Religious solitaries were a feature of the English spiritual landscape ‘from the dawn of Christianity in England until the sixteenth century’ but, since Rotha Clay (who wrote those words) attempted her overarching survey almost a century ago, coverage of their history has been decidedly patchy.(1) It is less so now, thanks to Tom Licence’s important new book.
Nuremberg in the later Middle Ages was one of the most prominent cities in central Europe: a free Imperial city, the location of the imperial regalia and the place where Imperial Diets were held, it was also a wealthy centre of economic life, one of the largest cities in German-speaking Europe, and an important manufacturer of many industrial products, in particular weapons.
Michel Foucault famously described sodomy as an utterly confused category. The same could be said for marriage, especially during the Middle Ages, as the two studies under review demonstrate. Like sodomy, marriage is a category traversing several fields – law, culture, religion – that bites into people’s flesh.
David Nirenberg’s Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition is an impressive scholarly accomplishment that matches a dauntingly large subject matter with a vast vault of personal knowledge. At 474 pages and 13 chapters covering more than 3000 years, it is thorough without being exhaustive.
The work of Mary Carruthers is well known to students of medieval culture. Her Book of Memory charted discussions of memory from antiquity to the late Middle Ages, treading in the footsteps of Frances Yates in arguing that memory was not just another concept in the minds of medieval writers, but a conceptual motor for the organisation and motivation of thought.
The period of medieval intellectual history covered by this book, primarily the 12th and 13th centuries, is one that has received considerable attention for well over a century. The main question, then, is what does Ian Wei bring to this subject that has not been done before, or how has he reshaped it? The answer is he has done much in both respects.
Contemporary interest in the period of the Crusades has intensified in the last decade or so, partly because of the inflammatory invocations of holy war and jihad made immediately after the traumatic events of 9/11.
Many scholars regard the history of magic as peripheral to mainline history, a lunatic fringe of the past which can be overlooked without sacrificing any understanding of past societies. This study demonstrates that, on the contrary, knowledge and study of magic formed part of scientific study in medieval England.
As this book begins (p. 1), the author marvels how the art of the Wycliffite Bible, one of the most popular books in late medieval England, has not been studied systematically. The answer lies in the historiography of the Wycliffite Bible. Kennedy suggests that the ‘Shadow of the Reformation’ has created a binary view of Wycliffite Bibles, linking them to heresy and illegality.
In a time of prolific and revolutionary authors Hugh of Saint Victor lit up the 12th century with a particularly unique voice, combining an intense passion for teaching with a pragmatic and systematic mind. Out of his large body of work his Mystic Ark has always provided more questions than answers.