Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Old Age in Late Medieval England

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Old Age in Late Medieval England

Article excerpt

Joel T. Rosenthal, Old Age in Late Medieval England (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1 1996) xv + 260 pp. ISBN 0-8122-33557. No price given.

This volume begins from the admirable desire to put some detailed flesh on the bones of a subject too often discussed mainly from literary topoi and representations. None of the medieval sources, to be sure, can sustain an adequate statistical analysis of the incidence of old age, but Rosenthal hopes that by the accumulation of patchy data the case can at least be made for the third age of life as a reality for a large minority of the population. Inquisitiones post mortem, statements of proof of age of heirs, wills, and family genealogies are all pressed into the service of this argument in the first half of the text. In the second specific social or occupational groups, the peers, the bishops, and literary figures, are analysed in more depth, the intention being to accumulate not only some data about their longevity, but to evaluate the experience of ageing. All of this is in principle admirable, and is rendered the more so by Rosenthal's transparent honesty about the limitations of his evidence. His chapter on wills, for example, is depressingly thin and some historians might have been tempted to suppress the material with only the most glancing of references to poor records. Here use is made of the silence of the evidence, and the reader is compelled to reflect upon the reasons why few will makers might have made gifts to grandchildren - the obvious test of the longevity of the testator. …

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