Precarity and pastoral care : nuns and bishops in the fifteenth-century diocese of Lincoln.


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In the medieval past and in the modern present, English nuns have not received the attention to pastoral care befitting their position as the brides of Christ. In late medieval England, this was due to complications of gendered care. In modern scholarship, this is due to a paucity of sources. This dissertation helps remedy the latter problem of source scarcity in order to understand the former problem of gendered care. By using episcopal registers and the visitation records contained therein, this dissertation argues that medieval English bishops had a complex relationship with women religious, involving not only conflict and hostility but also cooperation and care. Modern scholarship has focused on the resistance narrative and neglected the narrative of care. This dissertation shows that both aspects are necessary to fully understand the complex dynamics of pastoral care. The second chapter provides a close reading of a letter regarding an attack on the nuns of Rothwell priory, analyzing the surprising compassion and advocacy of Bishop Richard Fleming. The third chapter considers the gendered dynamics of the vow of chastity, arguing that concerns about reputation were different for male religious than for female religious and this impacted women’s pastoral care. The fourth chapter examines female monastic houses and the vow of poverty, arguing that bishops distinguished between the problems faced by wealthy houses and those faced by poorer houses in their provision of pastoral care. The fifth chapter describes the dynamics in individual houses, arguing that the bishops cared for superiors as distinct from their subordinates in light of the vow of obedience. Taken together, these chapters reveal that 15th-century bishops of Lincoln adapted pastoral care to the specific needs of women religious. However, their care also reinforced gendered ideology and inequities that did little to alleviate the precarity of medieval English nuns.