Category Archives: Research

Conference to commemorate Thomas Becket’s life, death and legacy (28-30 April)

A three-day virtual conference organised by the University (28-30 April) will explore the life and times of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, just over 850 years after his murder in Canterbury Cathedral. The conference is open to all.

Each day of the conference will focus on one of three areas of scholarly and popular interest: Becket’s life story and true character; his murder and its lasting international repercussions; and the breadth of his legacy, beginning with his becoming a martyr idol, through the attempted eradication of his name from history, and ending with his saintly rebirth in the 19th Century and onward.

Organised by Dr Emily Guerry, Senior Lecturer in Medieval European History at Kent’s School of History, the conference will feature contributions from over 40 leading Becket experts from 11 countries. Keynote papers will be presented by: Rachel Koopmans, Associate Professor, York University (Canada); Paul Webster, Teaching Associate, Cardiff University; and Alec Ryrie, Professor of the History of Christianity at Durham University.

The conference’s partners are Canterbury Cathedral and Canterbury Christ Church University, with support from the British Academy and the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Delegates will also be given virtual tours of Canterbury Cathedral, each with focus on a unique theme including; mosaics, architecture, stained glass, relics, and medieval graffiti. The tours will reveal the extent to which Thomas Becket is embedded in English history and in the Cathedral, including relics both attacked and preserved in the wake of Henry VIII’s reformation, including the identifiable knife marks in manuscripts from which Becket’s name was ripped.

The British Museum is holding an exhibition in parallel with the conference: ‘Thomas Becket – murder and the making of a saint’.

Dr Guerry said: ‘This conference is the greatest collaboration of the world’s leading experts on Thomas Becket to date and is a tremendous opportunity for sharing insights, research and resources on a subject that is of vital importance to history. Speakers will demonstrate that the life, death and legacy of Becket are crucial in appreciating the evolution of English literature, humour, religion, politics and its position in Europe and the world.’

Conference tickets, with a student reduction, can be purchased here.

Dr David Rundle to speak at Fragmentarium video conference event

Lecturer in Latin and Palaeography, Dr David Rundle, will be giving a talk titled, ‘Neil Ker and the Tradition of Studying Fragments in the UK’ on Thursday 23 April at 15.00. Dr Rundle’s talk will be part of the Fragmentarium project’s video conference series.

Dr Rundle shares, “As well as discussing Ker’s work and placing it in a longer tradition of scholarship, this will also give an opportunity to launch the online edition of Ker’s catalogue of pastedowns in Oxford bindings, as first published in 1954, augmented by David Pearson in 2000 and with further addenda from the 2004 reprint of Ker’s work.

This will appear on the Lost Manuscripts website. This project has been a long-term dream of mine, and it would not have been possible without the generous support of the Bibliographical Society of London and Oxford Bibliographical Society, or without the skilled assistance of Dr James Willoughby.”

You can register for this event here.

IMAGE: Image Reproduced Courtesy of the Chapter of Canterbury Cathedral

University of Kent medievalists’ collaborative project awarded funding from Flemish Research Foundation

We’re delighted to announce that ‘Literatures Without Borders: A Historical-Comparative Study of Pre-Modern Literary Transnationalism’, a collaborative project involving medievalists at the University of Kent, has been awarded 62,500 euros by the Flemish Research Foundation.

This grant will be used to establish a new international network to examine the interactions between Latin and other cosmopolitan languages and literatures of the pre-modern world, including Jewish-Ladino-Yiddish, Arabic and Byzantine-Greek.

This new project is led by RELICS (Researchers of European Literary Identity, Cosmopolitanism and the Schools), based at Ghent University, and it will bring together researchers from sixteen partner institutions, including Kent. This project will be an exciting opportunity to expand and deepen the intellectual collaborations between medievalists at Kent and scholars elsewhere in Europe.

Dr Emily Guerry co-organising international conference on Thomas Becket: Life, Death and Legacy

The year 2020 marked the 850th anniversary of the brutal martyrdom of St Thomas Becket inside Canterbury Cathedral and, in a matter of months, Becket had become one of the most popular saints in all of medieval Europe, attracting hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and inspiring countless legends and works of art, including Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. To commemorate Becket’s legacy, Dr Emily Guerry (Co-Director of MEMS) is co-organising an international online conference 28-30 April (Thomas Becket: Life, Death, and Legacy) with papers from over 40 speakers from around the globe.

