A Voice in the Wilderness: Saints, Prisoners and Exiles in William of Paris’s Life of St. Christina–By Katherine Frances

Introduction: Exile and Punishment

In its broadest sense, exile describes the displacement of a subject from his familiar homeland into a realm of uncertainty and doubt. Throughout the European Middle Ages, exile served both practical and punitive purposes in the handling of subjects who had vied against religious, political or social authorities. Separated from their kinsmen, and stripped of their worldly possessions, these exilic figures were forced to suffer the burden of their guilt in isolated conditions where they would be unable to disrupt or disturb society again.[1] In the closing decades of the fourteenth century, the twelfth earl of Warwick, Sir Thomas Beauchamp, was forced into exile after confessing, before a judicial court at Westminster, that he was guilty of committing treason against King Richard II.[2] As the contemporary chronicle writer Adam Usk describes, after Warwick “foolishly, wretchedly and pusillanimously confessed […] that he had indeed acted traitorously,” he was banished to the Isle of Man where he was sentenced to perpetual imprisonment under the custody of William le Scrope.[3] Warwick’s high social status, however, afforded him a degree of support. Instead of being cast into solitary confinement, he was joined by his servant, William Paris, who wrote the Middle English poem, the Life of St. Christina of Bolsena, as he “satte in prison of ston” (l. 518) alongside Beauchamp.[4]

In this paper I will examine the ways in which Paris drew on an overtly religious form of writing to present his master in more positive light than contemporary judicial or legal discourses permitted. By focussing on the exiled author’s textual commemoration of a saint who was martyred during the fourth-century Diocletianic persecution, I argue that Paris utilised the popular genre of hagiography to exculpate his master from the crime for which he had been condemned. Moreover, by reading Paris’s unusual reference to Saint John the Baptist in relation to Richard’s pious devotion to this Biblical figure, I argue that hagiography also provided a means through which the banished poet could articulate a specific rebuttal against the very man who had instigated his expulsion from English civic society.

Exile, Imprisonment and Violence in the Medieval Textual Culture

Although exile held a punitive potential, medieval peoples were quite aware that, throughout history, many virtuous individuals had wrongly suffered banishment and imprisonment at the hands of oppressive tyrants. Both punishments served to remove the criminal body from society. In the case of banishment, this often involved sending the subject away from his homeland. Imprisonment, on the other hand, could take place on native grounds; however, as the subject was trapped or confined within gaol conditions, they still suffered limitation and segregation from society.

In his sixth-century Latin text The Consolation of Philosophy, the Roman senator Anicius Boethius describes how King Theodoric cast him out of the government and into prison for the role he played in defending an innocent man.[5] The very fact that Boethius’ work gained a pan-European reputation as an erudite consolatory text highlights that this particular outcast figure eventually came to be revered throughout medieval culture.[6] Similarly, in the popular genre of hagiography, the vitae of the early Christian virgin martyrs frequently featured episodes in which one of God’s holy maidens was removed from her familiar surroundings and imprisoned by her heathen opponents.[7] Again, the cultic status of these figures in church history demonstrates that these exiles were celebrated as embodiments of Christian virtue and grace. In many instances, banishment, then, did not result in or equate to a vanquishing from the cultural imagination; rather, the exile lived and lingered beyond their displacement, taking on a protean identity in which they transitioned from condemned criminality to inspirational exemplarity.

Paris’s account of Christina’s life demonstrates that this young maiden experienced both exile and imprisonment from an early age. When she was a child, her father, Urban, locked her in a tower where he forced her to worship his own heathen gods. However, in her adolescent years, Christina turned her back on her father and his beliefs and, instead, declared herself to be a daughter of Christ: “‘Thi doughter , Urban, clepe me noght […] For on Jhesu is all my thought/ And his child, sir, will Y be’” (ll. 97-99). To demonstrate her rejection of her father’s pagan religion, the young maiden smashed his statues; she “caste them down […] And byrste ther legges and armys in too” (ll. 130-132). Enraged by this flagrant display of rebellious behaviour, Urban had Christina cast into a different prison space where she was subject to terrible tortures at the hands of two pagan judges, Dyons and Julyan. Throughout the torments, Christina remained true to God, continually singing his praises and praying for succour in the face of adversity. Her eventual martyrdom was thus rewarded as, shortly after dying, her “soule wente up to heven so brighte” (l. 487).

