Middle English Legends of Women Saints: Introduction


1 For a good recent example of research on the popular, folkloric aspects of a saint's cult, see Francesca Sautman, "Saint Anne in Folk Tradition: Late Medieval France," in Ashley and Sheingorn, Interpreting Cultural Symbols, pp. 69-94.

2 Even Hippolyte Delehaye, the world's greatest authority on saints' legends in the early twentieth century, seems sometimes to have fallen into this trap. In his well-known introduction to the genre, Les Légendes hagiographiques [The Legends of the Saints], he regretfully dismissed the majority of the legends as a kind of childish folklore that had substituted itself for authentic, valuable historical documents about the saints.

3 Alison Goddard Elliott, Roads to Paradise: Reading the Lives of the Early Saints (Hanover: University Press of New England, 1987).

4 Charles F. Altman, "Two Types of Opposition and the Structure of Latin Saints' Lives," Medievalia et Humanistica n.s. 6 (1975), 1-11.

5 See especially The Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity and two of Brown's articles, "The Rise and Function of the Holy Man in Late Antiquity" and "Relics and Social Status in the Age of Gregory of Tours" (Brown [1982], pp. 222-50).

6 André Vauchez, La Sainteté en Occident aux derniers siècles du Moyen Age [Sainthood in the Later Middle Ages].

7 On this issue, see Schulenburg (1978) and Herlihy, "Did Women Have a Renaissance?"

8 Even in Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages, when canonization was a relatively informal and localized matter, a community was not supposed to treat a deceased person's tomb as a shrine, or to add his or her name to the local catalog of saints, until the evidence for that person's sanctity had been approved by at least one appropriate representative of the church hierarchy, normally the diocesan bishop. As time went on, of course, the processes required to authorize a cult became increasingly formal and elaborate, reaching their apparent climax in the thirteenth century, when papal canonization became the official norm. On these developments, see Eric W. Kemp, Canonization and Authority in the Western Church (London: Oxford University Press, 1948) and the opening chapters of Vauchez's La Sainteté en Occident.

9 Translated by Herbert Musurillo in The Acts of the Christian Martyrs, p. 75.

10 For a good introduction to these legends of female penitents, including translations of the key texts, see Benedicta Ward's Harlots of the Desert: A Study of Repentance in Early Monastic Sources.

11 Jerome, letter 108, trans. W. H. Fremantle, in Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, ed. Philip Schaff et al., second series, vol. 6 (New York: The Christian Literature Company, 1893).

12 On the early legends of transvestite saints, see John Anson, "The Female Transvestite in Early Monasticism: The Origin and Development of a Motif," Viator 5 (1974), 1-32. Paul Szarmach discusses an interesting Anglo-Saxon version of one such legend in "Aelfric's Women Saints: Eugenia," in New Readings on Women in Old English Literature, ed. Helen Damico and Alexandra Hennessey Olsen (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990), pp. 146-57.

13 Modern English versions of the early Lives of these three saints and fourteen more can be found in Sainted Women of the Dark Ages, a collection by Jo Ann McNamara et al.

14 On this issue, see, for example, Schulenburg, Forgetful of Their Sex, pp. 93-95.

15 Schulenburg, Forgetful of Their Sex, p. 65.

16 Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, 4.23.

17 Bede preserves some information about them, of course, as do a number of other historical records. As Stephanie Hollis has shown, however, the surviving sources - and Bede more than most - tend to be heavily biased by the orthodoxy of a later period when all power in the church was supposed to be in the hands of ordained male clergy and religious women were supposed to be confined to their cloisters. One has to read against the grain of such sources in order to find the contributions actually made by women - as Hollis herself does in her fascinating study, Anglo-Saxon Women and the Church.

18 For an English translation of this Life, see C. H. Talbot, The Anglo-Saxon Missionaries in Germany. Hollis gives a detailed analysis of its strengths and limitations in the final chapter of Anglo-Saxon Women and the Church.

19 See especially Jesus as Mother, ch. 4, and the essays reprinted in Fragmentation and Redemption.

20 Manfred Görlach, "Middle English Legends, 1220-1530," p. 445. Using recent research on the dialects of the various manuscripts, Görlach contends that the important hagiographical collections in Middle English were identified with different regions of the country; a map on p. 440 shows the approximate distribution of the major ones.

21 See Karen A. Winstead, ed., Capgrave's Life of Saint Katherine (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1999).

22 Chaucer's only retelling of a genuine saint's legend is the account of St. Cecilia which he assigned to the Second Nun in The Canterbury Tales, but he expertly imitated the genre on a number of other occasions - most notably in The Prioress's Tale, The Man of Law's Tale, The Clerk's Tale, and The Legend of Good Women.

23 Modern English translations of all three Katherine Group legends can be found in Anchoritic Spirituality: Ancrene Wisse and Associated Works, trans. Anne Savage and Nicholas Watson. See also the forthcoming edition in Middle English, edited for the Middle English Texts Series by Elizabeth Robertson.

24 Görlach provides a good overview of his own extensive research in this area, with regard to the sources of the SEL, in "Middle English Legends," pp. 449-56. David Mycoff, who studied the legend of Mary Magdalen in great detail, helpfully defines the particular characteristics that distinguish the Legenda account of this saint from more traditional ones (see William Caxton, A Critical Edition, ed. Mycoff, pp. 25-27, cited below in the introduction to the Mary Magdalen legend) and goes on to draw appropriately careful conclusions about the sources of the various Middle English versions.

25 The most obvious candidates are liturgical manuscripts: the breviaries and office lectionaries that provided the lessons read at Matins on saints' days during the year. Although the vast majority of the liturgical books used in England were destroyed at the time of the Reformation, there are dozens of surviving Sarum, York, and monastic manuscripts which give abbreviated accounts of the saints that do not match the lessons in the printed editions and have never been compared with the Middle English retellings of the same saints' legends.

