Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Reading and Writing during the Dissolution: Monks, Friars, and Nuns 1530-1558

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Reading and Writing during the Dissolution: Monks, Friars, and Nuns 1530-1558

Article excerpt

Reading and Writing during the Dissolution: Monks, Friars, and Nuns 1530-1558. By Mary C. Erler. (New York: Cambridge University Press. 2013. Pp. xi, 203. $90.00. ISBN 978-1-107-03979-7.)

With its six compact chapters and 143 pages of text, this is a slim volume. But in this case at least, the materiality of the book is misleading. As we might expect from Mary C. Erler, Reading and Writing during the Dissolution is a rich, detailed, and nuanced contribution.

The chapters divide easily into three pairs. Chapters 1 and 2 focus on London religious. First to be considered is Simon Appulby, the last anchorite of All Hallows, London Wall, and his Fruyte of Redempcyon (London, 1514), "a final conservative statement in the centuries-old debate about lay scriptural access" (p. 15). Looking back to Nicholas Love's late-medieval Mirror, Erler here traces continuity-in anchoritic living, but also in patterns of devotion and book ownership- from the fifteenth century to St. Ignatius Loyola. The companion chapter is an account of the "Greyfriars Chronicle": notes written by a Franciscan of the London convent covering the whole of the crucial period 1538-56. The "Chronicle" itself is oddly noncommittal on all the changes of the period, but what emerges most clearly from a fine-grained discussion of the former friars, their milieu, and their associates is the range of religious positions still possible in the 1530s and 1540s.

For the next pair of chapters, Erler is on the familiar ground of women and piety, with a set of case studies of nuns and former nuns linked by their connections to, and correspondence with, Thomas Cromwell. Again, the range of doctrinal sympathies (from traditional to evangelical) is marked. In chapter 3, Erler explores how each of four abbesses who saw their houses closed down in the 1530s maintained (or re-created) a sense of community, interweaving family ties with those to former monastic colleagues. Chapter 4 is dedicated to a single woman, Margaret Vernon-a career monastic superior, a close friend of Cromwell, and an intimate of his circle; her letters reveal "a powerful and attractive personality" (p. …

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