Ancrene Wisse (also Ancrene Riwle) or Guide for Anchoresses is an anonymous monastic rule (or manual) for anchoresses, written in the early 13th century. Ancrene Wisse was originally composed for three sisters who chose to enter the contemplative life. The work consists of eight parts: Parts 1 and 8 deal with what is called the "Outer Rule" (relating to the anchoresses' exterior life), Parts 2-7 with the "Inner Rule" (relating to the anchoresses' interior life). The didactic and devotional material is supplemented by illustrations and anecdotes, many drawn from everyday life.
Language and textual criticism 
The version of Ancrene Wisse contained in Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 402 was written in an early Middle English dialect known as 'AB language' where 'A' denotes the manuscript Corpus Christi 402, and 'B' the manuscript Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Bodley 34. Manuscript Bodley 34 contains a set of texts that have become known as the "Katherine Group": Seinte Katerine, Seinte Margarete, Seinte Iuliene, Hali Meiðhad and Sawles Warde. Both manuscripts were written in the AB language, described by J.R.R. Tolkien as "a faithful transcript of some dialect...or a 'standard' language based on one' in use in the West Midlands in the 13th century."  The word Ancrene itself still exhibits a plural genitive inflection descended from the old Germanic weak noun declension; this was practically unknown by the time of Chaucer.
Surviving manuscripts 
There are seventeen surviving medieval manuscripts containing all or part of Ancrene Wisse. Of these, nine are in the original Middle English, four are translations into Anglo-Norman French, and a further four are translations into Latin. The shortest extract is the Lanhydrock Fragment, which consists of only one sheet of parchment. The extant manuscripts are listed below.
|C - Cleopatra||1225–1230||British Library||Cotton MS Cleopatra C.vi|
|B - Nero||1225–1250||British Library||Cotton MS Nero A.xiv|
|C - Titus||1225–1250||British Library||Cotton MS Titus D.xviii|
|A - Corpus||1225–1240||Corpus Christi College, Cambridge||MS 402|
|Lanhydrock Fragment||1300-1250||Bodleian Library, Oxford||MS Eng. th.c.70|
|P - Pepys||1375–1400||Magdalene College, Cambridge||MS Pepys 2498|
|V - Vernon||1375–1400||Bodleian Library, Oxford||MS Eng. Poet.a.1|
|G - Caius||1350–1400||Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge||MS 234/120|
|R – Royal||15th century||British Library||MS Royal 8 C.i|
|V - Vitellius (French)||early 14th century||British Library||Cotton MS Vitellius F.vii|
|S – Trinity (French)||late 13th-early 14th century||Trinity College, Cambridge||MS 883 (R.14.7)|
|L- Latin||1300–1350||Merton College, Oxford||MS c.i.5 (Coxe 44)|
Although none of the manuscripts is believed to be produced by the original author, several date from the first half of the 13th century. The first complete edition edited by Morton in 1853 was based on the British Library manuscript Cotton Nero A.xiv. Recent editors have favoured Corpus Christi College, Cambridge MS 402 of which Bella Millett has written: "Its linguistic consistency and general high textual quality have made it increasingly the preferred base manuscript for editions, translations, and studies of Ancrene Wisse." It was used as the base manuscript in the critical edition published as two volumes in 2005-2006. The Corpus manuscript is the only one to include the title Ancrene Wisse.
The community 
The community joined by the three sisters was thought to be Kilburn Priory, near the medieval City of London. Efforts to identify the author as the Godwyn who led the house until 1130 are inconclusive.
- Daiches & 1979 48
- Millett 1996, p. 5
- Tolkien 1929
- Hasenfratz 2000 Introduction
- Wada 2003, p. 10
- Morton 1853
- Millett 1996, p. 49
- Millett 2005-2006
- Allen, Emily Hope (1940), "Wynkyn de Worde and a second French compilation from the Ancrene Riwle with a description of the first (Trinity Coll. Camb. MS.883)", in Long, P.W., Essays and Studies in Honor of Carleton Brown, New York: New York University Press, pp. 182–219.
- Allen 1929, pp. 635–40
- Allen, Hope Emily (1929). "On the Author of the Ancren Riwle". PMLA 44 (3): 635–80.
- Daiches, David (1979). A Critical History of English Literature: from the beginnings to the sixteenth century. Allied Publishers. ISBN 9788170230465. Retrieved 6 September 2012..
- Macaulay, G.C. (1914), "The Ancren Riwle", Modern Language Review 9 (1): 63–78, JSTOR 3713428.
- Millett, Bella (1992), "The Origins of the Ancrene Wisse: New Answers, New Questions", Medium Ævum: 206–228. Article available from Periodicals Archive Online. Subscription required.
- Millett, Bella (1996), Annotated Biographies of Old and Middle English Literature: II Ancrene wisse, the Katherine Group, and the Wooing Group, Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, ISBN 0-85991-429-1.