Emily is working with colleagues at Christ Church University and Canterbury Cathedral to host this conference, with generous support from the British Academy. You can reserve a ticket, please note that ALL Kent students can book for free.

Our conference coincides with the launch of an exciting exhibition on Becket at the British Museum, which will feature a 6-meter-tall 800-year-old stained glass window showing the miracles of Becket, on loan from Canterbury Cathedral. For any queries about either of these events, please get in touch with Emily Guerry.

Dr Robert Gallagher and Dr Edward Roberts publish new book on medieval charters

We are delighted to share the news of Dr Robert Gallagher and Dr Edward Roberts’ new book, The Languages of Early Medieval Charters.

The Languages of Early Medieval Charters, co-edited with Professor Francesca Tinti (University of the Basque Country), is the first major study of the interplay between Latin and Germanic vernaculars in early medieval records. Building on previous work on the uses of the written word in the early Middle Ages, which has dispelled the myth that this was an age of ‘orality’, the contributions in this volume bring to the fore the crucial question of language choice in the documentary cultures of early medieval societies.

Dr Robert Gallagher is a historian of early medieval Britain, particularly Anglo-Saxon England. Much of his current research focuses on uses of the written word, multilingualism, and cultural and political identities in early medieval societies.

Dr Edward Roberts’ primary research is in political, social and cultural change in Western Europe between c.850 and c.1050. His first book, Flodoard of Rheims and the Writing of History in the Tenth Century, was published with Cambridge University Press in 2019.

They are both active members of the Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies, a multidisciplinary group of researchers focussed on the study of Medieval life, both the everyday and the extraordinary.

Dr Gallagher and Dr Roberts share their thoughts on the publication of their new book, “This book is the product of an interdisciplinary research project we’ve been involved in over the last few years on the role of language in early medieval documents. It brings together exciting new research by scholars from a variety of different backgrounds working on such topics as literacy, historical linguistics, administrative practices, legal cultures and more. We’re delighted that this research can now see the light of day.”

Thomas Becket Life, Death, and Legacy – Call for Papers

We would like to draw your attention to our call for papers for the international conference ‘Thomas Becket: Life, Death, and Legacy,’ which will take place from 11–14 November 2020 in Canterbury Cathedral, coinciding with the 850th anniversary of his martyrdom and the 800th anniversary of the translation of his relics into the Trinity Chapel. This conference is co-organised by scholars at the Cathedral, Christ Church University, and the University of Kent, and we are very grateful to the British Academy for supporting us. 

The Becket 2020 conference will be one of many cultural celebrations that commemorate and re-examine the legacy of Becket next year, so stay tuned for more news about exciting exhibitions, publications, research projects, and various public engagement events.

We would be delighted if you would please consider submitting an abstract to before the deadline on 21 October 2019. We hope that your papers offer new, interdisciplinary approaches to the study of Becket (both locally at Canterbury and within a wider European context) and we want to offer an inclusive chronology of scholarship on Becket that stretches across medieval, early modern, and modern history.

Thomas Becket – Life, Death and Legacy Conference

Thomas Becket – Life, death and legacy

A conference to commemorate the extraordinary life, death and legacy of Thomas Becket will take place between 11-14 November 2020 at Canterbury Cathedral, 850 years after Becket’s martyrdom and 800 years since the translation of his body into a shrine at Canterbury Cathedral.

When Becket was murdered by four of King Henry II’s knights inside Canterbury Cathedral on 29 December 1170, news of the sacrilegious violence spread quickly. In a matter of months, this merchant’s son from Cheapside had transformed into one of the most famous martyrs in medieval Europe.

The Thomas Becket – Life, Death and Legacy conference will provide a platform for showcasing important and innovative new research on Becket. We welcome participation from delegates interested in history, visual and material culture, archaeology, architecture, literature, liturgy, musicology, and/or reception of Becket’s cult both at Canterbury and within a wider European context. In addition to being interdisciplinary, this conference also embraces an inclusive chronology of scholarship on the medieval, early modern, and modern period.

