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Review: The Cult of St Edmund in Medieval East Anglia by Rebecca Pinner

9781783270354

My review of The Cult of St Edmund in Medieval East Anglia by Rebecca Pinner has just been published in Folklore, the journal of the Folklore Society. Pinner’s authoritative study is a complete literary and historical survey of the medieval hagiography of St Edmund as well as a comprehensive guide to all images of the saint, with a particular focus on his veneration in Norfolk. The author does not neglect the shrine of St Edmund at Bury either, providing a detailed description of its physical appearance and setting based on the latest research. This is an important book that provides the essential background to my own work on the post-Reformation cult and iconography of St Edmund, as well as complimenting my recent book on the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds.

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New Catholic Record Society volume: Mannock Strickland

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I am delighted to announce that this year’s Catholic Record Society volume, Richard Williams’s edition of the papers of Mannock Strickland (1683-1744): Agent to English Convents in Flanders is published today. Richard Williams’s volume is the eighty-sixth published in the Records Series by the CRS since 1904 and the first over which I have presided as CRS Volumes Editor.

The publication of this volume is an important event in the historiography of post-Reformation English convents because it makes available, for the first time, an entirely unique collection of financial data on the practical functioning of communities of English nuns in the eighteenth century. Mannock Strickland was a rare example of a Catholic lawyer in eighteenth-century England, who acted at no charge as an agent for a number of convents, dealing in each case with the Procuratrix (the nun whose job it was to keep the community afloat financially). This volume contains documents relating to Strickland’s dealings with the Augustinian Canonesses of St Monica’s, Louvain, the Dominican nuns at Brussels (known as the ‘Spellikens’ or ‘Pin House’), and the Benedictine Dames of Brussels and Dunkirk. In all other cases, financial documents of religious houses were lost of destroyed at the French Revolution, but data relating to these houses was preserved by Strickland in England and later passed to Michael Blount of Mapledurham, Oxfordshire, an obsessive hoarder.

The documents are of three kinds: letters exchanged between Mannock Strickland and the Procuratrices, cash days books of the convents, and abstracts of bills of exchange. There is also an appendix detailing an unsuccessful attempt to revive the faltering financial fortunes of the English Carthusian monks at Nieuport organised by Strickland. This volume shows as never before the inner economic workings of the convents, revealing the precarious nature of the nuns’ hand-to-mouth existence, and its unique perspective will inform scholarship on English female monasticism for decades to come.

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‘Fear in the Fens’ Film Festival

Film Poster for Michael Reeves' Witchfinder General (1968)

This morning I was the first of three speakers at the Fear in the Fens Film Festival in Downham Market, introducing the classic 1968 horror film Witchfinder General, which was famously filmed on location¬† in East Anglia. My talk, entitled ‘Witchcraft in East Anglia: introducing Witchfinder General‘, told the story of the real Matthew Hopkins and his witch-hunt in East Anglia between 1645 and 1647, which remains the only true witch-hunt in English history. Although small in comparison with Continental witch-hunts, Hopkins’ campaign was made possible by the breakdown of law and order in the ‘Eastern Association’ (Essex and East Anglia) during the English Civil War. I argued that, although Puritanism gave birth to seventeenth-century witchfinding in England, it also ultimately brought it down because Hopkins went beyond the Bible and mingled Puritan ideas with East Anglian folklore (for example the idea of blood-sucking imps as demonic familiars). Eventually, the financial cost of sustaining witch-hunts, the shaky theological grounds of Hopkins’ investigations and the legal difficulties of prosecuting an invisible crime – not to mention Hopkins’ own death in August 1647, brought the witch-hunt to an end.