(also Ancrene Riwle
) or Guide for Anchoresses
is a monastic
rule (or manual) for anchoresses
, written in the early 13th century
. 'Ancrene Wisse' was originally written for three 'sisters' who chose to enter the contemplative life. 'Ancrene Wisse' is made up of eight Parts: Parts 1 and 8 deal with what is called the "Outer Rule" (relating to the anchoresses' exterior life), Parts 2-7 with the "Inner Rule" (relating to the anchoresses' interior life). The conflict between the external and internal worlds is a fundamental concern of the author:"Hwether ei totilde ancre fondede eaver this, the beaketh eaver ut-ward as untohe brid i cage? Hwether the cat of helle cahte eaver towart hire, ant lahte with his cleavres hire heorte heved?...To wrather heale beakede swa ut ancre." (Part 2).
It is written in an early Middle English dialect known as 'AB language'. This is the sigla of MSS Bodley 34 and Corpus Christi 402. Bodley MS 34 contains the final revision of Ancrene Wisse. Corpus Christi MS 402 contains Ancrene Wisse together with a set of texts that have become known as the "Katherine Group": 'Katerine', 'Margerete', 'Iuliene', 'Hali Meidhad' and 'Sawles Warde'. AB language was described by J.R.R. Tolkien as "a faithful transcript of some dialect...or a 'standard' language based on one' in use in the West Midlands in the 13th century."
'Ancrene Wisse' is found in seventeen manuscripts. There are eleven manuscript versions in existence containing all or part of the text in its original English; there are also four versions in Anglo-Norman French, and a further four Latin translations. The oldest manuscript in English is kept at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. A number of the 17 manuscripts have only extracts of the text. The shortest extract is the Lanhydrock Fragment (Oxford, Bodleian Library), made up of only one page. 'Ancrene Wisse' has a very complex manuscript history. Paul Zumthor has suggested that given the way mediaeval texts were transmitted, we should see many mediaeval works not as "a single, completed entity but as something more fluid and open-ended, constantly adapted as it travelled through space and time".
The title 'Ancrene Riwle' has been decisively repudiated by Yoko Wada in an essay included in her own edition of articles, A Companion to Ancrene Wisse (D.S.Brewer, 2003).
- J. R. R. Tolkien, N. R. Ker, The English Text of the Ancrene Riwle (Ancrene Wisse, Corpus Christi College Cambridge MS 402), ISBN 0-19-722249-8
- Arne Zettersten, Bernhard Diensberg The English Text of the Ancrene Riwle, The 'Vernon' Text, ISBN 0-19-722314-1
- Shepherd, Geoffrey, Ancrene Wisse: Parts six and seven, Nelson (1959).
- Robert Hasenfratz, online edition at rochester.edu (2000).
- Ancrene Wisse. Volume 2: A Corrected Edition of the Text in Cambridge, Corpus Christi College MS 402 with Variants from Other Manuscripts. Introduction, Notes, and Glossary. Edited by Bella Millett (Oxford, OUP, 2008), 500 pp. (Early English Text Society Original, 326).
- J. R. R. Tolkien, Ancrene Wisse and Hali Meiðhad (1929).
- Eric John Dobson, Robert Grosseteste, Moralities on the Gospels: New Source of "Ancrene Wisse" Clarendon Press (1975), ISBN 0198120567
- Anne Savage, Nicholas Watson, Benedicta Ward, Anchoritic Spirituality: "Ancrene wisse" and associated works, Paulist Press (1991), ISBN 0809132575
- Robertson, Elizabeth, Early English Devotional Prose and the Female Audience, (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1990)
- Jennifer Potts, Lorna Stevenson and Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, Concordance to 'Ancrene Wisse: MS. Corpus Christi, Cambridge 402, (Woodbridge: D.S. Brewer, 1993).
- Hugh White, Ancrene Wisse: Guide for Anchoresses, Harmondsworth, New York: Penguin Classics, 1994.
- Yoko Wada (ed.), A Companion to 'Ancrene Wisse', (Woodbridge: D.S. Brewer, 2003).
- Christopher Cannon, 'The Grounds of English Literature', (Oxford: O.U.P, 2005)