Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Beguines of Medieval Paris: Gender, Patronage, and Spiritual Authority

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Beguines of Medieval Paris: Gender, Patronage, and Spiritual Authority

Article excerpt

Tanya Stabler Miller, The Beguines of Medieval Paris: Gender, Patronage, and Spiritual Authority, The Middle Ages Series (Philadelphia, Pa: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014). 293 pp. ISBN 978-0-8122-4607-0. $55.00/£36.00.

Producing a detailed study of the lives and legacies of the men and women who lived under the mantle of 'beguin(e)' in late medieval Europe is a problematic exercise. The fluidity and variety of identities afforded to those who joined the religious movement and the highly charged and often competing statements issued about them by their contemporary commentators frequently render nuanced discussion difficult. By grounding her study of the beguine movement in the foundation of the court beguinage in Paris in the mid-thirteenth century, Tanya Stabler Miller negotiates, and indeed engages with, these obstacles to produce a wide-ranging investigation of the opportunity, tension, and dynamism that characterized Parisian beguine life in the later Middle Ages.

The book opens and closes with a focus on the royal patronage of the beguinage, framing Miller's argument that the beguinage was intimately connected to the power structures of the city. Chapter 1 outlines the beguinage's establishment by King Louis IX, a king who, Miller suggests, like the beguines, felt acutely the tension of a life lived in devotion to God in the world. Chapter 7, meanwhile, demonstrates the Capetian kings' continued support of the beguinage as a symbol of their status as Most Christian, set against the tumultuous fallout catalysed by the Council of Vienne (1311-17). Miller is at her most insightful in her discussion of the beguinage itself: of its inhabitants and their socioeconomic networks (chapter 2); their involvement in the Parisian silk trade (chapter 3), and the reciprocity of their relationships with certain university clerics such as Robert of Sorbon, who was drawn to the beguines both as abstract models of piety and humility and as living agents of pastoral care (chapter 4). Across these three chapters, Miller neatly demonstrates that the beguines formed an integral part of Paris's financial, social, spiritual, and intellectual landscape. …

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