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Medieval Towns Final Essay

Posted March 29th, 2018 at 01:08 PM by Futurist
Updated March 29th, 2018 at 01:11 PM by Futurist

Medieval Towns Final Essay

In this essay, I will discuss the life and goals of Medieval Christian English mystic Margery Kempe. In addition to this, I will discuss the strategies that Margery Kempe used to achieve these goals of hers as well as how her life and goals intersected with social, political, and economic realities of Medieval town life.

As a result of giving birth to her first child, Margery Kempe developed postnatal post-traumatic stress disorder that caused her to experience a religious epiphany (Jokinen). After giving birth, Margery “sent for her ghostly father, for she had a thing in conscience which she had never showed before that time in all her life” (Jokinen). Afterwards, due to her belief that her previous lack of religiosity was caused by the Devil, Margery Kempe “oftentimes did great penance in fasting bread and water and other deeds of alms with devout prayers, save she would not show it in confession” (Jokinen). However, the idea of the Devil in Margery’s mind wasn’t immediately eliminated (Jokinen). Rather, during her postnatal PTSD trauma, Margery believed that “devils cried upon her with great threatenings and bade her [that] she should forsake her Christendom, her faith, and deny her God, his Mother, and all the saints in Heaven, her good works and all good virtues, her father, her mother, and all her friends” (Jokinen). As a result of these thoughts, Margery followed the Devil’s alleged advice by “slander[ing] her husband, her friends, [and] her own self[]” as well as by “[speaking] many a reprevous word and many a shrewd word[]” (Jokinen). In addition to this, during her period of darkness, Margery Kempe “knew no virtue nor goodness” but rather “desired all wickedness[]” (Jokinen). If that was not enough, Margery also “bit her own hand so violently that it was seen all her life after[ a]nd also … rived her skin on her body again her heart with her nails spiteously[]” (Jokinen). After all of this, Margery experienced a vision of Jesus, who “never forsaking his servant in time of need, appeared to” Margery, “his creature[] which had forsaken him[]” (Jokinen). Afterwards, Jesus “look[ed] upon [Margery] with so blessed a cheer that she was strengthened in all her spirits[]” (Jokinen). In addition to this, Jesus “said to her these words: ‘Daughter, why hast thou forsaken me, and I forsook never thee?’” (Jokinen). Afterwards, Jesus disappeared back into Heaven, but his influence on Margery certainly remained for the rest of her life (Jokinen).

Margery certainly had some very interesting experiences after her religious epiphany which made her even more religious (Jokinen). In spite of Margery being “bound to God” and God’s “servant,” Margery “would not leave her pride nor her pompous array that she had used beforetime, neither for her husband nor for none other man's counsel” (Jokinen). To elaborate on this, Margery wore fancy clothes in order to make “herself … more worshipped” among the men of her community (Jokinen). Indeed, Margery even rejected her husband’s advice when he asked her to “leave her pride”; rather, Margery “[be]gan to brew and [even became] one of the greatest brewers in [her] town” for three or four years (Jokinen). However, after Margery lost a lot of money, Margery realized that God was punishing her for her lack of faith and thus “left and brewed no more” (Jokinen). Afterwards, Margery “asked her husband [for] mercy for she would not follow his counsel [before] and [admitted] that her pride was cause of all her punishing and she would amend” for her past “trespass[ing]” (Jokinen). In addition to this, Margery Kempe even convinced her husband John to engage in lifelong chastity (a promise that he fully honored) in exchange for having her forgive all of his debts (Jokinen).

The experience of Margery Kempe is a good example of a Medieval person who finds faith, comfort, and solace in devout religious worship. Indeed, given the extremely large importance of religion of the Middle Ages, it is certainly unsurprising that Margery Kempe found solace in Jesus and Christianity after her post-natal post-traumatic stress disorder. While we are capable of treating post-natal PTSD with modern medicine nowadays, this certainly wasn’t the case in Margery Kempe’s time; in turn, this helps explain why religion and increased religiosity served as medicine for Margery Kempe. After her religious epiphany, Margery Kempe gradually becomes a believer in the widespread Medieval Christian concept of greater deprivation of pleasure(s) increases one’s piety and religiosity (Jokinen). While Margery Kempe’s path towards greater piety certainly isn’t consistent, she gradually makes the necessary corrections whenever necessary—such as when she stopped letting her pride get the better of her and thus stopped wearing fancy clothes in order to attract the attention of men in her town (Jokinen). In addition to this, Margery Kempe sometimes uses incentives, such as paying off her husband’s debt, in order to get other people (in this case, her husband) to follow her example and life a pious life (Jokinen). In this regard, and even though Margery never joined a convent or became a nun herself, Margery is certainly following in the example of urban Mendicant monks in the sense that she not only wants to live a pious life herself, but also wants to encourage other people to live pious lives.

