Occupying Space in Medieval and Early Modern Britain and Ireland

by Gregory Hulsman (Volume editor) Caoimhe Whelan (Volume editor)
Edited Collection XVIII, 268 Pages


This collection offers a range of interdisciplinary viewpoints on the occupation of space and theories of place in Britain and Ireland throughout the medieval and early modern periods. It considers space in both its physical and abstract sense, exploring literature, history, art, manuscript studies, religion, geography and archaeology. The buildings and ruins still occupying our urban and rural spaces bridge the gap between the medieval and the modern; manuscripts and objects hold keys to unlocking the secrets of the past. Focusing on the varied uses of space enriches our understanding of the material culture of the medieval and early modern period. The essays collected here offer astute observations on this theme and generate new insights into areas such as social interaction, cultural memory, sacred space and ideas of time and community.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface (Gregory Hulsman and Caoimhe Whelan)
  • Acknowledgments
  • Part I: Appearance and Physicality
  • The Wife of Bath in the Saddle: A Rereading of ‘Upon an amblere esily she sat’ (General Prologue, I 469) (Clare Fletcher)
  • ‘He purveyyd hym bothe scryp and pyke and made hym a palmer lyke’: The Role of Pilgrim Clothing in Medieval Narratives (Edel Mulcahy)
  • Portraits of Envy: The Green Clothed Monster in Late Medieval Material and Literary Culture (Emma Martin)
  • Part II: From Author to Audience: Manuscripts and Social Spaces
  • Textuality in Transition: Digital Manuscripts as Cultural Artefacts (Johanna M. E. Green)
  • Filling the Void: The Development of Punctuation in a Silent Reading Culture (Diane Scott)
  • Games at Court: Space in Early Tudor Manuscripts (Joel Grossman)
  • Part III: Using the Land: Literary and Literal Landscapes
  • ‘Enta geweorc’: Locating Memory in Landscape in Anglo-Saxon Poetry (Margaret Tedford)
  • Welcome to the Occupation: Patterns in the Management of the Fourteenth-Century English Landscape (Duncan L. Berryman)
  • Part IV: Making Meaning from Zones of Conflict
  • ‘Spaces of Retir’d Integritie’: The Relocation of Home in the Royalist Poetry of Katherine Philips (Sonya Cronin)
  • ‘Them which possess the places erected by our ancestors’: Sacred Space and Conflict in Ireland (1603–1633) (Stephen Hand)
  • Part V: Social Spheres of Business and Trade
  • The Tactile Account of Anglo-Saxon Ivory (550–1066): Image, Status, Materiality and Economics (Lyndsey Smith)
  • A Civic Relationship: The Guild Book of the Barbers and Surgeons of York as an Expression of Professional Status and City Authority (Richard Wragg)
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index



This volume arises out of early career work showcased at the 2013 three-day Borderlines XVII medieval and early modern conference held at Trinity College Dublin. The annual conference rotates between four Irish universities: Trinity College Dublin, Queen’s College Belfast, University College Cork and University College Dublin, and focuses on current research being undertaken by early career scholars in the medieval and early modern period. It is the largest postgraduate and early career conference held in Ireland and has always generated wide interest from the academic community, attracting many overseas visitors. The continued success of the Borderlines conferences, and the enthusiasm of the audience for a volume distilling some of the excellent scholarship on display, has encouraged us to produce a book comprising twelve chapters developed from papers delivered over the three-day period, all of which are linked by the conference’s theme of ‘Occupying Space’.

