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Writing and Picturing History: Historical Manuscripts from the Royal collection

Introduction Latin
Chronicles
Vernacular
Chronicles
Further Reading



Royal genealogies, mythology and legend

Royal 13 A xxi Wace, Roman de Brut, Geoffrey Gaimar, Estorie des Engles
Royal 4 C xi, Wace, Roman de rou
Royal 19 C ix Prose Brut, Anglo-Norman long
Royal 14 B vi Genealogical roll chronicle of the Kings of England
Royal 20 A ii Peter of Langtoft, Chronicle of England
Royal 15 E vi Talbot Shrewsbury book
King’s 395 Genealogical chronicle of the kings of England Adam to Henry VII.

Genealogy, legend and political prophecies played a crucial role in constructing the past in the service of royal power. A selection of manuscripts presented here features stories of the mythical beginnings of Britain (the history of Brutus of Troy and Albina), and the heroic deeds of its rulers, with King Arthur as the central figure. These stories provided an image of the common history of Britain as a continuation of an ancient Trojan past and became influential in defining national consciousness in medieval and post-medieval England.

This section also displays some eminent examples of genealogical chronicles and diagrams. Royal descent, traced through a net of blood relationships from Creation, Anglo-Saxon kings, Norman Dukes, Welsh princes, or St Louis, was a powerful political tool used to legitimize the succession of power and promote dynastic identities. From the Viking invasions, the Norman Conquest, Lancastrian and Yorkist usurpations up to the Tudor victory in the War of the Roses, ruptures in dynastic continuity were frequent in the history of Britain and explain the popularity of genealogies as medium of royal propaganda.

Royal 13 A xxi Wace, , Roman de Brut Geffrei Gaimar, Estorie des Engles
England, beginning of the 14th century

The Roman de Brut was composed in around 1155 as an Old French verse adaptation of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain). Its author was Wace (d. c. 1174-83), a clerk in Caen. Wace’s metrical chronicle occupies an intermediate position between a prose chronicle and a romance in verse. Following Geoffrey of Monmouth’s narrative, the Roman de Brut gives an account of the early history of the British kings from the mythical Brutus, grandson of Aeneas of Troy and includes the first description of King Arthur's Round Table.

In this Royal manuscript the Roman de Brut is paired with another romance history, Geffrei Gaimar's Estorie des Engles (History of the English). This combination exists in three other manuscripts. The Estorie is based on the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, but extends the historical narrative to the death of William Rufus. It was composed in c. 1136-37 at the instigation of Constance, wife of Ralph FitzGilbert. This early date makes the Estorie the oldest surviving work of history written in Anglo-Norman French. Although the Royal manuscript dates from the fourteenth century, the textual recension of Gaimar’s chronicle preserved in it is superior to any other copy of the Estorie and therefore was used as a base text for the recent edition of the work.14
Royal 13 A xxi, f. 40
Heptarchy
Royal 13 A xxi, f. 40

Royal 4 C xi, Wace, Roman de Rou
England, late 12th century

The Roman de Rou (the Romance of Rollo) is a verse-chronicle of the deeds of the dukes of Normandy and Wace’s last known work. The author began writing the poem in 1160 and dedicated it to Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II. However, he abandoned his work when the King transferred the commission to write a Norman history to another poet. Wace named his rival as Maistre Beneeit, who can probably be identified with Benoit de Sainte Maure, the author of the Chronique des ducs de Normandie of c. 1174-80. In the Royal manuscript, the Roman is included with other historical works, namely Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Britonum (History of the Britons) and the Chronicle of Charlemagne by Pseudo-Turpin.
Royal 4 C xi, f. 249
Decorated initial
Royal 4 C xi, f. 249


Royal 19 C ix Prose Brut, Anglo-Norman long version
Southern Netherlands or Nord-Eastern France, c. 1460-75

The prose Brut chronicle in Anglo-Norman French was probably composed in c. 1272, immediately before or after the death of Henry III, but it was extended shortly afterwards. The most common so-called ‘long version’ ends in 1333 with the battle between the English and Scottish forces at Halidon Hill. Its anonymous author drew upon Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britaniae, and gave an account of the history of Britain from its mythical conquest by Brutus, great grandson of Aeneas of Troy, and also adapted the story of King Arthur. The long version of the prose Brut is often preceded, as in the Royal copy, by a short narrative known as Des Grantz Geanz. This prefatory text tells the story of the first discovery of the island by Albina and her sisters, which explains how the new land came to be known as Albion.

