The ancestry of King John


The 14th century saw a rise in the popularity of manuscripts containing diagrams that traced the ancestry of the English kings. Many of these were lavish products made for the aristocracy. They combined a diagram-based structure pioneered by Matthew Paris (1200-59) with an anonymous text probably based on the work of Peter of Poitiers (1130-1215). The resulting genealogies, illustrated with portraits, increased the legitimacy of the Angevin dynasty by highlighting its connections to their Anglo-Saxon and Norman predecessors.

40 genealogical chronicles of English kings survive from the period between Edward I’s accession to the throne (1272) and the death of Henry V (1422). This chronicle dates from the reign of Edward I (1272 - 1307). Almost five metres in length, its historical narrative begins with a large round diagram depicting the Heptarchy, the seven kingdoms into which Anglo-Saxon England was divided. The royal line starts below with Egbert, the King of Wessex who united the Anglo-Saxons, and continues down to Edward I. Portraits of Edward II and Edward III were added in about 1340.

King John’s father, Henry II (r. 1154 – 89), was the first Angevin king, and this roll emphasises his Anglo-Saxon descent through long, coloured lines connecting his grandmother, Matilda (1080-1118), the wife of King Henry I, with her ancestors Edmund Ironside (d. 1016) and Edward the Confessor (r. 1042-66). John is depicted twice on the roll, first among his father’s descendants, and again as King ‘Johan’ following the death of his brother, Richard I (r. 1189 - 99). The second of these roundel portraits shows King John holding a hawk in his left hand; below him are illustrations of his legitimate children, Henry III (r. 1216 - 72), Richard, King of Germany (d. 1272), Isabella (d. 1241, who married Emperor Frederick II), Eleanor, Countess of Pembroke (d. 1275), and Joan (d. 1238, who married Alexander II, King of Scots).

The original patron of this lavish chronicle is not known, but it is almost certainly the Role des roys d’Angleterre that was listed amongst the books kept by Henry VIII at Richmond Palace in 1535.

To see more of the Genealogical roll of the kings of England please go to our award winning Turning the Pages™. 

Full title:
Genealogical roll of the kings of England
c.1300-07, probably East Anglia
Held by:
British Library
Royal MS 14 B VI

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