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27 Ch a p t e r On e From Cloister to Corporation Imagining Chester in Benedictine Encomium and Saint’s Life The history of Cheshire writing begins in the precincts of the Benedictine abbey of St. Werburgh in Chester, founded in 1092 by Hugh Lupus, the first Anglo-Norman Earl of Chester, and St. Anselm of Bec.1 The monastic works produced therein are not only among the oldest extant Cheshire texts (and thus a likely point of departure); they are also texts about Chester and Cheshire, texts deeply invested in the creation and transmission of specific localities. Text and context explicitly fuse in Cheshire’s medieval monastic writing: the foundation of the county’s literary tradition is simultaneously the foundation of its local identity. As my introduction has shown, Lucian’s De laude Cestrie acknowledges the cultural distinction generated by Cheshire’s position on the western border of England—a “geographic alterity” that produces “centricity and global supremacy” for the monastery (and the larger regional community to which it belongs).2 De laude Cestrie is also the foundational text for a more tightly focused monastic topography 28 Chester the City devoted to the city of Chester. Beginning in the 1190s with Lucian, the abbey’s conceptualization of civic space is still active in the early 1500s when monk Henry Bradshaw writes his Life of Saint Werburge. This chapter concentrates on these two Benedictine authors, whose positions near the opposite ends of the monastery’s historical lifetime (1092–1539 /40) make them ideal subjects for a longue durée study of a monastic genealogy of urban imagining and its construction of space in specific social forms.3 Lucian’s and Bradshaw’s texts both construct an ideal Chester in which urban space and sacred space are simultaneous and indistinguishable. In St. Werburgh’s Chester, the various social estates live in harmony, united by their veneration of the saint’s relics and their respect for the monks’ wisdom. The local landscape undergoes exegesis, its physical features translated into spiritual signs and holy objects. As I shall argue, however, Lucian’s and Bradshaw’s attempts to depict their frontier city on the River Dee as a type of the New Jerusalem coincide with their efforts to intervene in local political struggle on the monastery’s behalf, to shape the conditions of conflict to their own side’s advantage. In the last decade of the twelfth century, Lucian’s monastic-urban ideal faces little opposition; his abbey shares social dominance and urban power with the earl’s palatinate, and no other group within the city has sufficient material and ideological resources to construct a rival arrangement of Cestrian space. Embroiled in legal battles with a civic corporation interested in expanding the scope of its authority, Bradshaw’s sixteenth-century abbey has no such luxury—it must aggressively pursue its interests. I will focus on the conflict that most concerns Bradshaw in the Life: the 1506–9 controversy over the implications of Henry VII’s city charter for the rival jurisdictions of the mayor and the abbot. At the heart of this dispute is a contest between competing images of the city, between Chester as an extension of monastic space and Chester as a site of accumulation and merchant capital. Moreover, this second Chester has become a county in its own right, a newly nationalized space produced as part of the Tudor monarchy ’s larger project of geopolitical realignment. The city’s revised inclusion in the emergent Tudor state also provides an explanation for the Life’s 1521 publication in London by King’s Printer Richard Pynson. In the transition from manuscript to print From Cloister to Corporation 29 and from regional center to metropolitan capital, monastic Chester finds itself confronted by national spaces and appropriated to national ends—in this case, the English reaction against Martin Luther in the 1520s. With their entry into emergent Reformation discourse, St. Werburgh ’s relics—focal points for the old idea of the city—receive a new and vulnerable meaning: nineteen years after Pynson deploys Bradshaw ’s Life in defense of catholic orthodoxy, the abbey will be dissolved, its shrine destroyed, and its texts scattered. The 1539/40 dispersal of the abbey’s library signals the end of the monks’ urban imagination. Monastic Chester surrenders to a civic vision of the city, and the textual tradition inaugurated by Lucian’s De laude Cestrie gives way to a rival reading of local space, an alternative corpus originating...


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