"Learning to die in London is a fascinating and comprehensive study of the changes occurring within death practice in late medieval and early modern London, and how these practices were understood by laity and clergy alike, with a particular focus upon the ars moriendi texts of the time. The book bridges religious and secular, public and private sources, and is particularly noteworthy in this field for breaking down the normal period divisions between late medieval and early Reformation, examining a span of years that historians have tended to regard as transitional, but that the people living and dying during this time would not have done."—Journal of Ecclesiastical HistoryTaking as her focus a body of writings in poetic, didactic, and legal modes that circulated in England's capital between the 1380s—just a generation after the Black Death—and the first decade of the English reformation in the 1530s, Amy Appleford offers the first full-length study of the Middle English "art of dying" (ars moriendi). An educated awareness of death and mortality was a vital aspect of medieval civic culture, she contends, critical not only to the shaping of single lives and the management of families and households but also to the practices of cultural memory, the building of institutions, and the good government of the city itself.
"An original and significant work that demonstrates the different, and evolving, ways in which Londoners understood the nature of death and prepared themselves for it, and for what was to come afterwards."—Caroline Barron, University of London
"An astonishingly good book that recenters our understanding of late medieval religious devotion."—Fiona Somerset, University of Connecticut
In fifteenth-century London in particular, where an increasingly laicized reformist religiosity coexisted with an ambitious program of urban renewal, cultivating a sophisticated attitude toward death was understood as essential to good living in the widest sense. The virtuous ordering of self, household, and city rested on a proper attitude toward mortality on the part both of the ruled and of their secular and religious rulers. The intricacies of keeping death constantly in mind informed not only the religious prose of the period, but also literary and visual arts. In London's version of the famous image-text known as the Dance of Death, Thomas Hoccleve's poetic collection The Series, and the early sixteenth-century prose treatises of Tudor writers Richard Whitford, Thomas Lupset, and Thomas More, death is understood as an explicitly generative force, one capable (if properly managed) of providing vital personal, social, and literary opportunities.
Amy Appleford teaches English at Boston University.