Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Culture of Inquisition in Medieval England

The Culture of Inquisition in Medieval England

Mary C. Flannery
Katie L. Walter
Volume: 4
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 208
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt24hg13
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Culture of Inquisition in Medieval England
    Book Description:

    Inquisition in medieval and early modern England has typically been the subject of historical rather than cultural investigation, and focussed on heresy. Here, however, inquisition is revealed as playing a broader role in medieval English culture, not only in relation to sanctions like excommunication, penance and confession, but also in the fields of exemplarity, rhetoric and poetry. Beyond its specific legal and pastoral applications, 'inquisitio' was a dialogic mode of inquiry, a means of discerning, producing or rewriting truth, and an often adversarial form of invention and literary authority. The essays in this volume cover such topics as the theory and practice of canon law, heresy and its prosecution, Middle English pastoralia, political writing and romance. As a result, the collection redefines the nature of inquisition's role within both medieval law and culture, and demonstrates the extent to which it penetrated the late-medieval consciousness, shaping public fame and private selves, sexuality and gender, rhetoric, and literature. Mary C. Flannery is a lecturer in English at the University of Lausanne; Katie L. Walter is a lecturer in English at the University of Sussex. Contributors: Mary C. Flannery, Katie L. Walter, Henry Ansgar Kelly, Edwin Craun, Ian Forrest, Diane Vincent, Jenny Lee, James Wade, Genelle Gertz, Ruth Ahnert, Emily Steiner.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-073-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. List of Contributors
    (pp. vi-vi)
  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-vii)
  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  7. Introduction: Imagining Inquisition
    (pp. 1-7)
    MARY C. FLANNERY and KATIE L. WALTER

    Inquisitio, a process first codified in the canons of the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, was an important means of investigating crime in general and heresy in particular in the later medieval period. For the most part, it has been the subject of historical rather than cultural investigation: scholars have focused on its role in the development of the medieval church and its laws, and on the dynamics of heresy inquisition in medieval Europe and, more recently, England. To view it only as a tool in the fight against heresy, however, is to overlook both its broader significance and its...

  8. Chapter 1 Inquisition, Public Fame and Confession: General Rules and English Practice
    (pp. 8-29)
    HENRY ANSGAR KELLY

    My mode of procedure in this essay will be to discuss the institution and development of inquisitorial procedure in general canon law, first with regard to all criminal cases, and then specifically applied to cases of heresy, and, finally, to examine some of the ways in which the rules were applied or modified in England. On the continent, inquisitorial procedure became the standard practice in secular as well as ecclesiastical courts, and many areas of the continent were dominated by papally appointed heresy inquisitors, whereas in England there was no papal heresy inquisition and the secular courts used a different...

  9. Chapter 2 The Imperatives of Denunciatio: Disclosing Othersʹ Sins to Disciplinary Authorities
    (pp. 30-44)
    EDWIN CRAUN

    This lex evangelica (Gospel law, revealed law) or precept, as both pastoral writers and canonists term it, seems to establish a simple four-step procedure for dealing with sin within Christian communities: one-on-one admonition; if that fails to correct the sinner, admonition with witnesses; if that fails, divulging the sin to the church; if that fails, expulsion. Guillaume Durand, the most influential of late thirteenth-century writers on juridical procedures, illustrates this normative procedure with the case of a sinning bishop, backing up every point with references to specific canons, glosses, and the opinions of his predecessors:

    ipse monens solus veniet ad...

  10. Chapter 3 English Provincial Constitutions and Inquisition into Lollardy
    (pp. 45-59)
    IAN FORREST

    It is now accepted that the moment when the English church first faced popular heresy was a moment of cultural transformation, not least in the sphere of law. A new problem called for new methods, and perhaps a new way of thinking. Between 1382 and 1428 a distinctively English anti-heresy law emerged, and aspects of this have been well studied by recent historians.¹ Historians of Wycliffism and lollardy have often in particular attributed great significance to Archbishop Thomas Arundelʹs constitutions, drafted in 1407 and promulgated in 1409, as a major step in the legal response to heresy, and literary scholars,...

