School of English and Drama

Dr Hetta Howes, BA (Cambridge), MPhil (Cambridge), PhD (Queen Mary)


Lecturer in Medieval Literature



After studying for my BA and MPhil at the University of Cambridge, I joined Queen Mary in 2012 to begin my doctoral thesis. The project was supervised by Professor Julia Boffey and Dr Alfred Hiatt and examines the role of water as a literary metaphor in late-medieval devotional prose, with a special emphasis on writings for and by women.

I have published on tropes of crying and cleansing in Aelred of Rievaulx’s spiritual treatise A Rule of Life for a Recluse and on the role of sight in fourteenth-century alliterative verse. I regularly contribute to the Year’s Work in English Studies, surveying current criticism on medieval lyrics, and have an essay forthcoming on the role of shame in a Middle English Passion lyric.

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Research Interests:

  • Late-medieval devotional literature
  • Women’s writings in Middle English
  • Medieval lyrics
  • The cultural and literary history of water

Recent and On-Going Research

My doctoral thesis has evolved into a book project, which interrogates the use of water as a literary metaphor in late-medieval devotional writings. It sketches a cultural history of water during this time, exploring its traditional associations with women, its functions in religious and everyday life, and its appearance in scientific and encylopaedic works. This cultural history is then used as an interpretive tool, to help untangle the complex and often contradictory references to water in various texts. The project has produced a number of offshoots. I have recently published an article in Florilegium on literary images of water in two Middle English translations of an earlier, Latin text and I am also developing an article on the role of blood and water in late-medieval Passion narratives. With Dr. James Smith I am co-editing a special collection for the Open Library of the Humanities journal, entitled ‘New Approaches to Medieval Water Studies.’

My research interests have expanded over the last two years to include the medieval lyric and the history of the emotions. I have an article forthcoming on the relationship between blood and shame in a medieval Passion lyric and my next research project will investigate the relationship between late-medieval lyrics and devotional prose, with a special emphasis on fluids (milk, honey, oil, blood as well as water). In 2014 I organised an international conference, in collaboration with the Centre for the History of the Emotions at Queen Mary, entitled ‘Tears and Smiles, Medieval to Early Modern’ and I am organising a special conference for the London Medieval Society on ‘Medieval Emotions’, which will take place in February 2017.



June ’16: ‘Beasts of Wonder: Reading Animals in the Middle Ages’, BBC History Extra

Feb ’16: ‘Water’, Footnotes, King’s College London Radio 

June ’15: ‘Heavenly Dew: Crying in the Middle Ages’, BBC History Extra 

Feb ’15: 'A Brief History of Medieval Magic’, BBC History Extra 

Sept ’14: ‘Swamps and Bogs in Eighties Films and Medieval Literature’, The Artifice

May ’14: Watery Offerings: Women and Water in the Middle Ages The History of Emotions Blog, Queen Mary

May ’14: ‘Stream’ podcast, The History of Emotions Blog, Queen Mary. The podcast explores the relationship between women and water in the middle ages and the present day. 


Academic Journals

‘Adreynt in shennesse’: Blood, Shame and Contrition in ‘Quis est iste qui uenit de Edom?’ (forthcoming in Vernacular Medieval Lyrics: Form, Focus, Function, a collection of essays to be edited by Prof. Julia Boffey and Dr. Christiania Whitehead, under review with Boydell and Brewer).

‘Fulling Linen, Haunting Clear Waters, and Crying Bitter Tears: Two Middle English Versions of Aelred of Rievaulx’s De Institutione Inclusarum’, Florilegium, 31 (2014), 139-164

‘Middle English Lyrics and Shorter Poems’, Year’s Work In English Studies 2014 (OUP, 2015) Contracted for three years.

‘Sowrede’ Eyes and Obscured Meaning: ‘Wynnere and Wastoure’ as Spiritual Challenge, Marginalia, 16 (2011-12)

Public Engagement

In 2014, I co-organised a funded colloquium – ‘Research into the Medieval and Early Modern: Navigating Issues of Engagement’ – which hosted a number of speakers who actively communicate their research to the public in a variety of different ways. The colloquium was targeted at students and early-career researchers, particularly those who were interested in the idea of public engagement but unsure how to actually ‘do it.’

In terms of my own research, I have collaborated with artist Clare Whistler (artist-in-residence at Queen Mary, 2014) on a number of projects related to water, including a podcast and a brief scholarship-in-residence position at Herstmonceux Castle, Sussex. I was an invited speaker on the KCL radio ‘Footnotes’ programme, I write for BBC History Extra and The Artifice and occasionally blog for the Centre for the History of the Emotions at Queen Mary.