For the most part, the Life of Christina of Bolsena follows a similar trajectory to the account of Christina’s life which was recounted by Jacobus de Voragine in his widely circulated hagiographical anthology, The Golden Legend.[8] Recent scholarship on Paris’s text has, however, pointed to the fact that the exiled author displayed a particular preoccupation with images of violence. While the depiction of torture was seen as a “standard ingredient” in the vitae of the early Christian virgin martyrs, Karen Winstead suggests that Paris revelled in providing detailed depictions of the tortures inflicted upon the virtuous young maiden in order to emphasise the saint’s brave and strong disposition; he “gloats” as he outlines how “one judge after another tries and fails to kill the impudent twelve-year old.”[9] Similarly, James Simpson also comments on Christina’s miraculous ability to withstand the tortures she is subjected to; despite being stripped, flagellated, pierced with hooks, laid in a cradle of burning oil and having sixty serpents set upon her, she continues to praise God. Miraculously, then, milk not blood, flows from the cuts on her breasts. Interestingly, Simpson suggests that as well as highlighting the strength of God’s holy maiden, these images also have a political resonance. By juxtaposing the images of the broken statues of her father’s pagan gods which Christina smashed to smithereens, with the resistant, energetic, fertile body of the young girl, Simpson speculates that “the imprisoned translator was […] perhaps heralding a new order” which eventually came about when Richard was deposed by Henry Bolingsbroke in 1399.[10]

Aligning myself with Simpson, I also suggest that the Life of St. Christina has strong political connotations. However, rather than concentrating on the narrative’s sustained interest in images of violence, I suggest that Paris differentiates his text from other contemporary accounts of Christina’s life in two other important and interesting ways. Firstly, he includes a unique reference to John the Baptist within the narrative schema. Secondly, in the closing stanzas of the poem, he individualises his work through the interpolation of a prayer in which he explicitly asks Christina to assist himself and Warwick in their strife. By concentrating on these points of departure, I propose that Paris consciously and consistently drew comparison between his master’s experience and that of the eponymous saint and, by doing so, portrayed him as an innocent, moral and virtuous character whose banishment was a grave injustice. By considering the unusual allusion to John the Baptist in relation to Richard’s pious devotion to this saint, I suggest, then, that the narrative enabled Paris not simply to hope for a “new order,” but, more specifically, enabled him to repudiate Richard for his role in condemning his master to the Isle of Man. Before moving on to a more detailed discussion of the poem itself, I will discuss the importance of hagiography in the specific context of Richard’s court and life.

Richard II: Piety and Politics

Throughout the Middle Ages, English kings upheld a powerful belief that their monarchical authority was ordained by God and, accordingly, they displayed a strong commitment to safeguarding the teachings and authority of the Church.[11] Richard was no exception. Biographical accounts of his life demonstrate that that he was a pious ruler. As the historian Richard R. G. Davies outlines, Richard’s religious practices provided a means through which the king sought to promote his own monarchical and national identity.[12] Historical records outline that throughout his reign he frequently visited the shrines of pre-Conquest saints such as Saint Winifred, Ethelthreda, Ethelberga and Thomas Becket.[13] This interest in native saints suggests that the king was particularly keen to commemorate the lives of men and women who, like himself, had walked and lived on English soil, thereby celebrating the history of sanctity within his realm. Additionally, Richard is also known to have shown a great commitment to the cult of the Virgin Mary and it has been suggested that this reflected a desire to emulate the devotions of his grandfather, Edward III, who also showed a strong affection for the Virgin Mary. By repeating his predecessor’s religious praxis, Richard implied that he, like the man who had lived before him, was a worthy candidate for kingship.[14]

Mary was not the only Biblical figure who Richard revered. The king also showed a particular devotion to John the Baptist.[15] John’s life is discussed by the four synoptic gospellers who each outline the important role that this man played in announcing and confirming the arrival of Jesus at the beginning of his ministry. Mark, for instance, opens his gospel by describing how, in his adult life, John fled into the wilderness where he pronounced that a messianic figure would imminently redeem mankind from sin. In doing this, John fulfilled the prophecy set forth in Old Testament scriptures that a messenger would be sent to earth to prepare the people for God’s arrival.[16] By the late fourteenth century, the prophetic figure was revered by the English church; textual accounts of his life survive in at least six different sources, his name was commemorated in several hymns and he was frequently figured in murals and wall paintings.[17] While Richard’s interest in the saint was not altogether incongruous with contemporary devotional practices, the historian Nigel Saul suggests that the king’s special affiliation towards the Baptist may have stemmed from the fact that a number of important dates in his reign coincided with the celebration of John’s life in the Church calendar; Richard was born on 6th January when the Church celebrated the Baptism of Christ and he ascended to the throne on 22nd June, which was the eve of the vigil of the Baptist’s nativity.[18] Moreover, French chronicle accounts of Richard’s birth highlight that, in the moments after his birth, the attendant midwives feared that he would soon die and, accordingly, they hastily baptised the young prince, naming him “Johannes.”[19] Although his name was later changed to Richard, it is possible that an awareness of this event may also have emboldened the king’s devotions to this figure.

