Richard J. Moll

title.none: Gray, Scalacronica (Richard J. Moll )

identifier.other: baj9928.0610.025 06.10.25

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Richard J. Moll , University of Western Ontario,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: Gray, Sir Thomas. King, Andy, ed. and trans. Sir Thomas Gray: Scalacronica. Publications of the Surtees Society vol. 209. Woodbridge, U.K.: Boydell, 2005. Pp. lxiv, 288. $85.00 (hb) ISBN-10 0-85444-064-X, ISBN-13 978-0-854-440641. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.10.25

Gray, Sir Thomas. King, Andy, ed. and trans. Sir Thomas Gray: Scalacronica. Publications of the Surtees Society vol. 209. Woodbridge, U.K.: Boydell, 2005. Pp. lxiv, 288. $85.00 (hb) ISBN-10 0-85444-064-X, ISBN-13 978-0-854-440641. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Richard J. Moll
University of Western Ontario

In 1355, the English knight Thomas Gray was captured during a minor skirmish in the northern marches. During his captivity in Edinburgh he began a chronicle of British history, which he called the Scalacronica to commemorate the scaling ladder which figures prominently in both his coat of arms and the dream vision prologue to the work. Gray continued to work on the text after his release and it stretches from creation to 1363. It is the first vernacular chronicle by an English knight and the last great historical work in Anglo- Norman. Gray himself was well-read and participated in the literary culture of his day and the sources for the Scalacronica range from the standard historians, such as Bede, Higden, Geoffrey of Monmouth, etc., to romance texts, such as the prose Vulgate cycle of Arthurian romances, episodic romances and the narratives of Troy and Alexander. Gray also participated in the ongoing Anglo-Scottish border conflict and several continental campaigns, and the mingling of chivalric ideals and military reality colours his representation of British history from its legendary beginnings to his accounts of his father's (and his own) chivalric exploits.

The single manuscript of the Scalacronica (Cambridge, Corpus Christi College MS. 133) was partially edited by Joseph Stevenson in 1836, but, as with many nineteenth-century editors, he found little of interest in the early folios of the text, so began his work at the Norman conquest. Herbert Maxwell translated a portion of the Scalacronica in 1907 [1], and, as King admits, these "have served historians very well, especially considering their age" (lx). Both Maxwell and Stevenson, however, have sparse commentary and Stevenson's introduction is long out of date. More importantly, they only cover only a small portion of this fascinating text. A complete edition of Gray's work is long overdue.

The volume under consideration is not a complete edition, but the first part of a projected multi-volume edition, and we must all hope that Andy King perseveres with the project. This volume contains the prologue to the Scalacronica and, as the title suggests, the text covering the years 1272 to 1363 (i.e. folios 188r to 234v). The remaining text (about 4/5 of the whole work) is forthcoming. In addition to the text, King includes a facing page translation which will be a boon to those unfamiliar with Anglo-Norman. The introduction to the text covers the standard issues of authorship and date, state of the manuscript and its provenance. The real strength of King's introduction, however, lies in the detailed biographical information concerning both the chronicler and his father (also Thomas Gray). Both Thomas Grays figure prominently in the final chapters of the Scalacronica, which focus on the things the chronicler knows best: chivalric achievement, conflict with the Scots and the French, and marcher affairs. The details of the introduction are echoed in the copious notes to the text, which provide places, dates and references for the events mentioned in the text, including battles, treaties, tournaments, jousts, parliaments, coronations, marriages or deaths. King also considers Gray's engagement with written sources, and the notes include references to Higden's Polychronicon, John of Tynemouth's as-yet unedited Historia Aurea, the Chronicle of Lanercost, the Flores Historiarum and others. Gray actually lists several of these sources, and others, in his prologue. Among his sources Gray lists the mysterious "Keile" and King laments that "no medieval writer of that name is now known" (211, note 4). At the risk of sounding petty, I should mention that a quick look at the relevant chapter of my own book would have shown that that name results from Gray's own misreading of Wace's account of the Eagle (aquile) of Shaftesbury. In fairness, the publishing timetable may simply have made it impossible to check the book.[2] King also includes two appendices of letters concerning Gray, and a portion of John Leland's English paraphrase of the text has been included to fill the one lacuna in the manuscript (which, unfortunately, covers the period of Gray's captivity). The material that supports the text is precise, detailed and invaluable.

The translation follows Gray's prose fairly closely, thus making comparison quick and easy. Even those comfortable with Anglo-Norman will thank King, as Gray's prose is often diffuse and difficult to follow If the translation is at times rather cumbersome, I (who have made my own attempt at translating smaller portions of Gray) have nothing but sympathy for the translator. The punctuation of Gray's French has also gone a long way towards making it as clear as possible. The manuscript uses large drop-caps to divide and organize the text, but these, unfortunately, go unnoticed in the edition. I would also have preferred more commentary on difficult passages. For example, during peace negotiations the cousin of the Bishop of Durham is killed in a melee which Gray characterizes as, pur combatre dez petitz chenetis. This odd phrase is translated, "in a brawl over a lapdog fight" (34-35). Indeed, the manuscript does read petitz chenetis (fo. 195r), but this seems a likely scribal error for petitz cheuetins (a minim error and a lost macron), which would mean the unfortunate cousin died in a brawl with petty chieftains. Such a reading seems more in line with Gray's own prose, which generally avoids metaphoric flourishes. I have had the chance to do a random check of the manuscript and found only one transcription problem. King transcribes destirlings for ms. desterlings [sterling] on fo. 196r (p. 38). This is a small problem and does not affect meaning. More troubling is the passage from fo. 204v, which is transcribed as pensaunt toutdice qil estoit llour point de ly greuer and translated "he believed that he had always been English at heart, and was waiting for his best chance to harm him" (72-73). What is odd here is that the translation is fine, as the manuscript actually reads pensaunt toutdice qil estoit engles de quer a gaitaunt soun meillour point de ly greuer. This error has obviously been introduced late in the editing process, and hopefully there aren't others lingering. It is, however, symptomatic of several typographical problems that remain in the textual apparatus (prepositions missing from the translation, cross references that were not filled in during proof reading, odd mistakes of alphabetization in the index, etc.). Hopefully, some of these issues can be addressed as future volumes appear.

The Scalacronica is an important work and I eagerly await the completion of this project. Gray is a thoughtful chronicler of contemporary events, but he is also a critical reader of the historiographical traditions of his day. Historians of the fourteenth century will find in Gray an insider's view of contemporary political and military events. Literary critics will find the kind of reader for whom Sir Gawain and the Green Knight or the alliterative Morte Arthure were written. While the text of the present volume is all available, albeit in a scarce and imperfect form, the completion of the project will make an important and fascinating text accessible to historians and literary critics alike.


[1] Thomas Gray, The Scalacronica, ed. J. Stevenson (Edinburgh: Maitland Club, 1836); Scalacronica: The Reigns of Edward I, Edward II and Edward III, ed. and trans. Herbert Maxwell (Glasgow: J. Maclehose, 1907) (reprinted by Llanarch Pub., 2001).

[2] Richard J. Moll, Before Malory: Reading Arthur in Later Medieval England (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003), 43-4. In the interest of full disclosure, I should also mention that, although I am thanked for some suggestions regarding the manuscript's provenance, Before Malory (which contains these details) is not cited.