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Writing and Picturing History: Historical Manuscripts from the Royal collection

Introduction Royal Genealogy
Mythology and Legend
Vernacular
Chronicles
Further Reading



Latin chronicles

Bede Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, Royal 13 C v
Roger of Hoveden, Chronica, Royal 14 C ii
Ralph de Diceto, Abbreviationes chronicorum and Imagines historiarum, Royal 13 E. vi
Historical collection from St Albans, Royal 13 D v
Matthew Paris, Historia Anglorum, Chronica majora, Part III, Royal 14 C vii
Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historia regum Britanniae, Royal 13 A iii
Martinus Polonus, Chronicon pontificum et imperatorum, Royal 14 C i
Ranulf Hidgen, Polychronicon, Royal 14 C ix
William of Nangis, Cronica, Royal 13 E iv

By far the largest number of medieval Latin chronicles now preserved in the Royal collection comes from monastic and other ecclesiastical institutions. Throughout the Middle Ages, religious houses were important centres of historical writing and the main repositories of the knowledge of the past. For example, when Edward I required evidence to support his claim to the Scottish throne he ordered his clerics to search through the annals in monastic libraries. The book holdings of religious houses were again consulted when Henry VIII needed to find reasons to question the validity of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, and later when he was establishing an autonomous national church. Although no institution in England produced an authoritative historical narrative in service of the monarchy comparable to St.-Denis’s Grandes Chroniques de France, a number of English chroniclers, such as Ralph de Diceto, Matthew Paris and Roger of Hoveden, were involved in royal affairs and attended royal courts.

The selection of Latin chronicles from the Royal collection that follows gives an overview of historical writings from Bede the Venerable to the beginnings of the fourteenth century. It showcases different text structures, layouts and visual devices adapted in historical manuscripts to facilitate their consultation. Medieval Latin chronicles are rarely illustrated. What occurs more frequently on their pages are marginal images illustrating selected passages within the text. These marginal illustrations are either the work of professional scribes and artists, or less skilled manuscripts users. These pictures focus readers’ attention on the events in the historical narrative that were judged important, curious or particularly interesting.

Bede, Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, Royal 13 C v

Bede (b. 673/4, d. 735), also known as Bede the Venerable, completed his Historia ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People) in 731 in the Northumbrian monastery of Jarrow, where he spent nearly all of his life. Bede envisaged this work as an account of the progress of the Christianity in Britain. His narrative begins with Julius Caesar’s first attempted invasion of the island in 55 BC and ends shortly before the author’s death.

This Royal manuscript is one of 164 surviving copies of the Historia Ecclesiastica. A fifteenth-century inscription on the opening page confirms its provenance from Benedictine abbey of St. Peter’s, Gloucester (f. 2), but it is likely that the book was copied elsewhere. Several scribes writing in an early eleventh century Anglo-Caroline (known as the style-I) shared the task of copying Bede’s text1, but the manuscript’s origin has not been yet firmly established.2

The Historia Ecclesiastica was incorporated into the Royal Library at Westminster after the dissolution of St. Peter’s abbey in 1540.

Royal 13 C v, f. 2
Dedication to Ceolwulf, king of Northumbria
Royal 13 C v, f. 2

Roger of Hoveden, Chronica, Royal 14 C ii
Northern England, c. 1199-1201/02

Roger of Hoveden [or Howden] (d. 1201/2), a native of Howden in Yorkshire, entered the royal service in c. 1174 as a clerk at Henry II's court. After the King's death in 1189, Roger entered the service of Hugh de Puiset, bishop of Durham. Both the King and the Bishop entrusted him with several diplomatic missions, including a journey to the Holy Land.

Roger worked on his Chronica during the last decade of his life, relating the history of England from 732 (where Bede’s narrative ends) to his own day. This Royal manuscript contains the first volume of Hoveden's chronicle and together with its continuation in Oxford, Bodleian Library, Laud MS. 582, it is the oldest surviving copy. Scholars such as Stubbs, Holt and Corner have recognised the chronicler's own hand in a distinctive cursive script of some marginal notes present in both manuscripts and in portions of the original text in the Laudian manuscript.3 The inclusion of King John into the genealogy of the Dukes of Normandy suggests that the two volumes must have been completed between 1199 and Hoveden’s death in c. 1201-02.

