Learning to Die in London, 1380-1540

Learning to Die in London, 1380-1540

Learning to Die in London, 1380-1540

Learning to Die in London, 1380-1540

Synopsis

Taking as her focus a body of writings in poetic, didactic, and legal modes that circulated in England's capital between the 1380s--just a generation after the Black Death--and the first decade of the English reformation in the 1530s, Amy Appleford offers the first full-length study of the Middle English "art of dying" ( ars moriendi). An educated awareness of death and mortality was a vital aspect of medieval civic culture, she contends, critical not only to the shaping of single lives and the management of families and households but also to the practices of cultural memory, the building of institutions, and the good government of the city itself.

In fifteenth-century London in particular, where an increasingly laicized reformist religiosity coexisted with an ambitious program of urban renewal, cultivating a sophisticated attitude toward death was understood as essential to good living in the widest sense. The virtuous ordering of self, household, and city rested on a proper attitude toward mortality on the part both of the ruled and of their secular and religious rulers. The intricacies of keeping death constantly in mind informed not only the religious prose of the period, but also literary and visual arts. In London's version of the famous image-text known as the Dance of Death, Thomas Hoccleve's poetic collection The Series, and the early sixteenth-century prose treatises of Tudor writers Richard Whitford, Thomas Lupset, and Thomas More, death is understood as an explicitly generative force, one capable (if properly managed) of providing vital personal, social, and literary opportunities.

Excerpt

This book is an account of the literature and culture of death and mortality in fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century London as it relates to the broad theme of governance. It takes as its focus a body of writings in several different genres circulating in England’s capital between the 1380s, a generation after the Black Death, and the 1530s, the first decade of the English Reformation. I argue that the schooled awareness of mortality was a vital aspect of civic culture, critical not only to the individual’s experience of interiority and the management of families and households but also to the practices of cultural memory, institution building, and the government of the city itself. At a time when an increasingly laicized religiosity coexisted with an ambitious program of urban renewal and cultural enrichment, and sometimes with violent political change, having an educated attitude to death was understood as essential to good living in the widest sense.

In fifteenth-century London, as elsewhere in northern Europe, a complex of new ways of representing, preparing for, and even undergoing death gained enhanced cultural power, informing the behavior and perceptions of the city’s citizens and institutions and acting as key public markers of responsible civic engagement and identity. During the period between the accession of Henry iv in 1399 and that of Henry vii in 1485 in particular, when the confidence of the city and its governors was at its height, death discourse was one of the most visible features of London public culture. Death was understood by a broad spectrum of the city’s elites as a generative force: one capable of providing vital personal, institutional, social, and literary as well as religious opportunities. a new understanding of death as an ars or “craft,” something to be learned and managed, also made possible new techniques of self-examination. Intrinsically affective, these techniques in turn made personally intimate the turbulence of fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century transformations in the religious and political culture of city and realm.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.