince and his closest advisor is one of the most complex and confounding encounters in Clemence’s Catherine. If they indeed share a spiritual friendship, Maxentius would take Porphiry’s correction to heart and see the error of his ways. Both Cicero and Aelred argue that a sense of equity is essential because friends of different ranks must be able to speak freely to one another in order to correct and advise one another.90 This openness is essential to the intimate, pastoral persona that Aelred adopts in his treatise. Clemence, however, puts the robustness of this equity to the test in Maxentius and Porphiry. The problem that Porphiry must address is not only the tyrant’s refusal to bury the queen, but also Maxentius’s subsequent abuse of his barons for doing so. Porphiry’s defence of his men is not unique to Clemence’s Catherine,91 but one of Clemence’s innovations is to make this confrontation a litmus test. Is there hope for Maxentius? Can Porphiry balance his various baronial obligations in the face of such pressure? Maxentius’s Aelredian description of Porphiry’s friendship toys with Aelred’s position that it is possible to be patient with imperfect, even worldly, men while helping them to advance in their own progression towards God. The tyrant’s worldliness is on full display when he attacks Porphiry by subverting Porphiry’s baronial authority over his men. Maxentius slyly employs the gestures of friendship in order to win them over ‘Par false pieté d’amur’ (‘by false mercy of friendship’) so that they will betray Porphiry (2431–2). Porphiry’s initial response had been to point out Maxentius’s failure to live up to the terms of princely office and deal justly with his subject, e.g. for refusing to accept the honourable motives behind the men’s actions: ‘Jeo te vei ci les tens reprendre / De ceo dunt tu 89

This exemplifies Aelred’s earlier characterization of friends as the ‘medicine of life’; they stand ‘iunctis humeris’ (‘shoulder-to-shoulder’) in private and public (in ‘secreto et publico’), and are a gift prized by men of every station in life (De spirituali amicitia 2.12–14). 90 For example, see De spirituali amicitia 3.104–7. 91 Compare Catherine, 1065–7, p. 198; 1070, p. 199.


Cicero, Aelred and Guernes deuses defendre’ (‘I can see you blaming your men here for something for which you should be championing them’, 2365–6). As the attack continues, however, and it becomes apparent that Maxentius is intentionally manipulating their friendship as a means to an end, Porphiry changes tactics. He defends his baronial prerogative: ‘Jo enterai pur els en plait. / Jo sui lur prince e lur segnur’ (‘I shall undertake their defence. I am their prince and their lord’, 2446–7). Maxentius reacts by taunting Porphiry as ‘ami Porfirie’ (2451), openly mocking both Porphiry’s correction of him and the notion that they could be friends on the Aelredian terms of shared comfort and correction. Aelred generally advises that one ought to break off friendships slowly and compassionately. It is best to save face whenever possible even when dealing with men who indulge their passions, are treacherous, and hurl insults and unwarranted reproaches.92 He makes one exception. Friendships must be broken off immediately with men whose potential to do harm extends to a larger civic sphere: Porro si patri, si patriae, si ciuibus, si subditis, si amicis inuentus fuerit perniciosus, statim familiaritatis rumpendem est uinculum, nec unius amor perditioni multitudinis praeferatur.  (3.58) (‘If he is found to be a peril to his father, to his country, to his fellow-citizens, to his dependants, to his friends, the bond of familiarity ought to be broken immediately; love for one man should not take precedence over the ruin of many.’)

In Clemence’s Catherine, Porphiry’s particular friendship with Maxentius is decisively broken in a manner consistent with Aelred’s counsel. Moreover, this break has not been made in any way that could be construed as improper (or treasonous) on Porphiry’s part, at least in Aelred’s terms.93 Clemence’s revision nonetheless highlights the difficulty of such decisions. The conflict between Porphiry and Maxentius indicates support for a baronial perspective and contrasts sharply with the position articulated in Guernes’s Thomas. In Clemence’s Catherine, Maxentius wrongly encroaches on Porphiry’s rights and obligations. Yet this text does not suggest any specific designation (who is the tyrant? who is the proper baron?). It takes no obvious stand on other potentially controversial contemporary problems, such as the extent of an archbishop’s obligation to the English king, or the permissibility of tyrannicide (an issue raised by the Policraticus).94 Clemence’s elaboration on the failed friendship between Maxentius and Porphiry instead represents the exception: namely, the relatively rare case that meets Aelred’s criteria for abandoning friends who do civic harm. (Such charges could be, and were, levelled in either 92 93

De spirituali amicitia 3.57. In contrast, Richard’s Ut super positions Porphiry as a replacement for Maxentius (cf. IV.181–5 and V.18–19). 94 See C. J. Nederman, ‘Priests, Kings, and Tyrants: Spiritual and Temporal Power in John of Salisbury’s Policraticus’, Speculum 66 (1991), 572–90.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture direction in the Becket dispute.) But, in Clemence’s Catherine, the stringency of the Aelredian standard would suggest that truly justifiable charges of tyranny primarily exist in Christianity’s legendary past and ought not to be raised too easily. Clemence’s commentary instead suggests a middle path: a responsive barony whose friendship with the king requires that they hold him accountable for the commitments he undertakes in the ordo95 but not overstep that responsibility. Porphiry’s martyrdom highlights the dilemma facing barons (like Barking’s abbesses) who must cultivate the favour of Church and Crown without alienating either, not an easy task during the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. These were times when spiritual friendship might falter and yet be all the more necessary. Conclusion Clemence’s Catherine thus exploits the heuristics of coordinated power in the discourses of political theology and spiritual friendship. The incarnational theology central to Catherine’s doctrinal arguments extends and complicates Aelred’s positing of Christ ‘as the third’ who unites all those who pursue spiritual friendship. This complexity of baronial love and spiritual friendship in Clemence’s Catherine makes it difficult to read her work as either pro- or antiHenrician (or pro- or anti-Becket for that matter), although, as I have argued, it is informed by the partisanship produced by this conflict. Nonetheless, her Catherine does seem to be strongly supportive of a baronial perspective in its positions on the prince’s obligations. In this way, it may register concerns about the need for an abbess who would look after Barking’s interests, a problem that is relevant from 1086 through to 1175 and again after Maud’s tenure (d. 1198).96 The interactions between the tyrant, the queen and Porphiry in Clemence’s Catherine coincide with the growing expectations of the barony in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, an era of increasing pressure on the Crown that included the negotiations (and renegotiations) of the Magna Carta among its watershed moments.97 95

In the ordo of the coronation, the king’s vow to protect the Church, to deal justly with his subjects, and to punish lawlessness. Henry II is said to have added a fourth vow: to protect the rights of the Crown. See W. L. Warren, Henry II (Berkeley CA, 1973), p. 244. For another view, see E. King, ‘The Ascension of Henry II’, in Henry II: New Interpretations, ed. C. Harper-Bill and N. Vincent (Woodbridge, 2007), pp.  24–46 (p. 45); cf. Roger of Howden, ‘On the Duty of the King’, Chronica Magistri Rogeri de Houedene, ed. W. Stubbs, 4 vols., Rerum Britannicarum medii aevii scriptores 51 (London, 1868–71), II, p. 226. 96 See introduction to this volume. Christiana de Valoniis (1202, 1205) succeeded Maud. The next disputed abbacy was Sybil’s (1215); she was quickly replaced by Mabel of Boseham. 97 In which Langton also participated. The dates for this go beyond those relevant to the composition of Clemence’s Catherine but the East Anglian context is significant, as is the status of the abbess of Barking as a baron. On the distribution of a French


Cicero, Aelred and Guernes In any case, Clemence’s treatment of spiritual friendship is astutely presented. It can speak to, or for, different factions among those in Barking’s network because Clemence’s Catherine affirms for all her readers that God’s friendship is available to them all.98 She exploits the pedagogical conventions of hagiographical romance and those of spiritual direction, which are combined in Catherine’s persona and augmented through Clemence’s extra-narrative exegesis in the prologue, epilogue and clerical asides. Whether Clemence’s Catherine serves the narrow interests of arguing for a new abbess or addresses the larger problems created for everyone by ongoing Church–Crown tensions, her work suggests that the nuns of Barking knew how to use the lingua franca of spiritual friendship to speak to a fractious court.

vernacular version, see J. C. Holt, ‘A Vernacular French Text of the Magna Carta 1215’, English Historical Review 89 (1974), 346–64 (p. 348). For an overview of this context, see M. Strickland, ‘Enforcers of Magna Carta (act. 1215–1216)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edn (Oxford, 2005), http://www.oxforddnb. com/view/theme/93691. A general discussion of the larger political trends can be found in G. Althoff, Family, Friends, and Followers: Political and Social Bonds in Medieval Europe, trans. C. Carroll (Cambridge, 2004), pp. 102–59, and C. Valente, The Theory and Practice of Revolt in Medieval England (Aldershot, 2003), pp. 13–25; cf. Policraticus 3.15. 98 See A. J. Duggan, ‘Diplomacy, Status, and Conscience: Henry II’s Penance for Becket’s Murder’, in Forschungen zur Reichs-, Papst- und Landesgeschichte. Peter Herde zum 65. Geburtstag von Freunden, Schülern und Kollegen dargebracht, ed. K. Borchardt and E. Bünz, 2 vols. (Stuttgart, 1998), I, pp. 265–90 (pp. 265–70), reprinted in A. J. Duggan, Thomas Becket: Friends, Networks, Texts and Cult (Farnham, 2007).


chapter ten

The Authority of Diversity: Communal Patronage in Le Gracial Emma Bérat

The multilingualism and multiculturalism of twelfth-century England opened new possibilities for noblewomen’s roles in the production and reception of literature.1 Women, with their long history of cultural and linguistic mobility through marriage, stepped to the fore as authors and patrons. They experimented with the written vernacular and narrative structures that reflected the diversity of contemporary society. To take just two examples, Clemence of Barking authored the Life of Saint Catherine, an adaptation of a hagiographical Latin text, and Constance FitzGilbert patronized the Estoire des Engleis, a vernacular historiography that juxtaposes Saxon, Welsh, Danish and Norman histories. This chapter, however, considers medieval women’s literary influence beyond the roles of a single female author or patron, exploring how a female community and discourse could impact on a text. When studying texts that are patronized or influenced by women, it can be especially useful to consider the role and identity of the male cleric in order to understand his approach towards his female patron(s) as well as the access the women had to the text in production. The Anglo-Norman Marian miracle collection Le Gracial, written in the second half of the twelfth century by Adgar/William, has great significance for multicultural European and women’s literature.2 In this seemingly messy miscellany of octosyllabic verse, continental saints’ lives abut accounts of AngloDanish relations, and tales of wayward nuns and clerics are interspersed with instructive verses on prayer recitation.3 In his foundational article on the origins of English Marian miracles, Southern remarks that the collections are ‘among England’s chief contributions to popular literature of the Middle 1

2 3

My sincere thanks to Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, Henry Bainton and Thomas O’Donnell for their feedback on drafts of this chapter. I am also grateful to the participants of Columbia University’s Medieval Guild for their contributions during a workshop for this paper. Adgar, Le Gracial, ed. P. Kunstmann, Publications médiévales de l’Université d’Ottawa 8 (Ottawa, 1982), p. 14. The verse is mainly, though not invariably, octosyllabic, as Kunstmann discusses, ibid., p. 53.


The Authority of Diversity Ages’, but admits that they present a ‘picture of . . . bewildering confusion of detail’.4 With the rapid growth of the cult of Mary in twelfth-century England, the miracle genre flourished: the younger Anselm, Dominic of Evesham and William of Malmesbury all produced Latin collections before 1150.5 Amongst this profusion Le Gracial stands out as not only the first French translation of Marian miracles, but also the first extant vernacular translation of a genre that by the fifteenth century had been translated into English, Norse, German, Provençal, Italian, Spanish and Arabic, among other languages.6 In this chapter I make use of Le Gracial’s own thematic interest in diversité, a term Adgar/William uses repeatedly, to draw attention to the text’s feminized structural elements and to highlight the authoritative potential for women in a vernacular text deliberately designed for varied readings and performances. Jocelyn Wogan-Browne suggests that ‘we should attend to a fluid, relational, untidy, provisional, under-resourced history of (often abjected and erased) activity and enterprise by women, if we are to think about the history of women and their literary culture’.7 Furthermore, Nancy Partner points out the misleading disjuncture in modern scholarship between the acknowledged sophistication of medieval texts and the implied simplicity of the people who produced and received them.8 Working from these premises, this study 4



7 8

R. W. Southern, ‘The English Origins of the “Miracles of the Virgin”’, Mediaeval and Renaissance Studies 4 (1958), 176–216 (pp. 176 and 205); for broad-minded discussions of the place of Marian miracles in medieval culture, see B. Ward, Miracles and the Medieval Mind: Theory, Record, and Event, 1000–1215 (Philadelphia, 1987); K. Ashley and P. Sheingorn, Writing Faith: Text, Sign, and History in the Miracles of Sainte Foy (Chicago, 1999), see the introduction, pp. 1–21. Southern, ‘English Origins’, pp.  182, 199, 210. This is Anselm (of St Saba), the nephew of Anselm of Canterbury. He later became a papal legate to England (1115) and then the abbot of Bury St Edmunds (1121). S. Kay, Courtly Contradictions: The Emergence of the Literary Object in the Twelfth Century (Stanford, 2001), p. 183; A. S. W. Boyarin, Miracles of the Virgin in Medieval England: Laws and Jewishness in Marian Legends (Cambridge, 2010), p. 4; Kunstmann (n. 4 in Le Gracial, p. 348) surmises that Le Gracial may not be the first translation of a miracle collection into French due to Adgar/William’s statement that he knows his source text ‘ert ainz translaté / mais pur ceo ke en present le truis / laisser ne de ne jo puis’ (XXVI.4–6; ‘was translated before, but because I find it to hand now I neither should nor can leave it be’). However, this construction regarding prior translation is frequently included in early Anglo-Norman works to highlight the translation tradition of the text’s analogues: see, for example, the Prologue to Samson de Nantuil’s Anglo-Norman Proverbes de Salemon, in which the author discusses the biblical passages’ prior translation from Hebrew to Latin (see E. Bérat, ‘The Patron and her Clerk: Multilingualism and Cultural Transition’, New Medieval Literatures 12 (2010), 21–45 (pp. 41–4). Similarly, Adgar/William’s statement may refer to the miracles’ historical translation, perhaps from Greek to Latin, rather than to a preexisting Anglo-Norman text. Saints’ Lives, p.  56. This chapter builds on Wogan-Browne’s work on women’s literary communities. N. Partner, ‘The Hidden Self: Psychoanalysis and the Textual Unconscious’, in Writing Medieval History, ed. N. Partner (London, 2003), pp. 42–64 (p. 42).


