Peter of Blois, writer and reformer

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




James M. Powell


Medieval history, 12th century, Christian life, Inconsistencies, Religion

Subject Categories

Medieval History


This thesis examines the works of Peter of Blois, a popular writer of the twelfth century. It explores the nature, context and development of his writings. Lacking a critical edition of Peter's writings, the dissertation categorized the manuscripts of his works and separated the versions of his letter collection. Representative manuscripts of each version were identified and relied upon as sources for the text.

Peter of Blois' goal was to edify or guide others in a spiritual sense. Later readers recognized and appreciated his attempt to improve the quality of the Christian life. Peter drew from many contemporary monastic sources. He adapted monastic spirituality for a general reading audience in eloquent style. His primary contribution as a humanist was his focus on an individual's inner life and intentions. His humanistic sentiments arose directly from his religious goals. He did not attempt to bring the laity into the monastery but brought the monastery to the world.

Peter of Blois was sometimes inconsistent. His focus on the individual led him to argue that a woman's inner life and intention was of equal importance to that of any man. But he occasionally wrote in mysogynist terms, contradicting his positive views of women. Conflicts also appeared in his life as a government administrator. In part, his religious goals explain the inconsistencies: He favored court-life when it was conducive to spirituality and criticized court-life when it was not. But some of this inconsistency was caused by a conflict of loyalties. Powerful employers persuaded Peter to act against his principles. This tension ended only in old age when he withdrew from secular life. To the end of his life, he tried to guide the inner religious life of his readership.


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