Skip to content

The Book of Margery Kempe Book Summary

A Medieval Woman's Spiritual Journey

by Margery Kempe

The Book of Margery Kempe

A Medieval Woman's Spiritual Journey

Margery Kempe


The Book of Margery Kempe is a unique and captivating autobiography of a 15th-century English mystic. It details Margery’s extraordinary life, filled with religious visions, pilgrimages, and her constant struggle to live a devout life amidst societal expectations and personal challenges. Her story offers a fascinating glimpse into medieval society, religious practices, and the inner life of a woman who defied convention.

Table of contents

Open Table of contents

Author & Writing Background

Margery Kempe was an English Christian mystic who lived in Lynn, Norfolk, England. Illiterate herself, she dictated her autobiography to scribes, making it one of the earliest known autobiographies in the English language. Her writing is characterized by its raw honesty, emotional intensity, and vivid descriptions of her spiritual experiences.

Key Takeaways

Religious Visions and Mystical Experiences

Margery describes numerous visions of Jesus, Mary, and other religious figures, often accompanied by intense emotions and physical sensations. These experiences shape her spiritual journey and fuel her desire for a life devoted to God.

Pilgrimages and Travels

Margery undertakes extensive pilgrimages to holy sites across Europe and the Holy Land. Her travels expose her to diverse cultures and religious practices, further enriching her spiritual understanding.

Challenges and Controversies

Margery’s unconventional behavior, including her loud weeping and public displays of piety, often leads to misunderstandings and accusations of heresy. She faces criticism and rejection from both religious and secular authorities.

Marital and Family Life

Margery’s autobiography reveals the complexities of her married life and her struggles to reconcile her religious calling with her duties as a wife and mother. She eventually negotiates a chaste marriage with her husband, allowing her to pursue her spiritual path.

Social and Religious Commentary

Through Margery’s experiences, the book provides valuable insights into the social and religious climate of 15th-century England. It sheds light on issues such as women’s roles, religious beliefs and practices, and the tensions between orthodoxy and personal piety.

Female Spirituality and Agency

Margery’s story challenges traditional notions of female piety and demonstrates the agency of women in seeking spiritual fulfillment outside of established religious institutions.

Importance of Individual Experience

The book emphasizes the significance of personal religious experience and the individual’s direct relationship with God, even amidst the rigid structures of the medieval Church.

Legacy and Influence

The Book of Margery Kempe remains a significant work of medieval literature and a testament to the enduring power of faith and personal conviction.

FAQ about The Book of Margery Kempe

Was Margery Kempe considered a heretic?

Margery Kempe’s unconventional behavior and claims of divine visions led to accusations of heresy during her lifetime. She was brought before religious authorities on several occasions but was never formally condemned as a heretic.

What is the significance of Margery Kempe’s book?

The Book of Margery Kempe is significant for several reasons: it is one of the earliest known autobiographies in English, it offers a unique perspective on medieval society and religious practices, and it provides insights into the experiences of a woman who challenged societal norms and pursued a life of devotion.

How reliable is The Book of Margery Kempe as a historical source?

While Margery Kempe’s autobiography provides valuable insights into her life and times, it is important to note that it is a subjective account shaped by her personal experiences and beliefs. Historians consider it a valuable source but also acknowledge the need for critical analysis and comparison with other historical documents.

The Book of Margery Kempe Quotes

  • “And then Our Lord said to her soul: ‘Daughter, why weepest thou so sore? It is I that am come to comfort thee.’”
  • “For I had rather have been in Hell than have seen or felt the absence of our Lord’s love, which I had felt before.”
  • “Therefore she had great envy of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the compassion of our Lady, his blessed Mother, and would have been glad to have suffered as much pain as ever did any man or woman for the love of our Lord Jesus Christ.”