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture explores the idiosyncrasies of Le Gracial’s content and structure as a conscious articulation between contemporaneous ‘feminized francophone literary culture’ and English multiculturalism.9 Le Gracial: context and reception Le Gracial is extant in three manuscripts, all of which differ in content and miracle order. The early thirteenth century London, British Library MS Egerton 612 contains forty Gracial miracles, an Epilogue and the Anglo-Norman La Vie du pape seint Grégoire, followed by a final miracle bearing its own title, ‘de l’abesse enceinte par la dame deliveree’, which will be examined in more detail later.10 There is some speculation in modern scholarship as to whether this miracle is by Adgar/William or not.11 Egerton 612 appears to be an acephalous manuscript as it starts with a fragment of what is miracle XI in London, British Library MS Additional 38664; this indicates that Egerton 612 may once have included the Prologue and other miracles of Additional 38664.12 The mid-thirteenth-century Additional 38664 contains an Anglo-Norman life of St Margaret, followed by Le Gracial’s Prologue, which contains a dedication to ‘dame Mahaut’, and twenty-two Gracial miracles.13 M. Dominica Legge surmises that Egerton 612 was written for ‘Gregory’, while Additional 38664 was an abridgement of Gregory’s text re-dedicated to ‘dame Mahaut’.14 Both Pierre Kunstmann, editor of Le Gracial’s most recent edition, and Sarah Kay have pointed out the flaws in this argument, noting that Additional 38664 contains material not found in Egerton 612 and that the third Gracial manuscript, the fragmentary Dulwich College, MS 22, contains material from both manuscripts mentioned above.15 Kunstmann believes there was a single Gracial text, now lost, which combined the material of the two main manuscripts, though this is also difficult to prove.16 Le Gracial as referred to in this paper is Kunstmann’s conflation of Egerton 612 and Additional 38664, a configuration he justifies through comparison with Latin analogues; however, most assertions made in this study are not dependent on this still tenuous conflation.17 Le Gracial’s Latin source text, which is now lost, probably resembled William

9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

J. Wogan-Browne, ‘Cest livre liseez . . . chescun jour’: Women and Reading c. 1230– c. 1430’, in Language and Culture, pp. 239–53. R. J. Dean, Anglo-Norman Literature: A Guide to Texts and Manuscripts, ANTS OPS 3 (London, 1999), p. 286. Kay, Courtly Contradictions, p. 206. Ibid. Adgar, Le Gracial, p. 51. Ibid., p. 14. Adgar, Le Gracial, p. 14 and Courtly Contradictions, p. 206. Adgar, Le Gracial, p. 15. Ibid., pp. 14–19, 53–4 for Kunstmann’s method of compilation.


The Authority of Diversity of Malmesbury’s De laudibus et miraculis sanctae Mariae.18 Adgar/William states that he found his source in the repository at St Paul’s Cathedral and attributes it to Alberic, a contemporary of Adgar/William’s, who was a learned canon at St Paul’s and who has been identified as the author of the widely disseminated Mythographus tertius Vaticanus.19 Le Gracial was intended primarily for a female religious community of readers and listeners. Carol Meale has established the close association between later-medieval vernacular Marian miracle collections and nuns who often owned these collections.20 Similarly, Le Gracial, the earliest extant vernacular collection, addresses itself in the Prologue to a woman in a religious community: Escutez, bone gent senee Ki en Deu estes asemblee E vus, dame Mahaut, premers!’  (Prologue 63–5) (‘Listen, good wise people, who are assembled in God and you, lady Matilda, first of all!’)21

‘Dame Mahaut’ is given prominence in an audience ‘assembled in God’ which, given the use of the female adjectival form ‘senee’, may have been defined by women. This female community could well have been Barking, considering the abbey’s status as a leading literary and political female convent in the London area whose patron saints included the Virgin Mary.22 Kunstmann and Legge suggest that ‘dame Mahaut’ is Matilda, illegitimate daughter of Henry II, who became the abbess of Barking c. 1175, though Ian Short finds a lack of historical proof for this assertion.23 Little is known from historical records about Le Gracial’s author, Adgar/ William, though the text itself offers some hints. He was probably a London 18


20 21



Adgar, Le Gracial, pp. 14–19; William of Malmesbury, El libro ‘De laudibus et miraculis sanctae Mariae’ de Guillermo de Malmesbury: estudio y texto, ed. J. M. Canal (Rome, 1968). See the epilogue in Adgar, Le Gracial, p. 327; E. Rathbone, ‘Master Alberic of London, “Mythographus Tertius Vaticanus”’, Mediaeval and Renaissance Studies 1 (1941), 35–8. C. M. Meale, ‘The Miracles of Our Lady: Context and Interpretation’, in Studies in the Vernon Manuscript, ed. D. Pearsall (Cambridge, 1990), pp. 115–36 (pp. 131–2). Adgar, Le Gracial, p. 60. All Anglo-Norman quotations from Le Gracial text are taken from Kunstmann’s edition. All translations, unless otherwise stated, are mine, though I thank Jocelyn Wogan-Browne for her substantial help in clarifying and correcting my translations. Any errors are my own. Barking’s other patron saint is Ethelburg, see D. A. Bussell, ‘Adgar, Gracial: Prologue’, in The French of England: Vernacular Literary Theory and Practice, 1100–1500, ed. J. Wogan-Browne, T. Fenster and D. Russell (forthcoming). I am grateful to Donna Bussell for allowing me access to her manuscript. Adgar, Le Gracial, p.  12; I. Short, ‘Patrons and Polyglots: French Literature in Twelfth-Century England’, Anglo-Norman Studies 14 (1992), 229–49 (p. 236). Dean also mentions the text’s possible association with the abbess of Barking, in AngloNorman Literature, p. 308.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture chaplain whose living was paid by St Paul’s Cathedral and he may also have been at some time a chaplain at Barking Abbey.24 He indicates indirectly his connection with the cathedral in his complimentary description of St Paul’s as the site of his source text: Jo l’ai de Saint Pol, de l’almarie, De Saint Pol, de la noble iglise Ki en Lundres est bien asise ; Tele n’ad en crestienté. Li clerc i sunt mut renumé; De clergie ne sai lur pers; Si sunt chanuines seculers  (xi, 40–6)25 (‘I have it from St Paul’s, from the book chest, from St Paul’s, from the noble church which is well situated in London; there is not its like in all Christendom. The clerics there are very renowned; for learning, I don’t know their equal; and they are secular canons.’)

Adgar/William is acquainted with the cathedral’s repository and is familiar (or wishes to imply as much) with the canons. Just before the quoted passage Adgar/William names himself and explains his bi-cultural background (which will be examined later) so these lines about the cathedral’s clergy may be a subtle continuation of his description of his own position and an attempt to align himself more strongly with the cathedral. He assumes that his audience is also acquainted with St Paul’s clergy. He mentions ‘mestre Albri’ twice (Epilogue 2 and 19), but never describes Alberic’s position as a canon, although he does say that Alberic is guarantor for Le Gracial: evidently his audience is supposed to know who and where Alberic is. If the Barking women were an intended audience for Le Gracial, they would have had this familiarity with St Paul’s Cathedral. Barking and St Paul’s had a strong historical and contemporary relationship dating back to Barking’s earliest days, when Erkenwald, who later became bishop of London, helped to found the abbey with his sister, Ethelburg, who was Barking’s first abbess.26 In his vita of Ethelburg, which was written for the nuns at Barking between 1086 and 1087, Goscelin of Saint-Bertin included a substantial amount on Erkenwald.27 Furthermore, as Gordon Whatley remarks, in the early twelfth century canons at St Paul’s still had wives and concubines with whom they produced sons to ‘inherit the choir stalls’.28 If some of the daughters resulting from these relationships went to Barking, the two institutions would have had contemporary familial ties. Le Gracial itself may have been shaped by the miracle collection 24 25 26

Adgar, Le Gracial, p. 12. Ibid., p. 98. E. G. Whatley, The Saint of London: The Life and Miracles of St. Erkenwald (Binghamton NY 1989), p. vii. 27 Ibid., p. 19. 28 Ibid., p. 30.


The Authority of Diversity coming out of St Paul’s. In 1141, Arcoid, a cathedral canon, wrote in Latin of the miracles of Erkenwald, and Alberic probably wrote Le Gracial’s source text.29 However, even if these texts from St Paul’s Cathedral did influence Le Gracial, the French collection does not simply mimic this literary trend but may be responding to the needs of a different local audience. That Le Gracial’s author took the text’s female audience very seriously is immediately apparent in the use of feminine linguistic forms throughout the text. In the Prologue Adgar/ William carefully balances female and male declensions, ‘a tuz e a tutes’ (‘to all men and all women’, 69) and ‘de meint humme, de femme meinte’ (‘of many a man, of many a woman’, 38).30 He continues this pattern throughout the miracles: ‘d’omes e de femmes ensement’ (‘of men and of women equally’, xxxii.101–3), ‘tuz ses amis e ses amies’ (‘all her male friends and all her female friends’, xliii.37), ‘de sainz e de saintes’ (‘of male saints and of female saints’, xliv.28), to cite a few examples.31 Moreover, the author often uses adjectives with female endings, as in ‘Juvente bien endoctrinee / Aporte viellesce senee’ (‘[She who is] a well-educated youth harvests wisdom in old age’, xxxix.11– 12).32 The acknowledgement of a female audience in the linguistic fabric of the text indicates the respect Le Gracial’s female audience commanded both from the author and male members of the audience. Le Gracial has a strong pedagogical purpose, which, in light of its attentiveness to a female audience, makes it especially relevant to convent education. If Abbess Matilda was the text’s patron, she probably commissioned a vernacular miracle collection out of her pastoral responsibility to instruct the women in her care. The abbess of Barking, like many Barking nuns in the late twelfth century, would have been fluent in Latin and would not have needed a vernacular translation for her personal use. Adgar/William explains that he has translated from Latin to French so that ‘hommes e femmes’ (‘men and women’, xx.19) who cannot read Latin can still learn from the text, and for this reason he makes the text ‘legierement’ (implying ‘easily’, ‘simply’, and ‘light-heartedly’, xx.20).33 Adgar/William’s sentiment towards his French composition probably reflects that of his patron who hoped the text would be received with the same easy accessibility and animation with which it was written. This approach does not compromise the text’s moral and educative seriousness; in Poetria nova, written around 1199, Geoffrey of Vinsauf advises that the most effective way to transmit knowledge in writing is to ‘let it feed the mind in such a way

29 30 31 32 33

Ibid., p. 25. Adgar, Le Gracial, pp. 59–60. Ibid., pp. 223, 290, 291. Ibid., p. 265. Adgar, Le Gracial, p.  143: ‘legierment’ may be better taken as an adjective here, referring to the text itself rather than to how Adgar/William has made the text; on Adgar’s authorial role see also F.-J. Beaussart, ‘L’Auteur et son projet dans la littérature mariale narrative aux XIIe et XIIIe siècles’, in L’ ‘Effet Auteur’ au Moyen Age, ed. D. Buschinger (Amiens, 2001), pp. 1–11.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture that it is offered as a delight, not a burden to it’.34 Le Gracial’s purpose as an entertaining instruction on religious life is evident in the many references to singing and liturgical prayers commonplace to convent life which are set into the often lively miracle stories.35 Miracle xxviii contains a popular liturgical hymn written in Latin interspaced with Anglo-Norman translations, which would have allowed audience members not fluent in Latin to learn the meaning of the hymn: for example, ‘Primus ad ima ruit magna de luce superbus / . . . / Li premiers orguillus chaï / Del ciel aval cum enemi’ (‘The first proud one fell to the depths from great light / . . . / The first proud one fell / From heaven down like an enemy’, 91–4).36 In this miracle, Mary rouses her entourage of virgins to sing the bi-lingual hymn, ‘Chantum, sorurs, chantum honur, / Chantum loënge al crëatur!’ (‘Let’s sing, sisters, let’s sing of the glory, let’s sing praise to the creator!’, xxviii.85–6), but in the performance we might imagine that it was the choir nuns who burst into song.37 While Le Gracial appears to be most appropriate to a convent audience, its often courtly style suggests that it was intended to circulate in a wider audience as well. That Adgar/William includes both illiterate women and men in his intended audience may indicate that the work reached both lay and enclosed audiences in a way similar to Gautier de Coinci’s slightly later French miracle collection. Gautier’s collection was probably devised for religious audiences as a substitute for popular secular literature.38 Jennifer Shea argues that Le Gracial’s courtly rhetoric indicates its audience was the ‘lay nobility and not the clerical and monastic circles who received the earlier Latin collections’, but this assertion does not give due credit to the intimacy of important London convents with the court nor to the diversity of their inhabitants, many of whom came from aristocratic lay circles and would return to them.39 As Felicity Riddy has demonstrated with respect to the late Middle Ages, the literary cultures of nuns and pious noblewomen ‘not only overlapped but were

34 35

36 37



Geoffrey of Vinsauf, Poetria nova, revised edn, trans. M. F. Nims (Toronto, 2010), pp. 8, 77. Meale discusses the purpose of Marian miracle collections as that of instruction on the day-to-day matters of religious life, Meale, ‘Miracles of Our Lady’, p. 135. For an example of song set into a miracle, see Adgar, Le Gracial, p. 123. See Adgar, Le Gracial, 91–106, p. 203. Ibid. These performative and educative aspects may explain the drawing of what appears to be a face with a wimple in the left margin of London, British Library, MS Egerton 612, fol. 36r. This is the only marginal drawing in the manuscript and it seems to be in the same pen as the main text, which suggests that the scribe not only wanted to emphasize this passage but also intended it to be read by or taught to nuns. K. A. Duys, ‘Performing Vernacular Song in Monastic Culture: The Lectio Divina in Gautier de Coinci’s Miracles de Nostre Dame’, in Cultural Performances in Medieval France: Essays in Honor of Nancy Freeman Regalado, ed. E. Doss-Quinby, R. L. Krueger and E. J. Burns (Cambridge, 2007), pp. 123–33 (p. 123). J. Shea, ‘Adgar’s Gracial and Christian Images of Jews in Twelfth-Century Vernacular Literature’, Journal of Medieval History 33 (2007), 181–96 (p. 184); Saints’ Lives, p. 48.


