Medieval Studies Christina of Markyate
Samuel Fanous, Henrietta Leyser
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0253


Christina of Markyate is one of the most interesting woman of record in 12th-century England, a bold claim perhaps, but substantiated it is hoped by this bibliography. The grounds are easily identifiable, though it is only since the 1959 publication of C. H. Talbot’s Life of Christina (Talbot 1959, cited under Editions) that attention has turned, albeit at first slowly, to the place of Christina in the religious, political, and social turmoil of Anglo-Norman England. Christina was born c. 1100 into a prosperous East Anglian family. Auti, her father, is likely to have been of Scandinavian descent, a merchant with large social ambitions and deep pockets; her mother, Beatrix, was most probably one of the many Anglo-Saxon women to be given a Norman name, in the hope of finding a place in the new post-1066 world. Through Beatrix’s sister, mistress of Ranulf Flambard, the Anglo-Norman bishop of Durham, this couple had access to the highest echelons of society, a place they hoped to cement through the fostering of Ranulf’s designs upon their daughter, Christina, at a time when the charms of the aunt were seemingly on the wane. But here Auti and Beatrix had failed to allow for Christina’s very determined views on the matter, and it is these, and the fulfillment of Christina’s own ambitions, which form the core of the Life. Initially thwarted in her wish to fulfill the religious vocation to which she felt she had long been called, Christina becomes eventually both the protégé of, and the spiritual adviser to, the abbot of St. Albans, and head of a small community of women religious. It is in this role that Christina merits a Life, albeit a seemingly unfinished work, together with, it is generally assumed, the present of a sumptuously illustrated Psalter. Why, for whom, and by whom the Life was written and the ways in which it manages to combine hagiographic topoi with seemingly realistic narrative events and details remains a source of inquiry. Likewise, questions as to how, when, and why the Psalter was commissioned continue to provoke discussion among historians and art historians alike.

The Life of Christina of Markyate

There is only one extant copy of the Life of Christina. This is to be found in a 14th-century manuscript (British Library Cotton Tiberius E.i) comprising a collection of the lives of saints made by the chronicler John of Tynemouth. The manuscript was badly damaged by the fire that swept through the library of its owner, Sir Robert Cotton, in 1731 so that, in the case of Christina’s Life, the top lines of some of the pages are entirely missing; so too, throughout the text are a number of words and letters. It is also evident that the Life was not complete; what is far from certain, however, is quite how much was missing: was it just a leaf or was it a whole quire? These questions still elude definitive answers, as does the question of its authorship.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.