The Worcester Chronica chronicarum (‘Chronicle of chronicles’) is a very important and ambitious text of the first half of the twelfth century. It purports to be a history from the origins of mankind down to the year 1140, where the principal manuscript copy—Oxford, Corpus Christi College MS 157, known by the siglum ‘C’—now ends. TCD MS 502, cited by its siglum ‘H’ and now available digitally online for the first time, is one of 5 further copies of the Chronica chronicarum that descend either directly or indirectly from C (the copy preserved in the Almonry Museum in Evesham, known as ‘E’, is only a single leaf in its current form). H is thought to have been copied in the mid-twelfth century by a single scribe who may have been working at Coventry and whose last entry is for the year 1131. Annals for the period 1132-8 were added later and there are also entries written in hands that have been dated to the early thirteenth century and beyond. H formed the basis of an edition of the Chronica chronicarum composed in 1592 by the antiquary William Howard (whose mark of ownership can be found inscribed on fol. 1r in H, and also at the front of TCD MS 503, which contains a copy of John of Worcester’s Chronicula). The hand of Archbishop James Ussher has been identified as adding marginal notes in H, including against the record of the death of Florence of Worcester under the annal for 1118 on fol. 253v. As noted below, these 5 further copies descending from C are of vital importance for reconstructing the stages in which the Chronica chronicarum was composed.
History Books in the Anglo-Norman World
The past was a popular subject in the Anglo-Norman world. Following the conquest of England in 1066, historians in the territories controlled by the kings of England sought to legitimise the new regime and make sense of the political circumstances in which they found themselves by exploring both the recent and distant past. Writers used a range of precedents in shaping their accounts, drawing on sources including the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, histories of the dukes of Normandy, and genealogical histories derived from the Bible. Although some works composed in the early twelfth century were primarily designed for use within a particular monastery, others, such as the histories produced by monks John at Worcester and William at Malmesbury, were widely copied and taken up by later generations of writers including Ralph of Diss and Matthew Paris. The surviving ‘history books’ vary significantly in size, format, quality of materials used and decoration. The study of these manuscripts thus sheds light on both the creation and reception of history in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.
The Manuscripts & Archives Research Library (M&ARL) holds an important collection of Anglo-Norman histories, most of which came from the collection of Archbishop James Ussher (d. 1656). Ussher was a keen collector of manuscripts, and his interest in history was linked to his attempt to establish the date of Creation, which he famously concluded must have taken place in 4004 BC. Ussher’s collection was given to Trinity College Library in 1661.
An exhibition of many of these manuscripts has been mounted in the Long Room of the Old Library Trinity College Dublin to coincide with the History Books in the Anglo-Norman World Conference 22-23 May 2015 organised by Dr Laura Cleaver of the Department of History of Art and Architecture. The exhibition will last for a month, and is accompanied by an online exhibition available here.
The conference is part of Dr Cleaver’s History Books in the Anglo-Norman World Project (2011-2015) which is supported by a Marie Curie Actions Grant, under the Seventh Framework Project. M&ARL has been a strong supporter of this project, liaising with researchers and enabling access to the relevant manuscripts in the M&ARL collection. We have also developed physical displays and online exhibitions.