The Life of Nuns: Love, Politics, and Religion in Medieval German Convents - cover image


Henrike Lähnemann; Eva Schlotheuber;

Published On





  • English

Print Length

210 pages (vi+204)


Paperback156 x 15 x 234 mm(6.14" x 0.59" x 9.21")
Hardback156 x 18 x 234 mm(6.14" x 0.71" x 9.21")


Paperback416g (14.67oz)
Hardback582g (20.53oz)



OCLC Number



  • NHDJ
  • JBSF1
  • JBSR
  • QRAM2


  • HBLC1
  • JFSJ1
  • JFSR
  • HRAM2


  • HIS037010
  • REL033000
  • REL084000


  • Germany
  • Nuns
  • Medieval society
  • Reformation
  • Convent life
  • Archival research

The Life of Nuns

Love, Politics, and Religion in Medieval German Convents

In the Middle Ages half of those who chose the religious life were women, yet historians have overlooked entire generations of educated, feisty, capable and enterprising nuns, condemning them to the dusty silence of the archives. What, though, were their motives for entering a convent and what was their daily routine behind its walls like? How did they think, live and worship, both as individuals and as a community? How did they maintain contact with the families and communities they had left behind?

Henrike Lähnemann and Eva Schlotheuber offer readers a vivid insight into the largely unknown lives and work of religious women in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Using previously inaccessible personal diaries and letters, as well as tapestries, painting, architecture and music, the authors show that the nuns were, in fact, an active, even influential part of medieval society. They functioned as role models and engaged in spirited dialogue with other convents, with the citizens of their home towns and with the local nobility. Full of self-confidence, they organised their demanding daily lives; ran their complex convent economies as successful businesses; offered girls a comprehensive theological, musical and practical education; produced magnificent manuscripts; ministered to the convent sick and dying with homemade medicines and to family and friends with advice. Initially—and fiercely—they resisted the Reformation, only for some of the convents to survive as Protestant women’s foundations to this day.

Now, for the first time in centuries, this account by Henrike Lähnemann and Eva Schlotheuber allows the voices of these remarkable women to be heard outside the cloister and to invite us into their world.


The Life of Nuns tells about the lives of religious women poised between the reforming currents of the fifteenth-century, which placed new attention on the education of nuns, and the Reformation, which altered the politics that shaped their lives. The exceptional survival in Germany of rich and personal materials like diaries and letters, and artifacts presented here in vivid illustrations, allows Laehnemann and Schlotheuber to recount an intimate and engaging tale of their loves, rivalries, and fears, and how they passed their time day-to-day, and to present a richly detailed account of the relations of these convents and their nuns with the towns whose elites were their families, and with the secular and religious princes on whose fortunes they depended. The story the authors tell is of relevance for elsewhere in Europe where sources like this fail to survive. Scholars, students, and anyone interested in the lives of medieval nuns will profit from this wonderful book.

Lucy Pick

University of Chicago


The closeness of these sources to actual practice means they allow us a unique insight into convent life, its spiritual horizons and the material conditions which framed it, into its daily routine and into its relations with the outside world [...] This richly illustrated book has one particular merit: exceptional works such as the Ebstorf World Map, the tapestries from the convents of Heiningen and Wienhausen or the frescoes from the nuns’ choir in Wienhausen are interpreted in conjunction with the iconographic programmes of the manuscripts, material objects and written sources presented in the volume. This creates a comprehensive picture of a way of life which combines spiritual and theoretical learning with an abundance of practical knowledge [...] Thus the authors succeed in opening one new perspective after another onto the most important dimensions of spiritual life in late-medieval convents. Based on the sources which have come down to us, this account demonstrates the significance of religious women in medieval Europe and makes clear the complexity of their lives and their interaction with the social structures outside the convents. More than that: the authors also shake up another stubborn cliché. The picture of the comprehensive “crisis” experienced by the late Middle Ages, a crisis characterized by religious “decline”, is rightly countered in this history of “unheard and unherdable women” by a picture of new departures and renewal long before the start of the Reformation in the sixteenth century. This new approach allows us to conceive history beyond the classical period boundaries.

Christina Lutter

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 2023.


I. Enclosure

(pp. 9–36)
  • Henrike Lähnemann
  • Eva Schlotheuber

II. Education

(pp. 37–58)
  • Henrike Lähnemann
  • Eva Schlotheuber
  • Henrike Lähnemann
  • Eva Schlotheuber
  • Eva Schlotheuber
  • Henrike Lähnemann

V. Music and Reform

(pp. 103–126)
  • Henrike Lähnemann
  • Eva Schlotheuber

VI. Reformation

(pp. 127–154)
  • Henrike Lähnemann
  • Eva Schlotheuber

VII. Illness and Dying

(pp. 155–176)
  • Henrike Lähnemann
  • Eva Schlotheuber

VIII. Appendix

(pp. 177–192)
  • Henrike Lähnemann
  • Eva Schlotheuber


Henrike Lähnemann

Professor of Medieval German Literature and Linguistics at University of Oxford

Henrike Lähnemann is the first woman to be appointed to a chair in the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages at the University of Oxford, where she teaches German literature of the Middle Ages and works on textual and visual evidence from the women’s convents of northern Germany.

Eva Schlotheuber

Professor of Medieval History at Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf

Eva Schlotheuber is professor of Medieval History at Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf, where she researches and teaches on the education and lifeworld of religious women. She was the first woman to chair the Association of Historians of Germany from 2016 to 2021.

Anne Simon

Associate Fellow at the Institute of Languages, Cultures and Societies at School of Advanced Study
Retired Senior Lecturer in Mediaeval German at University of Bristol

Anne Simon is Associate Fellow at the Institute of Languages, Cultures and Societies, University of London and retired Senior Lecturer in Mediaeval German at the University of Bristol. Her publications include The Cult of Saint Katherine of Alexandria in Late-Medieval Nuremberg: Saint and the City (Farnham 2012); Pepper for Prayer: The Correspondence of the Birgittine Nun Katerina Lemmel, ed. by Volker Schier, Corine Schleif & Anne Simon (Stockholm 2019); ‘Da ward Carolus lachen. Kaiser Karl IV., die Nürnberger Geschichtsschreibung und der Hauptmarkt Nürnbergs’, in Geschichte erzählen. Strategien der Narrativierung von Vergangenheit im Mittelalter. XXV Anglo-German Colloquium Manchester 2017, ed. by Sarah Bowden, Manfred Eikelmann, Stephen Mossman & Michael Stolz (Tübingen 2020); and ‘Aue Maria und Rosenkranz als Gebetunterweisung im spӓtmittelalterlichen Nürnberg’, in Lehren, Lernen und Bilden in der deutschen Literatur des Mittelalters. XXIII. Anglo-German Colloquium (Nottingham 2013), ed. by Henrike Lähnemann, Nicola McLelland & Nine Miedema (Tübingen 2017).