The Brut chronicle was one of the most popular accounts of English history amongst the lay audience in the Middle Ages and in the early modern period. The Anglo-Norman prose version survives in at least forty-nine manuscripts, but there are almost 200 further extant copies in Latin and English. Since the fifteenth century, the Brut has played a role as the standard account of English history. It was also the first chronicle of England to be printed by William Caxton (the Chronicles of England, 1480). Nearly contemporary to Caxton’s edition, the Royal manuscript provides further evidence of the popularity of the prose Brut in this later period. Although it was written and illuminated in the Low Countries or North-eastern France, the manuscript may have been commissioned by an English patron.

Royal 19 C ix, f. 8
Albina and her sisters arrive to Britain
Royal 19 C ix, f. 8

Royal 14 B vi Genealogical Chronicle of the English Kings
England (East Anglia?), c. 1300–07

Chronicles in the form of genealogical diagrams featuring kings in order of succession became a popular way of telling English history. Forty such roll chronicles survive from the period between Edward I’s accession to the throne (1272) and the death of Henry V (1422). The vast majority of extant copies contain variants of the same anonymous Anglo-Norman text, which is displayed in short captions and provides a commentary on the royal portraits in the interconnected roundels.

The Royal roll dates from the reign of Edward I and represents the most common variant of the genealogical chronicle. Its historical narrative begins with a large round diagram known as the Heptarchy that shows the seven Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. The royal line starts below with Ecgberht, the king of Wessex who united the Anglo-Saxons, and continues down to Edward I, with two further generations of kings added in pencil.

The roll chronicle's contents was fashioned to shape the past of the English monarchy and promote the image of the dynastic identity of the Plantagenets as descendants of both Anglo-Saxon kings and the dukes of Normandy.15

The original patron of this lavish chronicle is not known, but the roll can be almost certainly identified with the Role des roys d’Angleterre that was listed amongst the books kept at Richmond Palace in 1535.
Royal 14 B vi, membrane 1
The Heptarchy and the royal genealogy from Egbert to Alfred
Royal 14 B vi, membrane 1

Royal 14 B vi, membrane 2
The royal genealogy from Æthelred to Edmund I
Royal 14 B vi, membrane 2

Royal 14 B vi, membrane 3
The royal genealogy from Eadred to Æthelred II
Royal 14 B vi, membrane 3

Royal 14 B vi, membrane 4
The royal genealogy from Edmund II to Harthacnut
Royal 14 B vi, membrane 4

Royal 14 B vi, membrane 5
The royal genealogy from From Harold II to Henry I
Royal 14 B vi, membrane 5

Royal 14 B vi, membrane 6
The royal genealogy from Steven to John.
Royal 14 B vi, membrane 6

Royal 14 B vi, membrane 7
The royal genealogy from Henry III to Edward III
Royal 14 B vi, membrane 7

Royal 20 A ii, Peter of Langtoft, Chronicle of England
Northern England, c. 1307–27

The Chronicle of England composed in Anglo-Norman verse by Peter of Langtoft (d. in or after 1305), an Augustinian canon of Bridlington Priory, was the third most popular account of English history after Wace's Brut and the prose Brut chronicle. Twenty-one medieval copies of the text survive. Langtoft’s chronicle consists of three books. The first book, an adaptation of Wace's Brut, opens with accounts of the Creation of the World and the Fall of Troy and continues with the legendary foundation of Britain by Brutus. The second book covers the history of the Saxon and Norman kings until the death of Henry III, and the third is dedicated entirely to Edward I, the author’s contemporary monarch.

