Janet Burton is professor of Medieval History at UWTSD and an expert on medieval monastic and religious orders and congregations.

Burton was introduced to medieval history, whilst studying as an undergraduate at the University of London. She went on to work for a DPhil at the University of York; her thesis was entitled The origins and development of the religious orders in Yorkshire, c. 1069-1200. After that, she worked as an archivist for several years, first at what was then The Borthwick Institute of Historical Research at the University of York, and then, after moving to Wales, at Ceredigion Record Office in Aberystwyth. She juggled her part-time post at Aberystwyth with teaching for Aberystwyth University and at University of Wales Lampeter, as well as undertaking freelance work for organizations including the York Archaeological Trust, English Heritage and even the Vatican. In 1994, she was appointed to a full-time lectureship at Lampeter; she was promoted to Professor of Medieval History in 2006.  

Burton has written or edited twelve monographs. Her first volume, English Episcopal Acta V: York, 1070-1154 (Oxford University Press, 1988), was an edition of the unpublished documents issued by the first six post-Conquest archbishops and was undertaken at the invitation of the British Academy. Her first authored book was Monastic and Religious Orders in Britain 1000-1300 (Cambridge University Press, 1994), written for the series Cambridge Medieval Textbooks and informed by her own and other current research. It moves from a discussion of the foundation of various monasteries and friaries, to the details of the religious lives lived in those houses. It examines a wide variety of topics, but there are particular foci on the foundation, survival and growth of monastic institutions, and the motives and policies of their founders and patrons. Haseldine commented, ‘It provides an accessible and clear introduction to a wealth of research, but it is in its choice of illustrative material, focusing not on the Ælreds and Saint Hughs, nor on the orders as gradually developing wholes, but on the real struggles and uncertainties of particular institutions, that the book is at its most vivid.’ 

In The Monastic Order in Yorkshire, 1069-1215 (Cambridge University Press, 1999)Burton provided an authoritative account of the foundations and early history of between sixty and seventy Yorkshire religious houses, established between the creation of Selby Abbey in 1069 and the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215. Dobson felt that Burton was the ideal historian of the ‘extraordinary exuberance’ of religious life in twelfth century Yorkshire. He wrote ‘the range of her learning is so extensive that she has persuasive new insights to offer on a host of fundamental themes, ranging from monastic recruitment to the function of the Cistercian grange, from the ‘cultural identity’ of the monks themselves to their much-neglected role as urban landlords.’  

In The Cistercians in the Middle Ages (Boydell Press, 2011), Burton and her co-author, Julie Kerr, produced a full and comprehensive survey of the development of the Cistercian Order. Holdsworth describes is as a well-argued book, accessible to visitors to monastic sites as well as students and scholars. The book includes examples from the continent of Europe as well as the British Isles, and covers both monks and nuns.  

With Karen Stöber (formerly of Aberystwyth University), Burton was the initiator of the major Monastic Wales project (www.monasticwales.org). The undertaking aimed to ‘establish a comprehensive monastic history of medieval Wales and to make those findings available to scholars and students, as well as the wider public, both electronically and in print’. Burton and Stöber aimed to stimulate academic research, but also to disseminate knowledge to a wider public and, indeed, to encourage people to visit specific monastic sites. The first stage was to create a database and website; this was launched in 2009. As well as details of each order and institution, it includes a full bibliography of primary sources and secondary literature, links to relevant web-published material, and reports on related work in progress. Also, as part of the project, Burton and Stöber have edited a collection of essays Monastic Wales: New Approaches (University of Wales Press, 2013) and authored Abbeys and Priories of Medieval Wales (University of Wales Press, 2015), the first comprehensive, illustrated guide to the religious houses of Wales. Robinson describes the publication as ‘most welcome’, pointing out that it includes the friaries and other smaller institutions that are very often omitted. He writes that a great deal of scholarship is effortlessly summarized and presented with an assured touch. 

She has also produced scholarly editions of the cartulary of Byland Abbey (2004), the foundation history of Byland and Jervaulx (2005), two prominent Cistercian monasteries, and the foundation history of Selby (2013); she has written over seventy scholarly articles and book chapters. 

Burton has several credits as a television historian. She has appeared on Time Team, working on programmes about Towcester in south Northamptonshire, Brimham near Harrogate, and Thetford in Norfolk. She was also involved in Dan Snow’s Norman Walks, accompanying him in the third episode which dealt with the Yorkshire abbeysShe explained the significance of Strata Florida Abbey to Huw Edwards in the major series The Story of Wales. 

Burton is a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, a fellow and former Vice-President of the Royal Historical Society, and a fellow of the Learned Society of Wales. She is married to her fellow UWTSD academic and medievalist, William Marx.  

Although she is not yet (fully) retired, in 2018 in a surprise gathering in Oxford, she was presented with Monastic Life in the Medieval British Isles: Essays in Honour of Janet Burton, edited by Karen Stöber, Julie Kerr and Emilia Jamroziak (University of Wales Press). 

Sources 

University of Wales Trinity Saint David. (2021). Prof Janet Burton BA (Hons.), D. Phil, FSA, FRHistS, FLSW. Retrieved January 25 2021 from https://www.uwtsd.ac.uk/staff/janet-burton/ 

So who are you Janet Burton? (2010, September 23). Western Mail. Retrieved January 25 2021 from https://infoweb-newsbank-com.ezproxy.uwtsd.ac.uk/resources/doc/nb/news/13270FC13181B8A8?p=UKNB 

Haseldine, J. (1995). Monastic and religious orders in Britain 1000-1300. By Janet Burton. (Cambridge Medieval Textbooks.) Pp. xi 354 incl. 4 figs. and 6 maps. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. £40. 0521 37441 3. The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 46(4), 704-706. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0022046900080544 

Dobson, R.B. (2001). The monastic order in Yorkshire, 1069-1215, by Janet Burton (Cambridge: Cambridge U.P., 1999; pp. 352. £40). Retrieved January 25 2021 from https://www.jstor.org/stable/578799 

Holdsworth, C. (2013). The Cistercians in the Middle Ages. By Janet Burton and Julie Kerr. (Monastic Orders.) Pp. viii + 244 incl. 1 map + 4 plates. Woodbridge: Boydell, 2011. £25. 978  184383 6674. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0022046912001844 

Monastic Wales. (n.d.) Monastic Wales. Retrieved January 25 2021 from https://www.monasticwales.org/index.php 

Robinson, D.M. (2017). Book review: Abbeys and priories of medieval Wales. The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 68(2),401-402. Retrieved January 25 2021 from http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.uwtsd.ac.uk/10.1017/S0022046916002293 

IMDb (n.d.) Janet Burton. Retrieved January 26 2021 from https://www.imdb.com/name/nm2618303/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1