Ancrene Wisse

literary work

Ancrene Wisse, or Ancrene Riwle, is a late 12th or early 13th century devotional manual, written for the guidance of anchoresses by an anonymous west Midland cleric. It survives in several versions in the original Middle English, and also in Latin and Anglo-Norman translations.

Quotations in Middle English are taken from Bella Millett et al. (eds.) Ancrene Wisse (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005-6) vol. 1.


  • Of lutel muchel waxeð.
    • From little grows much.
    • Part 2, para. 6; translation from Robert Hasenfratz (ed.) Ancrene Wisse (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2000). [1]
  • Hope halt te heorte hal, hwet-se þe flesch drehe; as me seið, "Ȝef hope nere, heorte tobreke."
    • Hope keeps the heart in health, whatever the flesh may suffer. "Without hope," as they say, "the heart would break".
    • Part 2, para. 21; translation from Mary Bertha Salu (trans.) The Ancrene Riwle (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1956) p. 35.
  • Hwet is word bute wind?
    • What is a word but wind?
    • Part 3, para. 3; translation from Janet Grayson Structure and Imagery in Ancrene Wisse (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England for the University of New Hampshire, 1974) p. 60.
  • Of þis boc redeð hwen ȝe beoð eise euche dei leasse oðer mare. Ich hopie þet hit | schal beon ow, ȝef ȝe hit redeð ofte, swiðe biheue…elles Ich hefde uuele bitohe mi muchele hwile. Me were leouere, Godd hit wite, do me toward Rome þen forte biginnen hit eft forte donne.
    • Read some of this book at your leisure every day; and I hope that if you read it often it will prove very profitable to you; otherwise I shall have spent my long hours very ill. I would rather, God be my witness, set out on foot for Rome than begin the work over again!
    • Part 8, para. 38; translation by J. R. R. Tolkien, from Humphrey Carpenter (ed.) The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981) p. 211.


  • The most important prose work of its period and moreover one of the most charming pieces in the whole of M[iddle] E[nglish] literature, the Riwle must certainly be read.
    • W. L. Renwick and Harold Orton The Beginnings of English Literature to Skelton, 1509 (London: Cresset Press, 1966) p. 287.
  • The unknown author writes with a fresh and simple style, with a natural gift for description and character-drawing. It enjoyed for three centuries an immense popularity; almost at once it became available in Latin and French translations; it became a classic.
    • Austin Lane Poole From Domesday Book to Magna Carta, 1087-1216 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964) p. 253.
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