Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


This dissertation examines four different versions of the Legend of St. Katherine of Alexandria in Middle English in the context of laywomen's reading patterns in the late Middle Ages. The questions considered in the discussions of the individual texts or manuscript collections include: why was the legend of St. Katherine so influential and important in the Middle Ages, how does her cult accommodate the changing patterns of lay spirituality in the fifteenth century, and what function did the hagiographic literature and the other devotional texts with which they circulated, fulfill in the lives of the laywomen readers with whom they were so popular? This thesis argues that Katherine functions as a model, an exemplar, for women's reading. Significantly, the increase in popularity of this saint in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries coincided with the increase in English literacy among laywomen and the corresponding popularisation of religious and devotional texts amongst this new community of devout women readers. Since the Life of St. Katherine experienced its greatest popularity in the late Middle Ages, the versions considered in this study are all from the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. This thesis discusses Osbern Bokenham's "Lyf of S. Kateryne," included in The Legendys of Hooly Wummen, John Capgrave's Life of St. Katherine of Alexandria, and two previously unedited versions of the legend: the late Middle English prose Life of St. Katherine from MS. Harley 4012 and "Vita beate Katarine" from MS. Longleat 55. Transcriptions of the two manuscript versions are included in the thesis.



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