Richard’s interest in John was certainly noted by his contemporaries and may have informed John Gower’s decision to title his poetic account of the Peasant’s Revolt (1381) Vox Clamantis. Throughout the pro-Ricardian work, Gower’s speaker laments the corruption of society that gave way to the feudal uprising, portraying the peasants’ claims as invalid and characterising their actions as deplorable. By titling the piece Vox Clamantis, which translates as ‘a voice crying out’, Gower drew on Biblical scripture to align his narrator with John the Baptist and, in doing so, presented his principal speaker as a wise, prophetic figure who was speaking both to, and about, a disillusioned and broken society.[20] Gower’s choice of a title is likely to have pleased Richard greatly since, by extension, it suggested that he was a holy authority and that the surrounding sinful people ought to turn towards him, repent for their erroneous ways and abide by his commands.

Figure 1: Richard II of England Portrait at Westminster Abbey, early 1390s).

However, while in the early part of the 1380s, Richard appeared to have support from learned men such as Gower, by the end of the decade, a number of eminent political figures held grave doubts about Richard’s suitability for kingship. In 1388, Warwick was one of a number of noble men – collectively known as the Lords Appellant – who had taken active steps to curtail the king’s power.[21]This decision was principally based upon their belief that Richard’s proclivity to place his trust in men who were of an ill and malignant disposition was, in fact, jeopardising the safety of the land.[22] Although the Appellants appeared to be successful in their mission, sidelining the king for some seventeen months, in 1390 Richard regained full control of the land and, as he did so, he took a number of measures to emphasise “the prestige and authority of his office.”[23]In order to cultivate a more “vigorous” image of his kingship, Richard instigated a new rhetoric of address that stressed his magisterial disposition; rather than calling the king “my lord,” his people were expected to refer to him as ‘‘your majesty’” and “your highness.’’[24] Drawing attention to a portrait of the king which was displayed at Westminster in the early 1390s, Saul notes that Richard is not only portrayed as holding a sceptre and an orb to symbolise his sovereignty, he also takes on a Christ-like stance, staring out to face his subjects.[25] (Figure 1)

As well as emulating Christ himself, the king also drew upon imagery of the saints in order to promote his own monarchical position. In 1395, for instance, Richard commissioned the production of a personalised, portable altarpiece, The Wilton Diptych. (Figure 2)

Figure 2: The Wilton Diptych (c. 1395–99), each section 57 cm × 29.2 cm).

This votive piece was crafted from two panels of Baltic oak which were hinged together so that it could be opened and closed like a book. The image contained on the interior of the diptych is that of the king’s presentation to the Virgin Mary and the Christ child. In the one frame, Richard is presented as kneeling at the foot of three saints who are each identifiable by their attributes; John the Baptist holds the lamb, Edward the Confessor a ring, and Edmund an arrow. These subjects are all looking inwards to face the image on the other frame which displays Christ’s mother Mary holding her infant. The holy family’s sanctity is highlighted through the presence of a company of angels who surround the pair.[26] While the diptych clearly confirms the king’s Marian commitment, the choice of John, Edward and Edmund has strong implications for his regal identity. The very fact that the Baptist, as the man who first proclaimed Jesus’ authority, is figured with his hand on the king’s shoulder creates a tangible link between these two men, thereby suggesting that Richard had the support and approval of the same prophetic figure who approved of Christ. Moreover, the position of Richard at the foot of two of England’s revered native saints – the Anglo-Saxon kings Edward and Edmund – not only implies that he had the support of these two predecessors, but also suggests a hope, or even a belief, that, in the future, he too would be remembered alongside these men as a saintly king. The imagery on the diptych thus highlights that Richard specifically chose to commemorate and align himself with certain saints whom he felt would enable him to bolster his own political identity. In the following section, I consider, then, that this close affiliation to the Baptist was recognized and exploited by Paris who, in his narrative schema, suggested that Richard’s actions would have displeased this saint.