- Tolkien, J.R.R. (1929), "Ancrene Wisse and Hali Meiðhad", Essays and Studies by Members of the English Association 14: 104–126.
- Wada, Yoko, ed. (2003), A Companion to Ancrene Wisse, Woodbridge: D.S. Brewer, ISBN 0-85991-762-2.
- Baugh, A.C., ed. (1956), The English Text of the Ancrene Riwle: Edited from British Museum MS Royal 8 C.i, Early English Text Society 232, Oxford University Press.
- Day, Mabel, ed. (1952), The English Text of the Ancrene Riwle: Edited from Cotton MS Nero A.xiv, on the Basis of a Transcript by J. A. Herbert, Early English Text Society 225, Oxford University Press.
- D'Evelyn, Charlotte, ed. (1944), The Latin Text of the Ancrene Riwle: Edited from Merton College MS 44 and British Museum MS Cotton Vitellius E.vii, Early English Text Society 216, Oxford University Press.
- Dobson, E.J., ed. (1972), The English Text of the Ancrene Riwle: Edited from British Museum Cotton MS. Cleopatra C.vi., Early English Text Society 267, Oxford University Press.
- Hasenfratz, Robert J., ed. (2000), Ancrene Wisse, Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University, ISBN 978-1-58044-070-7. Full text available online.
- Herbert, J.A., ed. (1944), The French Text of the Ancrene Riwle: Edited from MS. Cotton Vitellius F.vii., Early English Text Society 219, Oxford University Press.
- Mack, F. M., ed. (1963), The English Text of the Ancrene Riwle: Edited from Cotton MS. Titus D.xviii. and Bodleian MS. Eng. th.c.70, Early English Text Society 232, Oxford University Press.
- Millett, Bella, ed. (2005-2006), Ancrene Wisse : a corrected edition of the text in Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 402, with variants from other manuscripts. 2 vols., Early English Text Society 325 & 326, Oxford University Press. Volume 1: ISBN 0-19-722328-1, Volume 2: ISBN 0-19-920576-0.
- Morton, James, ed. (1853), The Ancren Riwle; a Treatise on the Rules and Duties of Monastic Life, Edited and Translated from a Semi-Saxon MS. of the Thirteenth Century, London: Camden Society.
- Tolkien, J.R.R., ed. (1962), The English Text of the Ancrene Riwle: Ancrene Wisse: Edited from MS. Corpus Christi College, Cambridge 402, Early English Text Society 249, Intro. by Ker, N.R., Oxford University Press. (Reprinted in 2000 ISBN 0-19-722249-8).
- Trethewey, W.H., ed. (1958), The French Text of the Ancrene Riwle: Edited from Trinity College, Cambridge MS R.147, Early English Text Society 240, Oxford University Press.
- Wilson, R.M., ed. (1954), The English Text of the Ancrene Riwle: Edited from Gonville and Caius College MS. 234/120, Early English Text Society 229, Intro. by N.R. Ker, Oxford University Press.
- Zettersten, Arne, ed. (1976), The English Text of the Ancrene Riwle: Edited from Magdalene College, Cambridge MS. Pepys 2498, Early English Text Society 274, Oxford University Press.
- Zettersten, Arne; Diensberg, Bernard, eds. (2000), The English Text of the Ancrene Riwle, The 'Vernon' text: MS. Bodleian Library Eng. Poet. a.1, Early English Text Society 310, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-722314-1.
Further reading 
- Cannon, Christopher (2005), The Grounds of English Literature, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-923039-0.
- Dobson, John (1975), Moralities on the Gospels: New Source of Ancrene Wisse, Oxford: Clarendon Press, ISBN 0-19-812056-7.
- Gunn, Cate (2008), Ancrene Wisse: From Pastoral Literature to Vernacular Spirituality, Cardiff: University of Wales Press, ISBN 978-0-7083-2034-1.
- Potts, Jennifer; Stevenson, Lorna (1993), Concordance to Ancrene Wisse: MS. Corpus Christi, Cambridge 402, Woodbridge: D.S. Brewer, ISBN 0-85991-395-3.
- Robertson, Elizabeth (1990), Early English Devotional Prose and the Female Audience, Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, ISBN 0-87049-641-7.
- Savage, Anne; Watson, Nicholas, trans. (1991), Anchoritic Spirituality: Ancrene wisse and associated works, Preface by Benedicta Ward, New York: Paulist Press, ISBN 0-8091-3257-5.
- White, Hugh, trans. (1993), Ancrene Wisse: Guide for Anchoresses, London: Penguin, ISBN 0-14-044585-4.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Ancrene Wisse|
- Liturgy in the Style of the Anchoresses as used today in All Saints' Church, Norfolk
- Ancrene Wisse: a Medieval Guide for Anchoresses on www.hermitary.com