A good person to compare Margery’s life story with is the devout and pious St. Goderic. Indeed, there are both similarities and differences between Margery’s life and the life of St. Goderic. Like Margery, Goderic gives up a large amount of worldly pleasures in order to live a more devout and pious life (Halsall). Indeed, in spite of his family’s wealth and his own large financial success as a merchant, Goderic “sold all his possessions and distributed them among the poor” so “that he might follow Christ the more freely” (Halsall). In addition to this, after doing this, Goderic proved his piety and religious devotion even further by “[going] forth to no certain abode, but whithersoever the Lord should deign to lead him” (Halsall). In other words, since Goderic “coveted the life of a hermit” “above all things,” Goderic left his home and his parents (with their approval, of course) and completely abandoned his old life (Halsall). Just like Margery Kempe is a true example of Medieval Christian piety by giving up pleasures such as sex, St. Goderic is certainly a true example of Medieval Christian piety by giving up both his money and his own self-determination. Indeed, just like Margery Kempe’s body began to belong to God/Jesus when she began being chaste, Goderic’s fate began to belong to God when he gave up his ability to determine his own future by becoming a hermit and going wherever God wanted him to go.

In addition to the deprivation of worldly pleasures, Margery and St. Goderic are also similar in the sense that both of them expressed their religious piety and devotion through large emotions. Indeed, for Margery Kempe, expressing religious piety through emotion was a way for her to personally feel Jesus’s suffering on the Cross and thus to connect more with Jesus Christ. Meanwhile, whenever St. Goderic was stationed on the “island of Lindisfarne, wherein St Cuthbert had been bishop, and at the isle of Farne, where that Saint had lived as an anchoret,” he “would meditate on … Saint[ Cuthbert]'s life with abundant tears” (Halsall). In addition to this, there was a period in time where Goderic was the “steward to a certain rich man of his own country, with the care of his whole house and household” (Halsall). In this household, some of the younger men exhibited immoral and un-Christian behavior by “[stealing] their neighbours' cattle and thus [holding] luxurious feasts[ at which] Godric, in his ignorance, was sometimes present” (Halsall). When Goderic “discover[ed] the truth[ about this], “he rebuked and admonished [these men] to cease[]” in their immoral and un-Christian behavior (Halsall). Meanwhile, when these men refused to stop, Goderic “disclosed [these men’s immoral behavior] to the lord of the household[—]who, however, slighted [and ignored Goderic’s] advice” (Halsall). Afterwards, Goderic “begged to be dismissed and went on a pilgrimage, first to St Gilles and thence to Rome the abode of the Apostles, [so] that thus he might knowingly pay the penalty for those misdeeds wherein he had ignorantly partaken” (Halsall). Indeed, “even in his old age, [Goderic wept] for this unknowing transgression” (Halsall). In turn, this shows that both Margery Kempe and St. Goderic used emotion as a tool to become more devout and sought to emulate Jesus Christ not only by living pious, devout, and Christian lives themselves but also by trying (in some way) to get other people to likewise live pious, devout, and Christian lives. In addition to this, both Margery Kempe’s life and St. Goderic’s life indicate that there was a bit of a contradiction among some people’s behavior and the Christian morals and values that were (officially) widespread and promoted in Medieval Europe. After all, it certainly isn’t very Christian to be proud and vain (like Margery Kempe was for a time even when she wanted to be a devout Christian) or to steal their neighbors’ cattle and hold large feasts afterwards (like Goderic and some young men did). Of course, it is worth noting that similar contradictions certainly exist in modern societies and that such contradictions certainly aren’t unique.

