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Writing and Picturing History: Historical Manuscripts from the Royal collection

Introduction Latin
Chronicles
Royal Genealogy
Mythology and Legend
Further Reading



Royal Vernacular Chronicles

Royal 16 G vi Chroniques de France ou de St Denis
Royal 20 C ix Jean Chartier, Chronique de Charles VI (Grandes Chroniques de France)
Royal 20 E i-vi Grandes Chroniques de France
Royal 18 E ii Froissart, Chroniques
Royal 14 D ii-vi Froissart, Chroniques
Royal 15 E iv Wavrin, Recueil des croniques d’Engleterre
Royal 14 E iv Wavrin, Recueil des croniques d’Engleterre

From the thirteenth century a demand for vernacular prose historiography was rising amongst the royals and aristocracy. Chronicles and ancient and biblical histories were translated from Latin or composed directly in vernacular in response to the new literacy of upper social classes. In contrast to their earlier Latin counterparts, vernacular histories of the later Middle Ages were often profusely illustrated with extensive pictorial cycles.

This section of the exhibition will introduce a selection of deluxe copies of contemporary chronicles made for English and French princes and monarchs. Outstanding in size and impressive in their profusion of gold and colours, all these volumes were designed for public reading. Combining entertainment, education, moral instruction and political guidance, reading in public became a part of the culture of royal and princely courts.

Reading about the past was considered an appropriate pastime for a noble. While ancient history that presented a gallery of models to emulate was recommended as a guide for personal self-development, the use of contemporary history was more concerned with the legitimisation and ostentation of royal power and with dynastic identity.17 In these vernacular, princely chronicles, images were prominent in shaping the reader’s perception of the text.

Royal 16 G vi, Chroniques de France ou de St Denis of John the Good
Paris, 1332-1350

The Grandes Chroniques de France was one of the biggest achievements of medieval French historiography. It was composed at the abbey of St Denis, near Paris in the late thirteenth century, and consists of a French translation of the Latin chronicles written by the monks-historians of St Denis. The first recension of the Chroniques covered the history of France from its foundation after the Fall of Troy to the death of Philip Augustus (d. 1223). The historical narrative was then extended to include the reigns of subsequent monarchs. The Royal volume ends with the death of Saint Louis. The Manuscript contains the arms of John of Valois as the Duke of Normandy and heir to the French throne, and therefore must have been completed before John’s accession as king of France in 1350.

Prince John’s copy of the Chroniques was commissioned in a period of a political turmoil. In 1337 Edward III of England contested Philip VI of Valois’s legitimacy and asserted his own claim to the French throne. Edward contended that he had a superior claim based on his direct descent from St Louis through his mother Isabel of France, sister of the last Capetian kings. This dispute resulted in the Hundred Years War. Seen against this historical background, John’s manuscript may be viewed as an instrument of political expression. The selection of episodes illustrated by six artists in over 400 miniatures carried a programmatic message. The illustrations were focused on providing models of ideal kingship for the young prince to emulate. They stressed the military victories of Charlemagne, Louis the Pious and Charles the Bald, and the royal piety of Saint Louis, together with his crusading achievements and his role in shaping the image of the French sacred kingship. However, the central theme of the programme was royal succession.18

It is possible that this volume of the Grandes Chroniques de France, which was later owned by Humfrey, Duke of Gloucester (d. 1447), arrived in England with king John II when he was taken hostage in 1356 at the battle of Poitiers (cf Royal 19 D. ii ).

Royal 16 G vi, f. 3
Coronation of Pharamond
Royal 16 G vi, f. 3

Royal 16 G vi, f. 395
St Louis receives relics from Constantinople
Royal 16 G vi, f. 395

Royal 20 C ix, Jean Chartier, Chronique de Charles VII
Southern Netherlands (Bruges?), c. 1479-83

The Chronique de Charles VII was composed as a continuation of the Grandes Chroniques by Jean Chartier, a monk of St Denis, and from 1437 the historiographer of France. Chartier’s text was dedicated almost exclusively to the history of France and England during the dual monarchy of Henry VI (1422-53; king of England to 1461), and Charles VII’s (1422-1461) struggle to regain his power during the last years of the Hundred Years War. Therefore it may have attracted interest of English audience. This manuscript was probably commissioned by Edward IV, King of England (1461-70 and 1471-83), at the end of his reign. The seventeenth-century title added on the first page of the book 'Cronicon regni Galliae ab anno primo Henrici sexti ad annum primum Edwardi quarti regum Angliae Johanne Charetier monacho Sancti Dionisi authore' (the chronicle of the kingdom of France from the first year of Henry VI to the first year of Edward IV, kings of England, by Jean Chartier, monk of St Denis) suggests that the French history it contains was read from an English perspective.

