Nursery Rhymes

Margery Kempe

Middle Ages - Lords and Ladies

Short Biography profile and facts about the life of Margery Kempe
The following biography information provides basic facts and information about the key dates and events in the life of Margery Kempe who was famous as the author of the first autobiography in English entitled 'The Book of Margery Kempe'. The book is a travelogue and details her pilgimages to holy places in the Holy Roman Empire and the Holy Land.

  • Nationality: English
  • Lifespan: 1373 - c1438
  • Time Reference: Lived during the reign of the English Kings; Edward III, Richard II and Henry IV
  • Date of Birth: She was born Margery Brunham at King's Lynn, Norfolk in 1373
  • Family connections : She was the daughter of John Brunham who was a wealthy merchant in King's Lynn who was involved in local politics and achieved the position of mayor and Member of Parliament
  • Education: Margery Kempe was unable to read or write but learnt for the people who read to her. She dictated her memoirs which were described in 'The Book of Margery Kempe'
  • Married: Margery Kempe married John Kempe at the age of twenty
  • Children: Margery and John Kempe produced 14 children
  • When the "visions" of Margery Kempe began: She experienced her first Christian vision c1374 following the delivery of her first child
  • What provoked the visions of Margery Kempe? She was suffering from a disturbed state of mind caused by any number of events including depression ( post natal), feelings of guilt, an over-imaginative mind, a spiritual crisis and an unsympathetic confessor
  • She suffered the equivalent of a nervous breakdown. Her condition was so severe that she had to be constrained. It was punctuated by loud and unrestrained crying
  • She then experienced a vision and emerged calm and 'came to her senses'
  • Unclear of how she should respond to the visions she continued everyday life with her husband and produced many more children. This was seen as an impossible way of life for a "spiritual woman" and she was strongly criticised and even rebuked for attempting to live a life totally devoted to Christ but as a married woman
  • In 1403 she and her husband took vows of chastity before the Bishop of Lincoln
  • She then took to wearing white - which brought more criticism as the normal color by a woman of her age and station would have been black
  • She annoyed people further by her uncontrollable weeping and wailing at holy sites and during mass
  • Margery Kempe was accused of being a Lollard but cleared of this by the Archbishop of Canterbury
  • Margery Kempe undertook pilgrimages to sacred places in England including Canterbury, Norwich and York
  • Margery Kempe was a contemporary of the Medieval anchoress, Julian of Norwich, who she visited
  • In the autumn of 1414 she undertook a pilgrimage to the Holy Land via Venice
  • She reached Jerusalem and visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and travelled on to Bethlehem
  • She returned to England in May 1415
  • Further pilgrimages took her to Rome, Germany, Norway and Spain
  • In 1433 she undertook a pilgrimage to Danzig
  • Margery Kempe dictated the content of 'The Book of Margery Kempe' to men hired as scribes
  • 'The Book of Margery Kempe' was recopied by a travelling priest
  • The manuscript containing the 'The Book of Margery Kempe' was lost for many years and only rediscovered in 1934 by Miss Hope Emily Allen
  • Miss Hope Emily Allen identified the manuscript copy of 'The Book of Margery Kempe' in the library of Colonel Butler-Bowdon of Pleasington Old Hall in Lancashire, England
  • Date of Death: The last known reference to Margery Kempe was at King's Lynn in 1438 although her exact date of death is unknown
  • Accomplishments or why Margery Kempe was famous: The Book of Margery Kempe is considered to be the first autobiography in the English language
  • The Book of Margery Kempe chronicles her pilgrimages to various holy sites in Europe and the Holy Land
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