This volume gathers together nineteen essays exploring the broad topic of relations between religious communities and the laity in the high and late Middle Ages. With few exceptions, the contributions focus on the twelfth century and later, and on northern Europe, with England, northern France, and the Low Countries particularly well represented. The editors divide the essays into three sections: the first focuses on patrons and benefactors, the second on various other aspects of lay-religious interaction, and the third on confraternities and the towns they inhabited. The disparate essays draw some unity from the shared methodological conviction that in-depth case studies are a profitable way to approach such a sweeping topic. There are also certain themes that recur in various pieces, particularly the negotiation between the expectations of benefactors on the one hand and the lives and prayers of the religious on the other, as well as the overlap between the seemingly distinct categories of religious and laity, cloister and world.
The essays in the collection are generally strong and will be of interest to specialists in their respective fields. To note only a few pieces: Belle Stoddard [End Page 332] Tuten examines the ramifications for gift-giving to long-established houses when a new and popular community—in this case, Fontevraud—appears. Tuten elucidates a variety of factors, including social class, marriage, and existing ties to communities, that led some in Anjou to patronize Fontevraud while others did not. In his analysis of a land dispute between a noble laywoman and the house of Sainte Foy at Conques, Stephen D.White shows how the author of the miracle story describing the quarrel shaped events to fit the expectations of that genre, and yet with his customary sharp eye White shows the value still to be gleaned from the text. His essay has implications both for this volume, as a portrait of how monks and nobles behaved in conflict with one another, and for broader themes including the use of violence and the nature of dispute settlement in the eleventh century. Erin Jordan examines the clash between the expectations of a generous donor—Jeanne, countess of Flanders and Hainaut—and the unwilling objects of her generosity, the Franciscan community at Saint-Barthélemy. Jordan uses this incident to explore the long tradition of lay benefaction and the varied responses of the mendicant orders to what was, for them, a literal embarrassment of riches. Finally, Bram van den Hoven van Genderen and Paul Trio offer an account of the history and historiography of confraternities in the Low Countries, providing a welcome introduction to the scholarship of this region for an English-speaking audience.
These essays are only a taste of the contents of this volume. The number of essays and the range of topics covered are both a strength and weakness of the book: a strength because of the richness of the information presented, but a weakness in that the arguments made in individual pieces are not drawn together as clearly as they might be, with comparisons and contrasts usually left implicit. The collection would have been much stronger with a more substantial introduction (the current one stands at six pages) and/or a postscript. These would have served to draw the unifying themes of the collection out at greater length as well as to situate this work much more substantively in the historiographical tradition. Although it is true, as the editors say, that the historiography on such a broad topic is vast, more engagement with it on their part would have underlined the quality of both the parts of this collection and the whole. [End Page 333]