Halfway between the author's official edition and his working copy, this pair of manuscripts gives an insight into the chronicler's work and interests. Two images, the seal of William of Sicily and the standard may have been included at the author's request. Both play a role of ‘documentary evidence’ and, as such, anticipate Matthew Paris's replicas of coins, coats of arms, and seals.4 These images in Hoveden's manuscript were sometimes reproduced by other scribes and artists who copied his Chronica (see Arundel 150, ff. 41v and 64, and Arundel 69, f. 118 ).
Royal 14 C ii, f. 160v
Seal of William II of Sicily
Royal 14 C ii, f. 160v

Royal 14 C ii, f. 88
Standard
Royal 14 C ii, f. 88

Ralph de Diceto, Abbreviationes chronicorum and Imagines historiarum, Royal 13 E vi
St Albans, 1199/1200 – 1209

This manuscript includes two historical works by Ralph de Diceto (d. c. 1199/1200), chronicler and dean of Saint Paul’s in London. One, the Abbreviationes chronicorum, is a summary, of chronicles that covers the history of the world from Creation to 1147, and the other, the Imagines historiarum, focuses on more recent events between 1149 and the author’s death. Both chronicles are prefaced by an account of the dispute between Henry II and Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, also written by Ralph.

According to Stubbs, this Royal manuscript was copied for the abbey of St. Albans from Ralph’s own copy that he had bequeathed to St Paul’s cathedral, now Lambeth Palace Library, London, MS 8.5 The book was already in the abbey’s library by 1209/10 when it was borrowed by Richard de Mores (Morins), prior of the Augustinian house at Dunstable.6

Diceto’s works were updated at St Albans with several marginal annotations regarding the abbey. Matthew Paris, St Albans’s famous chronicler, used the manuscript as a source for his own writings. Matthew, who added one image (see below) in a margin of the Abbreviationes chronicorum, was doubtless inspired by Ralph’s indexing system of marginal signs and images, and developed it in his own works.

As is the case with many other manuscripts from St Albans, this volume was probably removed from the abbey’s library by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (b. 1470/71, d. 1530), then the abbey’s prior, and subsequently incorporated into the Old Royal library of Henry VIII.

Royal 13 E vi, f. 1
Table of signs
Royal 13 E vi, f. 1

Royal 13 E vi, f. 11
King Lucius
Royal 13 E vi, f. 11

Royal 13 E vi, f. 25v
Spear and crown
Royal 13 E vi, f. 25v

Historical collection from St Albans, Royal 13 D v
St Albans, after 1206

This early thirteenth-century collection of historical works was copied in the monastic scriptorium of the Benedictine abbey of St Albans. It contains a rich selection of the texts on the history of pre-conquest Britain and the Kingdom of England available at the time, including the works of two major twelfth-century historians, Geoffrey of Monmouth’s (d. 1154/5) Historia regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain) and William of Malmesbury’s (b. c.1090, d. c. 1142) Gesta regum Anglorum (Deeds of the Kings of the English), with his Historia Novella (Recent History) and the Gesta pontificum Anglorum (Deeds of the Bishops of the English). They are followed by three further texts: the ninth-century Historia Britonum (History of the Britons), attributed in the Middle Ages to Nennius or Gildas; the Visio Thurkilli, a description of a vision seen in 1206 at Stisted in Essex and attributed to Ralph, abbot of Coggeshall, Essex (1208-1218); and Aelred of Rievaulx’s (d. 1167) De genealogia regum Anglorum (On the Genealogy of the Kings of the English).

The volume was used by generations of historians working at the library of St. Albans. Several of the margins of the manuscript were annotated by the famous chronicler Matthew Paris (b. c. 1200, d. 1259) (ff. 28-44, 63v-65, and 105).7 Three hundred years later, another historian, Polydore Vergil (b. c.1470, d.1555), used the volume as one of his sources for the Anglica Historia (completed by 1513, first printed in 1534) and also left his autograph notes in it.8 The manuscript was once again judged useful by advisors of Henry VIII, who removed it from the abbey’s library and incorporated in the Royal library.

The book also bears rich evidence of anonymous medieval readership. Several thirteenth and fourteenth-century readers introduced marginal notes typically referring to names and places mentioned in the text, and added pointing hands and marginal images that highlight particularly pertinent passages, including those important for the history of St Albans. Amongst these are crowns marking the beginning and end of each reign (the crowns marking the end of each reign are upside down). These images adhere to similar systems of reference to those used by Ralph de Diceto (see Royal 13 E vi) and Matthew Paris (see Royal 14 C vii).