Exile, Imprisonment and Identity in Paris’s Life of St. Christina

If, as I have argued, Richard did draw on religious iconography, including the resources of hagiography, to promote his regal identity, it is surely important to ask how and why this same genre also appealed to a man whose life had been ruined by the king’s governance? In her work on the motivation behind Richard’s decision to display John, Edward and Edmund on the Wilton Diptych, Katherine Lewis argues that, in addition to anticipating a saintly status, the altar piece both voiced and masked the king’s anxiety about his childless marriage to Anne of Bohemia. In the eyes of many of his contemporaries, Richard’s failure to produce an heir to the throne would have been a great concern, casting aspersions on his political integrity and also his masculinity. By aligning himself alongside three men who were renowned for maintaining holy chastity, the king effectively implied that he too had deliberately chosen a life of sexual purity. [27] Importantly, Lewis’ work illustrates that late medieval subjects often looked to saints who shared similar attributes, or who had experiences, that were consonant with issues that they faced in their own lives, especially when dealing with personal matters.

With this in mind, I suggest that Paris chose to commemorate the life of Christina precisely because she – like himself and his master – was forced to endure multiple and varying forms of exile and imprisonment in her own life. Although she was never transported out of her homeland, her father had his daughter removed from her immediate society and placed in a tower in order to protect her chastity. Later, when she refused to obey his will, he removed her from this space and cast her into a prison. Interestingly, when Warwick was first arrested, Richard had him sent to the Tower of London where he was kept until his trial. After the trial, both Warwick and Paris were further ostracised to the Isle of Man where they were cast into a different prison space. Christina’s multiple experiences of imprisonment thus made her a relatable figure for Paris to commemorate since, like the saint, he and his master were also forced into two quite different prison spaces. This sense of solidarity in exile is articulated by Paris when he personalizes his work through the interpolation of a prayer:

Seint Cristyn, helpe thorought thi prayere
That we may fare the better for thee,
That hath ben longe in prison here,
The Ile of Man, that stronge cuntré.
Sir Thomas Brawchaump, an erle was he;
In Warwikshire was his power […]
In prison site ther lorde alone.
Of his men he hath no moo,

But William Parys, be Seint John,

That with his will woll noght him fro. (ll. 497-520)Here, Paris not only figures Christina as an intercessor who will carry his plea for succour to God, but through the repetition of the word ‘that’ conflates the saint with the ‘we’ in the preceding line so that all three figures – saint, servant and master- are united in their common experience of exile and imprisonment.The interpolation of the prayer through which Paris personalises the work occupies, however, only a very small section of the verse. For the most part, the narrative focuses predominantly on outlining the biographic experience of the young woman. In the opening stanza of the work, Paris immediately establishes an interest in the theme of religious conversion, noting how Christina “forsoke” her pagan family in order to dedicate “holle hir herte to Criste” (ll. 6-8). Though the young girl turns away from her former community, Paris emphasises her important place in the Christian family by placing her in the company of two eminent Biblical saints, John the Baptist and Paul:

Thus som have grace or thei borne be,
As had the Baptiste, goode Seint John;
And some in tendre age, pardé,
As Cristyn had, that faire woman;
And some in elde when youghte is gon,
As in Poules lyfe we may see;
And some when thei shall die anon,

As Barabas thef, that honge so hye. (ll. 57-64)

