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Learning to Die in London, 1380-1540

Learning to Die in London, 1380-1540

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 336
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    Learning to Die in London, 1380-1540
    Book Description:

    Taking as her focus a body of writings in poetic, didactic, and legal modes that circulated in England's capital between the 1380sjust a generation after the Black Deathand the first decade of the English reformation in the 1530s, Amy Appleford offers the first full-length study of the Middle English "art of dying" (ars moriendi). An educated awareness of death and mortality was a vital aspect of medieval civic culture, she contends, critical not only to the shaping of single lives and the management of families and households but also to the practices of cultural memory, the building of institutions, and the good government of the city itself.

    In fifteenth-century London in particular, where an increasingly laicized reformist religiosity coexisted with an ambitious program of urban renewal, cultivating a sophisticated attitude toward death was understood as essential to good living in the widest sense. The virtuous ordering of self, household, and city rested on a proper attitude toward mortality on the part both of the ruled and of their secular and religious rulers. The intricacies of keeping death constantly in mind informed not only the religious prose of the period, but also literary and visual arts. In London's version of the famous image-text known as the Dance of Death, Thomas Hoccleve's poetic collectionThe Series, and the early sixteenth-century prose treatises of Tudor writers Richard Whitford, Thomas Lupset, and Thomas More, death is understood as an explicitly generative force, one capable (if properly managed) of providing vital personal, social, and literary opportunities.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-9047-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-17)

    This book is an account of the literature and culture of death and mortality in fifteenth-and early sixteenth-century London as it relates to the broad theme of governance. It takes as its focus a body of writings in several different genres circulating in England’s capital between the 1380s, a generation after the Black Death, and the 1530s, the first decade of the English Reformation. I argue that the schooled awareness of mortality was a vital aspect of civic culture, critical not only to the individual’s experience of interiority and the management of families and households but also to the practices...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Spiritual Governance and the Lay Household: The Visitation of the Sick
    (pp. 18-54)

    So ends the first part of Thomas Wimbledon’s celebratedRedde rationem villicationis tue(give an account of your stewardship: Luke 16:2), a sermon preached in 1388 at Paul’s Cross in the churchyard of St. Paul’s Cathedral, one of the largest open spaces within the city walls, before a mixed assemblage of Londoners, setting out the duties of the three estates, chastising them for their failures, and looking forward to the coming judgment.² The kingdom of heaven is like a “housholdynge man.” Christ assigns the work of the household to “þre offices: presthod, kny. thod, and laboreris.” All three estates are...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Dying Generations: The Dance of Death
    (pp. 55-97)

    An image of the deathbed of Richard Whittington, wealthy merchant, important creditor to the Crown, and three times mayor of London, forms the frontispiece of the earliest copy of an English translation of the ordinances governing the Whittington almshouse, one of the institutions funded by his massive bequest (Figure 1). The ordinances were written in Latin and sealed by three of Whittington’s executors—John Coventry, William Grove, and John Carpenter—in December 1424, twenty months after the merchant’s death in March 1423 and shortly after work had been finished on the building both of the almshouse and of a closely...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Self-Care and Lay Asceticism: Learn to Die
    (pp. 98-136)

    So far, this study has mainly been concerned with the communitarian aspects of London death culture, as it reached out from the rites and practices associated with the deathbed to engage in an ambitious rethinking of the constructive social and civic purposes that might be served by the good deaths of members of all classes. Whether in the household or in the city, this rethinking naturally tends to confirm existing disparities of power and wealth rather than challenge them. The paterfamilias who uses theVisitation of Sickas part of his dutiful exercise of a “fadris love to his meyne,”...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Wounded Texts and Worried Readers: The Book of the Craft of Dying
    (pp. 137-180)

    Chapter 3 describes the emergence of a body of London writing for the laity on tribulation, mortification, and death, much of it associated with theLearn to Diesection of Henry Suso’sHorologium sapientiae, as what it calls a “counterdiscourse” to the communitarian paradigm tracked in Chapters 1 and 2. Conscious of its separation from the norms of civic or parish religion, and paying relatively little attention to the spiritual possibilities and responsibilities of the household, ascetic writing understands its lay reader as isolated from Christian society, rather than connected to it by the bonds of obligation and trust that...

  9. CHAPTER 5 The Exercise of Death in Henrician England
    (pp. 181-216)

    Prefacing a collected edition of his Latin works in 1545, Martin Luther, by now one of the most controversial theologians in Europe, describes a crisis, his so-called Tower experience, from some twenty-five years earlier. The crisis was personal and theological at once: “Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, indeed I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly . . . I was angry with God.”¹ Weighed down...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 217-224)

    This book has presented a new understanding of the meanings of late medieval death culture in England and the city of London in particular by situating a series of artes moriendi within the socially layered, devout, but also worldly elite lay milieu in which they played a vital role. Reading these artes moriendi within the contexts of the books, institutions, and religious beliefs and movements with which they were associated, and linking them when possible to known individuals and communities, I have tracked the asymmetric but persistent link between the changing literary and ritual forms of death texts on the...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 225-280)
    (pp. 281-310)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 311-318)
    (pp. 319-326)