The Authority of Diversity more or less indistinguishable’.40 Adgar/William’s inclusion of a broad range of listeners does not mean Le Gracial was less directed by the interests of an enclosed female community, for, as this study aims to show, diversity can be a marker of rather than a dilution of women’s literary authority. Female patronage: writing miracles for women Le Gracial presents a complex picture of patronage and authorship, which, irreducible to singular authorship and patronage, might best be described as communal. If Egerton 612 and Additional 38664 do originate from the same manuscript, Le Gracial names two patrons: Matilda and Gregory. As mentioned earlier, Matilda is of primary importance in the Prologue, which is extant only in Additional 38664. Gregory is introduced in the beginning of miracle xx and is mentioned in the Epilogue as the person who will receive the text, although it is worth noting that both references to Gregory are extant only in Egerton 612.41 Adgar/William’s courtly description of Gregory suggests this patron is a lay aristocrat: ‘Mult est curteis, preuz e vaillant, / Bels bacheler e enseignié’ (‘He is very courtly, noble and brave, a handsome young man and educated’, xx.24– 5).42 Gregory’s patronage may be further evidence that Le Gracial was intended to have a secular courtly audience in addition to a religious one. Although Matilda is named before Gregory, Adgar/William states that Gregory is ‘Cil ke comencier le me fist / E par ki jol faz en avant!’ (‘[He] who made me begin on [the text] / and through whom I will compose it from now on!’, xx.22–3).43 A precedent for such a ‘dual’ patronage relation already existed in Barking’s literary history: in the prefaces to the vitae of Ethelburg and Wulfhild Goscelin of Saint-Bertin dedicates the works to Maurice, bishop of London, but also indicates that the Barking community helped to provide the content.44 Joint lay and religious patronage is often found in hagiographic writings, as in Osbern Bokenham’s fifteenth-century Legendys of Hooly Wummen, which was composed at the request of noblewomen, and given to an Augustinian friar who gave it to a convent, with all three parties inscribed in the text.45 The prologue to miracle xxvi, which appears in Egerton 612, implies a similar situation for Le Gracial. Discussing his own translation and his Latin source text, Adgar/ 40

41 42 43 44 45

F. Riddy, ‘“Women Talking about the Things of God”: A Late Medieval Subculture’, in Women and Literature in Britain, 1150–1500, ed. C. M. Meale, 2nd edn (Cambridge, 1996), pp. 104–27 (p. 110). Adgar, Le Gracial, pp. 143, 328. Ibid., p. 143. Ibid. I am grateful to Stephanie Hollis for bringing this comparison to my attention. I. R. Johnson, ‘Osbern Bokenham, Legendys of Hooly Wummen: Prologus’, in The Idea of the Vernacular: An Anthology of Middle English Literary Theory, 1280–1520, ed. J. Wogan-Browne et al. (University Park PA, 1999), pp. 64–5.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture William states, ‘Cil nel seit ne unkes nel vit / A qui jo faz icest escrit / Ni li autre, si cum jo crei, / Ki cest livre enquierent de mei’ (‘He, for whom I make this text, does not know nor ever saw it [the source text], nor the others, as I believe, who requested this book from me’, 7–10, my italics).46 Kunstmann suggests the first person referred to (‘cil’) is Gregory, and the group (‘li autre’) is Matilda and the Barking sisters.47 It seems that the nuns requested the text, but it was produced in Gregory’s name, perhaps because he was funding the project. These contrasting depictions of the text’s two patrons may relate to their different types of patronage. The briefer dedication to Matilda need not suggest she was less important than Gregory in Le Gracial’s production, but perhaps rather that she was more intimately involved. If Adgar/William was a chaplain at Barking and Matilda its abbess, she could have had close contact with the text in production and her portrayal in it. The invocation of ‘dame Mahaut’, a noblewoman of importance in the audience and Prologue, is unusual in its brevity. Medieval authors writing for a female patron usually rhapsodize over the woman’s beauty and renown, but Adgar/William’s relationship with Matilda is devoid of amorous rhetoric.48 Yet the description of Gregory, quoted above, proves Adgar/William is capable of courtly flattery when it is required. More moderated dedications like this one to Matilda are found in some texts where a non-royal patron had close contact not only with the clerk but also with the intended audience. In L’Estoire des Engleis, Gaimar describes his patron simply as ‘dame Custance la gentil’ (‘the noble lady Constance’, 6437), even though Constance was indispensable to the text’s production both in acquiring source books and shaping the text, prompting Gaimar to conclude ‘Si sa dame ne li aidast, / Ja a nul jor ne l’achevast’ (‘If his lady had not helped him, he would never have completed it’, 6445–6).49 In Les Proverbes de Salemon, Samson de Nantuil sparingly describes Alice de Cundé, who was probably his permanent employer, as ‘noble damme enseigné e bele’ (‘a noble lady, learned and beautiful’, 202).50 Failure to eulogize one’s patron was surely not an expedient move unless the patron herself encouraged it. As I have suggested elsewhere these brief dedications may have been judiciously chosen by the patrons because of their uncertain social status when they commissioned their works: Constance 46 47 48

Adgar, Le Gracial, p. 167. Kunstmann proposes this only briefly in the endnote about these lines, ibid., p. 348. See J. Blacker, ‘“Dame Custance la gentil”: Gaimar’s Portrait of a Lady and her Books’, in The Court and Cultural Diversity, ed. E. Mullally and J. Thompson (Cambridge, 1997), pp. 109–19 (pp. 114–17); M. I. Rodriguez, ‘Le Gracial de Adgar y Los Milagros de Nuestra Senora de Gonzalo de Berceo: Estudio Comparativo’, Cuadernos de investigación filológica 23–4 (1997–8),163–83 (p. 167). 49 Text and translation from Geoffrey Gaimar, Estoire des Engleis: History of the English, ed. and trans. I. Short (Oxford, 2009), pp. 348–9. 50 Samson de Nantuil, Les Proverbes de Salemon, ed. C. C. Isoz, 2 vols., ANTS 44 (London, 1988), I, p.  6. See also J. Wogan-Browne, ‘“Our Steward, St. Jerome”: Theology and the Anglo-Norman Household’, in Household, Women, and Christianities in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, ed A. B. Mulder-Bakker and J. Wogan-Browne, Medieval Women: Texts and Contexts 14 (Turnhout, 2005), pp. 133–65.


The Authority of Diversity was a newcomer to Lincolnshire and a new wife of higher status than her husband, while Alice was probably recently widowed.51 Similarly, if Le Gracial’s Matilda was a religious leader, the brevity of her invocation may be related to her social position. Donna Bussell suggests that in Le Gracial’s Prologue Adgar/William juxtaposes himself with Guernes de Pont-Sainte-Maxence, author of La Vie de saint Thomas le martyr de Cantorbire, which was dedicated to Mary Becket, the immediate predecessor to Matilda as abbess of Barking.52 Where Guernes enthuses about the ‘palefrei e dras’ (‘palfrey and clothes’) given to him by Abbess Mary, Adgar/William states that he shuns expensive horses and garments in favour of spiritual recompense.53 Correspondingly, where Guernes praises his patron Mary and the nuns’ hospitality, Adgar/William merely entreats Matilda and her circle to listen, implying that she is dedicated to religious learning.54 Matilda’s sway over Le Gracial’s pious presentation of its clerk and patron is suggested by the contrast in Adgar/William’s attitude towards reimbursement when in the Epilogue he begs Gregory to follow Cato’s advice about adequately reimbursing poor friends.55 Adgar/ William’s persona alters depending on which patron is textually present: the rhetoric of remuneration is allowed with courtly Gregory, but only spiritual recompense can be suggested in the presence of the discreet ‘dame Mahaut’. Clear markers of female patronage are sparse in medieval texts, but examining the textual portrayals of women can be a useful means of ascertaining the extent to which women readers and patrons may have contributed to compositions. In the case of Le Gracial, it may be under the influence of Matilda and her female community that, while still outnumbered by male protagonists, women characters feature prominently in the collection. The beginning of miracle xlix, ‘De plusurs nunains cunté ai; / D’une abesse vus dirai’ (‘I’ve told of many nuns; I’ll tell you about an abbess’, 1–2), indicates that the inclusion of nun protagonists was a deliberate emphasis on Adgar/William’s part.56 Miracles involving women protagonists include a nun who loses her virginity (xli), a nun who falls in love with a knight (xlviii) and an abbess who becomes pregnant (xlix), among others.57 Stereotypical portrayals of women’s sexuality had long existed in ecclesiastical texts, and often the romance and fabliau genres of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries propagated this tradition. In romance, women’s constantly imperilled virginity defines the chivalric protagonist and tests his morality, while in fabliau

51 52 53 54 55 56


Bérat,‘Patron and her Clerk’, pp. 35–6. Bussell, ‘Adgar’; see 51–5, Adgar, Le Gracial, p. 60. Bussell, ‘Adgar’. Guernes de Pont-Sainte-Maxence, La Vie de Saint Thomas Becket, ed. E. Walberg (Paris 1936), p. 192. Epilogue 40–3; Adgar, Le Gracial, p. 328. Ibid., p. 319; As mentioned above, scholars are not certain this miracle is by Adgar/ William, but these lines indicate that it was intended to follow a collection that featured nuns as Le Gracial does. Adgar, Le Gracial, pp. 277–84, 305–17, 319–25.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture women’s libidinousness gives distorted representations of female sexuality.58 However, in cases where women are known to have been involved in a text’s composition, the author sometimes mediates stereotypical portrayals of women with contributions to or expansions on real details of women’s lives.59 For example, in the thirteenth-century Anglo-Norman La Vie seinte Audrée, written by an author self-identified as ‘Marie’, Virginia Blanton notes that ‘What is completely original in La Vie seinte Audrée is a presentation of Ӕthelthryth’s personal desires regarding virginity and the religious life, a description of Ӕthelthryth’s sexual desire for Tonberht, an account of Ӕthelthryth’s daily life while married to both husbands, and a series of narrative interruptions in which Marie comments on Ӕthelthryth’s experience’.60 A similar insertion of ‘personal desires’ and ‘experience’ not found in Latin analogues characterizes the Gracial miracles which feature female protagonists, which may suggest the involvement of women in the composition of these stories. Le Gracial’s miracle of the pregnant abbess is an especially provocative indication of female influence on a text. As mentioned earlier, scholars are not certain that Adgar/William wrote this miracle; however, the treatment of the story suggests it was composed in close contact with a female religious community. The pregnant abbess (xlix) is a highly popular miracle with a long textual tradition, in which an abbess, who is disliked by her nuns, becomes pregnant.61 She confides in a nun but is betrayed when that nun reports to the bishop. In distress the abbess prays to the Virgin and falls into a deep sleep. In her sleep she painlessly delivers a child, who is taken by the Virgin to be brought up elsewhere. When the bishop arrives he finds no physical evidence of the pregnancy and accuses the nuns of treachery. The abbess takes pity on her nuns and confesses, which causes all to rejoice in the Virgin and the bishop to adopt the child. The title of the miracle, ‘de l’abesse enceinte par la dame deliveree’ (‘of the pregnant abbess saved/delivered by Our Lady’), indicates a narrative perspective more empathetic to the pregnant woman’s experience than that in William of Malmesbury’s De laudibus, which is titled ‘de abbatissa inhonesta’ (‘of the shameful abbess’).62 Le Gracial’s version deliberately plays with a dissipation of the ‘experience’–‘authority’ binary, a feature Wogan-Browne suggests is typical of medieval women’s vernacular literature.63 While the Latin title 58 59 60

61 62 63

K. Gravdal, Ravishing Maidens: Writing Rape in Medieval French Literature and Law, New Cultural Studies Series (Philadelphia, 1991), pp. 47, 61. E. van Houts, Memory and Gender in Medieval Europe 900–1200, Explorations in Medieval Culture and Society (Basingstoke, 1999), p. 71. V. Blanton, Signs of Devotion: The Culture of St. Ӕthelthryth in Medieval England, 695–1615 (University Park, 2007), p. 183. Blanton suggests Marie was resident at Barking, ibid., p. 182 n. 24. Adgar, Le Gracial, pp. 319–25; J. A. Herbert, ‘A New Manuscript of Adgar’s MaryLegends’, Romania 32 (1903), pp. 394–421 (p. 416). Adgar, Le Gracial, p. 319; William of Malmesbury, De laudibus, p. 154. J. Wogan-Browne, ‘Women’s Formal and Informal Traditions of Biblical Knowledge


The Authority of Diversity focuses on a traditional notion of religious morality, the double entendre on the French ‘deliveree’ encompasses both ecclesiastical rhetoric and the uniquely female experience of childbirth, a duality of authority and experience literally made possible in the vernacular. Nowhere in the Anglo-Norman miracle does the author intervene to condemn the abbess harshly, and though the Virgin instructs the abbess to remain chaste from thereon she does not unleash the severe reprimand found in other Gracial miracles. Unlike in William of Malmesbury’s version, here the focus is on the abbess’s and nuns’ reactions to the pregnancy, rather than the pregnancy itself. The betrayal by the abbess’s confidant is new to this version, as is the prominence of the bishop’s observation of the nuns’ malicious behaviour towards their abbess.64 Indeed, the treacherous nun, rather than the pregnant abbess, becomes the miracle’s villain. Kay sees the miracle as another in the ecclesiastical tradition of ‘offences against virginity’.65 While this seems true of versions like William of Malmesbury’s, the abbess’s internal struggle in Le Gracial highlights a divergence from this more misogynic tradition towards a focus on the realities of unwanted pregnancy: Ne solt quel cunseil avreit, Del fes cum se delivereit. Mult crient del mund la huneisun, Plus crient nature e raisun, Ki la destreinent a guarder Ceo qu’en sei sent fructifier. De ceo fist ele sagement, Ke ki desturbe a escient Naturele engendrure Vers Deu mesprent ultra mesure. Grant pechié est del desturber; Greignur, l’engendrure tuer E a Deu tolir sa faiture  (xlix.33- 45)66 (‘She did not know what plan she would adopt for the time when she would give birth.67 She greatly fears being humiliated before the world, but she fears even more nature and reason, which compel her to keep the fruition she feels within her. In this she acted wisely, as she who knowingly disturbs natural birth errs against God beyond measure. It is a great sin to interfere;

64 65 66 67

in Anglo-Norman England’, in Saints, Scholars, and Politicians: Gender as a Tool in Medieval Studies: Festschrift in Honour of Anneke Mulder-Bakker on the Occasion of her Sixty-Fifth Birthday, ed. M. van Dijk and R. Nip (Turnhout, 2005) pp. 85–109 (p. 102). Herbert, ‘A New Manuscript’, p. 416. Kay, Courtly Contradictions, p. 186. Adgar, Le Gracial, pp. 319–20. The French verse contains two pregnancy puns that are difficult to translate. ‘Fes’ implies both ‘time’ and ‘bundle, burden’. (I would like to thank the external reviewer for pointing this out.) ‘Delivereit’ contains the meaning ‘saved’ and ‘delivered’ as discussed above.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture it is a greater sin to kill what has been conceived and to take from God his creation’).

The passage details the abbess’s dilemma over whether to keep the child, with the line ‘grant pechié est del desturber’ probably referring to contraceptives and the ‘l’engendrure tuer’ clearly signifying abortion.68 Its prominence at the beginning of the miracle indicates the story is primarily an argument against abortion rather than against losing one’s virginity, a practical discussion for a convent audience if Le Gracial’s miracles of priests’ and nuns’ sexual interactions represent real concerns.69 In not having an abortion, the abbess is credited with acting wisely, a point emphasized with a reinstatement of the title’s double entendre, ‘Quide par tant sei delivrer / Quant tens vendra d’enfanter’ (‘She thinks thereby to deliver/save herself when the time comes to give birth’, 59–60).70 The proximity of present and future tenses in these two lines situates the audience in the actual moment of the abbess’s dilemma and this temporal tension encourages listeners to relate to her emotionally even if they do not identify with her physical experience (as female virgin or male listeners, for example). Thus the miracle intertwines traditional religious morality and acute empathy for an illegitimate pregnancy, managing to do so with neither ecclesiastical authority nor female experience being preferred or compromised in the text. Yet the miracle makes a quietly transgressive move at the end when the miraculously delivered child reappears at the same time that the abbess forgives her nuns: the abbess’s improvement as a religious mother becomes aligned with her new situation as a biological mother. Comparing this ending with a contemporary Latin text by Aelred of Rievaulx illuminates the nature of the female ideology Le Gracial conveys here. In Aelred’s De sanctimoniali de Wattun a nun becomes pregnant and suffers harsh treatment from other nuns. In a dream a bishop visits her and when she awakes all signs of pregnancy are gone and the child has disappeared too.71 In Aelred’s text pregnancy is made monstrous (the nun’s womb expands to such proportions that even her cell cannot contain her) and the miracle of the story is the nun’s return to a childless, virgin state. Read in light of this story written by a contemporary abbot and religious authority, it is all the more remarkable that the Gracial miracle allows the abbess to give birth, then legitimizes her son through the bishop’s adoption, and finally connects this experience to her improved governance of her community. The benefit of sexually experienced abbesses was not an entirely new 68 69 70 71

E. Van de Walle, ‘“Marvellous Secrets”: Birth Control in European Short Fiction, 1150–1650’, Population Studies 54 (2000), pp. 321–30 (p. 326). See, for example, miracle xxxvii in which a clerk rapes a nun, Adgar, Le Gracial, pp. 249–64. Adgar, Le Gracial, p. 320. For a translation of Aelred’s text, see J. Boswell, The Kindness of Strangers: The Abandonment of Children in Western Europe from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance (Chicago, 1988), pp. 452–8.


