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The Book of Margery Kempe is probably the oldest extant autobiography in English. In it, she talks of what she describes as her madness, visions, and religious experiences, along with her travels, which included pilgrimages all over Britain and the rest of Europe.

Both the autobiographical character of her book and the treatment of psychology have been considered very original. A heavily edited copy of her book, from which all suggestion of heterodox thought on her part was removed, appeared at the end of the Middle Ages, and was considered quite remarkable. In 1934, and original copy, without the editing, was found, and it is even more unusual.

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Q: Why was Margery Kempe a literary pioneer of medieval times?
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What percentage of people could read in medieval times?

I would guess at a literacy rate of 50% in the Byzantine Empire; a rate starting at well below 10% among the Germanic tribes and the people they conquered during the Age of Migrations, with the literacy rate rising to perhaps 25% at the end of the Middle Ages in Western Europe; and a rate remaining very low in the remainder of Eastern Europe.We have no records of what the levels of literacy were, and it is really difficult to try to piece information about literacy together in a way that would say with any certainty what the rate of literacy was. Nevertheless, we can make some observations that point toward educated guesses.The East Roman Empire opened a system for primary education in the year 425, the same year the University of Constantinople was opened. The purpose of this system was to see that the soldiers were literate, but the system is said to have been open to both boys and girls, and it operated at the level of the village. That being the case, it is possible that the majority of people, or numerically more than 50%, were literate, though we cannot know for sure. This system operated for the entire Middle Ages until the Byzantine Empire was destroyed in 1453.We have anecdotal evidence of very low literacy rates in Western Europe, such as a famous letter from a Muslim diplomat at Charlemagne's court in which he describes the Frankish nobles as people experimenting at the art of signing their names. While this is viewed as a simple fact by some people, it should not be taken at face value.We do know that the Visigoths had opened their first schools hundreds of years before the time of Charlemagne, as had the Anglo Saxons. We know that there was at least one school in Wales that was opened by a Roman Emperor that remained open during the entire Middle Ages, only to be closed by Henry VIII. The list of schools remaining from the period before 1066 shows seventeen of them: eleven in Britain, four in Germany, and one each in Denmark and Iceland (there is a link to this list below). A little math tells us that if we guess the "life expectancy" of a school was 100 years at the time it was founded, any given school from this period had no more than one chance in a thousand of surviving, and so there must have been many thousands of them at the time for this number to have survived. My guess is that in the Early Middle Ages, something over 10% of the people in Western Europe were literate, and possibly many more.With the increase in the size and wealth of the middle class associated with the rise of towns and cities, the rate of literacy could only have grown. The introduction of Arabic numerals at the turn of the 13th century created a demand for schools so merchants could learn to use them, and the result was the introduction of what are called abacus schools. These schools educated both boys and girls in the new arithmetic, but also in reading and writing in the vernacular. The result was that some large percentage of middle class people, both men and women, were literate during the High Middle Ages.It is interesting to note that most of the secular literature of the Middle Ages was written in vernacular languages, indicating both the author and the expected reader would have been literate in that language.

Related questions

When was Margery Kempe born?

Margery Kempe was born in 1373.

Was margery kempe insane?

No, Margery Kempe was not insane. Margery Kempe had a medical condition that was brought on by her depression after she had her first child and tried to commit suicide.

The story of this person's life was considered to be the first biography in English.?

Margery Kempe

Who's life story was considered the first biography in English?

Margery Kempe

What has the author Margery Kempe written?

Margery Kempe has written: 'The book of Margery Kempe, 1436' -- subject(s): Biography, Christian pilgrims and pilgrimages, Christian women, Early works to 1800, English Authors, History, Mysticism, Religious life, Women and literature 'Here begynneth a shorte treatyse of contemplacyon taught by our lorde Jhesu cryste, or taken out of the boke of Margerie kempe of lyn[n]' -- subject(s): Contemplation, Early works to 1800 'The Book of Margery Kempe vol I Text' 'Here begynneth a shorte treatyse of contemplacyon taught by our Lorde Jhesu Cryste' -- subject(s): Contemplation, Early works to 1800 'Book of Margery Kempe' -- subject(s): Biography, Christian pilgrims and pilgrimages, Christian women, Early works to 1800, English Authors, English Women authors, History, Mysticism, Religious life, Women and literature, Women mystics

What person's life was considered to be the first biography in English.?

That would be Margery Kempe who was known as a Christian mystic .

How do you start off a paper based off of relevancy of a medieval autobiography to today's living and writing standards?

My first paper for this semester in college is based off the relevancy of social, living, writing standards in The Book Of Margery Kempe (1373-1438, Norfolk, England) based off today's standards. (As in, is it relevant or not?) I have never done a paper such as this and need a couple tips or hints on how to begin a paper based off of relevancy.

When was Carl Kempe born?

Carl Kempe was born in 1884.

When was Kempe Gowda I born?

Kempe Gowda I was born in 1510.

When was Cuthbert Kempe born?

Cuthbert Kempe was born in 1856.

When did Cuthbert Kempe die?

Cuthbert Kempe died in 1953.

When was Wilfrid Kempe born?

Wilfrid Kempe was born in 1887.