Renaissance and Reformation Margery Kempe
Stella Fletcher
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 July 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0485


Margery was the daughter of John Brunham, a merchant who served as mayor of Bishop’s Lynn and the town’s MP. She married a brewer called John Kempe. After the birth of her first child, she suffered severe postnatal depression, which was finally cured by a vision of Christ, but it was only after another thirteen births that she determined to become a vowess and live chastely. She traveled extensively, including to Jerusalem and Rome in 1413–1415, Santiago de Compostela in 1417, and various German cities in 1433–1434. All the while she experienced visions, including a mystical marriage to the Godhead, but it was the outward manifestations of her spiritual life—white penitential clothing, loud crying and roaring in church—that attracted attention and led to accusations of heretical Lollardy, imprisonment, and examination by senior clerics, who found her Christian faith to be orthodox. In the 1430s she set about recording her spiritual development and worldly travails. The result exists in only one manuscript, now in the British Library (Add. MS 61823). Oxford Bibliographies Online includes another article on Margery Kempe, compiled by Diane Watt with the needs of English literature students in mind (see “Margery Kempe”). The present work has a slightly different emphasis, which explains why the sections on Reference Works, Overviews, and Kempe and her Scribes are followed by The Book of Margery Kempe: Renaissance and Modern in order to emphasize its Renaissance credentials and modern rebirth. Thereafter, the distinction is made between Editions of the Book, which are most likely to be examined in detail by literary scholars, and Translations of the Book from Middle English, which can be used by students who wish to consult the text for other than philological purposes and also read by general readers. A few Other Sources also exist. Kempe-related articles tended to appear in Journals and Collections of Papers before monographs explored the Worlds of Margery Kempe. For present purposes, her physical world appears as Lives and Times, her mystical life as Spirituality, and her travels under the heading of Pilgrimage.

Reference Works

Any reference work that covers late medieval England is likely to contain an entry on Margery Kempe, but only if it was compiled after the publication of what is now BL Add. MS 61823. The standard biographical reference work for all notable English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh individuals of Kempe’s era is the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB). The political, social, and religious contexts in which she lived can be explored via the Bibliography of British and Irish History. Kempe is a minor figure in such vast resources, but she is the central subject of the website Mapping Margery Kempe, which brings together a remarkable range of material, clearly inspired by teaching experience and designed to be of use to both students and their tutors.

  • Bibliography of British and Irish History . Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2021.

    This was formerly a print publication, but is now maintained exclusively online, being updated three times a year. It is an important resource for any aspect and period of British and Irish history. Access is via the website of the publisher, Brepols. Searches can be done bibliographically or by subject, including places and persons. Alternatively, the subject tree allows users to home in on specific areas using progressively more detailed categories.

  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

    The ODNB is the principal biographical reference work for this subject, available in print and online. The entry for Margery Kempe is by Felicity Riddy and was updated in 2017. No links are provided, but references to the mystics Julian of Norwich, Walter Hilton, and Richard Rolle, the bishops Philp Repyndon, Thomas Peverel, Henry Bowet, and Henry Chichele, and the rebel John Oldcastle can all be followed up in the relevant entries.

  • Stanbury, Sarah, and Virginia Raguin, eds. Mapping Margery Kempe: A Guide to Late Medieval Material and Spiritual Life. Worcester, MA: College of the Holy Cross.

    This online resource is a mine of Kempe-centered information. On the Book itself there is a structural outline, summary of chapters, and glossary of over 170 names and terms used in the text. Other sections include a selection of related texts and sources, a guide to churches and cathedrals, material on urban life, details of pilgrimage routes and sites, a guide to devotional images, and links for teaching purposes.

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