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Religious Belief and Ecclesiastical Careers in Late Medieval England: Proceedings of the Conference Held at Strawberry Hill, Easter 1989.

The spate of conferences on specific themes has elicited a proliferation of material devoted to the later Middle Ages. The book under review comprises eight studies, three of them concerned with the south-west of England. The title provides only a rough indication of the book's contents; in fact economic, social and political aspects of religious life predominate.

Clive Burgess categorizes Bristol's perpetual chantry foundations as Institutional Trustee, Benefice, and Service. Here as elsewhere the "Benefice chantry" is the most common, while chantries for which endowment was assigned to some religious corporation or to an incumbent are least so. From the mid-fifteenth century the appointment of trustees under obligation to secure performance of servicia required by the founder becomes the norm; a manifestation of the widespread lay and ecclesiastical reliance on usus. The chantries listed are too few for accurate comparison with numerical trends at national or diocesan level. One feature not considered is the "extra-diocesan" nature of these foundations. Whereas urban authorities and organizations are much involved there is no mention of an episcopal role.

Perhaps the most attractive and sympathetic piece is that by the prolific Robert Dunning. Leadership of the Carthusian houses of Whitham and Hinton - alas now no more than archaeological sites - might vary in quality, but the recruitment of novices continued until the final low key debacle. Colin Richmond in his examination of the part played in religion by the English gentry seeks to explain such denouement. While one might be tempted to sympathize with his trendy anti-Reformation stance, there are a number of anachronisms and tendentious statements, as well as some extremely wild ones. One has to separate the chaff from the grain. The notion that "the public humiliation of the public sinner was a secular characteristic, not a clerical one" is not borne out by medieval penitential practice. Even kings could be made to suffer, though in the later Middle Ages humiliating aspects of penance were ameliorated out of respect for those of "gentle birth." Space precludes a critique of the suggestion that somehow the Reformation was a means for men to get their own back on women and "to strip religion of its feminine accretions." As for "jostling for space around altars," this was no new phenomenon as the London church of the Grey Friars bore witness, and what can one make of the concluding generalizations that "After 1538 man - , and especially woman - , kind was generally unhappier"?

With Robert Swanson's enquiry, fortified by charts and tables, into the monetary values of livings, we are back on firmer ground, although he considers only one side of the equation. The other - individual clerical career patterns - is left by the wayside. His intention of dealing with the slippery economic and statistical background, as he admits, is confounded by a lack of adequate documentation. We could usefully be warned that economic factors - so far as we know - were not the sole criteria for the acceptance of benefice. A careful study of exchanges may show that although such factors were important others had a place: local hostility, the alleged detrimental effect of certain areas on health, the anxiety to return to one's native region or, in the case of canons (p. 108 of the book under review) and episcopal officers, anxiety to secure a benefice in the relevant diocese. Some clerics doubtless were intent on economic gain; others for long periods uncomplainingly served remote parishes (see, for instance, P.E.H. Hare, "Mobility of Parochial Clergy in Hereford Diocese c. 1400": Woolhope Transactions XLIII, 1980). Can we then be as sure as Swanson that the existence of risks and economic calculations "was a major formative [sic] factor in the career patterns of thousands of clergy ... between 1291 and 1535"? On a stylistic point, this author overdoes the use of the (scarcely appropriate?) words "snapshot" and "global."

Margaret Harvey's close consideration of Martin V's relations with England leaves one in serious doubt as to whether one should despair more of the secular authorities in England or of the religious ones in Rome. The libertas of the Ecclesia anglicana could only slip between them and on occasion the struggle between the two ended in farce. One might be tempted to remark that it is small wonder that the fifteenth-century episcopate was relatively undistinguished from a religious point of view. Her differences of opinion with other authors are mentioned but not elaborated.

D.N. Lepine's prosopographical study of the canons of Exeter is supported by helpful tables, but why was it thought unnecessary to distinguish between doctors of canon and civil law, even if some held both degrees? The bibliographical element in the footnotes is sparse, being largely confined to Emden's Biographical Dictionaries of Oxford and Cambridge. Even Stapeldon's recent biographer, Buck, though mentioned (p. 97 n. 28) is not given as a source for his career. Unless I have overlooked it there is no reference to Chanter MS 723, John Lydford's "precedent book" or to the somewhat inadequate printed version, though he is mentioned (p. 101). I do not understand the reference (p. 117) to BRUO ii, pp. 941-2 (Hody) against the names of Leach, Murimuth, and Lyndwood. "Leach" incidentally is Dr. John Loveryng of Northleach. Dispensation for delaying ordination for five or seven years (p.107) should refer to Cum ex eo licences granted by the bishop by virtue of the canon. In general what one would have hoped for is some comparative figures, since degrees are fairly faithfully recorded in the revised Le Neve, as well as an appendix of "potted biographies," such as that to be found in the edition of Hemingby's (Salisbury) Register.

Michael Haren treads in the familiar footsteps of William Pantin and Leonard Boyle in providing a thumbnail sketch of the development of pastoral manuals and confessional summae which he relates to medieval "class structure" (estates). In his (reasonable) view "a social gospel of interdependence and mutual responsibility" must surely have been transmitted by way of the confessional; also, of course, by means of the sermon (some fifteenth-century ones edited post-Owst could have been cited) under the tuition of Bromyard's Summa Praedicantium. Incidentally, Pantin's "sublimes et literati [literate persone]" originate in cap. 29 of the Fourth Lateran Council (Extra 3, 5, c.28).

The final paper is Benjamin Thompson's analysis of lay and ecclesiastical attitudes to church property. The first part involves a summary history of the relationship between secular and spiritual authority and the overall nature of the church in the Middle Ages, in particular the necessary distinction made by eleventh to twelfth century reformers between the clerical and secular "orders" (a distinction of status lauded in some fifteenth-century sermons and, so far as theological discussion is concerned, by Reginald Pecock). The conflicts under Edward I are then reviewed in part, chiefly with the help of Denton's Winchelsey. Finally the issues raised are considered in the light of the fate of the alien priories. In the course of all this the church's abiding dilemma is highlighted. Were it to divest itself of this world's goods and rely on the laity it would be at its mercy. Hence it had to have temporalities which it was compelled to protect from lay interference. In view of political and social developments the essential nature of the medieval church - united, universal and under one head - could not be maintained.

That note is echoed in various forms throughout the book. There is much recapitulation of familiar material and all too many lacunae in the bibliographical references, but despite imperfections the attentive reader will find fresh departures and some well documented and soundly presented scholarship, much of it emanating from unpublished theses.
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Author:Haines, Roy Martin
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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