26 This issue has recently evoked a good deal of spirited debate among feminist critics of Middle English literature. Among those critics who have read virgin martyr legends as deeply misogynistic, some of the most sophisticated and interesting arguments have come from Elizabeth Robertson, in Early English Devotional Prose and the Female Audience and again in "The Corporeality of Female Sanctity in The Life of Saint Margaret," and Gayle Margherita, in the second chapter of The Romance of Origins: Language and Sexual Difference in Middle English Literature. Persuasive counter-arguments have been offered by Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, especially in "The Virgin's Tale," and Sarah Salih, in "Performing Virginity: Sex and Violence in the Katherine Group."

27 On the practical relevance of these legends to young medieval women, see Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, "Saints' Lives and the Female Reader." Recent interpretations that find political messages in particular Middle English versions have included Lynn Staley Johnson, "Chaucer's Tale of the Second Nun and Strategies of Dissent"; Sherry L. Reames, "Artistry, Decorum, and Purpose in Three Middle English Retellings of the Cecilia Legend"; Mary-Ann Stouck, "Saints and Rebels: Hagiography and Opposition to the King in Late Fourteenth-Century England"; and Karen A. Winstead, "Capgrave's Saint Katherine and the Perils of Gynecocracy" and the final chapter in her book, Virgin Martyrs: Legends of Sainthood in Late Medieval England.

28 On this issue, see Dyan Elliott, Spiritual Marriage: Sexual Abstinence in Medieval Wedlock (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993).
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Middle English Legends of Women Saints: Introduction

Hagiography or saints' legends, writings that recount and celebrate the lives, deaths, and posthumous miracles of men and women recognized as saints, comprised one of the dominant literary genres in Europe from Late Antiquity to the end of the Middle Ages. From this long period, many thousands of hagiographical texts survive - a vast body of potential source material on the history and culture of the medieval church. Most of these texts are in Latin or Greek, and were clearly designed for monastic or clerical audiences; but an enormous number and variety of vernacular versions were produced in the later Middle Ages (thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries), suggesting that the legends eventually reached most segments of the lay public as well. Although the popular character of the legends has sometimes been exaggerated, there is no denying the strength of their influence on lay religious culture in the late Middle Ages. Favorite episodes were illustrated far and wide in church windows, frescoes, sculptures, and tapestries, many of them specifically commissioned by lay donors. Episodes from the legends also occupy a prominent place among the motifs chosen for illustration in books of hours and other devotional articles made for private use by laymen and women. Responses to the legends by less prosperous and literate laypeople cannot be gauged so directly, but a great deal of evidence suggests that the fabric of most people's lives was densely interwoven with beliefs and practices fostered by the legends - not just participation in the annual festivals of important saints, but also visits to shrines to seek healing or forgiveness, the knowledge of proverbs and folk customs that preserved bits of lore about the saints, the practice of giving children names that linked them with particular patron saints, the use of charms and talismans that supposedly conferred a given saint's protection, and so on.1

Despite the obvious cultural importance of saints' legends in the Middle Ages, modern readers have often been tempted to ignore or dismiss them - largely, I believe, because we have tended to approach them with the wrong expectations. For example, one will be continually frustrated if one expects the legends to provide sober, trustworthy biographies of individual saints.2 Most hagiographers were not disinterested historians, but preachers and publicists. Their chief goal was to glorify the memory of a particular saint, generally for such practical purposes as strengthening the morale of the community to which the saint had belonged, driving home some point of doctrine or morality, winning new adherents to the saint's way of life, or drawing pilgrims to the saint's shrine. In this context, advocates of a new saint might go to some lengths to prove that he or she had surpassed or at least equaled the holiness and power of earlier heroes of the faith, and advocates of earlier saints might respond by improving their own legends. Hence the genre is full of conventional formulas, polemical exaggerations, and shameless borrowings from the Bible and earlier legends.

What can modern scholars and students hope to learn from sources like these? If we work cautiously enough, attempting to strip away all the conventional and polemical material in the legends, we may find nuggets of reliable historical detail. Donald Weinstein and Rudolph M. Bell give a large-scale demonstration of this procedure, with applications to medieval family history, in the first half of their 1982 book, Saints and Society. Alternatively and even more fruitfully, we can study the conventions and polemical elements themselves, seeking to understand what the traditional patterns can tell us about the assumptions and concerns of the people who used them or changed them in various ways. In the past few decades, students of medieval culture have begun to produce valuable and interesting work of this kind. Applying narrative theory to early hagiography, for example, Alison Goddard Elliott treats the genre quite seriously as a variety of folklore, or myth, analyzing the structural patterns that underlie it and the functions served by its conventions.3 Elliott's book develops an important distinction suggested in 1975 by Charles F. Altman:4 whereas the typical structure of a martyr's passio sets goodness in diametrical opposition to evil, the typical structure of a confessor's vita "presents a gradational view of the universe, in which good is opposed to better and worse" (Elliott, p. 17). To the former Altman and Elliott relate medieval epic; to the latter, romance.

Some important recent historical studies have shed light on other facets of hagiography by studying legends in relation to the particular cultural and historical contexts from which they came. In a series of seminal articles and books, Peter Brown has explored the psychological and social needs that were met by the cult of the saints in Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages, in the process revealing unexpected depths of meaning in many conventional features of the legends.5 André Vauchez has done similarly ground-breaking research on the cult of the saints in the late Middle Ages, showing how the new spiritual movements and emphases that emerged during these centuries were reflected in the veneration of new kinds of saints.6 One valuable contribution of such studies is the clarity with which they demonstrate that conceptions of sanctity are socially or institutionally constructed, rather than natural and inevitable, and that they vary not only in different chronological eras, but also in different regions, kinds of communities, and interest groups. During the later thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, for example, Vauchez found that urban Christians in Italy were spontaneously venerating local saints who exemplified one paradigm of sanctity while Christians north of the Alps continued to prefer aristocratic saints who conformed to an earlier paradigm and the popes were limiting the possibility of official canonization to candidates who fit a new, more selective paradigm of their own.

Studies of gender in saints' legends must begin with the uncomfortable recognition that female saints have been greatly outnumbered by male saints in every period of church history.7 There is of course an easy explanation for this imbalance: the powers of official canonization were always in male hands, and so were most of the pens that recorded oral traditions for posterity.8 But the issue of sanctity and gender is too complicated and interesting to be reduced to a mere case of sex discrimination by church authorities - as even a brief chronological survey suggests.