The selection of papers chosen for this collection offers an examination of a wide range of topics on this theme across the spectrum of the medieval to early modern period, demonstrating interesting intertextual readings and parallels across disciplines and time periods. The unifying theme of ‘Occupying Space’ provides a broad canvas that facilitates a review and re-sketching of the contours of the past in relation to physicality, materiality and locality. The buildings and ruins still occupying our urban and rural spaces bridge the gap between the medieval and the modern, while manuscripts and objects hold keys to unlocking the secrets of the past. Thus, focusing on the varied uses of space allows us to develop our understanding of the material culture and the concept of physical presence within the medieval and early modern period. The chapters selected for this volume demonstrate the validity and potential in examining aspects of the past through this lens. From the physical to the theoretical, the chapters as a whole demonstrate a variety of fruitful ways to explore the past with a focus on how different ← ix | x →spaces may be read and utilised. Space on physical pages is given a good deal of attention, with excellent analyses exploring how technicalities of script, punctuation and form impact upon manuscript reception, and the opening chapter launches the proceedings with a thought-provoking invocation of how the difficulties and concerns of medieval manuscript study should be approached by the reader in the digital era. The personalisation of space is further explored in other chapters with an examination of the use and meaning of colour, symbols, textiles and other materials. People’s interactions with space are afforded attention; pilgrimages, punishments, massacres, sound, silence and political and religious acts demonstrate the variety of ways people interact with and create meaning for objects and places. Approaches examining physical presence within certain locations are vastly different across chapters; the physical and functional use of landscapes and structures – farmlands, Anglo-Saxon ruins and desecrated early modern remains provide tangible evidence of use of space in reality and in the imagination. Other studies develop theories regarding how places and spaces can provide a tangible locus representing identity and memory. Further examinations move towards a more abstract rendering of space, analysing how emotions, prejudices, identity and religion can render people and places as objects and elements with specific meanings and functions within their wider world. The theme of ‘Occupying Space’ thus provides an opportunity to explore a range of aspects of the medieval and early modern world and examine the variety of ways in which space could be seen to impart meaning. This volume reaches across an array of topics and areas which advance the idea that reading meaning into spaces enriches our understanding not only of the object, place or person, but also changes how we read the past.

The structure of the volume

The theme of ‘Occupying Space’ provides an initial unifying structure to the book but is developed in five thematically linked parts. These parts explore various aspects of spacial use, examining variously: manuscripts, ← x | xi →personal appearance, literary and literal use of land, zones of conflict and aspects of trade in the medieval and early modern period. The opening part, entitled ‘Appearance and Physicality’, explores individual representations of occupying space as depicted in various artistic mediums. Clare Fletcher’s nuanced reappraisal of one of the most memorable and well-known pilgrims from medieval literature – Chaucer’s Wife of Bath – finds a new angle through which to approach this oft-discussed figure. Fletcher demonstrates the potential for a study of how the Wife ‘occupies space’ to offer a new understanding of the character. Through careful examination of the Wife’s physicality, Fletcher argues against the common belief which holds her up as ‘an example of unbridled lust’, noting instead that she is ‘a woman in control of her passions and not just occupying a mere physical space but a moral one as well’. This piece complements the subsequent article by Edel Mulcahy, which sheds new light on the liminal spaces in which medieval pilgrims existed, as represented within Middle English literature. She looks both at true pilgrims, who sought to ‘transcend their expected social boundaries’ for the purposes of self-reflection, and the false pilgrims, who appropriated the clothing and accessories of the former, but possessed none of their piety or authenticity. The third and final article in this part is Emma Martin’s wide-ranging study of envy and the variety of spaces it inhabited in late medieval English culture. She explores a range of mediums from portraits within devotional texts and on church walls to literary manifestations. Martin delves into envy’s occupation of internal space (the spirit or the mind) in both the individual and the community as a whole, and reflects on the external degradation it caused.

