Prof Janet Burton

Burton’s research in this area centres on the compilation of monastic foundation narratives and the genre of historical writing within medieval religious communities. Building on her previous work on Cistercian narratives (with particular reference to the Yorkshire abbeys of Byland and Jervaulx) she has recently investigated similar literary activity at a Benedictine abbey, Selby. Monastic histories often profess to ‘tell the truth’ about a monastery and its origins and subsequent history. In reality, careful investigation of the text and its sources can uncover a conscious construction of an institution’s past. Such a history may be directed at one or more textual communities, and received in different ways. For each it offers a conscious construction of its own identity and self-image.  

The Monastic Wales project, within which this research sits, has established a comprehensive monastic history of medieval Wales, the findings of which are available to the public through an online and interactive database ( This can act either as a scholarly resource, or on a different level, as a set of heritage interpretation materials. The approach to knowledge transfer has built upon this resource by giving public talks introducing the database to local history societies and lectures and guided tours to monastic sites for the National Trust. The project will also see the publication of a forthcoming popular book, Abbeys and Priories of Wales.

Funders of research include:

  • European Science Foundation

Through the work in this research area the School has active research links and collaborations with researchers and practitioners in:

  • Prof. Lutter, Christina  (Institute of Austrian Historical Research, University Vienna)
  • Dr. Hornícková, Katerina (Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna)
  • Dr. Pavlína Rychterová (Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna)
  • Prof.  Kostova, Rossina (University of Veliko Tarnovo)
  • Prof.  Kubín, Petr (Charles University Prague)
  • Prof.  Signori, Gabriela (University Constance, Dep. Of History and Sociology)
  • Johannes Schütz, M.A. (University Göttingen)
  • Dr. Mersch, Margit (University Kassel, Dep. of Medieval History)
  • Prof. Laszlovszky, József (Central European University Budapest)
  • Prof.  Romhányi, Beatrix (Calvinist University Budapest)
  • Ferenczi, László, M.A. (Central European University Budapest)
  • Dr. Breathnach, Edel (University College Dublin, Micheál O'Cléirigh Institute)
  • Prof. O’Keefe, Tadgh (University College Dublin, School of Archaeology)
  • Dr. Florea, Carmen (University Babes Bolyai, Cluj; Faculty of History and Philosophy)
  • Dr. Claudia Florentina Dobre (University of Bucharest)
  • Dr. Stöber, Karen (University of Lleida; Faculty of Philosophy)
  • Pascua Echegaray Esther, M.A. (Madrid Open University)
  • Dr. Jamroziak, Emilia (Univ. Of Leeds, Dep. of History)
  • Prof. Johnston, Dafydd, (Centre for Advanced Welsh & Celtic Studies, Aberystwyth)
  • Dr. Müller, Anne (University of Wales Trinity Saint David)

HIstoria Selebiensis Monasterii: The History of the Monastery of Selby, ed. and trans. By Janet Burton, with Lynda Lockyer, Oxford Medieval Texts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).

This volume contains an edition of the text with a modern English translation, and extensive textual notes. The full introduction explores the strategies of compilation of the text, and offers new insights into how the Selby monks interpreted and represented their past, and in so doing created a sense of identity for their monastery.

‘Citadels of God: Monasteries, Violence, and the Struggle for Power in Northern England, 1135–1154’, in Anglo-Norman Studies XXXI: Proceedings of the Battle Conference 2008, ed. Chris Lewis (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2009), pp. 17–30

The foundation history of Selby (Historia Selebiensis Monasterii) is one of a number of sources discussed in this paper for the light it sheds on the ways in which monastic houses became involved in the period of localised warfare that accompanied the reign of King Stephen.