Margaret McGlynn

title.none: Given Wilson, et al., eds., Parliament Rolls (Margaret McGlynn)

identifier.other: baj9928.0611.003 06.11.03

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Margaret McGlynn, University of Western Ontario,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: Given-Wilson, Chris (General Editor), P. Brand, A. Curry, R.E. Horrox, G. Martin, W.M. Ormond, and J.R.S. Phillips, eds. The Parliament Rolls of Medieval England 1275-1504 (CD-ROM). Scholarly Digital Editions. Edgbaston, U.K.: Scholarly Digital Editions, 2006. Pp. CD-ROM, 1 Disk. $60.00 individual, $150 institutional 0-904628-05-2. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.11.03

Given-Wilson, Chris (General Editor), P. Brand, A. Curry, R.E. Horrox, G. Martin, W.M. Ormond, and J.R.S. Phillips, eds. The Parliament Rolls of Medieval England 1275-1504 (CD-ROM). Scholarly Digital Editions. Edgbaston, U.K.: Scholarly Digital Editions, 2006. Pp. CD-ROM, 1 Disk. $60.00 individual, $150 institutional 0-904628-05-2. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Margaret McGlynn
University of Western Ontario

The appearance of this new edition of the Parliament Rolls of Medieval England (PROME) is a welcome event. The standard edition of the Rotuli Parliamentorum, published between 1780 and 1832, was inaccessible to many; even those fortunate enough to have access to the volumes might be foiled by the fact that the texts therein were, of course, available only in the original Latin and French. The new edition will thus open up the parliament rolls to a vastly wider audience.

The PROME project was a joint initiative of the National Archives and the History of Parliament, and had the benefit of a remarkable depth of knowledge and expertise from its distinguished panel of editors, as well as a number of research assistants and technical advisors. The size and variety of the team indicates the scale of the project, which involved re-editing the texts (8 folio volumes in the Rotuli Parliamentorum edition), translating them, and providing scholarly introductions to each of the parliaments. The final product is available in three formats: print, searchable CD-ROM and online. In reviewing the CD-ROM, it would seem to make sense to deal first with the actual edition, and then with the format.

The new edition opens with an introduction by Chris Given-Wilson, the general editor of the project. It provides a basic discussion of the history of both the parliament rolls and the various other kinds of texts produced either in conjunction with, or as a consequence of, the meeting of parliament. There is no attempt to produce a history of parliament as such, but the introduction is a lucid and engaging discussion of some complex textual sources. The edition is then divided by reign. Each section opens with a brief discussion of the parliamentary sources for the reign, with some discussion, where necessary, of the relationship between the Rotuli Parliamentorum text and the text provided here. Within the reign, each individual parliament is listed, with an introduction to both the texts and the context of the parliament, followed by the text of the rolls, the translation, and appendices of supplementary documents, where relevant. The introduction generally opens with some comments on the sources for the parliament, deals with the chronology of events, and concludes with a discussion of the major events and issues of each. The introductions are not particularly long individually, but they are clear, informative, and up to date. Introductions are provided for the parliaments of the first three Edwards, even in those cases where little or no formal documentary evidence of the proceedings of the parliament survives. With these parliaments added to the eighty or so individual parliaments from the reign of Richard II to the end of the period, the introductions alone constitute a substantial and useful contribution to our knowledge.

The editions of the texts themselves are based on the Rotuli Parliamentorum edition, collated against the originals, and with the significant features of the manuscripts noted. The editors have chosen to leave out many of the undated petitions from the Rot. Parl. which do not appear on the extant parliament rolls, and for the reign of Edward II, for example, have matched these petitions with surviving originals, and provided an appendix of unedited petitions. Overall, both the editions and the translations are of the high quality we would expect from these editors.

For the most part the presentation of this material in CD-ROM format only enhances its value. The most obvious benefit is the search capacity; a search for the word "weir" for example, brought up 16 examples between 1371 and 1463, with links to the text and translation provided. This was possible with the old edition, but it would have been much more time-consuming to have to wade through the index and the various volumes to reach the same end. It is also delightful to be able to move beyond the limitations of the index. The next obvious user-friendly feature is the hyper-linked text and translation. The spilt screen presents the text and translation at the same time, but the link allows the reader to follow one side through several pages, and with a single click bring the other into line. Indeed navigation is generally very easy. At the bottom of each page there are links to the previous parliament; the introduction, text/translation, and appendices for the parliament at hand; and the next parliament.

There are a couple of places where the navigation could be a little easier. If, for example, you wish to skip several parliaments you must either run through them one by one at the bottom of the page, or return to the list of reigns at the top and navigate again from there. It would also be useful if you could move between cross-references; e.g. on membrane 13 of 2 Hen. IV (item 26) there is a cross-reference to an item from the parliament of 1399, but no way to navigate directly there. It is a little cumbersome, but a quibble rather than a problem, unless, as in this case, the reference was incorrect (it was noted as item 86 in the footnote, but was actually item 85 on membrane 14 of 1 Hen. IV). In the interests of honesty, I should also note that I found the CD-ROM a bit temperamental; usually it operated smoothly, but some days (as when I was checking the references above) it crashed every time I changed pages.

A third huge benefit with this edition is the inclusion of images of the documents. Not all of the material can be presented in this way, but the editors have made a judicious selection of examples, including those that demonstrate interesting points of procedure (for example, C 65/73, m. 6 (Parliament of 1413, item 19), a petition alleging that an error had occurred in a judgment with the schedule in which the allegation was made still sewn to the roll) as well as some of particular intrinsic importance. Apart from their obvious interest, these turn the CD into a useful teaching tool; the images are arresting enough to use to familiarize students with the general shape and format of these documents, and clear enough to serve as an introduction to the palaeography of the period. It is easy to move around and between the images and to zoom in on points of particular interest. The editors clearly expect the images to be used in this way, since the license includes a provision for projecting the material for instruction.

Overall then, this edition is a great boon to those interested in almost any aspect of the history of the period; hopefully the greater accessibility of the material will allow social, cultural and environmental historians, among others, to explore the information in the rolls. It is quick and easy to use and reasonably affordable. At $85 US (50 GBP) the CD-ROM compares favourably with many academic monographs, and certainly with the new print edition, which at $2295 US (1750 GBP) is probably out of the reach of many library budgets, and certainly most personal budgets. The third format, an online subscription, is also reasonable at 50 GBP for individuals and 120 GBP for institutions per annum. It certainly seems to be the assumption of the publisher and editors that the electronic version will be the dominant one; they point out that improvements will continue to be made to the online version, which will always be the most up to date. This does, however, raise the question of the long-term future of the edition. The CD-ROM will eventually be obsolete, presumably leaving users with the option of purchasing an up-to-date version (I could find no mention on the publisher's website of licenses to update the CD or any plans for future obsolesence), or subscribing to the online version. Even though the subscription is reasonable, an annual commitment is likely only from those individuals who are regular users of the rolls, or those institutions who have a large enough population working on the field (or a large enough budget) to make the investment worthwhile. None of this derogates from the value of the project, or of the CD-ROM in hand, but given the resources that went into this project, and the excellent result, it would be nice to think that it will rival its predecessor's life span in something other than print format.