In Late Antiquity, the prevailing images of sanctity were unambiguously masculine. Women were included among the martyrs, of course, but even the martyr was envisaged as fulfilling a prototypically male role, that of athlete or warrior, which was beyond the natural capacity of women. Thus the endurance of the female martyr Blandina, in the eyewitness account of the persecutions at Lyons in the second century, is depicted as miraculous: "Tiny, weak, and insignificant as she was she would give inspiration to her brothers, for she had put on Christ, that mighty and invincible athlete, and had overcome the Adversary in many contests, and through her conflict had won the crown of immortality."9

The second great model of sanctity in the early centuries of Christianity was the monastic ascetic who withdrew from the world, renouncing all earthly pleasures and possessions to seek God alone. Among the legendary ascetics were a few repentant female sinners like Mary of Egypt and Thais, former prostitutes who became saints by devoting the remainder of their lives to a penitential regime of total solitude and extreme privation.10 But the conventional image of the ascetic saint, like that of the martyr, was male. The strength of this gender identification is suggested by the way Jerome praises his already saintly, ascetical friend Paula when he describes her visit to desert monks in Egypt: "Her endurance [was] scarcely credible in a woman. Forgetful of her sex and of her weakness she even desired to make her abode . . . among these thousands of monks."11 There were also hagiographical romances about idealistic women who disguised themselves as men - casting off their own gender, in effect, so that they could join such communities of monks and achieve sainthood.12

From the sixth to the twelfth century, the western Christians most likely to become saints were bishops, abbots, monastic founders, and kings - individuals, that is, who wielded considerable power in society because of their high office and (usually) aristocratic birth. Given the emphasis on public power in this paradigm of sanctity, it is not surprising that women tended to be overshadowed by men, comprising only about 15% of the total number of new saints recognized during these centuries. There were some major interruptions in this pattern, however, especially in the early Middle Ages. The pre-Carolingian saints of France included such famous and influential women as Clothild, queen of the Franks (d. 544/5), who was credited with the conversion of her husband and his people; Radegund (d. 587), a later Frankish queen who left her husband to become a nun, establishing an important convent at Poitiers, but remained engaged in the public life of the kingdom; and Balthild (died c. 680), a Merovingian queen who became renowned both for her generosity in endowing monastic communities and her zeal in reforming their way of life.13 Female saints also left their mark on the church in early medieval Ireland. The most famous example is Brigid (died c. 525), founder and ruler of the great double monastery at Kildare. St. Brigid wielded so much power in the Irish church that some accounts of her life portray her as the de facto bishop of her diocese, with the power to choose and supervise the man who nominally filled that office, and one legend claims that she herself was ordained as a bishop.14 The monastic culture of Anglo-Saxon England seems for a time to have been similarly hospitable to the charisma and talents of saintly women. During the century between 650 and 750, in fact, nearly 40% of the new saints recognized in Britain were women,15 and many of these women played major roles in the church of their day. Royal abbesses like Etheldreda [or Æthelthryth] of Ely (d. 679), Ethelburga [or Æthelburg] of Barking (d. 675), Ebba [or Æbbe] of Coldingham (d. 683), and Elfleda [or Ælffled] of Whitby (d. 714) governed important monastic foundations, presiding over communities of monks as well as nuns, and most of them also ministered to the laity, advised princes and bishops, and took part in the deliberations of councils and synods. The most influential of these abbesses may have been Hilda or Hild of Whitby (d. 680), whom Bede credits with having established one of the greatest educational centers in northern England, where she oversaw the educational and spiritual formation of a whole generation of monks, training them so well that five of her pupils went on to become bishops.16 St. Hilda also hosted and participated in the famous synod at Whitby in 663/64, at which leaders of the Celtic and Roman parties in the British church met with King Oswy to resolve the conflicts between their traditions with regard to the dating of Easter and other issues. When St. Willibrord and later St. Boniface launched their missionary efforts among the Germanic peoples on the Continent, starting around 690, Anglo-Saxon nuns and abbesses became active participants in that work too, and some of them were also eventually recognized as saints. These early female saints of England were largely forgotten after the Norman Conquest, and many of their legends have been lost entirely.17 Perhaps the best of the surviving sources from a hagiographical perspective is the Life of the missionary abbess St. Leoba by Rudolf, a monk in St. Boniface's monastery at Fulda.18 The accounts in this text of Leoba's learning, her influence as a teacher and adviser, and her miracles all testify rather memorably to the kind of benevolent, world-changing power which some early medieval monks were willing to credit to holy women as well as holy men.

As Jane Schulenburg and others have shown, the various ecclesiastical reform movements which began around 750 seem to have improved the discipline and status of priests and monks at the expense of religious women, who were more and more strictly confined to their cloisters. As a result, the opportunities for women to contribute to the work of the church declined steadily during the ninth, tenth, and eleventh centuries, and so did the proportion of new women saints.

When one turns to the hagiography of the late Middle Ages, on the other hand, a great change seems to have occurred, for female saints suddenly become much more common. Of all the new saints recognized in Europe from the thirteenth through the fifteenth century, in fact, nearly a third were women - an enormous rise from the overall percentage in the preceding centuries. In addition, the late Middle Ages saw the multiplication of stories about the Virgin Mary, especially in her role as the last resort of sinners, and a great importation from the Eastern church of romanticized legends about early virgin martyrs like Margaret of Antioch and Katherine of Alexandria. Some of these late-medieval images of female sanctity are credited with great wisdom and spiritual power, but rarely do they recall the androgynous public authority of an Anglo-Saxon abbess like Hilda or Leoba. Instead, their legends tend to dwell on virtues that sound quintessentially feminine - chastity, long suffering (whether from persecution, penitential asceticism, or illness), and compassion for unfortunates - and on such private supernatural experiences as spiritual marriage to Christ and visits from angels. Some late-medieval hagiographers go so far as to suggest that being female is actually an advantage, rather than a liability, in the quest for holiness.