The present manuscript was copied in northern England during the reign of Edward II (d. 1327). It opens with a unique series of images of kings, arranged in chronological order. Beginning with the Creation of the World and the Fall of Troy (added by a different artist) this gallery of royal ‘portraits’ ends with Edward II. The text accompanying the last image was altered after Edward’s deposition in 1327.
Royal 20 A ii, f. 3
Death of Vortigern
Royal 20 A ii, f. 3

Royal 20 A ii f. 4
King Arthur .
Royal 20 A ii f. 4

Royal 20 A ii f. 6v
Henry I
Royal 20 A ii f. 6v

Royal 20 A ii f. 10
Edward II
Royal 20 A ii f. 10

Royal 15 E vi, The Shrewsbury Book
Rouen, 1444–45
This unique collection of fifteen chivalric romances and treatises was a wedding gift presented by the renowned military leader John Talbot (d. 1453), Earl of Shrewsbury, to Margaret of Anjou, consort of Henry VI. Margaret is depicted on the first page of the manuscript as the Queen of England sharing a throne with her husband. It is, however, more probable that she received Talbot’s gift before her marriage and coronation, in March 1445 when she stopped at Rouen on her way to England.

The manuscript was illuminated by one of the most successful artists working in Rouen, the headquarters for English operations in France, who is now known as the Talbot Master or the Master of John Talbot , after this manuscript.

The presentation scene and Talbot’s dedicatory verses that precede this chivalric collection for Margaret are accompanied by a full page genealogical image designed to support and legitimize Henry VI’s rights to the French throne. The diagram echoes the genealogical trees illustrating the verses that John, Duke of Bedford, commissioned in 1423 as a propaganda tool to support the dual monarchy established by the Treaty of Troyes (1420).

Royal 15 E vi, f. 3
Genealogical descent of Saint Louis
Royal 15 E vi, f. 3

King’s 395, Genealogical Chronicle of the Kings of England
London or Westminster, c. 1511, with additions before 1553

This manuscript contains the longer version of the Genealogical Chronicle of the Kings of England, which includes the genealogy of Christ and traces English royal descent from Noah’s son Japhet. The English text of the Chronicle was first composed during the reign of Edward IV (f. 1483) as a piece of propaganda legitimising Edward’s accession to the throne. The King’s copy adapts the contents and layout of the Yorkist manuscripts, but extends the royal line to the reign of Henry VIII.16 The last event mentioned by the main scribe is the obituary of Prince Henry, the son of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, who died in 1511. Later additions to the genealogical diagram were made during the reign of Edward VI (d. 1553) and supplied the portraits of Henry’s other wives and children.

The royal genealogy is presented in the manuscript by means of a diagram of interconnected roundels, but instead of a roll format it uses the standard codex layout, adapting it to its advantage. The lines of royal descend are spread across each double-page opening and require the reader to rotate the manuscript to the right by ninety degrees. Colours of lines are designed to help the reader to navigate within the diagram, and the royal arms are depicted next to the portraits of the crowned rulers to differentiate them from other members of royal families.

The manuscript preserved its original leather binding. The Royal arms enclosed by the Garter and the Tudor rose supported by angels tooled on its outer border panel suggest that the manuscript belonged either to Henry VIII or to his son Edward VI.

King’s 395, ff. 1v-2
Prologue and the genealogy of Adam and Eve
King’s 395, ff. 1v-2

King’s 395, ff. 2v-3
Noah and Japhet
King’s 395, ff. 2v-3

King’s 395, ff. 32v-33
Genealogy of the Tudors
King’s 395, ff. 32v-33



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14 Geffrei Gaimar, Estoire des Engleis (History of the English), ed. and tr. by Ian Short (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).
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15 Olivier de Laborderie, ‘La mémoire des origines Normandes des rois d’Angleterre dans les généalogies en rouleau des XIIIe et XIVe siècles’, in La Normandie et l’Angleterre au Moyen Age, Colloque de Crécy-la-Salle (4-7 octobre 2001), ed. by Pierre Bouzet and Véronique Gazeau (Caen: Publications du CRAHM, 2003), pp. 211-36.
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16 For other manuscripts of this text see Albinia de la Mare, Catalogue of the Collection of Medieval Manuscripts bequeathed to the Bodleian Library, Oxford, by James P. R. Lyell, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), pp. 81-85.


Introduction Latin
Chronicles
Vernacular
Chronicles
Further Reading

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