‘he nas but seven yeer olde’: Emotions in Boy Martyr Legends of Later Medieval England
This chapter analyses the emotional significance of boy martyrdom in various medieval English sources, including Thomas of Monmouth’s Life of William of Norwich, the South English Legendary, Chaucer’s Prioress’s Tale, and the mystery plays. Boys were generally considered emotionally unstable and undisciplined in medieval culture, but these works give their emotions a status that empowers them as arbiters of right behaviour and as figures for adults to emulate. Medieval boy martyr stories explored parents’ hopes and fears for male children in a difficult environment, and encouraged readers to think about boyhood in relation to later life and death. They also reflected on human/divine relations through the inevitable links between any boy martyr narrative and the childhood of Christ.