Memoirs of a Medieval Woman

By Louise Collis

(This year I’m highlighting some books that really made an indelible impression on me — as well as continuing to review new books)

The Short Take:

This book is phenomenal! It’s the true story of a 15th century Englishwoman who goes on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem — and it’s largely drawn from her own autobiography. It’s a wild journey and an even wilder woman. You simply can’t make up stuff this good.


Just the fact that an English mother of 14 would set out on this massive journey through Europe and into the Holy Land is pretty astounding. The fact that she later dictated her experiences to a priest, creating what may be the first memoir written in English, is even more amazing. But the real show stopper here is Margery Kempe herself — a woman so opinionated, so over-the-top pious, and so vocal in all things that she even manages to alienate her fellow pilgrims.

MArgery Kempe is a character for the ages. And, Collis does a great job of not only presenting her but providing all the context you need to fully understand the scope of her travels and the times she lived in. This book includes both jaw-dropping incidents and scenes that are flat out hysterical. You seldom find all of that in a work of fiction — and this story is true!

A Little Plot:

Margery Kempe was a well-off woman, married with 14 children. She also believed she talked to God and various saints. And she wanted to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to atone for some secret sin. Today her visions and conversations would probably get her committed Рand there were those who thought she was pretty odd back then. However, Margery was also a woman of unbelievable drive, determination, and courage. She got what she wanted, no matter how much it discomfitted those around her.

This real story about a real woman also gives you a brilliant portrait of medieval times, not just in England but across Europe and in the Holy Land as well. But this is no stuffy history. It’s full of passion, outrageousness and daring. No wonder it’s still in print after more than 50 years!

It’s one of my all-time favorite reads — a book I’ll truly never forget. I simply had to tell you about it.

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