Book Prize

Book Prize Winner 2020


This year all the entries focussed on British history. Nevertheless, we had a number of fascinating and wide-ranging topics such as a local study of suffragettes, a study of some key female industrial disputes in 20th century Britain, and a biography of Mary Ward and the influence of the moral philosopher T H Green upon her.  The study of religious history and gender gathers apace, a study largely sparked off by the work of one of our judges, Sue Morgan.

The judges commended highly one of them – Anne Thompson’s Parish Clergy Wives in Elizabethan England. Anne’s is a richly researched book detailing in depth the lives of parish clergy wives. We all agreed that it must have been a challenging task to re-create the story of the wives given the lack of easily available evidence. Anne had to think imaginatively even to  discover source material, trawling through endless English archives to find  a trace of a parish wife, or a mention of a clergy marriage.

The right of clergy to marry – of course  – was a new and significant departure from the celibacy insisted on by the Roman Catholic Church. Clergy marriage, as Anne points out, was one of the most contested aspects of the Reformation: not everyone approved and different monarchs took their own unique approach to the issue, often changing the law from the previous incumbent. As well as being a comprehensive treatment of the expectations and experiences of the women who married ministers, Anne makes a significant contribution to understandings of religious change.

The winner of the award was Bronach Kane for her book Popular Memory and Gender in Medieval England, published by Boydell Press. We all agreed that Bronach’s book is a highly original, ambitious, erudite and theoretically sophisticated study which combined theory and empirical evidence extremely creatively.

Firstly she has a keen awareness of a wide historiography, locating her work firmly within the current theoretical and conceptual developments in the study of gender, sexuality, the body and memory.  Secondly the evidence base of Popular Memory is equally impressive. The book uses mostly ecclesiastical court records to examine the ways in which both women (and men) negotiated medieval society. There are refreshing insights on the ways women fought against their accusers in the  church courts. For example, an easy way to  undermine women’s testimony was to accuse her of being sexually incontinent. Women fought back against these accusations and often won. Overall, Bronach’s book is an exciting and innovative study of an under-researched area and the judges were delighted to present the award to Bronach Kane for her book Popular Memory and Gender in Medieval England.