Today the UK's second-biggest newspaper 'The Guardian' has published an article on an important archive find of Professor Sebastian Sobecki. Sobecki has found a letter written in 1431 for the son of Margery Kempe, the first English autobiographer. His discovery may shed fresh light on the medieval mystic’s remarkable account of her visions and pilgrimages 600 years ago.
Only one copy of the manuscript of The Book of Margery Kempe survives today, found in 1934. The extraordinary text tells of the religious visions Kempe experienced after the birth of the first of her 14 children, her failings in business and callings to the spiritual life, and how she persuaded her husband to join her in a vow of chastity before embarking on a series of pilgrimages.
Kempe, who lived in Norfolk from 1373 to 1440, recounts in a preface how her story was first recorded by a scribe “who could write neither English nor Dutch”, but was then rewritten by a priest beginning in July 1436. It tells, she declares, of “hyr felyngys and revelacyons and the forme of her levyng”.
Prof. Sobecki has discovered a short Latin letter prepared on 12 June 1431 for a John Kempe, whom he has identified as Margery Kempe’s son. He believes the finding both anchors the narrative in reality, and adds strength to the argument that Kempe was a reliable author. Read more in The Guardian .
Sebastian Sobecki is professor of Medieval English Literature and Culture at the University of Groningen.
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