Medieval Studies Ancrene Wisse
Krista A. Milne
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 August 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0323


Judging from the significant number of copies that have survived, Ancrene Wisse (c. 1220–1230) was one of the most popular English works of the thirteenth century. The work was designed as a guide for religious recluses known as anchorites. Since it stands as an early example of Middle English from the West Midlands, Ancrene Wisse was of interest to early-20th-century philologists, including J. R. R. Tolkien. The work has attracted much attention as an early example of vernacular pastoralia—works designed to guide members of the Church through their religious lives. As one of the earliest surviving works of English literature addressed to women, Ancrene Wisse has also been the subject of feminist literary and historical analysis. As this brief survey suggests, the scholarship on Ancrene Wisse is vast, and this guide is intended to highlight some of the most influential and recent scholarship on the work.

General Overviews and Reference Works

The most comprehensive bibliography of Ancrene Wisse is Millett, et al. 1996. Overviews of the work and its material and social contexts include the introduction in Millett 2009 (cited under Editions and Scholarly Translations) and the introduction and various chapters of the edited collection Wada 2003. The concordance Potts, et al. 1993 is a helpful resource for those interested in the language or style of the text.

  • Millett, Bella, George Jack, and Yoko Wada. Ancrene Wisse, the Katherine Group, and the Wooing Group. Annotated Bibliographies of Old and Middle English Literature. Cambridge, UK: Boydell and Brewer, 1996.

    The most comprehensive bibliography of Ancrene Wisse scholarship.

  • Potts, Jennifer, Lorna Stevenson, and Jocelyn Wogan-Browne. Concordance to Ancrene Wisse: MS Corpus Christi College Cambridge 402. Cambridge, UK: D.S. Brewer, 1993.

    A concordance to the version of Ancrene Wisse preserved in the “Corpus” manuscript.

  • Wada, Yoko. “What is Ancrene Wisse.” In A Companion to the Ancrene Wisse. Edited by Yoko Wada, 1–28. Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2003.

    A general introduction to Ancrene Wisse.

  • Wada, Yoko, ed. A Companion to the Ancrene Wisse. Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2003.

    The chapters of this volume provide detailed explorations of key topics related to Ancrene Wisse, including the work’s genre, language, and material and historical contexts.

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