In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Regular Canons

  • Introduction
  • General Introductory Works
  • Gazetteers of Religious Houses
  • Other Reference Works
  • Bibliographies
  • Editions of Primary Sources in English Translation
  • Collections of Primary Sources in English Translation
  • The Rule of St. Augustine
  • Origins and Early Development of Regular Canons
  • Regional Surveys
  • Congregations of Regular Canons
  • The Premonstratensians
  • The Gilbertines
  • Studies of Individual Houses
  • Monastic Life and Spirituality
  • Pastoral Work and Literature
  • Relations with the Wider World
  • Intellectual Life
  • Material Culture
  • Late Medieval Reforms
  • Reformation

Medieval Studies Regular Canons
Martin Heale
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 April 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0083


The regular canons—clerics living in common and following a monastic rule—are not easy to categorize. In theory, the vocation of the regular canon was more outward-looking than that of the monk, but historians have often found it difficult to discern clear differences in practice between monasteries of canons and monks. There was also a great deal of diversity among houses of regular canons, for example in their origins, locations, buildings, and observances, and relatively weak connections between monasteries (in sharp contrast to centralized orders like the Cistercians). However, it was this very versatility that made the regular canons attractive to lay and clerical founders. Part of the high medieval movement to rediscover the “apostolic life,” monasteries of regular canons were established in large numbers in the later 11th and 12th centuries. They soon outnumbered houses for monks in many parts of Europe: there were more monasteries of Augustinian canons in medieval England than of any other single order. Although most houses of regular canons were autonomous, a number of orders and congregations also grew up, including the Premonstratensians, Gilbertines, Victorines, Arrouaisians and (in the later Middle Ages) the Windesheim congregation, with varying degrees of centralized organization. Once heavily overshadowed by the monks in the historiography of the religious orders, the study of the regular canons has quickened in recent years—for example with the publication of several volumes of collected essays and the appearance of new series, such as the Bibliotheca Victorina and Victorine Texts in Translation series from Brepols. The sheer variety of the canonical order is reflected in this scholarship (and also this bibliography), and few have to date attempted the difficult challenge of writing synthetic histories of the regular canons. The works listed in this article refer only to regular canons and not the canonesses, who are covered in a separate article.

General Introductory Works

Relatively few works attempt to provide an overview of the history of the regular canons across medieval Europe, although Parisse 2009 (cited under Origins and Early Development of Regular Canons) achieves this for the 12th and 13th centuries. The essays in Melville and Müller 2002 collectively survey the main branches of the regular canons across medieval Europe. Dereine 1953 remains a valuable introduction to the origins and early development of the canonical order. Lawrence 2001, Melville 2016, and Constable 1996 set the early regular canons in their wider 12th-century context.

  • Constable, Giles. The Reformation of the Twelfth Century. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

    Magisterial study that places regular canons in the context of wider debates on reforms of the monastic life in 12th-century Europe.

  • Dereine, Charles. “Chanoines.” In Dictionnaire d’histoire et de géographie ecclésiastique. Edited by A. de Meyer and E. van Cauwenbergh, 353–404. Vol. 12. Paris: Letouzey & Ané, 1953.

    Classic account by pioneering historian in the field, surveying the development of the canonical movement down to the 13th century. Includes overviews of several key themes in the history of the regular canons (e.g., pastoral work, relations with monks, organization).

  • Lawrence, C. H. Medieval Monasticism. Forms of Religious Life in Western Europe in the Middle Ages. 3d ed. Harlow, UK: Longman, 2001.

    The most useful introductory work on medieval monasticism for students, particularly strong on the early and High Middle Ages. Includes half a chapter on regular canons, discussing their origins and early dissemination.

  • Melville, Gert. The World of Medieval Monasticism: Its History and Forms of Life. Translated by James D. Mixson. Athens, OH: Cistercian Publications, 2016.

    Originally published in German as Die Welt der mittelalterlichen Klöster. Geschichte und Lebensformen in 2012. Includes a chapter on the origins of the regular canons and a brief discussion of late medieval Observant reforms.

  • Melville, Gert, and Anne Müller, eds. Regula Sancti Augustini: Normative Grundlage differenter Verbände im Mittelalter. Paring, Germany: Augustiner-Chorherren-Verlag, 2002.

    Wide-ranging collection of essays on the affairs and practices of the various religious orders that observed the Rule of St Augustine in the Middle Ages, including contributions on the abbey of St. Victor and the Premonstratensians.

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