The Authority of Diversity concept at this time: earlier in the twelfth century Abelard had recommended that abbesses be mature women who had been married rather than be virgins.72 Similarly, Le Gracial’s amalgamation of two types of motherhood – biological and spiritual – is not an encouragement to sin but rather a way to represent a female life experience that the text suggests encourages mature and nurturing government. In this way, Le Gracial portrays the ability to successfully lead, or ‘mother’, a convent as profoundly, even physiologically, female. In a subversion of traditional stories of ‘offences against virginity’ like Aelred’s Nun of Watton, the pregnant nun’s body becomes a means of political and religious advancement and authority. This understanding of religious womanhood and its type of authority suggests not only the direct involvement of women in the composition of the text but also indicates a cleric highly attuned to the realities of women’s lives. Authorship: multiculturalism and miracles The medieval clerk’s employment status and physical location were determining factors in the access the female patron(s) had to the text in production, but the clerk’s own life experience also affected his ability to relate to an audience of women. Elisabeth van Houts notes that the ability of Flemish authors in eleventh-century England to write empathetically for and about women stemmed from their multicultural experiences: our authors had themselves not only left their native families by joining monastic communities, but more significantly had even further removed themselves from their native soil by crossing the sea temporarily or permanently. With similar experience of what it is like to change country, customs and language, they knew what married women in particular went through.73

Similarly, Adgar/William’s own experience of reconciling real life situations with social expectations was not unlike the dilemmas that religious women faced, especially when the women came together in the culturally and socially diverse setting of a London convent. He emphasizes the instability of his own identity when he introduces himself in miracle xi. This introduction, which undermines the expected authoritative identity of a clerk, becomes a legitimizing connection between the composite lives of the female audience and the composite nature of the miracles. Adgar ai nun. Mes el i sai: Li plusur me apelent Willame; 72 73

P. Ranft, Women and the Religious Life in Premodern Europe (New York, 1998), p. 48. E. van Houts, ‘The Flemish Contribution to Biographical Writing in England in the Eleventh Century’, in Writing Medieval Biography, 750–1250: Essays in Honour of Professor Frank Barlow, ed. D. Bates et al. (Woodbridge, 2006), pp. 111–27 (p. 123).


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture Bien le puent faire sanz blasme, Kar par cel nun fui primeseinet E puis par Adgar baptizet. Pur ceo par raisun m’est avis Ke enz es nuns n’ai rien mespris Ne cil ki Willame me claiment. Ore me apelgent quei ke milz aiment!  (xi.26–34)74 (‘Adgar is my name. But I know another one: most people call me William; they can do so without reproach, because by this name I was marked with the cross and then baptized Adgar. Because of this, I am right to think that I did nothing wrong in taking these names nor do those who called me William. Now they may call me whatever they like best!’)

For Adgar/William, cross-culturalism unsettles any sense of a singular identity but in doing so offers him and his audience greater interpretative possibilities: now the author has two names and authority becomes multiple. Cross-cultural clerics were common in the twelfth century, from Orderic Vitalis to Geoffrey of Wales to Henry of Huntington. Like Adgar/William, William of Malmesbury emphasizes his national affiliations in Gesta regum Anglorum, claiming that, whereas Norman and English authors have respectively over-praised or slandered William I, the author’s mixed Anglo-Norman parentage ensures his impartiality.75 Similarly, Orderic Vitalis presents both his English and French names, explaining how his birth name, Orderic, was unappealing to his continental monastic brothers.76 Adgar/William’s selfintroduction is unique amongst the extant works of his contemporaries in that it discusses the separation of his Norman and English birth names and retains them both. He was ‘marked with the sign of the cross’ as William, but ‘baptized’ Adgar.77 In medieval baptism ceremonies both rituals were performed by the priest but the baptism was traditionally where naming took place, perhaps giving the name ‘Adgar’ greater legal status.78 It is possible that like Orderic Vitalis and William of Malmesbury, Adgar/William’s parents were English and Norman, but it is peculiar that after going to the effort of giving him two names they gave baptismal preference to the Anglo-Saxon ‘Adgar’ rather than the Anglo-Norman ‘William’. One reason may be that Adgar/William was, in fact, 74 75

76 77


Adgar, Le Gracial, p. 97. William of Malmesbury, Gesta regum Anglorum: The History of the English Kings, ed. and trans. R. A. B. Mynors, ed. R. M. Thomson and M. Winterbottom, 2 vols., Oxford Medieval Texts (Oxford, 1998), I, p. 424. M. Chibnall, The World of Orderic Vitalis: Norman Monks and Norman Knights (Woodbridge, 2001), p. 223. The term ‘primseigner’ is also used to describe Gregory’s naming at birth in La Vie de seinte Gregoire found in the same manuscript as Le Gracial, MS Egerton 612, see Adgar, Le Gracial, p. 343. B. D. Spinks, Early and Medieval Rituals and Theologies of Baptism: From the New Testament to the Council of Trent, Liturgy, Worship and Society (Aldershot, 2006), p. 136.


The Authority of Diversity entirely English. He appears to have been in the lower ranks of the Church, positions often occupied by English clerics at this time.79 In the late twelfth century William was the most popular name for boys in England even when they were not of immediate Norman descent or high birth, and Adgar/William may have been dubbed William to ease his way into courtly circles.80 Adgar/William’s attempt to rebalance his English and Norman identities parallels the deliberateness with which he includes a female audience in the grammar of his text; both moves indicate a desire to specify the diversity of the people surrounding the text. For other twelfth-century Barking authors Frenchness or a lack of it had a perceived impact on their texts: Guernes de Pont-Sainte-Maxence insists that ‘mis languages est bons, car en France fui nez’ (‘My language is good, because I was born in France’, 6165), while the Nun of Barking ‘apologises’ for her ‘faus franceis . . . d’Angletere’ (‘false French . . . of England’).81 However, Adgar/William makes his English identity, which is less known to his audience (‘li plusur me apelent Willame’), equal with his French one. This is a brave move when, as Robert Bartlett recounts, in the early twelfth century a boy called Tostig did just the opposite and changed his name to William to avoid derision from his peers.82 If Le Gracial had a Barking audience, Adgar/William’s Englishness would have linked him to the abbey’s long Anglo-Saxon literary tradition but it also insists on the recognition of culturally mixed textual authorities and audience. In his early thirteenth century Anglo-Norman Liber Dialogorum beati Gregorii, Angier of St Frideswide similarly acknowledges an English and Norman audience when he states that the nationalities must be catered to differently ‘car li englois e li normant / Sont de diverse qualité’ (‘Because the English and the Normans have different characteristics’, 17–18).83 But his statement implies that these cultural experiences are mutually exclusive. William of Malmesbury combines the cultures but cannot avoid hierarchizing them, as his text evinces.84 Perhaps because Adgar/William is writing for a community in which personal history holds weight even in the face of more traditional ecclesiastical and political authorities, he is able to make experiential Englishness and authoritative Normanness separate but simultaneously possible experiences. If his audience chooses one identity over the other, that is their decision, not 79 80 81 82 83 84

J. J. Cohen, Hybridity, Identity, and Monstrosity in Medieval Britain: On Difficult Middles, The New Middle Ages (New York, 2006), p. 167. Ibid., p. 165. Guernes de Pont-Sainte-Maxence, La Vie, p. 192; La Vie d’Edouard le confesseur: poème anglo-norman du XIIe siècle, ed. O. Södergärd (Uppsala, 1948), p. 109. R. Bartlett, England under the Norman and Angevin Kings, 1075–1225 (Oxford, 2000), p. 539. T. Cloran, ‘The Dialogues of Gregory the Great Translated into Anglo-Norman French by Angier’ (dissertation, University of Strasbourg, 1901), p. 24. A bias towards Frenchness is a trap we still fall into. Though Le Gracial’s author names himself ‘Adgar’ first and ‘William’ second, some recent scholarship refers to him as ‘William Adgar’.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture his: ‘Ore me apelgent quei ke milz aiment!’ (‘Now they may call me whatever they like best!’, as above). At Barking such a diplomatic balance would have been important. Cooke demonstrates that twelfth-century Shaftesbury Abbey, another prestigious Anglo-Saxon nunnery, housed Norman and English women from a range of economic backgrounds and classes, and Barking likely had a similar demographic.85 For medieval women more generally social and cultural negotiation was a fact of life. Intermarriages across medieval Europe had long required aristocratic women to leave home for unfamiliar cultural, social and linguistic landscapes to forge social and political ties for their families.86 The diplomatic bridging required of such marriages shaped the aristocratic woman’s experience: ‘a man’s place in the medieval world was defined by his membership in a single patrilinear family, and woman’s place by multiple family allegiances’.87 Monastic women were not exempt from this negotiation of multiple relationships as for many convent life added another identity to those they had experienced or would experience. As Wogan-Browne points out, ‘women enter and sometimes re-enter communities as virgins, wives and widows at different stages of their lives and for different reasons’.88 Adgar/William’s name not only signifies his identification with the multiplicity of women’s lives but it also highlights a means of negotiating diversity which underlies Le Gracial. In a study of medieval hybridity, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen notes that rather than thinking in ‘transitional, hybrid, or hyphenated phases’, medieval people of ‘mixed ancestry tended . . . to have multiple identities available to them’.89 He asks ‘what happens when, despite the medieval tendency not to think in terms of mediating, transitional, or composite identities, one in fact inhabits just such an impossible body?’90 This question was fundamental to many medieval women’s lives. How could one be a daughter and a wife to families of competing political aims? Or concurrently a virgin and a bride of Christ? How could Matilda be both an abbess and Henry II’s bastard child? The miracles present a way of thinking around these ‘impossible bodies’ and the disjunctive relationship between experience and authority that accompanies them. In Le Gracial an abbess recovers her chastity after giving birth but retains motherhood, an enraged wife makes peace with her husband’s mistress, and all are presided over by a Virgin Mother whom Kay calls ‘a clash of contraries 85 86

87 88 89 90

K. Cooke, ‘Donors and Daughters: Shaftesbury Abbey’s Benefactors, Endowments and Nuns, c. 1086–1130’, Anglo-Norman Studies 12 (1989), pp. 29–45 (pp. 34, 45). S. G. Bell, ‘Medieval Women Book Owners: Arbiters of Lay Piety and Ambassadors of Culture’, Signs 7 (1982), pp. 742–68 (p. 763); see also R. M. Stein, ‘Multilingualism’, in Oxford Twenty-First Century Approaches to Literature: Middle English, ed. P. Strohm (Oxford, 2007), pp. 23–37 (p. 23). J. C. Parsons, ‘Mothers, Daughters, Marriage, Power: Some Plantagenet Evidence, 1150–1500’, in Medieval Queenship, ed. J. C. Parsons (New York, 1993), pp. 63–78 (p. 77). Saints’ Lives, p. 48. Cohen, Hybridity, p. 79 Ibid., p. 80.


The Authority of Diversity and a challenge to reason’.91 These miracles explore what Adgar/William and the female community that gave him patronage knew: there is no way to neatly hybridize these states where all are true but none are reconcilable. Like Adgar/ William’s names, they remain simultaneous but separate experiences. ‘Mult est diverse ma matyre!’: interpreting structure The diversité that characterized Adgar/William and the female community for which he wrote permeates the structure of Le Gracial and opens up numerous interpretive possibilities for readers and listeners. The influence of female-oriented discourse on the structure of texts has received little scholarly attention for twelfth-century literature, perhaps because medieval literature was dominated by a male-oriented discourse and even today the structures authorized by this discourse remain the largely unquestioned norm. Medieval texts with more unusual or problematic shapes have often been overlooked or undervalued, on the modern assumption they are anomalous or just badly written. However, Adgar/William’s explanation of his intention for Le Gracial’s form shows that a diverse structure could be in fact deliberate and have potential authority for a female audience. Adgar/William starts miracle xx by commenting on the miscellaneous nature of his work: Mult est diverse ma matyre! De plusurs faiz m’estuet escrire Ke Nostre Dame fait sovent A tuz les soens mult ducement. Ne puis pas tenir lung sentier, Suvent me estuet veie changier; Mais par nen voil sul aler : Solunc mun chemin voil trover, Dreit chemin tendrai si jo puis Sulunc ceo k’en mun livre truis  (1–10)92 (‘My subject matter is very diverse! I have to write of the many acts that Our Lady often performs most sweetly for all her people. I cannot hold one course for long, it is often necessary for me to change the route; I prefer not to take a single direction: I want to compose according to my path, I will hold to the right path if I am able according to what I find in my source book.’)93

Adgar/William claims that his pathway through the text is necessarily tortuous and shifting. This metaphorical use of ‘chemin’ as a means of religious salvation 91 92 93

Kay, Courtly Contradictions, p. 179. Adgar, Le Gracial, p. 143. Several translations of line 7 are possible. I have chosen to translate ‘mais . . . voil’ with the meaning of ‘voleir mes’ (to prefer). I thank Sylvie Lefèvre for this translation suggestion.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture and narrative structure is complex, but it finds some echo is several slightly later texts. In the Liber Dialogorum beati Gregorii, Angier of St Frideswide writes: Qui autre en droite voie ameine, Sil fait droit son chemin demeine, E qui met fors de droite voie Son proesme, icil asez forvoie  (1–4)94 (‘Whoever leads another in the right way, he makes his own path straight, and whoever puts his neighbour out of the right way goes badly astray.’)

For Angier, the author has a moral responsibility to point out the ‘right’ path to his audience, but Angier is also interested in making the vernacular text accessible to ‘allow audiences to find their own pathways through texts’.95 Compositional pathways also figure in Geoffrey of Vinsauf’s Poetria nova, where Geoffrey states that a text should have a ‘path that the ordering of material should follow’, though the ‘principles of art’ allow multiple paths or methods.96 Le Gracial precedes Angier and Geoffrey’s texts and seems less rigid in the significance of its metaphor, though no less deliberate. Like Angier, Adgar/ William uses ‘dreit chemin’ to imply a path of salvation as well as a way to structure the text that is truthful (‘dreit’) to his subject matter and audience. However, where Angier assumes a position of leadership within the text, Adgar/William indicates that his is a personal search in which he is of equal status with the audience, as indicated by the first-person singular ‘mun chemin’ and the uncertain ‘si jo puis’. His use of ‘diverse’ to describe the material in which he must find his path suggests that this path is governed more by the notion of diversité than by a specific textual structure. Interestingly, the multiple directions of the text are linked to its communal nature; the line ‘mais par nen voil sul aler’ has several meanings in French which cannot be captured simultaneously in English. These include ‘but I prefer not to take a single direction’ and ‘but I don’t want to go alone in this’, which link single direction to aloneness. The passage implies that Le Gracial’s moral teachings, content and form are communal because they are diverse and vice versa. This interplay of community and diversity would have been especially suited to a convent whose population, as discussed earlier, was drawn from various social and cultural backgrounds. Though situated in a markedly different social awareness of gender from today, Adgar/William’s description of Le Gracial and his expectations of the audience have some similarity to Hélène Cixous’s notion of female discourse. 94 95

Cloran, ‘Dialogues’, p. 10. J. Wogan-Browne, ‘Time to Read: Pastoral Care, Vernacular Access and the Case of Angier of St Frideswide’, in Texts and Traditions of English Pastoral Care, ed. C. Gunn and C. I. Parker (York, 2009), pp. 62–77 (p. 65). 96 Vinsauf, Poetria, pp. 21, 25.


