Introduction: Keeping Paradise

  • Kellie Robertson
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


In the summer of 1356, the scholar and then Archbishop of Armagh, Richard Fitzralph, preached a series of English sermons in London on the subject of apostolic poverty. Tensions between secular and mendicant clergy had been rising as the mendicants seemed to take over many of the functions (and hence a large portion of the tithes) associated with pastoral care. Fitzralph used the pulpit at St. Paul’s Cross to chastise the itinerant life led by the friars and, during one of his sermons, went so far as to bet his Bible that the friars could not produce scriptural proof that Christ himself begged voluntarily. While the friars did not win the wager, they did succeed in having Fitzralph called before the pope in Avignon and having him charged with heresy. In the course of defending both himself and the work of the secular clergy, Fitzralph boldly asserted that God created Adam and Eve in order “to work and keep Paradise.” Fitzralph’s assertion, while tactically aimed at the idleness of begging friars, had a larger implication: that a millennium’s worth of biblical and patristic writings was wrong in claiming that work—both the sweat of Adam’s brow and Eve’s distaff—was the consequence of the fall rather than its precursor.1


Labor Regulation Fifteenth Century Labor Shortage Fourteenth Century Labor Legislation 
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  1. 1.
    On the circumstances of Fitzralph’s antimendicant preaching and his subsequent trip to Rome, see Katherine Walsh, Richard Fitz Ralph in Oxford, Avignon and Armagh: A Fourteenth-Century Scholar and Primate (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981), pp. 406–51. On Fitzralph’s reference to Edenic work, see the Middle English version of his sermon Defensio curatorum, in John Trevisa, Dialogus inter Militem et Clericum, ed. Aaron Jenkins Perry, EETS o.s. 167 (London: Oxford University Press, 1925), p. 71: “God put hym [Adam] in Paradys for he schuld worche & kepe Paradys; so hit is writen in Þe bygynnyng of Hooly Writ.” For an early printed edition of the Latin text of Fitzralph’s sermon, see Defensorium curatorium contra eos qui priui-legiatos se dicunt (Paris: Antoine Caillaut, ca. 1485). For a discussion of the reception of Fitzralph’s views on poverty,Google Scholar
  2. see Kate Crassons, “‘The Workman is Worth his Meed’: Poverty, Labor and Charity in the Sermon of William Taylor,” in The Middle Ages at Work, eds. Kellie Robertson and Michael Uebel (New York: Palgrave, 2004), pp. 67–90.Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    On John Ball’s reported sermon, see Thomas Walsingham, Historia Anglicana, ed. H.T. Riley, 2 vols. Rolls Series (London, 1864), vol. 2, p. 32; and Jean Froissart, Chroniques, ed. Siméon Luce and Gaston Raynaud, 13 vols. (Paris: Librairie Renouard), vol. 10, Book 2, §212.Google Scholar
  4. On the proverb, see Sylvia Resnikow, “The Cultural History of a Democratic Proverb,” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 36 (1937): 391–405;Google Scholar
  5. and Albert B. Friedman, “‘When Adam Delved …’: Contexts of an Historic Proverb,” in The Learned and the Lewed: Studies in Chaucer and Medieval Literature, ed. Larry D. Benson (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1974), pp. 213–30. For the Lollard treatise on the Seven Deadly Sins, see Select English Works of John Wyclif ed. Thomas Arnold, 3 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1869–71), vol. 3, pp. 142–43. On Gower’s views of postlapsarian labor and its relation to labor regulation, see his Vox Clamantis, Book V, chap. 9, in G.C. Macaulay, ed., The Complete Works of John Gower: The Latin Works (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1902), pp. 216–18.Google Scholar
  6. 3.
    On the repeal of the labor statutes, see Statutes of the Realm, 1101–1713, ed. A. Luders et al. 11 vols. (London: 1810–28), vol. 2, p. 569. The foundational scholarship on the labor laws more generally is Bertha Havens Putnam, The Enforcement of the Statutes of Labourers during the First Decade after the Black Plague (New York: Columbia University Press, 1908).Google Scholar
