Chronicle continuation in the Flores historiarum (Chetham’s MS. 6712)

Chronicle continuation in the Flores historiarum (Chetham’s MS. 6712) – by Jessica Coatesworth (University of Manchester)

The Benedictine abbey of St Albans, England, is well known for its history and chronicle production in the late middle ages, particularly the work of Matthew Paris and Thomas Walsingham. The first chronicle written at the abbey was the Flores historiarum, a universal chronicle spanning from Creation to 1255. Chetham’s library, Manchester, MS. 6712, is the earliest extant manuscript of the Flores historiarum and the only Flores manuscript, of which 29 manuscripts and extracts survive, to have been produced at the abbey for another monastery. Chetham’s MS. 6712 was produced in three different phases: up to entry 1249 it was written at St Albans Abbey, it was then continued up to 1265 at Pershore Abbey, before it arrived at Westminster Abbey and was brought up-to-date.[1] This blog post is going to look at the latter phase of manuscript production, a section of the manuscript that has received little attention thus far, and ask what can be learned from the method and execution of the continuation.[2]

Chetham’s MS. 6712: part of the section of the manuscript produced at St Albans Abbey

Previous work on the continuation of Chetham’s MS. 6712 has focussed exclusively on the text but to understand the purpose of the manuscript we also need to consider visual aspects and production. This latter section constitutes roughly a sixth of the manuscript, covering ff. 241v-295v and contains entries for the years 1269–1327. It is the work of nine scribes with the short entries of each scribe and gaps after each entry suggesting it was being actively compiled at the time of writing. Whilst this sheds light on how the manuscript was used at Westminster – as a chronicle to continue and develop – the production values are at odds with the beginning of the manuscript and as a result we must question some of the theories as to why Chetham’s MS. 6712 was produced.

Chetham’s MS. 6712, ff. 258v-259r: Annal entries for 1296-1299

Chetham’s MS. 6712, ff. 258v-259r: Annal entries for 1296-1299

One of the main theories for the production of Chetham’s MS. 6712 is that it was a presentation copy intended for Westminster Abbey.[3] This seems probable from the standard of production on the St Albans section where the scribal quality is high, decoration is regular and the marking-up of the parchment is neat, unobtrusive, and consistent. Indeed, the St Albans section is of the same standard as other good quality manuscripts made at the abbey during this time, including the Chronica maiora of Matthew Paris (Parker Library, Corpus Christi College Cambridge MSS. 26 & 16). In contrast, the Westminster section of the manuscript is far more erratic. What we see is a continuation of the basic layout but with a large amount of fluctuation: the widths and heights of columns become less regular and display letters vary in size. There is also a lack of consistency in the script used, from a near-cursive rotunda to a very formal semi-quadrata (see images above). Combined with the patchy parchment quality and it seems unlikely that this section was intended for use outside of the monastic community.

Chetham’s MS. 6712: Illustrations of the coronation of Richard I and Edward I. The latter is part of the Westminster continuation and highlights the different standard of production.

Chetham’s MS. 6712: Illustrations of the coronation of Richard I and Edward I. The latter is part of the Westminster continuation and highlights the different standard of production.

Without one scribe to consistently continue the chronicle the standard of presentation diminished and the status of the manuscript decreased. The collaborative continuation of Chetham’s MS. 6712 created a disjointed appearance between the different production centres and the production values of the Westminster section suggest that this manuscript was not viewed by the abbey as a presentation manuscript. Regardless of the original intentions of the scribes at St Albans Abbey, Chetham’s MS. 6712 became a working chronicle and from the efforts of the nine continuing scribes a new chronicle tradition was founded at Westminster Abbey.

All photos posted with the kind permission of the Chetham’s library, Manchester

[1] David Carpenter, ‘The Pershore Flores Historiarum: An Unrecognised Chronicle from the Period of Reform and Rebellion in England, 1258 – 65’, The English Historical Review 127 (2012), pp. 1343-1366, here pp. 1355-1356.

[2] Antonia Gransden, ‘The Continuations of the Flores Historiarum from 1265 to 1327’, Mediaeval Studies 36 (1974), pp. 472-492.

[3] Antonia Gransden, Historical writing in England i c. 500 to c. 1307 (London, 1974), p. 420.


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