The late-medieval emphasis on holy womanhood does not mean, of course, that some great feminist tide was sweeping through the church. Most hagiography was still written in Latin by and for celibate male members of the clergy and monastic orders. The paradoxical attachment of such men to feminine images of sanctity has been explored most notably by Caroline Walker Bynum, who has systematically analyzed uses of pertinent imagery by spiritual writers of both sexes.19 Bynum shows that late-medieval images of female sanctity were not developed specifically to inspire or indoctrinate women, as modern readers have often supposed; in fact, they seem at least initially to have mattered most to men who were ambivalent about their own privileges and power. Hence the recurrent emphasis on those aspects of women's experience which posed the sharpest contrast to the traditional male paradigm of earthly authority and public achievements. One can see something of the same pattern in contemporary Lives of male saints, a number of whom (like St. Francis of Assisi) were revered for having renounced the kinds of power which earlier medieval saints had used for the glory of God. When the Lives of the saints in question were translated into the vernacular or retold in sermons for the laity, of course, these feminized images of sanctity became available to large numbers of women, some of whom adopted them as models for imitation.

Vernacular Lives of Women Saints in Late-Medieval England

It is dangerous to generalize broadly about Middle English hagiography because it was written for a number of different audiences and includes a wide range of literary forms, purposes, and levels of sophistication. At one end of the spectrum are unassuming popularizations which place their emphasis on colorful, dramatic story-telling, sacrificing the layers of symbolic meaning in their Latin sources for an engaging narrative and some straightforward lessons about faith and conduct. Among the texts in this category are most chapters of the South English Legendary (SEL), a well-known collection of versified legends and other material for church festivals that was apparently written for oral delivery to unlettered members of the laity, and a number of individual saints' legends that were retold in the style of secular verse romances and sometimes copied into the same manuscript anthologies with them. The SEL circulated widely, especially in the southwestern part of England, as attested by the surviving manuscripts, which number more than 60 (counting fragments), ranging in date from about 1300 to 1500. The exact contents of this collection vary considerably from manuscript to manuscript; but of the saints most often included, about 20% are female. Women saints are much more prominently represented among the romance-like verse legends that were transmitted separately. In fact, the six most popular legends in this subgenre seem to have included those of three men (Alexis, Eustace, and Gregory) and three women (Katherine, Margaret, and Mary Magdalen). These individual legends have not survived in nearly as many manuscripts as the SEL; but to judge from the amount of manuscript variation in terms of textual readings, dialect, and date, they too must have reached a fairly wide audience and maintained their popularity for most of the Middle English period. If they are associated with any particular region, it would seem to have been the East Midlands.20

At the opposite end of the stylistic spectrum, one finds some Middle English legends that were composed for an elite readership and display considerable literary ambition. A surprisingly large proportion of these "literary" legends have to do with female saints. The most obvious examples come from three members of the clergy in East Anglia in the fifteenth century: Osbern Bokenham's Legends of Holy Women, thirteen Lives of female saints in a variety of metrical forms which he dedicated to various noble patrons, most of them women; John Lydgate's elaborately rhetorical hagiographical poems, which include a massive Life of Our Lady and a reworking of the Life of St. Margaret; and John Capgrave's hagiographical works - most notably his courtly-epic version of the Life of Katherine of Alexandria.21 But literary hagiography in Middle English was not limited to these examples from East Anglia. In late fourteenth-century London, even Chaucer occasionally turned his hand to legends of saints and quasi-saints, and virtually all of his saintly figures are female.22 And the writing and transmission of the famous Katherine Group legends23 - skillfully elaborated accounts, in vivid alliterative prose, of the virgin martyrs Juliana, Margaret, and Katherine - suggest that there must have been at least a few vernacular readers, as far back as the early thirteenth century, who could appreciate complex and demanding retellings of women saints' legends, rich in what Th. Wolpers called "monastic-mystical" content (Görlach, "Middle English Legends," p. 444).

Between the two extremes of noticeably popular and noticeably literary styles, and perhaps more typical of Middle English hagiography than either, are some rather utilitarian-looking collections of legends. Among these, women saints are prominent in just one: the so-called "Vernon Golden Legend," a group of nine legends rarely seen in other English sources, including four on saintly women (Paula, A Virgin of Antioch, Theodora, and Euphrosyne), which comprises one part of a famous manuscript originally owned by a community of nuns or monks. Roughly contemporary with Vernon (c. 1400) are two larger collections of verse legends: the Scottish Legendary, which survives in just one manuscript and consists of a prologue and 50 legends selected and arranged by the translator, who calls himself a retired "mynistere of haly kirke," and the series of some 30 legends in short couplets that in two manuscripts is added to the usual contents of the Northern Homily Cycle. A better-known collection produced around the same time is John Mirk's Festial, a prose compilation that includes 30 short accounts of saints among its homilies and narratives for church festivals, all ostensibly designed to provide parish priests with material for sermons; Mirk's collection must have filled a real need, since it remained popular enough, decades later, to warrant nearly 20 early printed editions. A later and obviously less successful prose collection for priests, the anonymous Speculum Sacerdotale, survives in just one known manuscript. The fifteenth century also produced two massive collections of prose legends that evidently found sizable readerships of their own. The anonymous Gilte Legende or 1438 Golden Legend, which has sometimes been attributed (on little evidence) to Bokenham, contains up to 178 legends and survives in at least seven complete manuscripts and some fragments. But even the Gilte Legende is overshadowed by the monumental size and success of Caxton's Golden Legend, half a century later. Caxton's collection, evidently designed for private reading by prosperous and well-educated laypeople, expanded the total to some 250 legends; and it was a perennial best-seller from its first publication in 1483 until well into the 1520s.

Notwithstanding the number and apparent variety of Middle English legends that have survived, they represent only a small part of the Latin corpus that was potentially available for vernacular translation. The hagiographical tradition in Middle English, that is, gives just a sample of the Latin tradition - and it is a selective sample rather than a representative one, showing a strong predilection for certain kinds of sources over other kinds and certain paradigms or models of sanctity over others. Let us begin with the sources.