The Authority of Diversity For Cixous, the female story is one of ‘diffusion’ that has ‘no fear of elsewhere or of same or of other’.97 She identifies unity and singularity as part of a hegemonic male model: ‘woman is bisexual – man having been trained to aim for glorious phallic monosexuality’.98 Yet in Le Gracial textual ‘bisexuality’ is found most explicitly in Adgar/William, whose balanced bi-nationality causes a break down in traditional clerical authority. Hence, though Le Gracial’s multiplex structure relates both to Cixous’s vision of a female discourse and to the experience of many medieval female audiences, the metaphor for this form is found in a male body, adding another layer to the text’s ‘bisexuality’. However, while for Cixous the multiplicity of womanhood is found in an overflowing, semi-chaotic ‘cosmos’, Le Gracial’s use of diversity is more controlled and integrated into dominant discourses.99 Le Gracial remains within the accepted genre of the miracle, a literary space unthreatening to ecclesiastical discourse; its multiplicity does not require a new textual body but rather the way the text is composed allows every reader to find and follow the ‘chemin’ as she so desires. Performance and individual reading offered numerous ways for women to reform Le Gracial’s already diverse structure. The entire collection was probably not delivered in a single performance; Kay points out how the repetitive nature of the miracles, many with their own prologues and epilogues, allows each ending to set up for a new miracle, permitting miracles to be shuffled and performed back-to-back.100 Marginal notes in Egerton 612, written in Middle English by a later hand, indicate which miracles should be used for liturgical ceremonies on the Virgin’s feast days.101 Considering that abbesses had significant influence over liturgical performances and female patrons made decisions about the emphases and arrangement of educational literature, it is probable that if Le Gracial’s Matilda was abbess of Barking she contributed to the choice of which miracles were performed and how.102 At the same time, the manuscripts offered a flexible structure to those women who read the text independently. As well as an audience who would ‘mult oïr e mult aprendre’ (‘hear and learn a great deal’, Epilogue 33), Adgar/William envisions dedicated readers who should ‘livres estudier’ (‘study books’, xxxix.6).103 WoganBrowne highlights how Angier of St Frideswide does not require his Dialogues to be read sequentially, instead he tells the reader that ‘Des presenz chapitres notez, /. . ./ Quelqe tu voudras eslirras / E pues el livre lue querras’ (‘From among the chapters noted, . . . you will choose whichever you wish and then 97 98 99 100 101 102 103

Hélène Cixous and Catherine Clément, Newly Born Woman, trans. B. Wing, Theory and History of Literature 24 (Manchester, 1987), pp. 85, 88. Ibid., p. 85. Ibid., p. 87. Kay, Courtly Contradictions, p. 210. Adgar, Le Gracial, pp. 49–50. A. Yardley’s chapter in this volume; see also the introduction to this volume and Bell, ‘Medieval Women’, p. 757. Adgar, Le Gracial, pp. 328, 265.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture seek it in the book’), and he continues by saying the reader may then move to another appealing chapter.104 Though Le Gracial lacks Angier’s explicit reading directions, the miracles similarly lend themselves to being read according to subject and individual interest rather than sequence. Miracle xxxvi exemplifies the interpretive effect of performing or reading different miracles together. This miracle includes two separate stories that flow on from each other without a break in the verse. The first narrative was popular in the Middle Ages, and is included in William of Malmesbury’s miracle collection.105 A young priest falls in love with a girl whom he bewitches through the devil’s aid, causing her to fall wildly in love and marry him against her parents’ wishes. The priest regrets his decision and, following a stern reprimand from the Virgin, divorces the woman and returns to his bishop’s service. In the second story a learned clerk, unimpressed by the most beautiful women in the land, finds a flawless virgin whom he advises to join a nunnery.106 She enters a convent, later becomes a recluse and leads a saintly life.107 Adgar/William’s remark at the second story’s end suggests he undertook to add this story to the preceding well-known miracle, ‘Ne voleie pas trespasser / Iceste essample a demustrer’ (‘I didn’t want to pass over making this exemplum known’, 389– 90).108 Perhaps he or his patron had heard the two stories performed alongside each other and felt the apposition especially appropriate. That the second story is not really a Marian miracle – the Virgin never appears and nothing particularly miraculous happens – underlines that its primary purpose is to complement the foregoing miracle. Emphasizing the second virgin’s choice to join a nunnery and her resulting sanctity calls attention to the predicament of the first woman, driven crazy by love, married, then abandoned. Read separately the miracles stray little from medieval stereotypes of woman as virgin or whore, but read together it is evident that the women’s situations are directly related to the clerics’ respectively dishonourable and honourable behaviours. Just as Adgar/William’s additions to the narrative of the pregnant abbess alter the miracle’s moral focus, here the unification of two stories transforms an exemplum about women as temptresses into a warning to clerics who abuse their roles as religious advisors. The compiler of Egerton 612 makes an especially ambitious textual juxtaposition by inserting La Vie du pape seint Grégoire between forty miracles and the miracle of the pregnant abbess.109 Why was the abbess’s story split from the other miracles? Though it has been suggested that the compiler initially forgot the Gracial miracle or mistakenly thought Seint Grégoire was another Marian 104 105 106 107 108 109

Wogan-Browne,‘Time to Read’, p. 69. See William of Malmesbury, De laudibus, pp. 96–8; I am grateful to Gabriella Corona for pointing out the diversions from the Latin tradition in this miracle. Adgar, Le Gracial, p. 247. Ibid., p. 248. Ibid. Herbert, ‘New Manuscript’, p. 415. Le Gracial’s miracles and the Vie are all in the same hand.


The Authority of Diversity miracle, it may be that the compiler intended the pregnant abbess to be read with Gregory’s life in mind.110 Considering the effect of the juxtaposition of stories in miracle xxxvi, the miracle of the pregnant abbess and the life of St Gregory may have been grouped because of their comparable storylines. In the version of Gregory’s life found in Egerton 612, Gregory follows an Oedipal narrative that ends with his papal ordination.111 He is born out of an incestuous relationship between a brother and sister and is abandoned at his birth. In his journey to find his parents as an adult, he ends up marrying his mother. Upon discovering his sin Gregory retires to a hermitage for seventeen years until he is called on to become the new pope. Both Gregory and the abbess’s stories involve characters who commit sexual sins and after remorseful anguish go on to become stronger leaders of religious communities.112 In the long literary traditions of both stories, the key moralistic difference is that Gregory’s experience makes him a renowned saint and pope, his patriarchal authority overpowering sinfulness, while the abbess’s act condemns her as a fallen woman whom even the Virgin’s blessing cannot fully rescue (though, as discussed above, Le Gracial offers a more redemptive version). However, reading Le Gracial’s more sensitive portrayal of the abbess in light of the life of Gregory imbues the abbess with his status – their similar experiences now demand similar authority. Perhaps this juxtaposition was more than a hypothetical discussion of female and male ecclesiastical government, but also a justification of Abbess Matilda’s own leadership. A peculiar passage in the abbess miracle states: Maint est en pechié engendré Ki puis demeine grant seinté, Dunt en escrit plusurs trovom E en noz tens alcuns veüm.  (xlix.47–50, my italics)113 (‘Many are begotten in sin who subsequently show great holiness: we find many examples in writing and we see some in our own time.’)

If Gregory’s life is textual evidence, ‘en escrit’, of the possible sanctity of a person ‘en pechié engendré’, Matilda, the illegitimately born abbess, may be the physical evidence that we, sitting with her in the audience, ‘veüm’. Once again, Le Gracial draws together experience and authority to legitimize an‘impossible body’. Whether or not Le Gracial was intended for a Barking audience, the text appeals to and appears to be shaped by a community of female readers who 110 111

Adgar, Le Gracial, p. 15; Kay, Courtly Contradictions, p. 206. A. Guerreau-Jalabert, ‘Inceste et sainteté: la Vie de saint Grégoire en français (XIIe siècle)’, Annales. Économies. Sociétés. Civilisations, 43e année (1988), pp.  1291–319 (pp. 1292–4); full text in La Vie du pape saint Gregoire: huit versions françaises médiévales de la Légende du bon pécheur, ed. H. B. Sol (Amsterdam, 1977). 112 For the Vie’s similarities with the Gracial ‘incestuous mother’ miracles, see Kay, Courtly Contradictions, pp. 197–206. 113 Adgar, Le Gracial, p. 320.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture identify with diversité as a fact of life. By drawing attention to his own unstable mix of nationalities, Adgar/William puts the authoritative clerical persona into question, opening the miracle collection to wider possibilities for its female protagonists and moral conclusions. Le Gracial illustrates the need to take seriously even those texts that present themselves as ‘leger’ (light) for what they reveal about medieval writers and readers who did not occupy traditional spaces of authority. Vernacular miracles, ‘impossible bodies’ and idiosyncratic structures may seem whimsical but they speak of and to the needs of a community at once devoted to and at odds with the models set forth by mainstream religious literature.


III barking abbey and the later middle ages

chapter eleven

Keeping Body and Soul Together: The Charge to the Barking Cellaress Alexandra Barratt

London, British Library, MS Cotton Julius D VIII,1 is a composite manuscript containing a number of Latin and Middle English texts. Among them, on folios 40 to 47v, is one probably written after 1453, entitled ‘the charche [duties] longynge to the office off the Celeresse of the Monestarij of Barkynge’ (the Charge).2 This loosely structured document,3 largely written in note form with many specific numerical figures, details the special provisions needed, over and above those required for the standard diet, to feed the abbess and convent of Barking during the course of the year. Its internal consistency and its command of detail suggest that the writer had herself acted as cellaress and was noting down information, as a reminder to herself or as a briefing for her successors. This text should therefore be added to our meagre store of writings by later medieval English women, particularly by nuns: this chapter will merely try to use it to cast some light, however oblique, not only on the Barking nuns’ daily existence but also on their spiritual lives (or lack of them) in the later Middle Ages, about which we know so little, especially compared with the earlier period. What exactly was a cellaress? The Oxford English Dictionary defines her as ‘A woman (esp. a nun) in a convent or similar establishment charged with the safe 1



Described in A Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Cottonian Library Deposited in the British Museum (London, 1802), p. 16; briefly noted by D. G. Cyklowski, ‘A Middle English Treatise on Horticulture: Godfridus Super Palladium’, in Popular and Practical Science in Medieval England, ed. L. M. Matheson (East Lansing MI, 1994), p. 305. W. Dugdale printed an inaccurate transcription of this text in Monasticon Anglicanum: A History of the Abbies and Other Monasteries, Hospitals, Frieries and Cathedral and Collegiate Churches, with their Dependencies in England and Wales, 6 vols. in 8 (1817– 30), I, pp. 442–5. There is a modern English translation of selected portions, with notes, in Women of the English Nobility and Gentry, 1066–1500, trans. and ed. J. Ward (Manchester, 1995), pp. 213–16, and edited extracts in Women’s Writing in Middle English, ed. A. Barratt, 2nd edn (London, 2010), pp. 255–9. ‘The provision of supplies is arranged according to the type of foodstuff and according to the needs of the Church’s year’, Ward argues (Women of the English Nobility and Gentry, p. 213).


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture keeping and distribution of provisions’. She was one of the more important Benedictine obedientiaries or office-holders, and St Benedict devoted chapter 31 of the Rule to her male equivalent. The early sixteenth century translation of the Rule made by Richard Fox, bishop of Winchester, for the nuns of his diocese, says that the ‘selleresse’ is to be ‘wyse / rype in goode maners / sobre / no great eter / not proude / . . . not prodigall’. She shall take charge of all maner of thinges . . . She shall not gyue hir selfe to couetousnes / ne yeat be prodigall in expenses / or els a destroyer of the substaunce of the monastery. But she shall al thynges do in mesure . . . She shall delyure to hir Susters / their dutye [due share] of mete & drynke / without anye simulacion / checke / or grudge / and without delay . . .4

Abbot Gasquet, who had the advantage of being a Benedictine himself, filled in the Rule’s sketch: The cellarer was the monastic purveyor of all food-stuffs for the community. His chief duty, perhaps, was to look ahead and see that the stores were not running low; that the corn had come in from the granges, and flour from the mill, and that it was ready for use by the bakers; that what was needed of flesh, fish, and vegetables for immediate use was ready to hand. He had to provide all that was necessary for the kitchen . . .5

In accordance with this, the Barking cellaress was expected to be a good manager and strategic planner: for instance, she should slaughter oxen sparingly, ‘but [only] euery fourtnyght and yff sche be a good huswyff’ (fol. 45). In the allegorical prose Abbey of the Holy Ghost,6 the cellaress is Devotion, who keeps the wines. In the French original, the bread of Holy Scripture, wine of preaching, ale of exhortation, vinegar of correction, oil of comfort and butter of charity are all kept in Devotion’s cellar.7 Real-life Barking was wealthy by the standards of women’s religious houses, and the cellaress, with the prudence of the rich, begins her list of duties by recording the various lands and properties whose revenues were set aside for her use. We can no longer work out exactly how much money she had at her disposal, as quite apart from some gaps in the text the cellaress had problems with rent-collection, which were carefully noted: she shuld receyve yerly xxxiii s. iiii d. of [from] a tenement in Friday Stret in London, bot it is nat knowen wher it stond [stands]. And she shuld receyve yerly xxx s. of þe rent of þe Tybourne but it is not payde.  (fol. 41r) 4 5 6


Female Monastic Life in Early Tudor England: With an Edition of Richard Fox’s Translation of the Benedictine Rule for Women, 1517, ed. B. Collett (Aldershot, 2002), pp. 126–7. A. Gasquet, English Monastic Life, 3rd edn (London, 1905), pp. 72–3. Yorkshire Writers, ed. C. Horstmann, 2 vols. (London, 1895), I, pp. 321–37; Religious Pieces in Prose and Verse, ed. G. G. Perry, Early English Text Society Original Series 26 (London, 1914); Middle English Religious Prose, ed. N. F. Blake (London, 1972), pp. 88–102. London, British Library, MS Royal 16 E xii, fol. 150.


