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This book is about the social understanding and treatment of the mentally ill, incompetent, and disabled in late medieval England. Drawing on archival, literary, medical, legal, and ecclesiastic sources and studies, the volume seeks to present a coherent picture of society's treatment, protection, abuse, care, and custody of the incapacitated. Although many medieval stories stereotyped the mad (most often as sinners or innocents), for example, there is clear evidence that English society treated and cared for the impaired on a person-by-person basis. The mentally incapacitated were not lumped into one category and not ignored or sent away; on the contrary, both the English administration and the public had many categories and terms for mental conditions, cognitive abilities, and levels of physicality (violence) associated with impairment. English society also had safeguards and assistants (keepers, custodians, guardians) in place to help mentally impaired persons in life. This study therefore eschews totalizing assumptions about a societal 'core' and its 'margins'; instead, it instigates a new consideration of communities as holistic entities with an ebb and flow among the contributing and non-contributing elements as people live, grow, age, get sick, become well, have children, break bones, or live with mental or physical impairments.
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