The partnership of death and maidenhood—found in many cultures, present as well as past, east as well as west—is examined here in the particular context of late medieval England, when mortality was exceptionally high and maidens unusually numerous. Drawing on a wide range of materials (including saints’ lives, poetry, monumental brasses, and wills), the essay shows how the English imagined maidens who were untamed by manly authority, endowed with a menacing sexuality, and superhumanly powerful in relation to death. It concludes by considering the global reach of this curious coupling and the ways in which its specific meanings at the end of the Middle Ages might have contributed to the fears that drove witch-hunting in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
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Judith M. Bennett; Death and the Maiden. Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 1 May 2012; 42 (2): 269–305. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10829636-1571885
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