The selectivity of Middle English hagiography can be understood in part as the displacement of local or regional sources, including the Lives of most Anglo-Saxon and Celtic saints, by more universal ones. Some early studies of the subject went so far as to credit a single "universal" collection of abridged legends, the Legenda aurea of Jacobus de Voragine, with having shaped virtually the whole tradition in Middle English from the South English Legendary to Caxton. This is a great over-simplification, but like many fallacies it contains enough truth to seem plausible. Jacobus's work, a handy compilation of material on saints and liturgical seasons first issued around 1260, was one of the most popular books in Western Europe from about 1300 to the Reformation, acquiring the honorific title Legenda aurea [Golden Legend] because it was held in such high esteem. Although Jacobus probably designed his work specifically for preachers and students in his own Dominican Order, it was so frequently imitated, adapted, and translated in the ensuing centuries that its influence seems almost ubiquitous. If one hopes to find the exact source or sources of a given Middle English legend, however, one must usually look well beyond the Legenda.24 Hundreds of other Latin books about the saints were available in late-medieval England, and many of them even had the same practical advantages that evidently commended the Legenda itself to potential translators: brief, efficiently abridged narratives; handy organization, following the liturgical year; emphasis on "universal" saints, whose area of patronage could be defined very broadly, rather than more localized saints who were closely connected with particular places and institutions.25

A second pattern that can be seen in Middle English hagiography is the tendency to ignore recent saints in favor of saints from the first few centuries of the Christian era. Instead of celebrating the virtues and visions of fourteenth-century lay saints like Birgitta of Sweden and Catherine of Siena, that is, most Middle English hagiographers chose to retell the legends of New Testament figures and early martyrs. One might surmise that legends of such long-ago, far-off saints could serve only as escapist entertainment, since they would have no practical relevance to the lives of late-medieval English men and women. But that would be wrong. As Karen Winstead and others have shown, the vernacular writers tend to refashion even the legends of early virgin martyrs in ways that respond to the current needs and concerns of their own envisioned audience. And the Middle English tradition as a whole presents a series of different paradigms of female sanctity - from royal nuns and founders of institutions to beleaguered virgins to holy matrons and mothers - that move steadily closer to the ordinary life experiences of the laity. The organization of the present collection follows that series of paradigms.

We begin with legends about two monastic women of royal (or supposedly royal) birth: Frideswide and Mary Magdalen. No surviving text in Middle English really captures the status and power of the great Anglo-Saxon abbesses as we see them in pre-Conquest sources like Rudolf's Life of Leoba. Glimpses of that kind of authority can be seen in the legend of Mary Magdalen's Provençal apostolate - at least in some retellings, including the one reproduced here from an early manuscript of the SEL. But little or nothing remains of it in the legend of Frideswide. Although the historical Frideswide was an Anglo-Saxon abbess and probably governed a community that included monks as well as nuns, even the earliest surviving Latin account of her life seems already to have been influenced by the imported conventions of the virgin martyr legend, so that she is presented primarily as a victim of male persecution rather than a female or androgynous figure of power. The popular legend of Mary Magdalen, which was imported from the Continent in the twelfth or thirteenth century, is much richer and more multi-faceted; in fact, its fullest late-medieval forms include three different paradigms of sanctity - the repentant sinner, the apostle, and the contemplative - which could easily be appropriated as models for either men or women.

Popular legends of virgin martyrs, a subgenre represented here by the legends of Margaret of Antioch, Christina of Tyre, and Katherine of Alexandria, must be distinguished at the outset from the historical accounts of martyrs, which tend to be much briefer, more sedate, and less gender-specific, as well as chronologically much older. The popular virgin martyr legends which flourished in the late Middle Ages have aroused a good deal of controversy among modern readers because of the frequency with which they involve the motifs of men lusting after a young and beautiful virgin saint, stripping her naked, torturing her body in various horrible ways, and eventually putting her to death. Some critics have seen this fundamental plot as pornographic, or nearly so, in the way it seems to objectify the woman, subjecting her to terrible male violence as punishment for resisting male desires.26 From another perspective, however, these legends can be seen as celebrating the victories of very strong women, whose resolve is undaunted by any tactic or weapon their adversaries can devise. Moreover, if one attends to the particulars of the individual texts, instead of assuming that they are all telling the same story, one notices that many of them seem to be about issues other than sexual desire and sexual violence. In fact, the virgin's adversaries tend to be the authority figures in her family or state, or both, and they are characterized more often as tyrants, infuriated by any disobedience to their orders, than as would-be rapists. Hence another group of critics has emphasized the practical functions of these legends not only in encouraging young women to remain virgins, resisting their parents' pressure to marry, but also in calling more covertly on audiences of both sexes to resist various kinds of political tyranny.27

The final portion of this collection is devoted to St. Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary. Anne's legend was exceptionally influential in the late Middle Ages because it popularized a new paradigm of female sanctity: a holy motherhood that was not miraculously virginal, like Mary's, or even quasi-virginal, like that claimed for most of the medieval saints who had been married.28 In some respects the paradigm of the holy mother represents a significant retreat from earlier medieval images of the female saint as a powerful independent woman, a woman whose identity did not require any relationship with a mortal man to complete it. From another vantage point, however, this paradigm can be seen as an outgrowth of the same devotional and reformist trends that caused the late-medieval Church to place an increasing emphasis on celebrations of the human life of Christ and His family. And its meteoric rise in popularity suggests that it must have responded to a strong desire among the laity for saints who suggested the possibility of sanctifying their own everyday experience as spouses and parents.

