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Reviewed by:
  • Vernacularity in England and Wales, c. 1300-1550 ed. by Elisabeth Salter and Helen Wicker
  • Rebecca F. McNamara
Salter, Elisabeth and Helen Wicker, eds, Vernacularity in England and Wales, c. 1300-1550 (Utrecht Studies in Medieval Literacy, 17), Turnhout, Brepols, 2011; hardback; pp. vi, 335; 11 b/w illustrations, 1 b/w table; R.R.P. €70.00; ISBN 9782503528830.

'Language' is conspicuously absent from the title of Elisabeth Salter and Helen Wicker's edited collection. One realizes, however, that 'vernacularity' is indicative of the welcome scope of its contents. The vernacular receives due linguistic scrutiny, but it is also treated alongside national origin myths, devotional experience, architectural description and urban identity, and political enfranchisement. Wicker's Introduction elaborates these strands and contextualizes their place within the growing field of 'vernacular studies'.

Michael Clanchy opens the volume's first section, 'Reading and Writing', with an analysis of England's ABC primers. He considers their devotional [End Page 336] and cultural functions and their differences from continental counterparts. Amanda Moss's essay explores the combined inflections of orthodox and heterodox thought found in a fifteenth-century devotional anthology. A 'Complaint of Christ' poem across six manuscripts is described by Salter to demonstrate evidence for vernacular practices within contexts of wider devotional reading.

Assembled as 'Religious Experiences', contributions from Sarah James, Rob Lutton, and Stewart Mottram engage with vernacular practices of theological writing in England. James highlights 'chronic instability' in Reginald Pecock's idea of the vernacular, and Lutton breaks traditional boundaries of vernacular scholarship by discussing a multi-genre range of media devoted to the Holy Name of Jesus. Mottram contextualizes Wyatt's Penitential Psalms within contemporary prefaces to English Bibles, showing that clarity was neither the goal nor the product in many cases of vernacular translation.

'Political Issues' begins with Wicker's account of treasonable language trials alongside developing political identities and enfranchisement. Helen Fulton gives a masterful survey of medieval Welsh literature, focusing on gentry writer-patron networks and the tensions and integrations of nonnative origin myths into vernacular Welsh traditions. Our perspective of language in central English government is reoriented by Dodd's refreshing assessment of the political and linguistic nature of the records, a review that refutes the theory of a Lancastrian Chancery English standardization policy.

In the volume's final section, 'Conceptual Vocabularies', Jayne Rimmer discusses housing in York and Norwich, highlighting differences and similarities in the language of urban dwellings of the wealthy and poor, and across regional areas. Andrew Butcher's analysis of a Canterbury Cathedral administration book includes an index of its English words and posits vernacular behaviour as informing the creation and collection of its documents.

Concluding with remarks from Ian Johnson, this collection creatively emphasizes the vernacular aspects and the non-homogeneous nature of late medieval English and Welsh cultures. Its approaches and scope will provide valuable direction for further studies of vernacularity. [End Page 337]

Rebecca F. McNamara
Medieval and Early Modern Centre
The University of Sydney


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pp. 336-337
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