Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Hermits and Recluses in English Society 950-1200

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Hermits and Recluses in English Society 950-1200

Article excerpt

Tom Licence, Hermits and Recluses in English Society 950-1200 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), x + 240 pp. ISBN 978-0-19-959236-4. £55.00.

Since the publication of Ann Warren's Anchorites and their Patrons (1985), research into the medieval solitary life in England has been largely dependent upon her findings, despite Warren's having restricted herself to published records from 1100 only. With the publication of Tom Licence's Hermits and Recluses in English Society pro- 1200, however, that situation has changed. In this exceptionally wellresearched, wide-ranging study suddenly the extent and importance of the early solitary life in England are brought far more clearly into focus. Indeed, this book argues unequivocally for the solitary life as a widespread - and deeply revered - phenomenon even before the Norman invasion, and adhered to by both women and men in considerable numbers.

Divided into eight chapters, Licence's study ranges from early English contexts to the socio-ideological meanings of the solitary life within a range of communities and demographics. The first chapter focuses on early Anglo-Saxon inheritances and wider European tradition, whilst chapters 2 and 3 relate the rise of the hermit and the recluse respectively, articulating what Licence sees as the primary differences between the two. Chapter 4, meanwhile, deals with the often overlooked pragmatics of the solitary life: how to achieve a subsistence in the face of a relinquishment of all worldly possessions. Here Licence argues that hermits, in particular, were workers of the land, keepers of bridges, etc., by which means they continued to exist on the margins of society and yet remain integrated and inherent to society's needs. Chapters 5 and 6 grapple with the thorny issue of the solitary's relationship with sin, examining both the theory and practice of a striving to eradicate it. …

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