Royal 13 D v , f. 1
Ownership inscriptions
Royal 13 D v , f. 1

Royal 13 D v , f. 14
A cross
Royal 13 D v , f. 14

Royal 13 D v, f. 18v
Two mitres
Royal 13 D v, f. 18v

Royal 13 D v, f. 63v
A church
Royal 13 D v, f. 63v

Royal 13 D v, f. 78
A crown
Royal 13 D v, f. 78

Matthew Paris, Historia Anglorum, Chronica majora, Part III, Royal 14 C. vii
St Albans, 1250-1259

Although the historiographical achievements of St Albans postdate those of other monasteries by several decades, they are now better known thanks to the extraordinary works of Matthew Paris (b. c.1200, d.1259). In 1236 Matthew succeeded Roger Wendover as the chronicler at St Albans. His Chronica Majora, a universal history of the world from Creation, is a revised edition and continuation of Wendover’s Flores Historiarum. Matthew’s work survives in three volumes, of which the present manuscript is the last (1254 to 1259). The history from Creation to 1188 and from 1189 to 1253 is given in two manuscripts now in Cambridge, Corpus Christi College MSS 26 and 16. The present volume is bound with the Historia Anglorum, a history of England covering the years 1070-1253. Matthew also made an extensive collection of documentary material including copies of letters, charters etc, which he assembled in an appendix, known as the Liber Additamentorum (Cortton Nero D. i, ff. 62v-63v and 70-200).

Almost two hundred years later another historian from St. Albans, Thomas Walsingham (d. c. 1422), praised Matthew not only as an 'incomparable chronicler', but also as an 'excellent painter'. Although he was probably never trained as an artist, Matthew embellished his chronicles with lively illustrations of the events he described. He also developed a system that used graphic signs for reference. Shields of arms, crowns and mitres in up-right or upside down positions indicate births and deaths of individuals, respectively, and the beginnings and ends of the reigns of kings, abbots and bishops. Graphic signs were also used to refer the reader to relevant information in the Liber Additamentorum.
Royal 14 C vii, f. 6
Matthew Paris before the Virgin
Royal 14 C vii, f. 6

Royal 14 C vii, f. 124v
Henry III and Eleanor of Provence
Royal 14 C vii, f. 124v

Royal 14 C vii, f. 138v
The Council of Lyon
Royal 14 C vii, f. 138v

Royal 14 C vii, f. 218
Matthew Paris at his deathbed
Royal 14 C vii, f. 218

Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historia regum Britanniae, Royal 13 A iii
England, first quarter of the 14th century

It was the Historia regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain) that established Geoffrey of Monmouth (d. 1154/5), bishop of Aspah in Wales, as one of the most influential historians of the Middle Ages. Writing about the early history of Britain from its foundation by Brutus, grandson of the Trojan refugee Aeneas, to Cadwallader, the last king of Britain, Geoffrey brought to life heroes such as Arthur, Vortigern, Merlin and King Lear. His text is the foundation of an important tradition in medieval and modern history and literature. Geoffrey intended to fill in the gap in British history left by Bede, and to describe the events that occurred before the Roman conquest. He styled his chronicle as a translation of an ancient British (Breton) book that he claimed to have received from Walter, Archdeacon of Oxford. As no such book has ever been identified, it is more likely that Geoffrey simply developed the storyline of the Latin Historia Brittonum, written in ninth-century Wales and attributed in Geoffrey’s times to Nennius.

Stories about the origins and foundations of major English towns and cities told by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his Historia inspired a skilful artist to introduce a series of contemporary panoramas drawn in leadpoint in the lower margins of this early fourteenth-century manuscript. The series starts with a skyline of London representing ancient Trinovantum and includes depictions of York, Carlyle, Canterbury, Bath, Winchester, Leicester, Caerleon, Gloucester, and Colchester. Other subjects illustrated in the margins include biblical rulers and prophets thought by Geoffrey to be contemporaries of British kings; an image of Rome commemorating the foundation of the city by Romulus and Remus (f. 21v), and a battle referring to Nennius’s duel with Caesar (f. 34). Several other events of Britain’s mythical past are also represented: Ronwein carrying a goblet of wine for Vortigern (f. 62v), Merlin interpreting his prophecies to Vortigern (f. 68), Arthur crowned king of Britain (90v), a dragon killing a bear in Arthur’s dream (f. 105), and the Island of Avalon (f. 119v).

