The Medieval Review 12.02.12

Hayward, Paul Antony. The Winchcombe and Coventry Chronicles: Hitherto Unnoticed Witnesses to the Work of John of Worcester. Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies. Tembe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2010. Pp. xxxiii, 750. $140. ISBN 978-0-86698-421-8. . .

Reviewed by:

Lisa M. Ruch
Bay Path College
lruch@baypath.edu

These two volumes comprise editions, translations, and discussion of the twelfth-century Winchcombe and Coventry Chronicles, which, as Paul Antony Hayward clearly shows, were connected closely to John of Worcester's Chronica chronicarum. This text, once commonly attributed to Florence of Worcester, is a reworking of Marianus Scotus' chronicle, and features annalistic entries on world history up to 1140. Both the Winchcombe and Coventry Chronicles begin with the Incarnation of Christ and follow the historiographical path laid out by Marianus and John of Worcester.

Compiled at Winchcombe Abbey in Gloucestershire in the 1140s, the Winchcombe Chronicle was extended to 1181. The text is preserved in a single manuscript, BL Cotton Tiberius E.iv. The Coventry Chronicle, preserved solely in BL Harley 3775, was compiled at Coventry Cathedral Priory around 1150, and features a continuation to 1202. Both of these chronicles display an interest in the methodology of dating, simultaneously incorporating the competing systems used by Dionysius Exiguus and Marianus Scotus. Hayward argues convincingly that the Winchcombe and Coventry Chronicles are evidence of a twelfth-century interest in the teaching of computus in monastic settings.

Volume I of the set is focused on discussion of the Winchcombe and Coventry Chronicles, along with scholarly apparatus related to them. After a prologue discussing the historical significance of these two previously unedited texts, the introduction moves on to a detailed consideration of the importance and role of annalistic world chronicles as educational, commemorative, and political tools. This is followed by a section on John of Worcester and his writings, before the focus narrows to the Winchcombe and Coventry Chronicles. The introduction wraps up with a discussion of other related texts: the Annales prioratus de Wigornia, the Annals of St. David's Cathedral, the Worcester Version of the Norman Annals, and the Later Winchcombe Annals. Running to just under 200 pages, this introductory material is comprehensive and highly informative. It is followed by Hayward's learned commentaries on both the Winchcombe and Coventry Chronicles, collated to the years in the editions/translations. Volume I concludes with two appendices which contain material from the Annales prioratus de Wigornia and the C-text of the Annales Cambriae related to the Winchcombe and Coventry Chronicles. Volume II is devoted to the texts and their translations, presented on facing pages. The Winchcombe Chronicle and its translation run to just under 200 pages, while the Coventry Chronicle and its translation fill just over 150 pages. Two appendices contain entries from the Annales prioratus de Wigornia and the C-text of the Annales Cambriae, without translation. This volume concludes with two indices, one of manuscripts, and the other the general index.

While these two chronicles are categorized as annals, they are not simply dry lists and brief notices of yearly events. Some of the entries are quite expansive, especially those toward the ends of the texts, and those focused on local events in England, most notably those related to the monastic houses where the chronicles were produced. Notably, the Winchcombe and Coventry Chronicles discuss the political division of Anglo-Saxon England into five parts, rather than the more widely-depicted heptarchy, and a marginal addition in the Winchcombe Chronicle mentions King Arthur's removal to Avalon after his granting of the kingdom to Constantine.

As modern scholarly tools, these two volumes are well-produced and thoughtfully laid out. The arrangement of the texts and translations in one volume and the commentaries in the other allows the reader to consult both volumes side-by-side, doing away with the annoyance of losing one's place while searching for amplification and discussion of specific entries. Dates are presented in both Roman and Arabic numerals in the annals. Latin orthography of place names and proper names appears as it does in the manuscripts, and is presented in accepted modern usage in the translations; entries in the general index tie to the translated forms. Six color plates in Volume I are clearly and attractively printed on glossy stock. Page numbering is continuous through the two volumes. Given the scope and depth of material covered, the volumes are remarkably free from errors--the misspelling of handkerchief on page 543 is a lone anomaly.

Hayward argues compellingly that the Winchcombe and Coventry Chronicles served as teaching tools in the Middle Ages, and his presentation and discussion of them displays their ongoing value to today's readers. As he clearly explains, "the production of annalistic chronicles was not, as is often assumed, a random process, but a matter of compiling a text that was intended to perform a specific task" (7). As testimony to this goal, these volumes are a welcome addition to the growing corpus of contemporary editions of and scholarship on medieval chronicles.