  11. Chapter 4 The Contest over the Public Imagination of Inquisition, 1380–1430
    (pp. 60-76)
    DIANE VINCENT

    Trawling through the questions and answers recorded as part of official records of medieval inquisitorial processes, which seem to end most often in convictions and abjurations, a reader might wonder what the point of it all was when apparently the crucial question was whether the suspect was willing to submit their opinions to the determinations of the church. As Paul Strohm puts it in his discussion of William Sawtreʹs 1401 trial, ʹIf resignation to the authority of the Church is all that is actually sought, and if interrogation about eucharistic belief is only a pretext for demanding such a resignation,...

  12. Chapter 5 ʹVttirli Onknoweʹ? Modes of Inquiry and the Dynamics of Interiority in Vernacular Literature
    (pp. 77-93)
    MARY C. FLANNERY and KATIE L. WALTER

    In the prologue to his tale, Chaucerʹs Pardoner gleefully outlines his methods of conning money out of gullible, God-fearing churchgoers with his preaching. From his public stage in the pulpit, the Pardoner employs various methods to persuade his audience to repent—and to part with their money; as he confesses to his fellow pilgrims, ʹmyn entente is nat but for to wynne, / And nothyng for correccioun of synneʹ (VI.403–04).¹ Here and elsewhere in the Pardonerʹs prologue, Chaucer places great emphasis on this concept of ʹententeʹ; indeed, intention seems to be the criterion by which Chaucer asks that we...

  13. Chapter 6 From Defacement to Restoration: Inquisition, Confession and Thomas Uskʹs Appeal and Testament of Love
    (pp. 94-111)
    JENNY LEE

    At the heart of confession lies the promise of effacement: through the processes of contrition, confession, absolution and penance, an individualʹs sins are purged for eternity. This tenet was illustrated in a popular exemplum that circulated in penitential manuals and florilegia across Europe during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.² In this exemplum, a scholar pays a visit to his local abbot to make his confession. Overcome with contrition and shame, the scholar is unable to speak a single word, so the abbot enjoins him to write down his sins instead. Horrified upon reading the unspeakable deeds in print, however, the...

  14. Chapter 7 Confession, Inquisition and Exemplarity in The Erle of Tolous and Other Middle English Romances
    (pp. 112-129)
    JAMES WADE

    To say that an ethos of inquisition gained deep cultural saturation in late-medieval England is to beg the question of where, and in what form, we find engagements with this phenomenon in the artefacts of medieval cultural production. This essay takes romance, the dominant form of popular fiction in the period, as one of the more prevalent of such cultural artefacts, and it interrogates these texts as witnesses to, and manifestations of, the cultural embeddedness of inquisitio in the period. While the following discussion looks broadly at generic trends, the principal focus here is an English tail-rhyme romance of the...

  15. Chapter 8 Heresy Inquisition and Authorship, 1400–1560
    (pp. 130-145)
    GENELLE GERTZ

    Any reader of heresy trials must decide how seriously to take the official version of events.¹ An extreme power differential existed between members of the ecclesiastical court, who both recorded the trial and rendered judgement, and the accused, who stood trial before them. At no point was this imbalance more apparent than at the end of a trial when, if not acquitted or convicted for relapse, the defendant formally recanted previous beliefs in an abjuration. This document that was also an oath depicted the defendantʹs change in belief from previously held heresies to newly adopted faith as determined by the...

  16. Chapter 9 Imitating Inquisition: Dialectical Bias in Protestant Prison Writings
    (pp. 146-163)
    RUTH AHNERT

    Today, a fair trial is regarded as a basic human right. Article ten of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article six of the European Convention of Human Rights define the right to a fair trial in broadly the same terms. These include the defendantʹs right to a public hearing before an independent and impartial tribunal within reasonable time, the presumption of innocence, adequate time and facilities to prepare his or her defence, access to legal representation, the right to examine witnesses against them (or to have them examined) and the...

  17. Chapter 10 Response Essay: Chaucerʹs Inquisition
    (pp. 164-172)
    EMILY STEINER

    The question that drives The Culture of Inquisition is: what does inquisition have to do with imagination? This is not an easy question to answer, in part because modern assumptions about law and literature often get in the way. Like any legal procedure, inquisition relies on both repetition and enforcement, or, in other words, the idea that it can be performed the same way under a variety of circumstances for a long time to come. Though basic to law, this idea is sometimes conflated with bad practices associated with pre-modern inquisition, for example, coercion, torture and the persecution of minority...

  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 173-188)
  19. Index
    (pp. 189-194)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 195-195)