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STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER ROSENTHAL, JoEL T. Old Age in Late Medieval England. Middle Ages Series. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996. Pp. xv, 260. $39.95. Late medieval poets often portray old men as foolish, incompetent, be­ sotted in love, or impotent-witnessJanuary of The Merchant's Tale, the pilgrim Miller and Reeve, "John Gower" of Confessio Amantis, or Langland's narrator, ravaged by Elde (B passus 20; C passus 22). Medieval iconographic depictions of old age (senectus) display a feeble, poverty-stricken, bent figure supported by a crutch. These literary and artistic views do not necessarily reflect everyday attitudes toward senior citizens in late medieval England, as Joel T. Rosenthal demonstrates in his fine recent study of Old Age in Late Medieval England. It would be more factual to proclaim, with Chaucer's Knight, "Elde hath greet avantage," or again, "In elde is both wysdom and usage." The evidence suggests that Englishmen of the later Middle Ages respected old peo­ ple, hoar upon their heads, and that more people than might be thought enjoyed productive careers into what today we conceive of as old age. This does not mean, however, that late medieval English society quali­ fies as a "gerontocracy," as Rosenthal hastens to point out. Rosenthal, a social historian who has written often and well about medieval gender and family issues, evaluates aging from cultural and historical perspectives. He examines "Some Data and Data Sets," in­ cluding Inquisitions Post Mortem, Proofs of Age, and the Scrope and Grosvenor Depositions (part 1); various material drawn from "Three­ Generation Families," including Last Wills and Testaments (part 2); and "Full Lives and Careers," case studies including Genealogies, Bishops' Records (drawn from Emden), and literary documents that dis­ close perceptions and mentalities toward old age (part 3). Of special in­ terest to Chaucerians are "The Scrape and Grosvenor Depositions" (chapter 3) and "Men and Women of Letters" (chapter 10), both of which contain reflections on Chaucer's life and career. Rosenthal treats his prosopographical data with considerable caution. He is keenly aware that his sources may not be fully trustworthy from a modern statistical viewpoint, since they were assembled in codified, formulaic ways. Those giving testimony frequently relied on folk mem­ ory or invoked parables, hearsay, or round numbers ("forty years and somewhat more"). Nonetheless, the Inquisitions Post Mortem and Proofs of Age are, says Rosenthal, "a mine of information far beyond any 324 REVIEWS other body ofextant material"-"if," he adds, "used with care" (p. 15). He can and does read this material as "social discourse" (p. 42). Rosenthal has recourse to Durkheim's concept of"social facts" and the more recent notion of"social memory" (p. 13) to approach his data sets as repositories ofinformation concerning old age. Rosenthal argues backward from the heir's attested age to locate the probable age (within a range) of the predecessor. For example: "A son of40 years and more must have meant a father in his early to mid-60s, and if the data are accurate the chances are that the father might have been in his late 60s or beyond" (p. 31). In his case study ofthe English bishops from 1399 to 1485, he compiles a fascinating table (9-4) that shows the date offirst benefice (when known), date ofnomination to the episcopacy, and year ofdeath. The final column shows the length oftotal service in the church ("Pre- + as bishop"). Some men spent most oftheir career in lesser benefices while others were quickly nominated to the bishopric. Simon Sydenham's pre-episcopal career lasted 40 years; he was bishop for 7 years. Thomas Bourgchier (born 1410), by contrast, was bishop for 53 years but his pre-episcopal service lasted only 7 years. Ofthe ninety bishops in table 9-4, one (William Waynflete) served for 70 years, four for 60 or more, six for 50 or more, twenty-three for 40 or more, fourteen for 30 or more, and seventeen for 20 or more. Rosenthal remarks that longevity itselfwas an important factor in an episcopal ca­ reer: "No matter how talented and well-connected one might be at the beginning of a career, if one did not survive a certain...


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