1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Rolle de Hampole, Richard

ROLLE DE HAMPOLE, RICHARD (d. 1349), English hermit and author, was born near the end of the 13th century, at Thornton (now Thornton Dale), near Pickering, Yorkshire. His father, William Rolle, was perhaps a dependant of the Neville family. Richard was sent to Oxford at the expense of Thomas de Neville, afterwards archdeacon of Durham. At Oxford he gave himself to the study of religion rather than to the subtleties of scholastic philosophy, for which he professed a strong distaste. At the age of nineteen he returned to his father’s house, and, making a rough attempt at a hermit’s dress out of two kirtles of his sister’s and a hood belonging to his father, he ran away to follow the religious vocation. At Dalton, near Rotherham, he was recognized by John de Dalton, who had been at Oxford with him. After satisfying himself of Rolle’s sanity, Dalton’s father provided him with food and shelter and a hermit’s dress. Rolle then entered on the contemplative life, passing through the preliminary stages of purification and illumination, which lasted for nearly three years, and then entering the stage of sight, the full revelation of the divine vision. He is very exact in his dates, and attained, he says, the highest stage of his ecstasy four years and three months after the beginning of his conversion. Richard belonged to no order and acknowledged no rule. He left the Daltons, and wandered from place to place, resting when he found friends to provide for his wants. He seems to have desired to form a rule of hermits, but met with much opposition. The pious compilers of his “office” evidently thought it necessary to defend him against the charge of mere vagrancy. He nowhere says himself that his preaching made many converts, but his example was followed by many recluses in the north of England. After some years of wandering he gave up his more energetic propaganda, contenting himself with advising those who sought him out. He began also to write the songs and treatises by which he was to exert his widest influence. He settled in Richmondshire, twelve miles from the recluse Margaret Kirkby, whom he had cured of a violent seizure. To her some of his works are dedicated. Finally he removed to Hampole, near Doncaster, invited by an inmate of the Cistercian nunnery of St Mary. There he died on the 29th of September 1349. Many miracles were wrought at his shrine, and, in view of an expected canonization, an office was drawn up giving an account of his life and the legends connected with it.

Richard Rolle had a great influence on his own and the next generation. In his exaltation of the spiritual side of religion over its forms, his enthusiastic celebration of the love of Christ, and his assertion of the individualist principle, he represented the best side of the influences that led to the Lollard movement. He was himself a faithful son of the church, and the political activity of the Lollards was quite foreign to his teaching. The popularity of his devotional writings is attested by the numerous existing editions and by the many close imitations of them.

A very full list of his Latin and English works is given (pp. 36–43) in Dr Carl Horstmann’s edition (1895–96) of his works in the Library of Early English Writers. Some of his works exist in both English and Latin, and it is often not easy to say which is the original version. The most considerable of them are The Pricke of Conscience and his Commentary on the Psalter.

The Pricke of Conscience is a long religious poem, in rhyming couplets, dealing with the beginning of man’s life, the instability of the world, why death is to be dreaded, of doomsday, of the pains of hell, and the joys of heaven, the two latter subjects being treated with uncompromising realism. Rolle wrote in the northern dialect, but southern transcripts are also found, and the poem exists in a Latin version (Stimulus conscientiae). The sources of this work included the De Contemptu Mundi sive de miseria humanae conditionis of Pope Innocent Ill., and Rolle also showed a knowledge of Bartholomew Glanville, Thomas Aquinas and Honorius of Awtun. His English devotional commentary on the Psalms follows very closely his Latin Expositio Psalterii, which he based partly on Peter Lombard’s Catena. It often agrees with the English metrical Psalter preserved in three MSS. in the British Museum (Cotton Vesp. D. vii., Egerton 614, and Harl. 1770). Dr R. F. Littledale in his edition (1873) of J. M. Neale’s Commentary on the Psalms called it a “terse mystical paraphrase, which often comes Very little short in beauty and depth of Dionysius the Carthusian himself.”

There is no complete and accessible edition of his works. The best collection is by C. Horstmann, Yorkshire Writers: Richard Rolle of Hampole, An English Father of the Church and his Followers (2 vols., 1895-96), in the “Library of Early English Writers.” This includes many English prose treatises by Rolle, some beautiful examples of his lyric poems, and other treatises in prose and verse from northern MSS., some of which are attributed to Rolle, and others to his followers. Wynkyn de Worde printed in one volume, in 1506, Rycharde Rolle Hermyte of Hampull in his contemplacyons of the drede and love of God . . . and the Remedy ayenst the troubles of temptations. Neither of these are accepted by Dr Horstmann as Rolle's work. His Latin treatises, De emendatione vitae and De incendio amoris, the latter one of the most interesting of his works, because it is obviously largely autobiographical, were translated (1434-35) by Richard Misyn (ed. R. Harvey, Early English Text Soc., 1896). The Pricke of Conscience was edited (1863) by Richard Morris or the Philological Society. His Commentary on the Psalms was edited by the Rev. H. R. Bramley (Oxford, 1884). Ten prose treatises by Richard Rolle from the Thornton MS. (c. 1440, Lincoln Cathedral Library) were edited by Canon George Perry for the Early English Text Society in 1866. Partial editions of his Latin works are dated Paris (1510), Antwerp (1533), Cologne (1535-36), Paris (1618); and in vol. xxvi. of the “Bibliotheca Patrum Maxima” (Lyons, 1677). The office, which forms the chief authority for Rolle's life, was printed in the York Breviary, vol. ii. (Surtees Soc., 1882), and in Canon Perry's edition referred to above.

See also Percy Andreae, who collated eighteen MSS. in the British Museum in his Handschriften des Pricke of Conscience (Berlin, 1888); Studien über Richard Rolle von Hampole unter besonderer Berücksichtigung seiner Psalmencommentare, by H. Middendorff (Magdeburg, 1888), with a list of MSS., sources, &c.; J. Zupitza in Englische Studien (Heilbronn, vols. vii. and xii.); A. Hahn, Quellenuntersuchungen zu Richard Rolle's Englischen Schriften (Halle, 1900); and for his prosody, G. Saintsbury, Hist. of English Prosody, vol. i.