Most of the drawings, which were executed in leadpoint are now faint and scarcely visible, possibly as a result of oxidation.
Royal 13 A iii, f. 14
London
Royal 13 A iii, f. 14

Royal 13 A iii, f. 16v
York
Royal 13 A iii, f. 16v

Martinus Polonus, Chronicon pontificum et imperatorum, Royal 14 C i
Norwich?, 1st quarter of the 14th century

The Chronicon pontificum et imperatorum (Chronicle of the Popes and Emperors) written by the Dominican writer Martinus Polonus (also known as Martin of Opava or Troppau, after his place of birth, d. 1278/9) was one of the most popular chronicles of the Middle Ages. Over 400 manuscripts of the Chronicon survive.

The Chronicon is a chronological work that covers the history of the world from the Incarnation by juxtaposing the regnal years of emperors and papal pontificates. Although the idea of presenting history in the form of synchronic tables had been known at least since the Chronici canones of Eusebius of Caesarea (c. AD 263–339), Martin introduced in his work a completely new layout. The material was arranged in such a way that a verso of each opening was reserved for papal history and the recto for that of the emperors. Each line corresponded to one year, and each page containing fifty lines to a period of fifty years. Thus, the thirteenth centuries covered by the author could be included in only 26 folios. Martin envisaged his chronicle as an appendix to Peter Comestor’s Historia scholastica and such brevity was a desirable feature.

This Royal copy of the Chronicon belonged to the Benedictine cathedral priory of the Holy Trinity in Norwich. It was a gift of one of the Norwich monks, Geoffrey of Smallbergh, and was probably copied there at the beginning of the 14th century. The Chronicon is bound with the chronicle of Geoffrey of Monmouth, written by the same scribe, and once formed one volume with Bartholomew Cotton’s Historia Anglicana (now Cotton Nero V). The current separation of the text into different volumes is a result of Sir Robert Cotton’s passion for rearranging his manuscripts. Cotton effected an exchange with the royal librarian Patrick Young receiving for parts of the Chronicon a portion of the autograph copy of William Rishanger’s chronicle held in the Old Royal library. As a result, the page that bears Norwich cathedral library’s shelfmark 'L. IX' is now inserted in Cotton Nero. v, f. 285v.9
Royal 14 C i, f. 29
Papal history
Royal 14 C i, f. 29

Royal 14 C i, f. 30v
Imperial history
Royal 14 C i, f. 30v

Ranulf Hidgen, Polychronicon, Royal 14 C ix
England (Ramsey?), last quarter of the 14th century

Ranulf Higden (d. 1364), the author of the Polychronicon, was a Benedictine monk at St. Werburg’s, Chester. Not much is known about his life in the monastery, except for one memorable event. In 1352 he was summoned by Edward III to bring his chronicles at the royal court. Higden’s work, the Polychronicon, is a universal chronicle in seven books that covers world’s history from Creation to 1327, 1340, or 1352 depending on the version. Numerous continuations and over 100 surviving copies attest to the Polychronicon’s huge popularity in medieval England. By 1387, Higden’s text was translated into English by John Trevisa and printed by Caxton and Wynkyn de Worde.

The present manuscript ends in 1342 and contains a continuation probably written in St Albans.10 It is possible that this late fourteenth-century book was copied at Ramsey Abbey (Huntingdonshire), as it bears an ex-libris of John Wardeboys, the Abbot of Ramsey (r. 1473 -1489). Such inscriptions relating to donors of books in Ramsey manuscripts seem to have also served as library press-marks. In two extant fragments of a fourteenth-century catalogue of manuscripts at Ramsey, titles are listed under the names of donors.11 The Polychronicon probably remained at the Ramsey library until the dissolution of the abbey in 1539.
Royal 14 C ix, ff. 1v-2
Map of the World
Royal 14 C ix, ff. 1v-2

