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The Cross-Dressing Female Saints in Wynkyn de Worde’s 1495 Edition of the «Vitas Patrum»

A Study and Edition of the Lives of Saints Pelage, Maryne, Eufrosyne, Eugene and Mary of Egypt


Sandra Lowerre

This book presents a study and a first modern text edition of the lives of women cross-dressers in the late Middle English Vitas Patrum, translated by William Caxton, printed by Wynkyn de Worde in 1495. The text edition is accompanied by a critical commentary, glossary and indices. The main study provides an extensive analysis of the motif of cross-dressing in the lives. A constellation of questions is addressed: why do the women take up the male disguise? What were the Church’s and medieval theologians’ views on pretending to be a member of the opposite sex? Can, as has often been argued by feminist scholars, these cross-dressing women saints be seen as early feminists? Two further studies give insights into the prospective reading public of the 1495 edition and the woodcut illustrations appended to the vitae.
Contents: The History of the Late Antique and Medieval Tradition – The Woodcut Illustrations – The Audience for de Worde’s Edition – The Motif of Cross-Dressing – Critical Text Edition of the Lives of the Women Cross-Dressers: Pelagia, Mary of Egypt, Maryne, Eufrosyne, Eugene.