Royal 20 C ix, f. 11 
Funeral of Charles VI
Royal 20 C ix, f. 11 

Royal 20 C ix, f. 263
The battle of Castillion
Royal 20 C ix, f. 263

Royal 20 E i-vi, Grandes Chroniques de France
Calais 1487; England and Southern Netherlands, before 1495

This monumental set of volumes is one of the very few deluxe copies of the Grandes Chroniques de France produced at the end of the fifteenth century. The manuscripts were copied in 1487 by the Parisian scribe Hugh de Lembourg, who was in service of Sir Thomas Thwaytes, Treasurer of the Pale of Calais. Thwaytes commissioned the set as a gift for the newly crowned Henry VII. However, work on the books was never completed and it is uncertain whether the donor ever presented his gift to the monarch. In 1494 Thwaytes was arrested for treason and it is likely that his books were confiscated at that time .

Although the full programme of illustration of these unfinished manuscripts is now impossible to reconstruct, several of the completed miniatures depict episodes rarely or never illustrated in other copies of this text. Many of those episodes seem to have been designed specifically for an English reader. Marginal decoration features heraldic badges and the arms of Henry VII that propagate the king’s new dynastic identity.

Royal 20 E i, f. 47
Childebert and Clothaire meet the bishop of Saragossa.
Royal 20 E i, f. 47

Royal 20 E ii, f. 33
Baptism of Rollo
Royal 20 E ii, f. 33

Royal 20 E ii, f. 258v
Æthelred II attacks the Normans at the Cotentin Peninsula
Royal 20 E ii, f. 258v

Royal  20 E vi, f. 9
Marriage of Henry V and Catherine of Valois
Royal 20 E vi, f. 9

Royal  20 E vi, f. 20
Attack on St James in Normandy
Royal 20 E vi, f. 20

Royal 18 E ii, Jehan Froissart, Chroniques
Bruges c. 1479-83

Jehan Froissart (b. c. 1337, d. c. 1405), a native of Valenciennes (Hainaut), was a courtier and historian in service of Philippa of Hainaut, consort of Edward III, and after her death of Joanna, Duchess of Brabant. His monumental work, known simply as the Chroniques, was one of the most popular vernacular histories of the later Middle Ages, with over 150 volumes surviving. It covers the first part of the Hundred Years War and focuses on French, English and Burgundian affairs. Froissart’s initial audience included the richest nobles and royals and many copies of his work were lavishly illuminated for the chronicler’s contemporaries.

During the second half of the fifteenth century, the Chroniques enjoyed a revived popularity in the Burgundian Netherlands. The present manuscript, which belonged to Edward IV of England (1461-70 and 1471-83), was written in Bruges and illuminated by a group of Bruges artists including a follower of Loyset Liédet and two others, known as the Master of the Chattering Hands and the Master of the Harley Froissart.

The Royal manuscript, which includes only Book IV of Froissart’s text (from 1389 to 1400), was almost certainly part of the set of three volumes of the Chroniques that was recorded at St James’s Palace in 1666. The Book I was identified with Royal 18 E. i, and Book III with J. Paul Getty Museum, Ludwig MS XIII 7, on the basis of page layout and artistic features.

Royal 18 E ii, f. 7
Entry of Isabel of Bavaria into Paris
Royal 18 E ii, f. 7

Royal 18 E ii, f. 401
Richard II resigns his crown
Royal 18 E ii, f. 401

Royal 18 E ii, f. 404
Coronation of Henry IV
Royal 18 E ii, f. 404

Royal 14 D ii-vi Jehan Froissart, Chroniques
Southern Netherlands, c. 1471-83

Sets of Jehan Froissart’s (b. c. 1337, d. c. 1405) Chroniques produced during the author’s lifetime and shortly after his death comprised exclusively Books I-III, while sets copied in the later part of the fifteenth century in the Burgundian Netherlands regularly included also Book IV. Five luxurious volumes containing the whole of Froissart's Chroniques were made in Bruges for Thomas Thwaytes, when he was the Chancellor of the Exchequer under Edward IV (1471-1483).