If you would like to share your research on Becket on this special occasion, please submit an abstract of no more than 350 words with your proposed title, name, and affiliation to by Monday 21 October 2019. Each paper will be 30 minutes in length and we are hoping to produce an edited collection after the conference. If you have any questions about this conference, please contact Dr Emily Guerry ( or Professor Louise Wilkinson (

The conference is being co-organised by academic partners at the University of Kent, Christ Church University, and Canterbury Cathedral with support from the British Academy. As well as the conference an exhibition at the British Museum is being planned.

Jessica Schwindenhammer on the Lyghfield Bible workshop

Jessica Schwindenhammer |
Taught MA student, Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies, University of Kent

On 4 March 2019, MEMS lecturers, Dr. David Rundle and Dr. Emily Guerry organized a workshop celebrating the return of the Lyghfield Bible to Canterbury. The workshop focused on the production of the Lyghfield Bible in Paris and its reception in Canterbury. Over the course of three hours, attendees listened to six guest speakers associated with Canterbury Cathedral and the University of Kent, as well as visiting speakers from other universities. Additional events that took place included participating in Evensong and viewing the Lyghfield Bible at the Canterbury Cathedral Archives. The day concluded with a public lecture at Canterbury Cathedral Lodge by Dr. Alixe Bovey.

Cressida Williams (Canterbury Cathedral Library) introduced the workshop by discussing how the acquisition of the Canterbury Trussel Bible (now Lyghfield Bible) was achieved. The Lyghfield Bible was spotted in an auction catalogue and acquired with the help of a private donation and a six-figure donation from the National Heritage Memorial Fund. Dr. Alison Ray (Canterbury Cathedral Library), Dr. Emily Guerry (University of Kent), and Dr. David Rundle (University of Kent) placed the Lyghfield Bible into the context of book production in Paris by examining its illumination, illustrations, and marginalia.

Book production in Paris was centred on the studies that took place at universities such as the arts, theology, and scripture. Both secular and vernacular texts were created alongside the sacred and Latin texts. Additionally, people began to desire ‘pocket bibles’ similar to that of the Lyghfield Bible. In terms of illumination and illustration, the Lyghfield Bible was similar to other manuscripts produced in Paris. These other manuscripts seem to have been created by the Johannes Grusch Atelier. This group of artists created manuscripts in short periods of time by following a template that the artists knew would look aesthetically pleasing. The shared characteristic between the Lyghfield Bible and these other Grusch Atelier manuscripts included flat figures, C-shaped chins, and thick, spaghetti curls for hair. The marginalia provided in the Lyghfield Bible should provide information about previous owners and dating when it was in someone’s possession. What the marginalia does provide, however, is evidence of how it can misdirect us: early modern hands add a date of writing of 1353 and this has been thought to be based on an inscription that ends with ‘Aug.’ and a set of figures which have been read as a date. In fact, the inscription is a quotation from a work of Augustine, and the following figures a citation – there is no date there, and no basis for the claim elsewhere that it was produced in 1353. More work needs to be done to gain a complete understanding of the production and history of the Lyghfield Bible.

In the second session, Dr. Emily Corran (University of Oxford/University College London), Dr. Claire Bartram (Christ Church Canterbury University), and Dr. Eyal Poleg (Queen Mary University of London) examined the study of bibles and book culture in Canterbury. The study of bibles was inspired by the Parisian approach to education, so to read the book, people had to read both the actual text on the page as well as interpreting its spiritual meaning. While the text provided an understanding of biblical characters, events, and what people thought, the spiritual meaning provided theology and morality.

To obtain bibles as well as other books, markets were used to transmit information. People could own books, copy them, and trade them with other people. In Canterbury alone, there were 200 shops with various trades and workers. Some of these various shops enhanced book culture through the production of books. Looking at bibles, there is a typical layout which is also shared by the Lyghfield Bible. Every point is connected and is divided using chapter divisions. For the Lyghfield Bible, there is plenty of space for marginalia, but there is little evidence of annotations in the text. On the back flyleaf, there is a liturgical calendar paired with a list of biblical readings. To conclude, the Lyghfield Bible was used for individual use rather than public lectures. Despite the interest in bible study and book culture, readers did not leave many annotations in the Lyghfield Bible although there was space to do so.

