In This Article Chronicles of England and the British Isles

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Reference Resources
  • Related Historical Narratives

Medieval Studies Chronicles of England and the British Isles
by
Lister M. Matheson
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 June 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0021

Introduction

Chronicles were the major source of historical knowledge and interpretation available to medieval people and form an important and a large part of many national literatures in the Middle Ages. They can be defined as historical narratives, in verse or prose, of a more or less extended period or a significant historical event and distinguished from annals (year-by-year, though sometimes sporadic, prose accounts of events), but in practice these two formats for historical writing often overlapped and merged. Chronicles in England were written in Old English, Latin, Anglo-Norman, and Middle English, in general accordance with the relative cultural and political fortunes of these languages. Frequently, though not invariably, the choice of language depended on the type of chronicle: thus, monastic chronicles were usually written in Latin, “chivalric” chronicles in Anglo-Norman, and civic chronicles in English. Scholarly interest in chronicles remains strong and has expanded beyond their significance for the modern historian to their value as cultural indicators (e.g., in sections that seem “legendary” to a modern mind) and as products of textual culture.

General Overviews

Gransden 1974 contains seminal, in-depth narrative accounts of chronicles and chronicle writers working in England from the earliest times to the early 16th century. Gransden 1992 presents a general account based on the author’s earlier authoritative works of 1974 and 1982. Other works concentrate on more restricted periods. Matheson 1984 presents a concise review of prose chronicles and other forms of historical writing from the late 14th to the 16th century. Kingsford 1972 and Taylor 1987 are essential narrative guides to Latin, Anglo-Norman, and English historical literature in the 15th and 14th centuries, respectively. The more than 2,500 entries in Dunphy 2010 cover chronicles written over a period of some twelve centuries in a wide variety of languages in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. All of these works also contain extensive bibliographical listings.

  • Dunphy, Graeme, gen. ed. Encyclopaedia of the Medieval Chronicle. 2 vols. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2010.

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    A major, interdisciplinary reference work covering all aspects of chronicles from many countries and areas over a period of twelve centuries; it also contains a comprehensive manuscript index. The general editor is the current president of the Chronicle Society.

  • Gransden, Antonia. Historical Writing in England, c. 550–c. 1307. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1974.

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    Continued in Historical Writing in England, Vol. 2, c. 1307 to the Early Sixteenth Century (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1982). Gransden’s two volumes are an indispensable and encyclopedic narrative survey of English historical writing from earliest times up to the early 16th century. She describes fully the lives of named chroniclers, their works, and the works of anonymous historical authors. Also included is a wealth of detailed information on manuscripts and dates of composition as well as editions of several short texts.

  • Gransden, Antonia. “The Chronicles of Medieval England and Scotland.” In Legends, Traditions and History in Medieval England. By Antonia Gransden, 199–238. London: Hambledon, 1992.

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    A useful, short account that encapsulates and summarizes information from Gransden’s exhaustive, long studies in Gransden 1974 and Gransden’s second volume (1982). The chapter consists of two articles that are reprinted from the Journal of Medieval History 16 (1990), pp. 129–150, and 17 (1991), pp. 217–243.

  • Kingsford, Charles L. English Historical Literature in the Fifteenth Century. New York: Burt Franklin, 1972.

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    First published in 1913 (Oxford: Clarendon). A fine narrative account from the works of Thomas Walsingham to the end of the 15th century, including chapters on correspondence, poetry, and ballads, and use by 16th-century historians of 15th-century materials. An extensive appendix contains a wide variety of edited Latin and English texts.

  • Matheson, Lister M. “Historical Prose.” In Middle English Prose: A Critical Guide to Major Authors and Genres. Edited by A. S. G. Edwards, 209–248. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1984.

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    A narrative overview of Middle English prose historical texts, including chronicles, and scholarship on them, with a bibliography of primary and secondary sources.

  • Taylor, John. English Historical Literature in the Fourteenth Century. Oxford: Clarendon, 1987.

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    In this authoritative counterpart to Kingsford 1972, Taylor examines the lives, works, and audiences of the Latin, Anglo-Norman, and continental French chroniclers.

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