This section of verse, which is unique to Paris’s retelling of her life, allows for the introduction of John the Baptist into the narrative schema. As I mentioned earlier, John was frequently alluded to as the ‘voice in the wilderness’. By characterising John in this way, the gospellers evoked a memory of Israel’s exile from God in the Old Testament scriptures, thereby emphasising that the Son of Man had indeed come to rescue and redeem all sinners whose behaviour had separated them from God.[28] In both New and Old Testament scripture, exile was recognised to have both literal and figurative resonances. While certain people suffered the misfortune of being physically removed from their homeland, the post-lapsarian subject effectively lived in an extended period of exile where, because of his sin, he was dislocated from God. This spiritual displacement was, of course, rectified through Christ’s Passion; as he died on the cross, the gates of heaven were opened to all who believed in His glorious Resurrection.[29] By arranging John in the same stanza as Paul, who was known to hold the key of the gate to heaven, Paris emphasised that, through believing in John’s message that Christ was indeed coming to save all men, an individual could leave the wilderness and, instead, eventually enter into eternal glory. Drawing attention to the extensive corpus of eschatological art and literature that was produced, displayed and read throughout the European Middle Ages, Michael Foster observes that medieval peoples were deeply concerned by the afterlife, and what would happen to their souls once their earthly bodies had deceased: “the medieval Christian was motivated to disregard the social, economic, and political realities around him […] which would soon be irrelevant at the time of God’s ultimate reckoning.”[30]Although he and Beauchamp, as a result of their involvement in contemporary politics, have been forced into exile, the fact that Paris fashions an associative link between Christina and these two Biblical figures suggests a belief that, eventually, they will be welcomed into God’s kingdom.As well as allowing Paris to speculate about his soteriological future, I suggest that the reference to the Baptist also functioned as a way in which he could repudiate Richard. As I outlined earlier, the king showed a strong devotional commitment to this saint. In addition to the portrayal of the Baptist on the Wilton Diptych, an inventory of Richard’s treasures relates that more than thirty items that were stored in the royal chapel were decorated with images of the Baptist and the king is also known to have presented a chasuble decorated with a number of sacred images, including the figure of the Baptist, to Westminster Abbey.[31] Furthermore, in 1396 the vicar of All Souls upon the Pavement church in York gave the king a dish which was believed to have held the saint’s slain head following his martyrdom and, in 1398, Henry Bolingsbroke gave the king a gold tablet which was ornamented with the Baptist.[32]Whereas these gifts indicate that Richard’s subjects drew on images of John in order to appeal to the taste of the king, I argue that in Paris’s text, the figure is used in a very different way. While Vox Clamantis, which was written in the earlier part of Richard’s reign, shows how a Ricardian poet drew on the image of the Baptist in order to commend the king, the disaffected Paris reverses this strategy. The very fact that John is positioned alongside Christina who, in turn, is a supporter of Beauchamp and Paris illustrates that the king’s favoured saint was, in fact, on the side of the subjects whom he had banished from his kingdom.

Within the context of the poem itself, the allusion to John also foreshadows the miraculous event at which God himself expresses his support of the holy maiden: her baptism. As Bryan Spinks explains, the sacrament of baptism was considered of utmost importance in the late medieval Western Church since it was only through baptism that one could be initiated in to the Church and, ultimately, secure a place in heaven.[33] In the Life of St. Christina, Christina’s baptism takes place when her father gathers a number of men together in the hope that they will help drown his rebellious child: “Aboute hir neke thei honge a ston […] Thai caste hir in the see anon” (ll. 258-260 ). However, despite their efforts to harm the young girl, she is miraculously saved when Christ descends from heaven and baptises her in the water:

Than Criste come downe Hymself, iwysse
And baptyse Cristyn in the see […]
“In My Fadir and als in Me
Jhesus Christe, Son of blisse,
And in the Holy Goste, us Three

I baptise thee in watire this” (ll. 265-280)

As the early fifteenth century sermonist John Mirk reminded his congregation, the presence of all three figures of the Trinity – Father, Son and Spirit – at Christ’s baptism provided a means through which God could powerfully exhibit his complex and multifaceted nature to his peoples: “Al þys was donne for to teched vche cristene mon hys byleve, for vche christon mon ys holder for to leven in þe Fadir and in þe Sone and in þe Holy Gost, þat ben þre persones in on Godhed.”[34] The portrayal of Christina’s baptism as an imitatio Christi emphasises the holy nature of the saint: “Hir must be on holy wight/ That Criste thus baptiste in the stronde!” (Life l.279-280). The confirmation of Christina’s specially sanctified status is also confirmed as Christ himself takes on the role of “godfadir” in the maiden’s life ( l. 277). Moreover, the very fact that her name contains the morpheme ‘Christ’ again highlights her holiness since He is, in essence, an integral part of her personal identity. These conferrals of Christina’s holy status again work in Paris’s favour. By imbuing his verse with multiple signs that demonstrate Christina’s sanctity, the exiled author effectively highlighted that the very figure who supported his cause, and the cause of his master, was approved, authorised and ordained by God himself.