Keeping Body and Soul Together Even so, it is clear that her income exceeded £90 per annum, and she could supplement this by the sale of hay and of the surplus products of the abbey’s oxen, such as their hides, entrails and tallow. The great monastic historian Dom David Knowles calculated that, typically, monastic houses spent about one-third of their income on food and clothing, while Barbara Harvey has shown more recently that Westminster Abbey, a community of forty to fifty monks with a total income of over £3470 at the time of the dissolution, spent about 37 per cent of its net income on foodstuffs between 1495 and 1525.8 Barking’s total yearly net income was more than £860 at the time of the dissolution;9 the £90-plus detailed by the cellaress was of course in addition to the money needed to provide the day-to-day diet of the community, especially bread and ale, but we can be fairly confident that the total proportion of income spent on food was less at Barking than at Westminster. Barking was not only wealthy: it was comparatively large for a women’s house. The Charge assumes a community of forty-one nuns and the abbess. The statutory number of nuns at Barking was thirty-seven and at the time of the dissolution in 1539 there were thirty nuns and the abbess.10 Four of the nuns – the prioress, the upper- and under-cellaresses and the kitchener – are called ‘doubles’ in the Charge, because they received double portions of almost everything. (Other nuns were ‘doubles’ for specific purposes: as Harvey has pointed out, in the Middle Ages it was assumed ‘that the quantity of food, as well as its quality, should vary directly with social status’.11) The abbess’s establishment was separate, of course, but the prioress may also have had her own establishment: there is a reference to the ‘priorie’, which received an allowance of thirty-two eggs a week and must therefore have contained several people. Jennifer Ward thinks that this term ‘probably denotes the priests serving the abbey’,12 but it is more likely that it refers to a small group of nuns: there is one reference in the text to ‘the iij prioressez’ (fol. 47v), and the Barking Ordinale, among a list of obedientaries, includes ‘suppriorissa, tercia priorissa’ (‘subprioress, third prioress’).13 In addition to the religious there must have been a large number of secular servants:14 the Charge specifically mentions the steward, the abbess’s 8

9 10 11

12 13 14

B. Harvey, Living and Dying in England 1100–1540: The Monastic Experience (Oxford, 1993), p. 36. For the wider context, see C. Dyer, ‘English Diet in the Later Middle Ages’, in Social Relations and Ideas: Essays in Honour of R. H. Hilton, ed. T. H. Aston et al. (Cambridge, 1983), pp. 191–2. See also A. Savine, English Monasteries on the Eve of the Dissolution, Oxford Studies in Social and Legal History 1 (Oxford, 1909), 288: the exact sum was £862 12s. 5 ½ d. D. Knowles and R. N. Hadcock, Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales, 2nd edn (London, 1971), p. 256. Harvey, Living and Dying in England, pp. 35–6. See also M. Oliva, ‘The French of England in Female Convents: The French Kitchener’s Accounts of Campsey Ash Priory’, in Language and Culture, pp. 91, 98–101. Ward, Women of the English Nobility and Gentry, p. 216, n. 60. Ordinale and Customary of Barking Abbey, p. 68. See Harvey, Living and Dying in England, pp.  146–53, on the high proportion of monastic servants compared with the number of religious.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture gentlewoman, gentlemen and yeomen, grooms, the cellaress’s own clerk, and at least three cooks including a ‘podynge [sausage] wyffe’ (fol. 42v). As in almost all late-medieval Benedictine houses, many of the dietary provisions of the original Rule had gone by the board at Barking. The nuns were not as lax as the monks of Westminster, whose diet has been thoroughly investigated by Barbara Harvey.15 But they still ate not only fish, eels, chicken and goose, but also beef, mutton, bacon and pork (especially pickled), even though chapter 39 of the Rule had declared, ‘The etynge of flesshe of .iiii. foted [four-footed] bestes must alwayes be forborne of all mynchins [nuns] / except theym alwayes that be feble or seke’.16 Perhaps more important, the care given to recording the rations allotted each individual nun (‘mess’ or portion and ‘leverey’ or allowance) suggests that communal eating was no longer the rule. This may have been a longstanding abuse, for in 1279 Archbishop John Peckham had forbidden the nuns ‘to presume to spend time, eat, drink or sleep in chambers’.17 One reference in the Charge suggests the nuns were still eating, and possibly even living, in separate household establishments: ‘the next Settyrday sche [the cellaress] must loke what beof [beef] euery household wyll haue’ (fol. 45r: my emphasis).18 Possibly these ‘households’ consisted of groups of three, as butter was dispensed in dishes containing an allocation for that number: ‘Then must sche [the cellaress] purvey [provide] for fest [festival] butter of Seynt Alburgh . . . to every lady and double i cobet [piece], every dysh contenynge iii cobettys’ (fol. 44r). If we subtract the prioress and subprioress, who were living in a separate establishment, from the total of forty-one nuns, that would leave thirty-nine nuns, or thirteen households of three each. Another significant deviation from the Rule revealed by the Charge was the undermining of the nuns’ individual poverty by various regular cash payments. Chapter 33 of the Rule had stated: Principally and before all other vices / this vice of proprietie [private property] must be cut out of the monastery by the roote / that is to say / that noo mynchyn [nun] presume to giue or receyue any thynge without the comanndement of the abbasse / ne haue any thynge propre [of her own] / that is to say / by noo manner of wyse noo maner of thynge / nother boke / nother tables [writing tablets] / poyntell [writing implement] / ne no other thynge erthly / . . . And all thynges must be vnto them inco~mune / as it is written / Nother any of theym shall call / any thynge hir owne / or presume or suppose anye thynge to be hir owne.19

15 16 17 18

Ibid., pp. 39–40. Female Monastic Life in Early Tudor England, ed. Collett, p. 134. Ward, Women of the English Nobility and Gentry, p. 212. On the prevalence of these ‘distinct households’ by the fifteenth century, see R. Gilchrist, Gender and Material Culture: The Archaeology of Religious Women (London, 1994), pp. 123,127. 19 Female Monastic Life in Early Tudor England, ed. Collett, p. 128.


Keeping Body and Soul Together In contrast, the Barking nuns were receiving two half-yearly payments of 4d. as ‘Ruschew syluer’, that is, money to spend on ‘rissoles’ or sweetmeats; a payment of 2d. every Shrove Tuesday ‘for þer crispis and crumkakes’ (pastries made from batter and twisted or crumpled cakes, fol. 43r); and, five times a year, a halfpenny ‘for þer storing butter’. The most complicated financial arrangements, however, related to ‘eysylver’ (‘egg-silver’), apparently a monetary payment substituted for an allowance of eggs, although this is the Middle English Dictionary’s only example of the word. (Maybe the practice originally arose because it was difficult to buy eggs in bulk and purchase had to be devolved to the individual level.)20 Altogether these sums came to about 6 shillings a year: the weekly payments for the entire convent varied from 11s. 4d. to 13s. 4d. per week according to the season (presumably because the price of eggs varied), no payment was made during Lent (when eggs were forbidden), and the payment was reduced by half in Advent. In addition, ‘for eche vigil fallynge in the yere’ the nuns received a halfpenny. One dozen eggs cost approximately 1d., so the nuns would have been well supplied if they had actually spent their egg-money on eggs: their allowance would have bought them at least two or three a day. (Benedictines did get through plenty of eggs, on their own or in flans and custards – a survival from the time when the vegetarian diet was more strictly observed. Harvey estimates that the monks of Westminster probably consumed ‘about five per person per day under various forms outside Lent’.)21 All this suggests that each nun would have had a personal disposable income of nearly 7 shillings a year, and the prioress, the cellaresses and the kitchener considerably more (the two cellaresses also received an annual payment of twelve pence). In comparison, the Westminster monks were receiving ‘wages or pocket money’ of between £8 and £12 yearly c. 1500, perhaps twenty times as much as the Barking nuns.22 One wonders what the nuns spent their allowances on – it would be nice to think on books – and how they spent them without going outside the enclosure, but of course enclosure was by then no more strictly enforced than poverty. Barking enjoyed a carefully detailed system of ‘pittances’, extra dishes that the nuns received to mark the obits or anniversaries of the deaths of various benefactors or former abbesses. As well as reinforcing a sense of community that united past and present, living and dead, lay and religious, even male and female, these may have created an indelible but disturbing association between death and indulgence. There were five particular occasions on which pittances were distributed: the obits of William Dun (10 August), William Vicar, priest (29 September), Dame Maude Loveland, abbess 1258–75, Dame Alice Merton, abbess 1276–91 (25 January), and ‘Maud the king’s daughter’ 20

In some nunneries, the nuns had to purchase all their own meat and vegetables: see Gilchrist, Gender and Material Culture, p. 86. 21 Harvey, Living and Dying in England, p. 61. 22 Ibid., p. 153 and n. 22.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture (daughter of King Henry II), abbess 1247–52. Each obit was marked by a small cash payment of an unspecified amount, and various combinations of wheat (for baking), mutton, bacon, pork and (for William Vicar) 12 gallons of good ale, to be shared among the convent (fol. 43v). The year was also varied by different foods related to the liturgical cycle. Christmas, for instance, meant the gift of ‘a sugar loaf’ for the abbess (in the Middle Ages, cane sugar was a rare luxury). At various times of the year outside Lent the nuns could enjoy chicken, sausages, half a goose each on the feast of the Assumption, beef, bacon and rations of pickled pork (mainly cheeks, ears and trotters). But it is the keeping of Lent that we can reconstruct in the greatest detail. Shrovetide, a time of indulgence that immediately preceded the forty-day fast, was associated with ‘cripsis and crumkakes’. The cellaress also had to provide bones (for cooking with vegetables), four gallons of milk and two gallons of red wine for the nuns, and eight chickens for the abbess. (On wine, chapter 40 of the Rule had said: ‘All thoughe we rede [advise] that wyne ought in no wyse to be the drynke of mynchyns [nuns] / yet for as muche as in our dayes / that thynge ca~not be perswaded vnto theym / at the leest / let vs graunt and obserue this / that we drynke not to our full and [s]atiate / but scarcely and soberly . . .’)23 Chapter 49 of the Rule had suggested that during Lent the nun should exercise ‘more abstinence of mete [food] and drynke’.24 In practice, no butter, eggs or beef were eaten during the penitential season: instead, the community consumed in total two bushels of green peas (fol. 41v), seven cades of red or smoked herring (a cade contained 720 herring), three barrels of white herring either salted or fresh (a barrel contained 1000 herring), 112 lbs of almonds, 3 pecks 24 lbs of figs, 1 peck of raisins, 28 lbs of rice, 18 salt fish, 14 or 15 salt salmon, and 8 gallons of mustard (fol. 42r). Each Barking nun was allotted four herring a day during Lent. Barking is not far from the River Thames, and according to Harvey herring, ‘the commonest form of fatty fish’, were the cheapest, and most convenient, fish for mass catering, though unpopular with the Westminster monks.25 Each nun also enjoyed a weekly allowance of two pounds of almonds (pounded almonds were mixed with water as a milk-substitute, since dairy products were not eaten in Lent), one pound of figs and raisins, and half a pound of rice. In addition they received one portion of salt fish and one portion of salt salmon every other week (fols. 45v–46r). Every Sunday in Lent the convent received ‘pittance fish’ (fol. 42r) – an extra fish dish – and every week the nuns got through three gallons of good ale (fol. 43v). This is very little among forty-one women, if we bear in mind that it was not really safe to drink plain water and that tea, coffee and fruit juice were not options in the Middle Ages. On Palm Sunday they had ‘rissoles’ – a sweet or savoury fried dish – made from wheat and 21 23 24 25

Female Monastic Life in Early Tudor England, ed. Collett, pp. 134–5. Ibid., p. 143. Harvey, Living and Dying in England, p. 49.


Keeping Body and Soul Together lbs of figs: the cellaress made a note that the abbess was to receive eight of these (fol. 47r). On Maundy Thursday twelve large (‘stubbe’) eels and sixty middle-sized (‘schafte’) eels were baked with wheat and the nuns received 18 lbs of almonds, 8 lbs of rice and 2 gallons of red wine, while the abbess had a pottle (half a gallon) of ‘tyre’ (a sweet wine). On Easter Eve the nuns shared one gallon of red wine between them, which would give each a single modest and ladylike glassful: finally, Eastertide was celebrated with butter (fol. 43v). You are what you eat, they say, but what does all this really tell us about the nuns’ lives? The nuns did not live nearly as lavishly as their brothers in religion: both Barking’s income and the scale of its catering pale into insignificance besides those of the Westminster monks. But they must have led comfortable, well-ordered and predictable lives, never in any doubt as to where the next meal was coming from, or of what it would consist. It would hardly be surprising if such an environment did not feed great devotional fervour, even though we know that, for a women’s religious house, the bookshelves were almost as well stocked as the larder. Altogether there are fifteen surviving manuscripts that we know belonged to Barking, a creditable total for a women’s religious house.26 Sibilla de Felton (b. 1359), abbess from 1394 until 1419, was particularly proactive in this area. Indeed, any assessment of the overall condition of Barking in the later Middle Ages must take her into account, and she deserves to be much better known than she is. Sibilla entered the religious life as the widow of Sir Thomas Morley. Her sister Mary was a Franciscan nun at Aldgate in London27 and both Mary and their mother, Joan de Felton, were eventually buried at Barking.28 Sibilla personally owned one manuscript, now at Beeleigh Abbey, which contains Nicholas Love’s Mirror of the Blessed Life of Christ, an English translation of William Flete’s De remediis contra temptationem, and some short Latin texts.29 She also owned another, now Oxford, Bodleian MS 923, dated 1401, which contains a penitential treatise, The Cleansing of Man’s Soul. In 1404 she gave the monastery the Barking Ordinale, now Oxford, University College MS 169, written in Latin, French and English: this was specifically for the use of future abbesses.30 At some time she purchased the book that is now Paris, BnF, MS fr. 1038, a French version of the Vitas patrum, from the executors of Philippa Coucy, duchess of Oxford, who had died in 1411. It later became the property of Charles d’Orléans, so it was presumably Sibilla’s personal possession, rather than the abbey’s. A deliberate policy of book acquisition, even if it was personal rather than communal in the case of Sibilla, conformed to the spirit of the Rule, which 26

27 28 29 30

See A. I. Doyle, ‘Books Connected with the Vere Family and Barking Abbey’, Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society, ns 25 (1958), 222–43, and Bell, What Nuns Read, pp. 107–16. A. F. C. Bourdillon, The Order of Minoresses in England (Manchester, 1926), p. 89. Dugdale, Monasticon Anglicanum, I, p. 437. See Bell, What Nuns Read, p. 107. Ibid., p. 115; Oxford, University College, MS 169, fol. 6v.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture required regular reading by the nuns for several hours each day. Like all Bene­ dictines, from Easter until 1 October the nuns were supposed to spend two hours a day on reading: ‘from the .iiii. houre of the day / vnto almost the syxte houre / they must gyue them selfe to redynge’; from 1 October until the beginning of Lent ‘they shall gyue theym selfe vnto redynge / tyll the seconde houre of the day be full [completed]’ and during Lent ‘from the mornynge vnto the thirde houre of the daye / full they must gyue them selfe to redynge’.31 During Lent the nuns were to read one complete book from cover to cover, supervised by two of the more senior sisters: ‘euery of theym shall haue by [to] her selfe a boke oute of the library whyche boke she shall rede from the beginninge to the endinge by [in] order’.32 To supplement the stipulations in the Rule, fols. 38r–41r of the Barking Ordinale contain detailed instructions in Latin, translated into French, for the return of old books, and the issuing of new, at the beginning of Lent. It also prescribes their proper care: the nuns, especially the young ones, were not to leave them lying around open in the choir or cloister, write in them, tear pages out of them, or take them outside the monastery.33 Although the nuns were both well fed and well read, the abbey seems to have produced no saints, mystics, visionaries, original writers or even humble translators in the later Middle Ages. In fact, none of the late-medieval women writers of England whose names we know, with the possible exception of the elusive Dame Juliana Berners, were religious: the interests of most nuns presumably lay in the kitchen, the cellar, the refectory or the choir rather than in the library or scriptorium. However, we should not be too quick to dismiss late-medieval Barking. When Henry V decided to found Syon Abbey in 1415, it was to be the first English house of the new Bridgettine Order of the Most Holy Saviour. Some Bridgettine nuns were sent from the mother house in Vadstena, Sweden, to help establish the foundation, but English nuns and recluses were also recruited and it was apparently thought desirable or necessary to have an English abbess to head the new community. The choice fell on a Benedictine nun from Barking, Matilda Newton, who was named in the foundation charter as first abbess of Syon.34 Another Benedictine, William Alnwick, recluse at Westminster, was appointed as confessor general. Matilda Newton’s appointment to lead such a new enterprise was, one hopes, made on spiritual as well as practical grounds. Presumably she possessed good organizational skills and, possibly, influential friends or relations. But she must also have been spiritually adventurous: for her, Barking was not enough. Unfortunately, these initial appointments were not a success. William Alnwick gave up his position after a year and returned, worn out, to his reclusory, while in 1418 Matilda Newton was pensioned off by the king and 31 32 33 34

Female Monastic Life in Early Tudor England, ed. Collett, p. 141. Ibid., p. 142. Ordinale and Customary of Barking Abbey, pp. 67–70. The Incendium amoris of Richard Rolle of Hampole, ed. M. Deanesly, Publications of the University of Manchester, Historical Series 26 (Manchester, 1915), pp. 108–9.


