Moors and moorishness in late medieval England

Kathleen E. Kennedy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


This article explores evidence for the use of the words Moor and Moorish in late medieval England, and considers the mechanisms by which such documentation has been overlooked in the past. Medievalists have understandably concentrated on the more common term Saracen. Yet this concentration has left early modernist English literary critics without important medieval background. While a Moor in Middle English derived from biopolitical racial definitions reaching back to the Roman empire, Moorish had quite different connotations. The late medieval English associated Moorish with sociocultural race markers such as imported textiles and script. Physical remains of Arabic script and pseudoscript from fourteenth and fifteenthcentury England exist in textile and ceramic fragments, while references to “Moorish letters” appear in archival documents. By the time Caxton translated and printed the popular fifteenthcentury romance Paris and Vienne he employed the terms Moor and Moorish easily, expecting his audience to be familiar with both their biopolitical and sociocultural associations with people, languages, and commodities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)213-251
Number of pages39
JournalStudies in the Age of Chaucer
StatePublished - 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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