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Humanist Hagiography in England, c. 1480 – c. 1520


Correspondence: St John's College, Cambridge, CB2 1TP, UK. E-mail:


In late medieval and early Tudor England, a handful of humanist writers attempted to combine the traditional religious genre of hagiography with humanist literary style, a style newly fashionable in England, which sought to imitate classical Latin literature. This created a strange hybrid genre: the humanist hagiography. The genre attracted some of the leading literary figures of late fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century England, including the Tudor court poets, Pietro Carmeliano and Bernard André, the prolific humanist translator, Alexander Barclay, and the printer, Richard Pynson. Their humanist saints' lives experimented with classical Latin metres and were among the first works in England to adopt humanist script, printing and publishing practices. Despite this, they have been largely ignored by modern scholars, with the notable exception of David Carlson. This article introduces the most important examples, Carmeliano's Life of St Katherine, André's Hymni Christiani and Barclay's translation of Mantuan's Life of St George, discusses recent studies of these works, and suggests further areas for research in this largely and unjustly neglected field. The humanist hagiographies of England deserve more scholarly attention; they are a fascinating late example of medieval hagiography's rich tradition of reinvention and innovation, as well as important reminders of the centrality of religion in early English humanism.