Detailed study of female monasticism in the later middle ages, with particular emphasis on the nuns' importance to the local community.Convents were an important part of medieval monastic life, but only now, with the upsurge of interest in women's history, are they beginning to receive the attention they deserve. The prevailing view has been that female monasticism was bankrupt, spiritually and socially as well as financially, but Professor Oliva shows the reality to have been otherwise. In her study of the eleven female monasteries in the diocese of Norwich between 1350-1540, the convents emerge as integral parts of the local social and spiritual landscape, with nuns more active in the local community than their male counterparts, and markedly more popular with parish gentry and yeoman farmers (as their wills prove). The majority of nuns are shown to have been from these parish gentry families, not from the upper gentry or aristocracy as has been thought, and the records of their active lives, so rewardingly examined here, reveal mobility within the nunnery too, the existence of a `career ladder' enabling nuns to progress to more important and prestigious household offices.
Professor MARILYN OLIVAteaches in the Center for Medieval Studies at Fordham University.
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Studies in the History of Medieval Religion
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Greatly to be welcomed...explores a variety of documentation (far richer than historians have been willing to allow) to investigate the role, and perceptions, of women religious between 1350 and 1540. AM HIST REVIEWA superlative work, based on sensible comparisons between monks and nuns, and showing how often women's communities at this time lived more closely to the essence of Christian monasticism than did monks... Conclusions from this study are applicable to a much wider region (and) Oliva's work provides the basis from which many studies of earlier medieval women will be able to interpret the more fragmentary records... A remarkable piece of careful scholarship, which should for evermore replace ... Power's very outdated treatment of nuns. This is also a tour de force of social history based on quantitative sampling, careful prosopography, and intensive archival research. ALBION (Berman)Its overall importance is substantial... We can no longer think of late-medieval nuns as spiritually insouciant, poor managers, or intellectually lightweight. These women, like this book about them, warrant respect. SPECULUM