Besides reflecting the general trends in Middle English hagiography with regard to sources and paradigms of female sanctity, this collection is intended to suggest the diversity of possibilities beneath the supposedly fixed and predictable surfaces of the legends. Medieval readers and listeners did not just passively receive saints' legends; they continually appropriated them and reused them for their own purposes. Hence the preference here, whenever possible, for multiple retellings of the same legend, in order to illustrate some of the different meanings and uses that could be derived from a single story. We have also attempted to choose retellings that are complete, reasonably effective and interesting, not overly long, and not easily accessible in other editions. Thus our collection includes a number of relatively unknown texts that have not appeared in print since Horstmann's transcriptions in the nineteenth century and a few that have never been published at all, but makes room for only one legend from Bokenham's collection and completely excludes such famous and important examples of Middle English hagiography as the Katherine Group, Chaucer's The Second Nun's Tale, Capgrave's Life of St. Katherine, the standard contents of the South English Legendary, and all of Caxton's Golden Legend. Interested readers are urged, of course, to find those texts for themselves and compare them with the less well-known selections included here. Even when one compares all the versions of a legend that got written down in Middle English and preserved for us, however, one will have seen only the tip of the iceberg. This point is vividly illustrated by such large multi-lingual and multi-disciplinary studies as that of Jansen on the late-medieval cult of Mary Magdalen, or that of Kathleen Ashley and Pamela Sheingorn on the cult of St. Anne. As a first step toward completing the picture, we would suggest that readers of the present collection ask not only what messages each text was designed to convey, but also what possibilities of interpretation it opened or tried to close for its original audience.

Go To The Legend of Frideswide of Oxford, an Anglo-Saxon Royal Abbess, Introduction
General Bibliography

Principal collections of saints' Lives in Latin

Bolland, Joannes, et al., eds. Acta Sanctorum quotquot toto orbe coluntur. Original edition. Antwerp: Apud Joannem Mevrsium, 1643-. Third ed. [jan. i to oct. x]. Paris: Victor Palmé, 1863-69. Rpt. of original vols. 1-60. Turnhout: Brepols, 1966-71. [Scholarly editions of original vitae and other important sources on the saints, with historical and textual commentary, following the order of the liturgical year.]

Horstmann, Carl, ed. Nova Legenda Anglie, as collected by John of Tynemouth, John Capgrave, and others. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1901. [Rich collection of texts on English saints.]

Jacobus de Voragine. Legenda aurea, vulgo Historia lombardica dicta. Ed. Theodor Graesse. Third ed. Vratislaviae [Breslau]: Koebner, 1890. Rpt. Osnabruck: Zeller, 1969. [This was the standard Latin version for most of the twentieth century, and the basis of most modern translations.]

__________. Legenda aurea: Edizione critica. Ed. Giovanni Paolo Maggioni. 2 vols. Second ed., rev. Florence: SISMEL, Edizioni del Galluzzo, 1998. [The most famous medieval collection of abbreviated saints' legends, finally available in a critical edition with useful notes, which sets the new standard.]

Mombrizio, Bonino (Boninus Mombritius), ed. Sanctuarium, seu Vitae sanctorum. 2 vols. Milan, c. 1477. Rpt. Paris: Albert Fontemoing, 1910. [A handy collection of some of the best-known Latin vitae that circulated in the Middle Ages.]

Principal collections of saints' Lives in Middle English

Bokenham, Osbern. Legendys of Hooly Wummen. Ed. Mary S. Serjeantson. EETS o.s. 206. London: Oxford University Press, 1938.

Caxton, William. The Golden Legend, or Lives of the Saints. [Ed. F. S. Ellis.] 7 vols. in 4. London: J. M. Dent, 1900. Rpt. New York: AMS Press, 1973.

d'Ardenne, S. R. T. O., ed. The Katherine Group, edited from MS Bodley 34. Bibliothèque de la Faculté de philosophie et lettres de l'Université de Liège 215. Paris: Société d'Edition les Belles Lettres, 1977.

D'Evelyn, Charlotte, and Anna J. Mill, eds. The South English Legendary, edited from Corpus Christi College Cambridge MS 145 and British Museum MS Harley 2277. 3 vols. EETS o.s. 235, 236, 244. London: Oxford University Press, 1956-59.

Görlach, Manfred, ed. The Kalendre of the Newe Legende of Englande. Middle English Texts 27. Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag C. Winter, 1994.

Hamer, Richard, and Vida Russell, eds. Supplementary Lives in Some Manuscripts of the Gilte Legende. EETS o.s. 315. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

__________, eds. The Gilte Legende [standard contents]. Forthcoming from EETS and Oxford University Press.

Horstmann, Carl, ed. Sammlung altenglischer Legenden. Heilbronn: Henninger, 1878. [Includes items 1-7 and 9 from the "Vernon Golden Legend."]

__________, ed. Altenglische Legenden. Neue Folge, mit Einleitung und Anmerkungen. Heilbronn: Henninger, 1881. [Includes legends added to the Northern Homily Cycle.]

Metcalfe, W. M., ed. Legends of the Saints in the Scottish Dialect of the Fourteenth Century. 6 vols. in 3. Scottish Text Society 13, 18, 23, 25, 35, and 37. Edinburgh: W. Blackwood and Sons, 1896. [Vols. 1 (nos. 13, 18) and 2 (23, 25) comprise the texts, vol. 3 (35, 37) the notes.]

Mirk, John. Mirk's Festial: A Collection of Homilies. Ed. Theodor Erbe. EETS e.s. 96. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner and Co., 1905.

Robertson, Elizabeth, ed. The Katherine Group. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, forthcoming.

Weatherly, Edward H., ed. Speculum Sacerdotale. EETS o.s. 200. London: Oxford University Press, 1936.

Collections of legends in modern English translation

Bokenham, Osbern. A Legend of Holy Women: Osbern Bokenham, Legends of Holy Women. Trans. and intro. Sheila Delany. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1992.

Cazelles, Brigitte, trans. The Lady as Saint: A Collection of French Hagiographic Romances of the Thirteenth Century. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991.

Donovan, Leslie A., trans. and intro. Women Saints' Lives in Old English Prose. Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 1999.

Head, Thomas, ed. Medieval Hagiography: An Anthology. New York: Garland Pub., 2000.

Jacobus de Voragine. The Golden Legend: Readings on the Saints. Trans. William Granger Ryan. 2 vols. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993.

McNamara, Jo Ann, and John E. Halborg, with E. Gordon Whatley, ed. and trans. Sainted Women of the Dark Ages. Durham: Duke University Press, 1992.