The day culminated with a public lecture by Dr. Alixe Bovey, ‘Illuminating the Bible in Medieval Canterbury.’ Held in the Claggett Auditorium at the Canterbury Cathedral Lodge, Dr. Bovey’s lecture did not seem to have an empty seat in the room. In her lecture, Dr. Bovey examined Canterbury’s exchange of information through people and books, the sense of material culture which existed in the bible by using translations of text, images, stained glass, etc., and the concept of scale. To examine these themes further, Dr. Bovey incorporated various manuscripts that were recently featured in the British Library’s Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition such as the Codex Amiatinus, the Paris Psalter, and the Utrecht Psalter to name a few.

Throughout her lecture, attendees were told about the exchange of books and ideas between Canterbury and various other areas of Europe. In the case of material culture, by examining the Utrecht Psalter, Harley Psalter, and Eadwine Psalter similarities are shared between all three in the form of illustrations. Additionally, in the Eadwine Psalter, there are various Latin versions as well as Old English and Anglo-Norman French translations.

Lastly, scale was examined by including images of the manuscripts alongside her ruler. Dr. Bovey showed the evolution of scale for bibles starting with the notably large Codex Amiatinus to the ‘pocket-sized’ Lyghfield Bible. To conclude, Dr. Bovey made the same statements about the Lyghfield Bible that were made during the day’s earlier sessions such as its origins, similarities in illumination with other Johannes Grusch manuscripts, and that more is to be learned about its production. Dr. Alixe Bovey’s lecture was received well and was followed by a wine reception to celebrate the event.

This workshop has proved to be exciting for both the Canterbury Cathedral and MEMS at the University of Kent. The speakers provided insights on the future work that can be done on the Lyghfield Bible to be able to fully understand its production, contents, and history over time. Since the acquisition of the Lyghfield Bible, work has been completed to understand a small bit of its production and history. Now students, lecturers, and professionals can continue studying the Lyghfield Bible in its entirety. Additionally, what this workshop provided was insights into the work that can be done for manuscripts in general.

Reflections on the Lyghfield Bible workshop and lecture

In March 2019, a workshop and public lecture took place to celebrate the return to the City of Canterbury, a late-thirteenth century Parisian Bible (the ‘Lyghfield Bible’) which was acquired last year by the Cathedral’s Library and Archives. In the afternoon of Monday, 4th March the University of Kent’s Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies (MEMS) hosted a workshop, From Paris to Canterbury: the Lyghfield Bible in Context, bringing together experts on manuscript culture and the Bible in the thirteenth century. The same evening, Canterbury Cathedral held a public lecture, Illuminating the Bible in Medieval Canterbury, given by Dr Alixe Bovey of the Courtauld Institute of Art, London.

Here, two current MEMS students – Cassandra Harrington and Jessica Schwindenhammer – reflect on the day and share the insights which they gained from these two events:

Read Jessica’s report | Read Cassandra’s report


Conference Report: Liminality and Early Performance Culture

Liminal Time and Space in Medieval and Early Modern Performance

5th-7th September 2014, University of Kent

Human experience of time and space has been the focus of much critical enquiry since philosophers such as Henri Lefebvre, Michel de Certeau and Michel Foucault (to name but a few) suggested that both are subjective, dynamic and socio-culturally constructed. In light of the so-called ‘spatial’ and ‘temporal’ turns, scholars of medieval and early modern performance have examined the ways in which writers, actors and other artists have shaped and been shaped by shifting constructions of time and space. England’s Reformation, the establishment of permanent playhouses in early modern London, and the advances of cartography and travel across Europe are just some examples of specific historical events and cultural phenomena in which thinking about time and space has been central. In September 2014 the ‘Liminal Time and Space in Medieval and Early Modern Performance’ conference held at the University of Kent offered scholars the opportunity to think beyond these more specific, identifiable, and well-documented phenomena. The conference asked delegates to examine the more ambiguous, unidentifiable, transitional times and spaces and to establish the ways that early performers and performances created and responded to such liminality.