Keeping Body and Soul Together went back to Barking as a recluse.35 She was replaced by Joan North,36 another Benedictine nun, but from Markyate, a priory dependent on St Albans abbey.37 By the time of Newton’s enforced retirement she still had not taken vows as a Bridgettine: letters from Henry V to the pope, requesting that she be installed as abbess, which were presented some time before 18 August 1418, refer to her as a nun of Barking of the Benedictine order.38 Deanesly concluded that ‘she was not possessed of sufficient tact to guide the heterogeneous community at Twickenham in its struggle to perfect its own organisation’.39 There could, however, be any number of reasons for her lack of success (at least in the eyes of the king). The fact remains that a nun of Barking was the first choice of those who wished to establish a new and demanding form of the religious life in England, and there must have been some basis for this.40 It is true that Barking was regarded as the leading English house for women – it was neither the richest nor the oldest, but its abbess took precedence over the heads of all other women’s monasteries – and might therefore be the obvious place to find the first abbess of Syon. It is also true that Barking was close to the nerve centre of royal government at Westminster and would therefore figure on the royal radar. But surely no one with any sense would have chosen Matilda Newton to head an innovative community with a reputation for austerity and devotion to maintain if she had not herself been a virtuous and dedicated nun by the standards of the time. And to be such a person, she must have been formed in a community that valued and fostered similar characteristics. Indeed, Matilda Newton would have received much of her spiritual formation during the abbacy of Sibilla de Felton (1394–1419), which suggests that the abbess’s policy of encouraging and facilitating reading and communal book-ownership did pay a spiritual dividend. The Charge to the Barking Cellaress may suggest a community where the living was easy, but it was also by implication a well-ordered community. The pittance system so carefully recorded was not merely an excuse for genteel self-indulgence. It must also have encouraged ‘institutional memory’ (something never valued or even noticed until it is lost) by fostering a sense of the past and by honouring obligations to long-dead benefactors. All this took 35

36 37 38

39 40

A Patent Roll entry of 17 May 1417 refers to ‘Matilda Newton, a recluse of Barkyng’ (Incendium amoris, ed. Deanesly, p. 113). She was awarded a pension of 20 marks a year for life; this was confirmed by Henry VI in 1423 (British Library, MS Harley 3775, fol. 109). Joan North died on 2 October 1433: see The Bridgettine Breviary of Syon Abbey, ed. A. J. Collins, Henry Bradshaw Society 96 (Worcester, 1969), p. iv. Harley MS 3775, fol. 109. Stockholm, Royal Archives, MS A. 26: ‘Matildam Neueyaton, monialem expresse professam monasterii de Barkyng, ordinis sancti Benedicti, Londoniensis diocesis’ (quoted in Incendium amoris, ed. Deanesly, p. 132). Incendium amoris, ed. Deanesly, p. 115. For another account of the events surrounding the foundation of Syon, written subsequent to Deanesly’s but largely dependent on her, see D. Knowles, The Religious Orders in England, 3 vols. (Cambridge, 1948–59), II, pp. 176–80.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture place in a setting where women were expected to shoulder varied responsibilities, carry them out competently and pass on their hard-earned experience to future generations. In return their earthly rewards were modest: a double portion of butter, an extra pair of pigs’ trotters, or a dish of salmon.


chapter twelve

Rhythmic Liturgy, Embodiment and Female Authority in Barking’s Easter Plays Jill Stevenson

During the fourteenth century, Barking Abbey continued to be one of the most important and renowned female religious houses in England.1 Some time during Katherine of Sutton’s tenure as abbess, from 1358 to 1376, the abbey began using plays as part of its Easter liturgy. The only extant copies of these Easter plays are found in Barking’s 1404 Ordinale and Customary, a manuscript that codifies the abbey’s customs and practices. As Anne Bagnall Yardley has demonstrated, both this manuscript and a fifteenth-century hymnal attributed to the abbey indicate that Barking’s nuns regularly crafted their liturgy to meet the community’s specific devotional needs and desires.2 It appears that the culture at Barking actively supported the kind of adaptation and revision involved in re-shaping the Easter liturgy through drama. A rubric that appears immediately before Barking’s ‘Harrowing of Hell’, Elevatio and Visitatio plays reads: Nota quod secunduum antiquam consuetudinem ecclesiasticam, resurexio dominica celebrata fuerit ante matutinas et ante aliquam campane pulsacionem in die pasche, et quam populorum concursis temporibus illis uidebatur deuocione frigessere et torpor humanus maxime accrescens. uenerabilis domina Domina Katerina de Suttone, tunc pastoralis cure gerens uicem desiderans dictum torporem penitus exstirpare et fidelium deuocionem ad tam celibem celebracionem magis excitare: unanimi consororum instituit ut statim post tercium responsorium matutinarum die pasche fieret dominice resurexionis celebracio, et hoc modo statuetur processio. (‘Note that according to ancient ecclesiastical custom, the Lord’s resurrection was celebrated before matins and before any tolling of the bell on Easter Day and [note] how the mass of people seemed to have grown cold in devotion in 1 2

E. Power, Medieval English Nunneries (New York, 1964), Appendix IV, pp. 685–92. As A. Yardley notes in her chapter in this collection, according to the Ordinale, Katherine of Sutton made other noteworthy changes to the abbey’s liturgy, such as moving the feast of St Erkenwald to the level of a principal feast. Yardley suggests that modifications like those pertaining to the Easter liturgy represent creative acts.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture those days. As this human torpor greatly increased, the venerable Lady Dame Katherine of Sutton, who was then responsible for pastoral care, sought to extirpate it completely and to stimulate among the faithful more devotion to so chaste a celebration [so] with the unanimous consent of her sisters, she decreed that the celebration of the Lord’s resurrection should take place immediately after the third response of matins on Easter Day; and the procession is to be carried out in this way.’)3

This rubric suggests what inspired Katherine to write, or to initiate and supervise the writing of, these Easter plays. But I would argue that the rubric may also hint at a medieval theory of performance. The suggestion that a dramatic event could extirpate (exstirpare) human torpor and stimulate (excitare) devotion is predicated on certain assumptions about the enactment of liturgical drama as well as the audience’s reception of it. Moreover, I identify a similar attention to live performance reception in another earlier work from Barking: Clemence of Barking’s twelfth-century vernacular translation of the Life of Saint Catherine. Clemence and Katherine of Sutton were both concerned with effectively conveying spiritual knowledge to an audience, and I argue that in trying to achieve this goal both women attended to the rhythmic quality of spiritual works and, more specifically, to how those rhythms impacted the audience member’s body. Cognitive theory offers us useful ways to explore this possibility. In the last two decades, evidence from cognitive science has profoundly influenced conceptualizations of embodiment and perception. Drawing upon this data, cognitive theory aims to better understand how humans perceive and, particularly, how our material, biological bodies contribute to perceptual experience. As I argue in Performance, Cognitive Theory, and Devotional Culture, and summarize briefly in this chapter, cognitive theory in many respects returns us to models of perception quite similar to those that were prevalent in the later Middle Ages.4 While in my previous work I identified this relationship in order to examine late-medieval civic performances in York and their reception by the laity, here I turn my attention to liturgical drama and will explore both reception and enactment. Cognitive theory contends that meaning is not a pre-packaged entity, but is instead something that we make out of our meaningful, individualized interactions in the world around us.5 This assertion echoes the orthopraxis – or craft of 3



Translation from A. B. Yardley, Performing Piety: Musical Culture in Medieval English Nunneries (New York, 2006), p. 283. Original in Ordinale and Customary of Barking Abbey, p.  107. All translations from the Barking Plays are taken from Yardley, Performing Piety. All Latin excerpts from the Ordinale are quoted from Tolhurst, unless otherwise indicated. The Barking plays are also included in K. Young, The Drama of the Medieval Church, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1933), I, pp. 164–6, 381–4. J. Stevenson, Performance, Cognitive Theory, and Devotional Culture: Sensual Piety in Late Medieval York (New York, 2010). I am very grateful to Palgrave for allowing me to reproduce short sections of this work. For an overview of cognitive theory and its impact on philosophical inquiry, see E. Thompson, Mind In Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of the Mind


Rhythmic Liturgy, Embodiment and Female Authority knowledge – that Mary Carruthers identifies as the foundation of monastic life in the Middle Ages.6 Monks and nuns did not view the act of crafting knowledge or memory as merely following prescribed routines and established static forms; rather, as Carruthers notes, monastic communities recognized that their systems of meditative thought could lead to mental torpor, sloth and distraction, and consequently they developed ‘deliberately playful and surprising’ recollective techniques with ‘energizing devices’ designed to keep the mind interested and engaged.7 Cognitive theory not only offers insight into how we generate meaning – or craft knowledge – by means of our bodily interactions with/in the world, but it does so using perceptual models akin to those circulating in the later Middle Ages. For this reason, I believe cognitive theory may help us to recognize how the nuns at Barking conceived of enactment as fundamental to their community’s ‘craft of knowledge’. Within a dramatic tradition The Easter plays were not the first examples of theatrics at the abbey. For example, Barking had a history of women participating in Church ludi. On Holy Innocents’ Day in the thirteenth century, an ‘Abbess of Fools’ or ‘Girl Abbess’ was elected from the novices.8 This student played the part of the abbess in all services (except the Mass), took the Office, and gave benedictions to the readers of the lessons and to the congregation at matins.9 After his visit to the abbey in 1279, John Peckham, archbishop of Canterbury, issued an injunction to the

6 7

8 9

(Cambridge, 2007), and S. Gallagher and D. Zahavi, The Phenomenological Mind: An Introduction to Philosophy of Mind and Cognitive Science (London and New York, 2008). M. Carruthers, The Craft of Thought (Cambridge, 1998), pp. 1–2. M. Carruthers, ‘Rhetorical Ductus, or, Moving through a Composition’, in Acting on the Past: Historical Performance Across the Disciplines, ed. M. Franko and A. Richards (Hanover and London, 2000), pp. 99–117 (p. 105). I am greatly indebted to A. Clark’s essay ‘Why All the Fuss about the Mind? A Medievalist’s Perspective on Cognitive Theory’, in History in the Comic Mode: Medieval Communities and the Matter of Person, ed. R. Fulton and B. Holsinger (New York, 2007), pp. 170–81. Clark examines how medieval monasticism challenges certain cognitive approaches to religion, in particular Harvey Whitehouse’s modes of religiosity. Utilizing Carruthers’ work on orthopraxis, she suggests that ‘what look to the outsider to be mere words, orthodox doctrine communicated verbally, are stimulants .  .  . to the inferential process of building or inventing prayer, of elaborating images for triggering an emotional, sensory experience. Thus the outcome of monastic ritual is not doctrinal orthodoxy reinforced by the absorption of announced dogma, but further impetus to individual creativity’ (ibid., p. 177). Although my focus is performance and I use cognitive theory differently from Clark, my conclusions about liturgical drama are directly related to her argument. Ordinale and Customary of Barking Abbey, pp.  33–5. Power also discusses this in Medieval English Nunneries, p. 312. E. K. Chambers, The Mediaeval Stage, 2 vols. (London, 1903), I, p. 295.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture nuns in which he expressed unease about these activities. Although wishing to ‘uphold it reluctantly’, Peckham explains that the celebration ‘should by no means be begun by these children, nor should they take part in it in any way until after the completion of the vespers of John the Evangelist’ (‘Sed cum displicentia sustinemus, nullatenus ab eisdem parvulis inchoetur, nec aliqualiter se immisceant, usque post Beati Johannis Evangelistae vesperas consummatas’).10 Concerned that this liturgical parody takes place in the presence of the laity (‘omnibus masculis et mulieribus’) and without the nuns themselves present, he instructs them to change the proceedings accordingly so that the nuns can ‘make up for the errors of the young, lest divine praise become a mockery (which is abominable)’ (‘Ipsae defectus suppleant parvularum, ne, quod nefas est, vertatur in ludibrium laus divina’).11 A few decades later, in 1308, Ralph Baldock, bishop of London, complained of regular wrestling matches in the Barking Abbey church, as well as wild games and inappropriate dancing.12 The presence of such ludi reveals that women’s involvement in forms of dramatic activity was an established part of the abbey’s history. Moreover, although these examples do not necessarily reflect a pointed disregard for ecclesiastical authority, the injunctions may indicate that when the nuns recognized that dramatic activity could effectively fulfil a particular community need, they privileged function and efficacy over issues of decorum and acceptability. The Easter plays may, therefore, reflect a deepening interest at Barking in using enactment as a spiritual tool. The first Easter drama is the Depositio, during which the image of Christ was taken down from the cross and its wounds washed. The image was then carried to the sepulchre, ‘buried’ with a soft covering and left in the closed sepulchre. The Depositio took place on Good Friday and involved the priests, abbess and convent community. The Ordinale describes an event richly embellished with material adornments, song, ritual actions, characterization, procession and other sensual elements: cantrice incipiente diferant crucem ad magnum altare. ibique in specie ioseph et nichodemi de ligno deponentes ymaginem uulnera crucifixi uino abluant et aqua. Dum autem hec fiunt: concinat conuentus R. . . . abbatissa offerat cereum qui iugiter ardeat ante sepulcrum, nec extinguatur donec ymago in nocte pasche post matutinas de sepulcro cum cereis et thure et processione resumpta’ (‘With the cantrix beginning, they carry the cross to the high altar and there, the ones playing the roles of Joseph and Nicodemus remove the image of the crucified from the cross and wash it with wine and water. While they do these things, the convent sings together the Responsorium . . . the abbess offers a candle, which should burn continually before the sepulcher and not 10 11 12

Transcription and translation in Yardley, Performing Piety, p. 183. Ibid. A. Faulkner, ‘The Harrowing of Hell at Barking Abbey and in Modern Production’, in The Iconography of Hell, Early Drama, Art, and Music Monograph, Series 17, ed. C. Davidson and T. H. Seiler (Kalamazoo MI, 1992), pp. 141–57 (p. 142).


