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The Beguine, the Angel, and the Inquisitor

The Trials of Marguerite Porete and Guiard of Cressonessart

Sean L. Field

Publication Year: 2012

On 31 May 1310, at the Place de Grève in Paris, the Dominican inquisitor William of Paris read out a sentence that declared Marguerite “called Porete,” a beguine from Hainault, to be a relapsed heretic, released her to secular authority for punishment, and ordered that all copies of a book she had written be confiscated. William next consigned Guiard of Cressonessart, an apocalyptic activist in the tradition of Joachim of Fiore and a would-be defender of Marguerite, to perpetual imprisonment. Over several months, William of Paris conducted inquisitorial processes against them, complete with multiple consultations of experts in theology and canon law. Though Guiard recanted at the last moment and thus saved his life, Marguerite went to her execution the day after her sentencing.

The Beguine, the Angel, and the Inquisitor is an analysis of the inquisitorial trials, their political as well as ecclesiastical context, and their historical significance. Marguerite Porete was the first female Christian mystic burned at the stake after authoring a book, and the survival of her work makes her case absolutely unique. The Mirror of Simple Souls, rediscovered in the twentieth century and reconnected to Marguerite's name only a half-century ago, is now recognized as one of the most daring, vibrant, and original examples of the vernacular theology and beguine mysticism that emerged in late thirteenth-century Christian Europe.
Field provides a new and detailed reconstruction of hitherto neglected aspects of Marguerite’s life, particularly of her trial, as well as the first extended consideration of her inquisitor's maneuvers and motivations. Additionally, he gives the first complete English translation of all of the trial documents and relevant contemporary chronicles, as well as the first English translation of Arnau of Vilanova’s intriguing “Letter to Those Wearing the Leather Belt,” directed to Guiard's supporters and urging them to submit to ecclesiastical authority.
"Sean Field's new book is top-of-the-line historical scholarship, exquisitely written, and deeply satisfying on more than one level: for its research, for the quality of the documentation and argument, but also for its careful organization and smooth exposition, which transform a complicated story into a scholarly page-turner." —Walter P. Simons, Dartmouth College

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. ix-x

The research and writing of this book were supported by a grant from the American Philosophical Society and by grants from the College of Arts and Sciences and the Office of the Vice President for Research . . .


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pp. xi-xi

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Introduction: Modern and Medieval Contexts

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pp. 1-26

On 31 May 1310, at the Place de Grève in Paris, the Dominican inquisitor William of Paris read out a sentence that declared Marguerite “called Porete” to be a relapsed heretic, released her to secular authority for . . .

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Chapter 1: Background to a Beguine, Becoming an Angel

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pp. 27-38

One of the trial documents from 1310 refers to Guiard of Cressonessart as “arising from himself,” presumably as a way of attributing his “heresy” to his own stubborn imagination. The description seems. . .

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Chapter 2: Seven Churchmen and a Beguine

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pp. 39-62

Marguerite Porete has often been portrayed as a solitary figure whose stubborn disdain for churchmen set her on a certain path to the stake. The evidence, however, reveals another picture. Although the hostility . . .

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Chapter 3: The Inquisitor

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pp. 63-84

While Marguerite Porete was battling church authorities in the Low Countries and Guiard of Cressonessart was developing his angelic mission, William of Paris was enjoying a steady ascent toward the upper . . .

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Chapter 4: First Steps

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pp. 85-103

Marguerite Porete and William of Paris had more in common in the fall of 1308 than one might think. Both must have felt deceived by recent events. Marguerite had patiently gathered support for her writings but . . .

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Chapter 5: Philadelphia Story

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pp. 105-124

William of Paris must surely have communicated the canonists’ decision to Marguerite and Guiard and spelled out—if this was necessary— what the possibility of relaxation to the secular arm implied. . . .

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Chapter 6: Twenty-One Theologians and a Book

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pp. 125-144

Guiard’s decision to testify and repent saved his life. But he had failed in his mission to defend Marguerite Porete. William of Paris, however, did not immediately take further steps concerning the issue of . . .

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Chapter 7: Toward the Stake

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pp. 145-166

The 11 April condemnation of extracts from Marguerite’s book had not materially altered the standing of the case against Marguerite in her person. Her status remained what it had been since 3 April, when . . .

Epilogue I

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pp. 167-175

Epilogue II

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pp. 177-191

Epilogue III

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pp. 193-207

Appendix A

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pp. 209-231

Appendix B

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pp. 233-238

Appendix C

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pp. 239-247


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pp. 248-362


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pp. 363-395


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pp. 396-408

E-ISBN-13: 9780268079734
E-ISBN-10: 0268079730
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268028923
Print-ISBN-10: 0268028923

Page Count: 416
Illustrations: NA
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 787852173
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Beguine, the Angel, and the Inquisitor

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Subject Headings

  • Church history -- Middle Ages, 600-1500
  • Porete, Marguerite, ca. 1250-1310.
  • Guiard, of Cressonessart.
  • Porete, Marguerite, ca. 1250-1310. Miroir des simples âmes.
  • Mysticism -- France -- History -- Middle Ages, 600-1500.
  • Inquisition -- France.
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