Convent Chronicles

Women Writing About Women and Reform in the Late Middle Ages

By (author) Anne Winston-Allen

Paperback - £28.95

Publication date:

15 November 2004

Length of book:

368 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271028521

The late Middle Ages was a time of intense religious ferment in Europe marked by countless calls for reform of the Church. Within monastic orders, the Observant movement was one such effort to reform religious houses, sparked by the widespread fear that these houses had strayed too far from their original calling. In Convent Chronicles, Anne Winston-Allen offers a rare inside look at the Observant reform movement from the women’s point of view.

Although we know a great deal about the men who inhabited Observant religious houses, we know very little about their female counterparts—even though women outnumbered men in many places. Often what we do know about women comes to us through the filter of men’s accounts. Recovering long-overlooked writings by women in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, Winston-Allen surveys the extraordinary literary and scribal activities in German- and Dutch-speaking religious communities in Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and the Low Countries. While previous studies have relied on records left by male activists, these women’s narratives offer an alternative perspective that challenges traditional views of women’s role and agency. Women were, in fact, active participants in the religious conversations that dominated the day.

With its rich depiction of women as transmitters of culture, Convent Chronicles will be invaluable to scholars as well as to graduate and undergraduate students interested in the history of women’s monasticism and religious writing.

“Anne Winston-Allen breaks new ground in Convent Chronicles, studying texts that are all but unknown and challenging the notion that there were no, or too few, texts written by women in the Middle Ages. By exploring broad-ranging issues, she puts to rest the ‘woman as victim’ question. She shows that, quite to the contrary, women fought for what they believed in and actively resisted when their positions were challenged. Likewise, women were producers of important works that give us entirely new insights into female religiosity and its distinctiveness in the late Middle Ages.”

—Larissa Taylor, Colby College