Rhythmic Liturgy, Embodiment and Female Authority be extinguished until, on the night of Easter after matins, the image is taken from the tomb with candles and incense and put back in its place and the procession is resumed.’)13

As Yardley notes, ‘the actual burial of the cross is done to mimic funeral practices so that Christ’s death is experienced anew’, and elements like chant ‘complement’ this ritual action.14 The other dramatic material includes the Descensus, or ‘Harrowing of Hell’, the Elevatio, and the Resurrection or Visitatio sepulchri. As the opening rubric indicates, these dramatic enactments took place on Easter Day before an audience that included nuns, clerics, and the laity. Barking’s Descensus provides us with one of the few extant examples of a medieval liturgical play containing a ‘Harrowing of Hell’ scene. Inspired by an apocryphal narrative in the Gospel of Nicodemus, this episode recounts Christ’s descent into hell during the time between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. Barking’s ‘Harrowing’ enactment employs the Tollite portas formula (‘Open your portals, lords, and lift up the gates, and the king of glory shall come in’) that was also commonly used for church building dedications.15 Some scholars have argued that while other components of the Barking drama are derivative, the ‘Harrowing of Hell’ sequence constitutes a ‘new invention’.16 The Elevatio is a brief ritual that involves retrieving the cross and host from the sepulchre, followed by a procession to the altar of the Holy Trinity. The Visitatio, which depicts the Marys’ visit to Christ’s tomb, arguably supplies the most developed examples of dramatic enactment at Barking. Consequently, it is the play I will examine in the greatest detail. Perception, reception and holy sensations17 The rubric in the Ordinale provides us with rare insight into how the Barking community, and perhaps Katherine specifically, conceived of the creation, production and reception of these Easter plays. However, the rubric may also reflect ideas about the nature of perception that were circulating throughout late-medieval culture and, accordingly, it may serve as evidence of how those ideas influenced the abbey’s approach to liturgical enactment. As Bruce McConachie claims, 13 14 15

16 17

Yardley, Performing Piety, pp.  142 and 142–3. Ordinale and Customary of Barking Abbey, p. 100. Yardley, Performing Piety, p. 143. Young, Drama of the Medieval Church, I, p.  151. While Katherine was abbess the gateway tower was built and dedicated, and the bishop of London gave orders that the abbey begin keeping the feast of the dedication of the church. Both of these services involved dedicating a church building. R. Woolf, The English Mystery Plays (Berkeley CA, 1972), p. 20. In this section, I offer a very abbreviated overview of the relationship between medieval perceptual theory and cognitive theory that I explore at greater length in Stevenson, Performance, Cognitive Theory, and Devotional Culture, pp. 15–44.


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture trying to explain what people thought they were doing often plays a significant role in understanding their experiences. And it is especially important for narratives of performance history which seek to understand why historically situated playwrights, performers and audiences made the choices they did. Perhaps the crucial initial question, then, is the nature of perception.18

Moreover, because perception is always a culturally and historically situated phenomenon, our studies must attend to the nature of perception itself as well as to how cultures conceptualized the perceptual act. As I have argued elsewhere, this is especially important to consider with respect to the Middle Ages, a pre-Cartesian context in which perception was not constrained by the mind–body divide. For example, in the Middle Ages studying vision constituted an exploration of the body; the major medieval theories of perception regarded perception, action and thought as allied.19 Although no single visual theory dominated, discursive trends revolved around certain themes, in particular touch and agency. The most widespread visual models assumed the existence of species, a substance believed to travel between object and viewer, thereby producing visual effects. As Michael Camille explains, species was a concept ‘developed in order to bridge the physical gap between object and sense organ’.20 Medieval theorists therefore used species both to emphasize and to negotiate their preoccupation with perception’s immaterial materiality. For example, Roger Bacon defined species as having ‘corporeal form that does not have dimensions of itself but is produced according to the dimensions of the air’.21 In her analysis 18




B. McConachie, ‘Doing Things with Image Schemas: The Cognitive Turn in Theatre Studies and the Problem of Experience for Historians’, Theatre Journal 53 (2001), 569–94 (p. 575). R. S. Nelson, ‘Introduction: Descartes’s Cow and Other Domestications of the Visual’, in Visuality before and beyond the Renaissance: Seeing as Others Saw, ed. R. S. Nelson (Cambridge, 2000), pp. 1–21; S. Biernoff, Sight and Embodiment in the Middle Ages (New York, 2002); S. Biernoff, ‘Carnal Relations: Embodied Sight in MerleauPonty, Roger Bacon and St Francis’, Journal of Visual Culture 4 (2005), 39–52. M. Camille, ‘Before the Gaze: The Internal Senses and Late Medieval Practices of Seeing’, in Visuality before and beyond the Renaissance: Seeing as Others Saw, ed. R. S. Nelson (Cambridge, 2000), pp. 197–223 (p. 208). Both of the most prevalent medieval visual models –extramission (by which vision results from species leaving the eye, making contact with the object, and returning to the eye) and intromission (by which vision occurs when rays travel from the object to the eye) – assumed the existence of species. A number of ancient theorists, including Euclid and Plato, championed extramission, but early fragmented ideas about intromission can be found in Aristotle’s De sensu and De anima. The tenth-century Arab writer Ibn al-Haytham wrote the first systematic arguments for intromission, which were translated into Latin during the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. The thirteenth century witnessed a general, though not universal, theoretical shift that privileged intromission. R. Bacon, The Opus majus of Roger Bacon, ed. J. H. Bridges, 3 vols. (London, 1900; reprint, Frankfurt, 1964), II, pp. 71–2; as quoted in D. C. Lindberg, Theories of Vision From Al-Kindi to Kepler (Chicago and London, 1976), p. 113.


Rhythmic Liturgy, Embodiment and Female Authority of medieval visual theory, Suzannah Biernoff explains: ‘One could say that species colonise matter: the corporeal nature of a species is identical to that of its recipient because the latter is merely a “host”, transformed into the likeness of its colonizer’.22 Accordingly, for many medieval theorists, perception was regarded, to some extent, as a form of assimilation. This model had important moral and spiritual ramifications. If a quality inherent in the object of perception could enter into and alter the body of the perceiving subject,23 then sensation could also impact a person’s moral fibre and, ultimately, his or her soul.24 Throughout the Middle Ages, writers expressed anxiety about this possibility. For instance, Augustine cautioned that sin creeps stealthily through all the entrances of sense: it gives itself over to forms, it adapts itself to colors, it sticks to sounds . . . it appends itself to odors, it infuses tastes, by the turbulent overflow of passion it darkens the senses with darksome affections, it fills with certain obscuring mists the path of the understanding, through all of which the mind’s rays normally diffuses the light of reason.25

In the Middle Ages perception was considered a powerful physical encounter that directly influenced how the perceiver made meaning out of the world. This understanding of perception endorses the suggestion that a performance could, quite literally, extirpate torpor by exciting devotion. Stimulating devotion suggests a mode of reception that involves more than merely ‘reading’ a play’s representational symbols and messages; rather, it imagines understanding a performance as a physically engaged act. Research from cognitive science has, in some way, substantiated this medieval paradigm by demonstrating the inherent interactivity of spectatorship. In the model offered 22 23

Biernoff, Sight and Embodiment, p. 75. R. Pasnau, Theories of Cognition in the Later Middle Ages (Cambridge, 1997), p. 43. For example, Thomas Aquinas posited that ‘in the case of seeing, the pupil is altered through the species of a color’. See Aquinas, Commentary on Aristotle’s De anima, trans. K. Foster and S. Humphries (London, 1951), Lectio 14 on Book II, paragraph 417, as quoted in Biernoff, Sight and Embodiment, p. 82. 24 Although my work on perceptual theory focuses primarily on vision, medieval treatises on the other senses register many of the same preoccupations. For instance, as Charles Burnett explains, the authors of medieval theories of hearing were exploring sound’s ‘material and spiritual effects on the human body and soul’. See C. Burnett, ‘Sound and its Perception in the Middle Ages’, The Second Sense: Studies in Hearing and Musical Judgement from Antiquity to the Seventeenth Century, ed. C. Burnett, M. Fend and P. Gouk (London, 1991), pp. 43–69 (p. 49). 25 Augustine, Eighty-Three Different Questions, trans. D. L. Mosher. Fathers of the Church 70. (Washington DC, 1982), p. 43 (Q.12), as quoted by Biernoff, Sight and Embodiment, p. 36. In another case, Jean Gerson (1363–1429) asserted, ‘for chastity, good reputation, one’s vision, and one’s faith are not toys. They are things that are all too easily harmed and corrupted’. J. Gerson, ‘Treatise against The Romance of the Rose’, in Jean Gerson, Early Works, trans. B. P. McGuire (New York, 1998), pp. 378–98 (p. 388, emphasis mine).


Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture by cognitive theorists, actors and the objects of identification onstage ‘push back’ and, thus, impact ‘the kinds of identification and projection possible for spectators in the theatre’.26 Research into the mirror neuron system specifically supplies empirical evidence of a dynamic relationship between artistic medium and embodied viewer, a relationship very similar to what medieval perceptual theorists describe. Mirror neurons are cells in the brain that fire when we observe an action, execute that same action, and even just imagine the action. This simulation also occurs in response to sound; if we hear someone performing an action with a distinctive sound, we simulate that same action neurally. Our mirror neuron system (MNS) suggests that, on one level, we understand another person’s actions because our sensori-motor system reconstructs these as if we were executing them ourselves. Vittorio Gallese argues that this ‘as if’ response ‘enables the observer to use her/his own resources to penetrate the world of the other by means of a direct, automatic, and unconscious process of motor simulation’.27 It is important to recognize that only a percentage of our brain cells function as mirror neurons.28 However, their presence indicates that certain kinds of perception – and perceptual understanding – occur through a degree of physical engagement between subject and object. This is especially relevant to theatrical spectatorship. During a performance, an actor’s actions are, at some level, reenacted within the spectator. The preliminary evidence of a mirror neuron system in humans has prompted many theatre scholars to reconsider the body’s role in performance reception.29 As McConachie notes, ‘visual and aural mirroring operations link 26 27 28


McConachie, ‘Doing Things’, p. 583. V. Gallese, ‘Embodied Simulation: From Neurons to Phenomenal Experience’, Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 4 (2005), 23–48 (p. 35). As Amy Cook notes, in order for the conversation between the sciences and humanities to be ‘mutually fruitful, it is important for both sides to recognize the limits, as well as the potential, of the theories and findings’ and not to overstate the possibilities that cognitive theories offer. See ‘Interplay: The Method and Potential of a Cognitive Science Approach to Theatre’, Theatre Journal 59 (2007), 579–94 (p. 591). Many performance scholars are using evidence from cognitive science, including mirror neuron research, to supplement their philosophical inquiries into bodily experience. In particular, see Performance and Cognition, ed. B. McConachie and F. E. Hart (New York, 2006); Staging Philosophy: Intersections of Theater, Performance, and Philosophy, ed. D. Krasner and D. Z. Saltz (Ann Arbor MI, 2006); R. Blair, The Actor, Image, and Action: Acting and Cognitive Neuroscience (London, 2008); B. McConachie, Engaging Audiences: A Cognitive Approach to Spectating in the Theatre (New York, 2008), the first volume in Palgrave’s ‘Cognitive Studies in Literature and Performance’ series; and the December 2007 issue of Theatre Journal, which was dedicated to work on performance and cognition. Moreover, humanities scholars in the emerging field of neuroaesthetics, which aims to identify the brain processes that underlie aesthetic experience, are working collaboratively with cognitive scientists to develop experiments that will purposefully explore issues like pleasure and affect. For example, a study of perceptions of dance not only demonstrated


Rhythmic Liturgy, Embodiment and Female Authority neurological response directly to the motor system which, in turn, is mostly hardwired to our emotions. Spectatorial empathy appears to be strongest when combinations of sound and movement entrain our bodies’.30 Although evidence of the mirror neuron system’s role in higher cognitive functions is far from conclusive, a hypothesis like this one is strikingly analogous to what many medieval perceptual theories proposed.31 For this reason cognitive theory supplies us with a useful means of examining Barking’s Easter plays because it allows us to engage principles of perception and reception akin to those circulating in medieval discourse, principles that may have influenced the creation and execution of Barking’s plays. I find cognitive theory especially useful for examining the ritual and material elements of Barking’s Visitatio play. The physical presence of the nuns is an especially significant element of this performance piece. As Yardley notes, the play ‘places extended and dramatic emphasis on the direct experience of the the involvement of sensorimotor cortices during the aesthetic experience of dance, but it also indicated ‘that a key area within the mirror system is also specifically activated when observing movements which are preferred’. Subjective ‘liking’ appears to impact the motor resonance induced by aesthetic content involving motor performance. B. Calvo-Merino et al., ‘Towards a Sensorimotor Aesthetics of Performing Art’, Consciousness and Cognition 17 (2008), 911–22 (p. 919). For more on neuroaesthetics, see Neuroaesthetics, ed. M. Skov and O. Vartanian (Amityville NY, 2009); C. Di Dio and V. Gallese, ‘Neuroaesthetics: A Review’, Current Opinion in Neurobiology 19 (2009), 682–7. 30 McConachie, Engaging Audiences, p. 71. 31 Mirror neurons are a specific class of visuomotor neurons that scientists originally discovered in the brains of monkeys. Subsequent experiments indicate that these cells also exist in humans. However, it is critical to note that research into the human mirror neuron system (MNS) is far from conclusive. See G. Rizzolatti, L. Craighero, and L. Fadiga, ‘The Mirror System in Humans’, Mirror Neurons and the Evolution of Brain and Language, ed. M. I. Stamenov and V. Gallese (Amsterdam and Philadelphia, 2002), pp. 37–59. Certain researchers have challenged the notion of action understanding through the MNS in humans, while other authors have questioned the existence of an MNS in humans entirely. See G. Hickok, ‘Eight Problems for the Mirror Neuron Theory of Action Understanding in Monkeys and Humans’, Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 21 (2008), 1229–43; and A. Lingnau, B. Gesierich, and A. Caramazza, ‘Asymmetric fMRI Adaptation Reveals No Evidence for Mirror Neurons in Humans’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106.24 (2009), 9925–30. Other scholars have challenged these positions. For example, C. Keysers explains that currently there is ‘no individual piece of evidence generally accepted as definitive, but quite a lot of indirect evidence for human mirror neurons has been reported’; see ‘Mirror Neurons’, Current Biology 19.21 (2009), R971–R973 (p.  R971). He contends that ‘for each experiment that fails to find evidence for mirror neurons in humans there is at least one that succeeds’, and notes that in recent fMRI experiments testing for evidence of mirror neuron response in humans ‘three of the four experiments that tried found such an effect. Given statistics that limit false positives to