Margery Kempe ~Author of a Medieval Autobiography

Margery Kempe, born in 1393, was neither royalty nor a noblewoman. But we know about her because she dictated her autobiography to a scribe and one copy still exists. It is the oldest known autobiography in English. And although she is the only source, she appears to have led an extraordinary life. Kempe saw visions of Christ, went on numerous pilgrimages, ran several businesses, and bore 14 children -after which she convinced her husband to maintain a celibate marriage.

Throughout her life and adventures, she was constantly in trouble for her behavior, being accused of being a heretic. She was imprisoned by the church and on trial many times but always managed to extricate herself from her troubles. After a few more incidences of getting in trouble, she retired to Lynn. During this time, she had some illnesses and her visions continued. She enjoyed going to hear sermons. She lived with John Kempe for some time but then left the marital home and was always chronically short of funds. Her husband fell and hurt his head becoming an invalid. Margery looked after him.

You can read a compressed account of Margery Kempe’s life at The Freelance History Writer. Those who have read her autobiography say it’s a real hoot, in which Kempe cries a lot, mainly on cue, makes up ridiculous parables, and includes a section of “Bible fan fiction” in which she witnesses events from Christ’s life.

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