Solitary and writer, born at Thornton, Yorkshire, about 1300; died at Hampole, 29 September 1349. The date 1290, sometimes assigned for his birth-year, is too early, as in a work written after 1326 he alludes to himself as “juvenculus” and “puer”, words applicable to a man of under thirty, but not to one over that age. He showed such promise as a school-boy, while living with his father William Rolle, that Thomas de Neville, Archdeacon of Durham, undertook to defray the cost of his education at Oxford. At the age of nineteen he left the university to devote himself to a life of perfection, not desiring to enter any religious order, but with the intention of becoming a hermit. At first he dwelt in a wood near his home, but fearing his family would put him under restraint, he fled from Thornton and wandered about till he was recognized by John de Dalton, who had been his fellow student at Oxford, and who now provided him with a cell and the necessaries for a hermit’s life. At Dalton he made great progress in the spiritual life as described by himself in his treatise “De incendio amoris”. He spent from three to four years in the purgative and illuminative way and then attained contemplation, passing through three phases which he describes as calor, canor, dulcor. They appeared successively, but once attained they remained with him continually, though he did not feel them all alike or all at the same time. Sometimes the calor prevailed; sometimes the canor, but the dulcor accompanied both. The condition was such, he says, “that I did not think anything like it or anything so holy could be received in this life”. After this he wandered from place to place, at one time visiting the anchoress, Dame Margaret Kyrkby, at Anderby, and obtaining from God her cure. Finally he settled at Hampole near the Cistercian nunnery, and there he spent the rest of his life. After his death his tomb was celebrated for miracles, and preparations for his canonization, including the composition of a mass and office in his honour, were made; but the cause was never prosecuted.
His writings were extremely popular throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and very many manuscripts copies of his works are still extant in English libraries. His writings show he was much influenced by the teaching of Saint Edmund of Canterbury in the “Speculum Ecclesiae”. The Lollards, realizing the power of his influence, tampered with his writings, interpolating passages favouring their errors. To defeat this trickery, the nuns at Hampole kept genuine copies of his works at their house. His chief works are “De emendatione vitae” and “De incendio amoris”, both written in Latin, of which English versions by Ricahrd Misyn (1434- 5) have been published by the Early English Text Society, 1896; “Contemplacyons of the drede and love of God” and “Remedy against Temptacyons”, both printed by Wynkyn de Worde in 1506; and “The Pricke of Conscience”, a poem printed for the Philological Society in 1863. This was his most popular work and manuscripts of it are very common. They have been collated by Andreae (Berlin, 1888) and Bulbring (Transactions of Philological Society, 1889-1890). Ten prose treatises found in the Thornton manuscript in Lincoln Cathedral Library were published by the Early English Text Society, 1866. “The Form of Perfect Living”, “Meditations on the Passion”, and many shorter pieces were edited by Horstman (London, 1896). Rolle translated many parts of Scripture into English but only his version of the Psalms has been printed. His English paraphrase of the Psalms and canticles was published in 1884. This work of translation is noteworthy in face of the persistent though discredited Protestant tradition ascribing all the credit of translating the Scriptures into English to Wyclif. Latin versions of Rolle’s works are very numerous. They were collected into one edition and again reprinted in the “Bibliotheca Patrum Maxima”. Modernized English versions of the Meditations on the Passion have been published by Mgr. Benson in “A Book of the Love of Jesus” and by the present writer.
- Edwin Burton. “Richard Rolle de Hampole”. . CatholicSaints.Info. 29 September 2013. Web. 27 April 2015. <>