While Margery Kempe and St. Goderic are similar in certain ways, they are also different in certain ways. For instance, unlike St. Goderic, Margery Kempe begins her journey towards extreme religious devotion and piety as a result of a traumatic event that occurred in her life (Jokinen, Halsall). Meanwhile, Goderic begins his journey towards extremely religious devotion and piety not as a result of some traumatic event in his life, but rather due to him gradually coming to the conclusion that worldly goods, pleasures, and luxuries aren’t comparable to spiritual goods and comfort (Halsall). In contrast to St. Goderic, while Margery Kempe certainly likewise embraces the idea that she should get rid of certainly luxuries and pleasures (such as sex and fancy clothes) of hers, her own wealth doesn’t appear to have played much of a role in Margery Kempe’s religious epiphany (Jokinen).

Interestingly enough, Margery Kempe’s desire to help others live a more Christian life appears to have been shared by French King Louis IX, also known as St. Louis (Villehardouin). Like Margery, French King Louis IX wanted to live a simpler life and to reject a large amount of worldly pleasures and luxuries, such as wearing embroidered coats (Villehardouin). In fact, Louis IX even criticized Master Robert of Sorbonne for wearing clothes that are too fancy and expensive. To elaborate on this, Louis IX criticized Robert, “the son of a common man and a common woman,” for ‘abandon[ing] the vesture [which was] worn by your father and mother[] and [instead] wear[ing] richer woolen cloth than the king himself” wears (Villehardouin). Similarly, Margery Kempe eventually stopped wearing fancy and elaborate clothes such as “gold pipes on her head,” hoods with dagged tippets, “cloaks [which] were dagged and laid with divers[e] colors between the dags” (Jokinen). In addition to this, just like Margery Kempe tried turning other people (such as the other pilgrims of her pilgrimages) into good Christians, Louis IX tried to make the people of his kingdom more Christian—such as by telling Medieval chronicler and aristocrat John de Joinville that he should wash the feet of the poor and avoid having sin enter into his soul (Villehardouin). Indeed, Louis IX even “said that the Christian faith and creed were things in which we ought to believe firmly, even though we might not be certain of them except by hearsay” (Villehardouin).

In addition to all of the similarities above, Margery Kempe and French King Louis IX are also similar in the sense that they both sacrificed their lives to God, albeit in somewhat different ways (Jokinen, Villehardouin). Indeed, while Margery Kempe gradually lived a more and more devout and pious life, gave up some of her worldly luxuries and pleasures, and experienced emotional suffering as a part of her Christian faith, French King Louis IX went a step farther than that and literally risked his life four times for his Christian faith while he went on two Crusades to Muslim North Africa (Jokinen, Villehardouin). In fact, Louis IX even died for his Christian faith when he died of illness in Tunis while he was taking part in the Eighth Crusade (Jokinen, Villehardouin). In turn, the story of French King Louis IX helps put the experiences and personal sacrifices of Margery Kempe into the larger context of the things that devout and pious Christians were expected to do during the Middle Ages.

Margery Kempe’s experience demonstrates several things. First, it demonstrates the fact that religion sometimes filled the void of modern medicine in Medieval European society. In addition to this, it demonstrates the large sacrifices that devout Christians were expected to make during the Middle Ages. Also, Margery Kempe’s experience demonstrates that becoming more pious and devout certainly wasn’t always a linear journey. After all, Margery Kempe certainly didn’t become an extremely pious and devout Christian overnight. In addition, the experience of Margery shows that devout Medieval European Christians weren’t only supposed to purify their own souls, but also to purify the souls of others. Indeed, Margery offers financial incentives for her husband to agree to living a more Christian life by becoming chaste for the rest of his life. Meanwhile, the lives of both St. Goderic and French King Louis IX (St. Louis) provide both a comparison and a contrast to Margery’s own life as well as giving us a better picture of how exactly Medieval European Christians believed that good, pious Christians should live and act. Indeed, while some of Margery’s religious devotion and piety (such as her emotional experiences) were unusual and viewed with suspicion, in the grand scheme of things one would probably say that the life of Margery Kempe is an excellent example of the life that extremely pious Medieval European Christian women lived (at least if they didn’t enter into convents).


Halsall, Paul. "Reginald of Durham: Life of St. Goderic [12th Cent]."Internet History Sourcebooks Project. Internet Medieval Source Book, Mar. 1996. Web. 08 June 2016.
Jokinen, Anniina. "Excerpts from The Book of Margery Kempe."*Excerpts from The Book of Margery Kempe. N.p., 10 Apr. 2010. Web. 08 June 2016.
Villehardouin, Geoffrey, Jean De Joinville, and Frank Marzials.*Chronicles of the Crusades. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, 2007. Print.
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