Importantly, when Paris prays to Christina he betrays the geographical location of himself and his master; they are stranded on “[T] he Ile of Man” (l. 500). This reference is particularly interesting when read in relation to the description of Christina’s baptism which takes place “in the stronde!” (l. 280). As the Middle English Dictionary outlines, while this word could be used to describe the sea strait, it could also describe the sand or soft ground of the shore-line abutting on the sea and, in this case, could be seen to evoke the place where Paris and Beauchamp were held in custody.[35] I suggest that by describing the place where Christina was miraculously rescued as similar to the location where he and his master are imprisoned, Paris anticipates that, eventually, they too will be saved by Christ. Moreover, as Paris recounts how Christina was saved from the sea in which she was baptised, he recalls that Christ entrusted his maiden in to the care of “Seint Mighell” ( l.281) who bought her safely on to dry land. In the 1950s, art historians uncovered the only surviving evidence of medieval interior decor in the Tower of London: an elaborate wall painting that covers the Byward Wall. The work, which was damaged by the installation of a fireplace at a later date, portrays Christ’s crucifixion. While the image of Christ is no longer visible, the Virgin Mary and Saint John the Evangelist are both figured in mourning positions, with Mary wringing her hands in grief while John stands praying. These mourners are flanked by two larger figures. On one side, the archangel Saint Michael stands weighing the souls of dead people as he determines who will go to heaven or hell. On the other side, Saint John the Baptist holds a Bible which is ornamented with a lamb. Though little is known about the production of the Byward Wall painting, the soft facial features of the figures and the style of their clothing point to the fact that the work was executed in the closing years of the fourteenth century. Moreover, the large amount of gold leaf and expensive pigments that were used to create the image indicate that it was commissioned by a wealthy patron. Jane Spooner also draws attention to the close similarities between the depiction of Michael’s face and those of the angels who are figures on the Wilton Diptych.[36] These visual similarities open up the possibility that the wall painting was either designed with the specific intention of appealing to the tastes of the king or, more directly, that the work was actually commissioned by Richard himself. Given that Beauchamp was held in the Tower before his trial at Westminster, it is not inconceivable that he and his servant were familiar with the artwork. If this were the case, Paris’s specific references to both John and Michael as supporting and assisting Christina indicates that at Judgment they, like the saint, will be welcomed into heaven. This interest in salvation stands as yet another rebuttal of Richard, highlighting that his attempt to punish Beauchamp and Paris would ultimately be diminished.

As I outlined earlier, Paris’s reference to his master’s downfall is only articulated in the final section of the work when, in an ubi-sunt motif, he laments that Warwick has been abandoned by his former acquaintances: “Where are his knyghtes that with hym yede […] Where are the squiers now at need/That sumtyme thoughte thei wold not flee?” (ll. 505-507) and states that, by contrast, he, “William Parys, be Seint John […]will woll noght him fro” (ll. 515-516) . Here, the reference to John is reminiscent of the allusion to the Baptist earlier in the narrative. Paris may be Beauchamp’s lone earthly friend but once again he emphatically conjectures that he, like Christina, has the approval of Richard’s most revered saint. Moreover, by alluding to Beauchamp’s former knight and squires, Paris imbues his narrative with a memory of his master’s former high status when the earl, as a knight of the garter, occupied an important position in the royal court. As Elizabeth Salter notes, Paris had served Beauchamp during the most successful years of his career when he was actively involved in the London political and courtly scene.[37] Accordingly, he is likely to have attended the court with his master and was probably familiar with the works of celebrated London writers such as Gower and Chaucer and, additionally, may very well have attended religious services at Westminster and would have been aware of the king’s strong interest in the cult of the Baptist. As Simpson suggests, Paris’s strong commitment to juxtaposing images of the pagan god’s broken bodies with the unharmed body of the saint may speak, in a more general sense, of his desire for a new order, but the specific references to John the Baptist and Michael the Archangel – as associates and supporters of Christina- stand as a pointed comment against the monarch who was responsible for Paris and Beauchamp’s punishment.


Paris’s the Life of Christina demonstrates the ways in which a fourteenth-century exile drew on the rich and variegated history of this experience in order to conceptualise and frame his associational involvement in Ricardian politics in a more positive way than contemporary discourses allowed. By aligning himself and his master with a celebrated early Christian virgin martyr who had incurred exile and imprisonment at the hands of mendacious opponents, Paris effectively implied that his own fate, and that of Beauchamp’s, was a grave injustice. Like the eponymous heroine of his text, Paris posits, then, that he and his master are virtuous, moral and Christian characters who have been mistreated by an evil and oppressive tyrant. Moreover, the commemoration of the saint also provided a means through which Paris could look beyond the immediacy of his situation and express his belief that, despite his present predicament, in the future he too would achieve a reunion with God in heaven. In this respect, the allusion to John the Baptist powerfully bolsters his soteriological hope since this prophetic figure was principally responsible for urging all people to prepare for the coming of the Son of Man. Additionally, the very fact that Paris portrays the Baptist as championing the cause of Christina, Beauchamp and himself, allowed him to position Richard’s favoured saint on their side. This combination of saints thus enabled the exilic writer to both strike out against the man who had condemned him to exile and to look forward to his assimilation in to a place that was far better than any earthly realm: heaven.

