The Book of Margery Kempe

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Manuscript of The Book of Margery Kempe, chapter 18 (excerpt)

The Book of Margery Kempe is a medieval text attributed to Margery Kempe, an English Christian mystic and pilgrim who lived at the turn of the fifteenth century. It details Kempe's life, her travels, her alleged experiences of divine revelation (including her visions of interacting with Jesus as well as other biblical figures), and her presence at key biblical events such as the Nativity and the Crucifixion.


Kempe's book is written in the third person, employing the phrase "this creature" when referring to Kempe in order to display humility before God. Kempe claimed to be illiterate and her book was dictated to two scribes who set it down. Modern editions of Kempe's book are based on a manuscript copied by a scribe named Salthows sometime in the fifteenth century (the original manuscript has been lost). Recent research by Anthony Bale has suggested that Salthows was one Richard Salthouse, a monk at Norwich’s cathedral priory.[1] The Salthows manuscript, then owned by Colonel W. Butler-Bowdon, was found in a country-house in Derbyshire in the early 1930s, and was identified as Margery Kempe’s book by Hope Emily Allen, who was instrumental in the publication of the second modern edition of the text.[2] The manuscript was purchased by the British Library from Captain Maurice E. Butler Bowdon (1910-1984) at an auction held by Sotheby's in London on 24 June 1980.[3]

Prior to the discovery of the full text, all that was known of Kempe's book were pamphlets published by Wynkyn de Worde in 1501 and Henry Pepwell in 1521 which contained excerpts from The Book of Margery Kempe. Kempe's book is widely cited as the first autobiography in English; however, scholars disagree on whether it can accurately be called an autobiography, or whether it would be more accurately classified as a confession of faith or autohagiography.[4]


  • "British Library Catalogue: Add. MS 61823: The Book of Margery Kempe". London: British Library. Retrieved 12 July 2016.

Modern editions and translations[edit]

  • Kempe, Margery. The Book of Margery Kempe, ed. Sanford Brown Meech, with prefatory note by Hope Emily Allen (EETS. Original series; no. 212). London: Oxford University Press, 1940.
  • Kempe, Margery. The Book of Margery Kempe, trans. Barry Windeatt. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985.
  • Kempe, Margery. The Book of Margery Kempe: The Autobiography of the Wild Woman of God, trans. Tony D. Triggs. Barnhart: Liguori Publications, 1995; Tunbridge Wells: Burns and Oates, 1995.
  • Kempe, Margery. The Book of Margery Kempe, ed. Lynn Staley. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1996.
  • Kempe, Margery. The Book of Margery Kempe: A New Translation, trans. John Skinner. New York: Image Books/Doubleday, 1998.
  • Kempe, Margery. The Book of Margery Kempe: A New Translation, Contexts and Criticism, trans. and ed., Lynn Staley. New York: Norton, 2001.
  • Kempe, Margery. The Book of Margery Kempe, trans. Anthony Bale. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015


  1. ^ Bale, Anthony (2017). "Richard Salthouse of Norwich and the Scribe of The Book of Margery Kempe". Chaucer Review. 52 (2): 173–187. doi:10.5325/chaucerrev.52.2.0173.
  2. ^ Maude, Kathryn (2014). "Citation and Marginalisation: The Ethics of Feminism in Medieval Studies". Journal of Gender Studies. 23 (3): 1–15 [8–9]. doi:10.1080/09589236.2014.909719.
  3. ^ British Library Add. MS 61823.
  4. ^ Atkinson, Clarissa W. (1983). Mystic and Pilgrim: The Book and the World of Margery Kempe. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. pp. 9–23. ISBN 0-8014-9895-3.

External links[edit]