One of the aims of the conferences was to focus on non-traditional sites and times, and explore performance in all its complexities. Professor Carol Symes (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) opened the conference with a keynote address that encouraged us to expand what we think of as ‘performance’, as well as to push at the division between ‘page’ and ‘stage’ which, she reminded us, was not helpful to our understanding of early performance culture. The page might have codified existing performance practices, but the making and reading of text was also its own form of performance. The approach proved immensely fruitful as alongside more traditional forms of drama, such as plays, delegates did examine an eclectic range of practices/texts which included pageants, rogation processions, pilgrimage, liturgy, legal testimony, ceremony and hagiographical rituals. Beyond the playhouse or the pageant wagon, the field, the street, the church, the country house, the monastery and the library were considered as contested sites for cultural play and acting out. Within these sometimes overlooked spaces for performance, many papers focussed on liminal architectural details, such as the half-opened door, the window, the tiring house or the pathway to the church, places that often embodied contradictory qualities, both public and private, inside and out, onstage and off.

Grand narratives of theatre history, Professor Symes noted in her opening keynote lecture, often marginalise the medieval, placing emphasis on the early modern and specifically Shakespeare. The conference questioned such grand narratives, not least through its cross-periodised approach which encouraged delegates to identify the changes and continuities between medieval and early modern temporalities, spaces and performance practices. Certainly the commercialisation of drama through the establishment of playhouses in London was confirmed as a well-known rupture between the two time periods. However, delegates also considered similarities in thinking about time and space brought about through, for instance, continuities in gender identity, material culture and dramaturgical practice. The conference concluded that it was important to resist the traditional disciplinary and institutional boundaries between medieval and early modern performance scholarship as doing so results in engaging discussion that reflects the realities of the early period. To that end, Professor Andrew Hiscock’s (Bangor University) closing keynote address, entitled ‘Liminal Times and Spaces in the Prodigious Early Modern Polity’, brought together many of the medieval and early modern strands of the conference. Professor Hiscock discussed, for example, different categories of space, such as “erring space”, “thinking space” and “immanent space”, how such spaces might be defined through various cultural and corporeal practices of space, and the sociological and semiotic effects of the “stacking” and “texturing” of inhabited times and spaces.

Professor Symes’ thoughtful response to the closing keynote lecture exemplified the energising conversation between the medieval and early modern which took place over the conference. In particular an ‘Open Space’ session half way through the conference provided the time and opportunity for more in-depth discussion between delegates. Based on a new technique for meetings, conferences and symposium that has emerged in the last ten years, in this session delegates were invited to write short answers to key questions on Post-It notes – including ‘what are the gaps in this research area?’; ‘what are the ruptures and continuities in space and time across the medieval and early modern periods?’; ‘what are the most useful theoretical tools to discuss liminal time and space?’. These notes were displayed on several whiteboards situated around the conference space and delegates were given time to view and discuss their collective response, as well as ask questions of each other.

An important feature of the broad approach to performance and periodization in the conference was the ‘Early English Performances Cultures and Contemporary Creative Practices’ session. Here delegates heard from a selection of modern artists who are inspired by medieval and early modern culture and texts. The session included readings from poet Chris McCabe’s forthcoming collection Speculatrix (Penned in the Margins, 2014) and novelist David Flusfeder’s John the Pupil (Fourth Estate, 2014). McCabe’s sequence of sonnets draws on Jacobean city comedy to examine twenty-first century London; while Flusfeder’s novel is a ‘medieval road movie’ inspired by a journey from Oxford to Rome in 1267. In addition to readings, theatre director and Professor of Drama (Kent) Paul Allain introduced Gavin Carver’s documentary about Fourth Monkey’s recent production of Christopher Marlowe’s Massacre at Paris at Canterbury Cathedral (2014). McCabe, Flusfeder and Allain answered delegates’ questions about the reasons for their engagement with early English culture, language and drama, as well as the difficulties and creative potential of anachronism, reconstruction and re-enactment. For the conference, it was enlightening to hear a different and fresh approach to very familiar texts, and indeed texts that had been discussed in other sessions throughout the conference. McCabe and Flusfeder spoke of the nuances of medieval and early modern syntax and vocabulary that had influenced their own writing in Speculatrix and John the Pupil respectively. Delegates agreed that creativity and informed speculation is a way of thinking about early performance which is sometimes unfairly overlooked in favour of more traditional forms of research.

The most striking and urgent point to emerge from the conference is (to adapt Professor Hiscock’s phrase) the apparent need to develop a new ‘lexicon’ for medieval and early modern performance, one that adequately reflects the ambiguities, anachronisms and slipperiness, indeed the inherent liminality, of early English performance culture.

Social media response to the conference can be viewed at

Sarah Dustagheer and Clare Wright, University of Kent