Sexual Purity as Property: Vie Seinte Audree and The Book of Margery Kempe

  • Sally A. Livingston
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


In the previous chapter, both Heloise and Marie de France offer profound critiques of marriage using economic metaphors and analysis. In this chapter I turn to medieval England to show a different framing of the marriage critique. Using the examples of two religious women, Saint Audrey (also known as Sainte Audrée and Aethelreda) and Margery Kempe, I argue that their narratives also have an economic focus that allows them to regain control over their property, which they reconfigure in their physical selves. These women use their own sexual purity as economic capital, either “paying off” their husbands (Margery) or using their dower property to establish a safe haven for themselves (Audrée). In both cases, they are aware that their sexuality has an economic value that they can manipulate in order to be released from intercourse with their husbands or husbands-to-be. What is even more interesting, however, is that both women acknowledge their own sexual impulses, at times with men who are not their spouses. Their desire to escape marriage did not mean a rejection of sexuality, but rather a rejection of the compulsory sexuality that was necessitated by the conjugal debt.1


Compulsory Sexuality Female Authorship Religious Woman Sexual Impulse Joint Tenancy 
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© Sally A. Livingston 2012

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  • Sally A. Livingston

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