Musurillo, Herbert, texts, trans., and intro. The Acts of the Christian Martyrs. Oxford Early Christian Texts. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972.

Noble, Thomas F. X., and Thomas Head, eds. Soldiers of Christ: Saints and Saints' Lives from Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995.

Petroff, Elizabeth Alvilda, ed. Medieval Women's Visionary Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.

Savage, Anne, and Nicholas Watson, trans. and intro. Anchoritic Spirituality: Ancrene Wisse and Associated Works. New York: Paulist Press, 1991.

Stouck, Mary-Ann, ed. Medieval Saints: A Reader. Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 1999.

Talbot, C. H., ed. and trans. The Anglo-Saxon Missionaries in Germany. New York: Sheed and Ward, 1954.

Ward, Benedicta, SLG. Harlots of the Desert: A Study of Repentance in Early Monastic Sources. Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1987.

Winstead, Karen A., ed. and trans. Chaste Passions: Medieval English Virgin Martyr Legends. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000.

Wogan-Browne, Jocelyn, and Glyn S. Burgess, trans. Virgin Lives and Holy Deaths: Two Exemplary Biographies for Anglo-Norman Women. London: J. M. Dent, 1996.

Historical studies of saints' legends and their cultural setting

Ashley, Kathleen, and Pamela Sheingorn, eds. Interpreting Cultural Symbols: Saint Anne in Late Medieval Society. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1990.

Atkinson, Clarissa. The Oldest Vocation: Christian Motherhood in the Middle Ages. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991.

Brown, Peter. "The Rise and Function of the Holy Man in Late Antiquity." Journal of Roman Studies 61 (1971), 80-101.

__________. The Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981.

__________. Society and the Holy in Late Antiquity. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982.

Bynum, Caroline Walker. Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982.

__________. "Introduction: The Complexity of Symbols." In Gender and Religion: On the Complexity of Symbols. Ed. Caroline W. Bynum, Stevan Harrell, and Paula Richman. Boston: Beacon Press, 1986. Pp. 1-20.

__________. Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.

__________. Fragmentation and Redemption: Essays on Gender and the Human Body in Medieval Religion. New York: Zone Books, 1991.

Delehaye, Hippolyte. Les Légendes hagiographiques. Brussels: Société des Bollandistes, 1905. English ed. The Legends of the Saints. Trans. Donald Attwater. New York: Fordham University Press, 1962.

Dor, Juliette, Lesley Johnson, and Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, eds. New Trends in Feminine Spirituality: The Holy Women of Liège and Their Impact. Medieval Women: Texts and Contexts 2. Turnhout: Brepols, 1999.

Duffy, Eamon. "Holy Maydens, Holy Wyfes: The Cult of Women Saints in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century England." In Women in the Church. Ed. W. J. Sheils and Diana Wood. Studies in Church History 27 (1990), 175-96.

Elkins, Sharon K. Holy Women of Twelfth-Century England. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988.

Goodich, Michael. Vita Perfecta: The Ideal of Sainthood in the Thirteenth Century. Monographien zur Geschichte des Mittelalters 25. Stuttgart: A. Hiersemann, 1982.

Head, Thomas. "Hagiography." In Women in the Middle Ages: An Encyclopedia. Ed. Katharina M. Wilson and Nadia Margolis. London: Routledge, 2002.

Herlihy, David. "Did Women Have a Renaissance? A Reconsideration." Medievalia et Humanistica n.s. 13 (1985), 1-22.

Hollis, Stephanie. Anglo-Saxon Women and the Church: Sharing a Common Fate. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press, 1992.

Kieckhefer, Richard. Unquiet Souls: Fourteenth-Century Saints and Their Religious Milieu. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.

McNamara, Jo Ann. Sisters in Arms: Catholic Nuns through Two Millennia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.

Mooney, Catherine M., ed. Gendered Voices: Medieval Saints and Their Interpreters. Foreword by Caroline Walker Bynum. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999.

Mulder-Bakker, Anneke B., ed. Sanctity and Motherhood: Essays on Holy Mothers in the Middle Ages. New York: Garland Pub., 1995.

Newman, Barbara. From Virile Woman to WomanChrist: Studies in Medieval Religion and Literature. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995.

Reames, Sherry L. The Legenda aurea: A Reexamination of Its Paradoxical History. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985.

Riches, Samantha J. E., and Sarah Salih, eds. Gender and Holiness: Men, Women, and Saints in Late Medieval Europe. New York: Routledge, 2002.

Salih, Sarah. Versions of Virginity in Late Medieval England. Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2001.

Salisbury, Joyce E. Church Fathers, Independent Virgins. London: Verso, 1991.

Schulenburg, Jane Tibbetts. "Sexism and the Celestial Gynaeceum - from 500 to 1200." Journal of Medieval History 4 (1978), 117-33.

__________. "Female Sanctity: Public and Private Roles, ca. 500-1100." In Women and Power in the Middle Ages. Ed. Mary Erler and Maryanne Kowaleski. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1988. Pp. 102-25.

__________. Forgetful of Their Sex: Female Sanctity and Society, ca. 500-1100. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.

Vauchez, André. La Sainteté en Occident aux derniers siècles du Moyen Age, d'après les procès de canonisation et les documents hagiographiques. Rome: Ecole française de Rome, 1981; rev. ed., 1988. English ed. Sainthood in the Later Middle Ages. Trans. Jean Birrell. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Weinstein, Donald, and Rudolph M. Bell. Saints and Society: The Two Worlds of Western Christendom, 1000-1700. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982.

Wilson, Stephen, ed. and intro. Saints and Their Cults: Studies in Religious Sociology, Folklore, and History. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

Wolf, Kirsten. "The Severed Breast: A Topos in the Legends of Female Virgin Martyr Saints." Arkiv for Nordisk Filologi 112 (1997), 97-112.

Literary studies of Middle English saints' legends and their contexts

Delany, Sheila. Impolitic Bodies: Poetry, Saints, and Society in Fifteenth-Century England: The Work of Osbern Bokenham. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

D'Evelyn, Charlotte, and Frances A. Foster. "Saints' Legends." In A Manual of the Writings in Middle English, 1050-1500. Ed. J. Burke Severs. Vol. 2. New Haven: Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1970. Pp. 410-40 and 556-635.

