- Saving the Souls of Medieval London: Perpetual Chantries at St Paul's Cathedral, c. 1200-1548 by Marie-Hélène Rousseau
With Saving the Souls of Medieval London: Perpetual Chantries at St Paul's Cathedral, Marie-Hélène Rousseau presents a thorough and detailed account of the establishment and operation of the perpetual chantries of St Paul's Cathedral throughout the institution's pre-Reformation history. Don't be misled by the title or the claim that the book 'investigates the chantries and their impact on the life, services and clerical community of the cathedral' (p. 9); this is no social history. What it offers its readers is 'factual' history - essentially an abundance of information and more of a very complex jigsaw puzzle than a sophisticated analysis. The book has its origins in the PhD thesis Rousseau completed in 2003: Rousseau has obviously received excellent training and her outstanding scholarship is clearly demonstrated in her thorough knowledge of the vast array of archival sources and in her ability to draw connections between them all. [End Page 308]
Without having read the thesis, it is difficult to know how much adaptation has occurred to convert it into a monograph, but a number of notes refer the reader to the thesis for information evidently not found in the book. Unfortunately, the structure and approach tend to betray the book's origins. While it makes sense for a doctoral project to focus on a defined body of records, the result of focusing exclusively and inwardly on St Paul's is somewhat insular, and there is a level of contextualizing and comparison that is wanting. The material is organized under fairly straightforward headings like 'Founding Chantries' and 'Managing Chantries' that seem intuitively appropriate. Perhaps it is inevitable, but overlaps have occurred, and some of the evidence gets used again with no acknowledgement of the repetition. Sometimes too, the arrangement of information is forced: the section on 'Chaplains' Wills' in the 'Serving Chantries' chapter, for instance, is not really about chaplains serving chantries but rather discusses relationships between the chaplains.
More problematically, the approach does not seem to allow for much more than a cursory coverage of the topic. Rousseau's project is primarily about information gathering and such 'issues' as do occur get glossed over or simply left up in the air. However, for a study that is primarily about presenting facts, it is striking how many times 'presumably', 'may have', and 'probably' appear in the prose and these assumptions - particularly with regard to relationships, emotions, and motivations, as in, for instance: 'The fact that the [chaplains] took part in the construction of the statutes may have increased their sense of belonging to the college and their pride in that sense of belonging' (p. 91) - often seem more like common sense guesses, than serious analyses.
A number of errors have crept in probably at the copy-editing stage. For example, what should be 'masses' has turned into 'es' (p. 43) and in a passage referring to numerous dates, 'On June 1534' and 'on April 1535' appear, where clearly the number of the day has inadvertently been deleted. In general, Rousseau writes plain, but clear and accessible prose, with barely a semi-colon or dash in sight. However, her habit of leaving research questions in the text - such as: 'So how were the chantry chaplains actually chosen?' (p. 38); 'Why did the founders feel the need to establish such systems of supervision?' (p. 41) - seems a little clumsy. It is also unfortunate that much of the information is reported, rather than shown. Even fairly dry, repetitive administrative records can conceal colourful comments and turns of phrase, sometimes surprisingly revealing, and are worth quoting directly with greater frequency. [End Page 309]
A map of the Precinct of St Paul's has been included (p. 71). Some of the names of colleges and...