Brian Jones Kempe/Pizan Project I recently stumbled across an obscure version of Christine de Pizan’s City of Ladies, which

contains a chapter about Margery Kempe. The manuscript is typical of Pizan’s work, as it falls within the bounds of her style and values. By embellishing the virtues and victimization of Kempe’s character, as well as omitting her faults, the author of this chapter has ensured Kempe’s position as a member of the City. In fact, this story falls into Pizan’s section about the Lady Justice, which discusses women of high religious fortitude; this seems fitting. Whereas Reason relates to women of superior intellect, and Rectitude to those of great strength and action, Justice is the allegorical lady to whom women of remarkable faith are connected. As one can see in Kempe’s story, especially in Pizan’s apparent version, Kempe’s greatest work comes from the example she sets with her public confessions of Christ and commitment to his words. With this agenda in mind, the following is an exact replication of the chapter:

Of Margery Kempe Lady Justice continued speaking of the ladies building the tower, and wished to describe to me, Christine, a record of another such lady. She said, “The lady Margery Kempe married and consummated, and her womb grew full. She then began to see demons all round her, and it caused her great agony. Christ appeared to her and she used her faith to ward off the demons. She began to live chastely, and begged her husband to honor the good request. So she focused on living a life of piety, by wearing a hair shirt

and abstaining from meats. An anchorite in Lynn, as was God’s will, was taken as her confessor. “Many visions and meditations took Margery to speak with Christ, including a visit to care for a young Virgin Mary and to see the births of John the Baptist and the Holy Son. Because of her great faith, she was also allowed to bear witness to the Three Kings, and to travel with the Virgin’s family to Egypt. At a different time, the Virgin visited Margery and told her that she and her family will find seats at the table in Heaven. Margery was also used as an example of God’s grace. When a stone in the cathedral of St. Margaret fell on Margery’s head, she was left unscathed, to display the protection that she drew from her faith. “She then wished to strengthen her spirit further by traveling to blessed grounds. Her husband agreed to travel with her, as well as to maintain a chaste marriage. While on her travels, she was sent by Christ to visit several religious sites, including an abbey that held a sinful monk. Margery told the monk about his sins, and gave him hope for repentance, which he made. The power of Christ in her life was so powerful that she would weep loudly while sitting at Mass. She wished to sacrifice herself and be a martyr, and Christ told her that her willingness to do so made her as righteous as if she had actually done so. He then commanded her to visit the holy cities of Rome, Jerusalem, and Santiago de Compostela. She pursued this endeavor, and even sought permission to travel there from the Archbishop of Canterbury. Like her dealings with other members of the church, Christ influenced the Archbishop to give her support. Throughout her travels, Margery encouraged many to engage in holy acts, such as the giving of alms to the church and the poor. Her faith was so great that she could be considered of the same

chastity as a consecrated virgin. In this way, she spiritually saved herself for a time to be a bride of Christ. “Unfortunately, she often was accompanied by those less pious than she. As she would speak of the holiness of the Gospel and the influence it had over her, others would frequently grow envious of her piety. Many times, Margery was persecuted for her faith; but the faith only became stronger through these experiences. “When she finally journeyed to Jerusalem, Margery found herself spiritually and emotionally bound to the holy ground beneath her feet. Encountering the sites of both Christ’s death and resurrection, she wept tears of grief and joy, reflecting on the gifts that she had been given from her Heavenly Father. She also bore witness to several other places of great significance, including the birthplace of John the Baptist and the grave of the once-resurrected Lazarus. “Margery then moved on to Rome. Despite finding room at the Hospital of St. Canterbury, she was removed because of the harsh and misinformed words of a local priest. However, she carried on with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. She soon found that St. John the Evangelist had been sent by Christ to be her confessor, and this gave her encouragement. After spending time spreading the message of Christ and the stories of her blessed visions, Margery came to live in poverty, as a means of sacrifice and penance. This was not a result of her spending all her wealth, but rather extending it to the poor and the needy. In this fashion, she came upon several more individuals who enjoyed her company and testament. She also enjoyed their exhortations, including those spoken by Latin and German speakers. The language barrier was not one which stopped her from

finding encouragement; rather, she extracted great joy from simply being in the presence of like-minded, faithful followers. “Margery eventually left Rome to return home and meet her husband. During this time, she faced obstacles such as storms and disease, but through faith she persevered. She soon traveled through Leicester, where several men in the church wished to question and even persecute her for faith. Although they were controlled by the evil in their hearts, the men were not able to put down Margery’s spirits; and through the power of God, some hearts were turned to allow her safe passage. A similar situation occurred when she arrived in York, and several men wished not to take communion with her. Again, God ensured that she would be able to partake in His body. Eventually, she arrived back in London to receive yet another blessing and dispensation from the Archbishop, before returning home. While in Lynn, God blessed Margery by sending a new priest; one who was moved by His Spirit and Margery’s words. Unfortunately, others at the church still wished to exercise their evil hearts by persecuting her further. Christ often returned to encourage and guide her. As time went on, then, her fellow disciples came to understand the strong emotional ties she had with the Spirit. Her tears during sermons were allowed and admired. Margery became a pillar of her church, caring for the sick and the needy, including her own injured husband. During this time, her meditation on Christ grew deeper, which continually strengthened her faith. “The final test of her faith came when her husband and sons died, and made one last journey with her daughter-in-law. This travel was not only one which ensured the girl’s physical safety, but also one which influenced her spiritual life. Spending time with the faithful Margery showed her the way in which Christ could be the most important

factor in her life, and the girl was grateful. Soon after, she returned home to live out the rest of her days in peace, preaching and caring for other faithful servants of Christ.”

One can see that the emphasis on Kempe’s faith in this chapter is fitting to her positioning in the towers of the City of Ladies. Still, one must wonder why this chapter has not appeared in other versions of the book. By and large, the style and format fits Pizan’s works, but smaller details are not entirely fitting. Despite the omission of any of Kempe’s faults, for instance, the chapter still spends quite a bit of time discussing the suffering she endures. Although Pizan does mention the victimization of her ladies as a means to polish their images, she does not focus as much as this chapter does. If Pizan had truly written this chapter, it would have provided more details on Kempe’s good deeds. This must be a forgery.