Katherine Frances

Katherine Frances is in the second year of her PhD at the University of Manchester. Her doctoral research focuses on the interrelationship between memory and identity in late medieval prison narratives. She is also interested Early Modern drama and was recently awarded a Renaissance Society Postgraduate Prize for her work on medievalism in Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure”.

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A Voice in the Wilderness: Saints, Prisoners and Exiles in William of Paris’s Life of St. Christina by Katherine Frances is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


  1. For scholarship which considers the use of exile as a punitive strategy in the Middle Ages see, Elisabeth van Houts, “The Vocabulary of Exile and Outlawry in the North Sea Area around the First Millennium”, in Exile in the Middle Ages: Selected Proceedings from the International Medieval Congress, eds. Laura Napran and Elisabeth van Houts (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2004), pp. 13-28. For a specifically English context see, Harry Potter,Hanging in Judgement: Religion and the Death Penalty in England from the Blood Code to the Abolition (London: SCM Press, 1993), pp. 7-9 which highlights that, from the ninth century, Christian Kings often opted to exile or imprison deviant subjects, including men who had committed the heinous offence of treason, as this was considered to be compatible with Christian ethics, whereas killing a man clearly breached the Ten Commandments.
  2. Anthony Goodman, The Loyal Conspiracy: The Lords Appellant under Richard II(London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1971), p. 14.
  3. Adam Usk, The Chronicles of the Revolution: 1397-1400, The Reign of Richard II, trans. Chris Given-Wilson (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1993), pp. 61-62.
  4. Elizabeth Salter, Fourteenth Century English Poetry: Contexts and Readings (Oxford: Clarendon, 1983), p. 63. For a broader discussion of the ways in which an individual’s social status affected the conditions of their imprisonment see Jean Dunbabin, Captivity and Imprisonment in Medieval Europe, 1000-1300 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), pp. 5-8. For Paris’s text see William Paris, the Life of St. Christina of Bolsena, ed. Sherry Reames, Middle English Legends of Women Saints (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1995). All citations from the Life of St. Christina of Bolsena are taken from this edition.
  5. Anicius Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy 2. 7. 4, ed. P. G. Walsh (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 8
  6. Winthrop Wetherbee, “The Consolation and Medieval Literature,” in The Cambridge Companion to Boethius, ed. John Marenbon (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), pp. 279-302. As Wetherbee notes, Boethius’ text was not only translated in to most European vernaculars, but it also served as a key intertextual source in numerous literary compositions thereby highlighting that the ideas set forth by this exiled figure enjoyed widespread circulation throughout the following twelve centuries after his death.
  7. Karen Winstead, Virgin Martyrs: Legends of Sainthood in Late Medieval England (London: Cornell University Press, 1997), p. 5. Winstead comments that the lives of the female virgin martyrs share a number of “standard ingredients”; the young maiden is born in to a pagan society thus, after converting to Christianity, she finds herself at odds with the proximate authorities. Her refusal to submit to their heathen ways results in her persecution and eventual martyrdom. Frequently her torture will involve a period of exile in which she is placed in the confines of a prison cell. Exile and imprisonment, then, are common motifs within this literary genre.
  8. Jacobus de Voragine, The Golden Legend: Lives of the Saints, trans. William Granger Ryan, 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), 1: 385-387. This hagiographical collection is dated to the early thirteenth century; however the survival of multiple manuscripts from the latter part of the century and the fourteenth century indicate that it was widely read and transmitted within late medieval culture. Moreover, the very fact that William Caxton chose this text as one of the earliest works to set in to print in the fifteenth century also points to its popularity.
  9. Karen Winstead, Virgin Martyrs: Legends of Sainthood in Medieval England (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997), p. 5; Karen Winstead, Chaste Passions: Medieval English Virgin Martyr Legends (Cornell: Cornell University Press, 2000), p. 61.
  10. James Simpson, Oxford English Literary History, 1350-1547: Reform and Cultural Reformation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 407.
  11. Nigel Saul, Richard II (Yale: Yale University Press, 1997), p. 293.