  7. More recent work includes Chris Given-Wilson, “Labour in the Context of English Government,” in The Problem of Labour in Fourteenth-Century England, ed. James Bothwell, P J.P. Goldberg, and W.M. Ormrod (York: York Medieval Press, 2000);Google Scholar
  8. and David L. Farmer, “The Statutes of Labourers,” in The Agrarian History of England and Wales, Vol. 3, 1348–1500, ed. Edward Miller (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp. 483–90.Google Scholar
  9. 4.
    See E.W. Tristram, English Medieval Wall Painting: the Fourteenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1955), pp. 121–25.Google Scholar
  10. On the sabbatarian interpretation, see E. Clive Rouse, Medieval Wall Paintings (Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire: Shire Publications, 1991), esp. p. 68.Google Scholar
  11. On medieval wall painting more generally, see A. Caiger-Smith, English Medieval Mural Paintings (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963). Surviving examples of this genre can be found in Breage, Poundstock, and St. Just, Cornwall; Ampney St. Mary, Gloucestershire; Hessett, Suffolk; Oaksey, Wiltshire; West Chiltington, Sussex; and Duxford, Cambridgeshire.Google Scholar
  12. 5.
    On literary and religious discussion of proper Sabbath behavior, see, for instance, Priscilla H. Barnum, ed., Dives and Pauper, EETS o.s. no. 275 (London: Oxford University Press, 1976), pt. 1, pp. 275, 289, 354;Google Scholar
  13. and William C. Greet, ed., The Keule of Cry sten Religioun by Reginald Pecock, EETS o.s. no. 171 (London: Oxford University Press, 1927), pp. 290, 303. The 1388 labor legislation proscribed ball games, gambling, and other games on Sundays (SR, vol. 2, p. 5), while statutory initiatives in 1360, 1427, and 1446 penalized work on holy days (see, respectively, SR, vol. 1, p. 367; vol. 2, p. 234; and vol. 2, p. 338). Sabbatarian prosecutions in ecclesiastical courts were common during this period. For example, among the memoranda of a 1394 Shaftesbury visitation by Bishop Waltham, we find one “Richard Bytom”, carpenter, frequently works on holy days and does not attend church as he ought; to be cited; did not come; excommunicated”;Google Scholar
  14. see The Register of John Waltham, Bishop of Salisbury, 1388–1395, ed. T.C.B. Timmins, Canterbury and York Society (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press, 1994), p. 166.Google Scholar
  15. 6.
    Karl Marx, Pre-Capitalist Economic Formations, ed. E.J. Hobsbawm and trans. Jack Cohen (New York: International Publishers, 1964), p. 67.Google Scholar
  16. On the Brenner debate and revisionary readings of “pre-capital,” see Ellen Meiksins Wood, The Origin of Capitalism: A Longer View (London: Verso, 2002).Google Scholar
  17. 9.
    This book seeks to engage with many fine recent articles on Langland’s literary labor including Anne Middleton, “Acts of Vagrancy: The C Version ‘Autobiography’ and the Statute of 1388,” in Written Work: Langland, Labor, and Authorship, ed. Steven Justice and Kathryn Kerby-Fulton (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997), pp. 208–317;Google Scholar
  18. David Aers, “Justice and Wage-Labor after the Black Death: some Perplexities for William Langland,” in Faith, Ethics and Church: Writing in England, 1360–1409 (Cambridge, UK: D.S. Brewer, 2000), pp. 56–75;Google Scholar
  19. and Lawrence M. Clopper, “Need Men and Women Labor? Langland’s Wanderer and the Labor Ordinances,” in Chaucer’s England, ed. Barbara Hanawalt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992), pp. 110–29.Google Scholar
  20. The position of the vernacular poet has also been suggestively explored in the works of Thomas Hoceleve by Ethan Knapp, The Bureaucratic Muse: Thomas Hoccleve and the Literature of Late Medieval England (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001).Google Scholar
  21. 10.
    See Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume One, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage, 1978), p. 152;Google Scholar
  22. and Elizabeth Grosz, Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994), esp. chapter 3, “Lived Bodies: Phenomenology and the Flesh,” pp. 86–111.Google Scholar

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© Kellie Robertson 2006

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  • Kellie Robertson

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