Edwards, A. S. G. "The Transmission and Audience of Osbern Bokenham's Legendys of Hooly Wummen." In Late-Medieval Religious Texts and Their Transmission: Essays in Honour of A. I. Doyle. Ed. A. J. Minnis. York Manuscripts Conferences: Proceedings 3. Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 1994. Pp. 157-67.

Fletcher, Alan J. "Unnoticed Sermons from John Mirk's Festial." Speculum 55 (1980), 514-22.

__________."John Mirk and the Lollards." Medium Aevum 56 (1987), 217-24.

Görlach, Manfred. The Textual Tradition of the South English Legendary. Leeds Texts and Monographs n.s. 6. Leeds: University of Leeds, 1974.

__________. "Middle English Legends, 1220-1530." In Hagiographies: International History of the Latin and Vernacular Hagiographical Literature in the West from its Origins to 1550. Ed. Guy Philippart. Turnhout: Brepols, 1994- . Vol. 1, pp. 429-85.

__________. Studies in Middle English Saints' Legends. Anglistische Forschungen 257. Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag C. Winter, 1998.

Jankofsky, Klaus P. "National Characteristics in the Portrayal of English Saints in the South English Legendary." In Images of Sainthood in Medieval Europe. Ed. Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski and Timea Szell. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991. Pp. 81-93.

__________, ed. The South English Legendary: A Critical Assessment. Tübingen: Francke, 1992.

Johnson, Lynn Staley. "Chaucer's Tale of the Second Nun and the Strategies of Dissent." Studies in Philology 89 (1992), 314-33.

Lewis, Katherine J. "Model Girls? Virgin-Martyrs and the Training of Young Women in Late Medieval England." In Young Medieval Women. Ed. Katherine J. Lewis, Noël James Menuge, and Kim M. Phillips. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999. Pp. 25-46.

Liszka, Thomas R. "MS Laud Misc. 108 and the Early History of the South English Legendary." Manuscripta 33 (1989), 75-91.

__________. "The South English Legendaries." In The North Sea World in the Middle Ages: Studies in the Cultural History of North-Western Europe. Ed. Thomas R. Liszka and Lorna E. M. Walker. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2001. Pp. 243-80.

Margherita, Gayle. "Body and Metaphor in the Middle English Juliana." In The Romance of Origins: Language and Sexual Difference in Middle English Literature. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994. Pp. 43-61.

Millett, Bella. "The Audience of the Saints' Lives of the Katherine Group." Reading Medieval Studies 16 (1990), 127-56.

Pickering, O[liver] S. "The Outspoken South English Legendary Poet." In Late-Medieval Religious Texts and their Transmission: Essays in Honour of A. I. Doyle. Ed. A. J. Minnis. Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 1994. Pp. 21-37.

Powell, Susan. "John Mirk's Festial and the Pastoral Programme." Leeds Studies in English n.s. 22 (1991), 85-102.

Reames, Sherry L. "Artistry, Decorum, and Purpose in Three Middle English Retellings of the Cecilia Legend." In The Endless Knot: Essays on Old and Middle English in Honor of Marie Borroff. Ed. M. Teresa Tavormina and R. F. Yeager. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1995. Pp. 177-99.

Robertson, Elizabeth. Early English Devotional Prose and the Female Audience. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1990.

__________. "The Corporeality of Female Sanctity in The Life of Saint Margaret." In Images of Sainthood in Medieval Europe. Ed. Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski and Timea Szell. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991. Pp. 268-87.

Roth, Francis. The English Austin Friars, 1249-1538. 2 vols. New York: Augustinian Historical Institute, 1961-66. [On Bokenham: vol. 1, pp. 421-24, 515-17.]

Salih, Sarah. "Performing Virginity: Sex and Violence in the Katherine Group." In Constructions of Widowhood and Virginity in the Middle Ages. Ed. Cindy L. Carlson and Angela Jane Weisl. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999. Pp. 95-112.

Stouck, Mary-Ann. "Saints and Rebels: Hagiography and Opposition to the King in Late Fourteenth-Century England." Medievalia et Humanistica n.s. 24 (1997), 75-94.

Strohm, Paul. "Passioun, Lyf, Miracle, Legende: Some Generic Terms in Middle English Hagiographical Narrative." Chaucer Review 10 (1975), 62-75 and 154-71.

Wakelin, Martyn F. "The Manuscripts of John Mirk's Festial." Leeds Studies in English n.s. 1 (1967), 93-118.

Winstead, Karen A. "Piety, Politics, and Social Commitment in Capgrave's Life of St. Katherine." Medievalia et Humanistica n.s. 17 (1990), 59-80.

__________. "Capgrave's Saint Katherine and the Perils of Gynecocracy." Viator 25 (1994), 361-76.

__________. Virgin Martyrs: Legends of Sainthood in Late Medieval England. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997.

Wogan-Browne, Jocelyn. "Saints' Lives and the Female Reader." Forum for Modern Language Studies 27 (1991), 314-32.

__________. "The Virgin's Tale." In Feminist Readings in Middle English Literature: The Wife of Bath and All Her Sect. Ed. Ruth Evans and Lesley Johnson. London: Routledge, 1994. Pp. 165-94.

Reference works

Bodleian Library. A Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1895-1953.

Brown, Carleton, and Rossell Hope Robbins, eds. The Index of Middle English Verse. New York: Columbia University Press, 1943.

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Riverside Chaucer. Gen. Ed. Larry D. Benson. Third ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1987.

Cutler, John L., and Rossell Hope Robbins, eds. Supplement to the Index of Middle English Verse. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1965.

Whiting, Bartlett Jere, with the collaboration of Helen Wescott Whiting. Proverbs, Sentences, and Proverbial Phrases from English Writings Mainly before 1500. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1968.

Commonly used abbreviations

TC - Troilus and Criseyde
MED - Middle English Dictionary
OED - Oxford English Dictionary
CT - The Canterbury Tales