  12. Richard G. Davies, “Richard II and the Church,” in Richard II and the Art of Kingship, eds. Anthony Goodman and James L. Gillespie (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999), pp. 83-106 (p. 84).
  13. Saul, Richard II, p. 310.
  14. Ibid., pp. 303-307
  15. Ibid.
  16. Mark 1.1-8.
  17. The representation of John the Baptist in late fourteenth century textual and visual culture is outlined in E. W. Tristram, English Wall Painting of the Fourteenth Century (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1955), p. 26.
  18. Saul, Richard II, p. 309.
  19. Michael Bennett, Richard II and the Revolution 1399 (Stroud: Sutton, 1999), p. 14; Bennett outlines that the King’s name was probably changed from John to Richard as his predecessor King John (1167-1216 ) had lived a turbulent life and was generally remembered as a malignant ruler. Accordingly, members of the royal family would have been keen to differentiate the new baby from this man.
  20. Russell Peck, “The Politics and Psychology of Governance in Gower: Ideas of Kingship and Real Kings,” in A Companion to Gower ed. Siân Echard (Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, 2005), pp. 215-238 (p. 226).
  21. The three leading Lords Appellant were Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester, Richard FitzAlan, Earl of Arundel and of Surrey and Thomas Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick. Like Beauchamp, Gloucester and Warwick were also arrested and charged with treason in July 1397. These men, however, met a more calamitous end; Gloucester was found dead – presumably murdered – in prison and Arundel, after refusing to confess that he was guilty of the charge, was executed on Tower Hill. In 1388, these three Appellants were accompanied by Henry Bolingbroke, Earl of Derby (the future king Henry IV) and Thomas de Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk and Earl of Nottingham. For a detailed biography of each of these figures see Anthony Goodman, Loyal Conspiracy, esp. pp. 53-57.
  22. Jonathan Sumption, The Hundred Years War: Divided Houses (London: Faber and Faber, 2009), pp. 642-646.
  23. Nigel Saul, ‘The Kingship of Richard II,’ in Richard II: The Art of Kingship, eds. Anthony Goodman and James L. Gilespie (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999), pp. 37-57 (p. 49).
  24. Ibid.
  25. Ibid.
  26. Dillian Gordon, Making and Meaning: The Wilton Diptych (London: National Gallery, 1993), pp. 1-26.
  27. Katherine J. Lewis, “Becoming a Virgin King: Richard II and Edward the Confessor,” in Gender and Holiness: Men, Women and Saints in Late Medieval Europe, ed. by Samantha J. E. Riches (London: Routledge, 2002), pp. 86-100, (pp. 88-92).
  28. The theme of the Israelites exile is explored most thoroughly in the Old Testament Book of Exodus (c. 1400 BC).
  29. The notion that Christ’s crucifixion destroyed the barrier between God and man is expressed in the gospel accounts of the Passion. In these narratives, the depiction of the curtain tearing in the temple highlights that the divide between the people and the sacred space belonging to God (the ‘Holy of Holies’) was abolished at precisely the moment Christ died. See, for example, Matthew 27. 50-51.
  30. Michael Foster, “Spiritual Temporalities in Late-Medieval Europe,” in Spiritual Temporalities in Late-Medieval Europe, ed. Michael Foster (Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010), pp. 1-8 (p. 2).
  31. For inventory descriptions of Richard’s possessions and bestowed gifts see Ulrike Ilg, “Ein wiederentdecktes Inventa der Goldschmiedarbeiten Richards II. Von England und seine Bedeutung fur die Ikonographie des Wiltondyptychons,” Pantheon 52 (1994), 10-16 and J. Wickham Legg, “On an Inventory of the Vestry of Westminster Abbey,” Archaeologia 52 (1890), 195-286 (280).
  32. Gordon, Making, p. 56.
  33. Bryan D. Spinks, Early and Medieval Rituals and Theologies of Baptism from the New Testament to the Council of Trent (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), pp. 6-8.
  34. John Mirk’s Festival edited from British Library Manuscript Cotton Claudius A. II ed. Susan Powell, 2 vols, (Oxford: Oxford University Press for EETS, 2009), 1: p. 49.
  35. For the Middle English Dictionary [1] [accessed on 27th February 2011]
  36. There is, at present, very scant material published on the Byward Wall. It is briefly discussed by the art historian Tristram in Tristram, Fourteenth Century, p. 56. However, much of the information that I have presented here has been gained through email correspondence with Jane Spooner (Curator: Historic Buildings, HM Tower of London). Additionally, the painting is mentioned in Historic Royal Palace’s guidebooks.
  37. Elizabeth Salter, Fourteenth Century English Poetry: Contexts and Readings (Oxford: Clarendon, 1983), p. 63.

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