The set found its way to the Royal library shortly after it was commissioned. It is possible that Thwaytes intended the Chroniques as a gift for Edward IV, although no trace of a dedication to the king survives. Therefore, the books may have entered the Royal library instead following Thwaytes’s arrest for treason in 1494, or after his death in 1504. The present second redaction of the first book of the Chroniques was composed in 1369-1373 and dedicated to Robert de Namur (d. 1391), Lord of Beaufort, whose wife Isabel was a sister of Philippa of Hainaut, Queen consort to Edward III. This redaction became the most popular in England.

Royal 14 D ii, f. 8
Jehan Froissart
Royal 14 D ii, f. 8

Royal 14 D vi, f. 268
Richard II receives Isabel of France
Royal 14 D vi, f. 268

Royal 15 E iv, Jean Wavrin, Recueil des croniques d’Engleterre
Bruges, c. 1475

Jean de Wavrin (b. c. 1400, d. c. 1472–75), Lord of Le Forestel, wrote his history of England when he retired from his military career in the service of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy (d. 1467). As Wavrin explained in the original prologue to his chronicle, it was his nephew, Waleran de Wavrin, who suggested the subject of his work. The text is more a digest of existing texts than a new composition, and covers the history of English kings from legendary times to Wavrin’s own day. Wavrin’s chronicle was not widely disseminated. Several illuminated volumes from seven or eight sets of the Recueil survive, but only one is still intact. It was owned by the famous collector of manuscripts Louis de Gruuthuse (Bibliothèque nationale de France, mss fr. 84-85 ).

In the present manuscript, which contains only the first volume of Wavrin’s chronicle, the original prologue was replaced by a dedication of the intended set to Edward V. As Scot McKendrick has noted, this prologue, which was clearly composed after the author’s death, was a ‘product of commercial piracy’.19 It was written by a different scribe, illuminated by an artist who did not contribute to the illustration of the remaining part of the book, and added to the existing manuscript. The arms of Edward IV, included on the opening page of the prologue, suggest that the addition might have been made when the volume was adapted for the English king.

Royal 15 E iv, f. 14v
Edward IV receives the book from the author
Royal 15 E iv, f. 14v

Royal 15 E iv, f. 24v
View of England
Royal 15 E iv, f. 24v

Royal 15 E iv, f. 295
Marriage of Isabel of France and Edward II
Royal 15 E iv, f. 295

Royal 14 E iv, Jean de Wavrin, Recueil des croniques d’Engleterre
Lille (?) c. 1470 and Bruges, c. 1480

The manuscript contains a copy of volume III of Jean de Wavrin’s chronicle. As the other copy of Wavrin featured in this exhibition, (Royal 15 E iv), it was also adapted for Edward IV. However, the book was almost certainly acquired independently of the other copy, in a later phase of the king’s acquisitions of Flemish manuscripts.

Scot McKendrick has attributed the transcription of most of the text of the manuscript to the scribe and translator Jean Du Quesne of Lille.20 This discovery may shed new light on the production and circulation of Wavrin’s chronicles. Through his marriage to Marguerite Hangouart, Wavrin entered the circle of the wealthy patriciate in Lille. Lille was the base for Du Quesne, who first advertised Wavrin’s work in his translation of Caesar’s Gallic Wars, and of the principal illuminator of the Royal volume, the Master of the Vienna and Copenhagen Toison d’Or. It is possible that work on the Royal volume began at Lille in the early 1470s and was completed some ten years later for Edward IV at Bruges, as the contribution of several Bruges artists suggests.

Royal 14 E iv, f. 10
Richard II with his court after his coronation
Royal 14 E iv, f. 10

Royal 14 E iv f. 244v
Duke of Lancaster dining with the King of Portugal
Royal 14 E iv f. 244v


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17 See Joyce Coleman, ‘Reading the Evidence in Text and Image: How History was Read in Late Medieval France’, in Elizabeth Morrison and Anne D. Hedeman, Imagining the Past in France: History in Manuscript Painting, 1250-1500, (Los Angeles: J. P. Getty Museum, 1210), p. 55.
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18 Anne D. Hedeman, The Royal Image: Illustrations of the Grandes Chroniques de France, 1274–1422 (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1991), pp. 51-73.
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19 Scot McKendrick, John Lowden, Kathleen Doyle, with Joanna Frońska and Deirdre Jackson. Royal Manuscript: Genius of Illumination (London: British Library, 2011), cat no. 47
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20 Royal Manuscript: Genius of Illumination, cat no. 48


Introduction Latin
Chronicles
Royal Genealogy
Mythology and Legend
Further Reading

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