Sponsored by the Levehulme Trust, University of Kent and Queen's University Belfast

Welcome to the Whittington’s Gift Project

Funded by the Leverhulme Trust, Whittington’s Gift aims to demonstrate that London citizens created new programmes of religious education for both the City’s clergy and for literate lay communities that have hitherto gone largely unnoticed by scholarship. Thanks to the legacy of Richard Whittington (d. 1423), perhaps London’s most storied mayor, an extraordinary resource for religious education emerged under the auspices of Whittington’s innovative executor, John Carpenter, common clerk of London’s Guildhall. By tracking the transmission of texts that the project team contend were sourced from the Guildhall Library, we aim to radically complicate understanding of fifteenth century devotional culture in the capital and beyond.

This project will assess systematically what we hypothesise is material evidence that the Guildhall book collection caused a revolution in models for pastoral learning in London. Created for the use of both the college of priests attached to the Guildhall building complex, but also for those directly involved in lay spiritual instruction – for those described in Carpenter’s will as, ‘sermonizancium communi populo’ (discoursing to the common people), it fuelled a thriving culture of religio-literary production. It is our contention that the manuscript record, which reveals an extraordinary explosion in the production of miscellaneous religious books in London, testifies to a pastoral drive, a ‘ground up’ movement driven by the city’s poorer clerisy in concert with an aspirational mercantile citizenry, simultaneously facilitating clerical ministrations and a growing demand for spiritually improving literature amongst Londoners.

Two postdoctoral researchers, Dr Hannah Schühle-Lewis and Dr Natalie Calder have just begun work at the University of Kent and Queen’s University Belfast respectively, in October 2020, and the project was officially launched in a seminar at the Centre for Medieval and Early Modern studies on the 1st of October. The project will yield a collaboratively-written monograph, ‘Multiplicacioun of manye bokes’: the Guildhall Library and Londons Pastoral Revolution, and a research anthology of fifteenth-century pastoral and devotional literature entitled ‘Meke Reverence and Devotion’: A Reader in Late Medieval English Religious Writing. The anthology will provide a truly representative assemblage of Middle English devotional and theological writing for the first time since Carl Horstmann’s Yorkshire Writers (1895-96), with up to 50% of its texts never having been edited for publication before.

For further information, contact Dr Ryan Perry (Kent) and Dr Stephen Kelly (Queen’s Belfast).