Royal 14 C ix, f. 9
A king
Royal 14 C ix, f. 9

William of Nangis, Cronica, Royal 13 E iv
St Denis, c. 1300-1310

William of Nangis (d. c. 1300) was an archivist (custos cartarum) at the Abbey of St. Denis near Paris, the main centre of French historiography, (see the Grandes Chroniques de France, Royal 16 G. vi below). Sometime in c. 1285 – 1300 William contributed to his abbey’s fame by composing a chronicle of the history of the world from Creation until 1300. As David Williman and Karen Korsano have demonstrated, the Royal copy of the Cronica was copied at Saint-Denis shortly after William’s death.12 The manuscript remained in the Abbey until 1413, when it was borrowed by John, Duke of Berry. An entry in the inventory of books and jewellery kept in John of Berry's castle of Mehun-sur-Yevre, prepared by Robinet d’Etampes in c. 1414 (no. 1249), provides a description that identifies the Royal Cronica with the manuscript in Berry's possession.13 The entry also mentions the Duke’s wish to have the book returned to the church of St. Denis.

However, it is likely that the book was never returned to its rightful owners, but remained in the possession of Berry's cousin Sigismund of Luxembourg (d. 1437), king of Hungary and emperor designate, as Williman and Korsano argue. Shortly after John of Berry's death in 1416, Sigismund travelled to England. He may have presented the Cronica to the Chapel of St. George at Windsor when he became a knight of the Garter. The Royal manuscript bears the ownership note of Thomas Howard (d. 1554), Duke of Norfolk, also a knight of the Garter, who could have obtained the book from the Garter Chapel. Howard had ambitions to replace Cardinal Wolsey as Henry VIII’s advisor, and it was almost certainly Howard who presented the Cronica to the King. The manuscript served as a source for several historical examples useful in Henry’s attempt to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Its text was marked up carefully in 1532-33, focussing the Kings's attention on one hundred and thirteen passages.
Royal 13 E iv, f. 1
William of Nangis
Royal 13 E iv, f. 1



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1 See David N. Dumville, English Caroline Script and Monastic History, Studies in Benedictinism: A.D.950-1030, Studies in Anglo-Saxon History, 6 (Suffolk: Boydell, 1993), pp. 55-56.
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2 T. A. M. Bishop suggested a connection with Worcester, cf. English Caroline Minuscule (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), p. 20, n. 1.
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3 See David Corner, 'The Earliest Surviving Manuscripts of Roger of Howden's 'Chronica'', The English Historical Review, 98 (1983), 297-310 (pp. 304-06).
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4 cf. a Templars's seal in Cambridge, Corpus Christi MS. 26, f. 220, or Frederick II's seal in Corpus Christi MS. 16, f. 72
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5 Radulfi de Diceto decani Lundoniensis opera historica, ed. by W. Stubbs, 2 vols., Rolls Series, 68 (London: Longman, 1876), I, pp. lxxxviii-xc.
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6 Peter J. Lucas, 'Borrowing and Reference: Access to Libraries in the Late Middle Ages', in The Cambridge History of Libraries in Britain and Ireland, ed. by Elisabeth Leedham-Green and Teresa Webber, 3 vols (Cambridge: University Press, 2006), Vol I: To 1640, pp. 242-62 (p. 260 n. 110).
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7 See Richard Vaughan, 'The Handwriting of Matthew Paris', Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society, 5 (1953) 376-94 (pp. 377, 381, 382, 391, pl. XVIIIe).
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8 Denys Hay, Polydore Vergil: Renaissance Historian and Man of Letters (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952), p. 86.
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9 For the complicated history of the exchanges of manuscripts between Robert Cotton and Patrick Young, see J. P. Carley, 'The Royal Library as a Source for Sir Robert Cotton's Collection: A Preliminary List of Acquisition', The British Library Journal, 18 (1992), 52-73 and J. P. Carley, 'William Rishanger's Chronicles and History writing in St. Albans', in A Distinct Voice: Medieval Studies in Honor of Leonard E. Boyle, ed. by J. Brown and W. P. Stoneman (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1997), pp. 71-102.
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10 John Taylor, 'The Development of the Polychronicon Continuation', English Historical Review, 76 (1961), 20-36 (p. 34).
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11 See English Benedictine Libraries: The Shorter Catalogues, ed. by R. Sharpe and others, Corpus of British Medieval Library Catalogues, 4 (London: British Library, 1996), pp. 127-38.
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12 David Williman and Karen Korsano, The Life and Times of Cronica British Library MS. Royal 13 E.IV (not yet published). I am grateful to the authors for providing me with the pre-published version of the book.
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13 See Inventaires de Jean duc de Berry (1401-1416), ed. by Jules Guiffrey, 2 vols (Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1894), I, pp. 335-36).


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