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Margery Kempe and English Mysticism

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Margery Kempe (1373-1438), the English mystic who went to Jerusalem and dictated her life story, said to be the first autobiography in English.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the English mystic Margery Kempe (1373-1438) whose extraordinary life is recorded in a book she dictated, The Book of Margery Kempe. She went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, to Rome and Santiago de Compostela, purchasing indulgences on her way, met with the anchoress Julian of Norwich and is honoured by the Church of England each 9th November. She sometimes doubted the authenticity of her mystical conversations with God, as did the authorities who saw her devotional sobbing, wailing and convulsions as a sign of insanity and dissoluteness. Her Book was lost for centuries, before emerging in a private library in 1934.

The image (above), of an unknown woman, comes from a pew at Margery Kempe's parish church, St Margaret's, Kings Lynn and dates from c1375.


Miri Rubin
Professor of Medieval and Early Modern History at Queen Mary, University of London

Katherine Lewis
Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Huddersfield


Anthony Bale
Professor of Medieval Studies at Birkbeck University of London

Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Available now

43 minutes

Last on

Thu 2 Jun 2016 21:30


Miri Rubin at Queen Mary, University of London

Katherine Lewis at the University of Huddersfield

Anthony Bale at Birkbeck, University of London

The Book of Margery Kempe original manuscript - British Library

The Book of Margery Kempe (ed. Joel Fredell) - an online facsimile of the original manuscript with transcription of the text

The Book of Margery Kempe (ed. Lynn Staley) – University of Rochester online Middle English edition with notes and glossary

Margery Kempe – Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Margery Kempe – ODNB podcast

Margery Kempe – Wikipedia



John H. Arnold and Katherine J. Lewis (eds.), A Companion to the Book of Margery Kempe, (D. S. Brewer, 2010)

Anthony Bale (trans.), The Book of Margery Kempe (Oxford University Press, 2015)

Santha Bhattacharji, God is an Earthquake: The Spirituality of Margery Kempe (Darton, Longman and Todd, 1997)

Anthony Goodman, Margery Kempe and her World (Longman, 2002)

Karma Lochrie, Margery Kempe and the Translations of the Flesh (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991)

Gail McMurray Gibson, The Theater of Devotion: East Anglian Drama and Society in the Late Middle Ages (University of Chicago Press, 1989)

Lynn Staley, Margery Kempe’s Dissenting Fictions (Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994)

Jonathan Sumption, Pilgrimage: An Image of Mediaeval Religion (Faber & Faber, 2002)

Brett Whalen, Pilgrimage in the Middle Ages: A Reader (University of Toronto Press, 2011)

Barry Windeatt (ed.), The Book of Margery Kempe: Annotated Edition (D. S. Brewer, 2006)

Barry Windeatt (ed.), The Book of Margery Kempe (Penguin Classics, 2000)


Role Contributor
Presenter Melvyn Bragg
Interviewed Guest Miri Rubin
Interviewed Guest Katherine Lewis
Interviewed Guest Anthony Bale
Producer Simon Tillotson


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