Cults of political martyrs in late medieval England
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A number of prominent men who lost their lives during political struggles were posthumously venerated as martyrs in later medieval England. This dissertation aims to recreate some of the context - religious and cultural as well as political - in which these cults developed, and to chronicle and evaluate the activities and representations which they produced. It will be argued that political martyrdom formed part of a distinctive religious culture in which suffering for a cause could be highly valued as a form of martyrdom. The three cases studied here bring us in contact with different aspects of late medieval English society. Thomas, Earl of Lancaster (d. 1322) was regarded posthumously as Christi miles, and represented ideas linked to knighthood and chivalry, treason and betrayal. Richard Scrope, Archbishop of York (d. 1405), was portrayed in contemporary hagiographic sources as pastor populi, representing the ideal ecclesiastical shepherd, dedicated to justice in both religious and political affairs. King Henry VI (d. 1471) was seen as a pious victim already in his lifetime, represented in the hagiography as an innocent, Job-like, child-martyr. Cults of political martyrs formed an organic part of late medieval lives, which were commnunal and private, local and regional, devotional and social. They demonstrate the flexibility with which religious symbols - chastity, martyrdom, virtue - formed part of political language, and were available to people at different levels of society, and with different degrees of access to liturgy, clerical assistance and power of patronage. These cults - created rather than imported - offer us an insight into fourteenth and fifteenth century English society, its modes of thoughts, belief, worship, as well as political culture and language.
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