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Syon Abbey and its Books

Syon Abbey and its Books: Reading, Writing and Religion, c.1400-1700

E. A. Jones
Alexandra Walsham
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Syon Abbey and its Books
    Book Description:

    Founded in 1415, the double monastery of Syon Abbey was the only English example of the order established by the fourteenth-century mystic St Bridget of Sweden. After its dispersal at the Dissolution, the community survived in exile and was briefly restored during the reign of Mary I; but with the accession of Elizabeth I, some of the nuns and brothers once again sought refuge on the Continent, first in the Netherlands and later in Lisbon. This volume of essays traces the fortunes of Syon Abbey and the Bridgettine order between 1400 and 1700, examining the various ways in which reading and writing shaped its identity and defined its experience, and exploring the interconnections between late medieval and post-Reformation monastic history and the rapidly evolving world of communication, learning, and books. They extend our understanding of religious culture and institutions on the eve of the Reformation and the impulses that inspired initiatives for early modern Catholic renewal, and also illuminate the spread of literacy and the gradual and uneven transition from manuscript to print between the fourteenth and the seventeenth centuries. In the process, the volume engages with larger questions about the origins and consequences of religious, intellectual and cultural change in late medieval and early modern England. E. A. Jones is Senior Lecturer in English, University of Exeter; Alexandra Walsham is Professor of Reformation History, University of Exeter Contributors: E. A. Jones, Alexandra Walsham, Peter Cunich, Virginia Bainbridge, Vincent Gillespie, C. Annette Grise, Claire Walker, Caroline Bowden, Claes Gejrot, Ann Hutchison

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-815-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-ix)
    E. A. Jones and Alexandra Walsham
    (pp. x-xii)
  6. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  8. INTRODUCTION: Syon Abbey and its Books: Origins, Influences and Transitions
    (pp. 1-38)

    So wrote Thomas Betson, deacon, librarian and author of Syon Abbey in hisRyght Profytable Treatysepublished by Wynkyn de Worde in 1500.¹ A devotional compilation incorporating basic catechetical material alongside supplications and exhortations to the cloistered sisters of the Bridgettine house he served,² Betson’s advice was taken to heart by a long succession of nuns of this contemplative order, as well as by a wider constituency of devout lay people who sought to mimic their piety. Reading and prayer were intricately linked in the religious lives of the women and men who entered this double monastery in the pre-Reformation...

  9. I Brothers and Sisters

    • 1 The Brothers of Syon, 1420–1695
      (pp. 39-81)

      Past scholarship on Syon Abbey has focused almost entirely on the nuns who formed the larger part of the English Bridgettine community.¹ The nuns, who were more usually referred to as ‘sisters’ in England, were certainly numerically superior and constitutionally more central to the life of Syon than their male counterparts, but the brothers were nevertheless an indispensable element within the distinctive Bridgettine regular life.² The primary role of the brothers was to provide spiritual services to the strictly enclosed female community, but they also had their own choral duties to perform and spent a great deal of their time...

    • 2 Syon Abbey: Women and Learning c. 1415–1600
      (pp. 82-103)

      Syon Abbey, founded by King Henry V in 1415, was the most important house for women religious established in England in the century before the Reformation. It was the only English house of Bridgettines, the Order of St Saviour, founded by St Bridget of Sweden (c.1303–73) as part of a contemporary movement for spiritual reform and renewal. Syon is renowned for its lavish endowment by Henry V, its principled opposition to Henry VIII’s Reformation, and its significant role in forging recusant Catholic identity.¹

      Syon is perhaps most famous in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries as a centre of Renaissance...

  10. II Syon Abbey and the Book Trade

    • 3 Syon and the English Market for Continental Printed Books: The Incunable Phase
      (pp. 104-128)

      In a letter to Archbishop Matthew Parker written in July 1560, John Bale spoke of the years leading up to 1540, which he called the ‘tyme of the lamen-table spoyle of the lybraryes of Englande’, when he saw the collections of suppressed religious houses broken up for resale or for use as binding fragments, scrap paper, ‘in stacyoners and boke bynders store howses, some in grosers, sopesellars, taylers, and other occupyers shoppes, some in shyppes ready to be carryed over the sea into Flaunders to be solde’.² If such books were indeed exported to Flanders in the years after the...

    • 4 ‘Moche profitable unto religious persones, gathered by a brother of Syon’: Syon Abbey and English Books
      (pp. 129-154)

      Syon Abbey’s involvement in the early printed book market has generated scholarly interest from a few angles. The classic, essential treatments of the topic, Doyle’s discussion of the larger role of religious orders in the printed book trade and J.T. Rhodes’s survey of Syon’s involvement in the publication of pre-Reformation books, are an excellent starting point for this topic, providing lists and descriptions of texts and authors. Critics such as George R.Keiser and myself have examined the publication of Middle English mystical and visionary books, including those printed from Syon manuscripts. Vincent Gillespie’s recent work on the printed books in...

  11. III The Bridgettines in Exile

    • 5 Continuity and Isolation: The Bridgettines of Syon in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries
      (pp. 155-176)

      The heartfelt words of Prioress Barbara Wiseman and the Bridgettine sisters in Lisbon to the Spanish Infanta might have been written by any of the exiled English nuns during the seventeenth century. As members of a religious minority which was not permitted officially to practise its faith, hundreds of women left their homeland to join expatriate religious communities abroad. The exodus began in the aftermath of Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries when groups of Bridgettines, Dominicans, Poor Clares and possibly nuns of other orders travelled abroad to continue their pious vocation in continental cloisters. Likewise, individuals determined to maintain...

    • 6 Books and Reading at Syon Abbey, Lisbon, in the Seventeenth Century
      (pp. 177-202)

      St Bridget (c. 1301–1373) placed study at the heart of her version of the monastic day when establishing her order and, as a result, from the time of its foundation by Henry V in 1415, books and learning were of central importance in the religious life at Syon Abbey.¹C. Annette Grisé, one of a number of historians who have discussed the importance of books at Syon, has described the convent as an important site of literary production and reception and a significant reading community.² Syon nuns participated in the production of devotional and instructional manuscripts as readers, patrons and...

  12. IV History and Memory

    • 7 The Syon Martiloge
      (pp. 203-227)

      Some kind of written record is a natural and almost required instrument in a community formed with serious intentions, where a small or large number of people have decided to co-operate. This is no less true if we go back to the Middle Ages. For a medieval monastery, a roll of all members and a list of benefactors that were to be remembered would seem a necessary tool. Syon Abbey, of course, was no exception. Among the preserved books from its fifteenth-century collections there is a volume that records the English Bridgettines and their friends. Scholars in search of firsthand...

    • 8 Syon Abbey Preserved: Some Historians of Syon
      (pp. 228-251)

      This, by now familiar, entry for 1539 from Charles Wriothesley’sA Chronicle of England During the Reigns of the Tudors, from A.D. 1485 to 1559, apparently announcing the end of a great religious house, is actually one of the earliest in a series of ‘ historical’ glimpses of Syon Abbey.³ The centuries of Syon’s continuing existence have not passed uneventfully, and over the years interested men and women, both inside and outside of the Order, have, with various ends in mind, taken up the task of recording its story. A number of these histories, either originating within the Syon Abbey...

  13. APPENDIX: Syon Abbey’s Books at the University of Exeter
    (pp. 252-254)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 255-268)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 269-272)