The next part, entitled ‘From Author to Audience: Manuscripts and Social Spaces’, explores the central theme of the volume in relation to manuscripts, with each article considering the occupation of physical space (manuscripts as objects, space on the page), and the abstract social spaces occupied by the relationship between author and audience. Johanna M. E. Green’s focus is on the digitisation of medieval manuscripts and the benefits for readers. She offers a critique of the belief that digital editions are merely surrogates or pale imitations of the originals, noting instead that they are both cultural artefacts in their own right and key elements in the transmission and accessibility of medieval texts. The following article ← xi | xii →by Diane Scott then shifts the focus onto early modern print editions of medieval texts, highlighting the range of reading practices supported within individual editions. Scott’s study examines how the layout of the book, and indeed the page, could be adapted to the demands of the silent reader, and explores the dynamic between ‘reader-as-speaker’ and ‘reader-as-hearer’. Finally, Joel Grossman’s contribution analyses the use of space on the page in Tudor manuscripts. Grossman’s study completes this part by offering some astute insights into how some of these early modern riddles and ludic poetry were read in contemporary society, and explores the potential for such works to offer a reimagined reality in the hands of a lively socio-literary world. Such re-composition finds echoes later in the volume (Parts IV and V, respectively), when Sonya Cronin reveals the historical backdrop influencing Katherine Philips’ poetry of exile and in Richard Wragg’s study of guild manuscripts. Grossman’s focus on play and intrigue at the centre of the Tudor court provides examples of Tudor boundary-crossing which brings this part’s theme of engagement with manuscripts to a fitting close, offering the example of an alternative and innovative fluidity of imagining manuscripts and their audience, and demonstrating how such material culture can move between the public and private spheres.

The third thematic part, entitled ‘Using the Land: Literary and Literal Landscapes’, presents two articles which approach the occupation of geographic space in different yet complementary fashions. They are both concerned with how past societies’ literary and/or literal use of their local environment may be interpreted, and how a close reading of the use of locations may enrich our understanding of the past and offer evidence of community memory in the medieval period. Continuing the literary theme, Margaret Tedford opens this part with a study of landscapes in Old English poetry and explores how memory can function within a spatial framework. She then traces how these literary creations understand and use physical space as signposts to the past. This literary landscape is echoed in Part IV in Sonya Cronin’s study of Katherine Philips’ efforts to paint the Welsh countryside as an edenic royalist safe haven. While Tedford’s essay offers a keen analysis of how literary remembering can be a creative and historiographical act, Duncan L. Berryman offers a contrasting archaeological approach examining how space can be used and managed on late ← xii | xiii →medieval manorial sites. He augments the interpretation of extant remains and documentary evidence for the physical construction of the four manors acting as case studies in this article with recourse to a fruitful theoretical framework of habitus that argues for the need for a nuanced tripartite ‘reading’ of buildings and social use of space. Berryman’s application of theory demonstrates not only the opportunity for such work to inform archaeological investigations, but also validates Tedford’s exercise in conceptualising past societies’ relationship with their past and the landscape. These two articles offer an analysis of different ways in which past societies sought to control and use their local landscapes for practical purposes (such as cultivation and burial). They also outline wider contemporary understandings of identity and the importance of ‘reconstructing the past’ with recourse to physical space in order to create and preserve memory, identity and social hierarchy.

The two articles in the subsequent part, entitled ‘Making Meaning from Zones of Conflict’, examine the use of space in zones of conflict, and offer a natural progression of the argument in terms of theme and temporal situation. They offer insightful explorations into how communities in the early modern period may react when they are driven from the safety and security of their individual religious and/or social spaces and are forced to rethink their literal and figurative understanding of their own place in the world. Exploring the struggle for control over ideologically powerful spaces, Sonya Cronin reveals the possibility of reclaiming and re-fashioning an identity in a new space after self-imposed retreat, and traces Katherine Philips’ personal poetical vision of how political defeat and exile can be reconstituted as a victory by presenting a metaphorical representation of Wales as the true seat of English power. Stephen Hand similarly outlines attempts to control the power of particular places through physical destruction and subsequent reoccupation, and explores the political disconnect between England and Ireland that led to opportunities to reclaim and reoccupy seized spaces. The two chapters underline the importance of movement, both physical and metaphorical, and this switch from core to periphery, town to country, and public to private demands a refocusing on how spaces can engage with and work for particular communities in an exercise reminiscent ← xiii | xiv →of Grossman and Mulcahy’s studies in Parts I and II, respectively. The vivid examples here present attempts to reconstitute particular places as ‘reoccupied space’, which reflects their inhabitants’ past and present identities and demonstrates how geographic space can be ideologically conceptualised for a community.

