I specialize in late medieval and early modern social history, with an emphasis on British History, sexuality and gender. My dissertation was entitled “Naughty Nuns and Promiscuous Monks: Monastic Sexual Misconduct in Late Medieval England.” My dissertation investigated accusations of sexual misconduct made at English monasteries during the last century before the Dissolution. As such, I analysed a wide corpus of episcopal visitation records from the dioceses of Lincoln and Norwich and documented cases of sexual accusations made toward monks, nuns and canons. I summarized the early stage of my research in a chapter of the peer-reviewed volume, Poverty and Prosperity: The Rich and the Poor in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, ed. by Anne Scott and Cindy Kosso. Belgium: Brepols, 2012.
Dissertation abstract: Naughty Nuns and Promiscuous Monks — Abstract
Traditionally, any study of monasticism during the late Middle Ages entailed the chronicling of a slow decline and decay. Indeed, for nearly 500 years, historiographical discourse surrounding the Dissolution of Monasteries (1536-40) has emphasized its inevitability and presented late medieval monasticism as a lacklustre institution characterized by worsening standards, corruption and even sexual promiscuity. As a result, since the Dissolution, English monks and nuns have been constructed into naughty characters. My dissertation, centred on the same sources that led to this claim, episcopal visitation records, directly challenges this `decline narrative’ and demonstrates that at best, it is an exaggeration due to the distortion in perspective allowed by the same sources, and a disregard for contextualisation and comparison between nuns and monks.
New Project: The Fate of Former Monks and Nuns in Post-Dissolution Tudor England
My current project is a wide ranging study of the ex-religious of Lincoln and Norwich after the Dissolution, a topic which developed directly from my dissertation. Former monks and nuns in early-modern England faced numerous financial, cultural and psychological challenges in adapting to the outside world. Understanding how these challenges were met, will greatly add to our understanding of the overall transformation of the English Church during the Reformation. Unfortunately, there has been little scholarship on the subject to date and the few studies which have investigated the lives of the ex-religious have focused almost entirely on their economic well-being rather than their overall adaptation to the world. I am building upon these earlier studies to draw a clearer and more expansive picture of the ex-religious by utilizing the same prosopographical techniques I developed during my dissertation. Similar to my thesis, I am utilizing a relational computer database to track individual monastics from a variety of sources including wills, Church court records, benefice lists, and deeds. I believe such a relational database may reveal patterns about their lives which could tell us all kinds of things about how the religious adapted to life outside the cloister.
I am currently assembling and building my database. I intend to prepare a summary article of my preliminary findings in early 2014.