The Chastising of God’s children

Item date: 1390
Grant Value: £10,000
Item cost: £136,000
Item date acquired: 2014
Item institution: Bodleian Library
Town/City: Oxford
County: Oxfordshire

The Chastising of God’s children, composed c.1390, circulated widely amongst a cosmopolitan readership in the late Middle Ages in England, and is a centrally important witness to the growing vernacular appetite in the fourteenth century for advanced spiritual guidance. It provides us with unprecedented evidence for the circulation and appropriation of continental, near-contemporary mystical writings in England (by writers such as Suso and Ruusbroec), as well as affording us insights into the ongoing popularity of earlier medieval native devotional material (such as Ancrene Wisse). It also offers one of the earliest vernacular guides to discerning true contemplative visions from false.

As an immediate and urgent response to the threats posed by heretical doctrine (including Lollardy and Free Spiritism), it provides us with a remarkable and critical commentary on contemporary late-fourteenth century English devotional and liturgical practice. Eleven manuscripts containing full versions or close derivatives are already known. The emergence of this new manuscript is of real significance to scholars of medieval vernacular literature and thought, and will prompt original and important research. Of particular interest is its collocation in this copy with other devotional texts (perhaps especially the vernacular extracts from Richard Rolle), which were known to have appealed to a shared audience of nuns and devout laity: the book therefore becomes an important witness to this complex reading community. Of the existing versions, five are already in Oxford..