Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Convent and the Community in Late Medieval England: Female Monasteries in the Diocese of Norwich, 1350-1540

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Convent and the Community in Late Medieval England: Female Monasteries in the Diocese of Norwich, 1350-1540

Article excerpt

The Convent and the Community in Late Medieval England Female Monasteries in the Diocese of Norwich, 1350-1540. By Marilyn Oliva. [Studies in the History of Medieval Religion, Vol. 12.] (Rochester, New York: The Boydell Press. 1998. Pp. xiv, 271. $90.00.)

This is a work of historical revision which challenges the model of late medieval female monasticism established for England by Eileen Power threequarters of a century ago. Dr. Oliva convincingly argues for a new interpretation informed by modern feminist perspectives, and more sensitive to the multifaceted service of the nunneries to their local society. These houses did not have the wealth to dominate the countryside like some of their male counterparts, but there is plenty of evidence arrayed to substantiate the relatively modest claim that they were "important features of the local landscape"

Whereas Power's pioneering Medieval English Nunneries is a broad-ranging survey, Dr. Oliva confines her attention to the single diocese of Norwich and provides a detailed study of eleven religious houses for women from the midfourteenth century to the Dissolution. The difference in scale is extremely important, because generalizations supported by evidence from houses in widely different locations over more than two and a half centuries of their existence do not stand up to scrutiny, when the focus is changed to the continuous history of a coherent group of nunneries in one region.

It is not simply a question of denigratory comments about the moral standards of nuns or their capacities as financial managers. Recruitment to these communities and their place in local society are demonstrably different from traditional stereotypes of aristocratic institutions. …

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