By: Johan Bergström-Allen, B.A., M.Phil. (Oxon)


Originally submitted as an M. Phil. Thesis
to the Faculty of English Language and Literature,
at the University of Oxford, March 2002.


The author would be grateful to receive any comments or corrections



I would like to thank the many people who have made this project possible, and enjoyable.

Thanks are due in first place to Dr. Vincent Gillespie for his unfailing support, knowledgeable direction and enduring patience. Equally important have been the role of my course supervisor at Oxford, Prof. Anne Hudson, and support of my college advisor, Dr. Helen Barr.

I am most grateful to the British Province of the Carmelite Order; its provincial, Very Rev. Fr. Piet Wijngaard and his Council; Fr. Antony Lester, for continual encouragement and friendship; and the constant tap of knowledge provided by Fr. Richard Copsey and Fr. Kevin Alban. I am indebted to the advice and stimulation of Fr. Joachim Smet of the Carmelite Institute in Rome. The Carmelite communities of More House in York and Aylesford Priory in Kent provided warm hospitality and welcome.

I am indebted to the various academics who have given me pointers along the way. Dr. Valerie Edden, formerly of Birmingham University, and Prof. David Smith of the Borthwick Institute in York both suggested new lines of thinking. I am especially thankful to Dr. Eddie Jones of Exeter University, who made available to me some of Rotha Mary Clay's unpublished research notes on solitaries. Prof. Karl J. Jost of the Sociology department of the University of Tennessee made available his research notes on the same topic. My thanks must go to Dr. Yoshikawa of Hokkaido University for permission to read a chapter of her thesis, and likewise to Dr. Marleen Cré. Dr. Joan Greatrex of Robinson College, Cambridge kindly provided information about Richard Lavenham. Chris Bradley gave constructive editorial advice.

I would like to thank the staff of various libraries and research institutes who have been of great assistance; Sarah Newton, and the library of Corpus Christi College Oxford; the librarians and staff of the British Library in London, and the Bodleian Library in Oxford; the research assistants at the Borthwick institute and the Minster Library in York; and the Institute of Historical Research at the University of London. The staff at Lambeth Palace Library were also of great assistance. I am especially indebted to Ms Judith Taylor for her help in the use of the Carmelite provincial library at Aylesford.

I am grateful to all those who have suggested additions and corrections - for any remaining errors, as Richard Misyn would say, 'to myne vnconnynge wyet itt'. This work is really only a beginning. Any suggestions for improvement would be gratefully received.


In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the Brethren of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, also known as the Order of Carmelites or Whitefriars, produced a number of religious texts. These Latin and vernacular works merit a higher profile than they currently enjoy, both among the present-day order and among medievalists of several disciplines.

This thesis enquires into the sorts of devotional literature written and preserved by friars, the traditions and contexts in which this literature was written and read, and who its audience was. The first chapter is an overview of Carmelite writings that somehow engage with 'vernacular theology'. From this, outstanding and characteristic features of medieval Carmelite writings emerge, such as the Whitefriars' interests in eremitism, lay spirituality, and the suppression of heresy.
The second chapter focuses upon the work of one fifteenth-century Carmelite, Richard Misyn, and shows how he was influenced by the spiritual and literary agendas established by previous Whitefriars. Misyn's writing, and interaction with an anchoress in York, will be put in its social and literary context. Lay interaction with the Whitefriars has a long and mutually beneficial history, and in the late medieval period a strong relationship existed between Carmelites and solitaries in particular.

The thesis concludes with a summary, and suggestions for further research.

It is my hope that, in a small way, this study will shed more light upon the literary contributions of the medieval Carmelites. Medievalists have rightly given much attention to the literary activities of Carthusians, Bridgettines, Dominicans and Franciscans. However, it is now important to reclaim the Carmelite textual community from the shadows.

  • Chapter One: An Overview of Carmelite Literary Activity in Medieval England
  • Chapter Two: Carmelite Literature in Depth: The Writings of Richard Misyn, O.Carm.
  • Conclusion
  • Medieval Carmelite Literature - Select Bibliography
  • Abbreviations
  • ---



    Come, let us praise the Virgin Queen
    Who called her sons from earthly strife
    To Carmel, ever since the scene
    Of silent eremitic life.

    First verse of 'Laudemus omnes Virginem'
    Traditional, author unknown.

    [Used as the opening hymn of the Office of Readings,
    Feast of All Carmelite Saints, November 14th.]