In the final part, entitled ‘Social Spheres of Business and Trade’, we return to tangible artefacts with articles by Lyndsey Smith and Richard Wragg exploring the occupation of space under the sub-theme of the social spheres of business and trade. Both articles concentrate on specific objects, although the analyses of their occupation of space revolves more around their respective places in the cultural and social sphere, as well as memory and the mind, than their actual physical presence. This approach recalls that of a number of the preceding chapters in this volume, most notably Martin’s study of the effects of representations of envy on the medieval mindset in Part II. First, Smith’s study of Anglo-Saxon ivories offers a detailed commentary on the cultural and economic spaces in which ivories circulated. She traces the reverence for ivory in the early medieval mindset back to classical literature and discusses the value of ivory in both the secular and ecclesiastical contexts in a comprehensive study of material culture in its various environments. Adopting a similar approach, Wragg’s essay concludes the volume, offering a complementary study of the evolution of a specific prized item, the guild book of Barbers and Surgeons Guild in York, and aptly demonstrates how the physical item should be understood within its cultural and geographic context in order to better understand the community within which and for whom it functioned. He notes that the guild book helped to ‘create and project a sense of guild unity’, binding its members together, and also serves as evidence of the ‘relationship between the Guild and the City’. Wragg touches on elements explored in the opening part of the volume, namely the dual themes of space on the page and the abstract social space manuscripts occupy, while the guild book’s role as both a business and cultural artefact complements Smith’s preceding discussion.

Overall, the contributions to this volume consider the central theme from myriad points of view, each one breaking new ground in its respective field. One common feature across the chapters is the balance and interaction between the physical and the abstract. Both discussions about ← xiv | xv →objects (manuscripts, buildings, the body, clothing and artefacts) and considerations of place (landscapes and geography) are imbued with insights into social interaction, cultural memory, sacred space, the mind, time and community, with the concept of occupying space always at the centre. This collection’s interdisciplinary nature offers a range of new ways of considering many subjects and each contribution reveals something new about the power of space and layers of meaning, as well as the potential for actual or imagined spaces to be understood as both multi-functional and multi-faceted.

The volume engages with a range of disciplines and individual chapters often contribute to several areas. A number of in-depth literary studies demonstrate various approaches to engaging with the concept of occupying space within literary material (Grossman, Mulcahy, Fletcher, Martin, Tedford and Cronin), while the world of manuscript studies has been approached by other articles (Green, Scott, Grossman and Wragg). Geography/physical space is, of course, also an obvious beneficiary of the thematic focus (Berryman, Tedford, Cronin, Hand, Smith and Wragg). Historical studies can also benefit from some of the contributions that engage with specific events and periods of time directly or indirectly (Hand, Smith, Grossman, Cronin and Berryman). Overall, there is no one argument or approach, but a chorus of voices engaging in a fascinating conversation that the editors and the authors hope will provide food for thought, and indeed, serve to promote further fruitful discussions continuing into the future.


Gregory Hulsman and Caoimhe Whelan,

Dublin 2016← xv | xvi →


XVIII, 268
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (June)
Medieval period Ruin Cultural memory Medieval narratives Buildings Occupation of space
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2016. XVIII, 266 pp., 2 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Gregory Hulsman (Volume editor) Caoimhe Whelan (Volume editor)

Gregory Hulsman holds a PhD in English from Trinity College Dublin. His research focuses on the compilation of Lollard anthologies in late fourteenth- and early fifteenth-century England. Caoimhe Whelan holds a PhD in History from Trinity College Dublin. Her work examines the transmission and reception of texts with a particular focus on the dissemination of historical texts in late medieval and early modern Ireland.


Title: Occupying Space in Medieval and Early Modern Britain and Ireland
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287 pages